The Plight of Parenthood

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I remember when I first brought my daughter home from the hospital. It was the middle of the night, I was in immense pain, and I had a screaming infant in my arms at 2am. My shit bag of an ex-husband slept through it all, including the my own screams for help. So as I tried every trick I could think of, while sobbing and terrified that I would somehow fuck up that little being that was struggling in my arms.

That pure terror still exists 12 years later.

I’ve spent the last 12 years trying to do the best I can. I’ve admittedly made several mistakes, as all parents do, but my end goal is an aware, well adjusted young woman who stands up for what is right. There’s always that uncomfortable feeling that you’re doing something wrong. There’s that terror, that somehow you messed up.. that maybe that one time you grounded them you messed up their outlook.

It’s even worse when you’re tasked with helping to raise someone else’s little girl.

It pains me to be the one to teach a little girl about how to take care of her body. It saddens me to be the one to break it to her that the world isn’t the nice little place Sunday school had her believe. It’s thrilling, yet incredibly sad to be the one who teaches her how to ride a bike, roller skate, and play sports. It enrages me, that I am the one who has to advocate for her mental health, physical health and social skills.. not her mother.

When you spend so much time beating yourself up over your parenting, it’s incredibly difficult to see another parent ignore, neglect and refuse to parent their child. Being inadvertently handed the job of teaching a little girl everything she should’ve learned from her own mother in the last 9 years, and being forced to cram it into one summer is absolute bullshit. It’s even more daunting to know that a vast amount of what you’re able to teach and expose a child to will be undone with inattention, ignorance, and laziness over the course of 6 months.

It’s like trying to cram all of the anxiety of parenting over the course of 9 years, into a single summer.. knowing damn well that it’s just going to start all over the next summer. Unfortunately though, all you can do is try your best. It’s incredibly difficult not to lash out at the biological parent who is dropping the ball, who is ignoring their own kid and refusing to face the struggle of parenting their own child. It’s just rough.

Here’s to to raising someone else’s kid. Here’s to hoping that I can pick up the slack. Here’s to hoping I can help undo years of damage with the help of therapy. Here’s to hoping.

 

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The Struggles of Co-Parenting, Blended Families, and Picking Up the Slack as a Step Parent

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I am no stranger to blended families. Both as a child and an adult.

When I was little my mother passed away, a few years later my Dad started dating again, and eventually married my step mother. While we had a rocky relationship at first (mostly because I was a angsty jerk from 14-22ish) I now can talk with her about anything, and I do have to say that she’s had a significant role in who I am as a person.

My Dad also helped raise her children, my brother and sister. So both my parents have experience in being step-parents, and both have excelled at it. Not only that, but they have both perspectives. Raising other people’s children, and raising their own with one of their exes and current partners. So needless to say, over the years I’ve asked advice from both of them.

That advice is needed as I’ve been a step parent twice now. Once with Ryan, and now with Jon. I do have to say it was much much easier with Ryan and his son’s mother. She played a very active role in her son’s life and had very similar parenting styles to Ryan and I. Sure, there were tiffs, and I was new to helping raise other people’s children, but all in all it was a good learning experience. Regardless of how we all felt about each other, it was very apparent that the kids come first no matter what.

It’s a little more difficult now. Jon and his ex do not get along most days, and neither of them have really co-parented despite their daughter being 9 years old now. Jon is very non-confrontational and his ex likes being in control. So once they split up, he just agreed to everything she said (including paying child support for the child she had with another man while they were together) because he was afraid that any fight they had she would refuse to let him see his daughter.

That had to come to an end when some very troubling things happened two summers ago, that spurned Jon into trying to co-parent with his ex. These were very severe issues, the kind that we should have called CPS for. However, once Jon vocalized his concerns with his daughter’s mom, inquired about therapy and requested that she do half of the driving (from PA to IL) she blew off her pick up date for a week with no contact. Once it felt like she was going the abandonment route, we text her and let her know that she could reach us anytime, but since school was starting we’d enroll their daughter in school. She showed up a week later with the police, and then refused her daughter’s visitation for Christmas and the following summer. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve got on our plate.

Just what Jon had feared.

We ended up taking her to court for visitation and other parental rights. It was absolutely ridiculous. During this whole time, she wouldn’t return Jon’s calls, or let him speak with his daughter, but had their daughter call Jon’s parents and read a legitimate script explaining why she wouldn’t come that year. I say script because when his parents asked her why, she re-read it. Word for word. To say at that point I lost whatever remaining respect I had for the woman is an understatement. Any mother who puts their children square in the middle of a dispute, and makes them explain that they’re not coming to see their family this year instead of being a grown ass woman and doing it themselves, doesn’t deserve to be called a mom.

Court thankfully went smooth, albeit slow. The end result was Jon got his visitation back, his ex has to do half of the transportation, and no more of these shenanigans. That doesn’t make it any easier though. Since then (last summer), it’s been nothing but petty passive aggressive attacks. For instance, the previous summer, when their daughter was 7, we taught her how to ride a bicycle (and a electric motorbike). This past Christmas when she came for a visit, she got a bicycle from us for this summer. We find out a couple of weeks ago, that she hasn’t ridden a bike since we taught her. Two years ago. The reasoning? The seat was rotted, and she couldn’t afford to buy a new one. (I just bought Noodle one for the same reason, $18 for a plush comfy seat on Amazon.)

The problem was is that while she couldn’t afford a $20 bicycle seat. She could afford to buy their 9 year old a new cell phone.

The secondary problem with that was Jon and his ex had discussed, and decided against a cell phone since she’s 9 and (too young to) doesn’t stay at home alone. It makes me question what the hell the point is? Why even bother having a conversation with your child’s dad and child if you toss it out the window later? We didn’t even find out she had a cell phone until she texted Jon from the airport.

It’s extremely difficult for us as anything we manage to implement (in agreement with his daughter’s mom), ranging from outdoor activity, playing with other kids, to rules on cell phones and at the dinner table is undone with a shrug from her mother. We don’t even have her medical records or a contact number for her pediatrician at her mom’s house. Can you guess why?

As a mother myself, I just want to scream when I hear about these things. I raised Noodle without a father, and their child is super lucky to have both parents in her life. However watching her being thrown in the middle by her mother and then neglected on top of it, just makes my blood boil. It’s like starting over every visit. It honestly kicks me square in the ass to find out she’s not given outside playtime, healthy food to eat, or the attention she deserves at home. Her mother even refuses to put their daughter in therapy during her portion of the year.. despite the fact that the child has suffered through a divorce, losing two of her siblings, and then not being allowed to see her Dad (via her mom). Everyone needs someone to talk to, especially when being dealt such a traumatic hand so early in life. To think about a mother denying her child mental health services makes me irate.

Yet that’s the hand we’re being dealt. All I can do as a step mom is try my best to provide a healthy home, someone to talk to, and give Jon my advice and thoughts. It just sucks on so many levels.

One of the reasons it sucks so much is what I call the “mom level”. His daughter’s mom is going to/has missed out on so many memories. She’s already missed out on teaching her daughter to ride a bike, she missed out on the motorbike. She missed/is missing out on teaching roller skating. She missed out on playing catch with her daughter. She is missing out on helping her kid pick out her first softball mitt, her first pair of blades, her first big girl bicycle (which really should’ve happened before 7/9yrs). All of those memories belong with the mother too. Not just with the father and the step mom.

It sucks to be a step parent where co-parenting is non-existent. It sucks to be the one left to do the things the other parent isn’t doing. It sucks to have to teach lessons only a mom can teach, and hasn’t. It sucks knowing the angst a child is going through, and being stuck on the sidelines while the parents try to work it out. It sucks to send the mother adorable pictures of all the memories she’s missing out on and getting no response. It sucks to see a child get excited about a hobby only to go home and have it quashed when she gets back to her mom’s.

I started this blog to give advice to other step parents, but I don’t have any. I don’t. Step parenting is winging it. We have to learn to love another person’s child, raise them as our own, yet deal with the hand their bio-parent deals. We’re just stuck on a ride, trying not to fall out. Being a step parent sucks, but it’s also super rewarding. You just some how have to stick it through the bullshit parts. Remember, you’re raising a child whether or not their yours biologically. What you do and say matters. You don’t have to be a bio-parent to be the child’s parent & advocate. Buckle down.

 

On that note, shout out to my step mom.. for being a great mom to me, even through all the bullshit. <3

 

Step-Parenting: Working as a Team

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I don’t think anyone really sets out to be a single parent. I know I didn’t. I had delusions of a wonderful husband, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence.. unfortunately the man who I chose to be my husband was actually too full of himself to treat my daughter and I right. So here I am, or was, a single parent.

As a mom, my kid comes first. She comes before me, she comes before my boyfriend, friends, wants and even needs. I will and have burned bridges for her, and have made sure she was cared for and happy even in my sickest days. My daughter is even the type to like to be tucked in at night, so even when I was in the hospital (if she wasn’t with me), I’d call just to say goodnight and sweet dreams. She is my first thought upon waking up, and last thought upon going to bed. I would cross the world for her, because, that’s what mother’s do!

So when I meet a man I’d like to have a relationship with, I make it known that my kid comes first. I make it damn well known that we are a packaged deal, and if he doesn’t want responsibility down the line, or to forge a relationship with my girl, then he knows to take a hike. I’m very up front about it.

(Jon’s and my first conversation went like this – on both sides: Hi, I have kid(s) and a chronic illness. If that’s a deal breaker.. bye.)

Now days, well, we’ve been dating for almost a year I think? We work as a team. He relies on me to help with his daughter, and I rely on him to help with mine. We may be step-parents to each other’s children, but we work as a team.  Our end goal, is two happy, well-adjusted kids in a stable home. Now that’s not to say that a child can’t live in a stable home and be happy with a single parent, (she did, trust me) that’s just our goal since we’re living together.

We’re a team in our love life, so we’re a team in our family life as well. The point of bringing someone into your home, is to envelope them into your family, so we both raise both children.

This came up recently because someone we know doesn’t feel that way. She’s in a long term relationship with someone, and she also has 2 kids with another on the way. She doesn’t feel like it’s responsibility to help care for the kids since he didn’t father them (oddly enough, she has another guy paying child support for a kid that isn’t his.. so that doesn’t make much sense to me). That baffles me, you have someone that you love and supposedly loves you back, that is living with you and your children, and you don’t expect him to help out with your kids? You don’t have your boyfriend care for them? Does he not pick them up from school? Comfort them when they have a fever? Does he not love your children as part of you? If not, then why be with him?

That baffles me. As a mother, I try to be there as much as possible, but with working full time, I’m not. What I can’t fit into my day, Jon does. He cooks meals, drives her places, picks her up, and has basically taken on a fatherly role for her. The love between those two makes me so happy it’s ridiculous. I know he would go to the end of the earth for not just his daughter, but for mine. I am so proud to have him in our lives, he’s a great dad (Noodle doesn’t call him dad, just Jon FYI).

To think that there is a child out there, with a step-“parent” that can’t be troubled to pick his girlfriend’s daughter up while she’s indisposed… disgusts me to be honest. It just continues the horrible step-parent stereotype! “That’s not my kid, so I’m not doing it”. The worst part is? It shows the child that she isn’t loved, it shows her an unhealthy relationship, which of course she will model as she gets older.

I don’t know, it just really confuses me. Why create a family with a man, but exempt your previous children from it? Why be with someone who you don’t trust to care for your kids, or who doesn’t WANT to? Why fail your children like that?

I’m just confused and disgusted.

 

I’m also grateful for the man I have, and that he and his daughter are part of my family. I will kick some ass for that little girl of his, she deserves the world, just like my Noodle.

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We are a Team, We are a Family.

Society and it’s high expectations – aka: You’re not a bad parent.

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There’s a constant mental war going on inside my head.  I believe every mother (and father) deals with it at one point, but for me, it seems like it’s waging every day.  A rifle shot sounds as soon as I drop my daughter off at school, I mean come on, I must be a bad mother for working?  Especially when I made a promise to stay at home with her when I was pregnant.  On that note, another rifle shot sounds and I don’t know if a blended family is right for her.

Hot damn.  The enemy line is approaching, when I yelled at her yesterday for sassing me when I asked her to clean her room?  I must have wasted precious weekend time fighting with her.  Hell, when I made her go to school when she was upset that other morning… that surely was the wrong choice.  Explosion.  Telling her we’d play outside tomorrow when she wanted to ride bikes and I was exhausted from work.  More wasted time.

Yup.  That’s it right there.  That, is just a small portion of the mommy-guilt-war that wages inside my head.  Being a parent is tough sometimes, I know for me that I feel a lot of guilt for what we *don’t* do, despite all of the fun stuff we actually *do* do.  I think that no matter what we mothers do, how we act, or which decision we make, there is always the lurking thought when things settle down that maybe we could have done better.  Maybe we could have made our child(ren) happier, or maybe we could have handled a melt down a better way.  Parenting is not easy folks, at least not for me.

Growing up, my parents made it seem way easier than it is.  My mother cooked dinner more nights than not, and my Dad never seemed to complain about work.  Despite being booted out the door to go play as soon as we got annoying, I still held my parents’ .. well… parenting at top notch.  Being children, we don’t realize that our parents were struggling too.  Now that I’ve gotten older, and have heard some of the stories, chuckles, and tears about raising my sister and I, I realize that we just didn’t know.  However, that doesn’t mean that the parents I was lucky enough to grow up with didn’t set some impossibly high standard for my own life.

For example, society has brainwashed us that a happy, healthy family eats together every night.  That home-cooked meals create healthy, happy children.  I know I’m speaking for more than myself here, but I know after a 14 hour day when I finally get home, just glancing at the ingredients to make dinner makes my brain hurt.  So we’ll order something and eat something in our respective places.  Later on that evening, when I’m back to work at my own desk, that guilt kicks in.  I should have made dinner, we should have eaten at the table together.  Despite the fact that we do more often than not, I will feel guilty for taking the easy route.

Of course I don’t remember the nights when we were kids that we got Wendy’s for dinner (one had just opened up by our house) because my parents were too exhausted to cook.  Nope, I remember my mother’s home made chili going for hours and the corn bread from scratch.  Instead of realizing that it’s okay to be lazy once in a while, it’s okay to be tired, I hold myself to that latter standard.  My parents did it, with a lot more on their plate than myself, so why can’t I?

The end point of all of this, is that I, as well as too many other parents, might be being too hard on ourselves.  With social media, technology as a whole we have too much to compare ourselves too.  If that’s not enough, we have endless articles on what, who, how we are damaging our children.  So we go about our days, pushing ourselves to line, and if we don’t accomplish what society has set up for us, we beat ourselves up.  We double think what we are doing, and instead of enjoying the little moments, the happy moments, the good we *do* accomplish we are left feeling inadequate and lost.

No parent is perfect, and no childhood is perfect.  As long as our kids are happy (despite having to clean their rooms, eat their dinner, do their homework and not be little miniature assholes) and healthy (as can be), we’re doing a good job.  I’m not a bad mom for working my ass off or creating a blended family.  You’re not a bad mom for not buying the latest gadget, and you over there?  You’re not a bad dad for yelling at your kid for talking back.  Go ahead, take a break, just because your kids aren’t eating dinner 7 days a week at the kitchen table doesn’t mean you’ve ruined them.

Now if society and social media could just let parents know that once in a while, I think we’d all breathe a bit easier.

Milk Glass and a letter

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. With my Dad enjoying the lake house with his wife, we’re keeping it pretty relaxed at my house.

The boyfriend’s family is coming over tomorrow to grill out so Noodle and I have him our gifts. Mine wasn’t much, I wrote him a letter and he’ll be getting a framed picture. Noodle had decorated him a milk glass at school with squeeze paint at camp.

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She was so excited about it the day she made it. She about plowed me over when I came to pick her up, yelling about how she got to hand make him his “prezzie”. She had been talking for weeks about getting him a father’s day card so the cup was icing on the cake.

I never used to be one for the hallmark holidays, but now I think that since life has settled down, become more stable and most importantly happy… there might be something to them. I’m definitely enjoying celebrating the little things.

The fact that Noodle made him a gift warms my heart. He’s raised her for the past 2 years now and loves her like his own. I’m glad that she’s comfortable with him as a father figure and thrilled at how life has worked out. I’m so happy I found someone who not only loves me, but the little one as well. 

So Happy Father’s Day to a wonderful dad and a great man.  I’ll look forward to many more years to come hearing little chirps of “Love you Ryan!” Followed by “Love you too Monkey!”

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