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

 

Doubting Your Parenting Abilities : How You Know You’re On The Right Track

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My short one came out of her room the other night, talking about how she only had one pair of jeans and couldn’t find her leggings. I asked her if she had gone through her clothes lately to see what fit and didn’t, and she exclaimed she did (she didn’t) and actually got teary eyed.

In reality, it’s about the time of year where I buy her a few pairs of jeans, some decent tops. Then in the spring, she gets tank tops and a few shorts. Then around her June birthday, she gets clothing from her grandmother (who picks out really good stuff). We’re not destitute, my child does have some leggings (they’re just too bright colored! Not cool enough for her punk look she has going on) and she has jeans, somewhere.

Yet that night, I sat there after she went to bed and beat myself up. My god, my child only has one pair of jeans that she wants to wear! She had a growth spurt and didn’t have anything to wear! I must suck as a parent. Then I thought about how I picked on her for her part in her hair the other day. I told her she looked like Avril Lavigne, instead of remembering how we chuckled about it, I worried that maybe I had hurt her feelings. After that I worried about how cooped up she has been since it’s winter. I felt like a bad mom because I hadn’t done anything outside with her (despite her thinking she’s too cool to play in the snow).

It was a long road down into a worry filled well of self doubt. Then I remembered what I’ve told numerous other mothers, and reminded myself that I need to take my own words to heart.

If you worry about how good of a parent you are, you’re fine. It’s when you stop worrying, stop caring, that’s when you’re in trouble.

A lot of my friends have children now, and a lot of them are reaching ages where they voice discontent with their parents. Time and time again, I see my fellow moms on facebook beating themselves up over whether or not they’re a good mom. Hell, I’ve even seen a couple dads do it. Our kids whine, our kids complain, and we look at other parents and compare ourselves to them. Are we good enough?

We wonder if not buying our kids the newest tablet makes us a bad parent because “all my friends have one! Why can’t I?!” We wonder that the new tablet we did buy our kids makes us a bad parent, as we’re being bombarded left and right by the news and other parents about our children’s time spent on electronics. Our kids don’t seem to have the right looking clothes, or the right sizes (damn those growth spurts!) or the right BRAND of shoes. They don’t have the newest gaming console, or maybe they do? Does that make us bad parents because they’re spoiled? We had to ground our kids for not doing their chores, and we can hear them crying in their rooms. Did we make the right choice? Our kids don’t have set chores and we all help out, are we ruining our children?

Noticing a trend here?

We all worry, and in this current day and age, we are blasted with articles about different ways to raise our children. Every time we turn around, we have social media posts from other moms and dads about how their way is the best way, some of which blatantly say those of us who parent in a different way are damning our children. The fact is, is that my generation, our generation is has so much information about how to parent thrown at us, we struggle a lot with double guessing our own decisions.

I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon, but at the end of the day we need to realize something. We need to realize that we worry about our parenting because we’re trying to do our best by our children. I’m sure we’ll all make mistakes, we’ll all look back and regret some of the choices we’ve made raising our children.. but that’s what makes us good parents. Worrying at night if you did an okay job, proves you’re on the right track.

It’s when you stop worrying, that you have a problem. When you give up on parenting the best way you know how. It’s when you stop caring, that you’re not doing right by your kids. We just need to remember that when we’re beating ourselves up over things, actions, choices, and such.

So to all those parents who haven’t yet purchased the new Xbox.. or who did! You rock! To all those with kids who swear up and down that they have NO clothes to wear! Hang in there! To all those parents who kids are grounded because they acted like an ass.. you’re good! To those parents who just discovered a mountain of clothes in their child’s closet! Buckle in, you got this!

To all those parents, who collapse at the end of each day, wondering if they’re doing a good enough job at raising their kids, relax. You’re doing great!

21 Years Long

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Twenty one years ago, I was Ashley’s age. I was in the 5th grade, I had long brown hair that my mother refused to let me cut, and I was even more of a dork that I am now. I still liked to read more than I liked to talk to people, and you could still find me hanging out with animals more than with my friends.

Today, in 2018, we had a pretty standard day. Jon and I had to work, and Noodle had to go to school. So the day started off with Jon getting to work, me having coffee in bed, and Noodle playing around with the cats. A pretty relaxed morning before I had to drop her off at school. She had a regular day at school, I had a regular day at work, and we both got home and are relaxing while Jon makes us stuffed mushrooms for dinner. Right now I’m writing, Ashley’s harassing my sister on Snapchat, and Jon’s listening to his videos while dinner is finishing up. It’s a decent day.

In 1997? It was a much different day. I had woken up in the early morning hours to use the bathroom, only to find out that my mother had fallen into a coma. I remember mumbling “uh okay” and going back to bed just to dwell on the fact that my mom had been too tired to sing her “good night” song to me before bed the night before. I had insisted my little sister go first.. trying to be a good older sister and all. A few hours later, I crawled out of bed to be informed my grandparents were coming to pick my sister and I up for the day. 

We spent the rest of the morning trying to be .. normal? I don’t think my brain quite understood what a coma was being in 5th grade and all. All I knew is that my mom was asleep and not waking up. It was pretty surreal, even when my grandparents encouraged me to crawl into bed with my mom and say goodbye. I remember laying there and praying to whatever god I believed in to let my mom be okay.

Because what 5th grader understands “terminal cancer”? 

I realized maybe 15 minutes later that she wasn’t going to be when my grandmother started describing her version of heaven once we got into her car. 

I don’t remember the rest of that day from 21 years ago. 

… 

21 years have past. Each year that passes I reflect, I remember, and I learn. This year I think is a bit special to me since Ashley and I are the same age. She’s the age I was when I lost my mom.. so this year it just hits a little closer to my heart. So this year? I am grateful for the very simple things. 21 years ago, I was exactly her age, in exactly her grade, and had *just* lost my mother. I was starting on a new, seemingly horrific part of my life. 

Today? I’m sitting next to my own daughter, listening to her send her screeching raptor noises over snap chat to my unsuspecting sister and cracking up. We may not have done anything super fun today, or anything she’ll remember in 21 years, but that’s okay with me. Considering what I remember 21 years ago? I’ll take it. I’m grateful for the simple things, and how lucky I  really am.

 

I miss you mom.

Growing Up and Getting Older

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My little minion is turning 9 years old tomorrow. She’s been counting down to her birthday for weeks now, and now it’s almost here. I just can’t believe it, this year just flew by! I mean the school year was a blur, and it seems like it was just last summer. She can’t possibly be another year older can she??

She’s been through a lot in her little life, and has come out of it all a wise little girl. She is beyond her years in common sense, and understands things that most people don’t even touch on until their early adult years. That wasn’t in the plan, but I’m amazed at how she handles every day life and problems. I can’t wait to see the woman she grows into, but I’m aware that it’ll all fly by in the blink of an eye. This past school year she excelled at everything, consistently scoring higher than the average as well as her school mates. I am so incredibly proud of her, it’s borderline ridiculous. All I know is I’m about to have one hell of a smart 9 year old, instead of a smart 8 year old.

It’s cliche but time really does fly. I remember people telling me to enjoy every moment because the baby/toddler years will be over in an instant. It’s definitely true. It seems like just yesterday I moved into my house, and Noodle’s best skill was hauling diaper around the backyard. She went from this little thing, carrying around her scrunchies (her word for puff-a-lumps) everywhere to this leggy, spunky kid listening to punk rock and metal and demanding her own band t-shirts.  Where in the world does the time go?

She’s turning out to be such a great kid, kind, caring, smart, beautiful, with one hell of a sense of humor. When I look at her, even when she’s mouthing off (which she obviously got from me), I’m just in awe of the great little girl I’ve raised. I couldn’t be happier.

 

So for her birthday, we’re having family come over for dinner, cake and presents. The plan is a bike, roller skates, and some smaller stuff. We’ll see what I come up with. She’s been needing a new bike, the hello kitty one I got her 2 years ago is just awkward for her to ride.. so that’s the biggest present. She’s so excited, I just want to make it the best I can. Now to find the perfect ice cream cake! She’s also requested my German Pancakes for breakfast, so she’s got a game plan. I hope it goes well. Happy Birthday Noodle!

Parenting: Frustration and Pride

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Every parent on the face of our planet has at least once wished their kids have children just like them. Now, raising my own child, I do have to say, sometimes it’s like arguing with myself in the mirror.

My kid is definitely my mini-me, without a doubt. She has the same mannerisms, attitude, and hell, some of the same dislikes. Getting her to clean up one at project before she starts another is like pulling teeth (while I ignore the yarn I pulled out in favour of writing). Arguing with her about why it’s important to rein in her smart mouth, while realizing my mouth is the root of half of my problems in my past is very odd. Watching her read through a chapter book in an hour reminds me of bringing Stephen King’s Misery to fifth grade.

My child is definitely my child. She pushes every button I have, gets under my skin like there’s no tomorrow. However, when I hear about her standing up to her bullies at school, I swell with pride. Watching her befriend younger children makes me smile. Watching her excel in the things she wants to do (art, writing, reading.. soon sports) makes me ever so proud.

Just like every other parent on the face of the planet, I hope I’m going a good job. I hope I’m everything I should be for her. I hope I teach her right from wrong and how to be a strong woman. After stepping on a Lego a few minutes ago, after a long day of bickering about picking up toys and not using attitude.. I threw my hands up in the air and thought to myself “I hope she has a kid just like her.”

Just like every other parent out there.

Stress, Happiness, Family, Home and Work: Rambling Does a Soul Good.

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This last year has been turbulent.  There were so many ups and downs (it seemed like more downs than anything to be honest) and to be completely honest, I was burning out and pretty damn near miserable.  The worst part is?  I didn’t realize how miserable I was, despite it tearing apart my life.

When you’re not happy, it truly does impact all aspects of your life.  A big part of my issue was work itself, and after I started burning out, I no longer wanted to be a part of it.  I felt helpless, taken advantage of, and angry.  Little did I know, I was taking all of that home with me.  My relationship with my boyfriend suffered, I was working 60+ hours a week, and was so crabby during what little free time I had, I threw most of it on him.  My daughter felt the brunt of it as well, I snapped on her for simple things more times than I’d like to admit.  Of course, working so many hours, made me feel like I missed out on her life (which I did, and I regret wholeheartedly), which made me resentful, which made me angry… and the cycle continued.

The stress from work, and my by that point, unhappy home life impacted my health.  In 2013, I had no hospitalizations.  In 2014 through now?  What, 3?  4?  With several ER trips in between?  It’s been ridiculous.  Crohns isn’t caused by stress, but it most definitely is impacted by it.  So, on top of everything at work, and at home… add in hospital trips.  When you add in hospitals, you have to remember to subtract pay and add stress at work from missing work.  Take all of that and re-route it back into the unhappy job, which leads back into the unhappy home.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

Towards the end of the year, I realized that work was my main issue, and was getting the impression that I was bringing it home and affecting my family.  I made a goal to make it through Christmas.  I had talked about it with Ryan, and once Christmas was past, I would make a decision and decide whether I would leave or stay.

Oddly enough the timing of that final conversation coincided with a demotion.  For whatever reason, my management decided instead of making changes I had been asking for, that it would be better to put me back into the customer service pool and bring back an old coworker as the new supervisor.  I jumped on it.  Sure, I was a bit angry, not at the demotion itself, but at the lack of help I had received, the lack of support I was given and the lack of training (which is improving markedly since then, might I add) for my position.  However, I knew I wasn’t right for the position yet, and at that point, I didn’t want it anymore.

Once I was firmly back in my customer service position, I vowed to leave work at work and to bring the happiness from home there.  I had never been good at separating work and home, never.  Not even when I first started working at 15 years old.  This time I was determined.  That was the first step.  Within a few weeks I was getting comments from family, friends and coworkers that I seemed markedly happier.  Little fights with the boyfriend seemed to happen less and less.  I started to sleep better at night and I realized that it was because once 5pm came along, I *refused* to be aggravated about work, I *refused* to be angry.  If I did manage to bring home those feelings, I did something immediately to put it out of my mind.

Since then, as the weeks pass, I realize what a mess I was.  I wasn’t sleeping well, I wasn’t eating well, and I was perpetually grumpy.  My Crohns Disease started to flare again around Christmas, and I have been back in the hospital twice since then (one was just an overnight, the other almost a week).  The downtime while being sick really pushed home the changes I needed to make.  I have been doing great leaving work at work, and enjoying my home life.  My stress levels were markedly lower once I started focusing on how much I enjoyed doing silly little activities with my daughter, once I started working on my hobbies again.  I started to tweak my diet and cut out some of the fattier foods I eat and try to cut down on coffee.  I quit smoking again (wish me luck) even… that’s the newest, I haven’t had a cigarette since Saturday.

Needless to say, I’ve noticed a huge difference in myself.  I’m enjoying my life a lot more now, and I finally feel like I have my priorities straight.  It took a long time for me to realize that my family and my health come first, no matter what.  No more going to work sick, no more sending my daughter to school with a cold, no more rushing back after hospital stays.  No more bringing home work and no more stressing about it after the day is done.  The benefit also crosses back into the office.  I feel happier heading into work (or at least the dread of a new day isn’t there anymore) and I take my lunch breaks and work on something I’d like to.  When you feel better, you tend to have a higher quality of work.  I  also make it a point to enjoy cooking (like I used to) and my family is benefiting from home cooked meals again.  I’ve even done my best to bring as much music and art as possible back into my home, which is one thing I noticed fell out of my life this last year.

So while I still have quite a bit going on with my health (new doctor, new medications, and new symptoms – a blog post for another time), I’m enjoying myself, my home and my job a lot more these days.  I wish I would have listened to my friends and family earlier, maybe I would’ve caught on to how miserable I really was.  However, you can’t change the past, you can only create the future, and more importantly, make sure you enjoy the present moment.  Here’s to hoping for a better year, a healthier life, and more happiness through out it all.