Being A Step-Parent In Between A Parental War

Please bare with me as I woke up this morning to discover I had no more creamer for my coffee.  “Sad face!”  In fact, my pantry is looking a bit bare this morning, as it usually does after my step-children visit for the weekend.

Before my step-children leave, they always raid the pantry of granola bars and raisins (candy, if any, left over from Nana).  “Can I have a baggie,” my step-daughter always asks, and she fills it up to the point it’s difficult to seal, with the intent to sneak it home.  Their mother doesn’t allow “candy” or any other kinds of junk-food in the house; however, sometimes there are exceptions.  So, it never hurts to try, I guess.     

Step-parenting is suppose to be simple…

Two weekends of every month, summer break, and alternating holiday breaks, I am a step-parent.   The job should be relatively easy.  I mean, I have step-parents.  I understand how this is suppose to work.  I know my place as a step-mother.   Plus, it’s only a part-time gig that requires more “supervision” than “parenting,” right?  Unfortunately, Life has a way of always passing me the funky lemons.

I try extremely hard to respect my step-children’s mother’s (often times odd) parental choices, because at the end of the day,  they are her kids.  But, every time my step-children visit us, they have a new religion, new diet, new hair style, an interesting twist on certain facts, and sometimes a confusing strange outlook on life.  Most of the time, I just nod and smile.

It is certainly not my place to correct them and even though my husband does have some parental rights, I often just elbow him in the gut to keep quiet.  Correcting and expressing our own different opinions can be misinterpreted by the custodial-parent as undermining their parental decisions.  So, its just best to let it go and choose the battles we can win.

The One Who Must Know It All

When children become teenagers, us adults, know nothing; but we are still at an age where everything is all about “WHY,” “HOW,” and “WHAT!”

This weekend, I was expected to know what happens if lightening were to hit glass (I assume it would shatter).  I am not sure how we even started talking about lightening.  But, that is a much easier question to answer than the other questions they tend to throw at me.  In general, it is “I” who my step-children often seek answers to the worlds most difficult questions and the answer is never as simple as 42 (The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference).

Often times, I am asked extremely, difficult (totally not my area of expertise) kind of questions that are probably best suited for the biological parent.  I cannot tell you how often Google has assisted me in answering and solving many interesting mysteries; like the time one of my step-children came to me with a “marking” on their neck that they claimed they “just woke up with” one morning.  It turns out it was a Pagan symbol drawn in what appeared to be brown eye-liner as part of some protection spell.  Totally not judging!   I have total respect for all religions.  If it works, it works!  Again, not judging, but I must admit, it was one of those difficult things to explain to a child who thought they were magically marked overnight.  Just saying,

I never invite these type of difficult conversations unless necessary.  Sometimes, you can tell something heavy is weighing on their tiny little shoulders and they need someone to talk to, otherwise they become an emotional mess.  The most difficult part of difficult conversations, is when they look to you for validation regarding their parents feud.  “Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Who is good?  Who is Bad?”  Although I would certainly love to give them my 10 cents about their parents, I try to focus on redirecting those questions back onto them, allowing them to formulate their own rational opinions about their parents.  I try to largely emphasize on the fact that a person cannot be truly defined as “good” or “bad” just from hearsay nor from the actions of others that we may not fully understand, as there are always two sides to one story.

I’ve been a part of my step-children’s lives since they were very young.  I’ve heard a lot of drama, seen a lot of drama, and dealt with a lot of drama (99% of it being completely unnecessary).  I might have even grown as a person with all of the drama.  More importantly, I certainly know that  I learned a lot about mental health through this step-parenting journey.

Not My War To Fight

The first four years, I found myself fighting a war that wasn’t mine.

The drama between biological parents is none of my business, unless their drama crosses over the boundaries into neutral territory threatening our family’s fortress of solitude; then, of course, I must suit up for battle.  As a heavily suited General, I spent the first four years, wasting unnecessary energy leaning over a dusty table of worn war maps and quirky figurines contemplating our next move in battle.  Our fortress was constantly under heavy attack by every kind of artillery an uncooperative parent can throw at us.  I was constantly ordering unsuccessful counter-attacks from the sidelines; because I didn’t exactly understand how to deal with irrational behavior in a rational situation.  The details of this war is not my story to share; however, I eventually realized that between everyone involved, I was the “only” one suffering emotionally.

 

Dropping Emotional Weight and Fortifying The Boundaries

Two years ago, I threw down my shield and sword, hung up my white flag, and walked away from a war that is not mine to fight.

I blame my grey hairs on four years of emotional drama (okay, grey hair is technically genetic).  Not only was I having to help my husband deal with his uncooperative ex, I was also having to help my step-children emotionally cope with unrelated issues that were happening outside of our house, either at their mother’s house, at daycare, or at school.  Whatever was bothering them, they came to me  for advice.  It was extremely stressful and very emotionally for me, especially, when many of these things are completely out of my control.

Nobody carried as much emotional weight as I did.  When I abandoned the war, everyone was extremely upset with me.  They didn’t like taking over all the weight I carried; so much so, they kept pushing me to stay in the war using manipulative tactics that were no better than those that came from the so-called enemy.  It took me several months to officially walk away.

Today, I am much happier and extremely stress-free. I have fortified our boundaries with one simple rule: “What happens at mom’s house, stays at mom’s house.”  Simply, Don’t bring that drama over here!  I have also established consistent rules and a simple routine for our house that my step-children love.  Most importantly, both my step-children know that they must leave their bad mood from their mom’s house at the front door.  They love that idea and if something is bothering them, we certainly talk about it, but we no longer allow it to ruin our visitations.  It’s all about being positive, understanding, and enforcing boundaries.

As for my husband and others that are involved in all this drama, I have established personal boundaries making it certainly clear to everyone that I don’t want to be involved nor do I even want to hear about it.  I might step in every so often to assist my husband in providing clear effective communication to his ex, but other than that, I am not much involved anymore.

I have learned to accept that there are some unfortunate things in Life that I cannot control, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make the best out of an unfortunate situation.  Breathe, smile, and always keep a positive attitude!

 

Disclosure:  I have no intentions on making anyone look bad in this post.  I did my very best to share and express my own personal experiences without disclosing personal details of an unfortunate situation between two other people.  Please keep in mind that an uncooperative parent doesn’t make them a bad parent.  Co-parenting is not always easy.

 

 

 

 

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Parenting With A Partner With Asperger’s: A Book Review

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IMG-1023All this time, I have been blabbing about my OCD. How totally selfish….so, lets talk about Asperger’s!

As I have mentioned before, my husband has Asperger’s.  His Asperger’s, to me, is just something that makes him unique.  I love that his brain processes information differently than my own; however, it seems to be a bit glitchy when it comes to parenting.  So much so, that parenting is the only thing we ever bicker about; or more accurately, that I ever bicker about…

I “get” my husband’s brain.  I studied biology and psychology; plus, I am extremely opened minded to the fact that everyone is different and I strongly believe that everyone, regardless how quirky they might be, still deserve love and respect.  So, for the most part, my husband’s so-called “odd” social behaviors doesn’t bother me; but I am beginning to see how his Asperger’s is affecting our children.

Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!

My husband simply does not exist.  He is here, but not; and David Copperfield has nothing to do with it!  I think the biggest problem is that, my husband doesn’t acknowledge when spoken to; something I had to get used to.  When prompt to provide a response, you can certainly tell that his brain is searching for a “script,” a go-to, catch-all phrase that works for any kind of situation.  His usual response, for everything, is either “neat-o” or “oh-goodness.”  If the subject is not about him or something he is an “expert” at (areas in which he can confidently express himself), the tone is off and sometimes emotionless, making him sound rude, disrespectful, or a bit harsh.  Not knowing how to appropriately and quickly respond, the brain becomes anxious, and the tongue does its best to interpret and translate.  So, my husband never means to sound rude, disrespectful, or harsh; it’s just rolls off the tongue that way.

I am sure there is more to it, but I am guessing, this is one of the biggest reasons as to why our kids prefer to come to me, instead of their dad, even when he is standing two feet away from me.  They either feel their dad ignores them or their feelings get hurt, by his not-so compassionate responses.  Communication may not seem to be my husband’s forte, but he sure does know how to make the kids laugh!

Parenting Requires Social-Skills

Although, we are both biological parents, I am “the” parent.  I often struggle with this concept, because I personally believe parenting should be a joint responsibility; however, my husband’s Asperger’s makes it difficult to parent together.  As I have mentioned in prior posts, our joint efforts resulted in a “good” cop / “bad” cop parenting style.  It was confusing for everyone and we decided it was best that I just take lead for now on.  It isn’t that my husband doesn’t care or is lazy about parenting, he just doesn’t have that communication-bonding ability with the kids.  Parenting requires social-skills; something I am beginning to learn more about in this new book I started to read this month, called, “Out of Mind-Out of Sight,” by Kathy J. Marshack, Ph. D.

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About The Author and Why I Enjoy This Book

Out of Mind-Out of Sight,” by Kathy J. Marshack, Ph. D., has thus far, been an insightful read.  Kathy J. Marshack is a licensed psychologist who specializes in Asperger’s Syndrome and high-functioning Autism; understanding Asperger’s on both a professional and personal level.

I am really enjoying this book, for that it has all that I like about a book: scientific-based facts, personal experiences, and great humor.  There is nothing dull about the way this book is written, making it much more relatable and easier to retain important concepts that will help me better understand and work with my husband during our parenting adventures.

Cognitive and Emotional Empathy

What have I learned so far?  Well, lots of things, really.  But one thing that truly sticks in my brain is the difference between Cognitive Empathy and Emotional Empathy.   Although better explained by Kathy J. Marshack, I think I got the gist of it.

Empathy is complex; however, Marshack explains there are two types of empathy.  Cognitive Empathy, to my understanding, is when the  brain assesses a situation factually, instead of emotionally.  Emotional Empathy is looking at a situation with emotions.  Those who do not have Asperger’s Syndrome, respond to situations with both Cognitive and Emotional Empathy; whereas, those with Asperger’s Syndrome, generally, only express one type of empathy at a time (not both at the same time).

Say, my kid comes to me with scrapes on their knees from falling down at the park.  They are crying and their knees are bleeding and require medical assistance.  I respond by expressing my concern for their emotions and provide comfort by expressing my understanding that scraped knees totally suck; and then attend to the scrape.  My entire response consisted of both cognitive and emotional empathy.

However, my husband would respond completely differently, whereas he would not be as comforting and skip straight to the fact that it “just” needs a band-aid.   He is responding with Cognitive Empathy, where he recognizes the facts of the situation (scrape on knee), but not the emotional situation (kid being upset).  Or, he may respond with Emotional Empathy instead, where he may respond extremely emotionally and irrationally by dramatically swooping the child up into his arms, rushing them to the band-aid box, and making a dramatic scene, in which only scares the child.

But, like I said, Marshack explains it way better by sharing a personal, yet relatable,  story from one of her clients; in which I strongly encourage you to read about in her book.

After I have finished the entire book (still have a couple chapters left to go), I will be posting an update on this review at the end of the month.  Maybe great changes will come or at the very least, I have gained, yet another perspective to share with you about mental health.

Have You Read A Good Book Lately?

I love to read when I am not busy being a mom.  If you have any book recommendations regarding Asperger’s Syndrome, Parenting, or Mental-Health in general, let me know!  I’d love to check them out! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mother’s Mental Health

mother-and-child-photo-png-17I am retired.  Well, at least that is what my aunt calls moms, like me, who have transitioned from being a career working woman to a stay-at-home mom.  My aunt can be so cute sometimes; but I am obviously not financially retired nor do I want to be.  I actually miss working 9-5 as a paper-pusher.  I enjoy busy schedules, terrible bosses, gossiping lunch hours, and impossible deadlines.  In short, I like working for the “man,” because at the end of each day, I can walk away from it all without a care in the world left on my shoulders!

As a stay-at-home mom, that is an entirely different story!  At home, I am the “man,” my own frantic boss,  losing hair on a daily basis, working a 24-7 hour schedule, with no vacation time, putting out fires (not real ones) in every direction, constant rocket-science problem solving, budgeting, planning, delegating, and training.  I often imagine this is what it is like running your own business in real life, except with less hazardous waste materials (diapers and snot tissues) and time outs.

I LOVE being a mom and I am entirely grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my kids!  I wouldn’t trade this life for the world, but it sure is one hell of a job being a mom.  Whether I was working a 9-5 job or staying at home, the job responsibilities are still the same.  Being a mom, in general, is one tough job.  Like any job, it can wear you down and take a toll on your mental health.

A Much Needed Mommy Break

Last night, I had one of those moments where I needed a break from being a mom.  I just wanted a couple hours of “me-time.”  Well, a couple of hours of Will Smith time, watching a tv series he was hosting for National Geographic with NASA called, One Strange Rock.  Zoning into a movie or tv series is an effective way for me to relieve stress.  Distracting my busy mind with something, less worrisome.  Although, I am not sure how watching a series that talked about different ways our Sun can destroy our planet to be less worrisome, but apparently, it didn’t bothered me very much.  Probably, because I don’t have “Prepare for Earth’s Doom” listed as my top 3 things to worry about today.

A Tough Mommy Week 

Last week was a tough “Mommy week,” as our youngest was admitted into the hospital for a couple of days on oxygen therapy to assist in fighting off the common cold virus.  We came home this weekend, mentally exhausted with our bodies aching from having slept a couple days on uncomfortable fold-out chairs beside our toddler’s bed in the hospital.  We continued her breathing treatments every 4 hours at home and she is now back to her hyper, happy, normal self.  🙂   As for me, I am absolutely worn out, both physically and mentally!

Last week, I held myself together pretty well.  Mostly,  because it’s not our first rodeo with hospitals.  Our oldest, born a micro-preemie, spent the first 3 months of her life in the NICU, followed by 6 more months on oxygen at home, frequent visits to doctors and specialists, and a couple of years of 3 different types of therapy.  Today, she is a healthy, angry, extremely tiny, super sassy, smart-ass, fire-pistol of a pre-schooler who may one day take over the Universe!

However, this hospital adventure was with our youngest who has never had any medical problems until now.  Fortunately, our experiences with our oldest allowed us to recognize a breathing problem before it became a medical emergency.  But none of that means it wasn’t emotional, stressful, or worrisome.  Having Asthma myself, I know exactly what it feels like working extra hard to breathe; I can feel it in my own muscles as I watched our toddler wheeze and pull in hard from her chest, ribs, and back.  It brought me to tears, because there was nothing I could do to make it stop and the ER, I had brought her to, hit her with all they got with their respiratory arsenal.  Although she wasn’t showing signs of distress, she continued to work too hard to breathe.  Muscles do eventually fatique out putting her at risk of collasping her lungs, so we were transferred to the hospital for breathing assistance while she overcame the worst of her cold.  In the end, they concluded she may have asthma which complicated her cold.  With that, I quickly put the blame on myself, for genetically giving her asthma.

My Personal Space Bubble Has Been Invaded 

Last night, even though our toddler is feeling much better, I had a lot on my mind.  All the emotions I kept back last week finally hit me.  In addition, to whatever else was on my list of things to worry about.  I could handle a little over-thinking, but the straw that broke the camels back (or camels mental capacity) last night, was when I was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic in my own personal space bubble.  My personal space bubble hasn’t been kid free in over two weeks.  I love my kids very much, but they have this constant need to always be touching me, hanging on me, sitting on me, or getting right up in my face even if there is a perfectly good other parent (father) sitting across the room.  I usually don’t mind the affection, but sometimes, it can become a little overwhelming, especially, when you just want to use the bathroom alone without supervision.  My kids seem to be glued to me, especially, our youngest, who seems to be super-glued to me with Gorilla glue.  I can’t pry her off.  She is like a little monkey that just won’t let go!  You can’t even put things between us; not a chair, a stuff animal, or a pillow.  I tried to pry her off with a ruler last night, but the gap between us is too tight!

I obviously wasn’t going to get the mental break that I wanted; a dark, quiet room, with just me and Will Smith talking about the end of life on our planet.

A Mother’s Mental Health Can Be Resilient

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that a mother’s mental health can be resilient.  I can juggle a lot of mental crap, before my brain finally gives in and says, “Dude, go lock yourself in the bathroom for 5 minutes to recharge!”   Sometimes I need more than 5 minutes; on my most overwhelming days, I could settle with just a couple of hours of alone time.  But, it has to be uninterrupted alone time without having to worry about my kids.  So, I get my best mental rest when they are asleep or at grandma’s house; both, in which seem very rare.  I rarely get uninterrupted mental breaks, which tells me just how dang resilient my brain must be, especially, when you feel like you are about to fall apart and your toddler thinks blowing bubbles with her nose is super hilarious!  I would think at that point, my eye would start to twitch or something, but it doesn’t, I just smile, hug my little monkey, and appreciate this time together.  Perhaps, enjoying all these small moments together is what keeps me from having a mommy mental break down.  🙂 ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tackling Anger For Kids (Kid Book Review)

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My oldest child was born with a sassy fire-blazzing attitude, whereas, my other child is, well, basically our little happy Buddha.  Although, they are several years apart, I often call them Ying and Yang, because they are complete extreme opposites of each other.  Both children can be quite the handful when their two opposite personalities collide with one another;  as powerful as a nuclear meltdown.   Fortunately, for the most part though, it really isn’t that bad, just interesting.  However, my oldest starts school soon and I have been instructed to get her defiant attitude under better control.

A leopard cannot change its spots…nor should it

I don’t want my oldest to lose her fire.  Born a micro-preemie (26 weeks), she was born with this fire and it has driven her to overcome some incredible obstacles.  As a parent, I feel it is my job to teach her how to harness her fire rather than just extinguish it out for good.  Emotions are like oxygen, it fuels her fire!  So we’ve been working a lot on how to better express our emotions.

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Last week, we went to the library and I came across this book called, “Mouse Was Mad ,” by Linda Urban.  I LOVE IT!

This is a great book!  It is about a mouse who is mad (obviously) and goes through different types of temper-tantrums (stomping, screaming, rolling around, etc).

Not realizing that Mouse is mad, each of his friends, tells him he is doing it wrong and each demonstrate the correct way to stomp, scream, roll around, etc.  Mouse fails to do it correctly and gets even more mad, to the point he is standing silently still.  The way Mouse arrives to a calm state of mind is the cutest story ever!

If you are looking for a good book that talks about anger, this is it!  Not a bad read for adults either.  🙂