Remember who you are

Having been a mom at the tender age of 18, I have been a mom to many for more than half my life. When I was 22 years old, my, now, ex-husband brought four other children into my life. 22 years old and I was a mother to five children, and they are amazing children.

At ages 26 and 29, I had two more of my own biological children. Not even 30 years old and I was responsible for 7 human beings (2 of whom lived with their mom full time and visited us when they could).

I love being a mom. I don’t think there is anything quite so rewarding, exhausting and nerve-wracking as parenthood. It is truly an adventure with many peaks, valleys and plot twists and sometimes we get so busy and so caught up in our parenting role and in what society thinks that should be that we lose sight of who we are.

Here’s what happened along my journey. As a teen mom, my daughter and I had a great routine together. Her father and I were very young and very immature and he simply was not ready for the responsibility of being a parent. He was angry a lot, neglectful and began throwing terrible temper tantrums that caused potentially dangerous scenarios. I chose to remove myself and my daughter from that environment. He chose his own path. I do not begrudge him for his choices. I don’t understand them but that is his burden to bear.

In those years of single parenting, I still had my friends and still had a social life with them (at times some would say too much of one). My ex-husband came into my life, and, as I stated previously, I endured many years of abuse which included being unable to have any contact with my friends and very minimal contact with my family.

Soon I lost who I was…other than being a mom. My identity was allowed to be in a few certain things: the children, his church and a few hand picked people I was allowed to speak with. I had zero idea who I was and, once I found my strength and freedom from that scenario, I began a major rebuild and put myself on the path of rediscovery – using the activities I once loved as my starting point.

I read something very recently “Mother is a verb. It is something you do. Not just who you are”.

This resonated within me.

I have met so many women who lost themselves during the active years of motherhood and were completely beside themselves when their children moved on to their next stage and adventure of life.

Moms, our goal is to work ourselves out of a job not to lose ourselves in the process.

Make time to take time for yourself – whether it’s connecting with a friend/your spouse, going for a walk/yoga class/painting, or locking yourself in the bathroom with a bath bomb, a glass of wine, soft music and candlelight or getting your hands dirty digging in the garden…just do something for you, for you to enjoy… Hell, I’ve even happily gone to a movie on my own if no one was available to go with me.

Don’t lose yourself to your other relationships, friends. Our relationships should be an extension of us not a consumption of us.

Take some time in stillness to meditate and reflect on you and your needs. Motherhood (Fathers this can be directed at you as well) does not equal martyrdom.

Know your role

There are as many opinions on what the role of a step-parent should be doing (or not doing) as there are opinions of what parents should or should not be doing.

What is a step-parent to do?

You know there will be people who will protest your actions and investments as a step-parent no matter what you do. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t and that is perfectly ok. These same people will more than likely overlook you as existing let alone as having a parental role in the children’s lives. Guess what? That’s ok as well.

Are you doing what is right and what is needed within your family dynamic? Are you, your spouse, your children (regardless of prefix) happy with the role you are playing in their lives? Those are the only valid opinions in this convoluted step/parenting web.

Before I even moved in with my husband, we sat down and discussed his expectations of me with his kids and my expectations of him with mine. “If you are part of my life, you are part of theirs, in full capacity of a parental role.” Luckily, we were completely on the same page.

We each agree that the other is not just there to be a buddy to the children, a live-in baby sitter or simply play a supporting role to the “parents ” while hiding in the shadows. We are parents and we shall act accordingly and unified. We have both played step-parenting roles before where the expectations of us were to behave just as we would toward, and for, our biological children. This is the desire we share for our family; there is no division or line drawn in the sand of who can do or say what to which children.

So, as a step-parent, what is your role? You need to ask 3 opinions to find that out and I would suggest having this discussion early enough in your relationship that you can see if you have conflicting opinions.

1. your own

2. your spouse’s

3. the children

Let the opinions of others simply be that. They have no weight nor merit in your life or circumstance. That is simply a weight they need to carry.

Love your life, parents. Enjoy your children. The nights are long but the years are short and soon this time with your children will be a faded memory.

Taking care of busine…YOU!

Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health” and “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness “.

Making it a habit to practice self-care can be challenging. We all have busy schedules (with work, school, household, familial and social obligations) and let’s not forget the guilt. The “I should-be’s” can have very loud opinions.

How we should implement self-care into our lives:

1. I suggest trying to get enough sleep. How difficult is it to try to do anything when you’re exhausted? I know when I go through my seasons of PTSD nightmares, I can hardly function, let alone feel like caring for myself.

In order to set yourself up for success in the sleep department, my personal experience shows that (at least for me) routine and organization are key. Have a bedtime routine that shifts your mind from activity to preparing for sleep modes. One of the most helpful for me was making the bedroom a sanctuary….cozy colors, cozy blankets, soft lighting. Hygge the hell out of that space. Room darkening curtains are a must and consider removing electronics from your bedroom (cell phones, televisions, etc.

2. Practice the art of saying “no”. “No” is a complete sentence. If you have no time to give yourself at least 15 min, you don’t have time to add another bake sale, Susan.

3. Eat well to feel well. Practice mindfulness during your meals, truly savoring your food. Watch which types of food make you feel gross and sluggish and which make you feel great? Water, water, water…

4. If you are able, get a pet. Studies have shown that pets, especially a dog, help reduce stress, anxiety and high blood pressure. I’ve heard that people with PTSD are now using service dogs. I know for myself, although not a service dog, my dog has been a great asset in helping to calm and relax me – even going as far as waking me up from the nightmares that harass me and the dog will not leave my side when a panic attack sets in.

5. My personal favorite, get outside. Being outside reduces fatigue, burn-out and depression. For me, it nourishes my soul, especially when I am able to get away from the city, major bonus points when I can get out to enjoy a full moon or a sunset/rise…

6. Exercise daily

7. Get organized. Organize your space, your calendar, your routines. Organization reduces stress exponentially. Schedule your self-care so you reduce your chances of bailing on yourself.

8. Make time to read.

Life has shown me that self-care is a fundamental part of what we should do. How can we pour ourselves out for our loved ones if we feel there is nothing within us to give?

So, let’s take a look at our calendars, pick a day and schedule a nice, long walk, a hot bath, a leisurely meal with friends, even just waking up 15 minutes earlier to have an uninterrupted cuppa and some time for a little deep breathing.

Step-parents, this is especially important for us all. Hell, it’s important no matter what prefix is attached to parenting.

On self-care and hiding in the pantry

Mamas (and Dads), raising children is hard. Maybe “hard” is the wrong word. It is beautiful and rewarding and, by far, the best thing I have ever done. Maybe “complex” would be a better choice.

Perhaps it isn’t even raising children….perhaps it is simply the act of parenting. For a group of people who are just winging this and sitting at the parenting version of the prom, hiding in the corner because everyone looks better than we do, we sure cast a shit load of judgment on other parents who are just as lost and just as uncertain as we are.

Natural birth. C-section birth. Home birth. Hospital birth. Breast fed. Formula fed. Jarred baby food. Homemade baby food. Cloth diapers. Disposable diapers. Home school. Public school. Private school. Parent. Step parent. Foster parent. Adopted parent…….the list and options are endless.

In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? All kids, regardless of the choices made in parenting, are going to pick their nose on the playground and become Olympic athletes in eye rolling at your lame jokes.

So, now that I started my thoughts off on a goat trail, let me re-group.

I am a firm believer and proponent of self-care. Honestly, we don’t have time to not make time. Nothing needs to be complicated, costly or timely. Taking even 5 or 10 minutes, on a chaotic day (more when you can) just for you is a necessity. Meditate, walk, yoga, lock yourself in the bathroom or hide in your bedroom closet 🤣. Whatever you do, simply be in that moment and let your thoughts still and your breath energize and heal you.

Can we do that? For real?

Yes, we have to. For our sake. For our family’s sake. Do something for yourself where you are not thinking of next week’s meal plan, tomorrow’s grocery list, when you have to switch over the laundry, whether the dog was walked or the cat fed, if notes are signed or….well, you get the drift.

For me, any time out in nature allows me to re-focus, to still my thoughts and quiet my soul. In a pinch, any “outside” will do but, let’s be real, for myself – a farm girl stuck in the city, being outside of the city is definitely ideal.

I am a toes in the sand, barefoot in the grass, ride the horse bareback through the pasture, smell the soil and the rain on the air, wolf howling in the distance kind of gal.

Growing up, the howls of wolves and coyotes were my lullaby and that howl still has a way of sweetly lulling me into relaxation.

So, get out there! Play in the dirt. Jump in the puddles. Kick off your shoes. Hide in the pantry with the bag of cheetos….whatever! Just go do something for you. You not only deserve it, you need it.

P.S. even if you are not a parent, take care of yourself. If you don’t, who will?

We all make mistakes

I’ve made mistakes. We all have. I would love to see anyone who truly believes they have never made a bad decision, said the wrong thing or lead with reaction over wisdom.

Making mistakes doesn’t make me bad nor does it make me an evil entity; just as you, the reader, making mistakes doesn’t make you bad, evil or dangerous.

As a mom, step-mom, daughter, sister, friend….I’m not perfect and don’t claim to be. I think facades of perfection simply put too much pressure on a person – internally and externally.

The only option, for me, is to pick myself up from the dirt, dust myself off, get back on the horse and try to not get bucked off again.

Be gentle with the people in your life who make mistakes.

1. you don’t know what all they are dealing with.

2. I bet, with most certainty, they have offered you much grace for your mistakes.

3. we are all just doing the best we can on this trail called life…and this hike didn’t come with any navigational equipment. Be gentle when footings slip.

Just as Alexander Pope stated “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Pass on wisdom not wounds

Far too often it is so easy for us to speak to and about people, not from a place of truth, but from a place of interpretation. I observe this every day.

I am a people watcher. I watch reactions and responses. I watch eye rolls and lowered gazes. I watch how a little innocuous comment can actually be a poison dart careful aimed and fired at an obvious target.

Hard taught lessons in my life have shown me how to see red flags – even red flags that come guised as white flags of surrender. I have learned to respond not to react.

Oh, sometimes a knee-jerk reaction happens. I’m human. Sometimes my “dealt with a narcissist ” quota has been exceeded and, oops, reaction….

My advice to all of us (as much to myself as to anyone else who happens to read this): as a parent, or step-parent, we should pass on wisdom to our children not wounds. When we speak of others in their lives, our children sense the heart and tone in our words. Watch not only the what but the how when you say your words. Insecurities, jealousies, angers and hurts are interpreted by your children – loudly and clearly.

Made with Love

In our home we prefer homemade. My husband and I love working in our kitchen together and/or with our children making breads and treats and pizzas, and experimenting with new flavors, of pancakes and breads especially. We do this as often as our schedules allow but aim for at least once a week.

Last week, when we had my husband’s kids for our week with them, we took to making our own baked doughnuts and topped them with a delicious cinnamon sugar.

They were an immediate hit and the pleas to make them more often resounded from 4 of 6 children. I’m going to safely presume the other 2 would wholeheartedly agree…once they taste them. 😉

In our home, cooking is an act of love; we pour our heart and love into our recipes as freely as we pour our garlic. Ha ha!This is a huge reason behind our love of canning and freezing foods fresh from our garden, a local community garden, local farmers and from the forest.

In fact, I’m so excited to be able to return to the forest for another harvest this coming season. This is a huge part of my childhood and my upbringing. As a family (three generations of family and now includes a fourth and, once old enough, fifth generation), we would gather and prepare. I recall many, many mosquito-ridden, picnic lunch packed, heat stroke suffering days of gathering berries of all sorts, rosehips and wild horseradish, and harvesting our gardens as a family.

My favorite memories are sitting on the cool cement stairs in front of my granny’s house, tipping and tailing beans, shelling peas and absorbing every word she spoke through her stories and wisdom.

My least favorite, but still as rewarding, butchering days. Necessary, appreciated once on my plate, but not my favorite. Why? After a season or so of caring for those chicks, piglets and calves I grew fond of them; I even broke the cardinal farm rule of never naming any animal other than the dogs, cats, horses and the milk cows, and would bestow names upon one or two or all…butchering days became difficult tasks when a named animal fell to slaughter but such is the hand dealt to a farm kid (especially a farm kid who blatantly disregarded the “no naming animals” rule).

Harvest is not for months yet so why am I thinking about it now?

Now is when we prepare. Plan the garden, prepare the seeds by starting them in the house, plot the garden lay-out….and wait to reap the tasty, tasty rewards.