The difficult task of being a stepmom can be expressed one single statement. I have to be a parent, but I am not their parent. I spend several hours of most days with my stepsons, ages 10 and 11. They are great little guys with their own unique personalities. I am still getting to know them and what motivates them. More accurately, I am learning by error what frustrates them. After more than a year of caring for them, I still get it wrong more often than not. This is my latest struggle. I will not be offering any insight in this post, mainly just venting some frustration at my own lack of skill.
I am a non-conflict, peace-loving individual. I live in a house with 5 little boys, 4 of whom are relatively close in age, along with 2 daughters. The conflict is nearly constant! It is my natural tendency to avoid dealing with it, but you can only guess what happens when I use that approach with this many kids! So I am trying to find a way to parent effectively and still be authentically me. My efforts have not been successful thus far, which leaves me feeling pretty useless by the end of the day. One thing I know for sure, being passive or passive-aggressive with kids will get you nowhere FAST. But the only alternative is re-learning my parenting style (which, by the way, has worked beautifully with my older kids, probably because they are so much like me.)
The thought of trying to change in such a fundamental way is frightening to me. I am comfortable with myself for the first time in a long time, except for this one area of my life, which is still very new to me. And I find that I become very defensive and resentful if anyone says "if you would just do this...." or "maybe you should try...." Why do I feel that way? If what I am doing isn't working, why would I not welcome advice on how to improve my methods? I suspect it is pride, which has been and apparently always will be a struggle for me. But even more than that, it is fear. Fear that I will not be able to change, that I don't have the ability to form new habits, that I don't have the strength or discipline to follow through. So I hide behind the denial that is so comfortable to me.
As usual, I have at least taken notes on what doesn't work. Here's the list.
1. Making my husband be "the heavy" all the time. The conversation goes like this: (me) "They never listen to me." (him) "Of course they don't, there are no consequences when they don't listen to you." (me) "They only listen to you." Then he marches upstairs and deals with the thing that I should have dealt with myself, leaving him tense and frustrated, and me feeling inadequate and guilty for not handling it myself. And leaving the boys upset that dad is yelling at them for something that I let slide or did not enforce. A crazy-cycle, indeed!
2. Getting frustrated and yelling at the kids. Guess what I've learned? When I start yelling and lose control of my emotions, little boys stop listening! Men are BORN with this ability. They don't respond well to out-of-control women at ANY age! And I truly hate the sound of my own voice when I respond harshly, especially to a child.
3. Pretending not to notice when they are disobedient. These guys are super smart, and very intuitive, and they KNOW when I have let them get away with something. Yes, we must choose our battles wisely, but disobedience is not acceptable in any form and needs to be dealt with. For me to let them "win", either out of weariness or fear of the conflict, leads them to even greater acts of disrespect and disobedience. Because they are kids, and they are human, and that is what comes naturally.
4. Being unreasonable. For me, this is letting my level of emotion decide the consequences. Grounding a kid for a month for a relatively minor offense. Or losing my cool and refusing to listen to a child who just wants to explain himself and be heard. Or assuming the worst in a child, and not giving grace and the benefit of the doubt. Those things come more naturally with my natural children, because I feel that I KNOW their hearts. With Michael's boys it's an educated guess, at best.
There you have it. Kari's lesson on What-Not-To-Do. Truly, my area of expertise. When I get it all figured out, I'll write a really great book. Maybe my grandchildren will one day benefit from all these hard lessons I am learning. For now, I pray WITHOUT CEASING and trust that God will make of this beautiful mess what He wants it to be in spite of me. I never knew before entering into this chapter of my life what it meant to be totally dependent on God to get me through the day. Now I am painfully aware of my desperate need for Him. Maybe that is what it is all about, after all. If my kids can learn that from me then they will have learned something of value. Something about grace and mercy and a Father who fills the gaps in our meager attempts at parenting with purpose. Love covers a multitude of wrongs, and I have a heart full of love for these guys, so I have hope that it will be alright in the end. But for now, I am grateful for mercies new every morning. And afternoon, and evening, etc. Now it is back to being Not-So-Super Mom... If I can find my cape...