Should the role of Stepmom come with a rule book?

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Boy meets girl. Girl likes boy. The two fall in love, get married and start a family. If, however, you’re a woman of a certain age, the story may change. Tell me if you have heard this before. Man meets woman. Woman silently wishes her dating days are over. Man tells woman he has kids from a previous relationship. The couple, more mature and pragmatic, forges ahead, gets married and blends families. Simultaneously, the woman has two new titles after her name, wife and stepmother. Full of optimism and love, she embraces her new roles. But what happens when said stepmother is told,

Stay in your lane and play your position?

Perhaps naively, it never occurred to me that a stepmother’s biggest task would be to stay in the background, help when needed, but never be included in significant decision-making or disciplinary actions. I assumed that a martial partnership would also include a close-to-equal say in the lives of the children. I mean, there may not be a biological tie, but surely, a stepmother has to mean more than a babysitter or a teacher? As someone who dated a man with two young children, I often wondered what my role would be in their lives should the relationship advance to the next level? In the meantime, I battled internally with how much of a connection to build to the kids and their well beings. I was always aware that at any moment, the bonds we formed could be broken; the relationship could end or the biological mother could exert her veto power and exclude me from their lives. Surely, it would leave a considerable hole in my heart, and perhaps in theirs too. It wasn’t until last week when watching The Wendy Williams Show did I hear what might be the popular opinion of many biological mothers. Essentially Williams advised stepmothers to stand-down, not to make stepchildren her “everything” and always keep in mind that the kids are not hers. Although, I am no longer in that relationship, Williams’ words struck me. Would I have been expected to maintain a certain distance from the children? If I had married him, does staying in my lane mean remaining tight-lipped on important topics like their schooling? Certainly, a portion of my earnings would pay for their food, clothes, outings, and transportation. There would be holidays and birthdays shared together. Photos snapped to memorialize moments. Could I not consider us a family?

As more children are born outside of marriage and on the opposite end of the spectrum, divorce continues at the same rate, dating someone with children becomes a more probable scenario. What are the rules of engagement?

Can you cap the depth of your feelings simply because the offspring are not biologically your own? How do you silence your opinion and ideas on raising kids that in every way other than DNA are part of you? If becoming a stepmother means staying in your lane, maybe it’s time to park the car and walk.

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Can looking back clear the way forward?

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ImageI opened Microsoft Word intending to write a post asking, My Ex Contacted Me; Now What? Instead an old Word document popped up. It was a letter I began writing to him on April 28, 2013 during one of our breaks. You know these letters. They are the ones you write with no intention to send. They are attempts at catharsis and healing.  Here is a snippet:

I miss you every second of every day. Even when I am asleep, you’re in my dreams. I wish I could dream of us having a great day together just so I could feel that again.

Are you judging me yet? It’s embarrassingly shameful. They are the words of a young girl typed by a grown woman. They are fantastical thoughts. But more than that, they are a reminder of the relationship carousel that lasted more than two years. It’s funny how the Universe lays things in your path at the moment when you need them. Instead of weighing the pros and cons of replying to his call-outs, the quote above and the rest of the letter remind me of the constant anguish. Even in the happiest of times, there was an underlying anxiety asking if this time his promises of change would be realized. He was convincing and persuasive. He knew exactly how to deliver a line while simultaneously soothing doubts and halting further conversation. In retrospect, it was quite remarkable. As the recipient, it was emotional warfare. He was armed with tactics designed to misdirect conversations, distort my words, minimize my feelings, and when all else failed, retreat completely.  Retreat was his harshest weapon. Ignoring phone calls and texts; allowing days to pass with total radio silence. These periods were the harshest. Confusion morphed into anger. Anger contorted itself into hurt. Hurt transformed into worry. The cycle continued until he chose to end it. At that point, I was so emotionally spent that there was very little energy left to fight the good fight.

So, why did I propose today’s post to seek your advice about returning his calls when the answer is clear? Well, this is the most honest I can be. Who wants to devote years of their life to someone and come out on the other side of it wondering, was it all a lie? Intellectually, I am aware the answer is negligent to my future.  Yet there are days, like today, when I am haunted by that singular question. Luckily, tomorrow is a new day.

Until next time, ASK MORE QUESTIONS

The Week Ahead (aka my long walk back from a broken heart)

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Last week I promised to introduce a new weekly piece titled, The Week Ahead. The root of the idea is simple. I need to give myself SOMETHING ELSE to think about and stop looking backwards. The goal is forward progress and it’s impossible to do that if we are tethered to situations that no longer exist (past relationships, former jobs, lost friends/family, once-healthy savings accounts, foreclosed homes, or whatever is the thing keeping your mind and energy focused on everything except the present and future. http://www.flickr.com/photos/girolame/5032449047/in/photolist-8EGBLT-9E5NgN-8ooRS5-8SMrbV-8yRs8Z-8yRspk-hKq8Qi-7L9zwE-7F7JZk-a5b5zZ-988kNb-9E5KAE-7MBEbV-9E2UaZ-7F7K2F-7FbBZJ-7F7KdV-7FbBVL-bukMRo-7F7KwH-7FbCjs-9swg2U-8jA5mE-7FbC8y-hKqeS8-hKqnSN-7F7KmB-7MZpfZ-aidBjH-aidBbc-crJMfm-7Ekeey-9JvD6h-8suWSZ-8GWUQP-9ckWkm-9stgXg-7LnhgU-cRJUtJ-8H14Hb-8H12AS-9fFrko-8jA7W7-7Ek96o-7Ek7Bo-7QWiTw-ejzKUC-eju5bn-eju3Ut-ejzM2d-aUr9wD/lightbox/Let’s be clear, I am not trying to over-promise to you or to myself, which is why it’s the WEEK AHEAD and not the 30-60-90 or 120-day plan. We can all manage a week. Once we make it through this week, we can reevaluate and go for another 7-days. These weeks will become our mile markers.  The mile markers will soon add up and reveal how far we have progressed from where we are right now.

How will you support yourself this week? What goals or plans, big or small, are on the to-do list? 

Here is what I have lined up for myself:

  • Begin training for an upcoming 5K race.  In my previous post, When did I become that girl (& why I took myself off timeout) , I challenged myself to compete in my first Spartan race. Well, training begins this week. My program will consist of strength training and conditioning. Running is my nemesis, but these two apps are my keys to success.
  1. C25K – 5K Trainer – this free app is for new and novice runners and requires a 3-day per week commitment. Expect a 5-minute warm-up and cool-down with a mix of jogging/walking intervals to build up your stamina and condition your body to running. I used this for my first 5K in August and I highly recommend it, besides it’s FREE!
  2. MapMyRun – another free app designed for outdoor runs. Start this app before your jog and the built-in GPS will track your run by recording your pace, duration, distance and more. The upgraded version of the app will even suggest routes in your area.
  • Meal Prep! I love cooking, but the truth is, cooking solely for myself isn’t much fun. However, the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is in the food you consume. Check back later this week for a fun snapshot of my handiwork.
  • Volunteering at City Hall – there is a toy drive at the end of the week for children in the community. I will spend at least one evening this week assisting officials in wrapping presents, on behalf of Santa, of course.
  • Mani/pedi time – we don’t always have to be so deep with our actions, do we? Ladies or fellas, treat your hands and feet to the tiny miracle of a manicure or pedicure. Use the time to zone out, read a book or listen to that new Beyonce.

There it is… small actionable items to make this week better than last week. Share your ideas below.

As always, ASK MORE QUESTIONS and take care of you.

When did I become that girl (& why I took myself off timeout)?

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Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/violarenate/

Photo Credit: Violarenate

Last week I asked the question, Is Dating with a Broken Heart a Waste of Time? After writing the piece, I released the thought. Rather than force myself into a decision and plan of action, I allowed myself to just BE. Be sad. Be angry. Be confused. Be the person that naps. Be hungry and eat unhealthy food. Be lazy. Be quiet. Be still. This weekend while I was in the middle of nothing important aka flipping channels on the couch, the answer to my question came to me as easily as my name. Take care of yourself before others! At our core, I firmly believe love is what connects us as people, but right now, I am not doing much in the way of connecting, unless you count connecting to Netflix, HBO Go, and X-box.

Much like the character of Bubble Boy, I have been keeping life at an arm’s distance. Working from home and winter’s arrival helps facilitate this nomad lifestyle. However, I am woman with interests, ambition and a love of trying new things. Where is she? Fitness, my elixir for a bad day, has taken a backseat to my pity party. For the past month, I have put myself on timeout and only Ben, Jerry, and local delivery restaurants were reaping the benefits.

Timeout is over. This would be a perfect place for a motivational phrase, but instead I will just fill you in on my plan.

  1. Get out of the house! I hate to disagree with Ernest Hemingway who famously said, never mistake motion with action, but he must deal with heartbreak differently than I do.  Going for a simple walk means feeling the cold air on my face, hearing the sounds move around me, and exchanging pleasantries with passersby.  It awakens my senses and reminds me that life goes on with or without me.
  2. Set a goal.  On April 12, 2014, I will participate in my first Spartan Race. This will give me something tangible to work towards that I can control.  My goal is to throw myself back into fitness. Let me clarify; this is not a typical tale of transforming my body so if the day ever comes where my ex and I cross paths, he rues the day we ever parted.  No. Working out brings me back to center.  It calms my mind and my outlook improves. It is the very best thing I can do to take care of myself.
  3. Put the pause on dating and relationships. It is not the right time for me.  The man of my dreams could be sitting next to me as I type this and I would be too blinded by the past and my heartache to notice. I need to own where I am right now, and by no means am I in a dating state of mind.

This is my 3-step plan to take myself OFF timeout. I invite you to think about what your 3 steps will be. What goal will you set for yourself?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Volunteer once a week for a month. (Tip: google “volunteer opportunities in <insert your city>” and watch how many you will find)
  • Clean out and organize your closets, drawers, desk, pantry, trunk of your car, and if you’re perfectly organized, find a friend who needs the help and call it their Holiday gift. Boom!
  • Train for a race (there are tons of free races for all fitness levels and distances)
  • Learn a new skill (cooking, language, web-coding, knitting, instruments, art, etc)
  • Read all those books you promised you would, but never quite opened or finished

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback and shared their own stories of heartbreak with me. My intention in creating this space is to ask more questions and share our stories. On Sunday, I will begin a new series called, The Week Ahead, to hold myself accountable to following my 3-steps.

Leave your comments below and share this article with those who may benefit.

Until next time, ASK MORE QUESTIONS.

Is Dating with a Broken Heart a Waste of Time?

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I have a broken heart. Yeah, I said it. Chances are you can relate to my pain. If you can’t relate, consider yourself lucky, scroll to the bottom of this post and share this link with someone who can. (Thanks.)

broken heart, relationships, love

Photo Credit: Dennis Skley
(http://www.flickr.com/photos/dskley/)

Do you remember going to the playground as a child and playing on the see saw? At its height, you felt like you were flying, soaring above the other kids and smiling broadly. Moments later came the inevitable thud when you slammed into the ground, knees tucked up to your chest with your feet digging into the dirt. Ow! But soon after you were back up top, feeling good, and so it went. Who would have thought that years later I would find myself back on a see saw, only this time, it is a Relationship See Saw.

For most of 2013, my heart has been in various stages of broken. It’s a familiar tale, my ex and I reunite for a few months, old issues resurface, we part, find our way back and so it continues. Each time I tell myself that it will be the last and I proudly announce that this time it’s really over. During our various breaks I try, really I do, to move on. I vow to find a relationship where we are aligned on our present AND our future. On the surface, I put in quite the effort. I select an outfit that reads, sexy-but-classy, perfect a smokey eye and slap a smile onto my face. But when I am sitting across from my date, it’s my ex on my mind. These men are all decent guys (some more than others, of course), but no red flags popping out around them. Their only flaw is that they are not my ex. The ease and comfort of free-flowing conversation is missing and don’t even get me started on the idea of even kissing them good night. I once exited a date so quickly, I damn near broke into a sweat racing to catch my train!

I date in body only because emotionally and spiritually I am reliving memories of the past and silently wishing for a chance at another future with the ex. Each time I agree to go out for drinks, dinner, movie, walk in the park, etc.. I pray that this is the meeting that releases me from my past and catapults me into a new direction. But much like Cinderella, I’m home by midnight, sometimes teary-eyed because I long for the intimacy that comes from a deep love-connection. My heart breaks open even wider when I flashback to how easy it was from the very first date to be with my ex. So, I ask, is dating with a broken heart a waste of time?  Have any of you found a new relationship while still licking wounds from the past? Is it better to be completely healed from yesterday? Or forge ahead even when your heart isn’t in it?

Leave your comments below & share this link with others.

Until next time, ASK MORE QUESTIONS!

“Turn your mess into your MESSage”

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There’s a wonderful relationship coach whom I follow on Twitter named, Tony Gaskins, Jr. (@TonyGaskins) He publishes a newsletter in an attempt to motivate and guide folks to their path. He recently wrote, turn your mess into your message.

Think about it, we all have at least one mess in our lives. For some it’s career – can’t find a job, can’t keep a job, can’t find career fulfillment. Their mess can be found in the deep breaths taken when the alarm clock shouts signaling another day at work has arrived. For others, it’s money. Whether it’s trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, saving for retirement, or digging out of debt, financial woes plague many of us.  Their mess can be found in crumpled up ATM receipts revealing balances too low to make them feel secure. There are people who struggle with weight and body image issues. They move around this world feeling inadequate and confused on how to make and stick to an active and healthy lifestyle. Their mess can be found in empty boxes of junk food, over or under-sized clothing or medical charts warning them a change is needed.

My mess is simple. My Achilles heel is relationships. Have you ever heard the song, Indestructible, by Robyn? 

She sings, “let the bad ones in, let the good ones go.” Well, I have never met Robyn, but I am pretty sure she is singing about me. For as far back as I can remember, I have had a crush on some boy. In pre-k, it was a sandy-haired boy named, John. My heart belonged to Jason each summer from ages 7-10. My first kiss at age 12 was to a rambunctious kid named, William. Those were all harmless crushes punctuated with cheesy notes passed back and forth between friends. It wasn’t until I became a teenager that the heartbreak began. In all the years that have followed, I still haven’t been able to get it right. That’s a post (or perhaps several posts) for another time… But for now, just know that I have a mess too.

This space is titled, Questions, No Answers simply because I do not pretend to know what the hell I am talking about. However, that does not stop me from having a lot to say, questions to ask, and answers to seek. Let this page be the beginning of a community for people to share their own messes and just read about my own.

ASK MORE QUESTIONS, my people… because only through knowledge can we empower ourselves to be better than we were yesterday. In the meantime, grab a broom and let’s try to tidy up our mess!