Monthly Archives: February 2011

Losing “the Dream”

I don’t think that I can do this topic justice. There are so many feelings I have that are tied up in my dreams of family. I know that I will need to edit this later, but this is so essential to blended families that I want to get it off my chest and get it out there.

I had a dream of how our blended family would look. We were on our way, things looked beautiful, then it all came crashing down.

Valentine’s weekend 2009. My husband and I took a road trip to visit his family. We had a great weekend, bonded like crazy, enjoyed his family, talked marriage. The marriage thing was settled, we would marry before the end of the year. We had never felt closer or more in sync.

On Wednesday afternoon following our weekend of bliss … call from his older daughter … they are moving in less than two months … 6 states away …

There went my dream. My two bonus daughters were taken away by their mother. My husband didn’t fight it. He was depressed. He was frustrated. Our relationship took a turn. He became emotionally distant. I could not fix it.

Around this time my ex was fired. He stopped paying child support. My husband was able to carry the burden of our expenses. We lived in a big, expensive, rental house. It was ok, but then he lost his job. Boom.  It was summer. I’m a substitute teacher. We had to move.

With no work and no savings, we made a temporary move to my mother’s house. I was despondent. I cried daily while we were packing up. I did not want to live with my mom. I did not want to return to the neighborhood where I lived with my ex. Nothing about it was ok for me. We had no choice.

Shortly after we vacated our rental house my ex and my children fabricated abuse allegations. I lost two of my kids. With no parenting plan in place I could not force my ex to return our two older children to me. In turn, he could not force me to give him our younger son. We lived in a state of extreme stress. I had my younger son, but had no idea where my two older children were living.

This was the beginning of the most painful year of my life. I did not anticipate the outcome. I don’t think anybody who knows me could have.


The more you love them, the harder it is

… navigating the challenges of loving your bonus kids, but having no power to do what you feel is best …

As a mother who has given birth to four children, then lost custody of three of them, I understand on a deep level what it is like to not be involved in the daily life of my children. I feel intense grief over my distance from them. I feel anger towards their father over his neglectful parenting. I believe that my children are not receiving the loving attention that they deserve. I don’t think he makes the best choices for them. But I am powerless to do anything about it. That power was taken away by our broken family courts.

These feelings of dismay and frustration that I experience are the same as those I feel for my bonus daughters. They are currently both with their mother, several states away. One is an adult with a baby on the way. The other is a “tween” who is very sensitive. I love both of them. I’m sure that at times it is a burden they don’t want to carry. After all, what kid wants a second mom who is concerned about their safety, schooling, friends, etc? I know I can be a bit overbearing in my concern. I try to quell it.

What I struggle with most is akin to my current situation with my own bio kids. I love and care for them deeply, but have no influence in major decision making or even daily decision making. I watch from a distance as they are pushed aside by their mother, in favor of her social relationships. They are appeased by treats, but a genuine concern and investment in their well being seems absent. I know that my younger bonus daughter feels unloved and unwanted. I know from witness accounts that her mother yells, swears, and hits her when she seeks attention. This breaks my heart.

As an educator, I have felt so very frustrated watching the neglect of education in their household. Their school absences were shockingly high. Homework wasn’t completed. Regular reading and trips to the library were nonexistent. This is the polar opposite of how I raised my children. It is the opposite of what I know is best for assisting children in becoming successful. This breaks my heart.

As a mom, I hear reports of birthday parties and baby showers that revolve around the mother and her friends. I hear that the adults all get drunk, the parties last late into the night, and the center of attention is not the girls — it is their mother and how she can impress people. What is wrong with people? How can they use children as an excuse to further their personal interests? My heart aches for them. I nearly cried the other day when I heard about my bonus daughter not being the center of attention at her baby shower. I am starting to cry now.

The more you love them, the harder it is.


Challenge #2 Differing gender role expectations

I have been avoiding this topic for awhile. Even though it is one of the first things I thought of when pondering intercultural challenges in marriage, I really have not wanted to tackle it. Why? This issue is at the heart of all the conflicts or arguments in my relationship with my husband. It is intensely personal. I am taking the plunge now because I believe it is important to share, for those who are interested in such things.

Gender role expectations …  my background taught me that men and women should share the burden of household chores in some equitable manner. As an adult I have been a slacker with regard to household chores, in part because my ex was as well. I am a clutter-bug. I am not all that conscious of things — if something is out of place, I don’t notice it. I also don’t believe that it is my job to pick up after everyone in my household. This is regardless of whether or not I work outside the home.

My husband would beg to differ. He firmly believes that women need to cook, clean, serve, care for the children, and work. To him, a man’s responsibility is to earn money at a job (or two) and relax at home. He gets very bent out of shape if food is not served to him. He believes that moms who don’t work outside of the house should have immaculate homes because all they have to do take care of kids, clean and cook. Apparently, in his cultural background, the women do all of these things. They clean constantly, cook every meal of the day and give the children all of the attention they require.

But something must be falling through the cracks. I just don’t believe that it is possible to do all of those things to his high standards. My cultural background says that it just is not possible! Not only that, but I don’t believe that it is right.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like a clean and orderly home. Parts of my home can be that way, for a brief period of time. But I choose to pursue other interests and to spend a lot of time with my children. For instance, our infant daughter will not sleep by herself. That means that when she naps — as she is now — she does so on my lap. She is still primarily breastfed, which means that whenever she eats I sit with her to feed her. No handing her a bottle and getting busy with housework for me!

My attachment parenting style does get in the way of meeting the gender role expectations of my husband. We talk about it nearly every day. Sometimes he seems to accept  that caring for our baby really does take up most of my day. Other times he insists that the computer is the problem. Well, we were without internet at home for two days. The only additional thing I did was vacuuming. I did that while wearing our daughter in a carrier.

I keep hoping he will relent and allow me to be the slacker that I am accustomed to being. Whether this is truly a cultural issue, or merely his personal preference …  I am not sure. It is probably a bit of both. I am doing my best to compromise and improve my homemaking skills, but it is a hard road. I will continue to walk it.


Peanut butter and other delicious things

I love peanut butter. My older bonus daughter says that I am obsessed with it. And yet, I went more than two weeks without eating it.

Why?

Because it was on the top shelf and I was too lazy to get the step stool so that I could reach it.

Which brings me to the topic of cooking. I love to cook. Well, I used to love to cook. These days cooking is boring. It seems like a neverending stream of quesadillas, chicken breast, taco meat, corn tortillas, rice. Boring!

Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious! Especially my refried beans. Sadly, I am on a restricted diet for my breastfeeding baby. No dairy, no gluten. Fortunately Mexican cuisine is heavy on corn, lighter on flour, so that works. I have not eaten baked goods since July. I don’t enjoy gluten free baked goods. I have issues with texture and the texture is just — off. :/

My refried beans … heavenly. My secrets? Well, maybe they aren’t really secrets, but here they are anyway. Butter. Instead of oil or lard I use butter! Simmer the TJs hot sauce in the butter. Then add the pintos with some of their cooking liquid. The beans taste best when they have been slow cooked in a crock pot for 10 hours. Add liberal amounts of salt. Mash and boil with the butter and hot sauce. I really love queso fresco with them, but that is off limits, so I eat with sliced avocado.

Delicious!


Adding a new member to the blended family

musings on a new baby

Our eight month old daughter was dedicated yesterday at the church where I have been a member for the past 4 years. It got me thinking about the many changes that have happened since she was born.

Before she was born my relationship with my two older children was contentious, at best. They were both unhappy about the impending arrival of their “half sister” who wasn’t a “real sister.” Clearly the parents they lived with were influencing them. I remember my ex’s attitude towards the step-sister who entered his life when he was an adult. I can imagine the bitterness and negativity he spread about my pregnancy. My children were openly defiant about every request I made. They broke things in our apartment. They fought with each other. They picked on their younger brother. They would not hug me, tell me they loved me, or say goodbye when I dropped them off with their dad. It was truly heartbreaking. I dreaded every weekend visit. I did not know how to fix the situation.

But then baby A was born. Her younger brother was there for her homebirth and he adored her. My bonus daughter who lives out of state came for her summer visit and immediately fell in love with her. My two older children, who barely talked to me, met baby A by chance at a softball field. They seemed interested in her, but hesitant. It was as if their new sister was some forbidden thing that they weren’t supposed to like — much like how they behaved towards me.

They came for their first weekend visit a couple of weeks later. They behaved more appropriately. It took time, but they became comfortable around our baby. Eventually they asked to hold her. They fell in love with her too. They stopped calling her “half sister” and now call her “baby sister.” They are all enjoying watching her grow. They have all reconnected with me as well.

It may seem odd to credit a baby with repairing a fractured relationship between a mother and her children …  but that is what happened in our family. Baby A became, and continues to be, a unifying presence. She has blessed us in so many ways.


How I fell for the maintenance man

Several of my friends who read this will remember how I used to refer to my husband as “the maintenance man” because I didn’t know his name. Yes, I was enamored almost as soon as I met him. And he was unavailable! But a crush on an unavailable man is probably a good thing for a newly single mother.

I met my husband on my move in day at the apartments. I had some ex-family helping me move, but my china hutch was way too heavy to carry to the third floor. His help was enlisted. I followed up the stairs and thanked him profusely for his assistance.

I did not notice his looks. I was not even thinking about men. I did, however, notice his demeanor. Something about him was intriguing. And then there was the way he looked at me.

A couple of weeks after my kids and I moved in he came to repair a few things that needed attention in the apartment. When he arrived, I was in the middle of bringing up my new desk, one piece at a time. I knew the policy that children could not be alone in the units with the apartment staff. However, my toddler was asleep in my bedroom. I asked him if it was ok for me to go in and out of the apartment with him sleeping in there. He looked into my eyes and asked, “Do you trust me?”  I gazed back at him and realized that I did. I was stunned because I was normally very uncomfortable around men.  But there was something about him. I just didn’t know what it was.

While I was carrying the pieces of the desk upstairs, he surprised me by coming down to my van and offering to bring up the rest of it for me. I was so grateful! He even offered to help me put it together. I didn’t take him up on that because I couldn’t tell if he was hitting on me. More than that though, I didn’t want my kids to be confused by having a man in the apartment.

Fast forward one week.

I was so impressed by his kindness and warm smile that when I had had a particularly rough day, I thought about him. While driving home, I asked God to please make him appear on a balcony across from mine so that I could see his smile. Seriously, I know it sounds silly, but that’s what I asked for. I walked upstairs to my apartment and when I walked by my sliding glass door I saw him. Really! On a balcony across from me! I ducked, went to the bathroom to check my hair, and then tried to look casual when I stepped out onto the balcony to move some boxes. (The balcony was my storage area) He waved and said, “Hi neighbor!” Then he smiled and I was a goner.


My custody battle

When my three children and I left our home in 2006 we moved to an apartment in an adjacent town. It is unusual for a mom and kids to leave a home that the family owns. My ex refused to leave. He threatened my life and scared the kids, but he wanted us to stay in one part of the house with him in the other. The house is only 1100 square feet, with one bathroom. He threatened to kill me. How could I possibly live in the same house as him?

For 3 years I took care of our kids. I went to school full time to earn a Master in Teaching degree. I didn’t date until 18 months after our split. The only man I dated is now my husband. I was a good mom and did the best I could for my children.

During that time, their father was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. He remarried — twice. He obtained a permit for medicinal marijuana use, as did his 3rd wife. Then he took my children. He invented abuse allegations. He successfully took all three children from us, even though CPS determined that there was no abuse. He ripped our family apart.

I write about this now because my attorney was in court yesterday finalizing our parenting plan. I see my three older kids every other weekend. I get two weeks of vacation with them per year. I have alternating year visitation for spring break. I get half of Christmas break.

The miscarriage of justice is reprehensible. My ex has a history of alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, bipolar disease, and recreational drug use. Who in their right mind would give him custody of three children? He and his wife get high every day.

I miss my kids. I don’t get enough time with them. I am burdened with the stigma of being a mom without custody of her kids. I know what runs through people’s minds when they learn that my children live with their father. I want to cry out, “He manipulated the court system and the guardian ad litem! I am a GOOD mother! I am a Masters Degree holding, state certificated elementary school teacher! Please don’t look at me like I must be an alcholoic, druggie, or abusive mom. I am not any of those things!”

What do you think when you hear from a man, or woman, or kids that dad has full custody? Do you assume negative things about the mom?


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