(When things don't quite go as you intended )
Name: Irene McGoldrick
Kids: Henry (9), Arthur (6), stepchildren, Aubrey (16), Natalie (13), Sam (11)
Works: At home writing and playing with essential oils. www.ms-dh.com
Favorite part about being a mom: Watching them conquer a new skill
Least favorite part about being a mom: When they want to waste their money on cheap crap
Famous for: Not knowing when to say when
Mike and I were out to dinner with another couple recently. Lots of good conversation happened over a few glasses of wine and one short lived thunderstorm. The conversation meandered as conversations over wine do and we discussed everything from bathroom remodeling to book publishing. Without going into too much inappropriate detail it came to light that the two of us have fewer bills to pay per month than the two of them.
“That sounds so simple,” one of them said to me with a tilted head and a sigh of longing.
OK, didn’t see that coming.
With our five children, three of whom go back and forth between our house and their mom’s, and our three large extended families, two of which live in this state, I see nothing simple about our life. One dinner hour or school day morning spent with us would dispel any rumors of simplicity.
I desire a more simple life; I do. I do what I can to attain simplicity amid our somewhat controlled chaos by limiting unnecessary activities as much as I can. The ways of our culture are against me, of course, but I attempt to weigh stress factors such as time constraints, finances, child idiosyncrasies, and environmental concerns when making calendar choices. I think we do less running around than many in similar circumstances.
Still, simple is not a word I would use for our life, no matter how much I would like to, and I certainly never thought I would hear anyone use the word when describing my life as compared to theirs. Of course, according to me, anyone with less children, or at least children that live full time at one house, has a less complicated life than me.
Just goes to show you, as my friend told me long ago, comparisons continue to be odious. All of our lives are as simple or as complicated as we perceive them to be.
How simple or complicated do we want them to be, that is the question.
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I was reading Dear Abby this morning. There was a letter from a woman who had complaints about her boyfriend, possible fiancé’s, ex-wife. In her answer “Abby” said; “nasty ex-wives are nothing new”.
Neither are wicked step-mothers, right?
Why do we keep doing this to ourselves, ladies?
I am not an innocent. I do my part as the “wicked step-mom” by not allowing TV or food in bedrooms, keeping a color coded calendar with rotating chores, freaking out when children don’t make their beds before sitting in front of an electronic square box, and ruining a perfectly good dinner hour fuming about a cell phone ringing during it. I have also been known to complain when we have to check in with the “nasty ex-wife” before booking our family vacation.
Frankly, I don’t feel mature enough most days to deal with the situations that crop up when children live half their life in a different house. I guess my self esteem wasn’t what I thought it was going into this thing.
For what it’s worth I have learned two important things in my *vast* experience with being a merged family (five years). The first one is when people say parenting is the toughest job you will ever love they probably haven’t been a step-parent. The second, and more important one, is that we are all doing what we think is best for our household.
I would have been so much better off if I had just listened to my mother years ago, before I was even a step-parent. I was a new mom and filled with angst about one thing or another and asked my mom how she had dealt with all the worry and second guessing she must have experienced while raising seven children.
“I didn’t worry as much as you girls seem to these days,” she said simply, shrugging her shoulders. “I just did the best I could.”
So, to all you wicked step-moms and nasty ex-wives out there…..let’s stop beating ourselves up, we are all just doing the best we can.
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I have a confession…..I watch Sister Wives.
It is a “reality” TV show about plural marriage.
Last week the husband went with one of his wives and their 6 children on a weekend getaway while the other three wives and their 10 children stayed home. During interview time on the couch all the wives talked about the importance of each family unit spending time alone together and establishing their own identity with each other and not always operating on mass.
The show got me thinking about my merged situation and our family units. I am widowed with two children from my late husband and my live husband, Mike, is divorced with 50/50 custody of his three children. This all translates to the fact that my boys live at our house full time and, therefore, have more time with Mike than his children do. Plus, Mike’s children rarely have any time at our house without the younger kids and their rambunctious antics.
Now, in a household with five children ranging from the ages of 7-17 one could say that is just the way it is in a big family. The younger kids are loud and annoying and the older kids talk about inappropriate topics at the dinner table and that is life. And these people would be correct. My mom didn’t call me her 6 year old teenager for nothing.
But we aren’t just any big family, we are a big blended family, and no matter how well or unwell we blend during our 50% together, there is always another 50% that each unit knows very little about. I know there were plenty of family memories that were made before I, the youngest of seven, was old enough to remember, and I know we continued to make family memories after the older ones left the house. But even these separate memories feel collective somehow due to the constant backdrop of the one unit, the same parents and the same siblings and the same houses and the same relatives.
It’s important to establish our two units as one family and make some collective memories. We have worked hard at establishing holiday traditions, getting all seven of us on family vacations, sitting down to dinner together as often as possible, and attending each other’s activities. We are hoping for some “remember when” session’s years from now that everyone can participate in. But I also think it’s important for Mike to make memories with his kids on their own, as their own unit. Their mom gets them all to herself all the time; Mike and his kids shouldn’t always have to share their time with me and my boys.
Mike and I may not have a plural marriage but we do have a complicated one. Sometimes the thought of finding a time when Mike and his three children can go out together seems like more trouble than it’s worth, especially since Mike’s kids are teenagers now and would rather do many things other than have dinner with their dad, but I think it will be well worth the effort in the long run.
I figure if a plural family with the same dad for all the children can honor separate units so can we. At least Mike only has one wife to deal with, that should make things a bit easier for him………..maybe...
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Space……… the final frontier.
Everyone seems to want more space. Just ask any pioneer, or any person trading in their “starter home” for a bigger model these days. A big difference between the pioneer and the modern suburban family appears to me to be where people want the space.
On a recent family vacation to Yellowstone we drove past lots of abandoned homestead houses on our way through South Dakota and Montana. These houses were all rather small structures surrounded by lots and lots of land. As opposed to the houses I drive past in many suburbs around the country today, big houses and not a lot of land.
Given a choice I think I side with the pioneers. I would take open green space over a big house. That being said, I live in a rather small house and have a postage stamp size yard. Hmmmmmm, where does that leave me? And what does this have to do with being a merged family?
When the merge was first talked about many assumed we would be moving to a bigger house. People couldn’t believe we weren’t even considering moving to a house with more space. For me more space simply means more to clean, more stuff you have to buy to fill up the bigger space, more space to heat, and more home improvement projects.
Not to say there aren’t times when I have dreams of knocking down walls to open up the little space we currently have. And bedtime can be a challenge with three boys in a room. I am certain we experience bedtime antics that folks who have one child per room can’t even imagine. And the girl’s room…..don’t even get me started. Of course if they would just use the closet and drawers for the purpose for which they are intended……….
I do enjoy the looks we get from folks when they hear about our little three- bedroom Bungalow and the seven people who live there. A mix of pity and shock maybe?
As for the kids, mine anyway, who have nothing to compare their situation with, they think nothing of their cramped space. As a matter of fact, Henry and Arthur have been pushing for another baby (NOT going to happen) and when I ask them where the baby would sleep they look at me as if I were a little dense and say; “If it’s a boy, the boys room, and if it’s a girl, the girls room.” Duh!!?!?!?!? Who says there can’t be four boys in a room?
So there you have it. When Sam, who has his own room at his mom’s house, complains about the lack of space I just smile and say; “Hey, you will probably share a room most of your adult life. I’m just helping you prepare for college, the army, marriage, or jail……..take your pick.”
Now that I’m on the topic of space, and the lack there of, I’m wondering about all of those abandoned homestead houses. I know history tell us they were abandoned because people couldn’t survive living off the land in the harsh climate. But it’s possible everyone freaked out at the lack of space inside the house on those long winter nights and ran screaming into the night.
As for me, I am going to hunker down and enjoy my little space in the world. And when I freak out, as I sometimes do, and want to go screaming into the night, I will keep Deepak Chopra in mind and his very wise words:
In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.
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I recently had the opportunity to get together with some friends that I have known since grade school. At one point in the evening I overheard two of the ladies discussing when it was they last saw each other.
“Irene’s first wedding,” was the consensus.
Irene’s first wedding. The words made me pause for a moment from across the room. There I was in a room full of my oldest friends, girls I walked to school with in kindergarten, played soccer with, attended CCD with, and had countless sleepovers with. These were the girls I bared my young soul to, admitting to them my hopes and dreams for my future. I can’t remember now what a lot of those hopes and dreams were but I am fairly certain they never included me being part of a sentence including the words “first wedding”, implying that there have been more than one.
Later in the evening I was catching up with one of the ladies whom I have not seen since the aforementioned first wedding. To summarize our discussion, a lot happens in 15 years. As the two of us looked at each other, the 40 somethings we have become, the adults with some of our hopes and dreams crushed, some realized, we remembered those naive girls who giggled and asked the Ouija board if we would go to the prom, and if so, with whom?
“Life is fluid,” my old friend said to me, nodding knowingly.
And that it is. Life, it came come in waves, the kind that lap gently at your feet or the kind that threaten you with their strength and under toe, it can run smoothly like a lazy city river or be swift and cold like a mountain river in the spring. One thing is for sure, life, just like water, is better if you don’t fight the tide, it’s better to go with it.
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This holiday season was the best we have had since merging our two families. Yea! After five years traditions seem to be coming together. Different kids seem to be looking forward to different parts of the crazy holiday we have pieced together and they talk about these different parts with anticipation.
I will admit, I went into this holiday season with great trepidation and a little bit of Grinch like cynicism. Maybe due to last year not being the best holiday so far or maybe simply due to my aversion to the materialism, waste, and general overstimulation of the holiday, I’m not sure.
But things started to look up this year when both of Mike’s girls, individually, asked about the Swedish Tea Ring that I make for breakfast on Solstice morning. Soltice morning is our version of Christmas morning and Swedish Tea Ring is a yummy cinnamon role like tradition that comes from my family, so the fact that both of them were looking forward to that part of our morning meant a lot to me. And the whole crazy season ended on a good note Christmas evening when I realized that after 5 hours of hanging out with Mike’s large and somewhat raucous family I had not wished I was at Bob's more subdued family once, I was just enjoying being with Mike's family. Plus, my ten year old managed to make it through the evening event without a meltdown as well, and that was a first. Maybe the two of us are figuring out how to make the holidays work for us. Yea, finally!
It is not an unknown fact to me that I lack patience and am a bit on the controlling side. I’m a little like Sally in the 80's movie "When Harry Met Sally"…..I want what I want, and what I want makes perfect sense to me. I want immediate results and problems solved quickly. This lack of patience and need for control were not the greatest of qualities when it came to the grieving process and they are proving to be equally challenging traits when attempting to merge two families.
I wanted traditions to feel like traditions right away. Only traditions must be established over time. And time takes patience. You see my problem here......
When I think of the word merge I think of an on-ramp for a highway. When merging onto the highway one must be bold, aggressive, and confident. The driver must be aware of things in their path, have a willingness to take control and be quick with their reflexes. But an important part of merging is also knowing when to yield, knowing when to relinquish control.
To merge two families takes patience, one needs to be aware of things in their path but NOT respond too quickly. One needs to be able to yield to the other person, to say; “No you’re right, go ahead,". One must be willing to let another person in front of you with a friendly smile and wave of the hand. Merging families might require boldness and confidence, but it also takes submission and deferring and PATIENCE.
I'm going to focus more on yielding and trust that the merge will happen safely, in time.
But a yielding family doesn't have the same ring to it.
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