To My Son on Our First Mother’s Day

Hello dear readers, it’s been far too long! Pregnancy, a new home, and a newborn sidetracked me for over year. But, I’m back! And, what better way to kick-off a new season of blog postings then with another Mother’s Day post. This year, I am lucky to be celebrating my first Mother’s Day as a mama to a truly incredible little boy. Last year, I honored my extraordinary mother, and this year, I would like to do the same for a very special little boy.

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Dear E,

I am not the type of woman that yearned to be a mom, per say. In fact, a few weeks back someone asked me if I loved being a mom. I hesitated before I answered. I admit that I miss my pre-baby freedom, the option to sleep in, get drunk, or sleep in after getting drunk. I miss getting to make plans after 5:00 p.m., working without guilt, or enjoying uninterrupted time with your Dad. I miss feeling and looking well-rested. I miss having breasts that don’t leak. Yet despite all of this, I can honestly say that I love my new, sleep deprived, chaotic life. I love it not because it means I’m a mom. I love it because it means I am your mom.

I may not oohh and ahhh about you in public; in fact, I probably seem pretty flippant about the whole thing. But truth be told, I miss you when you are at daycare, I miss you when you are asleep (although all I wished for the first three months of your life was that you would sleep); in fact, your dad and I have been known to look at pictures of you while you are slumbering just down the hall.

The seams of my heart buckle when I see you smile—it’s brighter than any star I’ve ever seen glimmering against the cobalt night sky or sun ray I’ve witnessed dancing atop a mountain peak urging the day to wake. When you laugh my very own cheeks hurt from laughing with you. No aria, harmony, melody, or song can compete with you as surely, no sweeter sound has ever been heard.  My eyelids are constantly working overtime to hold back the rush of joyous tears as your tiny, soft hands grasp at my chest and cheeks while nursing (even when you are shoving your fingers through my tightly pursed lips. How are those little hands so strong?). I resist the urge to squeeze and kiss you to smithereens as you drift off to dreamland, whispering good night to the day with a gentle sigh escaping through your puffy, parted lips, burrowing closer to me.

And to think, this is just the beginning. I cannot wait until you start saying crazy shit, talking all sorts of non-sense. I cannot wait to watch you figure out who you are and change your mind 10,000 times during your evolution. I cannot wait for your awkward teenage years, when your Dad and I just look at each other and shake our heads at your outfit or whatever crazy slang you kids will be using then. I cannot wait until you become an adult and fall in love. I am excited for you to experience the love your Dad and I share. The excitement, the mundane-ness, and the contented-ness of true love is inspiring. I hope you are cherished, respected, and adored. I wish you to be on the receiving end of a look from your partner that is so powerful that no words are needed, because with that glance you know you are and will forever be loved.

As you love, I promise to put my money where my mouth (or research) is and not only accept, but welcome your partner into our family. I know that one day, you will no longer reach for me when you are scared, I will not be the first person you turn to for advice, or the person whose hug makes everything better. Someone else will fill that role and that is how it should be. But please know, my son, that even when I am no longer your home base, I will always be your home.

So on this first Mother’s Day we share together, I want to thank you for the privilege of being your mom. I thank you for forgiving my mistakes and loving me in spite of them. I thank you for allowing me to connect with my mom, your grandma, on a new level. Now I know what it is to truly love someone to the moon, back, and all around. For that is how much I do and always will love you, my sweet, sweet pumpkin pie.

All of my love,

Mama

Sylvia Says: Relationship Q & A

Dear Sylvia: My brother-in-law is a serial dater. The problem is that he wants me to be best-friends with every girl he dates. He expects me to hang out with them, facebook friend them, and text them on a regular basis.  I’m sick of investing time into these relationships only to have him break up with them and move on to the next girl. Is it ok to just be friendly with his flavors of the week and not “friends?”

—-Tired of Trying

Dear Tired: Breaking up is hard to do, even for friends and family members. Investing in a friendship with a family member’s significant other can be rewarding, but disappointing when things go south. Because this is a habit with your brother-in-law, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be friendly, but not “friends” with his girlfriends right out of the gate.

Make nice conversation, be polite, but don’t accept a facebook friend request or extend a lunch invite until you know this relationship is going to stick. Once you’re confident the girl du jour may become something more then slowly get to know her and see if a friendship naturally evolves. And, you might want to suggest that your brother-in-law focus more energy on his relationships than your relationships with his girlfriends, that way one of them may actually stick.

Dear Sylvia: My buddy and I have been friends since grade school. He just got married to a woman I can’t stand. They are complete opposites; my friend is shy, considerate, and a homebody. His wife is loud, rude, and a party animal. Her actions make me not want to hang out with him anymore. I don’t want this to ruin our friendship. Should I say something to him or just say goodbye?

—-Bummed Buddy

Dear Buddy: Although we can pick our friends, we can’t pick their spouses. You’ve been friends with your pal for a long time, so you should trust that there is something in this woman that is worthwhile. You may think that their opposing personalities is a bad thing, but that might be what brought them together.

Even though you may want to tell him your honest opinion, he’s married to her now, so when it comes down to it he’ll pick her not you. If you continually back out of plans or insist on hanging out without her, your friend might catch on and be hurt. So, try to get to know her more. If you still don’t like her than just grin and bear it. It probably makes your friend happy to think that you get along with his wife. And who knows, she may have some cute friends!

“Here’s the Story…”: Holidays and Stepfamilies

About half of all first-time marriages end in divorce. Divorce, however, doesn’t deter people from finding love again. In fact, about 70% of divorced individuals go on to remarry, and many of these remarriages include children, creating a stepfamily. Although Mike and Carol Brady made stepfamily relationships appear relatively easy, anybody who is a stepparent knows that being a stepparent is anything but easy!

Stepfamilies are a complex family form where uncertainty, resentment, and mixed emotions abound. Stepparents are often viewed as “outsiders” and struggle with defining boundaries, creating rules, and establishing their role with their stepchildren.

Research by Tamara Afifi and colleagues demonstrates that all members of the stepfamily can “feel caught.” Stepchildren often feel caught between their new stepfamily and the non-residential parent (the parent they don’t live with).  If a stepchild develops a close relationship with her stepfather, for example, she may feel like she is betraying her Dad. In addition, parents often feel caught too. When stepparents and children argue or don’t get along, parents often feel torn between defending their child and supporting their new spouse. If stepparents bring their own children into the marriage they may struggle with treating their biological and stepchildren equally. Stepparents without children may struggle with their new role as a stepparent versus their role as a spouse.

Stepfamilies also struggle with figuring out how to simply be a family. Research suggests that stepfamilies shouldn’t try to act like a first-time family. They shouldn’t ignore the fact that a previous family existed or try to replace of the original, nuclear family. Instead, they should celebrate their uniqueness and discuss the challenges they experience.

One time of year that may be particularity difficult for stepfamilies is the holidays. Holidays are filled with traditions that are often linked to a family’s identity, who they are, and what it means to be “them.” In addition, holiday traditions provide a sense of security and link families to their past. The formation of a stepfamily often means that holidays are now going to be different, and changes can be difficult for children to handle.

Although most people think of stepfamilies as families with young or teenage children, stepfamilies can form at any stage in life. Adult children may suddenly find themselves in a stepfamily due to later in life parental divorce or the death of a parent. Having to revamp long-standing holiday traditions at age thirty-five can be equally as upsetting as experiencing this change at age thirteen.

So, what can stepfamilies do to make the holidays merry and bright?

Come together: If you and your new spouse get along with your ex spouse(s), why not celebrate as one big happy family?  Media portrayals of divorced families are often negative and overlook the fact that stepfamilies and ex-spouses can co-exist harmoniously. So, invite your wife and her new husband over for Christmas dinner so your children can celebrate the holiday with both of their parents and their stepparent(s), and that way no one feels caught.

Be flexible: If having joint holiday celebrations isn’t a possibility then it’s important to be flexible. Stepchildren now have to celebrate the same holiday with multiple families, and your spouse is likely going to prioritize spending time with his or her own children over everything else. Although you may feel slighted, it’s important not to make your spouse choose between his or her children and you. Be flexible about when and how you celebrate the holidays.

If you typically celebrate Christmas Eve with your family but this year is your spouse’s year to spend Christmas Eve with his or her children, don’t make her feel guilty if she cannot or doesn’t want to attend your holiday celebration in lieu of hanging out with his or her children. Or better yet, invite your stepchildren to join in with your family, which is now their extended family too, the more the merrier, right?

Respect and create traditions: Some of the most successful stepfamilies create their own traditions, but also respect pre-existing traditions. For example, if your husband and his children used to trim the tree wearing matching pajamas while watching Christmas movies, don’t ask them to abandon this tradition just because it was what the “old” family did. Instead, embrace it and join in the fun.  Stepparents shouldn’t try to erase the previous family, respect the family that came before you and your stepchildren will respect you and your relationship.

Also, create new traditions that are unique to your new stepfamily. Starting new rituals that reflect your new family will help bring you closer and help you start to feel like a family.

Open up: Have an open conversation about the challenges associated with the holiday season with both your spouse and stepchildren. Talk to each other about your fears and frustrations. Also, let your stepchildren know that you understand that this can be a challenging time for them and that you are there to support them.

In addition, let your stepchildren talk about their non-residential or deceased parent. Ask stories about holiday memories and traditions. Showing that you support their relationship with their parent will decrease the chances of them feeling caught and show them that you respect them and are there to enhance, not replace their family.

Keep your opinions to yourself: Sometimes post-divorce relationships can be tricky. But, no matter how much you dislike or disapprove of what your stepchildren’s non-residential parent is doing during the holidays (buying too many presents or not enough), don’t say anything about the parent to or in front of your stepchildren. Nobody likes to hear their parents criticized, and coming from a stepparent it can come across as judgmental and damage your relationship in the long run.

The holidays are a stressful time for any family, but stepfamilies face unique challenges that make this time of year even more difficult. By being flexible, talking about the challenges, and respecting and creating traditions, you’ll be rockin’ around the Christmas tree in no time!

Until next time,

Sylvia

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