On the Spiritual Practice of Step Parenthood

Looking around my life this morning: kitchen cleaned up by husband whose towering veggie sandwich made par moi awaits him, two gorgeous dogs mildly whining for the backyard and who will get 42 acres of forest in two weeks, soccer on the Google, salmon and lox as my breakfast… the sun is out, the day feels fresh, I feel different.

I think it is important to understand the concept of letting new things, like mornings and years, be new.

In my yoga classes, I often cue to let the pose or the breath or the twist or the practice “be as meaningful as you need it to be”.

A major part of “drawing energy up” is believing you are drawing energy up.

A major part of “letting go” is allowing yourself to let go of the need to identify what to let go of and instead, let go.

Breathe in, let no words in, hover in the moment, exhale. Look around. Do it again.

I have been going back and forth for awhile on writing more candidly on Frozen Spaghetti, my personal blog, on some of the growth I have undergone related to step-parenting. In the past, a major part of my growth related to my divorce in 2011 and my unfolding as a young mother of two little girls was writing. I would feel something, open a blog post, find it – let it ramble, (attempt to) button it up and get on with it.

But, you know, a major part of writing as part of the growth process is sharing what you are learning about yourself.

In the wake of divorce and in the vitality of young motherhood – I was sharing what I learned about my own sturdiness, abilities and resourcefulness.

And though the theme of resourcefulness remains huge, sharing on the growth process relative to step parenthood requires sharing what I have learned about my inner cry baby and what I know from childhood on how to manipulate to get the attention of somebody whose attention other people also want… those other people being actual children. Hence, very quickly one can digress.

Being a step parent in the way I have chosen to take on the role (honestly, humbly and messily) has meant stepping into a vat of emotional pain from my early days of cry babyhood and competing for parental love and attention as the middle child of five kids.

Said another way, I have been in a state of active healing healing healing over the past two years since my life changed as a pandemic bride.

But now, it’s a new year. And like I mentioned early on – the day feels fresh and I feel different. Things have become steady. I have found ease.

See, I have been missing Frozen Spaghetti for the writing process but I know the growth process I am in does not need writing like what benefited the evolution of my 2011 mental game or learning to be a mother.

Growth in step parenthood, rather, has required mid-morning showers when everybody has gone off to school, early bedtimes and lots of sleep, good lotion, walks, breathing, and feeling like myself: a super creative yoga chick who sings and writes songs and has good bangs that landed the dad to begin with…

And because I have allowed the healing (it’s been messy), I feel like maybe I can more easily write on what I have learned from becoming a stepmom bc – most importantly – it has helped me as a friend, a sister, a wife, a yoga teacher, a writer, a “mom mom” and as an individual.

It is my belief, any tendencies of co-dependency you have will be evident in your challenges as a step parent.

It is my supporting belief overcoming co-dependency requires a self trust provided only by a foundation of knowledge and understanding, the gift of wisdom / intuitive voice.

And it is my unwavering belief uncovering such knowledge, understanding and openness to wisdom (as required to overcome codependent impulses to explain, defend, advise or justify incessantly) is a spiritual practice.

As such, unless your spirituality is truly pure and non prescriptive, unless your version of God embraces the full idea of being made in God’s image making you both the wrath & redemption or unless your version of Christianity recognizes Jesus’ Buddhist yogi tendencies; your spiritual life needs to shift. Your spirituality must usher you into an understanding of how your beliefs are the root of your suffering, how relationships work as mirrors and how the power of your own breath, the sanctity of your own mind body connection, the priority of your own physical self care (and acceptance, ladies) are what actually helps you step into alignment with your life.

And, with that, you can see how my process of using these spiritual and emotional resources in becoming a happy step mom (NOT that it is easy!!!!!) leaks out and creates happiness and purpose in all of these other roles in life. You can see how it creeps into my yoga teaching. And, if you read my books, you’ll even see a constant commitment to creating a safe “either way” situation. My creative work seeks truth and allows interpretation where all truth is God’s truth. If it doesn’t feel safe and life-giving, I don’t publish it.

My point: becoming a step parent has by far challenged me more than any other role assigned to me in this life and, for that reason, I believe it is responsible for evolving me as a woman across the board. So, I might as well write more about it because, if you have a step child – you have a doorway, a portal and outlet to become the next amazing version of you. And, if you don’t, the principles will still apply.

That is the Frozen Spaghetti way… it’s what makes it Apple Tree Magic.

Ok. Bye for now,

Little Red Zen.

When the girls were learning to walk, I cannot remember a single time they fell on their bottoms or turned a corner too short where I shamed them. I don’t recall ever scorning “you weren’t paying attention” or expecting balance. Rather, I buffered and bumped and directed and encouraged.

I watched them learn to walk.

As I sit here with my morning coffee, I am fully aware of the butterflies in my stomach related to the parenting ahead of me today.

David has office space in our little downtown now, so today is my first day with all five kids under my jurisdiction without the protection of David working so be cool or his live and in color reinforcement for my plans.

A big butterfly is related to the inconvenience of teenage freeloading and entitlement.

Another butterfly is related to the task of waking the household in hopes for some sort of order for the day.

Another butterfly is related to the fact I need to address a late night door dash that was done without permission and whose evidence was hidden in an heirloom toybox.

Sigh.

There are other butterflies too… related to dog training and in laws coming in town, to wanting to carve out my writing time in my new main floor creative space and some other things. The butterflies aren’t helping me at all.

As I walked the dogs towards home just a minute ago, I really was permeating this idea – reminding myself over and over – that how I handle all of this is a choice. My desire for some structure is a choice. My handling of the door dash annoyance is a choice. My joy or lack there if is a choice.

Any choice that feels anxious and tense is not going to allow me to find that inner hum that consistently swings at the proverbial balls thrown to me today with some sort of grace and love.

If I don’t want my day to be ruined, I can’t ruin it.

And that’s when the relaxed but ready stance of the batters from Friday nights Cardinals game came to my mind. The game that kept me up too late and had me a tired mess all weekend had also given me a lovely 40th birthday gift reminder via two really joyful home runs: keep a good eye, a ready posture, beware of distractions and knock it out of the park.

It’s easy to think your teenager should know a lot more than they do. They are a rat in a maze looking for cheese and their shitheadness is being discovered…. though you really really really want to think they know better, they don’t until they do.

But just like I didn’t label every learning to walk tumble as unfortunate or imbalanced; I really don’t want to label every learning to live tumble as lazy or shameful.

I want to encourage and direct them to better choices, more fun and therefore have a fun and more open day myself.

Swing batter batter swing…

Wish me luck 🙃

tenderness & evolution @ big table while one teen is studying

I mentioned to David last night that we somehow leveled up in the parenting world. Language has settled in, values have taken root… These things have produced consistent messages to the kids that are starting to see anchors like time around the table and nods of agreement.

There was a while where one of us would process a kid and the other would get defensive. I bet that is common in blending families. If I zoom’d in on one of his biologicals, it would naturally feel like it was in comparison to one of my biologicals. At this point, if I am correct, we have both bitched enough about all five kids and praised enough about each of the five kids to have balanced out and earned each other’s trust that it is not like we were determining who are our “project children”.

Truly – they are all projects.

In my retirement, my bandwidth can get quickly sucked up in the parenting world and what all we need to address. It results, as mentioned before, in a lot of conversation with David about ideas and what we should try and what I envision for us in a year. It also results in a lot of hands on deep diving with each kid. And it is really not efficient to live like that.

Not only do I believe in the fact that at some point you have to stop talking about it and just do the things you think are so important. But it really isn’t practical to coach each kid one on one. Teachers, sports coaches, music teachers and therapists are – for example – great ways to outsource this, even if you don’t have a bajillion kids like we do. Said another way….

I remember thinking I broke Ellen at some point when she was 7 or 8. That somehow my parenting or her dad’s was so screwed up that we had turned this wonderful sweet adventurous girl into a headstrong pain in the ass.

In my regular bemoaning that I ruined my child and now had this selfish, pre-occupied, non-empathetic little girl, I conveniently recognized all of those same traits in myself. :-/

OH. How helpful, I realized in my yoga, we are able to recognize things in others because they are in us.

OH. How helpful, I can’t open Ellen’s brain and re-wire and jump into her memories and change however or wherever she learned this behavior.

I can. I can. I can model and reinforce. Model. Model. Model.

I am going through notebooks (which is literally and figuratively the story of my life) and it has been pretty wild to read entries from 2019: gearing up toward engagement, gearing up toward 2020, so blind to the reality the world can change dramatically. Amongst all the plans and lists and travel notes was this entry of 6 bullet points I had written as advice for myself:

  • Stand openly
  • Hide nothing
  • Refuse to defend oneself
  • Feel their pain
  • Understand needs
  • Vulnerability brings healing

In this season of motherhood, I find this list perfect.

One of the prayers I have for the kids is that they all let down their defenses. Not necessarily with each other as there is not any fighting in the house or anything like that. But there is a general guard up that quickly interprets “direction” into “discipline” or interprets guidance as limitation. It’s kind of interesting. They feel in trouble or stuck and excuse themselves, make shit up and or quickly interject what they want before hearing what they want was already on the way. Like. They are “jumpy”.

I think, for me, I have to remember the change they all went through and the ways they are growing and being stretched academically and socially during the pandemic. That’s hard stuff.

I think, for me, remembering to get on eye level and inquire lovingly to their real need is essential to continually grow the trust we all have in each other. I don’t need to explain they didn’t need to explain it. I just listen, reassure and follow through. Take it on the chin. Let them think it was their idea in a way.

Living with nothing to hide – being an honest, friendly expression – makes us safe as parents. Not explaining things or offering reasons, just “Yes, and I love you” and “No, and I love you” will suffice.

And even “standing openly” is applicable now as I see my motherhood as an act of generosity. Giving and being compassionate and patient and helpful. Letting the “work” of it all be a side note and letting the “service” of it all be a lifestyle and a calling.

And with all of this, like I was saying to a friend today regarding marriage, being subtle and letting body language and tone of voice be warm and safe is clutch. Building people up and encouraging them, knowing what it feels like to not be having a great day and so therefore not being a contributing factor to theirs.

Using a calming touch and stepping aside for time for yourself are as powerful as being the non critical recipient of another’s vulnerability.

“Blessed be the know it all” is not in scripture anywhere. Man, how I hope we all stop having reasons for everything.

I am not going to spend a lot of time proofing or editing this post. I just wanted to offer an entry real quick as I read through this notebook and find this 2019 advice super relevant to my current day.

Every day I remember I am the Queen and that I make the rules for my life, I grow more something (nicer? compassionate? gentler?) towards the grind of the day, towards the expectant demands of children.

It’s not that it is easy and it is not that I have been nailing it. (Hence why I welcomed these 6 bullets into my flow….) But I do recognize a difference in mothering over time and it has something to do with these things. For sure.