Green Acres has provided me with more time to reflect, think, and write than I could have ever imagined. Only three summers ago, I was coming off the busiest, most confusing year of my life as a parent. There was literally zero time in my schedule to allow me to just sit back and re-evaluate some things that were going on around me that were hurtful, confusing, and, at times, downright mean. I was in a whirlwind of activity that disabled my ability to keep things in perspective and know that, concerning other people, the statement “the problem is never the problem” which I gleaned from one of my favorite Christian mentors, was in full swing. I was allowing people’s actions, words, and behavior to seep into my heart and mind and waylay my ability to function on a healthy level. Their behavior and lack of respect towards our family caused me to lose sleep, question why God had brought certain people into my life, and make me want to distance myself from other people. I was so tired of trying to figure out the motives of people around us that, when our opportunity to move on a farm in the middle of nowhere presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. At that moment in the life our family, I was craving time to be alone with our little family of five and God gave me more time than I realized was ever possible at our new home on Green Acres.
It was our lifelong dream to live in the country on a farm and there are no regrets. The past two-and-a-half years have provided The Outdoorsman and I with a schedule that allows us both some much-needed down time on a daily basis. We work happily at our full-time jobs all week, but we are both able to arrive home by 4:30 p.m. almost every day. We are so grateful for our work schedules and our colleagues who keep us laughing and smiling each day. During the cooler months, we go outside right when we get home to feed our menagerie of animals before it gets dark. After our farm work, we usually have a full three to four hours of time to relax, watch tv, read, and write. I haven’t had this kind of free time in over 20 years and it is invigorating. During the hot months of summer, it is a little more challenging. We usually eat early and wait until right before dark to feed and water everything. Our animals are much more demanding during the summer due to the fact that they require much more water. We are currently working on solutions to that problem and adding large rain barrels with spigots into each pen. This has already removed a huge burden from our feeding schedule. The Outdoorsman is truly so gifted at making this journey not only possible, but fun along the way. He does everything with a grateful heart that never complains and I am truly thankful for his attitude towards hard work and life in general. Due to his skill and willingness to create helpful solutions, we are also gaining time in our schedule during the summer months.
With the extra time I have gained on Green Acres, I have been able to process events and people in a much more healthy way. I have seen, like I said, that “the problem is never the problem” is true in most instances. When a person disrespects boundaries in our family it is due to a lack of perspective or the inability to see things from our vantage point. There are reasons behind their behavior that are hard to understand at times, but I am ever-so-slowly learning that it isn’t about me or what I have said or done. As long as I have evaluated my own motives and examined my heart about decisions we have made as a family and know that I have done nothing in the situation with ulterior motives or a desire to hurt another person, I cannot control their response to our decisions. If they want to be angry, offended, or disagree with our decisions, that is their issue and not mine. This is monumental in my progress, People. In the past, I have stayed awake at nights trying to fix other people’s thoughts, actions, reactions, and behavior, but God is slowly reminding me that only He can do that. I must, as a Christian and a person who values other people immensely, evaluate what I am doing and hold it up to God’s perspective to make sure it is pure, but after that is done and a decision is made, I have no control over other people and their reactions. That is all coming from their own hearts, minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and personalities. I must learn to completely let that go and even let their hurtful responses completely leave my mind and heart.
Definitely the most difficult thing for me has been to balance the demands of our extended families due to our blended family. There is almost always someone who is disappointed, hurt, mad, or confused by decisions we have made over the past fourteen years. The Outdoorsman and I talk at length on an almost daily basis about how to handle the responsibility of deciding who to disappoint at different holidays and gatherings. The unseen complication with being a part of a blended family is that it isn’t only about our two immediate families we are connected to, but the families of our children’s other biological parents and step-parents as well! When my children’s father was still alive, we were balancing the demands of my parents, The Outdoorsman’s parents, my children’s father’s family, their step-mother’s family, The Trooper’s mother’s family, and her step-father’s family. People! Do you know how impossible it is to balance the schedules of SIX different families for holidays, gatherings, and birthdays?! We practically had to have a spreadsheet to find a date that our little family of five could even see one another on any given holiday. Due to that fact, we frequently frustrated family members by not getting together with extended family because we valued our time as a little family and were trying to create memories with just the five of us. Because The Trooper lives with her mom, we would be limited to only four short days per month to create family memories and relationships between our three children. It was so challenging and draining at times because older, extended family members would contact our children directly and invite them to events or tell them holiday plans without even consulting us, the parents of young children who are still very much under our guidance and care, concerning our own family schedule. It was hurtful and maddening as parents to have a person contact our children and invite them to events without asking our permission or even letting us know it was happening. We would begin to plan a family event or trip and our children would announce the fact that they had already been invited to events, vacations, or weekend sleepovers on those dates. Think about this. Would any of you think it was okay if your children were being contacted by other family members and invited to holiday gatherings or trips or events without your knowledge while they are still in middle school or high school? We would have no idea it was taking place until our children told us about it. I’m going to say that 99% of parents reading this blog would agree that this is a complete breach of a boundary. Even though my children’s father died eight years ago, we are still trying to meet the needs of five huge families since they no longer interact with their former step-mother. This is a literally impossible task for a busy family. Our three children have always been extremely involved in activities whether they are in high school or college. Combining our children’s activities with the desire of each of the five families to have special time and attention from us and our three (now four due to the marriage of Brave Heart and Beautiful Soul!) children has been like the ol’ spinning plates trick where you see it is impossible to keep all of the plates spinning as you move from plate to plate trying to keep them all in the air balancing on a stick and not crashing to the ground.
Why am I writing about this topic? What can I possibly accomplish by addressing this issue? It is time. It is time for others to wake up and acknowledge and respect the real, unimagined challenges of the American blended family. The number of children trapped in this situation is astounding, yet people all feel that they do not have to respect the boundaries of blended families for some reason. Believe me, I never imagined that I would be the mother of a blended family. It was not in my hopes, plans, or dreams. I was resistant to the idea completely, but it is what God decided for me to tackle about fourteen years ago. The road has been extremely demanding, draining, and even debilitating at times, but I am thankful for the fact that God knew this all along. He has helped me to get past my own dreams and desires and start focusing on how to make this the best journey possible for our three children. He has caused The Outdoorsman and I to have to bend to the point of breaking concerning our desires for holiday traditions and some kind of normalcy for our children.
Do I realize how hard this has been on our extended families? Yes, I do. I realize they have all had moments of anger, frustration, and confusion due to our insistence on creating a nuclear family for our non-blood-related children. The Outdoorsman and I are truly sorry for the pain it has caused many of you when we could not meet your needs and join you during holidays, vacations, and just normal celebrations. Just know that the pain we have experienced has been compounded by the fact that we realize you are almost always feeling disappointed and upset over our choices. These choices have been hard-wrought, weighed, and discussed at length every single time by The Outdoorsman and me. We have not taken one single decision lightly since we know it has consequences to more people than our little family.
My challenge to all of you reading this blog is to take to heart the message I am sending concerning blended families. Try to extend grace and forgiveness for things that are literally out of our control in most instances. There is, unfortunately, only one day that is Easter. One day that is Mother’s Day. One day that is Father’s Day. One day that is the 4th of July. One day that is Thanksgiving. One day that is Christmas. We have six different families who fully believe that our children should spend those holidays with them and that makes life extremely complicated and stressful for us at times. It diminishes all of our ability to embrace and enjoy special occasions. There is little possibility to create memorable family traditions for our own little family because we are constantly being pulled in five or six different directions.
The flip side of all of this is obvious. We are grateful for our families. Grateful beyond belief for the people God has given us from birth. Grateful we are loved and valued by many people. Grateful that our families want to see us and, especially, grateful that they all want to know and spend time with our children. We do not take this fact lightly and are so very thankful for the love we receive from our families. We are even grateful that the extended step-families of our children value them and want to see them as well. It could look much different for all of us and we realize that as well. We do not take these blessings for granted.
As I sit here and reflect on the past fourteen years, I felt the need to share the real challenges of being a blended family so that other people will acknowledge and realize that the challenges for everyone involved are real. At no point in time have The Outdoorsman and I set out to disappoint or hurt a person in our family due to our absence at a family gathering. We haven’t set out to make it impossible, or even slightly difficult, for our families to spend time with our children. We are trying, in the best way possible, to create a normal, healthy life for our children who are, thankfully, growing into healthy, loving adults who appreciate and value family and friends as much as The Outdoorsman and I appreciate and value family and friends. It has been hard and demanding and tiring and almost impossible to achieve, but the effort has been worth it.
While the effort is still being strongly felt in the aftermath of our first family wedding, I wanted to share my thoughts and my heart with others who may be in the same situation. Do what is best for your children in the long run. Above all things. Even when you meet with resistance from various outside forces and, trust me, you will, My Friend. Examine your heart and make sure that your motives are pure and then choose to bear the consequences in as graceful a manner as possible even when you are tired. God will help you navigate this difficult journey, but only if You invite Him into the equation on a regular basis. Do not forget to invite Him. He is watching and waiting to help.