The Mattress Incident.
Dear Fierce ones,
I haven’t written a lot this last year. I haven’t had the energy. When I talk about 2018 being chaotic and challenging…I mean it. I felt pushed to the brink of my sanity. Being a parent is not easy, no matter what the circumstances are, but being a step-parent is especially hard. It has been very challenging for me over the last couple of years. I will admit with complete honesty that I have cried, I have screamed, I have prayed and I have felt like it wasn’t worth it. I have thought to myself, I don’t need this shit. AT ALL.
Not only is it challenging dealing with the kids themselves…but dealing with the other parent (not my husband) is also an ENORMOUS opportunity for personal growth. That is my way of saying…our parenting styles could not be more opposite. GRR.
I have (for the most part) already raised my birth children. My oldest is 25, The next is 23, the next is 21 and my “baby” is 15 years old. They are all incredibly awesome human beings and I love them, especially now that they are mostly grown-up and I can really enjoy them as people. The hardest work of raising them into adulthood has already been accomplished.
Truthfully, I did not relish the idea of starting all over again. (Again, this is not my first rodeo) When I first met my husband and we explained our respective situations, I thought to myself that perhaps I should keep looking…there are plenty of fish in the sea…but there was something about him that held me. A certain sincerity. A certain kind of instant connection that intrigued me and pulled me in and I felt the stirrings of that inexplicable force.
Love is a crazy thing and it makes you do crazy things…like throw your common sense out the window and jump into marriage with a guy who has 3 young kids.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband’s kids. They are beautiful and wonderful…but it takes a special sort of love that does not come naturally the way it did with my own kids. The ones I carried in my womb. The ones that share my DNA. That love was instant and overwhelming in intensity and it came naturally and without trying. This love for Avery’s kids has come only with grit and determination and will-power. It has come as a result of a decision, rather than an overwhelming emotional response to their birth.
When I first met my husband, his 3 kids were 12, 10, and 8 years old. Right away they tested my patience because they had been raised in a completely different way, with very little structure, and very different standards. I am a free spirit in many ways…but not when it comes to running a household and raising kids. When I was a very young parent, (early 20’s) I read the book Boundaries with Kids by John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud and it literally changed my life FOR THE BETTER.
If you are a parent…that book is an absolute must read.
I need structure and order in order to function well. I need boundaries in every way. As a human being, in my relationships, as a parent and in life in general.
We all do.
Unfortunately, most of us were never taught this. In our culture today, I observe that parents are more about rescuing and protecting their kids from life, rather than teaching them how to handle the consequences of their choices. OR they blame them and punish them for their poor choices instead of empowering them to learn, change and grow from their mistakes.
One of the most difficult moments of my life as a step-mom and parent, happened last year.
I call it “the mattress incident”.
My oldest stepson was 12 years old at the time of this incident. At 12 years old he was already taller and stronger than me physically. At 12 years old he was already extremely rebellious and defiant and I mean that with every fiber of my being. He is just that kind of kid. He is the kind of kid that challenges every single thing I say. He is the kind of kid that always has to have the last word mumbled under his breath. The kind of kid that has an excuse for everything. The kind of kid that defines the word procrastination. The kind of kid that LOVES to argue. At the time of the incident, he thrived on arguing, thrived on negative attention and thrived on chaos. To say that he is strong-willed is an understatement. To say that he tends to be lazy is an accurate statement.
At that time, it was absolutely EXHAUSTING to get him to do anything he didn’t “feel” like doing.
To be fair, my stepson is also the kind of kid that will become a great leader someday. He is destined for leadership and has amazing creativity that only needs to be directed appropriately. He is also has a very sweet and tender side. He can be truly compassionate and truly kind. Per the enneagram, he is definitely an 8.
It was a hot summer day when I asked him to help me with something. (I forget what it was, but it was a simple task). He refused to move from his bed. He just laid there. He had been laying in bed all morning on a beautiful summer day while the rest of us were all doing chores that needed to be done.
I asked again.
How dare he refuse?!!! This was my thought process. I was raised to respect adults and do whatever I was asked to do. To outright refuse was unthinkable for me, and truthfully, when I was a kid…my ass woulda been spanked good and hard. There was no way I would have ever dared to refuse so boldly.
What could I do?
It was a real dilemma for me. I have a philosophy about parenting and life in general and it is this…you don’t get to escape life. You don’t get to “check out”. You MUST participate. As part of being a family, as part of life, as part of growing up…I had taken the time to explain to the kids that chores were not a punishment, they were responsibilities of life. Like brushing your teeth. It isn’t a chore…it is taking care of your teeth. As a family, we work together, we help each other, we learn and grow together and we are not each other’s enemy. We are a tribe. To just refuse to participate and help out felt like a complete slap in the face to me and I felt many emotions.
Honestly, I wanted to smack that kid super hard, but obviously that wasn’t an option.
Every once in a while someone will push my instant rage button and I have tempting visions of what I would like to do to that person…like Calista Flockhart in the TV sitcom Ally McBeal. Remember that show?
I thought about it and I came up with a plan.
When he left his bed to go to the bathroom, I took his mattress off the bed frame and put it outside. Then, in order to prevent him from simply laying back down on it outside…I sprayed it down with some water from the garden hose. Furthermore, I told him that he was not allowed to come back in the house until he agreed to follow the rules of the house and I drew up a written contract that he needed to agree to and then sign before he could come back inside.
I meant business.
He was pretty mad.
So was I.
He told his best friend all about it.
His friend told his mother all about it.
His mother told my stepson’s mother all about it…
SHIT HIT THE FAN.
The next thing you know…the phone started ringing. His mother. His best friend’s mother. His best friend’s mother’s girlfriend.
Emotions were HOT.
Words were exchanged. Accusations were made. Threats were made. Folks were RILED up in the name of “child protection”. Avery and I were told by Liam’s best friends’ mom that …“this was the reason that she had adopted…to help protect kids from parents like Stacie” I was accused of child abuse and she said she was going to call CPS on me…(these threats and statements were later recanted and apologized for) but at the time, I was like…ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
You would have thought I had committed a major crime.
When my husband called me (I was at work) to tell me what was going on and that she was threatening to call CPS, I literally said “get her the number”
I was in disbelief.
AND…I would not be moved.
I stood my ground.
That being said…to say that this incident was upsetting would be a GIGANTIC understatement.
Simultaneously, I also thought…YES…PLEASE take this kid out of my life…because I DON’T NEED THIS SHIT.
To my amazement…all of this hot mess of emotional reaction happened without anyone ever talking to me. Without asking me what actually happened. Without hearing my side of the story. As I explained…it was a bit like telephone, and as you can imagine…told from the perspective of a pissed off kid with an attitude.
It was BEYOND hurtful.
I was shocked and rocked to my core…and not in a good way.
It wasn’t pleasant. I dislike conflict. Ugh. It was hard. There were tears. There were angry words. It almost broke me…I can hardly explain how deeply I was wounded. I am not saying that I am the best parent in the world, but I am most certainly not a child abuser. Do I have boundaries? Yes. Do I have rules? Yes. Do I allow kids to run the house and make the rules? NO. It doesn’t work like that. Life doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to “check out”. The kids are not in charge of my home.
I was told “what kind of message does this send to the child? How cruel. You are telling him that he is not wanted”
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
The message was this. You are a part of this family and you need to act like it. You belong in this home but your shitty behavior does not.
I made him sign a behavior agreement before he could come back inside and have his mattress back. It was INTENSE. It was a battle of wills. It was a child trying to exert his sense of entitlement and power over me and I was NOT having it. At the same time…I saw it all. I saw this child…hurting and wounded and fighting as a form of self protection, as a learned habit, as not knowing or understanding even why he was doing it…simply fighting…just to fight.
I LOVED HIM.
As a parent…love does not mean giving in. It means standing firm. Providing stability and boundaries. It is hard. It would have been so much easier initially to just give in…it would have been so much easier to just do the chore myself. It would have been so much easier to just let him “check out” and give in to the “guilty parent trap”. Poor kid…he has been through a divorce. Poor kid…he has low self-esteem. Poor kid…he shouldn’t have to do chores. Poor kid…life is hard, but…
this kind of thinking is a TRAP.
What saved me during this whole hot mess was my husband.
He had my back. He supported me 100%. He stood up for me. As a result, he was accused of being “pussy-whipped”. He was accused of “not being a man”. He was accused of “not caring about his own son”. He was accused of “not protecting his own flesh and blood”…In response to these words…I will never forget him saying…"We are a united front”.
When it comes to parenting…that is the single best advice that I could ever give. Support each other. Be a united front. Don’t allow other people to break you into factions. Stand together.
Afterwards, we googled united front parenting and discovered it is an actual thing.
Listen up parents.
Parenting is extremely hard, demanding, unrelenting and there is no perfect parent. Parenting is not a popularity contest. Parenting is not giving in to the kids demands. Parenting is not protecting kids from life…it is training and equipping them to handle and cope with life and teaching them that they have choices and we that all live by the consequences of our choices. Parenting is teaching them to take care of themselves. Parenting is teaching them to help out, clean up after themselves, do dishes, clean a toilet, help make dinner, do laundry. These are life skills. Parenting is encouraging kids to reach their potential and teaching them to do their best. Parenting is not protecting them from life! Parenting is allowing them to fail and make mistakes so they can understand that their choices and habits determine their life. Allowing them to experience consequences is not the end of the world, it is a very important step in growing up. Parenting is being there for them.
Doing everything for our kids is a huge mistake. We aren’t doing them any favors, or yourself either. We are creating a full-grown baby. Stop coddling…instead, encourage them to get back up…try again…shake it off…figure it out…get er done. Stop buying into the bullshit of “poor kid syndrome” and “guilty parent syndrome”
Get over it.
Do we protect our kids from learning to walk out of the fear of them falling down?
Do we stop teaching them that they have responsibilities in life, and that they are responsible for the choices they make?
I am observing an increasing number of full-grown babies out in the world and it really concerns me. Kids raised on instant gratification, fast food and self-pleasure above all else. Greedy and self-absorbed. Entitled and self-important. Lazy and weak-minded.
Obesity is a national epidemic.
Diabetes is a national epidemic.
Low self-esteem, depression/anxiety an epidemic.
Suicide also an epidemic.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Spend time with your kids talking openly and honestly about your own fears, mistakes, lessons, and embrace vulnerability. Find the courage to stand your ground. Teach accountability, responsibility, respect, and how to do things for themselves. Practice all of these. Practice compassion for yourself and for them. Practice grace, forgiveness and mercy.
When this incident happened…it threatened to tear our family apart in every single way.
It was so hard.
I did not shame or blame my stepson for his behavior. I did however let him know that he was not allowed to “check out”, he was not allowed to disrespect and disregard the rules, and he was not allowed to “do his own thing”. I let him know what it meant to belong and that he belonged and I embraced him as a part of the family and he was always welcome, but his nasty attitude and shitty behaviors were not. I would not allow it in my home. End of story. Not from anyone…myself included. Everyone in the family knows it. They also all know deep within their hearts that they are loved, they are seen, and they are worthy of love and belonging.
When this whole thing went down…before he agreed to come back inside… I explained to him that he was lowering himself to a level that was unworthy of who he was and that I saw him. I saw who he REALLY was, but he was not acting like his best. I saw his capabilities and I was not going to accept less from him. I explained that I was going to hold him up to his highest level, his best self. I told him he was a great person and I asked him if he thought that his behavior was fitting of a great person and he had to admit that it was not. I explained to him that he was writing the story of his own life and I asked him which character in the story did he want to be?
The villain, the hero, or the victim?
Within each one of us exists these three…the villain, the hero, and the victim.
Who will you be?
Who will prevail?
I also told him I was here to help him. To love him. To guide him. To teach him. To train him. To coach him. To hold him accountable.
Since the mattress incident, there have been many other incidents and many other challenges. It is a process and a journey. We have not arrived at some perfect pinnacle but we have arrived at a place where we feel safe. Safe to express ourselves honestly. Safe to make mistakes. Safe to engage with the world from a place of worthiness and respect for ourselves and each other.
Has it been easy?
Nothing of value is easy. Nothing of worth is free. It requires our participation. Our trying. Our persistence. Our self-control. Our discipline. Our willingness to work on ourselves. Our commitment to honest self-reflection. Our ability to face our fears. Our ability to own our mistakes. Our commitment to change for the better.
Much love to you all, especially those of you who are parents. Remember to support each other, work together and be a united front.
Find your fierce
Take the journey