I recently came across a quote from Viktor Frankl (author of “Man’s Search for Meaning), “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” This quote struck a chord within me. I mean it really struck a chord.
Friends, I believe Frankl said this in an attempt to get to me. I am stubborn. And when I say stubborn, I mean very stubborn. I also have a tendency to be controlling – not so much of people, but of situations (part of this is my OCD, part of it is just me). And do you know one situation in which control is something you absolutely lack? Being part of a blended family, in the role of stepmother.
It’s funny – in the beginning, when I was merely dating my now-husband, I thought I could control it all. I thought I had everything down to a science. I knew exactly what I was going to change and how I would change it and I knew that I would start the changes when we married and moved in together. These weren’t going to be harsh changes, just things like teaching the boys (who, at the time, were 7 and 14 years old) how to clean their own bathroom, how to pick up after themselves, how to make dinner, etc. I was going to change the way that my husband’s ex-wife never kept to her word in terms of custody days (she always found a way to get out of her days of custody – never stuck to the schedule). I was going to change the way that she spoke to him – I had no idea how, but I knew I would find a way. I couldn’t take hearing him being spoken to so meanly anymore. I was going to change everything. This was in the beginning.
Flash forward five years and yes, you will see two boys, now 13 and 19 years old, who know how to clean their own bathrooms, know how to do their own laundry, and, for one of them, know how to make their own dinner. It’s remarkable how much they have grown and changed through the years. We now have a custody schedule that is adhered to by my husband’s ex-wife, and a lot of other things that have positively changed since I first came into the picture. So, it worked, right? Well, it depends on how you look at it.
I was able to change the outer surface of everything. On the surface, it all looks different: people doing as they are told to do, sticking with what they say they are going to do, and doing it all in a somewhat-orderly fashion. However, this is only the surface. Guess what didn’t change? Yup. You guessed it: what is underneath. Almost nothing has changed underneath. Almost nothing…
The boys, while wonderful human beings and successful in their own ways, are still somewhat spoiled – and can be disrespectful at times (by no fault of their own – queue parents-who-feel-guilty-for-divorce-music). My husband’s ex – well, she is still 100% the same exact person she was five years ago. While she may adhere to the schedule, she is still rude, hateful, money-hungry, ruthless, and often times quite the bully to me. She cares more about her child support and alimony income than she does about whether or not her son brushes his teeth at night and gets a good night’s sleep…she cares more about calling her husband (and me) names than she does about ensuring her son has a way home from college over the breaks. She cares more about handing out to her sons hundreds of dollars on Christmas Day than she does about paying her half the most recent school lunch bill. I could go on…but I won’t.
Like I said, underneath, almost nothing has changed. But do you know what has changed in the past five years? Do you know what has gotten better, stronger, more brave, more resilient, more compassionate, and tougher than ever before? I have. I have. I have.
I never realized coming into this situation that I would be the one changing throughout the years. I saw it only as an opportunity to help the ones that needed help and to encourage change within them, not me. But my oh my friends, my oh my…I have changed so much since I first started dating my now-husband.
I have gotten better: I have gotten better at parenting, at cooking, at mending wounds, at cheering from the sidelines, at checking grades, at quizzing someone who has a test the next day, at making doctor’s appointments, and more…I have gotten better. I have gotten stronger: I am stronger now than I ever have been in my life – mentally and physically (thanks to my 2 year old!). I am strong enough to be finishing up my master’s thesis and teaching credential, while running a business nearly full-time, while caring for my 2 year old at home full-time, while running the house full-time. I am stronger. I am more resilient: while the sticks and stones may still hurt, the hurt doesn’t last as long anymore. I am now able to forgive quickly and to remember that “hurt people hurt people” and move on. I am more brave than I ever have been before: I am not afraid to say what is on my mind, no matter who is in the room (although let’s be honest, this isn’t always a good thing, even now!), I am not afraid to calculate pennies owed (because of principle) nor am I afraid to say “no” to her or anyone else.
I have gotten better. I have changed. This was the type of situation Frankl was speaking of – one in which I could NOT change, no matter how hard I tried…I didn’t realize then, though, that I was able to muster the strength to change myself. And that is beautiful.
It hasn’t been easy…Lord it hasn’t been easy…but it has been worth it. Situations like this are the type that make you experience life at a depth you never knew was possible. Situations like this are the ones from which you walk away with battle scars that you are actually proud of. Situations like this are ones you are thankful for in years to come, and ones that you use as lessons to teach your children, loved ones, and friends you meet along the way.
Friend, if you are a stubborn stepmom like I was, know that it is okay…but also know that the change can come from within…
Also, if you’re new here, please check out The Stubborn Stepmom – a place where stepmoms can go for help, support, and resources. I also have a Facebook group for The Stubborn Stepmom and would love to have you there!
Thanks for reading. As always, take care.