The agony of an untold story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you – Maya Angelou

This quote has never rang true like it has in the last couple of months. I got a call from Don Bosire, one of the Engage Founders a few months back and in typical Don style without beating around the bush, he asked me “What’s your story”? No one had ever asked me that before so I was confused. My first reaction was to stand up from my desk at the office and get into a meeting room for some privacy. I had no idea what I was going to say but I knew whatever it was I needed to say it in private. I poured out a number of what I thought were nice stories, the ones that paint an awesome picture of myself. Don wasn’t buying it. Like a little annoying child who asks why? after every answer you give, he peeled all the layers of my stories like an onion until I got to one that he thought was fit for purpose. To be honest I hated it, it was something I had never told anyone ever! He was the first person to tell this and now here he was asking me whether I would be comfortable telling this story to people at the next engage themed ‘Work In Progress’

I was at a very vulnerable time in my life. I did however know that I had to start doing things a little differently if I was to make it out of this season. I said yes before my brain could start talking me out of it. That’s how I ended up as a speaker at the 24th season of Engage. The next six or so weeks after that phone call would prove to be the toughest weeks of my life not so much because of the preparation of speaking in public, but more because of my story. It made me unpack so many things that I had neatly tucked away because strong women like me are focused on the solution and have no time to sit in pain, to feel it, to reflect and to consciously heal it before moving on.

Being on that stage and telling my truth has done more for me than I ever could have imagined. First, I wept like a baby once I was done with it and after that I felt lighter,  like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. That’s when this quote by Maya Angelou came alive for me ‘there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story’

We all have a story and unfortunately we spend so much time worried about what others will think about us that we don’t realize that we are trading in a much greater freedom for ourselves. The reason many of us don’t speak up is because we become one with our story, we believe that the story is who we truly are when as a matter of fact the truth is that the story is only what happens to you. How you choose to behave despite it is who we truly are.

You may not get the opportunity to share your story on a stage like I did but if you look around you have family and friends who are ready and willing to listen should you ever decide to speak up about your pain and your brokenness.

I pray that we can all begin to cultivate vulnerability with our loved ones.

 

 

 

Four useless things I packed in my hospital bag thanks to google

I have been a mother to children I did not carry in my belly for years, last year however, I had the privilege of carrying life inside me. For forty-one weeks I marvelled at God’s invisible qualities. I downloaded the baby apps and every week I would check to see what size my baby was. From a tiny seed to the size of a watermelon. That really used to fascinate me. Every first time mom can relate. Apart from the apps though I consciously stayed away from google and didn’t pay much attention to all the unsolicited motherhood advice I got. I didn’t want to know the nitty-gritty details of pregnancy and motherhood. I was happy just carrying this tiny human inside me. I was satisfied when my doctor summed up my visits in one line “You and the baby are fine”. That was what was important to me.

When I made it to thirty-eight weeks, I started getting the famous ‘have you packed your hospital bag?’ question. I hadn’t. Not sure why I kept procrastinating. When week forty came along with zero signs of labor, the panic monster checked in and I decided may be it was about time I packed that bag, so I did what any first time mom would do. I googled. Printed a check list and packed all the items on it. Weeks after I came home from the hospital when I was unpacking this bag I realised all the useless things that I packed and never got to use. We had a good laugh with my hubby when I explained why each of those items was in the bag. I had a full proof labor and new mom starter kit.

A book

The book, preferably a new mom book would help me get to know all the basics that a new mom needs to know. Stuff about breastfeeding, expressing, baby routines and all that. I didn’t have one of those so instead I packed ‘Year of yes’ by Shonda Rhimes. I bought this book just before I discovered I was pregnant and for the life of me I couldn’t read more than one page without falling asleep. I carried it everywhere and in nine months only managed seventeen pages so this was an opportune time to catch up. NOOOOT! the book never made it out of the bag. I was tired and too busy worrying about breast milk supply. All my energy was directed towards that otherwise I would not be discharged. Or so they threatened but I really did not want to find out.

Not to mention all the visitors I received. That book didn’t stand a chance. It’s still on my bedside table with the bookmark on page seventeen.

An iPod

During labor you are encouraged to walk around. I read that it helps, that gravity works to your advantage. The iPod was to play my favourite songs to help me relax and distract me from the pain as I paced around the hospital ward. Visions of YouTube women in labor dancing in hospital corridors ran through my mind as I packed it. Cool! I thought. I even downloaded Salt n Pepa’s ‘Push It’. That would me my song. That would be my motivation to get this baby out. I practised in front of my husband and instructed him to play it for me in case I forgot. He laughed, and just shook his head with a look on his face like “who on earth did I marry”? It might have been my first time on this journey but it wasn’t his. He had an idea of how it would go down but he humoured me.

The iPod never made it outside the bag either. I ended up having a precipitate delivery. Which basically means that I experienced an unusually rapid labor where all stages of labor happen at once. One minute I was fine, the next I was yelling profanities I didn’t even know I had in me and just before I swore that was my first and last child mama bear was holding her cub.

Essential oils

Essential oils were to help facilitate labor and relax me through whole ordeal. A week earlier I had bought some Clary sage and jasmine which I had read would help induce labor now that my little one was in no particular hurry to see the world. They didn’t induce anything. Nevertheless I threw these into my bag. I also made a massage oil with sweet almond oil, 20 drops of Clary sage, 20 drops of jasmine and 20 drops of lavender. The instructions said 15 drops but I’m badass like that. At the hospital as we waited for my doctor to come and induce me I gave my hubby and my best friend who would be my birth partner directions on where this magical massage oil that was to be used on my back would be. They were also supposed to put a few drops of the lavender on a cotton ball for me to inhale during labor.

Again, precipitate labor threw all that nonsense out the window

Sugar free chewing gum

Finally the chewing gum was for me to chew on (obviously) in order to quench my thirst because of all the saliva I would swallow. It had to be sugar-free because anything with sugar would automatically make me thirsty. Yeah, I didn’t remember that either.

Looking back I cant help but laugh at myself. If I get a second chance, I know exactly what to NOT pack.

What crazy things did you do when you were carrying your first child that you look back on now and wonder “what the hell was I doing?

 

 

The ABC’s for stepfamily life

A is for a fresh start . It can work but you will require extra effort and wisdom to make a strong family.

B is for blood, which is thicker than water. Don’t compete. Rather strive to compliment the already existing relationships.

C is for co-parent . Do this effectively, your children need you to be the adults you are supposed to be.

D is for discipline, your children need your guidance and training that will correct and mold their character. 

E is effort, you will have to put in work and time to build and maintain healthy step relationships. 

F is for fear of failure, beware of it to overcome it.

G is for God, he will pull you through it all. Trust in him.

H is for homes, there will be more than one and the kids need to feel wanted and loved in every single one of them.

I is for information, learn all you you can about stepfamilies. 

J is for jealousy. Beware of the green eyed monster and the damage this can have on your relationship.

K is for keepsakes, build them.

L is for love, your greatest weapon, generously use it all day everyday.

M is for marriage. Your family is only as strong as your marriage so make it a priority.

N is for new beginnings, forget the past and start working towards a better future, embrace the journey.

O is for open up about everything, the good, the bad and ugly and be ready to roll up your sleeves and make things better.

P is for plan, for visitation schedules, finances, co-parenting structure, family holidays basically every aspect of family life. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed.

Q for is for quit second guessing yourself.

R is for respect each and every member of your new family as a minimum requirement 

S is for sharing, your love, time, your life.

T is for trust, develop and nurture it.

U is for unfairness, be careful not to fall into this trap especially when it comes to the children.

V is for values. What values does your family live by?

W is for work, work work on your relationships everyday.

X is for ex spouses, you can’t wish them away, learn how to co exist respectfully.

Y is for YOLO, life is too short to sweat the small stuff, have fun, laugh out loud and let no one drag you down.

Z is for zip it. If your words will destroy rather than build up, keep it to yourself.

Want to learn more about stepfamily life and what to expect? Download a copy of my free ebook ‘The truth about stepfamilies’ HERE

I am tired of being a stepmom

“I am tired of being a stepmom. I feel guilty confessing this to you but I am really tired. This job is hard and no matter how hard I try it never gets easier. Am I bad stepmom for feeling like this? Is this normal” ? These are the words in an email I received a while back from a lady who was 2 years in her journey as a stepmom. She did not give me any indication that she wanted to leave her husband or abandon her stepchildren, she was just concerned about the fatigue that comes with being a stepmom. My first reaction was pride, because so many stepmoms would rather keep up appearances and pretend that there is absolutely no trouble in paradise than admit that they are struggling. I could relate to her because I have had my fair share of doubt. Moments in which I would question myself and my abilities as a stepmother. Moments of confusion where I wondered what the hell I was doing and whether I was on the right path. Times when I doubted if there was anything I was doing right. Days I wished I had a magic wand to make all things perfect so I never had to worry about anything ever again. If you are a stepmom and you are completely honest with yourself then you have had similar moments.

exfighting

Sometimes stepmoms just get worn out and tired. It is perfectly normal, nothing to feel guilty about. How you deal with the fatigue however will determine whether your situation gets better or it takes a turn for the worst.

So how does one know that they are experiencing stepmom burn out? Well there are quite a number of triggers which if you conscious about, you can identify and deal with before things get worse. I have put together the following list of questions which you should ask yourself. Though it is not exhaustive it is a good guide to determine your mental and physical condition as a stepmom.

  • Do you feel like you bear all the responsibilities of a mom but with none of the authority or appreciation?
  • Do you feel like you are at your wits end? Annoyed you don’t know what to do next?
  • Do you feel manipulated by your husband, his ex, your stepkids?
  • Are you tired of seeing your partner being manipulated by his ex or his kids?
  • Do you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter despite your contribution in the home?
  • Do you question why you are doing ‘this’?
  • Do you feel like an outsider in your own home?
  • Do feel like you have no control in your own home?
  • Are you constantly fighting with your partner?
  • Do you feel like your partner doesn’t defend you like he should and/or gives in to his ex, his children too easily?
  • Do you feel lost?
  • Are you uncomfortable at home, during school functions and family events?

If your answers consists mainly of yes then it would be prudent if you took a step back and realize the kind of pressure that you are under and make a plan to do something about it before things get worse. All these issues may look small but over time they have a way of weighing down on you and slowly making you numb and before you know it you could care less about your family and most likely take it out on your stepchildren which leads to further stress and strain to all the family members.

What do I do now, you might ask.

1.Accept it, own it

Stepmom burn out is a normal occurrence especially if you are still new to it and still adjusting. Let go of the guilt because it is what prevents you from seeking the help you need to get through these tough times. Once you accept that you are tired then own it. Identify what exactly you are tired of and why. It helps to make a list and see which ones are attributed to you, your partner, his ex, the stepchildren. Once you are aware of the source, it makes it easier to start dealing with each one of them and find a lasting solution.

2. Ask for help

There is no shame is asking for assistance when you need it. Many stepmoms feel obligated to do everything and do it perfectly. They feel like they have to be there for everyone, all the time, lest the world thinks of them as “evil”. This is especially true for full time stepmoms who are responsible the day to day care of their stepchildren and feel like their efforts are not being appreciated. In between attending school events, picking and dropping your stepchildren from school and other extra curricular activities they are involved in, helping out with homework, house work, your own work in the office, your duties as a wife, your family and friends, its not surprising that one would get tired.  When you feel burnt out ask for help from your partner, your family or professional help if need be. You will be surprised to find people who are ready and willing to assist you. Keeping a healthy balance of all that is going on in your life helps you to maintain your sanity enabling you to give your family the 100% it deserves.

3. Accept what you cannot change

Some of the issues that you identify may be beyond your control. Its important to know what these issues are and let go of them. If you have tried and you are unable to change a situation its better to let it go. Holding on only stresses you further and steals your joy. Shift your focus on the things that are working and adopt an attitude of gratitude.

4.Girlfriends, girlfriends, girlfriends

Whether you just need a safe and secure space for you to share your experience openly without fear of being judged or you just want take a break from it all, let your hair down and have some fun, your girlfriends will always have you covered. Take some time off and do something for yourself, something you enjoy doing that takes you to your happy place. This will go a long way in rejuvenating you and giving you that well deserved break

If you are already a stepmom, and you are struggling with stepmom burnout and would like help specific to your situation write to wendy@livinginstepafrica.com and she will be ready to assist you. If you would like to learn more about what to expect when it comes to raising stepfamilies download a free copy of her ebook “The Truth About Stepfamilies” HERE

 

 

Money questions you should ask before marrying a single parent

When I was doing my pre-marital counseling sessions there was one thing that really frustrated me, all the content, good as it was, made reference to the ideal first time couple. The virgin couple who would experience sex for the first time on their wedding night. The one that had no children from previous relationships, no exes constantly in your business and no extra set of relatives to put up with. The couple whose past remained exactly there, in the past. My hubby and I didn’t quite fit in this mold and I am pretty sure we were not the only ones. The advice we got was good for an ideal situation but we needed a little extra because some wheels were already in motion. We were a ready made family therefore the questions would be different and would require a different answer and approach all together.

Money is one of the biggest causes of friction and conflict in a marriage.  Anne Landers said “All married couples should learn the art of battle as they should learn the art of making love. Good battle is objective and honest – never vicious or cruel. Good battle is healthy and constructive, and brings to a marriage the principles of equal partnership”.

 

Discuss every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner

In order to have that healthy and constructive battle there are some specific aspects of marriage that every couple needs to discuss and address before they marry. Aspects such as the family values to be upheld, whether to have children or not and how many, dealing with in-laws, finances, spiritual life, couple sex and intimacy and many more. That is why we are encouraged to get pre-marital counselling in order to bring these areas to light and to give the couple an  opportunity to air their views of each matter and then together agree on what the family approach will be.

Couples with no children have the benefit of starting on a blank page and defining everything a fresh. They have no one else to consult but each other. They call the shots. For those who come into marriage with children from a previous relationship this is a much more complex and difficult discussion. The budget will include more items and considerations such as the children, the ex, already established lifestyles; making it an even more crucial discussion to have.

Discussing every dark detail of your financial life before embarking on marriage to your new partner will make your lives easier and help your marriage succeed. Here is a list of twelve questions that you should ask your spouse to get the conversation started and agree on the way forward for your family’s financial well being. During the discussion please adhere to the ‘no heat, no judgement’ rule. Do not go off on your partner for having a different opinion and don’t judge them either. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

‘no heat, no judgement’. Let it be a safe space to share and agree on what you will do for your family going forward.

 

  1. What are your current financial obligations?
  2. Are you financially supporting your children/ Are you receiving child support ? What is the agreement with the ex spouse? How much and how frequent are the payments? Will they increase or decrease in future? When will they end? What do we do when we don’t receive scheduled child support?
  3. Do you have any joint debts with your ex spouse? (loans, mortgages, businesses, credit cards etc) If yes, how do you plan to remove yourself from these joint debts?
  4. What expectations do you have for me to support your family?
  5. Do you have any financial commitments to your parents, siblings, or other family members?
  6. Do we both have active employment? How will we handle childcare given our work schedules?
  7. What will our individual financial responsibilities towards running the home be? rent,utilities,insurance, education
  8. How will we handle the holidays?
  9. How will we unify our finances? Are we comfortable with one bank account or will we have “yours,” “mine,” and “joint”?
  10. What do we want to teach our children about money? Will we give allowances and in what amount?
  11. How will we resolve differences in spending and saving practices?
  12. How will we handle investments, property titles/deeds, insurance, wills?

Remember that whatever plan you come up with will not be static but will evolve as the seasons of life and other factors come to play in your every day life, so set some time discuss this and adjust the plan as and when change presents itself.

 

5 Step-family myths busted

A myth as defined in the Oxford dictionary refers to a widely held but false belief or idea. There are many myths around step-family life that strongly influence the way both adults and children adjust to their new family and how they interact with each other. These myths, if treated as the truth can be roadblocks in the journey to successful step relationships.

Myth #1 – Automatic and instant love between stepparent and child
This is the first most prevalent myth held by both step and biological parents. Just because you love your new partner doesn’t automatically mean you will love his or her children; or that the children will automatically love you no matter how awesome you are. Establishing relationships takes time; it’s not an overnight thing. Research has shown that the average step-family takes between 4 and 7 years for the various bonds with everyone in the family to form and develop into healthy functional relationships. Also recognize that you might be willing to have a relationship with someone who is not willing to reciprocate. That will obviously hurt, and when people hurt, they may become resentful and angry and end up hurting others. Be aware of this and exercise patience and the best way is to have the children take the lead. Go at their pace.

Myth #2- Stepmothers are wicked
This myth is based on hundreds of fairy stories which we have all heard or read as children. Cinderella, snow-white, Hansel and Gretel all had evil stepmothers in them. Not to mention all the inshas we wrote in school about ‘mama wa kambo’. All these stories paint a picture of stepmothers being evil and cruel to their stepchildren. This negative perception of the stepmother role impacts step-moms in particular in a very personal way making them extremely self-conscious about their role. It is for this reason that many are not proud of themselves despite the good work and wonderful families they raise.

Myth #3 – Adjustment to step-family life will be fast
Couples with children from previous relationships are often very optimistic and hopeful of the new family they are forming. They assume after they say ‘I Do’ life will go back to normal. This is a huge misconception that sets them up for failure.
Step-families are very complex families and time is required for people to get to know each other, to create good, healthy relationships, and to develop their own history. This can take years and varies from family to family depending on factors such as age of the children, who has permanent custody of the kids, unresolved hurt or loss among others.

Myth #4 – Step-families formed after a parent dies are easier
As with every loss, people need time to grieve. Remarriage may reactivate unfinished grieving. Another problem is that it’s difficult to think realistically about a person who has died. The existence in memory and not in reality means that they get elevated to sainthood. No one ever speaks ill of a dead person despite their flaws when they were alive. A step-parent might find out they are competing with the ghost of a former wife or husband to their spouse which is a battle that cannot be won. Be sure to allow everyone including your spouse time to grieve.

Myth #5 – It’s a family like any other
This is the myth that says you will be just like a biological family. The truth is step-families are completely different from original families. They have different dynamics and handling them like the traditional family can only lead to strain and stress in the various relationship leading to failure.

These myths have been there for a long time and are deeply ingrained in the society we live in. It is however possible to look beyond them and do what it takes to unite the families and not tear them apart. Getting information or coaching about the new family before the marriage can help step-parents with relationships, family dynamics and in turn avoid problems later on as well as build confidence in dealing with any challenges faced.

Start with the end in mind

Imagine if you had to put together a 1000 piece puzzle. You are shown the picture on the box and the pieces are poured out for you to put it together. You are then blindfolded and told that the picture you were shown doesn’t fit the pieces that you are working with. And the guy wishes you good luck and leaves the room. Where would you begin? Am sure you are already frustrated just thinking about it right? I mean, unless you are Chris Angel, that puzzle isn’t getting done any time soon. Matter of fact it isn’t getting done ever!

You see when you get into a stepfamily situation, whether you are the stepmom or stepdad it can feel pretty much like the puzzle analogy. The puzzle pieces of your stepfamily do create a home however the picture doesn’t look anything like that of a biological family which most of us normally have in mind. The natural tendancy is to treat your new home like a biological one. Similar to what you grew up in. You would be surprised that even adults who were children of divorce and grew up in stepfamilies still make this mistake.

I am no different. I walked straight into that one when I started out with my stepfamily to be. I was standing smack in the middle of our fog of love. I thought due to our love, shared values, acknowledgement of our situation and the challenges that lie ahead of us and the unwavering commitment to make it work would make everything fall into place. Well, it didn’t. At least not as fast as I thought it would. It was a deceptive mirage. Kind of like this one time I went hiking the rocky hills in Ukambani with a couple of friends of mine. As we stood at the base of the hills looking up to our final destination, I thought to myself  “Hmmmm, this is going to be easy. The hill is not so rocky, neither is it as steep as I had thought it would be.” Turns out I had spoken too soon. As we started climbing I realized the hill was indeed very rocky, and very steep and the distance? Much longer than I had anticipated. Needless to say I bitched all the way up the hill (excuse my French) until I got to the top.  In the same way, I never quite knew what I was getting myself into until I started to climb my stepfamily mountain so here’s my advice to you dear stepmom or stepdad;

 

Lesson #4

Know that YOUR STEPFAMILY IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE ANYTHING LIKE A BIOLOGICAL FAMILY. Do not try and fit the puzzle pieces of your stepfamily to match a biological families picture. It will fail. A stepfamily is different in so many ways and its dynamics are also different. Take for example the parties involved. It’s not just mum, dad and the kids. It’s you and your spouse, your kids, your spouses kids if any. Children are normally the obvious part of the package but in that same package you also get ex spouses and ex in laws which can be multiple as well not just one. You basically get your spouses past as well. Now most people are unaware of this hence the numerous conflicts surrounding stepfamilies. Pretending these parties do not exist only causes you more stress. The sooner you acknowledge this and are smart about how to handle it early the better and easier it is for you to manage each and every relationship wisely for the success of your own.

The other disillusionment for adults getting into stepfamilies is how long it takes to bond and create that stable family relationship. Well, studies in the US have shown that the average stepfamily takes about seven years to form and bond and function as a stable family unit. Of course this varies from case to case. Mine took about 4 years just to build a relationship with the children and it is still a work in progress. I still face new challenges daily so my climb continues. Therefore get in knowing that it will take time and be very very patient about it. All children want their mummy together with their daddy, that’s the bottom line. It will take them time to accept you as the new person in mummy’s or daddy’s life. So give them time and space to do so.

 

And  finally as a bonus lesson, please do not bitch as you climb up the mountain. There is a reason why I was never invited to another hiking trip ever. Maya Angelou once said, “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”