"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

It felt a bit like having tradies in the house


You know how it feels when you've got tradies in the house, in and out all day, working on the plumbing or the electrical circuitry or installing an air conditioner? You know they're there, friendly and chatty, but bottom line is they're strangers, and you just can't relax fully until they're gone. Well, that's how it is for me anyway, and I've certainly had my fair share of tradies in the house this past year.

I realised during my first year as a stepmother that this was a little like how I felt when my stepchildren were with us. It felt a bit like having tradies in the house.

Our revolving empty nest
During the days that the children lived with their mum, I would relax and get comfortable in our empty nest. I felt like I could fully be myself. If I was tired or a bit grumpy after a busy day, I could just sit and read or have a quiet cuppa on the outdoor swing under our favourite tree, thinking or chatting idly with my hubby and debriefing about the day, or just enjoying the peace, emptying my mind. If I happened to be unwell, I could mooch about in my track pants and ugg boots, looking gross and seeking sympathy, and my husband would make me cups of tea and encourage me to rest on the couch or stay in bed a while longer.

When the children weren't home with us my husband and I would chat about anything at all, quite freely, without having to worry about who might be overhearing sensitive subject matter. Or if I didn't feel like conversation I could just be quiet and read or write - or just be - without the need for company. And it was totally okay. And not to mention the other aspects of newly married life for which a little privacy is necessary.......... okay, I won't mention it.

But when my stepchildren were home with us, everything changed. For me, mainly.

When the tradies come home
Firstly, I felt as though I had to be on my best, smiley, welcoming, encouraging, building-our-stepfamily-relationships behaviour. That didn't really come naturally to me (you may have gathered that by now). Sometimes, listening to a chirpy and chatty teenage girl regaling me with tales of her day, her conversations, her friends, would be quite lovely, and I would feel delighted that she wanted to chat - to ME. But sometimes it wasn't so lovely, and I didn't feel like listening to teenage chatter. Especially when every second word was that ubiquitous and oh-surely-that-ship-has-sailed-by-now word, LIKE - it would be enough to make me clench my teeth, bolt for the door and run far, far away.

And secondly, when the children were home with us I felt as though any "constructive discussion" with my husband needed to be conducted in hushed tones or behind closed doors. As you would if there really WERE tradies in the house. At the time, during that first year of adjusting to marriage and our stepfamily, the issue we discussed most was, of course, the children themselves, and it was no surprise that these stepchildren-related issues mostly came to light when the children were actually IN THE HOUSE!! And so as not to let the children know that we were discussing them, so that they didn't feel awkward and unwelcome, we tried to do it quietly - not always easy.

Putting a lid on myself
I found this whole process very difficult at times. I'm fairly feisty and vocal - a fan of getting things out into the open. My husband is more measured and (rightly) somewhat protective of his children. He takes a "gently, gently" approach with them (and with me, I might add), which I admire on many fronts - you wouldn't have an argument disagreement absolutely constructive discussion in front of the tradies either - but my admiration would start to wilt when it meant that the particular (and I felt, necessary) message to the children about whatever-the-issue-was simply wasn't getting through. Oh dear.

Finding a pile of sheets or towels dumped on the laundry floor, yet again, even though we'd had several gentle chats with the culprits about how this was not acceptable. Washing hung on the line without pegs, again, and ending up in the garden, even though this had also been gently addressed in the past. Breakfast dishes left on the bench, even though there was a sink full of hot soapy water ready and waiting, and the issue had been, yes gently, discussed many times in the past. Oh so gently........ I would be hissing inside, desperate to speak, but keeping a lid on it for the sake of everyone within shooting distance.

Parenting styles
I discovered, not long after Richard and I met, that this new man in my life parented differently to any father I'd ever observed before. I had lots of opportunities to watch him with his kids, and I loved how he spoke words of life to their hearts on a daily basis. But I realised that part of his strategy was to help his kids avoid unpleasant consequences if at all possible. He did this by gently explaining, asking gently, reminding gently, then reminding gently again, and again. Sometimes it worked. But sometimes when it was the 5th or the 11th time that the issue had arisen, it seemed to me that something needed to change, for everyone's sake (and yes, after we married, especially mine). By this time I could be so frustrated I was about to burst. I wanted to discuss it! And I wouldn't have cared even if there WERE tradies in the house, I wanted that oh-so-exasperating issue (yes, the issue, not the child) dragged out into the open and verbally flogged to within an inch of its life, once and for all. And it would probably do the tradies good to hear it too!!

The washing....... again!
Here's an example. One night my stepson decided to change the sheets on his bed (a good thing). Late (a not good thing). And he'd been asked not to leave them in the washing machine because they may be forgotten and will then get smelly, and he remembered this (a good thing). And so he hung them up (a good thing). In his bedroom, draped from the ceiling beams (a not good thing). Something he'd been asked, gently, several times, not to do. The washing line was right outside after all, a mere 10 steps away. And if it had been the first time this issue had appeared, that would have been one thing. But it was the again-ness of it all that was wearing me down.

And so my husband and I had a brief no-tradies-in-the-house discussion before the troops got home from school. And my angst was mostly about the repetitive nature of the issues, and yes I could see that my stepson thought he was doing the right thing (in some ways) but surely the gently, gently approach couldn't possibly be working, because LOOK, it had happened again!!!

Working on my heart
And so my husband agreed it needed to be addressed. Again. And all I could do was wait, and see if anything changed. But more importantly, pray and ask God to please keep changing ME. In all honesty, that's been one of my most frequent prayers since becoming a stepmother. Please. Change. My. Heart - because I know that's what I need. And because when I pray these types of prayers, God is faithful.

Over time our circumstances changed, as we went from 5 to 4 to 3 and currently only the 2 of us. All the while, stepfamily life got gradually easier, and I learned to let go of more things that really weren't worth the battle. There were still times when it felt a little uncomfortable for me, sharing a house with children who are not my own; it still felt, at times, a little like having tradies in the house, but I learned to relax more about that too.

What now?
Our house has been a temporarily empty nest for over a year now, and the only tradies we've had coming and going are the registered kind. Eventually we'll go back to having 3 in the house, and I'm hopeful that when the time comes, I'll be able to go to the laundry and not even notice that the "tradies" are hanging their sheets and towels and underwear from the ceiling. I'll just be glad that the "tradies" are doing the job themselves, and I don't have to.

4 comments

  1. I've lived alone (mostly) for nearly 30 years so I'm a bit like that when I have anyone else staying here. Even if it's someone I'm close to.... there's a sense of relief when they're gone and I can be me again and have the place to myself etc... #teamlovinlife

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    1. Ah someone who understands!! I think the fact that I'm an introvert at heart is at least part of the reason for my struggles Deborah, but there's also definitely an element of feeling like I can't be as "in control" of everything as I'd like to be. I'm working on that one xx

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  2. LOL. Tradies in the house. That's a good comparison. #teamlovinlife

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    1. Yes Leanne, it certainly works for me!!

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