The day had turned to frustration and angst and my husband and I resorted to simply hanging on. I remember it as one of those days when, for the first time when things began to devolve in our family gathering, we didn’t turn on one another. It was as if we had arrived at a point we knew enough about the other, trusted the other enough, and didn’t blame or attack. Instead, we worked together to make the event as positive as possible in the middle of the chaos. Such were our extended family gatherings for the first five years of our remarriage.
I look back now and see that the birthplace of my purest intentions came from those most trying of times. I folded a lot of laundry in my attempts to sort it all out, since the laundry room was the perfect respite from noise and expectations. Those clean clothes held no expectations, only the sensory soothing of cloth under my hands as I folded and stacked and made sense of the inner and outer world.
One day I folded and raged inside my mind. What was all the effort for? Who was benefitting? Did anyone even care what efforts my husband and I went to make a nice time for them? Why couldn’t the others share in the efforts, emotionally and physically? Why did every gathering feel like a contest for the me-me-me crowd? It was exhausting.
In amongst the folding of the sheets and towels and t-shirts, it came to me that my heart was beginning to harden. A hardened heart is not a useful heart, it can’t respond and bounce back under stress. That was enough for me to decide, in just that moment, that I no longer needed anyone’s approval. At that worst of struggling and seeing no way out, I let go of the expectation that our lives be anything other than what they were. I was going to focus on taking care of myself or I’d never last.
After my raging mind calmed, the obvious came to me. In the middle of being mad and upset, I would share my dedication to the process of helping and supporting the growth of the children by folding the clothes as a symbol of my commitment to my husband’s children. I didn’t care if anyone noticed, I didn’t care if they liked it or not. I would fold clothes and say a mantra about peace to them and peace to all of us.
And, I would cook.
One other significant way I could share my caring was through providing good food and paying attention to what was offered. I knew my husband made nutritious meals for them and he cooked for the kids when they came to visit. But, I decided I could help and be more involved. And so we began cooking together for them. During the week, but especially for those family gatherings, we worked together to feed everyone. Cooking a good meal became a thing we did together, with love and respect for each other. We make a great team in the kitchen and I love sharing those times with him.
We feel fortunate, because his children enjoy good food. They haven’t tried this recipe for Baked Oatmeal yet, from Nourished Kitchen. Jenny, the blogger behind Nourished Kitchen, has a great post about boxed cereal and why it is poisonous to kids. You can find that here. When I read that, we immediately moved away from boxed cereal. I love the baked oatmeal recipe because it’s easy to make up on the weekend, cut it up and freeze it, and eat on it through the week.
There are many ways to choose to show your dedication to sharing the positive development of your husband’s children without picking things that require you to sacrifice yourself in the process. The more I backed away and soothed myself and stayed connected with my husband and participated in those he or I could do together, the closer we became and the more supported we both felt. I learned to offer what I could and let that be enough.
Family events are less tense, maybe we are less tense. Nothing is perfect, and we still cringe now and then after a holiday gathering. But, we’re moving in a nice direction. We think it’s good enough to make an offer of a nice time. It’s up to everyone to decide how they will respond.