The semantics of being a step mom

Being the mother of a step child is a very complex topic. I’m sure there are lots of step parents who may disagree with the following post, but I want to talk about this – and I’m sure there will be lots of step parents who nod their heads in unison about the following. For some, being a step parent comes naturally. You take any child, any single person, and immediately form a bond. Perhaps you had the chance to become a step parent to child very early on their life. Maybe, like me, you came a little later.

I was a relatively young mother, 19 when I became pregnant to be exact. I was basically a child up to the point when my title changed to “mom”. My first born shaped me into the woman I am today. I carried her, a labored and birthed her. I breastfed her, and woke at all hours of the night to be there for her. We formed a bond right from the very beginning. And so I did with my two subsequent children.

But a step child?

Let me see if I can put this into words that help you understand my step son’s place in my heart.

I didn’t carry him like his own mother did. I didn’t get the chance to take a pregnancy test and run through all the emotions like his own mother did. I didn’t feel those first flutters from his kicks, nor was I the first person to hear his heartbeat on a Doppler.

I didn’t labour with his father by my side, holding my hand through the contractions. I didn’t feel like my entire world was being lost when his heart rate dropped during the birthing process. I didn’t cry tears of joy when he was finally here. I didn’t hold his tiny body on my chest as he let out his first wail. I didn’t get to see his father cry when he held him for the first time.

I didn’t hear his first words come out of his mouth. He didn’t call me “mama” first, nor did I hear him call his daddy “dada” for the first time.

I didn’t breastfeed him, I didn’t wake with him through the night, I didn’t take him for his shots; I didn’t hold him and cry when they pricked his little baby leg. I didn’t see him crawl, or take his very first steps. I didn’t care for him when he was sick. I wasn’t by his side for any surgeries.

I didn’t kiss his cheek and hold his hand to the door on his very first day of school. There are no pictures of him sitting on my lap. No memories of me tickling his little belly as he laughed. No laying in bed reading stories, or singing songs together.

Quite frankly I missed a lot. There was no bond formed from the very beginning. His mother loved him without ever questioning where that love comes from, and he loved her unconditionally in return. I am envious. I long for that connection with him; for those memories with him. All I get are uploaded pictures in Facebook albums.

But me? I walked in when he was eight. I was more like a friend; not a parent. We have other milestones that we get to celebrate. Like the first time he openly chose to call me “mom” – which graduated to “Mamma Mel”… I was so proud of the name that I actually name my cupcake business after it. And then there was a time when kissing him good night became a ritual – I can’t recall at what point. But it’s something that I am thankful for every night at bedtime. He doesn’t have to let me kiss him, nor am I required to do it. But we do. And it’s a routine that I miss when the kids are gone.

Every morning I wake and I choose to love him; I CHOOSE to be his step mother. The place he holds in my heart is one that I opened up just for him. And every day I remind myself to work on this relationship; it means the world for it be a strong one. It does take work.

My step son is my world. All my kids are my world. They all have different personalities and strengths and weaknesses. I love them all in different ways, and each relationship is piece to our family puzzle.

I am excited for different kinds of memories that we will make together. His report cards that he excitedly brings home, his graduation, his first car, dancing with him at his wedding, holding his first baby in my arms… These are the events that I will consciously be aware of. The memories that we now get to share together as a family.

Step parents, you’re doing a good job. If you’re reading this and it resonates, then you are definitely doing a good job. It’s not easy taking in someone as your own, but it’s also not easy for a child to make room in their own hearts for another parent. So if they do let you in, be gracious. Because they don’t have to love you. Loving each other is a choice.

Appreciate the memories that you get to make going forward. More importantly, appreciate the ones they already made with their birth parents. You are there to compliment an already working relationship.

Lastly, I am thankful to my step son and his mother for making my own husband into the daddy he is today; the daddy he gets to be to my two children, and our “ours” baby. They paved the way for him. They pioneered the path to fatherhood, and I am so lucky be a part of this family.

Together we make a beautiful, complex picture. Each wing uniquely intertwined. Its work, and its love, and its messy, and its a whole lot of laughter. But I don’t think I would ever trade this for the world.

How self-help articles are ruining parents

I love/hate how there are just so many blog posts out there that tell you how to raise your kids nowadays. Something along the lines of:

“Seven things your 12 year old should already know how to do”

Sure, I’ve fallen victim to clicking them and reading them. Then what? I feel like a shitty parent. The articles lead me to believe I’m not doing all that I should. Or that my kids are lacking in progress. And the more I read them, the worse I feel about my parenting style. If you read every single one, the advice becomes conflicting and then quite confusing.

I set clear boundaries for my kids and “no” means “no” – not “keep trying to change my mind”. I love and give warmth where it needs to fit. I also expect some form of order and respect in my house. Does it always go smoothly? Fuck no. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. There’s always room for improvement.

But that’s me.

Then I read these articles and I think, “Am I doing enough? Should I be doing more? Am I lacking in this area?”

We need to stop doing this. Stop reading these articles that tell me my 8 year old should be doing his own laundry and if he doesn’t have clean clothes, then that’s his fault. I mean, I understand the point of teaching you child that: but how many more RULES can I implement before I start raising them wrong?

Some articles will tell you to let them learn from natural consequences: forget their lunch? Go hungry. Forgot your mitts? Cold hands. Didn’t get your homework done? You get the shit grade. Then some articles will say “have empathy” therefore it’s ok to bring them their mitts, or maybe even pack their bags for them so they don’t get forgotten. But then which is right? Which is better? It’s all so confusing.

The best approach in my opinion is think about your childhood. What did you love and what did you hate. What lessons were valuable, and which ones do you wish you had been taught. Then, work around that. For me, I loved that my mother would tell me she loved me all the time. She tucked me in every night, cuddled me, and wasn’t afraid to show affection. I also loved camping with my step dad. Life was always about exploring and adventure, and spending time outside. I also had chores – every Thursday was my night to do dishes. Some times I would protest, but they never waivered. My dad also never yelled – he was quiet and patient, and set clear boundaries. No meant no. I had the freedom to make my own choices and express myself. There was time for friends, and time for family – which was equally, if not more, important.

Praise. Praise is huge. We clap for the baby when she puts her own shirt on for goodness sake. Why do we stop praising the big kids? They need it, too. Especially an ADHD child who’s feedback is predominantly negative.

Focus. Sit down. Stop doing that. Put your shoes on. Where’s your (insert random item lost)?!

They need more positive than negative to keep the balance, and the peace.

And the most important?

Kids need you. Just you. That’s it. A fun, empathetic, understanding, PRESENT you. Working, absent, self-indulged results in rebellious, attention-seeking, acting out. I know this. Heck, a lot of my side business work revolves around using my phone, and my two year old will yell at me: “Put phone DOWN!” It’s a wake up call. I know this is my reminder to just be present.

Ditch the overflow of advice and suggestions, go back to basics, and just be. Do you. Do what feels right in your heart. Do what works for YOUR dynamic. Stop reading articles and comparing your journey to another. And quit JUDGING someone else for doing their best. We are all just trying to make it out alive.

That’s basically it. It’s a lot less stressful on me, and the kids to just “do you” 😎

Co-parenting

Here is the thing about being a step parent. Until you ARE one, you never actually understand what it entails. Being a co-parent is single handedly the most difficult thing I have ever done. Haaaaaands down. Even more challenging than birthing an 8lb 11oz baby without drugs.

On one end you have my ex-husband, and together we raised two kids. We have shared custody of our children, a week on/week off basis.

On the other end there is my husband and his ex, who have a son. They also follow a week on/week off schedule.

Together my husband and I have Finn, a wacky and wild, boundary pushing two year old.

My tribe

Three separate branches within one family unit, where I stand in the centre. This also means that for one week we have four kids, and then one week with just one kid.

Some days I feel like I’m being split in multiple directions. I have to focus on so many aspects of our family and keep them all intertwined and organized. I have to communicate with one ex about teacher memos, appointments, homework, illnesses, lost snowpants etc. And on the other end of the spectrum, I do my best to stay in the loop with regards to the happenings of my step son. But that in itself is hard to jump into a coparenting unit that is established and running independently on its own – and you are the outsider.

Right smack in the middle is an “ours” baby with her own appointments, and MANY illnesses, and quirks and babysitter to communicate with etc.

To top it all off, we all have different parenting styles. Together they mesh under one single roof, and it can be frustrating and confusing for parents AND kids. Some strict rules, some much more relaxed, and everything in between. Coparenting can also make it very easy to point fingers at others when problems arise as opposed to one mother and father and their kids all in one home. So when a problem presents itself, it’s easy to throw the blame on someone else and the step parents become the scapegoats.

Then you add in the “step parent” stigma… “You’re not my mom/dad! I don’t have to listen to you!” Or sometimes rules and discipline coming from a step parent (especially step-parents introduced later on in the child’s life) doesn’t feel like a lesson: it feels like a personal attack. Even if it comes from a place of love and guidance – it just doesn’t feel the same as being parented by a biological mother or father. It then translates into feelings of being mistreated, which can turn into a downward spiral. So sometimes, my husband and I have to take back seats when it comes to raising our “own” children, which further puts the divide between our family.

God…. It’s exhausting.

I feel like I have multiple personalities. I don’t WANT to separate our sides. It would be much simpler if we could all just function as a whole.

But we can’t. We are coparenting. And this is the harsh reality of it.

Coparenting really is an invisible battle. You have to love when it’s not reciprocated, and give a part of yourself – even if it doesn’t feel “natural” at first. It’s being emotionally available and trying to figure each other out. Its patience and understanding. It’s constantly questioning if you’re doing enough, and wondering if what you’re doing is the right thing. It’s a balancing act – balancing multiple wings within the unit. It’s wondering how your kids are doing when they are with their “other families” and missing them when the house is quiet. And that can quite honestly be the hardest part. The empty feeling when your kids are not home, and it’s quiet and you have three less humans to kiss goodnight.

Regardless of the challenges, I don’t know that I would change it for the world. I have more family to love in the process, and when all the kids are here, it’s chaos and laughter and love.

So. Much. Love.

And for that, I am ever so grateful.