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.

Stepping back from social media

I don’t know when the shift happened.

The shift when social media became a constant…

An addiction.

When we started posting every detail of our lives. Our opinions. Our disgust with other people’s opinions. The judgement. The shaming. Fuck, kids can’t even have a snow day without it turning into an all out Facebook war. Pictures of our kids, our trips, our families, out meals. Constantly checking for an update. Looking for that new notification.

We no longer needed to have relationships with anyone because you can already see everything going on in their lives. What’s the point of meeting up if I already know you got a promotion, your mom is sick, and you’re going to Mexico next month? It leaves people bombarded with updates, yet feeling completely alone. We are missing real connections. The ones where we sit and actually talk about your mom who is in the hospital, and I can offer comfort and a genuine smile, and squeeze your hand to reassure you that it’s all going to be ok. Instead, we are lost and left feeling inadequate next to the “highlight reels” filling our news feed. And alone with our own struggles.

I don’t know when I started to let it consume me. When the anxiety set in. When I started comparing my life to other lives. Posting constantly to keep up with the Joneses. Leaving out the yucky bits and the flaws. And only showing the sparkly, fun stuff.

In 2017 I joined a weightloss challenge. Part of the process required that I document my progress through social media. I became obsessed. Selfies, side by side comparaisons, details of my meals, my workouts. Everything. I started to rely on the feedback of people I had never even met before. I became obsessed with losing weight. So much so that if I wasn’t progressing, I felt like I was letting the world down.

But who was I actually letting down?

My husband. My kids. My friends. The people who didn’t care about my posted progress. All they cared about was my happiness. They didnt care about Transformation Tuesday, or the likes, or comments. They wanted to see me happy. Truly happy.

And you know what? Your social media following doesn’t care about you either. They don’t need your “what are you thinking” posts or selfies. The constantly flow of updates, and perfect angles, filters and flawless edits. They don’t give a shit.

It’s about time we put our phones down. Quit updating the world with our location and every detail of our day. Take in your surroundings. Take a step back. Power off for a little while. The world doesn’t need to see your feed. They need you. Your best you. A happy, healthy, mentally sound YOU.

Social Media is killing relationships. Instead of talking, we sit side by side on our phones. We can’t communicate, but we can text. And our kids? They have to fight for our attention with a PHONE. When I was a kid my dad was glued to his blackberry. I hated it. When we went to appointments he would be checking email or chatting with a client/coworker. I felt like I was a burden. Like my presence was no longer worthy. Like I wasn’t good enough to talk to. And now what? I’m doing the same thing to my own loved ones.

I’ve decided to take a step back from the happy, shiny, sparkly posts. I’ve turned to writing in order to share the grim, unglamorous, hard-to-swallow, yet relatable, stories. This is the real shit. The broke, the sick, the raw, unedited me. The jiggly bits. The unflattering angles. The dark sides of my past. Because this, THIS is who I am. This is who WE are. We are human, and we are perfectly imperfect. And I’m going to put my phone down. Check out for a little while. I only hope that others can do the same ❤️

Happy Family Day weekend, my Canadian friends. Remember to spend time with your loved ones. Make some eye contact and just leave the phone in a drawer for a little while.



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.

The first suicide attempt

In the summer of 2006 I started working at a Dry Cleaner’s. I had just turned 19. The job began at the front counter accepting items and handling cash transactions. I worked with a Middle Aged woman who was sweet and patient with me while I learned the ropes. I found out that her husband had commited suicide and, after a period of grieving, she found herself back in the workforce as she now needed the income. I remember her telling me about her addiction to shopping during the period after her husband passed. She would shop and shop, hoarding piles of clothes in her closet, until one day she realized her home was predominantly pants and blouses with overpriced tags still attached.

It was a coping mechanism for what had happened to her. She was distracting her mind with temporary bursts of happiness everytime she would purchase another item. But the feeling didn’t last. And the clothes kept piling up. She knew she had a problem and started to purge the items. I had so much admiration for this woman who survived this tragedy.

My job started early in the morning. I was living in a basement apartment with my boyfriend and a friend just outside of town. Every morning I would wake up at 6am, and dread the thought of waking him up. He was not a morning person… He would stomp and slam doors, and make it clear that he was not happy with having to drive me in to town for work at this ungodly hour. We would fight about it every morning, even though the schedule never changed… I’d sit in the passenger seat, staring out the window with tears in my eyes, wondering if this was really the life I was destined to live.

My mother was living in town, just up the street from my work, in an apartment with the same boyfriend who made his way back into her life yet again. She had decided to return to school to become a Pharmacy Technician at a college in Toronto. My boyfriend would drop me off at their apartment, and I could kill some time before having to go to work.

This one particular day was normal. My typical fight with my boyfriend in the morning, and a typical work day with my coworker, chatting and laughing and telling stories about life. I heard the door open with the ding of the bell, and I went to serve the customer. But it wasn’t a customer. It was my mother’s boyfriend.

“Meli, did you talk to your mother?”

“No…?”

I hadn’t. I was working. I was still trying to figure out why he was standing in my front entrance, and now my head was spinning with “what-ifs”.

“Did you see the letter…?”

“No.”

What letter? What is going on? My heart was in my throat and I was starting to sense this was not going to end well.

“Meli, I think you need to call your mother. She left a letter saying goodbye and I don’t know what’s going on…”

I looked at my coworker and told her I needed to go. Like, now.

He drove me to their apartment and explained that she left for school and the was a letter saying goodbye and sorry and to take care of her girls. I started frantically dialing her number. No response. I called the school, and spoke with someone – I don’t remember who – and demanded that they track down her class schedule and make sure she was there.

“I’m sorry miss, I can’t do that for you.”

I didn’t want to give details to the school but I felt that this was the only way she was going to comply.

“No. You don’t understand. My mother left a suicide note and she won’t answer her phone and I need to make sure she’s there”

Her tone changed instantly. She said she would investigate and call me back.

I waited. My heart was beating so hard it felt like I was having a heart attack. What did I do wrong? Why weren’t we enough to keep her here, earthside?

My phone rang – it was the school. She was there. And she was in class. The lady said that she would have my mother call me.

Relief.

My mother called me and was silent. I could hear her crying on the other end. In my mind, once I saw this letter, I had assumed she was already gone. And hearing her on the end made me feel like I was fighting to keep her alive. I was mad. Mad that she would put me through this. But also sad. Sad that she felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I made her promise me to come home.

I waited.

She came in, and couldn’t speak. Just tears. She looked at me and begged me not to call the police. Apparently when someone makes a suicide threat, it’s mandatory to call 911 and have them admitted to the hospital for watch. But I didn’t know this. Why would I know this?? They don’t teach this in school. I was still basically a child and had literally never experienced anything like this before. I had no clue what to do.

There was a knock and the police came in. I guess her boyfriend had called them. My mother wailed, big tears pouring from her eyes. She begged them not to take her, assuring us she was fine and nothing was going to happen.

They took her away and I just sat there and cried on their orange Value Village couch.

The next morning my mother’s friend – the one we lived with during our great escape – drove me to the hospital to see her. She was in a small room, with no windows, and just a bed. There was a police officer standing outside her door. She was huddled on the bed with a red housecoat. The red was to allow for hospital staff to identify her, should she decide to run. Her eyes were red and her face swollen from crying. It was the saddest and most heartbreaking state I had ever seen anyone, let alone my mother,  in.

My mother would be admitted to the psych ward for the next three months. We would visit on occasion. I left my dry cleaning job and moved to Barrie and remained unemployed for some time. My sister lived full-time with her dad. We would meet every once in a while and go visit my mother. It was hard to see her like this, with all the other patients in the ward. Some were schizophrenic, wandering aimlessly and snapping at nothing. No locks on the bathroom doors. No mirrors.

I felt like I lost her that day. The day she went into the hospital. Something changed going forward. I mourned her loss and kept her at a distance from my heart, for fear that it would happen again.

My mother was released in December and her family in Quebec was there to swoop her up and bring her to safety, far from the boyfriend and our hometown. My aunt and uncle collected her belongings from the apartment and took her 7 hours away to start fresh.

Relief.

I felt relief knowing that she was finally away from the boyfriend. Relief that she was finally “home” with her family.

At the same time as her release, I found myself pregnant. I was living my own chaotic, whirlwind of a life with no direction or ambition. I was self destructive and lost. And then, a positive on a pregnancy test – and it was a pink plus sign that meant a positive in my life. My daughter was my saving grace.

The first suicide attempt was the hardest of them all. It was the hardest to process as I had no idea what to expect. It was the hardest because I was face to face with what was her lowest point, in the red robe, with an officer outside the room. But there would be more.

My mother has received a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. And it’s something that she can manage, as best she can, with therapy and medication. She has her challenges, and life can truly take you for a ride sometimes… but I am proud of her. And she’s still here. Even though she’s far away from me, she’s here. Alive.

Perhaps this is why my life’s work is to help people feel healthy from the inside out. Heath is not fat loss. It’s not just macros. It’s being comfortable inside your mind. You can be the skinniest, most beatuiful person on the outside. But what about your head? Your heart? Are you ok inside?

Maybe instead of coaching people to eat properly, we need to coach them to be truly happy their your skin, and then add some muscles.

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a world full of happy people, instead of fit UNHAPPY people.

Just my thought for today

Divorce, drugs, and a midnight escape plan

I was about 12 years old when my mom and step dad announced they were getting divorced. It hit me HARD. Being 12 is a pivotal point in one’s life – hormonal changes, body changes, mood changes, self esteem related issues, heads too small for all those adult teeth – and experimenting with thick, black eyeliner and baby blue eye shadow.

Me, my sister, and my mom in ‘97

My biological father and my mom divorced when I was a baby, so that was nothing weird to me. My step-dad, however, made an entrance into my life in the toddler years, and he married my mother when I was four. She had full-custody; he was a constant in my life. My mom and step dad had my little sister when I was 8. She is the only child from their relationship. A mom and dad, with two little girls – we were perfectly happy. Or so it appeared.

Me and my dad in ‘87 or ‘88

I remember sobbing uncontrollably into my step-dad’s chest. I felt like my heart was being ripped out. What would happen to our family? Where would we live? What do I tell my friends? It was the single most life-changing event in my life, even to this point. Everything went haywire following their divorce.

My step father continued to live in the home while the divorce took place. My mother, who had been a stay at home mom, running a home daycare, was forced to join the workforce. She started doing shift work at a local car factory. Honestly, this point in my life was blur. Maybe it was coping thing, but I don’t remember much… I remember graduating grade 8 and wearing this god-awful red dress. I remember looking at pictures of myself thinking, “My own mother is prettier and skinnier than me…”

I remember my mom moving out and getting her own apartment. I was allowed to choose my room colour – I chose a bright sunflower yellow. I put pictures up on the wall of friends and pictures of things I liked that I cut out of magazines.

My mother started seeing a guy she met at her new job. He was younger, and made her laugh. He drove a small truck, and he drove way too fast. Likely to show off, but it made me extremely uncomfortable. I wasn’t a risk-taker… I liked the comfort I felt from staying inside the lines and following the rules. Her new boyfriend seemed to be around more and I saw less of my step dad. He moved in with his parents out in the country. My sister and I had bedrooms there and we would spend time with our dad/step-dad at my grandparent’s. It was beautiful property, forests to explore and trees to climb. I was welcome, but it never really felt like “home”. Looking back on it now, it was likely a way for my mother finally be free and kidless.

Things started to change.

Her boyfriend was a drinker. He was mean and spiteful. He worked late and relied on sleeping in. If I made too much noise, he would get the vacuum out and vacuum outside my room in the middle of the night, slamming the appliance into my door to make it known that I was doing something wrong.

Some nights he would drink so much that he would start going off on emotional tangents, slurring and leaning into me, to tell me how much he loved me and that I was “the closest thing to a daughter” that he would ever have. I remember the smell of the alcohol on his breath, and the creepy vibe he’d let off when he said “I love you..” with his eyes barely open. He didn’t know what love was. He barely knew me – how could he “love” me?

He would have friends over and they would party. Some mornings I would wake up and my couches would be full of strangers. I’d get my toast, and step across them gingerly as to not wake them up, and I’d watch TV.

I remember my mother telling me she tried drugs at a bar. She didn’t mean to, but “someone offered it to her” – and she instantly regretted it. I don’t think I believed her… But it was at this moment that I realized I was no longer the child, and she was the mother. We became equals – or even more – I became the guardian, and she was the lost child taking part in re-living her youth.

One Christmas we received a charity hamper full of goodies. There were little trinkets and toys for a “teenage girl”. I knew what it meant – we were a poverty case. This was a handout. We were the family you hear about on TV and commercials. “Make a child’s Christmas this year by sponsoring a family in need!” Me. That was me. I was “in need”.

One day I came home from school and my mother pulled me aside.

“We need to pack our things. And quickly. He’s at work and I have a friend who is going to help us. But we need to be fast!”

I grabbed what I could and we loaded it into a truck, trip after trip until all of our things were moved out. I didn’t understand why, but I knew it had something to do with the boyfriend. We stayed in captivity with my mom’s friend while life seemed to spin out of control. I started working my very first job at Tim’ Horton’s and met a whole new group of friends. I felt comfortable and safe with these new people. They also came from lost and broken homes, and, they too, just needed acceptance. Together we coloured outside the lines – we weren’t alright. But we were alright together.

It wouldn’t say it was divorce that impacted me. I was a child of a divorced couple. A divorce that was messy, drawn out, and just plain awful. But I survived. I saw my biological father on the regular and we had a great relationship. My mother remarried and I survived. Divorce is a new “normal” nowadays – it doesn’t have to greatly impact the outcome of our children.

What impacted me was the loss of a family and the poor re-creation of one after the fact. When the kids get put on the back burner, and too much chaos is introduced – it becomes a problem. The new boyfriend was a problem. He was mean and unstable and an alcoholic. The very mention of his name makes me shudder to this day. He brought more problems to ones that still needed solving. I often think about how my own divorce impacted my children. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s amicable. I am constantly analyzing my every move, wondering if I’m paving the way for a meth addict, or if my kids will be content with their lives and themselves. I’m certain no single life event can change one’s course drastically, so long as they have the tools to effectively navigate the storm. Maybe that was my problem? Maybe the blame isn’t on the boyfriend, but more so on my lack of skills to handle the change?

Either way, I made it. The journey was long and not without challenges, but I made it – eventually…

Snowflakes

The term “snowflake” gets thrown around a lot lately, especially towards this generation of children.

“When I was a kid if you had a problem with someone, you just punched them in the mouth…!”

“Busses are cancelled today because its TOO COLD? What a bunch of snowflakes…”

Anyone who has been negatively impacted or found themselves a victim of an incident related to busses being cancelled due to extreme cold weather, please raise your hand. Anyone…? No…?

I didn’t think so.

Now I’m pretty hard on my kids – my daughter will even tell me that she thinks I don’t care when someone gets hurt. It’s not that I don’t care, I just know to reserve my fucks when they really matter. For example, the baby rode her little car square into the highchair the other day. That tray, well it was just at the right height to tear into her gums as she came flying towards it with a big toothy grin. Instant tears. And instant blood – which sent my oldest daughter into a panic. Me: I’m calm, pick up the baby, grab a Kleenex to wipe up the drooly blood before it hits my shoulder, and stains my shirt. “MOM, there is BLOOD! Is she ok? Is it BAD?” I ask the baby if she’s good, give her some juice in her cup, and send her off.

If there was a clearly broken bone, I may have reacted differently. Maybe not. I’ve never experienced something on the level of “extreme fucks need to be given”.

And I am also, almost always, in favour of sending your kids to school – even if the busses aren’t running. What kind of example would I be setting for my kids if allowed them to make excuses to “not show up”…? School IS their job. What about being a reliable friend? A dedicated employee? What about commitment to your college classes? Unless you’re deathly ill, or you have a funeral: get up, and show up.

So the busses are cancelled? That’s nice. Again, a situation where my fucks need not be given. I’m sure lots of thought and planning goes into managing a school board and bus fleets, and I’m confident that no matter what decision they make is in the best interest of the masses. That’s life, and as a parent I just adapt to the change in plan. This is also a great life skill to teach your kids: things change, but your goal doesn’t. Still have to make things work!

But the term “snowflake” – I’m just not sure how I feel about this. Are we discrediting our children’s feelings? Are we teaching them to be less empathetic towards other people? Which makes me wonder, are we raising future husbands/wives/friends/partners to be less sensitive towards their other halves/children/friends? Perhaps there is too much emphasis on padding their surroundings, and making their lives a little easier. Sure, we had it harder when we were kids. But when grandpa told US the story about how he walked to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, IN JULY… we rolled our eyes and told him, “Times have changed, Grandpa!”

I think the focus needs to be shifted and we need kids to be aware of something bigger: people will judge you, and people will have their own set of beliefs and opinions and morals *cough* or just like to complain *cough* – but in the end all that matters is what YOU believe in. Stand up for it. Social Media makes opinions all too accessible with very little room for facts to back it up. Maybe you want to be hard around the edges when your kids fall down. But guess what, when my kids come to me saying they had a bad day, I sure as SHIT don’t brush it off and tell them to suck it up. Bad days happen. And those people that are calling you a “snowflake” have bad days too. And maybe, JUST MAYBE, when “those” people have a bad day, they’re going to want to post about it on Facebook to feel heard and validated – because they are human. And we are all a little soft and gooey on the inside. And sometimes even the hardest of people need a hug, and some reassurance that it’s all going to be ok.

I guess my point got a lost in all this, but the moral is: do you. Be hard, be soft, be everything in between. Raise your kids to be brave and respectful, but also empathetic towards others. Know when to give fucks, and when to just let something roll off your shoulder. We all just want to be heard and accepted.

Bust most importantly, don’t complain for the sake of complaining. And if you ARE going to complain, you better be prepared to have a plan on how to rectify your situation.

AKA Just be good fucking humans.