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.

Making money off your insecurities

Do you know how many billions of dollars are made every year off making you feel like you need to be better?

Try this cream to erase marks!

Wear this bra to make your chest look bigger!

Take this pill to make you skinny!

Drink this shake to boost your metabolism and increase fat loss!

Drink this tea!

Buy my program!

Sound familiar?

Listen to me… these companies don’t want to see you happy. They want to sell you something and make a buck. You are simply a channel to get money into their pockets.

So let’s say you buy a program and pop a pill and you shed a few pounds. Then what? Did you land that job? Get the promotion? Did it fix your relationship, or mend your broken heart?

Did it actually solve all your problems?

I bet the answer is no.

I had to take a step back from coaching. I went into it full tilt legit wanting to change people’s lives. I thought by helping them lose weight, that they would be happy. But were they truly happy? Hard nope. Some of them lost some weight, some lost a significant amount of weight – but none of them lasted long term. And life still kept throwing them curveballs, so they stopped working out and felt extreme shame and guilt.

So I changed my approach… what if we could teach people to simply live. Just be. No diets, no excessive cardio, no macros. Just living. Learning to be happy with themselves and their imperfections. Eating foods that make you feel good… maybe that’s egg whites and veggies all week, and pizza on a Friday? It’s balance and forgiving yourself. It’s also getting active because it makes you feel good; not because you have to.

I also wanted to expose the dishonesty of social media when it comes to trying to sell you something. Social Media is a snapshot of one single second in a person’s life. It shows a twisted, contorted, booty-popping, belly-sucking pose to make that person look better. Why are we trying to look like that all the time when that person can barely look like that for a single second? It doesn’t make sense. Our daughters are going to look to these people and aspire to be something that simply doesn’t exist. Photoshop, filters, poses, surgery… it’s not real life. It only adds to the shame and guilt we feel.

As a mother I am trying to portray something that is attainable: a real and healthy body, with extra skin and cellulite. I am a woman with a past. A woman with daily challenges and less-than-perfect moments. A woman who tries her best to encourage others to do the same.

I don’t have a product to sell you, or a quick fix program for you to buy. I want to teach people how to be a little more forgiving of themselves and make time for them – because they are their own priority. You cannot pour from an empty cup. Doesn’t that mean exercise and diet? Nope. It’s self care and taking mental breaks.

I only hope that more people will get on board with sharing more real moment instead of false expectations. It’s a better message to share for the next generation. We live in a world of filters, so take off the mask and just be you.

You are enough.

What’s it like having a child with ADHD?

I received an e-mail from my son’s teacher yesterday.

It appears Rhyer has misplaced his agenda again.

“Misplaced” is a word frequently used in our daily conversations. Socks, hats, boots, agendas, homework… It all gets lost. Somewhere between flickers of brief thoughts that come and go through Rhyer’s brain. One minute he has the agenda, he gets distracted by a thought, and very quickly the idea of the agenda goes out the window.

Rhyer has ADHD. Formally diagnosed, though we never really needed a professional’s confirmation. It’s obvious when you meet him that he’s a little… busy.

As a toddler he was what I liked to call a runner. In the driveway, full tilt, me yelling and frantically chasing him. It was a game. The more scared I got, the faster and further he went. I was petrified that he would eventually get hit by a car. 

As a pre-schooler I noticed that I could call his name over and over again, and he wouldn’t respond. You would have to get in his face for him to notice you, often times scaring him when you tapped him because he literally had no idea you were talking to him.

I took him to the doctor for a referral to get his hearing checked. I thought maybe he was going deaf. Turns out his hearing was perfect, if not better than most.

He was obsessed with certain things: hyper focusing on numbers, Pokémon, or LEGO. He would spend HOURS building creations, or speak without taking a breath about Pokémon battles.

In JK we noticed that he was falling behind. He was lacking social skills, and had a hard time staying focused. His teacher would say, “Oh he’s a late baby. Its common for kids born late in the year to seem behind. He’ll catch up.”

In June at the end of SK, I received a referral for an Occupational Therapist to help him out in grade one. Turns out he was behind. And he didn’t catch up…

With every passing year, Rhyer falls further behind in school. His reading is just at level, which a HUGE improvement since the beginning of the year. His writing is barely legible. But we are working on it. Staying on task – a fucking nightmare. Homework is a chore… Tears, hyperventilating, and lots of encouragement and pushing him. But we get it done. He is impulsive. Sometimes he just hits me for no reason and has zero explanation as to why he did it. Punishment doesn’t work, and rewards are futile. Yelling falls on deaf ears.

Praise is our only saving grace. We give lots of hugs, and cuddle on the couch. We point out all the good that he does. His confidence is lacking because being ADHD is like living in a world of negatives. Sit down. Don’t touch that. Stop moving. Don’t do that. Stop it. No you can’t. It’s like his hardwired to just FEEL like he’s a burden because the feedback is constantly “no’s” and “don’ts”

What does it feel like to be a mother of a child with ADHD? Like you’re failing. Like nothing you do is ever enough. It’s frustrating. I feel like a nag. Constantly repeating myself, or asking, “Look at me and tell me what I just said…” It’s a lot of chaos and emotional roller coasters and random noises and sounds. Some days, when I sit down in bed after the kids have gone to sleep, I find that I am exhausted. Because it is indeed exhausting. I feel defeated. With every email from the teacher I’m reminded of my shit parenting.

It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.

I’m hellbent to see him succeed. For him to be ok with being Rhyer. He can be weird, or nerdy, or loud. He can be cuddly and emotional, and he can feel sadness ten fold. But I’m hellbent on seeing him flourish. ADHD is a gift, not an excuse. It’s not a reason for being mean or agressive. I want him to be ok with bad days, but not let them become excuses for poor behaviour. We all have our faults, but the strongest ones make the best of it. I preach accountability. I preach trying before giving up,

So that’s what I’m doing. Holding it together and making the best of our faults. Mine and his. Some days are bad days, but dang – those good days are great.

Young mother

It was December 2006 and my period was late. I was 19. We were living in a 4 bedroom house in Barrie with a girl who routinely had various men over and was addicted to coke, and a guy who really liked to party. He would write cheques to my boyfriend, and then bounce them in my his account. We were broke. We couldn’t pay our bills. The rent was more than we could afford. I had no job. My mom was still in the psych ward. Life was just, messy.

I took a test and waited – the little blue plus sign popped up. Pregnant. I was pregnant. How would we do this? How would I afford a baby?

I stopped everything that day. All my habits. Gone. Cold turkey and out the window. I never even thought twice, nor did I look back.

We left the Barrie house and moved in with my at the time mother in law. We slept in the basement. It was an old farm house, so the ceilings were low and it was cold – it was January – I could see my breath sometimes in the morning. It smelled of mould. And the floor was concrete. I was sick. So nauseous during the first trimester. All I wanted to do was sleep or vomit. We hadn’t told anyone about the pregnancy yet, so I did my best to hide my symptoms.

I picked up a part time job as a dietary aid in a retirement home. I had no car so I would sleep on the couch at a friend’s house in town the night before my shifts so I could wake up early and walk to work for 6am. My back ached so much – some days I could barely move. I’d hobble around the dining room, serving residents. I remember one lady yelling up at me, “Are you lame!?” I later realized she was commenting on my hobble and relating me to a sick horse. The one girl I worked with completely had it out for me. She would complain if I was moving too slow, if I made a mistake (I was still learning the job), rolling her eyes and sighing loudly. She would literally trash talk me to coworkers while I was standing there. One Friday I got a letter at the end of my shift. My supervisor wished me a good weekend, handed me the envelope, and as I walked out the door I opened the letter. I got fired. It was the first and only job I was ever fired from.

Now I was pregnant, starting to show, and unemployed. Who would hire an uneducated pregnant girl at this point? I sunk to an all new low. I felt useless and saw no hope for mine and my baby’s future.

I did some part time work for my MIL around the house. Cleaning and office work. My boyfriend would fight with his mother so frequently that she kicked him out. I was now living at the age of 19, pregnant and in the home of my so-called “mother in law” without my boyfriend there. We would fight. I felt like I was a maid, but I understood that I needed to earn my keep. I did my best to maintain a relationship with her and keep on top of my daily chores. She did, after all, take me in when I was left with nothing. I also wanted to maintain a relationship with my boyfriend; a boyfriend who was couch surfing while I stayed with his mother.

We eventually decided that we needed to get out of there. After a few months there on my own, my mother’s alcoholic ex offered for us to stay with him. He was still in the apartment where my mother left her first suicide note, so I held on to a lot of emotions tied to this place. He moved to the spare room and offered us his bedroom. I wasn’t working so I spent a lot of time locked in there. I would do my best to stay on top of tidying, but he was a drinker and liked to party. He would get black out drunk and start fights with me. I would tel him how lousy he was while crying, and he would tell me that the only reason he let me stay there was so that he would “look good” – like the hero – and win my mom back. I was a pawn. One night he got so drunk that he passed out in the stairwell of the apartment building. I found him, soaked in his own urine at the door. I tried to drag him back in but he woke up mad, and called me a whore for locking him out. I went back to my room, put the TV on like usual, and tried to blur out the sound of him knocking things over as he stumbled into the living room.

We went to my dad who helped us out with first and last for an apartment rental across town. I couldn’t live with the drunk anymore. We started accumulating baby items, setting up a room, and getting established. I took a driver’s education course and got my license at 7 month pregnant. I spent two weeks at a summer school program, while staying with my nana, and finished high school, officially becoming a graduate at 8 months pregnant. I was hopeful that maybe I could finally make something of myself, for my daughter that was nearly here.

One morning, at nearly 9 months pregnant, I woke up to a trickle of black liquid, coming from the light fixture above my dining room table. My boyfriend poked at it and the ceiling came down. You could see clear blue sky through the hole (we were on the top floor of the apartment). We notified the landlord, they inspected, and discovered a ton of mould. They deemed the apartment dangerous and we went back to my MIL’s house. The repairs took forever and we ended up in a legal battle with the landlord. It never got repaired and we eventually just took our belongings and put them into storage while we continued to live with my boyfriend’s mother.

My due date was nearing. We accepted the cards we were dealt and decided to set up a nursery at my MIL’s. She pitied us and our situation, so she was ok with taking us in. My boyfriend was 4 years older than me – 24 years old – and wasn’t ready to give up the party life. It put a strain on our already tense and very difficult relationship. We would fight all the time. Anger and yelling and tears. So much stress.

On August 24th, 2007, I went into labour around 3am. I sat in bed, timing my contractions, writing down each time. At 6am I woke my boyfriend to tell him it was time. He asked if I was serious and just rolled back over to go to sleep. I tiptoed downstairs, but obviously not quiet enough, because the dogs started barking and down the stairs came my MIL screaming with excitement, “Is it time?? Is it time?!” We loaded up the car with our bags, and off to the hospital we went. They admitted me and checked my stats. My mother in law was my saving grace – she brought me juice, let me throw up on her, held my hand, made me laugh, and encouraged me. I don’t know that she realized the space she filled as my own mother wasn’t there for me. I laboured for about 11 hours before I gave in and took the epidural. It didn’t take and the back labour was intense. At 10pm I was ready to push, and at 10:30pm I gave birth to a 7lb10oz baby girl. My Avalon Mae. She was my light. My reason. My everything. She was spirited and cried all the time. One nurse came in to see if I was ok, and offered to take the baby for a walk down the hall, just to give me a break.

The second day in the hospital I had another nurse pop in. She was older, and seemed very judgemental of my age. “My daughter is about your age and she’s in University. God. I have no idea what I would do if she had a baby!” Slap. In. The. Face. This woman. She fuelled me. She pushed me to prove everyone wrong. To show the world that, yes, you CAN be a young mother and hit rock bottom, beat addiction and financial struggles and homelessness. And grow into a thriving, productive, and wonderful mother.

And I did.

I did all those things.

I am still fighting and thriving and pushing. There have been so many challenges and setbacks along the way. But I never gave up. I went back to work when she turned 6 months old and I haven’t stopped since. Banking my karma bucks and leveling up. But I don’t think I would be here, and as gracious for my current life, if it wasn’t for the things I had to go through to get here. My daughter was my beginning. A new chapter. And the start of an amazing, beautiful story.

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” 😎

What about the mediocre?

This is my shout out to all you people who get up every day and go to work. Some of you take a bus or a train, or you carpool. Maybe you ride your bike or walk. But you get there, everyday, and make shit work. You rarely call in sick, you get along with your coworkers, you don’t cause drama, you go above and beyond to make sure the job gets done properly, day after day. I see you. Don’t think I don’t.

This is a shout out to all the working moms, making sacrifices to make sure your kids get to daycare or to school. The ones who wake up extra early to get themselves ready, and take the snow pants out of the dryer. The ones who tip toe around in the dark, sipping coffee before the chaos ensues. I see you dreading the phone call from the school; the one that means you have to choose between a sick child or getting paid. I see you rushing home to get through homework, and dinner, and bath time, and story time… all while the last fleeting moments of daylight disappear and you try to cram in an hour (20 minutes??) of “you” time. I see ya, Mamma.

This is a shout out to all those people barely making ends meet. The ones who have rent, or mortgage, electricity, water, heat, cell phones, internet, TV, insurance, car payments, gas, groceries etc to pay for. Then there’s daycare. Its not subsidized, and it adds up. And you do it on your own. I see you carefully counting your pennies to make sure everything is covered for the month. You sacrifice hair appointments, and nails. You forget about lashes and skin care. You don’t have gym memberships or fancy cars. You’re vanilla. Plain, but surviving. I see you. Don’t worry, I feel you.

This is a shout out to all those who had a hard life. The ones who went through trauma and made it out alive. The ones who, despite their dark past, push forward and make the best of it. The ones who said, “I’m better than that!” and truly mean it. Some days are hard, but you are harder. I see you contemplating giving in to addiction, letting the alcohol or drugs take the pain away. Instead you face it head on, and choose to live up to your potential. I see you, and I praise you.

This is a shout out to all of you. ALL of you. The average joe. The hard working. The making ends meet.

I see you.

Sometimes we get pushed to the back. We aren’t brilliant, insanely rich or successful. We also aren’t asking for help. Nor do we need help. Maybe some praise and a little recognition. Life rewards the ones at the top, and gently supports the ones at the bottom. But what about the middle? There are no hands clapping for us. There are no hands rubbing ours backs and holding us up.

The mediocre do favours for friends, and tedious jobs. We do housework, and run side businesses. We have hobbies and practice self care – though maybe these things get neglected. We are overworked and underpaid. We decline a night out friends in exchange for movies on the couch with the kids. We do honest, and slow and steady. We pay our dues and hold ourselves accountable. We know the difference between a hand out and a hand up.

We aren’t exceptional, but we’re hanging on. And maybe we’ll get closer to the top, but we sure as hell won’t drop to the bottom.

So this is my shout out to all of y’all.

I. See. 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.