"baby boy, you stay on my miiiind"- beyonce but also me

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Hello again!

Obviously, this blog has been getting neglected more than my diet but as many of you already know, we have more big news in the Branch house...

Baby Twig is a BOY!!


    To say we were surprised is an understatement. My entire pregnancy, Taylor and I have been convinced that our little one would be a sweet little bow-clad baby girl. I barely even entertained the thought of boy names because I was so convinced my mother's instincts would prove correct. Even friends and family were sure a mini-me was in the works. Within my core group of friends, we are overrun with adorable little men! It all started with my sister-in-law, Kaitlin, who's last three children have all been boys. Shortly after Gunner's birth, Vee had Landry, followed by Sarah with Leo, Kat with Andrew and finally, Renee with Eli. Surely, Baby Branch would break the pattern, right? Side note: every single one of us worked together at a tanning salon in college. I think that water needs to be evaluated, STAT. #Venusboyzclubforlife

    A few weeks ago, we finally had our gender sonogram and took Faith along with us. The sono tech handed over the envelope that guarded our big secret and bless Faithie's heart, she had to keep that secret from us (and everyone else!) for nearly four long days. This isn't an easy task in our family! Prior to our gender reveal party, she sweetly handmade us a confetti lantern with a pull-string bottom for the big moment. That Saturday, cheers and tears erupted as all that blue came pouring out into the wind. A sweet little man is on his way and this momma couldn't possibly be more overjoyed!

   I think deep down, I knew I was destined to be a boy mom. Something about the thought of future squabbles over outfits, dating and teenage girl drama kinda/sorta made me wanna puke and let's just say my first trimester nausea is long gone, y'all. That's not to say that raising a boy will be a walk in the park (is ANYTHING ever a walk in the park when it comes to kids?) but I had already started to wring my hands over mental images of push-up bras and mini-skirts. As unfair as it may be, I was overwhelmed at the idea of how to prepare my daughter to navigate a world full of bias, hostility and harassment. Instead, I now find myself stepping up to the plate to raise my future son to be a gentleman, a man that will treat others with respect, dignity, loyalty and love. It all starts with how you raise them.

   Baby boy, we will never be perfect but we will always try our hardest to do right by you and those around you. My hope for you is that you will learn the true meaning of kindess, hard work and compassion. I can barely fathom that come December, I will be a momma, much less imagine the lifetime of love and memories that awaits us. You, your daddy, big sister and big brother mean the world to me, a world that will be forever altered by your sweet arrival. Right now, I can feel your strong little kicks and all your bumps and wiggles throughout the night. You are a part of me, sweet boy, in the truest sense of the word, and a part of me you will always remain. I hope to never take for granted these tender moments when we are truly knitted to each other, mind, body and soul. In just four short months, you'll be a part of this big, ever-changing world and momma won't be able to protect you like I do now. I may have aches, pains and heartburn, endless bathroom trips and an increasing lack of sleep (shout out!) but baby, you are worth every restless night and long, endless day. At this point, I'm 23 weeks pregnant and your little face and taste buds are fully formed and ready to go. You're an active little guy and you can recognize all the sounds and voices you hear around you. You react to light and touch and amaze me every day with the ways you're already growing and evolving.

I love you, my son. SON! I can't believe I can say that! You're mommy's biggest blessing and I cannot wait to hold you in my arms the way I already do in my heart.

December can't come soon enough. You're the best thing that's ever been mine, kid. 💓


Little man's side profile at 20 weeks. He was flailing his arms and sucking his thumb the whole time!
 Already leaving footprints on my heart...y'all want some crackers with that cheese?

One hot mess momma before work yesterday. 23 weeks and DEFINITELY growing!


you + me forever, kid

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

  As I write this, I know I can't yet hit "publish." Soon enough, though, it'll be different. The world (orrrr just my Facebook friends, it's whatever) will know. Those beyond just our close friends and family will start to understand why my clothes are fitting a little tighter...beyond my sudden affinity for Cheesy Gordita Crunches. For now though, I'll cling to my secret for just a tiny bit longer.

Hi, Baby Branch. We've been waiting for this moment for so long. 💗

  On April 15, I was driving home from Austin from my new sister-in-law's bachelorette party (I DIDN'T KNOW I WAS PREGNANT, OK?!) when I got a notification from my Glow app. For the past six-seven months, Taylor and I had been casually not not-trying for a baby (a Twig, if you will) and honestly, nothing was happening. Right on time, Mother Nature blew on through each month and I would be lying if I said we hadn't begun to worry. Taylor started early with his two children--by just 19, he was a married father of two. At that same time, I was 13 and my life amounted to not much more than frosted lip gloss and Nsync songs. Now, at 28, I found myself inching closer and closer to that time in my life where I felt as ready [as you can be] for momma-hood and at 34, I knew my husband felt his own biological clock was ticking. We have one kid going off to college in the fall and another starting high school at the same time. Was it just too late for a little one of our own?

   Fast-forward to Austin and that app. I spent the weekend having a blast, dancing in the world's most uncomfortable but also completely-worth-it hot pink heels and celebrating our Branch-to-be. On the way home, I'm navigating my way through traffic (shout out to that small town life and kinda forgetting how to be a defensive driver) when I notice the screen of my phone light up. Glow, an app used to track a woman's fertility, was notifying me that I was six days late for my period. "Did you forget to log?" it asked. I stopped. My heart started beating faster. And I began to think.

   I had been late before but it had never amounted to anything. For some reason though, as my mind began to race through the possibilities, I knew that this time, it was different. 30 minutes later, I swooped into the Target parking lot in Temple and made a beeline for the pregnancy tests. Immediately after paying, I was seated alone in a public restroom stall with a glowing blue cross symbol in my right hand and a second unused test in my left. It was positive. My eyes filled with happy tears as my heart continued its whole nervous, racing palpitation thing. So, what now?

   Not knowing quite what to do, I waited in line at the Target Starbucks for a passion fruit tea (first ever craving? Maybe?) as I began to formulate a master plan. Aimlessly, I wandered over to the dressing rooms and asked an employee if they happened to have any t-shirts with the word "mom" written on them. Surely enough, there was one, a navy blue tee with a circle of stars and the phrase "I'm a mom. What's your superpower?" splashed across the front. I quickly grabbed the shirt and then made my way to the coffee mugs where I found one that had the word "mom" written in various languages across it. With my new finds in hand, I ran over to the self-checkout and then sat in my car. For like, a really long time. With the AC blasting and shadows of the sun on my skin, I finally began to breathe. I. Was. Pregnant. Whoa.

   I still had almost an hour-long drive before I made it home to Gatesville where I knew my husband awaited me. I mindlessly listened to music as I drove, unable to concentrate on much more than the road in front of me. Finally, I pulled into the driveway and walked into our backyard where Taylor, his son, Ethan, and good friend, Kris, were cleaning catfish. No, there's nothing quite like planning to tell your hubby that you're pregnant while he's covered in blood, guts and pure STANK. ;)

   After saying my hellos, I ran into our bedroom and nervously changed into the t-shirt I just bought. I quickly slipped on a hoodie over it and raced into the kitchen where I began furiously knocking on the backyard window to catch Taylor's attention. It worked. Kinda. Confused, he started motioning for me to come outside and I impatiently shook my head 'no' and gestured for him to come inside instead. After some charade-style negotiating, I ran back into the bathroom where I waited to make my grand entrance. Finally, in walks Taylor and out walks me, hoodie off and announcement on full display.

   "Do you like my new shirt?" I asked incredulously. Cue the stunned silence, shocked expression and "Babe...are you serious?!" as he cautiously ran over to hug me. I whipped out the test to assure him and we both sat, stunned, nervous, unsure, yet over-the-moon.

   Although I planned to wait to tell my parents in person, my inpatient self couldn't quite handle it and I ended up Facetiming them that evening...again with the happy tears and confusion from my father over what exactly the weirdly shaped stick with ClearBlue written on it meant.

   Later that week, Taylor and I called ahead to a family favorite, Buffalo Wild Wings, to inform the staff of a little plan we had. After picking Faith up from a student council conference she had attended for a few days, we and the kids walked into BDubs for an unassuming evening of chicken wings and [not] beer. We got seated by our waitress at a table for five, high chair and kids' coloring sheet included. "Oh, I thought you guys were a party of five," she said. "Well, not until December!", I responded. Pro tip: announcing you're pregnant is always made better by wings.

 Also, knowing that I literally cannot keep my mouth shut about anything when it comes to her, I made sure to FaceTime my best friend, Renee, under the guise of showing her the "new coffee mug I got her for her first Mother's Day" (a totally FaceTime-worthy moment, obvs) and suddenly holding up a second matching mug while slipping in a casual "oh, I got myself one, too...." 😉 The reactions were worth every bit of my impatient inability to keep really, really good feelings to myself for very long.

   So today I sit, 13 weeks pregnant, ending my first trimester with steady nausea, a pinched nerve in my hip, a scattered mind and constant lack of energy and yet somehow I feel happy, fulfilled and abundantly blessed. A week ago, I had my second OBGYN appointment and we got to hear Baby Branch's strong, steady, fast heartbeat, a sound unlike any I've ever known. It's real. It's happening. It's ours.

   Twig, you have my word that your daddy, sister, brother and I will love you to the moon and back, to every corner of the Earth, through every inch of the seas. Momma is scared, excited, nervous, hopeful but most importantly, hopelessly in love. Daddy's done this whole thing before but it's been awhile. ;) Bear with us, baby. We're in this together. From now until forever.

I will always love you, sweet, sweet, child of mine, and I cannot wait to meet you. I am so lucky that I get to bring you into this world and guide you through any and all terrain the best I know how. I'm so eager to get to know you and get to love you.

All my heart and every bit of my soul,

k i n d n e s s

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

   I'm not an overtly political person. I don't rant on Facebook, I don't engage in hateful debate with those who have differing views and other than a select few, no one really knows my party affiliation. My job requires it. {A biased journalist just ain't a journalist, y'all.} But what I do know, regardless of what political party you may identify with or what policies you support, is this: kindness matters. Tolerance matters. Compassion matters.
   I could care less what religion you are or the color of your skin but if you're hateful, ungrateful or the least bit condescending? Lordy lordy, that's when my skin starts to crawl. Like caterpillar-on-your bare-skin kinda crawl. Blame it on my roots (the Texas kind, not the overgrown highlights sitting not-so-pretty on my head right now) but when I pass a stranger on the sidewalk, I smile. When someone holds open the door for me, I thank them. I greet others with a "yes m'am/no sir"and as hard as it may sometimes be, I always try to look a person in the eyes and keep a friendly smile on my face.

*FYI, that's no small feat when you have a severe case of RBF and bad eyesight. Seriously, if y'all ever think I'm mean-mugging you, know it's probably because I left my glasses at home and am squinting to see 2 inches in front of my face.

 When I eventually have children, I think the number one thing I wish for them isn't wealth, good work ethic or a college education (and I mean, I would love all of the above for them) but it's simply to be N I C E. To treat others equally out of the goodness of their hearts. I am someone who is constantly intimidated by beautiful, powerful, picture-esque women. Totally not proud to admit it! But I am. It's sad but the second I see a super pretty girl, (and at the same time, an attractive guy) I automatically have my guard up, thinking there's no possible way they have a nice bone in their body.

   That's not right.

    It may be human nature, sure, but what does that say about the state of humanity when you don't automatically assume a good looking or well-dressed person, or someone in any position of power, is even approachable?  I'm legit surprised when I meet an intimidating person and they're actually friendly, open and genuine. I know I'm noooowhere near perfect, I've had my moments, and goodness knows I can be stubborn, sarcastic and jealous (among other things but I mean, this is my blog so surely I can't bash myself too hard, right? 😉) but if someone were to ever tell me I'm mean? Or hateful? Or just straight up not a nice person? I really don't think there's a quicker way to sucker-punch my heart.

   Spread kindness around like confetti. Smile more. Make friends. Seek out the people that others ignore. Talk to everyone. Throw out compliments like those shirts they shoot out of cannon things at a baseball game. (Not a good analogy? No? Just me?)


   When you're in a mood, guess what? That spreads. I'm one of those people that soaks up the vibes put out around me like a sponge. If you're angry, I feel it. If you're happy, perky and upbeat? I'm as cheerful as they come in turn. Be mindful of what energy you carry. And like I said...
   Don't kill them with kindess. Revive them with it.

a letter to my-16 year-old self

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Oh, poor, sweet, 16 year-old-me with the hot pink and purple braces and flip-flop heels,

   A word of advice? You'll never be good at getting your eyeliner straight but anything is better than the Avril Lavigne raccoon eyes you've got goin'. That fabric choker you're wearing? That'll actually come back in style. The size-too-small Hollister shirt that says something about being a beach babe when you live in Texas? That won't.
   The girls that are mean to you now won't matter to you after you graduate and they probably all married guys with names like Dale who [barely] work for their grandfather's law firm and think a fun night out is trading their tassled loafers for their boat shoes.
   You will get to travel to so many amazing places in your lifetime. A whole, beautiful world exists outside of Lamar High School. Don't get too wrapped up in the drama. And for goodness sake, your heart will mend! This is not the end all, be all. You could have saved yourself a lot of tears if you had just listened to your parents. (I know, I know, you're pretty bad at that.) You'll also continue to really have a thing for guys who's names start with the letter "T."
    You know how you're able to eat junk food all day long and you practically live at Taco Bell and you never gain any weight? (shout out to Nacho Bell Grandes!) Yeeeah. That's all about to end. One day, you'll actually have a gym membership and you'll order 'skinny cocktails.' Yes, you, the one people accuse of having an eating disorder when you actually go to the snack machine three times a day for a king-sized candy bar and a Dr. Pepper between meals. Oh, how the boney have fallen. Also, you'll forever be a little lanky. Own it.
   When you turn 18, you'll go get a tiny star tattooed on your hip that's not even remotely straight and you'll pay $40 for it. Don't do that again. When you're 19, you and your two best friends will then go get matching tattoos of a swirly-heart because you completely lack creativity and you'll think it's sOoOoo CuTe. Don't do that again either.
   Your first car will be your mom's old one that she drove you to kindergarten in. Eventually, it'll get backed into by your drunk uncle and you'll have to crawl through the passenger side door to even get in it. Just be thankful you have a car. Oh, and you won't get your license until you're 18, your next car will be the size of a shoe-box and you'll never really be that good of a driver. Plus, you'll get hit while you're in a parking space like 5 different times over the years. I don't know what you did to deserve that kinda karma but whatever it is, try not to let that happen, k?
   That dream you have of being a famous actress one day? That won't happen but the other one about being a writer will. When you were a kid and you made your own little newspaper called The Kaley Khronicles that no one but your parents read? One day, you'll be the editor of an actual paper that thousands of people subscribe to. Be proud, stay humble and try actually committing to your blog in the meantime.
    The sound of people chewing will forever drive you crazy. Don't try to fight it, girl.
   You won't have kids by 25 like you imagine but you will have made some great memories and met some wonderful people. Live in the moment. Take more pictures. Never take these years for granted because even though you think times can be tough, you'll always come out stronger, happier and overall, better.
   Britney Spears goes crazy and shaves her head soon. So, that sucks.
   Your grandmother passes away this year. You've already lost your dad's parents. Granddaddy will leave us in March of 2011. Cherish them with every little fiber of your being. You'll fly to Nebraska to make surprise visits to Grandma Floy when you're older, too. You'll even get to be there for her 80th birthday. She is a treasure. Hug her tight.
   You're still obsessed with dogs and you'll always cry more at dogs dying in movies than when people do. I don't know what that says about you but it's probably not good.
   You'll move to a small town when you're 25 and you'll find yourself at Walmart way more than you'd like to. Take advantage of the Ft. Worth shopping and Dallas sushi while you can.
   Also, try not to sound as stuck up as you just did in your day-to-day life.
   Continue to be kind, smile at strangers and treat everyone with compassion and respect. Being nice will never be any less important to you than it is now. You don't know everyone's story and if you did, you might understand their actions a little bit better. Be who God made you to be--a good person with a big heart, big dreams, a fire in your soul and an intense love of red velvet cupcakes.
   You will be okay. You got this, girl.

Love, 28-year-old you who drinks way too much coffee and eats oatmeal for breakfast everyday because you're really just that exciting

work in p r o g r e s s

Monday, January 29, 2018

   This poor, poor blog. I told myself I was going to commit to maintaining it. I did. And then I didn't. Then I said I would again. And then I didn't again. So now, here we are, and I'm giving it yet another go. I feel like my blog and I are a doomed high school relationship waiting to happen but, like any hopeless 16-year-old, I'm back with high expectations and unrealistic standards. ;)
   On the real though, if you've noticed a little increase in my social media presence, this is why. Deleted Instagram live videos included. (Long story short, I had a few glasses of wine, my dog was being cute, I went live, she stopped being cute and I stopped acting like I'm capable of not being awkward.) You can't blog without branding and seeing as how I'm pretty new at this, taking a crack at this social media/branding thing is where you'll find me...aka I'm upping my fashion game and that's just how I'm justifying it to my wallet. Which brings me to...
    Life update! In November, I was promoted to news editor of our paper and I couldn't possibly love my job more. That's starting to spill over into other facets of my life, too; just last week, I re-committed to working out {shout out to all that holiday eating, amirite?] and already, the fruits of my labor are starting to pay off. That. Feels. Good. Something else I'm turning my focus to? Finances. Try as I might, I've never been the best at saving my $$$. I've definitely gotten better over the years, don't get me wrong!  Fun fact: once, when I was a teenager, I was in San Francisco with my best friend and spent $130 on Justin Timberlake jeans (there is such a thing) and they didn't even fit but I was so desperate to have them that I bought them anyway and if that doesn't say a lot about how far I've come, I don't know what will.
   Fun fact 2: I may or may not do it all over again. It's JT. Come on.
   That being said...

   Does anyone have any suggestions on budgeting apps/websites/books or articles?  

I'm looking to completely start fresh and get back on track with my spending and easily organize my bills in a way that my little 500-miles-a-minute mind can keep on top of. I can remember the date and time of each new episode of This Is Us but I'll be danged if I can't tell you which date my phone bill drafts out or the exact amount of my cable bill! Setting alarms or reminders won't work, y'all. Just ask my snooze button.

Until next time, (which is hopefully in a few days. Hopefully.)

fancy seeing you here!

Friday, August 18, 2017

First of all...

Oh, hello!

I realize it's been months since I've blogged. :/  Real talk: I have been 100 %, totally, completely uninspired. Between juggling work, family, a social life, and ya know, sleeping and what not, I really feel like I kind of lost my touch. I took a step back once I realized that I was sitting at my computer for an hour without a single letter typed on my screen, stressed out by the number of likes my last post on Instagram got...or didn't get. Sometimes, motivation can come and go in waves for me. Apparently, this last wave was a big one. Like, knock ya down and pull you under the current kinda big.

There's a huge part of me that really beat myself up for not sticking to my goals, especially after publicly declaring my commitment to them. But after taking some time to myself, I learned to accept something: there's just no forcing it with me. When I'm not feeling something, I reeeeally don't feel it. I'll never be able to truly fake a smile. Or a blog post.

With that being said, let's go for round two, shall we? NO PROMISES! I'm taking this at my own pace. The overdrive mentality on Instagram and trying to gain likes and followers on Facebook is gonna have to take a backseat for awhile. Let's do this old school. 😉

Do you ever feel so tired, the slightest bit of human interaction can wipe you out?

I'm not talking about depression here. I'm talking about heavy eyes, tense muscles, oh-lawd-no-amount-of-caffeine-can-help-me-now kind of EXHAUSTED. On average, I get about 6-7 hours of sleep a night. Not the recommended amount but not pitiful either. So why am I, consistently, without fail, so tired that I sometimes have to muster up every last bit of strength just to hold a conversation?

Sometimes in life, I think we let ourselves settle. Not just with the people who surround us but with our environment, our routine and our thought process. Where's the excitement? The spark? The passion? I have a pretty dang anal/OCD personality about some things so everything has to be in it's place. (Sorry, babe.) I'm a creature of habit and I follow the same little routine every morning. Turn on the kitchen light, let the dog out, turn off the porch lights, wash my face, slap on some moisturizer, get dressed in the outfit I laid out the night before...okay yeah, don't judge me, but it saves me time and y'all already know I sleep until literally the last second possible.

After that, I quickly do my hair and make up (again, ain't nobody got time for that whole looking-super-put-together-at-work thing) and fix my breakfast shake before hauling hiney out the door. Aside from weekends, there's no varying from this routine. I've been wondering lately if changing things up would put a little pep in my step and "freshen up" the way I've been seeing things lately.

For example, 10 cups of coffee may not do a thing to me but you know what will? Re-arranging my living room or painting the bathroom wall a new, brighter color. Just the slightest little renovation can be like a jolt to your system. This goes so far beyond the home, too. Deviating from your day-to-day norm can be like a breath of fresh air. Literally. Go outside, take a walk around the block, pop in your earbuds and try to see things from someone else's eyes. I totally get that our country runs on caffiene (and/or Dunkins) and let's face it, this blog is literally centered around a morning cup of coffee. But honestly, I think there's nothing more refreshing than a change of scenery, a new layout in your kitchen, or just a walk in the park.

Plus, admittedly, I think dancing around the living room to 2000's Pop Radio on full-blast is better than 6 Red Bulls and a cold shower. Try it sometime.

What are ways you like to change things up?

step-mom monday {vol. 2}

Monday, May 1, 2017

The 5 biggest mistakes a step-parent can make
 and what to do instead:

Like the wise old adage goes, "mommin' ain't easy." This doesn't just apply to birth parents, (and ohhh, how it does!) but it can also be directly applied to step-parenthood, as well.

When I first began dating my husband, exactly 4 and a half years ago to the day, I was walking into the "single dad situation" with eyes wide open. At the time, Faith was 12 and Ethan was 10. As I've mentioned before, I had never dated a guy with kids, much less ones that were on the, well, older end. As an only child, my own experience with children had been fairly limited, aside from a brief stint in college working at a day care and a period of time spent as a dance and gymnastics instructor for 3 and 4 year-olds. (Coincidentally, this is where I was working when Taylor and I met.) I didn't learn how to change a diaper until I was 19 years old. How on earth was I going to become a solid, respected parent to two pre-teens?

Here are a few things I've learned along the way. Please let me preface this by saying that by no means has this been a difficult journey due in any part to the kids! Far from it. I happen to have been really blessed with two kind, loving step-children and I think I'd like to keep it that way. ;)

1. You try too hard.
This is one fiiiiine line, y'all. You aren't their mother or father. It isn't up to you to enforce all of the rules and dole out the punishments. So what is your role? A {much older} friend? I happen to think it's important to truly like and respect your child, and vice versa, so where do the boundaries lie on becoming friendly with your step-kid and trying too hard to be "the cool one?"

Remember that you cannot and do not undermine the decisions and expectations of mom and dad. You aren't the rebellious older sister or even the ever-so-popular "fun aunt." As a step-parent, you are still a parent. It's right there in your title.  Sure, you're lucky--you don't have to dish out the groundings or be the one to take their phone away. But by becoming too friendly and too hands off, you leave room for a lot of confusion and possibly even disrespect. Sit down and discuss this with your spouse. I think it's totally okay to be there when mom/dad has to discipline, and you may even voice your opinion along the way, but make sure that it's the biological parent that sets the tone and has the final say. Family meetings are a great way to establish this; show the kids that you stand in solidarity with your partner but you do not stand alone.

 2. You allow the children to talk down to you.
This is part dos of that first point. Friends fight. Depending on their age, they may fight, like, a lot. If you lead your step-children to believe that you are merely a mature, more experienced friend, they may see this as an open door to walk all over you. I know for a fact that whenever I was upset with a friend on the playground back in the day, I made sure to let 'em know about it. There was always an ongoing power struggle among us catty little 9-year-olds and lo and behold, your bonus babies may feel the same way! If they fail to see you as a parental figure, you could essentially become a mental-punching-bag. You don't exist for them to take their frustrations out; rather, you can serve as a reminder that you are an additional, loving soul to confide in. When they want to have a heart-to-heart with someone they know and trust, but is maybe a little less daunting than mom or dad, you can be that ear and that shoulder to lean on. But, remember, again, you ARE a parent. 

3. You expect to be the Brady Bunch.
This is real life, not a bouncy, cheesy, heavily-patterned sitcom. Relationships take time to grow. Always. Please don't beat yourself up if your step-kids don't immediately fall in love with you! Sure, you always greet them with a smile, you let them stay up 30 minutes past their bedtime last night and you bought the 5-year-old her favorite toy. As hard as it may be to accept, kids, especially younger ones, simply need time to warm up. I'm a 27-year-old woman and often times, I'm the same way!

When mom or dad enters into a new relationship, it has the potential to be a really scary, confusing situation for the kiddos. Don't forget, this isn't all about your new man, ladies. This time, there's children involved. Your relationship is not just between the two of you all the time. There are now school activities, carpools and homework to consider into your evening plans and this whole thing just kinda popped up overnight for you. You didn't have the years of preparation to get you to this point. This is all brand new and coming at ya lightening-fast. Whoa.

Questions may arise from the kids, too. Does this mean their momma is getting replaced? "Is daddy gonna love his new girlfriend more than he loves me?" Even though you know the answer to this, it's very likely they don't. Be patient, understanding and accepting. Give it time and I promise you that with a little love and an open mind, a beautiful family dynamic can form.

4. You disagree with mom or dad's parenting style. 
I'll be straight up--in some ways, I'm likely going to be a stricter parent than my husband. I'm a believer of no cell phones at the dinner table, monitoring social media use and all the things I SWORE I'd never do when I had kids of my own. (Here's looking at you, dad!) Okay, I don't believe in being as invasive as some parents. I won't check your texts unless you give me a legit reason to! But in a lot of ways, I see how well Taylor's more laid-back approach has worked for Faith and Ethan (again, I couldn't have gotten much luckier than I did with those two) and I find myself thinking about any future struggles or balancing acts we may be faced with in the future.

Okay, it's time for the harsh part. These aren't your kids. It's not fair for you to blab on and on to your partner about how YOU would have done things if the ball was in your court. Guess what? It's not. It'll never be. Respect your spouse, respect the ex, just respect. Faith and Ethan have two really good parents and hey, they have two really good step-parents, too! I'm sure there have been (or will be) times when not all 4 of us are going to wholeheartedly agree on the same thing. The beauty of it all? We don't have to. Mom and dad know what works for their own flesh and blood and while I'm always willing to offer up my opinion if asked, I sure don't expect it to be taken as gospel.  You know that whole "momma/daddy knows best" thing? It's true. And until you have babies of your own, just let it be.

**Side note: If mom or dad isn't involved or in the picture very much, obviously a lot of these don't necessarily apply. This is strictly coming from my standpoint, where mom and dad are both very much a part of the kids' lives and I am not a primary caregiver. Alright. Carry on.

5. You take things personally.
Possibly the single most difficult thing about step-parenthood, no matter how much you respect and admire your spouse, their ex and everyone involved, is accepting that there was a life (and a family) in place before you ever even came along. My husband was previously married--for some, their step-kids may be the result of a union that was over before it ever began but for others, there was a whole other world that existed before they entered the picture. Remind yourself: every present has a past and every past has a future. This is simply part of your (and everyone else involved's) evolution.

I know that my step-children have a mother and that mother isn't me. In a time of crisis, it's not me they're gonna call, it's her. She signs the permission slips, she makes the doctor's appointments and she kissed all the boo-boos. Nothing can replace the years of experiences, memories and love between them and that is something I can never, ever touch. Honestly? I wouldn't have it any other way.

As close as I am with Faith and Ethan, that singular bond between a mother and their child is something sacred between them and them alone. Someday, I'll have it. When the time is right, I'll get to nurture, guide and protect some little ones of my own. But for the time being, I am so proud to love, support and encourage my two bonus kids, the greatest gifts of my life. We have so many memories of laughter and love between us and there's only more to come. No matter what, they are the ones to first make me a mother. I credit them for that. They have opened up a whole new world of experiences for me and because of that, I've been able to grow attuned with my maternal side, a connection unlike any I've ever known.

My heart will never forget that.

 As a step-parent, you may not have been actively looking to become a mom. Chances are, you weren't. I fell for Taylor before I ever met his kids. Before we began dating, I had zero intention of having children at that point in my life, and I certainly didn't know I had the capacity to love another's. Turns out, I do and then some.

 I don't think blood is what defines a family. It's all about the love. And man, those two sure have a lot of it. I know they have all of mine.