Tuesday, March 7, 2017

*Originally posted September 8th, 2016.

I first met my now husband, Taylor, in late 2012. Before we began dating, I knew he had two kids from a previous marriage and he was like any other proud dad, regaling me with stories of soon-to-be 10 year-old Ethan and 12 year-old Faith. I’ll be honest; I had never dated a guy with kids before, much less ones that were on the “older” end of the spectrum. Before I met them, I remember thinking to myself “Okay. I know I’m good with little ones but how am I going to connect with adolescents? What will we talk about? Will they like me? Will they try to?” I spent days worrying about making a good impression and crossing my fingers that they weren’t going to hate my guts because let’s be honest, they didn’t know me from the man in the moon and they had every right to be weary!

Y’all, I swear I’m not being biased when I say that these are two of the sweetest, most polite, bright and endearing young people I could have ever hoped to have in my life. Upon meeting them, I instantly felt all of my worries melt away. Over the 4 years that have followed, I’ve been blessed with a strong bond with each of them and can truly say that some of the best moments of my life have been watching them grow into the resilient, intelligent and kind-hearted 16 and 13 year-olds they are today.

Being a step-parent doesn’t mean you’re a replacement. I can only imagine the conflict a birth mother or father must feel when their former partner enters into a new relationship and a family dynamic begins to form. I’m one of the lucky ones. I truly respect the kids’ mom (and her husband) and we’ve never had any moment where we spoke with any negativity towards one another. But as a step-parent, you have to accept this truth– you can love them, you can guide them, and you can always try your best to uplift them but you can never try to “win” them. You are a wonderful bonus to their lives; assuming that both parents are involved, you aren’t the one making all of the decisions, doling out punishments and picking out their clothes. That’s a tricky situation. You can have your heart absolutely filled to the brim for your step-kids, and rightfully so, but you have to know your role and embrace it. Be a supporter, a mentor, an ear that listens and a heart that loves. But remember–it is not your job to be their parent. It is not your job to be their disciplinarian. It is not your job to dictate.

Step-parenthood can be incredibly overwhelming, trying to navigate where you fit in and where the boundaries lie. You have to find a way to create a healthy, positive environment in which they thrive without infringing on the rights and beliefs of their mother or father. You may desire a close bond right away and feel like you’re doing something wrong if that doesn’t immediately happen but keep in mind– relationships need time to grow and this is no different. Never forget the importance of communicating with your spouse when it comes to their children. Opinions are fine and dandy but it’s not up to you to enforce all the rules.

When you invest yourself so completely in a child, you may find it difficult to not steer that ship. But I know in my case, these kids have a great father, a loving mother  and two step-parents that would move mountains for them. We’ve become like 4 points of a square with the children in the middle. Respecting each other’s positions in that square is essential and when you find a way to make it work, it’s rewarding beyond belief.

If you’re a step-parent, I respect, admire and applaud you. It isn’t an easy path to journey down and I commend anyone who steps up to the plate and opens their heart to another’s child. I came into Faith and Ethan’s lives at a delicate time– I didn’t witness any first steps or the first day of school, I missed getting to chase them around the playground, (heck, I jumped right into the pre-teen/teenage stage!) and I’ve never experienced the incredibly beautiful, irreplaceable bond of childbirth. But I have gotten to know two amazing souls, been lucky enough to watch them grow, and will continue to love, support and encourage them until the end of my days. Being a step-mom is the title I’m most proud to wear and the two of them have already taught me so much about myself. This may be a crash-course in parenting of sorts (one that, thankfully, helps to prepare me for my own journey into motherhood one day) but it’s a ride I consider myself lucky to be on.

Here’s to the many years worth of memories, laughs, tears, and fears to come. Kids, I’m so happy to have you in my life and I will never stop being a momma-in-love.