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.