They say you are never really “ready” for kids. My husband (let’s call him “A”) says when he brought home his first son he felt completely unprepared and couldn’t believe the hospital was trusting him to keep this beautiful baby alive. A and I got married just over 18 months ago, and along with becoming a wife on that day, I became a step-mom to three amazing boys, currently ages 11, 13 and 17. They live full time with their mom in another state, so we see them once a month for a long weekend, on every long break from school (winter break, spring break, etc.) and for 6 weeks in the summer. And while there are obvious similarities between being a parent and a step-parent, as a step-parent you have a different role to play in the child’s life. Here are a few things I’ve learned about myself, and about being a step-mom that may help other step-moms out there!
My role as a step-mom is not to replace their mom. Very early on A and I decided on the roles that we would have with his kids when they are with us. I am not a replacement for their mom, nor am I the appropriate person to discipline the boys. I see my job as to support them, love them, challenge them, take care of them, and support A’s relationship with them. While these relationships will constantly be a work in progress, having these roles loosely defined has helped me find my place in the family, and has been really successful for both me and my family.
I too have good parenting opinions/suggestions. Sometimes I feel inferior in my role as step-mom because these boys aren’t biologically mine, so I question my ability to know what is best in a variety of situations. However, I am thankful to have a supportive husband who welcomes my ideas. I come from a divorced family, and A does not. So we have been able to have some good conversations about how children think about divorce, and how to ease the transition for the boys. For example, when they spent time with us over spring break I encouraged A to take each boy out for a meal without their brothers for some 1:1 time with Dad. Not only did A thank me for that suggestion, the boys loved it, and A was able to support and bond with them without distractions. And, I was able to spend some quality time with the other two boys without A being there, which was great for my relationship with them. We also expose them to art, something important to both our families. This past winter we took the boys to The Kennedy Center to see Elf, The Musical.
Changing your routine is hard. When A and I moved in together and the boys started to visit, I still kept some of my weekend plans to see friends or attend dance classes, thinking that A would appreciate some time just with his boys. And while he totally does, and every parent deserves a break, I started to think maybe I was taking too much time for myself. I needed to find a new equilibrium. Not many of my friends have kids, let alone three over the age of 10, so I am in a unique situation. The theme in many of the books we’ve been reading, such as Essentialism, is the importance of spending the time you have on the things that matter. I matter, and so does my family. So, I am finding a new equilibrium – a work in progress but it feels good.
Patience is crucial. It is amazing how we can be late when everyone swears they are ready, or how we can forget things when everyone swears they double checked their rooms. Stuff just happens. If you arrive and everyone is safe, I consider that a win!
Get excited to play. We spend a lot of time outdoors playing sports or games like tennis ball soccer, or indoors playing board games or video games like Kinect Sports. The boys really appreciate that I just jump in and start playing. (They were also shocked at how excited I can get when I score a goal on their Dad!) Willing to jump in is one of my strengths, but it may not be yours, which is totally fine. Find yours and exploit it – maybe it is cooking or crafts or music. Whatever it is, show it off and let the kids see it.
Laughter is the best sound in the house. When being asked “what did you do this weekend” after the kids are with us, my favorite response is “we just hung out.” It is simple, honest, and the best feeling. Having the house filled with laughter after watching a TV show or playing a board game or even Xbox Kinect is such a beautiful sound.
I never thought I would be a step-mom, though now I cannot even imagine not being one. I also am lucky to have had a good role model in both my mom and my step-mom that I can adapt and model. Yes I will stumble; yes I will fall; yes I will have moments where I think the boys don’t like me and don’t want to hang out with me. But, eh, that’s just me being silly. We’re a modern day family, and I couldn’t be happier.
Any additional thoughts? Any tips I’ve missed? Please comment below!