Thursday, October 29, 2015

Advice from a Stepmom

I have 16 years real life experience raising children I did not give birth to.  And I survived!  How did I do it?  Well I'm here to offer you a little advice from stepparent to stepparent.  You see, 50% of marriages end in divorce so there is a chance you might find yourself dating, engaged or married to someone who is already a parent. When I married Daddy Bun, he was the proud owner of two little buns.  They were 9 and 6 years old.  I was 22 when we married and raising two kids that are not yours through biology is a completely different challenge than raising those who are.

Let me say that I was blessed because their mother accepted me openly, she didn't see me as a threat, she did not attempt to hinder my relationship with her children.  I thank her on Mother's Day every year for that.  There are many, many spouses who do not have that luxury.  They are met with resistance and hatred.  I never dealt with that from my kids' mother so I cannot attest to the difficulties of raising children in a hostile environment like that.

When we started dating, his daughter Madison was just three years old.  She was very protective of her daddy.  She didn't want to share time with anyone, especially me!  That was HER daddy and I was an intruder into her life and she reminded me often that he was hers.  Nick was older and did not protect his dad as much as his sister so it was a little easier with him.  I waited patiently for her to come around and as time passed the bond between Madi and I grew stronger.  She eventually allowed me to hold his hand and was excited when we announced we were going to be married.

That was *GASP* 16 years ago.  Those little buns are now 21 and 19 years old.  Madi attends  college while working part time at a local eatery.  Nick is working full time with his dad.  Both of them have grown wings and left the house, so it's just Daddy Bun and I while we navigate this infertility journey.

Sharing kids with their parents is hard work.  It takes effort, patience, and the ability to see beyond your own wants and needs.  It requires consistently working with two other people that you may or may not agree with.  But in the end, you have to be able to step back and accept that you are a step-parent and your opinion, while important, may not have a bearing at all on a final decision.  Do you know how difficult it is to be a part of a child's life that is not your own?

As a professional stepparent, my advice to you is this:
  1. Be patient with children that are not your own.  When they're not your birth children, you feel differently toward them.  It's not a bad thing, it's just a different thing.  Exercise patience with them, remember that they are children and they do not formulate opinions and make decisions in the same manner as you.    

  2. Accept there are things you cannot change and learn to recognize those things.  There will be many disagreements as a stepparent, whether it be a scheduling conflict, a parenting conflict or a discipline conflict.  Learn to identify the things you cannot change or control and LET THEM GO.  This will save you trouble, wrinkles and gray hair.

  3. Always advocate for the children's best interests, even if other people benefit from it.  There will be times when someone else benefits from a decision made FOR THE KIDS.  Don't cheat them out of any situation because it causes a benefit to the other parent.

  4. Never assume anyone will react the way you react or you will be disappointed.  There were so many times I was exasperated or annoyed or angry because someone else didn't react the same was I would react.  Remember that they are not you, people are not carbon copies and no one ever reacts the same way to the same situation.  Don't assume or expect things that you yourself would do simply because you would do them.  

  5. Remember, you were gifted these children, don't take advantage of that gift.  Some else created those buns, and you get to take time to enjoy that.  Get to know what they like and what they don't.  Take time with them to bond and show them the value of family.

  6. Whatever you do, keep it consistent.  Whether it's a punishment, a chore, an allowance, a reward, establish a rule and keep it consistent.  This is paramount for children so they know what to expect in the household.

I hope these tips might bring you closer to your family.  As a stepparent you have a special gift, you can be objective without "parent blinders".  Learn to present that objectivity in a positive way.  Be an advocate for the kids.  Remember, you want them to grow up healthy and happy.  

This is one of my favorite photos of them, it's classic, Nick is talking and Madi thinks whatever he is saying it ridiculous.  I miss these days, we all ate dinner together, we hung out together, we were a close family.  That changes when they grow up people!  We are not the cool parents we once were and finding time to get together is difficult, especially when life brings new challenges that we all face.  They love each other immensely and will protect each other as fiercely as they will turn on each other when they're mad.  I did not give birth to them but they are my kids.  I hope should the time come, they will love their little bun as much as we will.