3 entries in the category: Modern Family

Raising the Modern Family: A Stepmum’s View

July 29th

In this entry in the series, Raising a Modern Family, Jessica talks about moving to Europe, falling in love, and becoming a “stepmum” to two sweet boys. Come to find out international borders do not restrict having to repeat, “They are not trying to hurt your feelings.”

 

Jessica -- the stepmum

 

Tell me about you, and your family. How long have you been married? How old are your kids? 

My husband and I were dating for over 3 years before we got married, we have now been married for 3 years.  My stepsons were pretty young when I first came into their lives, 1 and 5, they are now 7 and 11.

Did you ever think you would be a stepparent? Do you have stepparents?

Never, ever did I think I would be a stepmum!!  I’m surprised I actually started dating my (now) husband way back then knowing he had 2 boys…someone else’s kids were not what I thought would be my biggest challenge in my mid/late 20s!  My parents are still married and have been for over 40 years so the whole “stepparent” things was totally new to me.  I felt pretty lost to start out with and really didn’t know how to maneuver the situation in the beginning!

How has this experience changed you? 

I’m not sure it has changed me as much as it’s made me really analyze myself and point out some strengths and weaknesses that maybe weren’t as strongly highlighted before!  Like the fact that I have SUPER high standards (this is no secret) but having kids who don’t fold their clothes to my standards or think that washing their hands means splashing some cold water on them, well you have to realize that they don’t get your standards (just like many other people in the world, adults included) so you kind of realize you need to “chill the heck out”!  And on the flip side, it’s highlighted what a creative person I can be…planning activities for school breaks, Easter, Birthdays…it’s really let me be a big kid at times and I love that!

Once thing it has changed is my image of what having kids was like and what being a parent was like.  Not having my own kids, this definitely made me think long and hard about that…being a “part time parent” (with shared custody of my stepsons) was tiring and hard work, and for a long time I thought doing it full time with my own kids would be too much but as my stepsons have gotten older I realize that each phase has their own challenges but also their own benefits.  I went from thinking “no way!” to my own kids to “yes please!”  – I feel like it was a good trial run and now I feel more equipped and better prepared for what parenthood (full time) is gonna be like.  Most people don’t get a test run.
Has your parenting style influenced your relationship with your partner? 

At first it was really hard, I felt like I didn’t have a right to have an opinion when it came to my stepsons but as time has gone on, I have gotten more comfortable with my role as a “parent” and authority figure, and my husband has too.  He says I’m his voice of reason, often times I can give a view point that isn’t as emotive as his and I think that has helped him at times.  We have a very collaborative style, we talk most things through before talking to our stepsons, from little things like if they can go on their video games to sharing big news like when we decided to move.  We know that communication with each other is key and I was nearly in tears when even my parents (married for 40 years and successfully raised 3 kids) commented on how amazing they thought we were as a team!

What advice would you give to someone new to this game? 

Buckle up and hold on tight!  Some days are gonna suck (sorry but it’s the truth), other days will be the best of your life!  Look for the good whenever you can and appreciate those special moments because sometimes they feel far and few between!  And at the end of the day, above all else, just remember to love!

Is there a story about your kids you’d like to share? 

My husband and stepsons are British, I’m American.  In my general life this has sometimes felt like a barrier (especially when I lived in England) but when it came to me and my stepsons, it’s been such a blessing!  I have never tried to be their “mom;” they have a mom, they love their mom, I will never be that.  So instead of trying to replicate/replace what they do with her, I was able to share new experiences with them by introducing them to American foods, traditions, places, etc.  They now love root beer, the San Francisco Giants, anything with cinnamon and Thanksgiving dinner!  The unique memories we’ve made because of it has created a strong bond that I know will last forever!

Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience? 

Write this down, keep it with you and repeat it as/when needed “they aren’t trying to hurt your feelings”…..because that was the first couple years for me!  They only ever wanted to sit next to dad at dinner, have dad take them to bed or have dad kiss their owie….if it was me, there was a literal audible sigh or disappointed “ohh”.  And at first it really really hurt, never being the one they wanted, but then I started doing stuff with them that my husband didn’t [like breakfast dates to Starbucks] and they knew that dad didn’t go so if they wanted to, they went with me and they were happy about that and would start to ask when I’d take them and it made me feel better to have stuff they WANTED to do with me.  And 6 years on, they no longer say they want dad to take them to bed when it’s my turn, they don’t complain about sitting next to me at dinner and I can console them when they need it.  I just stuck it out, cried in private when my feelings did get hurt because I knew they didn’t mean to and now I’m so glad I did!

Thank you Jessica!

 

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Modern Family
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Raising the Modern Family: Jen’s Wise Advice

July 26th

Today in the series on step-parenting: Raising a Modern Family — Jen’s story. Jen married her sweetheart at the wise age of 24, and became a stepmother to two lovely girls … who would make her a grandma at the wise, old age of 33. Jen’s perspective is hilarious and so wise. The best piece of advice she gives: never, ever talk trash about your stepkid’s bio parents.

Raising the Modern Family

Tell me about you, and your family. How long have you been married? How old are your kids? 

Cliff and I have been married for almost 19 years.  We met in my final year of college, when I was 22; we married when I was 24.  I like to joke that I’m the “trophy wife” because he is a good 12 years older than I am*, and many of my friends were shocked at me dating a divorced dad in his 30s.  Also humor is my coping mechanism, and boy do you need humor as a step-mom.

The girls (really, they’re women now, but Cliff and I have always referred to them as “the girls”) are 30 and 28.  They were 7 and 5 when Cliff and their mom got divorced, 10 and 8 when I met their dad, and 12 and 10 when we got married.  Their mom remarried immediately after she and Cliff divorced, and she and her husband have two sons together.  Due to their step-dad’s life in the USAF, the girls have always lived out of state and could only visit us once a year for about two weeks at a time.

*The age difference makes it really fun to tell people I’m a grandmother of four (first grandchild was born when I was 33, Cliff was 45).  Ha!
Did you ever think you would be a stepparent? Do you have stepparents?

I never thought I would be a stepparent, or any kind of a parent for that matter. Step-parents were a mystery to me.  My parents were married almost 48 years when my dad passed; their parents were each married 50+ years.  There was no precedent in my immediate family.

Luckily I was young and dumb and romantic, very much: “our love is worth the struggle” (cue pearl clutch).  It was, it still is, but there were some extremely stressful times that I did not foresee.  Just as well.  Had I known, I might have scared myself off and missed out on so much wonderful – both in my marriage, and in these humans I’ve been lucky to see grow up.

How has this experience changed you? 

I’ve learned a lot about myself, mostly things I’m ashamed of.  I’m not selfless. I don’t like spending time 24/7 with kids.  Parenting was not my idea of a fun way to spend my limited vacation time and money.  I’m not patient: I absolutely cannot understand why anyone needs to put on sunblock while sitting on an upholstered chair, or leave their bottle of body oil face down on the futon.

“PICK UP YOUR DAMN TOWELS; I DON’T CARE IF YOUR MOM GIVES YOU FRESH ONES EVERY DAY; YOUR MOM DOES NOT LIVE HERE.” I will neither confirm nor deny having said this more than once.

I regularly freaked out over grocery bills; I yelled and snapped at my husband instead of discussing issues.  I’m angry and jealous and petty and rude as a parent.  It’s given me so much grace for people and how we each struggle with our image of ourselves not matching the reality of ourselves.

On the other hand, I challenged my step-daughters to learn new things, to plan with a budget, to conserve water and care for their environments, to love their bodies, to say “I CAN,” and to know they have choices.  Hopefully I have managed to communicate how much I love them, even though my love is (clearly) not a parent’s love and may not be the love they wanted or needed from me.  And hopefully I have managed to show that while no one is perfect, family means there’s room for all of us– because that’s what I’ve learned, too –room even for a somewhat evil step-mom.

Has your parenting style influenced your relationship with your partner? 

Our styles in parenting reflect our approaches to life: he’s laid back and content to watch TV and movies and eat candy all day, and I’m about getting out to museums and state fairs and swimming and bedtime at 9:00 and up again tomorrow at 7:00 am for more of the same ….

I found it necessary to give Cliff and his girls plenty of time alone together during their visits.  It kept me from over-structuring their time, gave me a break from all the sturm und drang of adolescent girls, allowed them their TV and candy time, and encouraged their old dynamic: just the three of them–something they had for a few years before I came along.  It worked amazingly well and made us all happier when we were together.
What advice would you give to someone new to this game?

There are many different ways of being a step-parent, and they are all real.  They are all legitimate.  They are all valid.  I have had many people tell me my experience “didn’t count” because the girls didn’t live with us and we didn’t have a weekly visitation schedule.

I felt very, very alone.  My experiences didn’t match anyone’s that I knew.  I had loving family support but no one really “got it.”  Find the people who “get it.”  Thank god/dess there’s Facebook now. Use it.  Form a tribe.  Get with step-parents of all genders, ages, levels of parenting.  Listen.   Ask for help.  Complain (discreetly).

Which leads me to: find someone totally safe to unload the daily shit to, so you feel heard and you can get it out of your house and out of your marriage.   I learned very quickly that it doesn’t help to complain to your spouse about their ex; either he had conflicted feelings of loyalty (they were married for 7 years, after all), or his complaints fueled my fire.  And there were many situations in which I couldn’t kvetch about the kids to my spouse, either.  Because we only had them for two weeks, those two weeks had to be perfect in every way.   Do not let your parents become this person for you.  Parents can skew a couple even with the perfect circumstances.

Alternately, find someone who is in the same position as your spouse’s ex and listen to them, so you understand what it’s like to be on the other side.  Because there are always complicated issues involved, and nothing is ever as simple as an evil ex or evil step.  The more empathy you have, the more you can all work together instead of battle each other.

— DO NOT EVER LET YOUR STEPKIDS HEAR YOU BADMOUTH EITHER OF THEIR PARENTS.  Take the high road, and take your trash talk out to margaritas with someone completely removed from the situation (not your parents, as noted above, they can make things get messy).

I kissed ass and swallowed insults often, for the sake of the kids.  I have never regretted it, and now my grown kids continue to invite me to be part of their lives, even though now they don’t have to.  Win-win.  (Note: there was never any question of abuse or boundary problems in our relationship with the girls’ mom.  If you are dealing with an ex who is themselves dealing with unhealthy behaviors, you’re going to need the help of a good counselor.  Invest the money.)

Since we have never lived in the same state, let alone zip code, we found it fun to go to the dollar store and make seasonal packages and mail them.  All kids love mail, and it kept us feeling connected, since kids don’t talk on the phone much (this was pre-Skype and pre-FaceTime, people.  The communication DARK AGES).  We would hear later that they enjoyed sharing the boxes with their little brothers, which came in handy when we visited and their brothers knew who we were.

We covered one wall of wherever we lived with pictures from times we spent together.  We wanted the reminder, when they weren’t around; and when they visited, we wanted them to know we saw them as integral to our life.  We let them paint and decorate our home so a piece of them stayed when they left.
Is there a story about your kids you’d like to share? 

The first time my oldest acknowledged me on Mother’s Day, I cried.  She was 18.  I had given up all hope.

The oldest caught the bouquet at Mom’s re-marriage; the youngest caught mine.  I think that was a favorable sign.

 

Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience? 

Because we only got them two weeks out of every year, they were different humans at every visit,  and so were we.  Once I figured that out, it made things much more interesting and fun.  We could all enjoy each other in the moment and let go of last year’s struggles.
Kelli knows –  I’m a HUGE reader, and so my go-to approach is always research and finding a book about whatever challenges I’m facing.  One of the things I read early on that has stayed with me is that it takes, on average, 7 years for a blended family to feel cohesive.  7 years!  So cut yourself some slack and focus on building one bit at a time.  You don’t have to have the whole fortress made right away.

 

Many thanks to Jen for sharing these gems. SEVEN years. Oy. 

~K

 

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Modern Family
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Raising a Modern Family: Stephanie and Scott

July 25th

Today begins a new series on step-parenting: Raising a Modern Family. As I approach marriage and becoming a stepmother, I thought I’d look to the advice and knowledge of those who have already found what works, and what doesn’t. Today, we welcome Stephanie and Scott.

Raising the Modern Family

Tell me about you, and your family. How long have you been married? How old are your kids? 

Scott and I have been married a little over a year but we’ve been together a little over 3 years. His daughter Ryan is 8, and my daughter Maya will soon be 11. Maya is adopted. My ex-husband and I adopted her as a newborn in 2005, and we have an open adoption with her birthmother and family. It’s a unique and wonderful experience that doesn’t always come with adoption.

Scott and I have the same parenting schedule — joint custody, 50/50. This allows the girls to be here with us the same days each week, which has helped their relationship tremendously. It is nice for Scott and I when we have our “parenting” and “non-parenting time” together too.

How long have you been a stepparent?

We both officially became step-parents June 6th of 2015 when we were married. Scott and Ryan moved in with Maya and me about 9 months after we started dating. The living arrangements and “step-parenting” started pretty early for both of us, which I think has helped since we’ve gotten married. We both went into the marriage comfortable with our situation and our roles in our kids’ lives. We weren’t totally terrified, wondering if we’d all get along.
Did you ever think you would be a stepparent? Do you have stepparents?

Scott: No. I didn’t start thinking of that as a possibility until after I became divorced. My parents are still married and I was never brought up around divorces or step-parents and step-siblings.

Stephanie: No. Obviously it never occurred to me as a possibility while married, but even while I was dating after my divorce, I never imagined parenting anyone other than Maya. I purposely did not date men with children because I wanted Maya to be priority. I didn’t think I had it in me to love someone else’s child without bias to my own. After failed dating attempts, I finally decided I would try to meet someone who did have a child/children to see if that was the problem. Scott was the first and only person I dated with kids. It made me realize that I needed someone who related to my situation of being a single parent and being divorced to connect. Scott understood scheduling conflicts, dealing with divorce and ex-spouses, raising a daughter similar in age, and juggling it all.

My mom was remarried 4 times. I had 2 step-dads growing up and I disliked both of them. Knowing what made me dislike them growing up as a kid has helped me as an adult be conscious of our actions as step-parents.

How has this experience changed you? 

Scott: As a dad/stepdad, I have become more attentive to my daughter and Maya’s needs as kids and girls! Stephanie helped me with that.  I now have a full family to think of now, not just Ryan and I. I think harder about the decisions I make as a parent and step parent.

Stephanie: It’s been an eye opening experience and a challenging one for us both at times. I’ve changed in that I have found that I can love and nurture another child, despite her not being my own. I tend to re-evaluate situations and analyze them closer, making sure I’m doing what is in the girls’ best interest. Not that I didn’t before, but I do it more closely now, ensuring I don’t step on toes of Ryan’s mom, or make Ryan ever feel uncomfortable. I am so content with where I am at in my life now, and I love the family we have created together. I always wanted two kids, and now I have them!
What would you have done differently?

Scott: I would have reminded myself to have more patience with Maya initially. She and Ryan have different dispositions and I wasn’t used to managing this type of child. I would sometimes get easily frustrated with having to repeat myself or constantly remind her to do things.

Stephanie: Step-parenting wise, I would have changed how I initially tried to always make Ryan happy and ensure she was in a good mood or enjoyed being with us. I think part of that is normal going into these types of situations, but I tried too hard to please a 5-year-old, and started to stray from ensuring Maya was also happy. I tended to forget that Maya was still adjusting and getting used to Scott as well. I think Scott and I have done well with keeping each other in check and adjusting things as needed. If I could have done anything differently post-divorce, it would have been refraining from introducing Maya to anyone I dated until I knew things were solid.
Has your parenting style influenced your relationship with your partner? 

Scott: I think it’s brought us closer together, being that we are forced to discuss difficult and sensitive issues regarding both of our kids. We’ve had to remember to be open-minded to the other parent’s style of dealing with things without getting offended or upset.

Stephanie: We talk about situations or conflicts together and how to best go about resolving them. I think our similar situations have brought us closer together, being that we connect with the emotions the other is dealing with easier. I know it’s also caused conflict in the household at times as well. Sometimes I may tell Scott that he should have reacted or done something differently in his parenting, and he can get defensive about it — which causes tension. I think I did this more when we initially started dating, and since then only a handful of times.
What advice would you give to someone new to this game? 

Scott: To be understanding that parenting styles differ and that assuming the role of the “other parent” in your own home environment can be challenging. You aren’t trying to replace or be the other parent, but your responsibilities are similar and you have to know and understand that boundary and difference going in.

Stephanie: Don’t try so hard at trying to facilitate the relationship between you and your step-child/children. Let it happen naturally. Don’t be afraid to “parent.” Kids still need to know you that you and their mom/dad are a team and it’s not one sided parenting in the home, just because you are a step-parent. I have learned that you shouldn’t treat step-children any differently than your own. I was afraid that Ryan wouldn’t like being at our house or like me, if I had to enforce rules with her. I found myself barking at Maya and never Ryan, which began to make Maya feel like a target and that wasn’t fair.

Remember that everyone is adjusting to something new.

Is there a story about your kids you’d like to share? 

Both: Maya and Ryan have totally different dispositions, yet similar likes/dislikes. Maya is loud, easily distracted, and is constantly moving and on the go. She tends to be the one who needs reminders to do things, and to finish tasks. Ryan is mellow, laid back and a rule follower. She is like a mother hen and has a mature mind, despite being nearly 3 years younger. Both girls love Minecraft, horses and animals, shopping and the same TV shows and movies, so they get along extremely well and rarely get into arguments or tiffs. The girls were goofing around on the couch one day this summer, just being silly and they bumped heads. Both of them rubbed their heads, laughed about it and apologized to the other. Then Maya says, “Wow….I think I’m starting to feel more mature from bumping Ryan’s head. Wait, no, never mind…..” She then resumed flailing around on the couch again. We all about died laughing at her comment, but it was comforting to know she realizes their differences and is just fine with being herself in our home.

Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience? 

Both: We have never referred to the girls as “your step-sister” since being married. We always use the word “sister” and “my daughter” when speaking, without really realizing it. I think this has made an impression on them, in that we have noticed them both referring to the other as their “sister” as well. They bring home drawings of their family and they include each other. They get prizes at school and they bring one home for the other. We are truly lucky that the girls are so close in age and similarities and I think that has helped tremendously with the transition into becoming a step-parent. Scott and I discuss how terrible it would be if they didn’t get along and we thank our lucky stars that they adore each other. We are in no way perfect parents OR step-parents and it hasn’t always been easy but we both do the best we can to make our situation be the best it can be.

 

If you’d like to share your adventure in being a step parent, step kid, or step grandparent — leave a comment. We all have something to learn from one another!

Many thanks to Stephanie, Scott, Maya and Ryan!

~K

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