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.
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!