When I met my husband, I had a 3 year old daughter. He had a 4 year old daughter and a 2 year old son.
The kids met for the first time before we were a couple, in the brief period when we were just friends. “Friends” who were secretly sussing each other out.
We were both single, both raising kids and had a million other things in common. Important stuff like similar musical tastes, favourite movies, irreverent humour and all the things that make the foundations of a really good relationship. Getting the kids together for a play was a logical step in the sussing-out process, because starting a relationship when you’re a parent, with someone who is also a parent, is quite different to relationships before kids. Things need to be flexible; as parents we have to put our children’s needs before our own wants, especially when they are small. So ideally, you want all the kids to like each other as well as liking Mum or Dad’s new partner.
The first time my daughter met my husband, she spent about two minutes assessing him before clambering on to his lap with a book. Kids can be great judges of character. When I first met my step kids, I fought the nerves and anxiety but I really didn’t need to be worried. My step daughter and I hit it off from the start. At four, she was clever, quick and had a big sense of humour for such a little person. My step son took a little longer to warm up. He was only two, after all. He liked me fine but I felt like he didn’t exactly want to share Dad’s attention. I remember this one super-subtle way he had of showing it. He’d get up early in the morning while we were still asleep and wriggle into bed on his dad’s side. Then he’d climb over and position himself between us. I’d be laying there in bed, facing him. He’d release the grip he had on his dad to periodically try to shove my face away. Not my favourite way to doze at 5am but it didn’t last long. He’s 11 now, and that story cracks him up.
When we first introduced our kids to each other, his daughter skipped straight up to mine and took her hand. “Let’s be friends- best friends!” she said. And pretty soon, they were. My step son happily adapted from one big sister to two. They kind of sorted themselves out with very little intervention from us.
As a step parent, I flounder even now, although I think my relationship with my step kids is pretty great. They are comfortable coming to me with problems and questions or just for a chat about life. They are bright, happy and open kids. I try really hard to find a good balance between parent and friend although technically, I’m neither…but also both?
I’ve almost always struggled with my “role”. Early on, especially. I could be up all night nursing a vomiting kid, but I couldn’t make a medical decision for that child. I could wash uniforms and help with reading or homework- but I couldn’t make decisions on schooling. I could sit through swimming lesson after swimming lesson- but I didn’t have a say in the the swim school. Decisions- big or small- weren’t, and still aren’t, mine to make. I’m not saying they should be, either. Just that it’s strange kind of parenting limbo to find myself in, because as far as what I have always done for my step kids goes, it’s parenting. Only, it’s not, at the same time. It’s being a step parent. It’s just that little bit different.
I remember when they were little, they started calling me Mum. I know that works fine in some families but it didn’t feel right for us (and by us, I mean their actual mother, too, who I felt wouldn’t like it) so I gently reminded them that they had their Mum, who loved them, who might like to keep that as her special name. The kids, being as adaptable as they are, giggled and went back to calling me by my first name and have done ever since. I had no desire to usurp their mother, I just wanted to find my own place in their world as their step parent. This is just one example of a variable in a blended family- some have no issue with having more than one adult they call Mum or Dad. There are quite a few variables really, which is probably why this isn’t a recounting of the step parenting rule book.
The truth is that there is no definitive guide to being a step-parent or to blending your two families. All families have different dynamics anyway, but a blended family has another dimension. I think that’s because different families have different rules, different boundaries and different expectations. So children going between two households have the potential to struggle occasionally with what is okay in one house that might be less than okay in the other. It’s something I worried about a lot when the kids were tiny. Their mother had different standards of what was acceptable behaviour. This is in no way a criticism; I love my step kids and a big part of who they are comes from her, as their mother. I just always found myself worrying because how do you explain to a toddler that he can’t stand on your lounge when he’s allowed to at Mum’s house? Or that he can’t just have cereal for dinner at your house? There were so many differences like that and while hindsight tells me those differences were small, at times they seemed to pile up on me.
I wasn’t friends with any step parents when I met my husband and step kids and neither was he. We kind of just muddled through it to get here, where we are now. So while I can’t lay out the rules or even much of a guide, I will share something I’ve learned:
Almost every single time I’ve worried, be it about different rules at different homes, different parenting styles or something bigger like changing around what days they are with us and so on, it has been far more stressful and worrisome for the parents and step-parents involved than it has been for the kids. That’s not to say that the kids have never had their own worries or concerns, just that we think they are far more delicate than they are. In fact, in my almost 13 years of parenting and 9 years of step parenting, I know for sure that kids are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and for that, I’m very grateful.
#IBOT @ Essentially Jess