noun. a family that includes children from a previous marriage of the wife, husband, or both parents
Well, Merriam-Webster, you should put a caveat somewhere in your sounds-so-easy-to-do definition that truthfully explains well, that is not so easy to do and at most moments in time you will stand wide-eyed staring at your DH about what the in the heck just happened. It’s not like the movies and there is no “What to Expect When…” book.
Now, I will say I’m not a psychologist, therapist or an expert for that matter. I’m just another step-mom trying to figure out the secret, but this is what I’ve learned. (My focus initially is going to be more on the relationship with the older children, C is still to young to figure out or realize what is going on)
I got divorced from C’s father when he was just shy of being one. It was a huge change, but thankfully, he won’t remember most of it and although I’m sure it did, it doesn’t to this day seem to have an effect on him. His father and I are civil. We worked out a parenting plan that worked for us, we communicate freely as necessary, we’re flexible when it comes to times, days, etc for visitation. It’s great.
Danny got divorced from E and K’s mother in 2010. They were a bit older (7 and 3 at the time) so they remember a little more about life before the “Big D”. There is not a single drop of civility between Danny and his ex-wife and it’s truthfully not Danny’s fault. I could write a whole book about that situation and the effect it is having on the children who are now 12 and 8, but it’s honestly not my story to tell it’s theirs. It does however play a gigantic part in what goes on in our household because there is a lot of brainwashing, bad mouthing, and negativity being fed to them by their mother about Danny and I. I will however, spare you the details.
I met Danny in college in 2013. We instantly hit it off. We were very open and honest with each other from the start. He knew about C and I knew about E and K. We didn’t however introduce our kids into the relationship until we knew this was a for sure thing.
Our parenting plans match almost exactly. We have week on, week off, 50/50 joint custody. Broken down this means, all 3 kids 1 week and 0 kids the next.
So here it goes…
What I’ve Learned
You are not their mother. They will make it known and it will usually be out of anger.
Let me start by saying I am in no way trying to replace E and K’s mother. I know the maternal bond is a unique, strong, unbreakable one and I fully understand this. I would be lying if I said it didn’t suck because I love them just as I love my own. It really hit me when K (in rebuttal to me sending her to her room) said to me “Just wait until I tell my real mom”. I’m 100% positive that she took my heart with her to her room and stomped on it. Repeatedly. I was speechless. It was one of my many wide-eye staring moments. I then offered her my phone, she refused, and stomped up the stairs and slammed her door. What do you do at this point? You breathe. You don’t take it personally. They’re testing their boundaries. They’re figuring out just how far they can push you. You know that you’re not their real mother but still hearing from their mouth is still pretty painful. Eventually, they’ll apologize and life will go on.
There will be jealousy.
It might be towards the kids or it might be towards the ex, but it will happen. You’re secretly (or outspokenly depending on your attitude) going to resent her because she gave birth to them…because she took off the fingernail polish that you put on your step-daughters nails to replace it with a color that matches hers..because your step-son has a picture of her and him on his iPad. The list could go on but trust me on this one, it will happen. You’re going to be jealous that your spot on your DH’s lap was taken while you were up getting a drink of water or that he is upstairs having a tea party instead of sharing a cup of coffee with you. Mark my word, it will happen. Jealousy is such a difficult emotion to manage. I won’t lie, I still struggle with it everyday. It still hurts when K comes home with her nails blue instead of pink and with a huge smile on her face says “They match my moms”. I choose to join in her excitement and let her know that we will repaint them again when it starts chipping off KNOWING it will be taken off again the following week. Again, breathe. It’s trivial (most of the time) things that don’t have any lasting effect on your life. I’m sure 5 years down the road, the color of her nail polish the week of September 3rd won’t have any bearing on life.
Your marriage will hardly ever come first.
If you’re reading this for advice then it is safe to assume as some point in the not so distant past, you were single parent whose child/ren came first. It’s not easy to switch back to the focus-on-my-marriage aspect of life. It’s going to take work. It’s going to take time. What I recommend and what I have found to work for us is to set your alarm for 30 min before the kids get out of bed. Spend this time laying in bed, talking, catching up, drinking coffee, reading emails, etc. with your DH. On the weekends, they know after they wake up to play quietly in their rooms until Danny or I come to get them. It helps. Try it.
You are set in your ways. More than you thought.
You’ve been the only adult in life making decisions and things were done how and when you wanted them. Your husband is the same. Cram that all into one household, add in the children, and (in our case) the dog and hold on because things are about to get crazy. You will be used to sleeping with the door shut, he’s going to want it open. You’ll compromise with leaving it cracked. You make hot dog octopus with little beady ketchup eyes and he cuts them into slices. Seriously?! Slices?! Where is the fun in slices!? This is a pick your battles moment. Not everything is worth it. Let him cut the hotdog into slices, it’s less work for you.
You’re going to love his kids.
You’re going to love them more than you ever thought was possible. You will be proud of them, you will be sad for them, you will fight for them just as you would your own children. You will place them on the same pedestal as your do your own child. Eventually the word “step” will get left out and the fact that they aren’t technically yours will fade. The Mama-Bear will come out, the snotty noses will be wiped without second though and eventually you will be the one they are waking up at 3 am because they dropped their stuffed elephant and can’t find him.
There is no secret or answers.
You can read books, you can read blogs, you can message me personally and I will happily answer your questions and give you all the advice in my mind but honestly, what will make it smooth is what works for you, your children, your SO, and essentially your family. There will be tears. You will yell and I am sure at one point in your wide-eyed stare you will wonder what you got yourself into. But at the end of the day, it’s not all bad. You may have taken your family of 2 and squished it together to make a family of 5, but that’s just more hearts to fill with love…and more octopus hotdogs you have to make.