Friday, May 23, 2014

peel back the label

Hubs and I got engaged in a whirlwind. We'd only dated for three months, but we knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was "it."

Just one problem. He had kids.

Or maybe I should rephrase. The world at large seemed to think this was a problem. I just thought it was fantastic and couldn't wait to tell everyone. But I found that when I would tell people about my new love and his offspring, they'd knit their brows together in concern, wring their hands like a wet washcloth and gently prod, "are you going to be okay with an instant family like that?"

Or, in an only slightly more annoying scenario, they would use over-zealousness to mask concern, going completely insane at the news. There was a lot "OMG! NO WAY!"'s and throwing hands in the air shouting, "you're going to be an instant family!!!!! How amazing!!!" 

Both reactions bug me.

My family is not a box of mashed potatoes. We didn't become a family because you threw a cup of water and three tablespoons of butter on us. I realize I just sound nitpicky and combative. After all, what else are people supposed to call it when a person with a child(ren) marries someone without a child(ren)?

Oh, I don't know. Maybe just a "family?" 

Why do we need special words to describe my husband, his children and myself? If the divorce rate is still holding strong around 50%, I'd venture to say my situation is probably the norm rather than the exception. And you don't see me giving a special labels to families who aren't divorced, do you?

At the root of it, here is why I'm really opposed to the phrase "instant family." IT WAS NOT INSTANT. When I said my vows, it wasn't like some magical pixie fairy floated down from a cumulus cloud and bestowed stepmother love-dust on me. In the seven months leading up to my marriage, I worked my (quite firm at the time) ass off to be sure that my future stepchildren were comfortable with our marriage. More importantly, I worked hard to make I had earned a place in their family and their hearts. I didn't just expect it since Hubs had put a ring on it. 

I have seen my share of women who have married a man with children, and never taken the time to care about the kids or what their existence meant. Kids were simply an unfortunate reminder of their future spouse's past decisions - like a bad tattoo that you just pretend isn't there. And you know what? Even people like that are still referred to as an "instant family." Call me crazy, but I personally don't wish to be lumped together in a big, gigantic misleading label with people like that. 

Think of it this way. By telling me I have an "instant family," you are diluting what it really is - hard work. Relationships with two people are hard enough on their own. When you add children to the mix, that tough part gets even tougher. There is no instant about it. We have fought, cried, loved and laughed our way here. I will earn the privilege of being called a stepmom for the rest of my life. The job is never over. The work is never over. 

So, you ask, what am I supposed to say when a friend of mine is marrying a man that has kids?? 

I would suggest you get super excited, gush over her ring, hug her and tell her that you're excited for her and you will support her in her new marriage. Maybe even squeak a little. Tell her you're so excited for her and her new husband and they are going to make a wonderful couple and have an amazing life together.

But that just sounds like a "normal" reaction to an engagement, you say.



  1. Hi Ruby, what do you mean when you say you worked your ass off to be sure the kids would be comfortable with your marriage, what did you do? I'm in a similar situation and at a loss. I care, but I don't know how to make them know I care, especially since their mom is not that supportive of them having a meaningful relationship with their father - and, by extension, me. Help!!

  2. That is a hard situation! (I want to call you by your name, but I totally get you being Anonymous!)

    When I was first dating Hubs, I was sure to introduce myself to the kids' mom first and foremost. I shook her hand, looked her in the eye and was friendly. If we went to a school function (like a carnival) when the kids were with us, I would hang back and let the kids interact with their Mom and Dad first and foremost, then ease myself into the picture. Over time, as our engagement went on, she became more accepting because I never said a bad word about her. However, Mama Ex was also happy at the time in her own personal life. Sometimes if the bio Mom's world is in turmoil, she will react negatively to her ex moving on to someone else.

    If Mama Ex is not supportive of the relationship with you and the father, that really does complicates things, and I feel for you! I was lucky in that Mama Ex was glad to see Hubs settling down. She could see I meant no harm and wasn't there to take over her role (things have changed since then, but that's another story). Is there a way for you to sit down with Mama Ex and perhaps explain that you have the best intentions toward her kids and wish to be a supportive role toward her children? Is it past that point yet? Sometimes, Mama Ex just wants to hear confirmation that you aren't out to "steal" the kids away from her.

    Remember, like I said in this post, it doesn't happen in an instant. And there will be peaks and valleys. Sometimes really big, deep, seemingly endless valleys. But if you are consistently supportive toward Mama Ex and her children, I think she may eventually come around.

    Helpful at all??

  3. Ruby, I'm so sorry that I'm just now seeing your response. I really appreciate you taking the time to help. Yes, this was extremely helpful. I know this sounds cliche, but I feel like try so hard and it just isn't enough. That it will never be enough.

    Sitting down with their mom really isn't an option at this point, but may be in the future. We'll see. In the meantime, I will keep reading your blog and hope that I can learn something.

    Something that I'm just now realizing is certain things that I think are great indicators of progress are actually not. I do have to keep in mind that change won't happen over night. Thank you for that reminder.