Friday, June 6, 2014

look back, learn forward

I really fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to the subjects I write about on this blog. Sometimes it's about Mama Ex, sometimes it's about the stepkids, sometimes it's about my infertility journey relative to being a step parent.

I apologize if this gives all of you blogger whiplash.

Today as I walked my little wiener dogs all around the neighborhood, I did something I often do, which is to reflect on my life a stepmom and how far I've come. I enjoy looking back, not to re-hash what I did wrong, but to see what I have learned. It's impossible to grow as a stepmom (let alone a person) if you aren't retrospective about your journey along the way. And so, my friends, here are a few things that I felt worth mentioning as I've made the transition from single to stepmom in the last 7 years. Do you identify with any of them?

The Kids Grow Up

I'm not sure how in the world I didn't see this one coming. When I first met my stepkids, they were 6 and 3. Our relationship came relatively easily (Mama Ex's did not, more on that another day) and I loved everything about them. I loved that they listened to what I said, and most of the time, agreed with it! But a few week ago, I realized, these kids are 11 and 14 now. They're becoming actual people. The list of things to help them with is getting longer, more complex and more stressful. They're getting more expensive. They talk back. Somehow, when I got married, I naively didn't worry about "as the kids get older." It was just this ambiguous thing off in the distance that would show up someday and I'd deal with it then. I wish I had taken a little extra time to prep myself for the inevitable change in the kids. Physically, mentally, can be overwhelming when you aren't ready for it.

Mama Ex May NOT Grow Up

Call me optimistic, but I always just assumed that one day, the pettiness that we deal with when it comes to Mama Ex would just melt away. Eventually, she would really see that I am not here to cause her harm or steal her children. I'm just here to love her children the best that I know how. I saw us all getting together and having dinner together with the kids to show them a united front, laughing at how silly we have been over the years.

It hasn't happened. And I have to realize that it may never happen. I might have matured and grown less petty and selfish, but maybe Mama Ex won't. I might reflect on things I could have done differently, but maybe Mama Ex won't. As my fave basketball coach used to say, "You just play your game. Let them play theirs."

Thou Will Be Judged - and So Will Hubs

I really thought that by 2014, humans would have evolved enough to know that not every family is two parents, 2.5 kids and a Labradoodle. But there are those out there that still crinkle up their nose like they smell a rotten potato when I say, "these are my two stepdaughters." Like we're a bunch of lepers walking around infecting everyone else.

I remember when I first introduced my two stepdaughters to one of my aunts. She looked at M, then at T, then to Hubs, and back at T with a strange look on her face. Later, I overheard her talking to my mother and she actually said these words:

"Well, I can see the resemblance between M and Hubs. But, did you ever wonder if T is actually his? They look nothing alike. I know Hubs and Mama Ex were never married. Maybe he's paying child support for a kid that isn't even his?? Ruby should really think about that."

I was dumbfounded. This was coming from a woman with four children from three different men and a minimum of three divorces under belt. Where did she get off making judgments about my family? I've learned over the years that people automatically assume they have a right to say these sorts of things because those kids aren't your kids. It's like open season because the children don't share my DNA. And that is messed up.

The point is, as a stepmom, you and your husband will be judged by awful, ignorant people. The trick is to handle them with dignity and grace. Hold your head high. You are a wonderful stepmom and anyone who questions you can take a long walk off a short pier. And then drown. Which leads me to...

Don't Take it Lying Down

When my aunt uttered those words about my stepdaughter, I had only been a stepmom for about five minutes. I never corrected my aunt or stood up for myself and I've regretted it every day since. I have learned there is a time and place for silence, and a time and place to find your voice and use it.

No one is going to be your advocate except you. 

  • If a teacher mistakenly calls you Mom during a teacher conference, it's okay to say, "Actually, I'm the kids' stepmom. You met their mother Jane last week. I know it can be a little confusing!"
  • If someone tells you - in person or via social media - that you don't have a right to give input regarding your stepchildren, (kindly) set them straight. Let them know that you share time with the kids and have a very vested interest in their well being and always share your input with your husband. Ultimately, the biological parents have the final word, but your input is expected and most importantly, valued.
  • If a doctor asks you to sign a legal document, it's perfectly okay to say, "I would, but I'm Cara's stepmom, so I need to have her father or mother sign this. We'll get it right back to you." Don't do what I did three years ago and make up some lame excuse like, "I need to read the fine print on this first and then sign it later tonight, thanks!!" That's acting ashamed of being a step parent. You have nothing to be ashamed of. People are going to get it wrong sometimes and correcting them shows that you know yourself and your boundaries as a stepmom well enough to be honest. 
  •  If you're at a school event/doctor appointment/music lesson/recital/whatever and Hubs can't attend, don't be a door mat. Let's say the music teacher gives Mama Ex a schedule of upcoming recitals, politely say, "May I have one of those as well? Bobby's father and I will want a copy for our records." No, you aren't being a bitch and no, you aren't violating your boundaries. You and Hubs are a team and you share your life with his children. Many times, if it's just you and Mama Ex at the event, people will make the assumption that you're Mama Ex's sister or a good friend. That's not their fault; they don't know any better. But that doesn't mean you can't correct them.
As a stepmom, you're learning new things every day, and it's not very likely that you'll get it all right the first time. If you make a mistake, brush it off and right the ship the next time. 

Hey, Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a family. Give it time.


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