We Got You, You Got This

So you probably know I just held a stepmom retreat in Ontario. You probably know this because I’ve been talking about it for quite a while! I went through all the stages of planning and organizing an event – excitement and inspiration, overwhelm and uncertainty, back to excitement, stress, excitement, lots of late nights… you get the idea.

As the day approached and all the details were taken care of, all that stress disappeared and I couldn’t wait to meet a fabulous group of stepmoms.

On the Friday morning, I got up at 4am, nursed my baby before taking my first trip away from her (*sob*) and hit the road for an eight-hour drive to the retreat hotel. As I walked into the lobby, I met two of the women who were joining me for the weekend. Their hugs and huge smiles were just the beginning of the support and friendship that weekend. And IT. WAS. AMAZING.

There were social events, workshops and information, guest speakers, laughter, drinks, a few tears, but mostly lots of laughter. Being together in the same space was such a validation of our experiences as stepmothers. Contrary to common belief (“You knew what you were getting into…” God I hate it when people say that), no one truly knows what it’s like to be a stepmom unless or until you ARE a stepmom. And then you need all the love and support in the world to help you figure out HOW to be a stepmom in a way that works for you.

So the entire group of us were able to spend the weekend with other women who GET IT. Even if our situations are different, and they all are, they get it. The parenting challenges, ex-wives, stepkids, financial obligations, courts and lawyers, feeling like an outsider… all of this with the Wicked Stepmother identity casting a shadow over our lives.

To talk about this stuff, this really, really hard stuff, and to know we’re not alone, is key.

And to a point, I knew this circle of support would be powerful. I didn’t know how powerful, but I knew it would have a great impact on all of us. My dear friend and colleague, Ali Wilks of Stepcoupling.com held a retreat last year in beautiful Canmore, Alberta. So we had talked a lot about these events and how important they are.

What I didn’t anticipate as much was the support and connection that came from my fellow stepmom bloggers. This was like another circle of support around us at the retreat, another layer of understanding and women who get it.

All the bloggers I spoke to were so excited about the retreat, and happy to contribute a message of support to the women. Their messages were validation, understanding… other women saying “you got this, and we’ve got you”.

I realized that the more we have these conversations about what it’s like to live in a stepfamily, then more people will understand the dynamics of stepfamily life. Then, and only then, can we truly see change in the world. More fair and balanced court systems, more mental health professionals trained in stepfamily dynamics, more awareness in our education systems, and a change to the Wicked Stepmother narrative. Like the tagline from the retreat, lets change that to Wicked AWESOME Stepmom.

 

 

Behind Every Great Stepmom…

Is her community of stepmom support!

We are just SIX weeks away from the first ever Steplife Stepmom Retreat! I am so excited about hosting this event, and to meet the many stepmoms who have signed up to join me.

I am a firm believer that there are THREE essential elements to a happy life for stepmoms:

  1. Instead of trying to meet others’ expectations, find the role that works for YOU. This is a unique family and you need to find your place in it.
  2. Focus on your marriage first. The only reason you’re a stepmom is because you chose a partner who happens to have children. The key to stability in the family is a strong stepcouple. You are (half of) the foundation of the family, not an add-on.
  3. Find your community, your tribe, your besties, your stepmama sisters… whatever name you want to use, the key is having the support of other women who KNOW what you are going through.

We will be talking about all of these things and MORE at the retreat. The workshops will give you the information you need to live life as a happier, more content stepmom. And the social events will give you the opportunity to build your stepmom support circle!

Speaking of…

My favorite aspect of this retreat is that I have my own support circle taking part, offering their advice, their experiences, and their exciting upcoming projects!

Kate Chapman from This Life in Progress, Jamie Scrimgeour, blended family lifestyle blogger and creator of the KICK-ASS Stepmom Project, and Ali Wilks from Step by Step Mom and Stepcoupling will be answering YOUR questions in “Table Talk”: A Blended Family Expert Panel. These ladies know their stuff, and cover the range from single parenting and co-parenting to stepmom life and stepcouple support.

And rounding out this fabulous group is Sarah Paterson from the Social Stepmom Society! Sarah is launching her amazing stepmom community very soon, and will be giving us the scoop at the retreat.

Sarah Paterson Guest Speaker at The Steplife Stepmom Retreat!

I am so fortunate to be working with this team of stepfamily pros. Oh, and a few others may be making an appearance, but I’m keeping that under my hat for now 😉

Join us this October for a weekend away, and go back to your family recharged, with a renewed confidence in your stepmom role. And when you feel lost, look behind you. Your sisters are holding you up.

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin

Sunshine Blogger Award!

I am so excited to tell you that StepLife has been nominated for The Sunshine Blogger Award by KandyAppleMama!! The Sunshine Blogger Award is given from bloggers to other bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring. This is a huge honor for me, and I am in great company with the other nominees. I love how our blogging community is working to change the narrative of stepparenting, coparenting, and blended families. Thank you KandyAppleMama!

Once nominated, the blogger is required to write a post where they:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated them and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated them.
  • Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask 11 new questions.
  • Notify your nominees and create/display a Sunshine Blogger Award logo in the post.

I am very happy to add two of my favorite bloggers to your wonderful list KandyAppleMama! Clearly we have the same reading list 😉 These bloggers are passionate, creative, and are making a difference in the world for blended families.

My nominees:

Step by Step Mom
StepmomHelp

My questions and answers

  1. What is your favorite part of blogging in the stepparenting/co-parenting realm?

I LOVE blogging in this area for many reasons, but mostly I love helping others. When someone comments or sends me a message saying “thank you for that post, I needed to read that!” it makes me determined to keep blogging. If I can help one stepmom feel better about her role in her family, or help one Dad understand his partner’s perspective a little better, my job is done!

  1. What made you want to start blogging about something so personal?

When I started dating my husband, I remember thinking “well, I like kids, so how hard can this be?” *shakes head and sighs* Oh, how little I knew… No matter how fluidly your family comes together, the blended family/stepfamily life is tough. You can’t possibly know what you’re getting into – I sure didn’t – and I wanted to reach out to others who were feeling the same way. Many stepmoms feel guilty when they struggle with this life, and I wanted to bring those tough conversations out into the public world of social media. If we acknowledge the challenges, we make them real. And THEN we can work to help each other and change the way we see stepparenting.

  1. What’s the hardest topic you’ve chosen to write about?

I’ve written about my personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, and that was tough. It’s an incredibly personal, and very raw part of my life. But again, I think it’s important to shed light on these experiences. To normalize them. If it helps one person, I’m happy.

  1. Are there days you step back from your co-parenting role? What does that look like to you?

My latest blog was about exactly this! I’ll just leave it here… 😉

  1. What is your favorite part about co-parenting?

The best aspect of stepparenting is getting to know and spend time with two awesome kids who I would otherwise not have in my life. I had my baby girl six months ago, and it fills my heart to see her with her siblings. They dote on her and she just loves them.

  1. What is the message you want to share with the world?

That stepparenting is tough, so if you’re struggling, that’s okay. That you must make time for self-care. And that the reason you are in a stepfamily is because you fell in love with someone who is a parent, so focus on your relationship with your partner. He or she is the one you will be with at the end of the day, the one you will go to bed with at night. A strong parenting team is the key to a happy family.

  1. What is your personal motto?

Whatever you’re feeling or going through right now, you’re okay, and you will be okay.

  1. What’s a fun fact very few know about you?

I’m working on a children’s book! It’s written from the perspective of an “ours” baby who misses her older brother and sister when they are at their mom’s house. (I wonder what my inspiration was 😉 )

  1. What’s your favorite article you’ve ever written?

I wrote an article that was an open letter to my stepfather, thanking him for all he has done. Becoming a stepmom really opened my eyes to how tough I was on him in those early years, and I wanted to celebrate the awesome relationship we have now.

  1. Have you created any products for your readers?

I am a Certified Stepfamily Coach, so I offer different types and levels of coaching for my readers. You can email me questions and request advice, I can chat with you via Skype or phone, or if you’re close by we can meet up to chat in person! I love helping others navigate their stepfamily challenges.

  1. What’s your next big blog project?

Well, it’s not a blog, but I am hosting The StepLife Stepmom Retreat this October!! A full weekend away in Ontario where we will talk all things stepfamily, socialize, share, and connect with an amazing group of stepmoms. It will be a chance to recharge your batteries, and come away with some super valuable tools to help you in your stepfamily! You can always contact me for more info or to join us!

My 11 questions for my two nominees:

1. What inspired you to start writing in this area?
2. Who is your target audience for your blog?
3. What is your number one stepfamily/blended family tip for your readers?
4. What was the best piece of stepfamily advice YOU received?
5. If you have an entire day to yourself, to do whatever you want, what are you doing?
6. What was your first blog about? What was your most recent blog about?
7. Who inspires you in your life?
8. What is the best thing about blogging to you?
9. What is your blogging routine? (When and where do you blog, do you blog on a schedule or whenever you’re are inspired, etc.?)
10. Do you offer services along with your blogging?
11. What is on your blogging wish list? (What do you want to talk about next?)

 

Thank you so much KandyAppleMama and thank you to all the other bloggers out there who are changing the way we blend, mix, and grow our families!

Erin xo

 

When “Step” Means Step Back

I love to laugh. Laughing is my favorite. And I’ve been told on more than one occasion that my laugh is quite recognizable for it’s volume and intensity 🙂

So the day my husband said, “It’s good to hear that laugh again”, it hit me.

Time to take stock. What was I doing? What wasn’t I doing? How was I living? Why wasn’t I laughing?

Let’s back up a bit.

There are some pretty common experiences that stepmoms have, and one of those is the challenge of different parenting styles. Very commonly (and cited by many specialists in the field of stepfamilies), stepmom enters into a relationship with a man who is parenting (at least in part) from feelings of guilt. From the divorce, from not seeing his children full-time, from a variety of reasons, all of which make perfect sense.

Unfortunately, guilty parenting often means a lack of routine, expectations, rules, and boundaries. This means stepmoms enter into an already formed family that might be operating under a bit of… chaos. The script for women in this society is to be managers of the home, so to speak, making sure things run smoothly. So, some stepmoms come into chaos and try to turn that into a “nuclear-like” home, with chore charts, bedtimes, and healthy meals.

Guess what?

That doesn’t often turn out very well.

And of course it doesn’t. Imagine kids are used to spending time with Daddy, getting all of his attention, and probably having very little in terms of rules. Then “she” comes in, taking Daddy’s attention and love away from them, and suddenly they have to go to bed at eight o’clock and help with the dishes. Well, guess who isn’t very popular?

You can see how this doesn’t work from the kids’ perspective. What about her? She’s just doing what she feels is right. She’s trying to help her partner parent, and give the kids a happy, healthy home. What’s so wrong about that? Nothing. So what is she to do? Well. Certainly there should be some open and honest conversations with her partner, where they talk TOGETHER about their expectations and hopes for their new family. If they BOTH choose to make some changes together, Dad should be the one to initiate these changes with the children. In a family meeting, these new changes can be discussed with everyone present, so the children know that stepmom has some authority too.

This is pretty much the ideal.

Not necessarily the typical.

So, what happens when stepmom and her partner talk, and she suggests some parenting changes that he doesn’t agree with. Or he agrees, but is reluctant to enforce these changes with the children. Does she continue hoping these changes will be made? Does she keep raising the same conversation, which ends up in an argument because they are both frustrated? Does she silently stew over the way he parents, all the while carrying out other parenting tasks like cooking, cleaning, and laundry? In other words, does she continue to take on the labor of a parent without having the decision-making power and respect that a parent has?

She could…

OR…

She can step back.

Step back from some of those responsibilities and let Dad do the parenting work. He is the parent after all. You can have a conversation with him, letting him know that because you feel as though you’re not a parenting team together, that you are going to step back and let him parent. You will focus on your relationship with him, not on being another caretaker of his kids.

This can be tough to do, but it can also save your marriage. The stress and tension that can be created when you are not a parenting team, when you don’t support one another as the adults of the home, when you don’t act as a united front together… it can erode the strongest of unions.

So back to me. A couple of big changes had thrown our stepfamily life for a loop. First of all, we moved to a different province, a ten-hour drive from the kids. This is temporary, but definitely challenging. My husband misses his kids dearly, and they miss him. Instead of weekly or bi-weekly visits with them, we were seeing them a few times a year for longer chunks of time. Secondly was the arrival of “ours” baby Grace. A little treasure, she has completed our family. And I’m not going to lie, it feels nice to be #1 in someone’s eyes!

At the time of the laughing comment, we had the kids for the whole summer. My husband had the second half of the summer off from work, but for the first half I was home with the three kids. A baby is a lot of work, as many of you likely know, and I was a bit overwhelmed at suddenly having to make a lot of meals, work on a nap schedule, and keep up with laundry for five people among other things. Add to that the fact that hubby and I differ significantly on our opinions of things like appropriate screen time and activities for the kids. He’s laid back and chill, I’m type-A and a planner. He’s also got some of that “guilty dad” going on, which I understand in theory, but find frustrating. So we were living the typical stepfamily experience – him running around doing everything for the kids, me silently seething about our lack of structure. Him not seeing my side, me not seeing his. Danger.

I knew what was happening. I knew what this was. I knew it was typical, but that didn’t stop me from doing my part. The sighing, the frowning, the leaving the room. And then my husband said something funny, and I laughed. And then he said, “it’s good to hear that laugh again”. And THEN I knew. I had to step back. I had to tell him what I was doing and why, but I had to step back and let him be “daddy”.

It’s not easy, and it wasn’t perfect, but I tried every day to focus on what I could control and let the rest go. There were some small changes around the house, but I still left those decisions up to him. Parenting my daughter is a negotiation between the two of us, but with stepfamily life sometimes you have to let go a little, set some boundaries, and take care of yourself.

Some stepmoms will feel guilty doing this. I get that for sure. But think about it. Who is the parent? HE is. Who has the power to make changes in the household and require that the children stick to these changes? HE does. Who has the authority to tell children that stepmom needs to be respected in the home? HE does. Some stepmoms will have the same level of parenting authority as her partner, which is wonderful, but only comes with a lot of communication and support from him. The kids need to see you as a parenting team, if that’s what you want to be.

The hardest part of this gig is finding what works for you and your family. But there is no shame or selfishness in stepping back and letting a parent be a parent. Don’t force yourself into a role that doesn’t work for you. And mostly, take care of yourself, because no matter what, you can’t pour from an empty vessel. Oh, and laugh. Laughing is good for the soul.

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin

I Owe it to Her

Big “a-ha” moment this week.

I was in my bedroom. Hubby and baby girl (4 months) were also there. I was trying on some of my pre-pregnancy pants for the first time since giving birth (insert applause here – every woman deserves it. Wowza). I had been feeling pretty good, and so expected to slide those pants right up and effortlessly hook the button through the button hole, smoothing my hands down my legs like a woman in a Special K commercial. You know the one…

Anyway, you can probably see where this is going. It didn’t go to plan.

I heaved and pulled, and finally got them up. Sort of. Then I “did up” the button, and that was just not pretty or comfortable. Disappointed, I released the pants of their irrational task and put them back in the farthest recess of the closet. I said something to my husband to the effect of, “Ugh, I look like crap”, which of course he disputed as a good husband does. In that moment, my eyes caught my daughter’s.

She was smiling up at me from her swing, big brown eyes and gummy mouth. She shook her little monkey toy at me and babbled something of great import. In that instant, my heart sunk and I not only looked like crap (in my eyes), I felt like crap.

I’ve spoken about my experience with eating disorders before (Juggling (or Dropping the Ball)), and how important it is to be aware of our words and how they impact others. As I looked down at my beautiful, babbling baby girl, my heart sunk at the thought of what I was teaching her with my words. Of course, I know that at 4 months she doesn’t understand me, but if I started now…

I can tell you the instant I developed an eating disorder. I can tell you exactly who said what, what I was wearing, the time of day… you get the picture. A seemingly innocent comment that set off a chain of behaviour that left me very ill, depressed, and in need of clinical help. Of course I don’t blame that person. I was clearly vulnerable in some way, and a predisposition had been brewing under the surface for a long time. However, I think it is crucial that we stop and think before we speak. Always.

As a mother, I want to be a safe place for my daughter. I want to be the love, support, warmth, and encouragement for her. I can’t control what others say around her and to her, but I can control what I say around her and to her. And I can control how I react when she comes to me with issues, concerns, tears, anger, frustration, and questions. My stepdaughter (who incidentally is a long, lean athlete, not that it matters) once said that she knew she was chubby. My heart started fluttering fast and I felt a hot flush creep up the back of my neck. Instant anxiety. Needless to say, I ruined an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with her and instead said firmly, “No you’re not! Don’t say that!” I don’t want to impose my experience on them as young girls and women, but rather I want to use that experience to help them navigate the judgmental parts of society they may (will) encounter. I owe it to them as children. As women. As beautiful babies who are vulnerable to the words of others. Particularly my words.

So I made a promise to myself that day, looking in the mirror and then back at my daughter. I will never speak negatively about myself or critique my body in front of her. I will celebrate women and girls for their intelligence and personalities first, over their bodies and physical appearance.

I owe it to her to do that.

Because society will do its best to counter that – to make her insecure, fell less than, feel that men know best what she should be. Society will knock her down in order to sell her something that will pick her back up. I will do my best to help her build her strength, confidence, self-assuredness, and empathy for others. To build her up so that she will not be knocked down. And so that she may pull others up with her.

I owe it to her.

Who do you owe it to?

 

Erin

xo

 

 

 

The Thing You Should Tell Your Husband. Today.

This morning, before leaving for work, my husband brought me a hot cup of coffee in bed, snuggled the baby who was waking up beside me, and tucked a heating pad against my back which has been hurting me for the last couple of days. I think I mumbled a sleepy “thanks”. When I got up and walked through the kitchen to top up my coffee, I noticed that he had emptied the recycling and garbage, and done the dishes from the night before.

 

I said nothing.

 

About an hour later, I went back in the bedroom to get the baby dressed, and saw my husbands’ dirty socks on the floor. I muttered under my breath something about “…always…damn socks…floor”. And then I stopped. And I thought.

 

Now, I am not the kind of person who thinks her husband has hero status because he does things like take care of his children or routine household chores. We’re partners in this life. We do what needs to be done, and we take care of each other and the kids (my two steps and our bio daughter). My husband is a better cook than I am, I am better at maintaining the home. Our marriage is a joint effort.

 

So I don’t thank him for taking the baby while I shower or for changing her diaper blow-outs. I don’t thank him for taking out the garbage or tossing the clothes in the dryer.

 

Why not?

 

Well, as I said, our marriage is a partnership and that’s what we expect of each other. But also it is because I refuse to buy into this discourse of the “hapless, hopeless dad syndrome”. You know, all the memes and videos of dad dressing the baby in a bikini top and snow pants for daycare, or asking the wife where the socks are kept in their house. Sure these can be funny and seem harmless, but I think how “dads” are portrayed in society can have some very real consequences… trickling all the way down to divorce and custody court cases. If dad is seen as a second-rate parent, what does that mean in the bigger picture of single parents, co-parenting, and blended families? How does this impact on his rights and obligations as a father? There seems to be many issues with our court system, and while that’s a big one to tackle, we can all control how we talk about the value and contribution of fathers.

 

And personally speaking, my husband is an amazing dad. That’s one of the things that really drew me to him, was seeing him with his kids. So I want to build the image of the equal partner, the loving, capable dad. I want that to be the norm, the measuring stick, the status quo. The kind of dad who, in the unfortunate event of divorce, gets 50/50 custody because he is as valuable an influence in his child’s life as the mother.

 

So when I picked up those dirty socks I thought about this tiny insignificant thing I was dwelling on, and instead thought of all the ways in which he fills that loving, capable role. I sent him a picture of our baby girl (just cause she’s cute as heck), and told him I appreciated him, every day.

 

It is so easy to get caught up in the minutae of everyday life, and I can’t say I’ll never get mad over dirty socks again (come on, I’m only human). But it’s also so easy to criticize someone or something, and to take the good stuff for granted. So I encourage you to not take the good stuff for granted. Tell your partner that you appreciate them, that you value them for who they are and for what they bring to your family.

 

And tonight I’m going to make my husband’s favorite meal for dinner as another way to show him that while I may not thank him for the little things, I love and appreciate him for the big things.

 

(After he puts his damn socks away).

Sharing the Love

With the birth of my little girl three months ago, I’ve reflected a lot on families and family dynamics. In between breastfeeding and changing diapers and reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” of course. And I’ve come to realize something. Some of the biggest challenges of steplife boil down to the fact that we are expected to share the love.

Any parent of multiple children will tell you that, of course, love is not a zero sum equation. You don’t love your first born less when you give birth to their younger sibling. There is just more love to go around. But stepfamily dynamics are more complex, and we have to share love in ways that aren’t always easy.

One evening, not long after my daughter was born, my husband jokingly commented that he had to share me now. Something twigged for me, and I realized, I had always been sharing him.

When you have a child, you love that child as an extension of yourself. Automatically, unconditionally. When I see my husband with our daughter, having bonding time, I feel just as connected as if I were in between them like an Erin sandwich (nice visual right? Haha). But when I see him with his two kids from his first marriage, I don’t feel the same way.

Many stepmothers struggle with insider-outsider feelings, myself included, despite the awesome relationship I have with my stepkids. It’s natural. Your partner has shared history, genetics, and time with his children that you do not have. This is not to say that I don’t love them or love seeing them together, because I do, I just don’t feel like I “belong” in the same way. We’re sharing my husband rather than being an interwoven extension of each other.

In addition to sharing your partner with the kids, you’re also sharing him with his ex. In a way. Perhaps sharing isn’t the right word, but very often, she’s… “present”. Whether it’s via email, text, phone, or in person, chances are your partner has some contact with his ex. My husband and his ex talk about the kids – scheduling, school, special occasions, behaviour, and the big one – money, etc… and I completely understand why. But my exes are not present in our relationship in any way, primarily because we don’t have kids together. This “presence of the ex” can range from civil to sticky to downright contentious and volatile.

There are other ways that love is shared in a stepfamily. The bio mom may feel that she is suddenly sharing her kids with your partner (her ex), rather than being a family together. When you come into the picture, she is also sharing her kids with a new woman – this can really get the emotional pot boiling. The children may also experience this sense of sharing love, whether it is sharing time with their mom and dad, or sharing their dad with you as a stepmom. Sigh. It is so complex.

So how do we share love in a way that positively supports these various relationships?

  1. Remember that love is not a zero sum equation… The more people you love, there isn’t less love to go around. Loving a new partner doesn’t take love away from the kids.
  2. Understand that supporting love between others can strengthen your own relationships… For example, supporting your partner in his relationship with his children can make your romantic relationship stronger because he’s feeling more at ease and happier as a father. Make sure he spends one-on-one time with his kiddos.
  3. If you add an “ours” baby to the family, don’t worry that there will be less love for the new addition… Focus on the new relationships that are forming (the baby with mom and dad, and the baby with his/her stepsiblings). Foster those new relationships and it will benefit everyone in the end.
  4. Be gentle with yourself and others… Don’t force relationships that aren’t ready to develop. You won’t automatically love your stepchildren, because they are strangers when you first meet them. Allow the relationship to grow at its own pace. Similarly, don’t force a friendship with the ex. Be kind, be civil, but take it slow. Make sure your partner knows you are there to support him as a father, and always ask for what you need from your relationship.

So yes, we do share love. But when we do so thoughtfully and respectfully, we may find that love is suddenly multiplied… bigger than ever.

Adding to the Mix

Well. I had planned to have this blog written and posted a couple of weeks ago. But guess what? Newborns are BUSY! Who would have thought such a little person could take so much time?! (Har har). But truly, this last month has FLOWN by with our beautiful little girl, Grace Eveline Ann. She’s a treasure. Here are a few pics to prove I’m telling the truth 😉

So I’ve written before about telling hubby’s two kids that we were expecting a baby, and how much thought went into making this big event a big deal for them too. I did not want them to feel jealous, left out, or confused about what a new baby would mean for them. This was – and is – very important to hubby and I, to create a family unit where everyone feels loved and special.

Having an “ours baby” is a beautiful thing, but is not without concerns and challenges for the blended family. Wednesday Martin, in her book Stepmonster, found that for some stepmoms, having a baby is a way to feel less like an outsider in their blended family. Other women found that common stepfamily challenges became less important or seemed less significant once their “ours baby” was born and kept them on their toes day-in and day-out. The experience can be different for every stepmother, as is the experience of mothering.

Her are a few tips or suggestions for having an “ours” baby in a blended family.

Involve the Kids

This little one will be the newest addition to your family, so involve her or his future siblings in age-appropriate decisions. My stepkids were 7 and 9 when we found out we were expecting, so I made them Big Brother and Big Sister tshirts, and they have had a say in picking out clothes, toys, and other things for the baby. We were very clear that the baby would be their SISTER, not half-sister (a decision that was important for us, but might not be for everyone). My husband talked to the kids and made sure they understood that while we were very happy about the baby coming, they would always be his babies, and his love for them would never change. This is key. While we as adults know these things for certain, kids aren’t always as sure. It never hurts to say I love you.

Have Realistic Expectations

Not everyone will be as excited about the new baby as you. Stepkids may be jealous or angry that daddy is having another baby, and those are normal feelings that need to be talked about. Your partner’s ex-wife may be resentful or concerned that her kids may take the news badly. Even your partner may be reluctant to have more children… after all, he’s been through divorce with kids, so he knows how hard it can be when things go wrong. Understand that these feelings are all normal, and don’t take it too personally. Talk to your partner about how he is feeling, and how you can support the stepkids if they are upset. Having a baby is one of the most exciting, life-changing experiences you can have (and mine is only 5 weeks old!), but consider the feelings of others and try to have realistic expectations.

Be Okay with Your Feelings

Okay, here’s the comment that may divide people. You very likely will not love your stepchildren the way you love your biological children. Some people may read this and say, “I love my stepchildren exactly like my own. There’s no difference!” And to that I say, wonderful. Good for you. However, for myself and many, many others, there is a connection you have to your biological child(ren) that is distinct. Everyone will feel differently about this, and for me, my stepkids were my only opportunity at a parenting role until my baby was born just last month. But even then, I always knew that they had a strong connection with their mom and that I played a different role in their lives… a role that I loved. Now, I still love them and I love being their stepmom, but I know that I feel differently about this little bundle of chubby cheeks and tiny toes. And you know what? That’s OKAY. We don’t need to be a “mom” or a “dad” to have an impact on the lives of children.

Adding to the family is adding more love. Of course there are feelings to consider and conversations to have, but the kids are excited to meet their new baby sister, and I can’t wait to see them all together. I’d love to hear your stories of adding an “ours” baby to your family!

 

Until then,

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

 

Erin

 

 

His + Ours: Adding a New Baby to the Fam Jam

Today marks 40 weeks of pregnancy for me… full term and ready to go! I look forward to posting the news of our new arrival. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been busy getting everything ready (read: washing tiny clothes, knitting tiny hats and booties, bouncing on a yoga ball, sleeping haha)! So I have a guest blog today written by Jessica Rose, all about introducing a new baby girl to her older siblings. Enjoy, and the next time you see a post it will include the details on Baby Grace!

Excited about a new baby girl to introduce to her future brothers, I went and purchased baby dolls for them.  I had read somewhere (I’m sure a product of some late night googling) that I could start out this new introduction with some baby dolls.  Imagine my horror, when I watched my precious twins turn their respected dolls into swords as they play fought as though they were in a Game of Thrones episode.  Completely horrified, I wondered how adding a new baby would affect our family.  Would I be able to go to the bathroom without worrying about baby and her brothers being in the same room?

It’s funny that we end up creating the worst possible scenario of things in our heads before they even happen.  The truth is, all that worrying and late night anxieties, were for nothing.  When my daughter was born, the piece of our family, that I didn’t even know was missing, fit perfectly.  Sure, it was not without  growing pains and lessons, but looking at where our family is today, we are the team I had always hoped we would be.

The first lesson I learned when introducing a new baby was choosing my battles.  Kids are just learning about their feelings and so instead of being able to articulate how they feel about this new change, they may act out.  Kids can be impulsive, and sometimes when they act out, it is not to get you upset, it is because they want attention or they may not know how to express what they are feeling.  You can loosen the rules a bit, but stand your ground.  Remember to always be patient.

Be sure to spend some one-on-one time with your older child(ren).  Sure, babies can be all consuming, but it is important to focus on your older children, without the new baby to distract you – when you can manage it.  Maybe set a date on the calendar for them to look forward to and plan what they want to do.  Another suggestion is to take moments in the day when it can be just you and your older child.  This can be as simple as giving them a bath at night or reading them a story before bed.  They will truly appreciate the effort and your undivided attention.

Encourage the older child to help with the new baby.  A family is like being part of a team and no one wants to feel like they’re being left out or are not needed.  Give them responsibilities and duties just for them.  Include them in helping to feed and dress the baby, throwing away the diapers, or even singing to the baby.  Your children may also love to read to the baby, even if they can’t read and just make up their own stories.  Making sure that they are involved is a great way to help them accept the new family and changes.  You may be surprised at how seriously they will take their role as a new older brother or sister.

Thanks to Jessica Rose for her contribution.

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin

The Steplife 12 Days of Christmas Tips for Holiday Peace

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Ah the holidays! A time of magic and wonder, of peace and joy, of sugar plum fairies and reindeer hooves…

Oh, I almost got through that with a straight face! What is a sugar plum fairy exactly?

It is my favorite time of year, but still, it is more likely to be filled with my badly-wrapped gifts and burnt sugar cookies. It is a time of love, family, and happiness, but a stress-free Christmas is a rare beast. For stepfamilies, the holiday season can pose some extra challenges and considerations.

This year, I posted this “12 Tips for Holiday Peace” series on Facebook and Twitter. In case you missed one, or want to make the most of your five minutes of free time (in between the parking lot traffic jam and whipping butter and sugar together), here they are in one scroll-able document!

Tip 1: Plan in Advance

It is often the “unknown” that causes stress, so sit down with your partner and make a plan – be sure to coordinate with the biological mom.

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Tip 2: Loosen Schedules (a little bit)

We can get very “schedule focused”, especially when we see kids part-time. Remember that they are on vacation too, so loosening the “reins” a little won’t do any harm. “Okay, one more Christmas movie!”

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Tip 3: Give Yourself a Break

Have you seen National Lampoons Christmas Vacation? A Christmas Story? Home Alone?? Things may go awry, and all you can do is plan and prepare. And have a sense of humor. And beware BB guns. And count your children. And stock up on wine…

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Tip 4: Respect Old Traditions

Keep some consistency for the stepkids by working some of their favorite traditions into your new family dynamic. Choose what works for you too, as outsider feelings for stepmoms can be strong at Christmas.

Tip 5: Start New Traditions

New family dynamics need new traditions! We started giving the kids a Christmas Eve box with new PJs, hot chocolate and a movie which we watch together that night. It’s a simple thing, but it helps define our little family.

Tip 6: Side-by-Side Activities

For a new, or not particularly close relationship with stepkids, side-by-side activities are great! You can bake cookies, or decorate the tree. The kids and I still decorate the tree each year (and when they go to bed I rearrange the ornaments… don’t judge).

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Tip 7: You don’t have to be Santa

If you do not have a close relationship with your stepkids, let your hubby do the shopping for them. You can do things for the family – baking, organizing charity donations – but if it doesn’t feel right, don’t play Santa.

Tip 8: Remember your Marriage

You’re a stepmom for a reason – you fell in love with a man with kids. In all the holiday rush, take time for the two of you. He might be upset if he doesn’t see his children much, so remind him of your support and that you’re a team.

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Tip 9: Self-Care

This is important 365 days a year, but especially at Christmas when we can get overwhelmed with shopping, wrapping, hosting… Carve out time for you – a quiet night in, date with a friend, long walk in the snow. You can’t pour from an empty vessel!

Tip 10: Get out and have FUN

It’s not all about gifts! Family time is precious. We love to toboggan with the kids during the holidays – getting bundled up, racing down the hill, trudging back up to the top… over and over! We come home cold and exhausted and it’s wonderful.

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Tip 11: This year is NOT last year

Repeat after me – this year is not last year. Do not start planning with a sense of dread over what did or didn’t happen before. THIS year has not happened yet. Fresh year, fresh tree, fresh slate.

Tip 12: Practice Peace

There can be a lot of tension and stress for stepfamilies around the holidays. It can benefit everyone (especially you) to practice peace. Try to see the positive, do not buy into drama, and take care of yourself.

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Happy Holidays from my stepfamily to yours!

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin