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

 

Stepmom vs. Stepdad: What’s the Difference?

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I’ve read the books, I’ve read and written the blogs, I’ve talked to many, many stepmoms. Even those who have “a great situation” struggle with their role – a role which often shifts and changes. So what is it that makes this so hard? We talk about feeling like an outsider, negotiating an often complex relationship with the biological mom, being unsure of discipline and family rules… And yes, those are all very complicated and very real experiences. But what is BEHIND them? And why does the experience of being a stepfather seem to be (often) less fraught?

Now for the disclaimer. In no way am I trying to say that being a stepfather is easy. Trust me, I know how I was as a teenage stepdaughter, and I did not make it easy for anyone (An Open Letter to My Stepfather), least of all my stepdad. But research has actually shown that whether it is self-reported, or based on stepchildren’s perspectives, stepfathers are perceived more positively than stepmothers (Fluitt & Paradise, 1991; Duberman, 1973; Levin, 1997). What’s up with that?

I’m in the foggy midst of my PhD research right now, which is all about stepmoms and how they learn to navigate their role in their stepfamily. And let me say, if you read “PhD” and imagine some twitching, socially awkward person surrounded by papers, dirty hair and sweatpants with holes in them, let me tell you that this stereotype is completely wrong.

It is much, much worse.

What I have found is that for some stepmothers, their role is connected to what theorists such as Mechthild Hart and Rose Barg call “motherwork” – the very intimate and complex work done to raise children. This includes everything from emotional and psychological support, to the day-to-day feeding, bathing, helping with homework, to the maintenance of the home through housework and chores.

Mothering ideology refers to the “way women should mother” based on our social and cultural values, and represents the dominant idea of what it means to be a mother in society today. This is not necessarily the “right” way to mother (as there is no such thing), but rather, how women are taught that they should mother (engage in motherwork). For many in Western society, mothering ideology is represented by a “Supermom” image – a woman who gives her all for her children; who balances work outside the home with maintaining her house and getting to all her kids’ activities and soccer games. And yes, dads are involved too, but the expectation of the mother is an intense, devoted kind of bond with her children.

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So where does that leave a stepmother? In her research, Irene Levin talks about this oxymoron of mothering (that intense, devoted relationship) and step (which suggests distance). How can a woman fill a mothering role, but from a distance? How can you love, support, and care for children while being careful not to do it too much?

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The ideology for fathers is that of a man who will support and guide his family, play the role of the disciplinarian, and (increasingly) contribute to the day-to-day activities of parenting. The ideology of fatherhood is not explicitly different than that for stepfathers in that typically, men will fill the same role whether “step” is a part of their title or not. The tension of fathering from a distance is not the same reality for men as we see for women. Again, this is not to suggest that stepfathering is easy or without its challenges, but generally speaking the role tension is not the same.

So if the root of these challenges for stepmoms are our deeply held assumptions about how we live in society; how we are taught to live in this world… what can we do to change it?

Well, the first step is admitting there is a problem.

Seriously. The first step to challenging dominant ideologies that don’t really serve society is to acknowledge it. To say, Hey, you know what? This doesn’t really work for moms and it certainly doesn’t work for stepmoms. So let’s change the discussion. Let’s change the way we teach our daughters and nieces and graddaughters to grow up in the world. Let’s change the current idea of mothering that gives us mommy guilt (so common that there are now commercials about it). And when we can challenge that idea, we can challenge the accompanying stepmother ideology. Perhaps we can go back to more of a “it takes a village” attitude, where parents and stepparents are part of the community of support that raise children.

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No one will ever take the place of a mother – that’s just human nature. And for myself and many other stepmoms, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be a piece of the puzzle, only at times it feels like my piece has an apple on it and the puzzle picture is of the Milky Way. Ha ha.

I know, you’re thinking, Well sure, that sounds “easy”… just change the conversation (and you’re saying it with a great deal of sarcasm. That’s what I would do anyway). Well then you’ll be equally scornful when I say it all starts with each of us – with the way we talk about our families, our roles, and our village. When we parent in a way that feels right for us, and that serves to nurture children without creating loyalty binds or alienation – two detrimental outcomes that we can connect to an individualist perspective of parenting – we slowly create change. When we make it okay to be a part of the puzzle, and support those other pieces as they click into place, we shift our consciousness, our understanding. We shift the way we think about our roles and expectations of one another as parents, stepparents, and by implication, our children and stepchildren.

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin

An Open Letter to My Stepfather

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To my Stepfather:

 

Thank you for sticking with me.

 

I was a teenager when we met. You came into my life at a time of change, attempted independence, and confusion over my parents’ separation. Anger greeted you for the first time. Rebellion refused to eat dinner with you and Mom. Loyalty didn’t speak to you when we sat in the same room. Spite moved out of your house without a goodbye or thank you for the hospitality.

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Thank you for sticking with me.

 

Depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder consumed much of my twenties. Then came the therapy, therapy, therapy. I decided that moving away was the cure – new cities, new jobs, new friends. Conscience followed me like a long October shadow, and as you know, I always returned – sometimes to your home as a free place to stay.

 

Thank you for sticking with me.

 

Sometime around your wedding to Mom, I began to see things in a slightly new light. I saw your happiness together, outside of my ideas and expectations of my own family. I saw you for who you are – your kindness, your patience, and your generosity. I saw clearly and deliberately for the first time. And no matter what my attitude had been, I was always invited to your dinner table, I was welcomed to a week in Mexico with you and Mom, and a few days in Amsterdam where the three of us explored the city, the canals, and the white beer.

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Thank you for sticking with me.

 

We have come a long way since those first days. No, that’s not right. I have come a long way. You were always kind. And now, in some kind of circular-life-happenstance, I am also a stepparent. Like you, I met and fell in love with someone who is a loving parent to two children. And so, after all those years, all those struggles, all those emotions, what does this mean? What have I learned? Well, a great deal actually, and it starts with this…

 

Thank you for sticking with me.

 

From you I have learned the value of being humble, of being patient, of being there for others from the sidelines. Watching you and Mom together has shown me what partnership looks like. I put that lesson to work every day with my husband. When I met his kids, I spent a lot of time thinking about my role and what that should look like. I knew that I wanted to be a loving person in their lives, to support them in whatever they chose to do, to be patient with them as they navigated their own lives and their changing family. I think, so far, I’ve done a pretty good job with that. I also know that I have you to thank for that guidance. I know right now you might be reading this and thinking I must be talking about someone else, because no way did you teach me those lessons! Right? Well, again that is another measure of your character. I’ve known for many years that I could go to you with questions or concerns, and you would give me advice and encouragement – without pushing one way or the other. You’ve shown quiet pride in both me and my brother, and I think about that often as I take the kids somewhere special, help them with their reading, cook dinner for them, and most recently, take them on their first plane trip back to their mom for the school year. I watched her hug and embrace them – her babies that she hadn’t seen all summer – and as I hugged them goodbye (for a little while anyway), I felt happy and secure in my place. My role. My job. I’m a part of their lives, I’m support and love for them. I’m cheering from the sidelines, but I’m cheering loudly.

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Thank you for teaching me.

 

Now Matt and I have a new baby on the way, and this little one is so lucky already. A Mom and Dad who love them, a brother and sister to play with, a Grandad, a Grandma and a Grandpa. Because of course you will be a Grandpa, with just as important a role as my Mom and Dad.

 

Thank you for everything.

 

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

 

Erin

 

2 + 1: Adding “Ours” to “His”

I’m back!

After a blogging break I am jumping back into the ring. Well, back into the Web? Doesn’t sound as cool.

A lot has happened for our little family over the past couple of months. Let’s catch up!

A big change for us has been moving to another province, from Nova Scotia to Quebec! This not only means a new home in a new city where we know no-one, but also means living in a place where the primary language is French! Funny story: in my infinite wisdom as a grade 10 student, I decided that German would be a more interesting language class to take. Yes. In a bilingual country, French and English, I am now equipped to say “I am 15 years old” in German, and sing Silent Night in German. Useful… very useful.

We came to Quebec because of hubby’s work in the military (luckily he is bilingual!), and we have moved here with the stepkiddos for the summer. They’ll return to their mom’s for school and visit us on all holidays. We are loving it! Quebec City is a beautiful, historical place and there’s always lots going on for us to explore. The kids have taken really well to it which also makes the transition much easier. Over the couple of years we spend here, I’m determined to learn the language. Or, at least, to add the French version of Silent Night to my repertoire.

A second, VERY big change for us, was finding out that we are expecting a new baby! I am into the second trimester now, and we are all very excited to welcome this new addition to our family. This change for our family has led me to read and re-read my stepfamily books and articles, looking for information about “adding an ours to his”. While I found some interesting advice and suggestions, I have learned most from talking to other stepmoms, and I plan to share my experience with you.

Within five years of a divorce, 89% of men and 79% of women remarry (Wisdom & Green, 2002), and about half of remarried couples will then have a child or children together (Pasley & Lee, 2010). An “ours” baby is a beautiful addition to a stepfamily, but there are some considerations unique to this dynamic.

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The love that a parent has for their child is something totally unique and beautiful. Parents have a biological, historical, emotional understanding of their children that most stepparents cannot share. I love my stepkids so much, but I know that there will be something different about the way I love the little one swimming around in me right now.

We often hear the saying that stepmoms have “all of the responsibility and none of the rights” when it comes to their stepchildren, meaning that they are often heavily involved in the care work of the home and kids, but do not have rights in decisions that impact the lives of the children. This can be true to varying degrees, and for some stepmoms can be upsetting, stressful, and even cause feelings of resentment. So it can be confusing to balance those feelings with the overwhelming love that comes with a biological child.

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In a stepcouple relationship, it is the partner who is a parent that is the connection between the new partner and their children. When the new couple has a child, a new dynamic is created.

New dynamics equal change which disrupts the existing patterns, whether good or bad. There may be issues and bumps that come up down the road, as with any family. Our finances are divided between two houses; my stepkids live with us part-time while the baby on the way will be in our home full-time; and I will have a primary role in parenting soon, where right now I primarily parent in support of my hubby. There will be many discussions to follow, and I look forward to sharing them with you.

When we told the stepkids about their sibling on the way, they were so excited. Since that point, they have asked lots of questions about the baby, talked about how much they want to help with the baby (I’m really hoping to convince them that diaper duty is super fun), and even picked out little gifts for their baby brother or sister. Matt and I are thrilled with their reaction, and I know it is important to not take that for granted and to foster love and connection in our family.

A few suggestions if you are going through the same experience:

  1. With your partner, talk to your stepkids about the changes ahead. Make sure that they feel free to ask questions, and that they know they are always loved by everyone.
  1. Involve the stepkids in conversations about and care for the baby. Being a big brother or big sister is a very important job! Let them help choose outfits, decorate the nursery, read to the baby… anything that fosters their bond.

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  1. For the stepmom specifically: be okay with the feelings you have. If you feel a different kind of love for your own child, know that this is normal and it is okay to feel that way. In saying that, be aware of your time and contact with your stepkids. Be sure to give them hugs and kisses if you did before. Be sure to read them stories at night if you did before. Those bonds take time to form, and they take time and effort to nurture and maintain.

Okay, have to go and get my second breakfast now!

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin

 

This One’s for the Boys

I am fairly confident that the majority of my readership are women – stepmoms specifically. Considering they are my main target group, I’m quite pleased with that!

However, understanding stepfamily dynamics is important for everyone. Who knows? You may end up living in a stepfamily someday, you may teach kids who live in two different houses, you may be a therapist whose newest clients are a stepcouple. In so many ways you may find yourself working with or simply meeting stepfamilies. They are, after all, everywhere!

So I hope that these articles reach a wider audience, and today, my focus is on the Dads.

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Typically I write about and to the stepmom experience (because that’s what I know), but I think there are some key take-aways for Dads that can help build successful, happy, and loving second marriages and families. So ladies, leave this article somewhere for your man to find (i.e. on the BBQ, in the bathroom… just kidding), or just pass him the tablet and ask him to take a gander. After all, a strong marriage + strong parenting = strong stepfamily. (Disclaimer: “strong” doesn’t mean tough; strong means loving, committed, dedicated, affirming, and based in open communication).

 

TIP #1: Accept that this family dynamic is different from your first marriage.

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Some men want to get back to the comfort of family life quickly, and assume that stepmoms will slide right in to fill the “mothering” spot. This WILL NOT happen. In your first marriage or relationship, you and your wife had children together – children who are a mix of the two of you. You both had the powerful pregnancy and bonding time with a newborn. You’ve been there to see them walk, talk, fall off a bike, draw a family picture. Even if you separated very early after the birth, that baby is half you and half your first wife. The bond with your children is immediate, unconditional, and biological.

In your new relationship, you bring with you all of that knowledge – “No, she won’t eat carrots”, “Yes, he’s always been a sensitive kid. He just needs a bit more time”. That intimate knowledge of who your kids are and who you are as their dad is a beautiful thing.

On the other hand, your new partner has none of that. These kids are complete strangers to her. She doesn’t know your history together, the kids’ personalities… in the beginning she doesn’t really know what kind of a dad you are. All of this takes an incredible amount of time. With that time, patience, and support, stepfamilies can absolutely come to find their own groove and family life. But it will NEVER be the same as first family life, and that is okay! Different is not bad. But the longer you hold a certain expectation, the more disappointing it will be for you. And you will miss out on all the small changes along the way.

 

TIP #2: You’re the parent – discipline is your job.

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Over time, and I mean years, your partner can step into more of a parenting role (with your support). But in the beginning, all of the parenting – rules, guidance, discipline – comes from you. Your new partners’ role is to support you as a dad and begin to slowly build a relationship with the kids. Expecting your partner to step up with the same level of authority as you will only cause friction between her and your kids.

 

TIP #3: Do your best to foster respect between your partner and your kids, and if at all possible, between your partner and your ex.

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While your new partner should not take a disciplinary role, you do need to require that your kids treat her with respect – and of course, she must do the same. The bond will take time, but respect is fundamental to living a peaceful life.

Depending on the context, it is ideal that you, your ex, and your new partner can be on good terms and work together for the sake of the kids. If possible, it is in everyone’s best interest if the adults can get along, and trust me that it’s worth it to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when you can all be in the same space for a school concert, a birthday party, or just a weekend transition when kids are coming or going.

 

TIP #4: If your partner is struggling, hear her out, and be supportive of her taking a break.

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Hear me out. You’re the most popular guy in the room. Your kids love you and hold a very special place in your heart. Your new partner wouldn’t be a stepmom if not for falling in love with you, so you’re the common denominator. The common-love-denominator!

As I said in TIP #1, your new partner does not have the history, the love, or the tolerance for your kids that you do. This can make her feel guilty and frustrated, so it means a lot to have her partner – you – understand that this is not an easy situation for her. Even if you don’t really get it, listen and be supportive. Suggest that she take some time on her own – go for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, just a little time away to recharge. Trust me that she’ll thank you for it.

 

TIP #5: You’re doing just fine.

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You’re a great dad, I just know it. And you’ve met someone who wants to be a part of the family you nurture. It’s not always easy, but nothing good ever is. Keep doing what you’re doing, and foster an open, honest, and caring relationship with those you love.

 

Go dads!

 

Breathe deep, love deeper,

Erin