When I hit the one-year mark on this blog, I had a hard think about what I wanted it to be. I called it Step-Parenting 101 but I never talked about any of the lessons I learned, and I thought… that’s a great idea. I should do that! And then I promptly got writers block because… what HAVE I learned? I read other people’s blogs and they can list 10 things that all step parents must do… and I mostly agree with them, but… what have I actually LEARNED? I can regurgitate what they have said but, in my real life, I mostly just go with things and try not to screw it up too terribly. I think, for the most part, I succeed at this. We have been together for 3 years now, this month, and I have definitely grown as a step-parent.
Last year, much to my partner’s disappointment, I decided to take a step back in the parenting role. I needed there to be more of a delineation between him, as the parent, and me, as the step parent. I think that is the one thing I can say I learned so far… I have to be the one to set the boundaries as to what I am comfortable doing. For example, I am NOT comfortable picking up the kids at their mother’s. One time I did it (without incident, I think), and a couple of other times, in a dire situation, I was willing to do it (but thankfully didn’t have to), and a few other times, I have gotten someone else (i.e. Curtis) to do it because the thought of dealing with that woman has left me with anxiety so crippling that I reach for my Atavan and try my best not to cry. While things have improved between her and Curtis, she’s still nasty to me and it makes me really uncomfortable. I have to be the one to set those boundaries. No one else can decide for me what I am comfortable doing. No one else can decide when it’s time to put my big girl panties on and do what I have to do, or else when I need to take that step back for the sake of my sanity. And sometimes it still causes fights (which, btw, ALSO causes anxiety… but you win some, you lose some). At the end of the day, I am being true to what I can handle and that’s been better for my relationship with Curtis (overall) and with the boys.
I have also stepped back from being the punisher. That is in every single blog and advice column you will find out there – the parent has to be the disciplinarian. Now, that’s hard to do in reality when the kids are acting out and you’re the one in charge, but I’m trying. That’s caused some tension between me and Curtis because now I expect him to be the bad guy when he gets home, but I think he’s slowly starting to accept that it’s the right thing (I like to send him those blogs to show him I’m not totally coming out of left field), and we’re working on finding a middle ground. He doesn’t like to punish them and he’s patient and kind with them and I’m learning to accept that when I leave the discipline to him, I have to be ok with him doing it his way. Stepping back has created a new set of problems because I’ve opened up a bit of a power struggle at times because I am see as more lenient than Dad and they really try to test it. But I no longer have to worry (as much) about the phone call to Dad from Mom saying that one of the boys hates me. And I am finding some middle ground, slowly but surely, where I can keep things under control without it turning down into a mess of crying, yelling, and telling Mom about the wicked step-mom.
The other big thing I’ve learned is that all things come in time, my relationship with the kids is slowly growing – and at different speeds with each kid. They all prefer Dad (obviously), and I’ve learned to mostly be ok with that. That was a real lesson I had to learn. I will have a special place in their lives one day and we’ve (unintentionally) tried to rush that. It’s not about me, he’s their dad and I’m still a bit of a stranger. The longer we live as a family, the more special moments we have, the more things that grow, the more the kids trust me, and the more we really are a family. It takes a lot of effort and I have to do things I don’t really enjoy doing (like playing in the snow), but those things, that commitment, pays off slowly. If they ask me to do it, I usually try to do it, to build those bonds. I practice saying yes where I can. And sometimes I suck at it. Sometimes I don’t want to play mini sticks again (they’ve all realized how bad I am at it) or sometimes I don’t want to play whatever convoluted game they’ve come up with… but I try to say yes most of the time. I know that’s important time. I can see the difference in our family photos. There’s more life to them, there’s more of a relationship there. I look at them and I can see the fun, the joy in them. And sometimes I look at those pictures to remind me WHY I’m going downstairs to be pummeled at mini sticks or WHY I’m suiting up to play in the snow. That is the reward for those lessons learned.
I don’t have many answers, even for myself, but I am going to try and share some of the things I’ve learned. Share more stories showing the things I learned. So I might not have as much to say, but if I can even help one person who is struggling to figure this whole step-parent thing out as much as I am… I will feel like I’ve done something good.
So that was Lesson 1, more lessons to come. Keep fighting the good fight, peeps.