Being a step mom is hard. It’s hard in ways I never fully anticipated or could begin to imagine.
I knew it would be hard to immediately love children that weren’t mine. And it has been. But I’m a teacher, I have devoted my life to loving and caring for children that don’t biologically belong to me. I got this. Also, and more importantly, I love Richard with all that I am and I love his children. It would break my heart to think that I was breaking his by not loving his kids. I love them because I want to, choose to, and need to.
I knew it would be hard to find balance with his kids and mine. How does it not feel like there are subtle, silent preferences and innate favoritisms? Most of the time those things are non issues, but every once in a while things slide off kilter. I have to remind myself there is a checks and balance system that exists in life and somehow things always seem to ‘even out’ in the end.
But what I didn’t know or give much thought to was how hard it would be to parent with exes. Sure, I’d seen stories in the news, heard tales from family and friends, and read many chapters in self help books about not putting children in the middle, but I never dreamed we’d be those parents. The four of us; me, Richard, my ex husband and his ex wife are all intelligent, compassionate, dedicated adults who love our kids dearly. Surely, we would come together in the best interest of our children.
I won’t lie and say there aren’t transgressions in most of our four pasts. I won’t lie and say that I am innocent and that I didn’t hurt people who never deserved to be hurt. I did hurtful things and I am forever regretful and remorseful. My past is riddled with mistakes and missteps and moments that once lived can never be undone. I am not proud of things that happened.
But I work very hard, each and every day, to let life be a constant reminder and lesson from the mistakes I made. And parenting better, more consistently, and more mindfully is one of the goals I strive for.
Which brings me back to the events of today. The details are somewhat insignificant but have to do with me reaching out, as a stepmother, to a teacher to gather information about how our child is doing in school. It was a genuine attempt to help our son. The impact of my simple gesture went from spark to flames in a moment’s time.
In the end, I am left with so many questions.
What is my role as a stepmother? What does that look like? Feel like?
Who gets to decide those parameters?
Richard and I have talked at length over the years about how we see each other in our children’s lives and we both agree that we want to be loving and firm. If the biological parent isn’t available to discipline a child, the other parent steps in. Family is paramount to us, so we make an extra effort to sit down for dinner altogether. We pay attention to the importance of touch, so hugs goodbye or pats on the back for encouragement are lovingly dispensed. Please don’t think I’m being overly optimistic. It’s not easy. I cannot lie. Sometimes I want to run from his kids and my own. Sometimes I don’t have anything nice to say, but I smile and do my best. Sometimes it is downright horrible and I have to walk away and breathe or look at my family and remember why I love them in the first place. But I still try.
What we didn’t talk about is how our vision of parenting each other’s kids would fit into the ideas our exes held. I can’t speak directly for my ex husband, but he’s told me that he preferred me being married to Richard rather than just living with him. He wanted our boys to see the commitment and have a steady figure who was there for them. He’s not thrilled that I’ve remarried, but he silently supports us. We don’t talk face to face often, nor do we speak on the phone. Texting seems to be our best mode of communication and for now, that works. Our parenting isn’t exactly the same, but it seems compatible enough. In the end, our kids win even if it is heart wrenching hard and bittersweet to think about their parents being in two different houses as they make decisions in their best interest.
Richard’s ex wife is a wonderful mother who loves her boys fiercely. We know that when the boys are with her, their needs are being more than met. The issue today is that I am having a hard time with her idea of where she sees ME in her boys’ lives and that is causing strife.
I want her to know that I love her children. I would never dream of attempting to replace her. I am physically incapable of it. My one and only desire is for them to be happy, well adjusted children. For them and honestly, for my children and me. If they’re good, we’re all good. Families sort of work best like that. And I want what’s best for all of us.
I can’t undo the past. I can’t unhurt the hurt.
What I can do is make my today and my tomorrows be as positive and productive as possible. And that involves loving two sweet boys who aren’t my own. If I can take them under my wing while they’re with me and give them support, routine, encouragement and advice, why wouldn’t that be a good thing?
I don’t need to be their best thing. They already have that and she’s great. I just don’t understand why I can’t be another good thing?