United You Stand

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parenting togetherWhen there is more than one person caring for a child there are bound to be disagreements. It can come down to personal preference or may actually be differing values based on how your were raised. But the disagreement itself is rarely the problem; it is how that disagreement is dealt with.

Communication is key when raising a child, and can perhaps be even more crucial when in a blended family. When Dave and I first married, Kira was norotrious for asking first me, then her dad about doing something and then taking whichever answer she liked best. It left us wondering what happened, and often frustrated with each other because we each thought the other had undermined our authority. Yeah, Kira was a sneaky one, but it taught us a lot about having a united front.

We started to realize that we had to talk to each other when the question was asked. We would tell each other, Kira just asked me about going to the park, but I said no because she hasn’t finished her homework. Then, when she went to the other parent to ask the same question, she’d get the same answer – and we were able to address with her the innapropriateness of trying to pull a fast one by being so sneaky.

Before we worked out the need to have such open communication, we would end up frustrated with each other in front of the kids. The disagreements only fueled the motivation of the kids to take advantage. They weren’t being bad; they were just being kids. It wasn’t their fault; it was our need to improve. We learned quickly how unpleasant it is to have your opinion undermined in front of a child, even if the other person does have a point. It doesn’t encourage respect and breeds dissatisfaction in relationships.

Dave and I learned to talk about our disagreements about discipline in private. It gave us time to listen to and respect what the other was saying without an audience. We could work out differences and come to a consensus and feel good about it, while also demonstrating to our kids that we were a team.

It didn’t take long for Kira to realize her approach would no longer work, and it forced Dave and I to confront and overcome some of the differences in our parenting styles. As we realized that we were both operating from a place of love and concern, disagreements about what to let the kids do or what kind of house rules we would have became minimal.

Claim Your Status, Stepmoms!

familyI don’t run into as many problems any more with the older kids out of school, but there was a time when being a stepparent caused annoyance and frustration.There were times when I was unable to speak for my kids, like when teachers called and wanted to speak to a parent, or when the doctor called. I literally wore through the paper I carried with me that Dave signed authorizing me to seek medical treatment for the kids – just in case we ran into some administrative jerk.

It was upsetting when a school administrator or other authoritarian would dismiss my role as inconsequential. These are MY kids!

Although I knew it wasn’t personal, it certainly felt like it in the moment. Sometimes being a stepmom can make you feel a little second rate, especially when you’re the primary caregiver. You don’t have to be helpless, though.

I had to remind myself that regardless of what the birth certificate said that they were my kids and I was not going to stop advocating for them. You do have rights as a stepparent and you should take every step necessary to be recognized as a guardian if that is what your family needs. It’s unfortunate that both biological parents can’t always be around. But that doesn’t mean you or your child deserve to be short-changed. You can still be a first-rate stepmom.

Traditions Aren’t Just for Holidays

20140430_120015Every family has their own traditions, especially on the holidays. Hot chocolate on Christmas eve, the Memorial Day wiffle ball tournament, even knowing who gets the wishbone at Thanksgiving dinner….these are all special and cherished moments.  But you shouldn’t just reserve traditions only for the holidays.Traditions can also be daily moments that bring your family closer together.

[Tweet “#Traditions can be daily moments that bring your family closer together. #parenting”]

Even with our hectic schedules we always make our time spent together as a family a priority and dinner is a great way to make that happen. Do we spend every night gathered around a dining room table? No, but we enjoy our favorite shows together and still have a great time. We also have a goodnight ritual with the kids, which consists only of talking about our favorite part of the day while cuddling together. So simple, yet so incredibly special.

Traditions don’t have to be a big production, and they can be flexible. As Parker and Anika get older, our nightly talks may become a little different and that’s ok. Especially with blended families, flexibility about traditions helps everyone feel a part of the family. The goal is to just spend time together, and you don’t need the excuse of a holiday to make that happen.

Stepmoms: Just Be There with an Open Heart

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

seaside5It was heartbreaking for me watching our older kids wait for phone calls that never came, visits that never materialized, and relationships that never happened with their biological mother. I wanted nothing more than to magically go back in time and make them my own biologically. It was difficult to cope with, because in my head, they were my kids. Yet here was pain I couldn’t take away.

[Tweet “Biology is the least of what makes a woman a mother. #stepmoms bit.ly/stepmomstories “]

For whatever reason, not every biological parent expresses an interest in being a part of their children’s lives. It’s not a decision I can even pretend to understand, and it is one I still get angry about whenever I think of the pain our kids endured because of that choice.

For children, it is a devastating experience, creating feelings of guilt and low self-esteem. As a stepmom, you can’t help but feel powerless yourself.

There are definitely challenges with being a stepparent, especially when it comes to custody and visitation. Most of the stepmoms I talk to struggle more with the frustration of negotiating where children will go when and with whom they will spend precious moments. It can be stressful for all involved as you play tug-of-war.

In our case, we never really had to play that game. Instead, we were often spending holidays and birthdays doing our best to soothe aching hearts when their bio mom chose not to be involved or simply forgot. (How can you forget your child’s birthday?)

But I did learn that a stepmom cannot simply exist as a replacement. The best thing you can do is be supportive and assure your stepkids that they are loved — and that they are not responsible for the choices the adults make.

[Tweet “Stepmoms open their hearts and create love that heals. #stepmoms bit.ly/stepmomstories “]

As a stepmom, what you can do is focus on making your relationship with your stepkids stronger, and with time and effort, you will be able to create something very special. Don’t try to replace the previous parent.  You can’t do it. But you can make your own space in your step children’s hearts.

Mom is Just a Title

biologyGetting Real with Shadra Bruce

I started seriously dating Dave when Derek was 11 and Kyle and Kira were almost 7. Since being first introduced, the kids had called me by my first name. Kyle called me mom almost immediately; but for a while, he called every woman mom. Derek started referring to me as “mom” at our wedding.

[Tweet “There is a difference between being a mother and mothering someone with love and affection. “]

Kira, however, did not call me mom. It was taken in stride and never allowed to be an issue. As long as she treated me with respect it didn’t matter if she continued to call me by my first name. It wasn’t until several years later that she would directly call me mom, but it didn’t really matter.

[Tweet “Mother: woman related to child by birth. MotherING: raising a child with care & love.”]

As Kira grew up, people would often tell us how much we looked alike and we would just look at each other and smile. She would discuss her family with her friends and I transitioned from “step-mom” to “mom” early on. At some point, others never knew the difference and just assumed I was her biological parent, and we rarely corrected anyone. Despite the fact that at home she would call me Shadra, I was and am her mom. As a stepparent it can be hard to decipher the role you play in your step-children’s lives. For me, it was not about whether the kids called me mom or not. It was about the relationship we built and the time we shared.

[Tweet “There is so much more than biology that matters in motherhood.”]

The definition of mother is “a woman related to a child to whom she has given birth,” but mothering is the act of bringing up a child with care and affection. That is much more important than a biological link, and it is up to you to decide the role that you’ll play.

[Tweet “Get Stories from a StepMom by Shadra Bruce on Kindle bit.ly/stepmomstories“]

The “Wicked” Stepparent: Don’t Take it Personally

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

wicked stepparentingBlending a family is no easy task. As much as you may want your partner’s child or children to accept you, it can be a slow process. Some children are ready and want a new parent in the household, but others may resist. It’s important to not only keep things in perspective but understand that a resistant child may have struggles that have little to do with you personally.

An unfortunate aspect of stepparenting is that before you, there was another primary adult in the child’s life. That person may or may not still be in the child’s life, but regardless, you are a clear sign that the child’s biological parents no longer have a romantic relationship. Whatever baggage may come with that certainly varies, but it is difficult nonetheless. A stepchild who is rejecting your overtures of friendship has his own reasons that likely reflect less who you are and more what you stand for.

This is not the time to convince yourself that your new stepchild will hate you forever. It is a moment for you to be respectful and allow the child to come to terms with the unfolding situation. If you plan on being an important person in their life, bulldozing your way in is not the answer. Give your stepkids the space and recognition they need, and allow them to have their feelings. With unconditional love, regard, and support they will discover that you are not so wicked after all.

Get Stories from a StepMom and learn more about avoiding the wicked title.

Stepparenting Is Parenting without Preparation

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce
When you have a baby, you have 9 months or so to develop an idea of what parenting will be like, to get your mind ready to be a parent. You have time to read books about pregnancy and babies and the terrible twos; there is time to prepare for the major life-changing event that is parenthood. However, if you marry into an already-existing family, whether you have the kids full-time or part-time and whether or not you are step mom or step dad, you do a lot of jumping right in.

Instead of being able to get to know your child’s personality and quirks as he or she grows, you are often dealing with a child whose personality traits are already somewhat developed. Depending on the age at which you enter the child’s life, those personality traits may be well developed – and add to the challenge of success in your relationship.

dkandkmontreal04Yet becoming a stepparent is no different than becoming a parent in many ways. You are taking responsibility for providing guidance and protection to someone; you are committing to be a supportive part of that person’s growth and development. And, just like with your newborn, you are making a promise to be there – not just until the child turns 18, but as an important and integral part of that child’s life forever.

Being a stepparent comes with its own set of challenges; not only do you have to overcome the “intruder” assumption, but in addition to trying to build and foster a new marriage, you are presented with the added difficulties of custody issues, child support, and children who are often stuck in the middle of it all.

While the relationship-building with your stepchildren hopefully began long before the wedding bells chimed, there are things you can do to make your new role as a stepparent one that you will enjoy. Remember, relationships don’t develop over night. Just as the relationship with your new spouse took time to blossom, so will your relationship with your stepchildren. Be patient when things go wrong, and remember that it’s a tough adjustment for all of you.

Open communication helps. Think of how many things have changed in your stepchild’s life; from a child’s perspective, things happen quickly and they have very little control, which makes them feel insecure. Talking about what will be happening and including the children in decisions and events can help them feel safe.

Stepparenting can be rewarding and fulfilling; it can also be frustrating and heartbreaking. The relationships you develop with the children you bring into your life through your marriage can add joy, bringing you and your spouse closer together. It’s not an easy path, but it is a worthwhile one.

Stepparenting – Resources to Help You

 

 

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

No matter where you are on the journey of stepparenting, there are moments when you stop and wonder what you’ve signed on for.

I’ve compiled a list of resources here to help, and I’m always happy to talk, by email or phone or via social media, to stepmoms in need and potential stepmoms.

Finding Joy in Stepparenting | MomsGetReal

The things a stepmother should never say – Oprah.com

 

Stepparenting Takes Two

 

When a Parent Chooses Not to Be Involved

Being a Stepmom

25 Rules for Being a Good Stepmom

 

 

What would you add? Do you have a blog post or article on stepparenting that you’d like to share? Add it in the comment section below.

 

Adjusting to Life in a Blended Family

Probably one of the more notable challenges of living in a blended family is adjusting to the various lifestyles and attitudes each of us bring to the newly formed group. The kids were old enough, when their biological mother left, to remember some differences between her style (everything from clothing to discipline to attitude) and mine. Dave had been a single dad for almost two years and was very independent about everything.  His kids had been, from my perspective, somewhat coddled in the inevitable guilt that follows divorce.

While our differences were probably what made our relationship and marriage so much more successful than the first marriages we each had ended, it also challenged us (and continues to challenge us occasionally, even as the kids are now adults) to some degree particularly with how to handle child-rearing and parenting issues.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

 

Stress-Free Summer: 5 Ways to Manage Disrespectful Stepchildren

Getting Real With Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC

During summer break, it seems like kids get the “green light” to misbehave. For blended families with teenagers, it’s often twice the challenge to parent stepkids along with your own children. Stepchildren often don’t want to listen to their stepmom or stepdad, causing friction in the household. Sibling rivalry and conflict is also common when two families become one.

As a stepparent your role is a bit different from the parent.   Here are a few tips when it comes to disciplining stepkids and having a calm home during the summer break:

 1.       Establish rules. Present rules with the other parent so both your own children and your stepchildren know that they are expected to follow these rules. Say “no” when necessary–take a firm stand if it is in the child’s best interest. Before deciding a rule or how to discipline, discuss with the other parent first.

2.       Pause, breathe, and wait. Don’t immediately respond just because you’re in the heat of the moment. Take the time you need to gather your thoughts, ground yourself, and think about how you’ll handle the situation. Finding the space between your child’s action and your reaction allows you to calm down. Know when to step back and breathe, breathe, breathe at those times.

3.       Question instead of judge. When you are ready to talk (not scream), ask yourself, “What’s going on? How can I communicate in a calm way?” If your stepchild is still upset, say to him, “We’re not going to talk until you calm down. I’m going to give you time to think and we’ll talk later.” This way, both you and your child will have time to cool off and be proactive instead of reactive.

4.       Commit to getting calm. As the parent, it’s your responsibility to lead by example. If you’re calm, all your kids—biological and step—are more likely to calm down. Take charge and promise yourself you’ll no longer let yourself be emotionally pulled into arguments, even when your child is pushing your buttons. You’ll find that having that emotional distance allows you to be more objective and rational.

5.       Create structure. Kids often fight when they are bored and want to get a reaction, because getting that reaction (even if it’s negative) is a way of staying connected to you. Make it a goal to plan time when they are away from each other. Older teens can get a summer job and younger kids can enroll in a sport or camp. If they still argue (and they probably will from time to time), let them work their problems out alone. Simply say, “If you guys are going to fight, you need to do it in another room. I don’t want to hear the noise.” Keep in mind that for older teenagers, both parent and stepparent may need to be more consultants than managers with them.

Be there for your stepkids as a support and for guidance. Be a friend and that will help your stepkids eventually trust you and be willing to be influenced by you. Remember that good relationships take time to develop, so try not to expect instant love. Do, however, expect respect.

It is possible to reduce the stress in your household over the summer. Remember: The only person you have control of is yourself. So, take charge and commit to staying calm. It seems simple, but you will be surprised how kids will react. Calm is contagious, and if parents are calm, kids will soon learn how to better manage their emotions, too.

For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.