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.

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“]

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.

Broken Ornaments Better Than Broken Hearts

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Opening Christmas presents might be what the kids look forward to the most, but it’s decorating the tree together that builds memories that last.

If you celebrate Christmas, it’s likely your kids are already bouncing off the walls with excitement, counting down the days to Christmas morning when they get to tear into their packages. The anticipation is often more exciting than the day itself (which is why our family goes to see a movie on Christmas day now, to give us something to do when all the excitement is over).

Leading up to Christmas, though, is when you can build the most memorable moments with your kids. Whether you put up one tree or you’re crazy enough to do several (like we are) letting the kids help with the decorating can give them lasting memories about the holidays.

This only works, though, if you can chill out about broken ornaments and tree perfection.

Unfortunately, when Dave and I shared our first Christmas together back in 1997 when Derek was 10 and the twins were 7, I wasn’t so good at that. I’d never really been around kids, and suddenly there were three of them underfoot.

While Dave and the kids had always had the tradition of going out and picking the perfect live tree and loading it with Hallmark and homemade ornaments, I had amassed a collection of glass treasures that were carefully placed on a white fake tree every year.

What a collision!

Rather than any of us give up our trees, we did both, one for the living room and one for the family room.

Kira especially wanted so much to help me with the fancy tree…and I’m afraid that first year I was more worried about ornaments breaking than a little girl’s heart. What a jerk I was, worried about some silly glass ball breaking instead of creating special memories.

It took me a couple of years to really chill out and realize that the ornaments could – and would – be easily replaced. Luckily, the kids were quite forgiving, and now, putting up the trees (the first of them starting the weekend of Thanksgiving, then more throughout December) is something we all look forward to sharing.

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle or request a review copy.

Is Your Mama a Step-Mama?

Getting Real With Elizabeth Sanchez

They say you don’t really appreciate your parents until you become a parent yourself. I fully experienced that feeling twice. Not because I gave birth to two children, which I did, but because I became a step-parent and then later became a parent.

And my mom knows exactly how that feels.

Every time I want to kick somebody because after introducing my children, they inevitably say, “Ooooh, so he’s not really your son.”

Every time someone asks, “Wow. You really love him, don’t you, even though he’s not yours?”

Every time someone gives me a dirty look because he looks too old to be my son, which clearly means I am a high school dropout with three kids in tow. (Note: I look young for my age and he looks older for his age; it’s the perfect combination.)

Every time I want to scream in frustration, I call my mom. She has five kids, four of which she gave birth to. She also has four grandchildren, three of which are mine.  She has heard everything I’m hearing now, and nowadays she also gets, “Oh, so he’s not really your grandson.”

Uh. Yeah he is.

My mom has always had a thick shell, and when people criticize her, her superpower is the ability to deflect it as if she was wearing Wonder Woman’s bracelets. She’s my role model for so many things, and I’m so grateful that I have someone to learn from when it comes to loving all your kids. ALL of them.

Wonder Woman, aka my mom, taught me that the relationship between you and the son that was your husband’s family before you were is sacred. Sometimes people want to point out that my brother isn’t really my brother, he’s only my half-brother. My mom brushed those comments aside with such ease that it was always easy for us to do the same. She was always a listening ear when he was little. She was a constant voice of reason when he was a teenager. And she remained supportive when he became an adult and a father himself.

Just like in “Is Your Mama a Llama?” by Deborah Guarino, my mama is his mama, too.

Loving my oldest son ever since the very first time I laid eyes on him is as effortless as loving the babies I held in my arms in the delivery room. But then again, it never occurred to me not to love him. Thanks to my mother, there was never anybody in my life that taught me otherwise.

On the contrary, I learned all about how to be a step-mama because my mama is one, too.

StepMom Reflections

by Shadra Bruce

June 15, 2011. Today, my two youngest stepkids will turn 21. I’ve had the privilege of being a part of their lives since just before their 7th birthdays. Their bio mom gave up her share of custody when they were 5, and my husband Dave was doing a great job as a single dad when I met him. Although he had given up his job in order to be with them when they were not in school and was working in a low-paying restaurant job as a prep cook, the kids were happy.

When I first met the family, I was barely 26 years old and still mostly a kid myself. I was in a fairly volatile marriage, going on my 7th anniversary, but had never had children – and never planned to. I had met Dave online in a chat room and knew he was a single dad. We’d met in person at get-togethers for the members of the chat. Over time, as I came to know more about his situation having sole custody of the kids and his frustration at finding someone reliable to watch them occasionally, I offered to babysit and came to meet the kids.

Had I been someone Dave was planning to date, I would not have met the kids, because he was very protective of them. But I was going to be the babysitter. I did end up caring for the kids quite a lot, but never in the capacity we’d intended.

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

A (Step) Mom by Any Other Name

Getting Real With Elizabeth Sanchez

We sat down for breakfast in our second week at my in-law’s house, and as usual I was stuff my face with something delicious when I saw my father-in-law laugh as he was looking outside at the kids playing Uno.

Suddenly my stepson, Eddy, walked in flustered and frustrated.

“Chivet,” he yelled, exasperated, calling me by my nickname, “They keep saying that you’re my mom, and you’re not my mom! They don’t listen!”

I peeked outside and the girls were all staring toward the doorway. They couldn’t believe he would dare say that I’m not his mom. More importantly, they couldn’t understand how I could possibly NOT be his mother. I was married to his father. I was Gabi and Meike’s mom, and Gabi and Meike were Eddy’s brother and sister. What was going on here?

Mi’jo,” I said, looking him in the eyes, “It’s okay. They just don’t understand. Tell them I’m your madrastra. Your mami lives in Chicago but right now you’re with me and your papi. Madrastra is stepmom.”

Needless to say, it didn’t help.

It never helps when we’re in Mexico.

For some reason, everyone related to my husband wants me to call myself Eddy’s mom. More than once we’ve had people say, “Just tell them you’re his mother. He’s still a kid. He doesn’t know.”

Trust me that I love this child as if he were my own, but he’s not a baby. He fully understands that I’m not his mom, as much as I would like to be.

I’m Chivet, and that’s okay.

Two years ago, his mom threw him a big birthday party, with friends from school, a Spiderman cake and the works. As he was ready to blow out the candles on his cake, he stopped. He wanted to talk to Chivet. My phone rang and I got to hear first-hand all about his cake and his friends and how it was his birthday. I wished him the happiest birthday ever, and then we hung up with an, “I love you.” His mom said that made his day.

More than once, his mom or his aunt have called on a Friday night or before 8 a.m. on Saturday morning because he wants to go to Chivet’s house. I don’t have to be his mother for him to know that he’s my son. He knows I love him “a lot. A lot, a lot. Like, for 18 months” (his words, apparently 18 months equals forever).

To his cousins, the word madrastra sounds too sinister to describe our relationship (thanks to every single fairy tale, ever). To the adults, it doesn’t make sense for me to love him like a son if he doesn’t call me mami.

But to us, it’s perfect. Chivet doesn’t mean mom, but it still means love.

(Note: It’s pronounced chee-VET)

It’s Not Always Easy Being a StepMom

First Mother's Day with my new family

I often write about being a stepmom from the point of view I have now. Right now, I have three step kids, ages 20, 20, and 24. Right now, I am the only mom in their life and we consider ourselves an integral and closely connected family. Right now, I don’t even think of them as step kids but as my own, children I love and cherish as much as the two I gave birth to. And truly, after almost 15 years together, we’ve made it through the rough stuff.  I have legal guardianship of Kyle, who has Down syndrome, and I’m working to legally adopt Kira at her request. While Derek is on his own, in the military, and far away in Japan, he chooses to spend all of his leave time with us, wherever we happen to be. That’s right now. Sounds pretty idyllic, doesn’t it?

It was not always that way. We have had our share of frustrations and growing pains to get to this point. In fact, there were times when I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to make the whole step mom thing work. It’s not easy, and it takes a huge commitment that will make you at times question your sanity.

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