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.

Blood Doesn’t Equal Family

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

familyThink of the first five people that you would call in an emergency. Are they blood relatives? If they’re not, do you consider them to be part of your family? Family is not just about who you are tied to biologically.

Blood may be thicker, but your body is still made up of 70% water. You can’t live without either substance, and the makeup of your family probably isn’t much different. Unfortunately, there is still a misconception that biological ties are stronger than others. Family may be blood, but those who are not biologically related can still be family.

There is no clear definition anymore of what a family is, particularly with the way things are changing. Same-sex marriages are becoming legalized all over the country; high divorce and remarriage rates produce blended families. Adoption is common for all types of couples. And this isn’t even counting the “aunts” and “uncles” who aren’t really related but still an integral piece of the family unit.

I have learned firsthand that a family consists of those who care about and support you.Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean blood relatives. Many of the people who are my family share no blood connection to me whatsoever, including two of my sons and one of my daughters, my brother-in-law, and some dear friends who are as close to me as my own siblings.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and blood ties are optional.

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.

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.

 

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.

The Challenges of Being a Stepparent

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

Parenting, as rewarding as it is, can be a tough job. There are a lot of demands and pressures that go with raising kids, but they are often offset by the enormous fulfillment that comes from raising children.

Stepparenting is even harder.

Stepparents often do all the things parents do – providing emotional and financial support for the kids, participating in and encouraging the child’s success, and putting their own needs aside to meet those of the children. You do the work of a parent, in most cases, either full time or part time, but get none of the recognition. You raise the children, love the children, financially support the children, and guide them through life, mostly from an unseen and under-appreciated place. Stepparents do not even get a line on the family tree!

It’s not about recognition, of course, but it’s never easy to make efforts that are not recognized or appreciated. It’s no surprise that some stepparents end up feeling as though the efforts are not worth it. More than once I’ve worked with a stepmom who is so overwhelmed by playing the role of mom while being treated like the unwelcome intruder that she is ready to give up. It’s really, really hard to be still in the building phase of a new marriage while having extra people to care for whose needs and wants are complicated by their insecurity about the changes that are happening in their lives.

 No wonder so many end up divorcing again. Stepparenting is HARD.

There are no easy answers. Successful blended families happen because the biological parent supports the stepparent, because the adults act like adults, because the families embrace open communication and mutual respect, because of deep commitment and a willingness to persist, and because of luck. Most of all, though, successful stepparenting comes from being willing to put your heart out there, even when it might get stomped on a bit.