My new reality, I’m not sure if that sounds promising or grim. Either way it’s just that… my new reality.
It’s October 2016. Less than two years into our marriage, I’m five months pregnant and my husband starts dropping hints about the kids moving in. It wasn’t the first time he’d said this and quite frankly I thought he was just talking. I didn’t think it would ever actually come to fruition for a multitude of reasons: I didn’t think the kids would leave their mom and I didn’t think their mom would let them leave. I didn’t ask many questions, though, since I knew he wasn’t making the final decision. I figured he’d tell me what he knew when he knew it.
Then a random Tuesday rolls around and he tells me the kids will be here Friday. Fridaaaaaay? My initial reaction was no, the timing isn’t right. Let me have my baby first then the big kids can move in. I argued that he hadn’t given me enough notice. If God in his infinite wisdom knew you’d need nine months to prepare, why was it fair for him to give me less than two weeks to get ready for this major life change? I had just lost a baby less than a year prior, I was hormonal and emotional trying to stay positive about my current pregnancy and was just straight up disgruntled. I only had two days to plead my case on why we should let them finish out the school year, then come. My husband simply responded this:
“Would it be fair for my kids to wish you lose this baby so the timing can be right and they can live with their dad”?
I hated him.
I eventually got it together and decided to give a valiant effort.
In retrospect now, as a parent myself , and absent of the additional hormones due to pregnancy (yes that card) I can only imagine how he must have felt as I sat there trying to convince him not to let his kids move in. I cringe at the thought. I deserved that response.
The kids moved in while school was in full swing. They came on a Friday and went to their new school on Monday. At the time the only thing I was worried about was “will they like me”. The pressure, of having the two little people who hold your husbands heart possibly not like you, is immeasurable.
Let’s call this phase:
I smiled all the time, said yes to everything! Woke up every morning to make breakfast and pack lunch boxes. Did my step-daughter’s hair more often than not. Just happy happy joy joy. Literally blind to anything that may cause my parent antenna to go haywire. I want them to be comfortable in our home and I want. them. to. like. me! Now, that’s a cool place to visit. But an impossible place to live.
Phase 2 came shortly after I gave birth to my son Slade. I was tired, from lack of sleep as a new mom, but even more tired of the way my household was being run. At the time, my husband and I were arguing constantly. He was ripping and running trying to minimize the effects on the older kids of having a new baby in the house while simultaneously letting me down as a dad to Slade. I don’t know what I wanted from him but I knew what I didn’t. It felt like every minute he spent with Slade he had to double or triple it with the big kids doing things I don’t recall them doing prior to his birth. I felt like they were old enough to understand the temporary euphoria of new life. But he didn’t. Coincidentally we handled things the exact same way when my youngest Shiloh was born.
I wanted to implement some of my values and structure. But I wasn’t ready for the let down of parenting and not “friending”. We can call this phase :
I wanted to set the boundaries but make him implement them. This was an awkward time because the kids knew their dad and they knew most of these new “rules” weren’t coming from him.
My husband and I have had many sit downs about how the structure in our home should look. We’ve talked about what chores are age appropriate and about their grades and behavior proving them deserving of certain gifts. My step kids wanted a trampoline and my step son wanted a basketball goal. Mind you, we all have iPhones, access to laptops, the latest gaming systems. No shortage of clothes or shoes and an unlimited amount of entertainment. So I thought these would be the perfect items for them to start earning and Tyrell agreed.
My step son, Armani, was going through a phase at school, getting in trouble once or twice a week. Teachers were emailing and calling home about silly things he was doing. My phone number and email are on the parent list so I would receive every email and most times get the calls as my husband rarely answers numbers he doesn’t recognize. I wouldn’t be sure how to broach the question about punishment, so I would wait until he brought it up to me. Follow through isn’t my husbands strength. At times we’d agree on a consequence, he’d come up with one and tell me or even ask me what he should do. Either way, he hardly executed.
I came home one weekend and he had purchased the trampoline and basketball hoop. No report cards. No improvement in behavior. Just because he wanted them to have it. As a note to my hubby and every parent co-parenting with a step parent. These actions boldly state, despite your intention, THESE ARE MY KIDS AND I’LL DO WHAT I WANT. Not only that, it draws a line in the sand that leaves your partner unsure of how to proceed.
That instance was the first of more like it. In a way I’ve accepted that he has the right to take lead on how he raises his children and I see myself as his assistant manager. I’ll do anything for my step kids, but I’m not their mom. For me, I just need my husband to know that when I suggest a parenting style that it’s not because they aren’t mine. But more so that I can ONLY suggest because they aren’t mine! I think of the kids and how much it could be on them to have to adhere to four different parenting perspectives including both their parents and step parents. It’s a lot.
At times we still feel like two separate families, though. The older kids have their own lives. They spend most of their time on their phones, video games or with their friends. The babies are with one or both of us at all times, but my husband’s responsibilities to his kids, sometimes, keep him from being able to participate in things I do with our kids. We make the best of it. I know my husband respects my point of view and I don’t take everything as personal as I did in year one. My main concern, remains though: with him raising his kids with his values as the primary compass and me co-parenting our kids with my values as action and not just suggestion. What does that look like when my boys are old enough to wonder why the big kids can do certain things I won’t allow them to? This is the phase we’re in. Acceptance, with questions!
I hate to say there hasn’t been a “resolution” of sorts. Honestly, I don’t even know what that looks like. There isn’t a right or wrong way to parent or step-parent. We just want better for our kids than we had. We’ve come a long way and have gotten more comfortable but we still have a long way to go. I know with no uncertainty that my step kids are where they need to be. I’ve gotten a glimpse into what parenting older children will be like and they bring so much joy to our household and for that I’m thankful.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments on Part I, they make me feel like I’m not alone! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Stepping Up, Stepping Out and Over Stepping: Step Parent-My least favorite title. (Part II)
Until next time,