The Kid Blender: Figuring Out My Place As a Step-parent
In this day and age of divorces and remarriages, I have gotten many glimpses of what other families go through as commitments change and kids are caught in the middle. And as I have watched other people struggle to work things out with new children, custody schedules, work schedules, and different personalities in general, I have silently asked myself this question more than once:
What in the heck are they doing?
I’d like to believe that everyone is trying their best to make these changes as seamless as possible for the kids. But what I usually witness is, while the adults are trying to find their place in the lives of potential stepchildren, they often put their own egos ahead of the needs of the children.
When I married my husband 16 years ago, I never thought I would be doing any sort of step-parenting. But fate had other plans and after his death in 2007, I decided that I didn’t want to be alone. So, I met Mike who had 3 kids the same ages as my 3 kids. And in order to make my life work, I had to change my vision for the future.
For a woman who hates change, this was a tall order.
Now, Mike and I are in a different situation than a lot of people in that he is divorced and so his kids still have a mom, alive and well, who adores them. But in my case, Mike is the closest my kids have had to a father since their own died 5 years ago. So basically he sees my kids more than he sees his. And usually the issues that we have, blending the kids, are not with the kids at all. They’re with the adults. No, wait. They’re with me. Because I sometimes get jealous that they still have that other parent to go home to. And my kids don’t.
I know, I know. Childish. But I’m working on it.
Over the years, I have observed many blended families and they have taught me a lot, mainly about how I don’t want things to go. It seems that most families go from one extreme to the other: Either the stepparent is unwilling to really let the child(ren) into his or her life (and heart) OR they’re determined to nudge the extra parent, the one who has been divorced, out.
And I thought I was being childish.
In my case, I have no interest in nudging or cruelty, in pushing or pulling. Most of my effort goes into the kids – all of them – and making them feel comfortable with me, the situation, and each other. And that’s not easy. It’s hard to balance making sure that your own kids know that you love them more than life itself while reassuring them that you have space in your heart for everyone. And it’s really hard to communicate to the new kids coming in, “I know I’m not your mom. You have a great mom and I’m not trying to take her place. I’m just trying to create my own space in your life. Okay?”
And then allowing them to tell you where they want that space to be. And, frankly, feel honored that they’re willing to do that at all.
Trying to take someone else’s place in a child’s life is impossible and it’s actually just as cruel as being the parent who always lets a kid know that they are far down the list of importance. Either way, it’s not putting the needs of the child first. What I wish every parent who struggles with blending a family would say to every kid who is going through the pain of trying to blend goes something like this:
“I’m just one more person in this world who loves and supports you.”
Simple, honest, and leaves the door wide open for so many things. I mean…what kid wouldn’t want that?
Catherine Tidd is a writer, widow and mother of three. She is the founder of www.theWiddahood.com, a free peer support website dedicated to anyone who has lost a significant other and has a Facebook peer support page under the name Widow Chick. She has been published in several books about grief and renewal and also writes a blog on anything that pops into her nutty brain called Bud Light Wishes and Cheeto Dreams.