Monday, September 30, 2013

What's In A Name?

I never called my step parents Mom or Dad. The people who gave me life and brought me into this world held those titles. My steps were ALWAYS called by their given name or referred to as my step mom or step dad. So when I started dating my husband and our relationship progressed it never dawned on me to wonder what I would be called.She had a mom after all.

"I already have two daddies and now I will have two mommies." She tells me in a rush of excitement. I smile, not quite sure what to say. This is my third visit with this child. Granted, her father and I are engaged and I know that will make me her step mom. But still, I'm not sure how to respond to this. So I smile and move on with the conversation by asking her a question about the paper doll she is playing with.

"Wait, let me ask my Mom," my step daughter says to the other child she is playing with. I pause in surprise that she is referring to me as Mom. What happened to all the stories about the children who, at every opportunity, make sure to let the world know that this person is NOT their mom. That they have a Mom, thank you very much. And her? She's not it.

We are getting ready to watch a movie and have freshly popped popcorn waiting to be divided into brown paper bags. "Instead of your name, I'll just write 'Mommy'. Is that okay? I like that better," she says anxiously looking at me for approval. "Whatever you like," I reply trying to sound nonchalant. 

She is outside swimming with a friend when I overhear her talking about her mom. "You know, my other Mom, the one that gave birth to me." 

Every time this beautiful child has called me or referred to me as Mom, I must admit its the most amazing feeling. Her choosing to be so accepting of my role in her life is the biggest blessing I could have asked for. On a day to day basis I'm not Mom and that's okay. I've never asked or expected to be more to her than my given name. Her step dad she calls "Daddy". Her mom said prior to them having more children she called him by his first name but when she had their son that changed. And she started calling him "Daddy". I must admit it makes me wonder if when I have my own biological children will her name for me change as well? And if she decides she wants to call me 'Mom', will her mother support that decision?

For the step parents out there- what does your step child call you? For the biological parents- are you okay with your child using the title of Mom or Dad in reference to their step parent?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Step-spiration Sunday

This evening I watched the new show Instant Mom on Nickelodeon. And I must say, I adored it. So often in the media step moms are portrayed in a negative light. The role of a step mom is an easy part to villianize. This show did a great job of breaking that stereotype. Instead it showed a woman doing her best to be an active part of her step kids' lives. I have great hopes for this show and the future of step families in television. If anyone has any other suggestions for shows or movies that portray healthy, functional step family relationships I would love to hear them!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lessons Learned: What I Hope To Share With My Step-Daughter

My step daughter's second visit to our new home is one that will always stick with me. On the days when I question my place in her life, more than anything else its this memory that brings me back.

There was nothing especially significant about the day we spent together. We went to the park, treated her with McDonald's and watched a movie. When it was almost time to go she decided to take a bubble bath and get cleaned up before going back to her mom's. 

I was in the living room straightening up when my (then) fiance came in telling me that she was refusing to get dressed and asked if I could help. Confused as to why an eight year old would refuse to get dressed, I went in to her room to find her sitting on the floor wrapped in a towel. 

The look on her face was one I related to with every fiber of my being. Uncertainty. Its a feeling that most children who are products of two families can relate to. And it was in this moment that I felt I was in this child's life for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, I could share with her some of the things I wished I had learned earlier in my own life. Lessons that I wished someone had known to teach me when I was that little girl, sitting on the floor refusing to get dressed. Not sure why the world was so unfair, only knowing that it was.

And while I'm certain this list will change and grow over the course of time, these are a few of the lessons learned that I hope to share with her.

1. Never apologize for your feelings. The way you feel in any given situation isn't something you should ever feel the need to apologize for. That being said, regardless of the way you feel, you are always responsible for your actions. And sometimes we all need to apologize for the way we act. That's okay too.

2. You can never have too many people in your life that love you. It may complicate things like birthdays, holidays and special events... but there can never be too many people in your corner.

3. Embrace the differences between your two families. Through out your life you will find yourself surrounded by a variety of people with different belief systems, cultures, traditions, economic status, etc. The fact that you are growing up with two unique families will only benefit your ability to adapt in the long run.

4. Your Mom and Dad made the decision to bring you in to this world. Together. No matter what anyone tells you or how hard it is to believe, at one point the three of you were a family. That's a part of your history that no one can deny you.

5. No matter how mature you are, you are not an adult. And your biggest responsibility? To be a kid as long as possible.

6. You are an equal part of our family. You may not be here everyday but that in no way makes your place in our home any less significant. One day you will have siblings and you may think because they are with us full time that makes their role in our lives more important than yours. That will never be true. And if ever you feel differently- speak up!

7. We miss you. Your mom and step-dad miss you. But never let that make you feel guilty. You didn't create this situation. Once again focus on being a kid.

8. Be yourself.. You have the very best of your mommy and daddy in you. Plus you have all of these wonderful, unique qualities that make you one of a kind. Never try to be anything other than the very best possible YOU.

9. Never let yourself be a victim. Life can suck. It has a way of twisting you inside out. Its that way for EVERYONE. Yes even kids whose parents are married and madly in love with each other. Don't let bad situations victimize you. Instead let them shape you in to a strong, compassionate person who lives every day without apology.

10. Sometimes a girl needs her mom. Sometimes she needs her dad. That's why you're blessed with two parents. In your case you are doubly blessed. Accept that there are certain times you will want a specific parent. Count on the fact that you can come to any one of us, for any thing, at any time. And if you are worried about hurting the other parent's feelings- don't. Remember #5? You're not an adult. Let us deal with our feelings. I promise we will be just fine.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Every other weekend of my life is now filled with the sounds of an energetic nine year old. There is constant chatter, frequent laughter and the million questions that only a child would think to ask. We are busy with day trips, playing games and trying to get as much living in as possible before our time runs out (as it so very quickly does) on Sunday. Our weeks are filled with work, scrambling to get household items done, eating quick dinners, sleeping, wake up and repeat. So while we miss my stepdaughter, we don't have much time to feel the void of her absence.

That changes when her mom's weekends hit. Suddenly the house seems much too quiet. The days seem long. And while we always have a list of a million things we need or want to do before Monday morning rolls around... there is still an emptiness. Prior to January of last year I never knew how the sound of a child could feel your entire house. And so I also never knew how empty a house could feel without it. But now I feel it. I feel the quiet in every part of my being. And it has a way of making me crazy. I miss the noise. I miss the chatter. I miss the sound of footsteps running up and down the hallway while the dogs runs behind barking.

So what do you do? How do you move about your weekend and feel whole? How do you get past the loneliness that comes when part of your family is not there?

 Honestly, its also in these times that I most feel empathy for my stepdaughter's mother. If I struggle with the emptiness- how does she feel when its our weekend? She has had nearly ten years of the noise that comes with raising this child. And while she still has three other little ones running around to fill her days, I know the void of missing one of her children remains.

I know that we can't move through our lives wishing the days away just to get to our weekends. So how do we go about accepting the quiet and making the best of it? This question weighs heavily on me as we transition into another weekend. (Can you guess who's weekend it is?)

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Now that I've caught you up on my journey to becoming a "step" I want to back up a little bit. I fully believe that every parent does the best they can for their child. My husband's ex had her reasons for doing the things she did. I truly believe that. I don't agree and will never agree that keeping your child away from the other parent is the right thing to do. However I haven't lived her life. I also didn't live their relationship.  I'm living my life and my relationship with my best friend.

This blog is for me and I hope with it I may be able to reach other people to share experiences and learn how to "step with care". This blog is not meant to villainize my stepdaughter's mother. She is not the bad guy in this story. She is just a mom who is doing her best to raise a confident and happy child. 

This doesn't mean I always agree with her. I'm human. There are days where I feel like screaming. There are days where, in my head, she IS the bad guy and she is out to personally ruin my life. I'm sure there are days where she feels similar. These feelings are normal and realistically not true. All feelings aside she is the mother of my stepdaughter thus I do want to show her the appropriate respect. That being said, out of respect towards her (and my stepdaughter who may come across these posts someday) I will strive to make certain I'm not using this blog as a way to vent or throw mud. I can vent privately if the need arises. 

I still however plan on telling MY story and I will be as honest and as candid as possible. But I believe that can be done without viciousness or name calling. 

How I Became a Step Pt. 5

January 1, 2012 we relocated to the town where my (future) step daughter resided with her mother, stepfather and two siblings. We knew that this was our best chance at being as involved in her life as possible. We also had my experience of my parents living 45 minutes apart to draw off. I had always wished the distance between my Mom's house and my Dad's had been closer and we wanted that close proximity for her. In mid- January my (then) fiance got a call from his ex that we could have their daughter for a few hours on Saturday if that worked for us. At this point we would have moved heaven and hell to see her. So naturally we readily agreed. We were both fully aware that there may not be another opportunity to spend with her until court in March. We spent the whole day with her- opening gifts from not only Christmas but also from her birthday, Easter, Halloween and items we bought her for school. During this time we were also able to show her the rooms that we had worked hard to put together for her- her bedroom, bathroom and playroom. Finally these rooms were able to be unveiled and used. All too quickly the time flew by and before we knew it she was leaving. At least this time, with court on the horizon, we were hopeful that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel.

After the visit with his daughter, my fiance went to our lawyer to see if there was anything we could do to try and reach an informal schedule of parenting time with his ex. After the lawyers communicated we received notification that her mom was agreeing to allow us every other Saturday from 8am-5pm. Far from what we were requesting but after only seeing her once the previous year we knew it was better than the alternative. So every other Saturday from 8am-5pm we started to build our little family. These were magical days.

March 28, 2012 we appeared in court. The judge heard testimony from both parents and myself. Interestingly enough no other witnesses were called (there was an entire list of witnesses furnished to us prior to court that we expected to hear testimony from). On April 3, 2012 we were given the best news of our lives. The judge awarded (temporary) joint legal custody. This meant my fiance had the legal rights to be involved in her schooling, medical decisions, etc. Best of all the judge awarded physical custody of every Wednesday from 5-8pm and every other weekend Friday at 6pm- Sunday at 6pm. This meant we went from 2 days per month to about 10 days. Best news ever. We still had court on the horizon for October but we both felt so blessed at receiving the temporary orders.

For so many reasons my fiance finally decided to settle outside of court with his ex. Anyone who has ever gone through court knows what stress it can cause you and although coming to an agreement with his ex meant settling for less than what my fiance wanted- it was the best thing for all involved to not have to go through that day in court. So in October of 2012 our temporary orders became official. Along with 2 additional hours a week, 2 more hours added to our weekends and a holiday/vacation schedule.

How I Became a Step Pt.4

On May 18, 2013 I became a wife and added one more title to my list of steps. The dreaded stepmother title. After the heartache I experienced in my own step family I never in a million years would have thought that one day I would end up with stepchildren of my own. But life has a funny way of sneaking up on you.

When I met my (now) stepdaughter in November of 2010, I had been dating her father for five months. By this time there was no doubt in my mind that her daddy would one day be my husband. So this meeting was especially important. I was meeting my future stepdaughter. I would love to say that we hit it off immediately but that would be a lie. During that first meeting she was sweet and warm and accepting. But I couldn't make myself reach out. Instead I spent that first day sitting on the sidelines, observing father and daughter interacting, doing my best to not intrude. And while I didn't feel like the encounter was a knock out success, I felt confident that I would have plenty of time to get to know this child and counted it as a win for having taken the step in meeting her.

January 1, 2011 we got to see her again to celebrate a belated Christmas. This time I made more of an effort to laugh and play and let her get to feel more comfortable with me. I was sure that this was the start of regular visits. By this time, her daddy and I lived together in a two bedroom, two bath apartment. So we spent part of the visit discussing how she wanted to decorate her bedroom. When she left I felt like we were on the path to creating our family.

The next several months went by with sporadic telephone contact from her. For various reasons my (then) boyfriend had never obtained a physical custody agreement with her mother. In July 2011 (after close to 7 months of not seeing her) my boyfriend finally filed for joint legal and physical custody of his daughter.  In August we received back notification that her mother responded by hiring a lawyer and entering a motion to dismiss the case. We immediately responded to the motion to dismiss and requested a court hearing  to have at very minimum temporary orders established. We also decided that we would need to hire a lawyer to help us proceed. We were granted a hearing with a family court judge to be held in March 2012. The rest of the year drug on and was a highly stressful time for us.

My boyfriend wouldn't get to see his daughter again in the year 2011.

How I Became a Step Pt. 3

This brings us to me becoming a stepdaughter for the fourth time. My Dad has been married for the last two years to someone who I'm proud to call part of my family. She is fun to be around and genuinely makes my Dad happy.

And... she is five years older than me. Once again adding a whole new dynamic to my life of steps. For example how do I introduce her? My Dad's wife seems cold and distant since it removes any personal connection from myself. Yet- my stepmom? It feels so strange applying that to someone who is less than a decade older than me. Not that I have any reservations about her because of her age. You love who you love and from my first meeting with her I knew she was that person for my Dad.

Maybe its my age, and not hers, that is the problem with defining our relationship. Maybe at twenty seven gaining another "mother" seems silly because I have my own home and my own family (which I will get to in my next post). Not to mention a mother AND a former stepmother. I'm sure that a lot of people would tell me that titles are unnecessary and that a title can't properly define your relationship with another person. Still I find myself hesitating when referring to her as my Dad's wife. I still feel the need to define the relationship in some way.

How I Became a Step Pt. 2

As I previously mentioned, my Mom's second marriage was brief. This period of time in my life was neither defining nor memorable. Lucky for us there was something better was on the horizon, we just didn't know it yet. The next five to six years my Mom spent as a young, single mom to three kids. With that came babysitters, tight budgets and what I'm sure were long days for my Mom. During this time she had met and was dating my stepfather but it would take five years of dating before he married my Mom and completed our family of five.

After said five years of being part of our lives but still apart from us, they married. Once again giving me a stepfather and regaining the title of stepdaughter in my (primary) home. Similar to the last time the title of "step" wasn't one I applied to myself. And to be honest it wasn't one in which I put a lot of emphasis in relation to my stepdad. Yes, he wasn't "my" dad. Yes, I had a dad whom I loved and couldn't be replaced by anyone. And no I didn't call him Dad, I called him (and still do) by his given name. Yet his role in my life wasn't terribly different than that of my Mom's. And their marriage, while not perfect, finally gave me the chance to see a functional, loving marriage that was built on friendship. Their marriage also gave me and my brothers a solid family unit. One that still exists today.

My Dad's second marriage lasted much longer than my Mom's second. This particular marriage ran the course of my childhood and ended when I was in my early twenties. And while I'm sure the lessons learned from these seventeen years will be shared on this blog for now I'm going to leave this particular piece of my history where I left it in my previous post- the word step was an ugly and profoundly impactful word. And, maybe for no other reason other than my own insecurities, I never stopped feeling that word. 

How I Became a Step Pt. 1

I became a stepdaughter at the age of five. Since I don't remember my parents being married to each other I was never the kid that longed for a reconciliation. Yes there were times I wondered what it might be like. And there were times when I resented having to do the every other weekend bit. However I didn't know any differently than having two homes and two families.

The same year that my dad remarried, my mom did as well. Suddenly I had two new families. At my mom's (where I spent all of my time, other than every other weekend and alternating holidays) I had my brother (who shares both biological parents with myself), a brand new baby brother (technically a half brother- but its a term I've never felt comfortable with), two stepsisters, a stepbrother and of course the man my mother married- my new stepfather. In this family suddenly I wasn't only a daughter and a sister- I was also a stepdaughter and a stepsister. My second family (of the every other weekend variety) was my dad's- which included my brother (whom I listed earlier), a brand new baby sister (again, technically a "half") and my dad's new wife. My stepmother. Again in this family I held the title of stepdaughter. And that title was profoundly different than any other in my life. In my mother's home I never felt the word "step" in a way that applied to me. Yes I had a stepdad. Yes I was a stepdaughter (and sister). But I was still my mother's daughter and essentially my place in the world hadn't changed. However in my dad's home I was actively aware of the title of "step" and the weight of the word completely impacted my feelings of worth in the family.

I don't have many memories of my first stepfather. My mom's relationship with him didn't last long. The memories I have of him are, for lack of a better word, indifferent. He didn't make any impact on my life to speak of one way or the other. However because of him I have an amazing little brother and for that I can be grateful.

As for my dad's marriage- that one lasted seventeen years. Resulting in plenty of memories- good, bad and ugly. I can only hope that the roller coaster my family went through during that time will be the experiences I can draw upon to ensure that as an adult my relationships with people are grounded. While problems will undoubtedly arise (as they do in any relationship) I hope I can always remember to "step with care".

Step With Care

In a perfect world step parents wouldn't exist. Everyone would grow up in one home with two doting, loving parents who naturally love each other as well. There would be no holiday schedule. No every other weekend. No differences in bedtimes and behavioral expectations. 

However we live in a vastly different reality. A world where not every relationship ends with the proverbial happily ever after. We live in a nation where we have the right to part ways with a spouse and take a second (or third) shot at that happily ever after. But what comes next is rarely black and white. This time around you may be a Mom or a Dad instead of the single and fancy free individual that met your first spouse. And what happens once you find someone that not only loves and accepts you but your child(ren) as well? 

Enter the world of steps. Your children now have a new title of their own- step kids. And the new person you brought in to your ready made family? They now carry the step title as well. So how do we exist in a role that was created by the destruction of a family? How do we exist with these titles that aren't the natural ones we were born with? Being a sister, a dad, an aunt, a grandfather, a daughter... those titles are all given to us within the natural order of the world. But add a step to the mix and suddenly its a whole new set of rules, boundaries and expectations. 

Being both a step daughter and a new step mother myself I'm still learning. But the most important lesson I've learned thus far came from a seemingly non related quote by none other than the wise Dr Seuss.