Memorial Day may bee the unofficial start to summer but we all know what really kicks off this season: the last day of school.
With today’s family as hexagonal as a honeycomb as opposed to old-school triangle or square, there can be many more personalities to traverse beyond mom, dad and kids during these
seemingly endless wonderful weeks of vacation. From potential step-sibling rivalry to navigating niceties with your former spouse’s new one (#CoParentWithoutStepMurder), building a blended family with grace is certainly the #ParentingGoal but it’s not always easy…or is it?
Can building a blended family really be as easy as keeping an open mind, respecting all the parents involved and always keeping the needs of the children front and center? It can…but it takes work; patience; and maybe even some presents (though not for the fam member you might think).
To honor the onset of this, the Season of Together Time, this beautiful first-person account written by TJS COO and Co-Founder Marcella Williams shines a light on her personal experiences with her own children, and what it takes to bridge the byways of today’s blended family.
In May 2004, I found myself married and soon realized it was a package deal since, overnight, I became not only a wife, but a mother…and a stepmother at that. I had entered my stepson Drew’s life when he was just 5 years old and was even there for his first day of kindergarten, yet I had no idea how to be a stepmom since I was just learning how to become a wife. Luckily for me I had the best teacher: Drew’s mom, Kelly.
You always hear the drama-filled stories of blended families and thestruggles that ensue. But this story is different. This one is filled with love and gratitude, and I’m hoping it will act as a reminder that it doesn’t ever have to be ugly between birth parents and stepparents unless a family chooses it to be. And I can tell you from experience that ugly serves no one…least of all, the child.
Shortly after the wedding, we were settling into our new house…adding all of the finishing touches that turn a space into a home. While I was adjusting to new surroundings and new roles, I began to wonder if I would be a good stepmom. I wondered if I had the empathy, patience and kindness I knew it would take to be the kind of caretaker that Drew deserved. So when I was in doubt, I chose to look no further than toward the one who brought him into this world.
Honestly, I felt so lucky that I even had the inclination to do it! Kelly was one cool mama and we instantly became friends. And it was through that friendship that we were able to be the best moms for our son. (Because that’s exactly what he became the day that he and his father and I married: “Our” son.)
Together we discussed schools, homework, bedtime, and even had great communication about disciplinary actions. In other words, if Drew was grounded because he did XYZ at my house, the same rules applied in Kelly’s home, and vice versa. When we began to notice some missteps in his personality—a little more argumentative, a little less attentive at school—together, we quickly ascertained that what Drew needed was structure. Going back and forth mid-week between her home and ours wasn’t what he needed, and without second-guessing it for a moment, Kelly volunteered to let Drew stay with his dad and me Monday through Friday (which instantly made life easier on our boy since school was around the corner from our house).
This move impressed me beyond measure, because in one swift decision Kelly proved herself secure enough to put aside her ego for the sake of what was best for Drew. Her grace and mental agility proved to be one of many lessons I learned from her and called upon as different situations unfolded during our evolution as a blended family.
Fast forward to the following May. Mother’s Day was around the corner and when Kelly came to pick up Drew, she had a special present for me. It was my first Mother’s Day present, a Dooney and Burke purse which, until that point in my life, was the nicest purse I had ever owned. I was honored and shocked, to say the least. It was such a heartfelt gift that I still have because of the memory attached to it. She didn’t have to gift it. She didn’t even have to show me kindness, or go above and beyond to bridge gaps or pave roads for better communication. Yet she did. Why? Because it wasn’t about her or me, but about him, our son Drew, who is now 19.
Today, I strive to be similar and supportive for my own birth-childrens’ stepmom. I want her to know that I am rooting for her to succeed every step of the way. I know she has no intention of replacing me, or turning the kids against me. And I know this because I left my ego back in 2004.
But I also know this because I am confident in my role as their mommy. When my three children asked me if I was happy or sad that Baba (Greek for “Dad”) was re-marrying, I smiled with sincerity and assured them that they were so lucky, and that his new bride was just one more person to love them. This assurance helped them be more accepting of her. It helped the transition to be more smooth, and it minimized any extra stress they may have had during what society deems as an intrinsic time of challenging change.
People do not always remember what you said or did, but they do remember how you made them feel. I always work to ensure my kids know that they can express their concerns, their dreams and their struggles without fear of judgement or condemnation with me. With me, they have a kind ear and unconditional love.
So. If I could lend advice to my children’s new stepmom (or any new step- or co-parent), it would be this:
- Bee Patient. Great relationships aren’t built overnight. They take time, and an endless amount of compassion and nurturing (and that goes for both the co-parent/stepparent relationship, as well as the relationship between the children and new stepßparent). Count the mini victories rather than wait for the big reward. It could be a genuine smile from across the room from a child who is grateful to see you at their school performance, or their rush to you when they fall off your bike.(Also…bee patient in the warming up of your partner’s ex. Patience is very important at this time.)
- Bee Forgiving. When children go back and forth between homes it can take a toll on their spirit. There is generally a transition day or two where they need to adjust to your house rules. In a perfect world, both houses would have the same ones, but that is not always the case. Learn to work with your situation, not fight against it.
- Bee Thoughtful. When you make plans, whether together or apart from the stepchildren, think about how it effects the entirety of the group. Make sure your actions cannot be deemed as alienation. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself how you would feel. This goes for the children as well as any step-parents.
- Bee Grateful. The universe has blessed your child(ren) with more people to love them. While old wounds may not be healed, and words may have gone unsaid, your children have new beginnings and need your support to see the brighter side of the situation. They will look to you for guidance in these ever-evolving relationships. They will mimic you. So lead by example with a grateful heart.
- Bee Respectful. Do not bad mouth anyone in front of the children. Just don’t. It is very hurtful for the child to ever have to hear ill words about someone they love so much. No child deserves to feel that pain. Honestly, I can’t stress this enough other than to say just.don’t.do.it. Remember: The child will remember what they hear, and when they grow up, they will resent the badmouther, not the badmouthee.
- Bee Kind. And bee kind especially to yourself. Don’t buy into the whole “love them like your own.” That does not happen overnight. (Truth? Sometimes it never does.) You did not fall in love in a day, and you did not give birth or help conceive them. Allow time to play its role. Bee friends first. And do not beat yourself up if your “motherly” or “fatherly” instincts don’t kick in right away. Remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can, and trust that through consistency in your words and actions, you will in fact build bridges and mend gaps.
Together—collectively—we are raising the future leaders of this world, and that’s something that has never taken just one person. It truly takes a hive.