Friday, May 7, 2010

Sagas of a Step-Mother: Tips for Getting Along with your Step-Children's Mother

Being a step-mother is difficult. Sometimes I think being a step-mother is even more difficult than being a mother. The word “step-mother” carries many negative implications and connotations. It implies you’re not a real mother. It implies that you’re second-rate.; that you’re somehow, in some way, inferior to the “real mother”. Terms like ‘evil step-mother’ or ‘step-monster’ are commonly used to refer to step-mothers. When a woman, regardless of the circumstances, moves into the role of stepmother, she starts out fighting a losing battle.

Almost immediately after becoming a step-mother, a woman must prove herself. Sadly, with all eyes on her, she must prove herself worthy of the demeaning title she has acquired. To her husband, she must prove that she can handle the responsibility of playing an active role (regardless of what that role may come to be) in his child’s live. To her step-children she must prove that she will be a constant in their father’s live, and therefore a constant in their lives. She must also prove to her step-children that she is worthy of their love and respect. She must prove to her step-children that she is not the enemy. To her new in-laws she must prove that she can fill the shoes of the ex-wife, the ex-sister-in-law, ex-daughter-in-law. To the ex-wife, or the “real” mom, she must prove that she is not a threat.

That, I ultimately believe, is the key to forming a positive relationship with your step-children – proving to their mother that you are not a threat to her glorified title of mom. The children will take their cues from their mother. If she accepts you, then you are golden. If she tells the children that it’s ok to love you, then they will do so openly and honestly. If she does not feel threatened by your new role in her children’s lives, then no one else will either. The problem is that most likely she will feel threatened by you, at least initially.

Mothers naturally, instinctively, are protective of their children. If you are a step-mom who also has your own children, you will most likely understand, and even be able to relate, to this primitive instinct to protect your child. For a childless step-mother, this may be a more difficult concept to understand (but it can be done). Therefore, when you arrive on the scene, most “real” mothers’ protective instincts will kick into high gear and you are perceived as a threat to the safety and well-being of their children. And, if the children’s mother still has not come to terms with the demise of her relationship with your husband, you will be perceived as even more of a threat.

There are so many different dynamics that can play into the relationships in a blended family. Step-mothers, like any New Breed Mom, each have their own set of unique circumstances contributing to their current situation. In some cases this may include “baggage” in the form of an ex-wife who has not come to terms with the failures surrounding her past relationship with your husband. If this situation hits home for you, there is a bigger issue than the children’s mother being cautious of a new woman having an influence on her children, and the suggestions that follow would most likely not apply to you – at least not at this point of your step-mother – mother relationship.

Suggestion #1: The safety and well-being of the children must always be the number one priority. Don’t speak negatively about the children’s mother when they are in earshot. Even if what you are saying is true, you will only serve to make your step-children see you as the enemy – not to mention it will insight feelings of hostility, anger, and resentment. Do not, under any circumstances, make the children feel put in the middle of adult conflict. Children are emotionally fragile, especially if they have been through a divorce. Developmentally, young children are egocentric; meaning that when there is conflict, they will blame themselves.

Suggestion #2: Know your place while also setting healthy boundaries. Don’t get argumentative or confrontation towards the children’s mother – period. It is not your place to tell her if she has made a mistake or if you and your husband don’t like the way she is handling something concerning the children. But, you also must not be a doormat. If there is tension brewing, or if she outright makes a snarky comment towards you, address it in a clear, calm, and direct manner. (Ie. I can tell that you are angry I am attending Suzie’s parent-teacher conference. I am not trying to step on your toes. I simply want to be aware of Suzie’s school progress so that I can help her with her homework. ) Be sure to choose and appropriate time and place when addressing concerns. In the example above, it would not be appropriate to make this statement in front of the teacher, but would be appropriate to make this statement in the privacy of the hallway when only you, your husband, and his ex are present.

Suggestion #3: Make an effort to be pleasant to your step-children’s mother even if she does not (initially) reciprocate. This is a difficult thing to do. New step-mothers are often coping with feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and condemnation concerning their interactions with their step-children’s mother. No matter how difficult it might be for you to go out of your way to say hello or attempt to make small talk with your husband’s ex while attending child-related activities, it will eventually be noticed and help to make life easier on everyone involved.

The information and suggestions above only begin to touch the tip of the iceberg when discussing the complicated dynamics that are involved in step-parenting and blended family relationships. For woman, the experience of being a step-parent is, by nature, much more emotionally-ridden that it is for men. To gracefully (or not so gracefully) step into the role of a “step-mother” requires the skills of a New Breed of Mom.

Additional Resources on Step-Parenting – Author of Stepmonster

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Card for Mom

Mother’s Day is quickly approaching and, if you’re like me, you may be starting to think about gift ideas for your own mother. I’ve always been a card person. I think I get it from my mom. I like to choose exactly the right card to express exactly how I’m feeling. And, since becoming a mother myself, I have found that I am more and more particular about choosing a Mother’s Day card for my own mother.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I truly understood how much my mother loves my sisters and me. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I truly understood the emotional struggles mothers go through to make simple decisions about how they are going to allocate their time. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I truly understood the meaning of unconditional love.

When a daughter becomes a mother she sees her own mother in a brand new light. She understands the sacrifices her mother has made for her. She understands how much she hurt her mother when harsh words were exchanged in anger. She gains a newfound respect and admiration for her own mother as she reflects on the events of her childhood from a new perspective – a mother’s perspective. She understands the depths of a mother’s love.

Today as I stood in the card isle reading every Mother’s Day card in the stacks, painstakingly searching for the perfect card, I found myself wondering how I can ever pay back my mother for all the things she has done for me. I realized I can’t. It’s impossible. Then it dawned on me that that’s how it’s supposed to be – daughters can’t pay back their own mother for the years of selfless love and devotion she has shown, but they can pay it forward. They can pay it forward to their own children. And so, I shall.

I hope you like your card mom.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Family Dinners and a Duck Named Taco

A duck named Taco. That was the topic of conversation at our dinner table tonight. Thanks to a little boy named Jared and his father the farmer, Khegan’s second grade class has been closely monitoring three little duck eggs in an incubator that the classroom teacher has provided. The eggs have been in the classroom for a little over a month, and the children have eagerly been awaiting the arrival of the ducklings. Over the course of the last month, I have been warning my bright-eyed little boy that the duck eggs may not hatch; having been cultivated in an incubator in a room full of second grade students and all. However, much to my surprise, one of the eggs hatched over the weekend and now the students in Mrs. K’s second grade class are the proud parents of one little duckling.

As we sat down to a dinner prepared ever so thoughtfully my by gem of a husband, the topic of conversation quickly turned towards the little duckling named Taco. Khegan, being the animal lover that he is, taught the duck how to walk today by placing two fingers on the outside of the glass incubator and demonstrating how his fingers could walk across the glass. As a result of this great accomplishment, Khegan feels that he has earned the right to name the little duck. Although some of his classmates want to call the duckling something more logical, like ‘Ducky’ or ‘Donald’, Khegan is much too creative for that! So, that my friends, is how there came to be a duck named Taco.

In addition to that fun little tidbit, I learned many other details of my children’s respective days as we shared a meal together. I learned that in Riley’s 1st grade class, Mrs. D gave all the students a sticker promoting the 2010 census. I learned that the boys’ school pictures had been returned today. I learned that eleven parents, including me, volunteered to chaperone the 2nd grade field trip to The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. I learned that my husband is about to move his daily cardio workout from the treadmill to a carefully plan out path through our neighborhood. (It is May after all!)

Family Dinners are an important tool for mothers (and fathers) who want to be actively involved in the daily events of their children’s lives. Sitting down as a family to share a meal has many benefits. To me the most important benefit is the conversation. Family dinners are an opportunity for everyone to relax and unwind while learning about the details of each other’s days. It’s a time to share stories, give advice, and learn lessons. Children who regularly sit down to a family dinner (yes, that means no T.V.) feel safe, secure, and loved by their parents. Family dinners help to instill the value of family into the lives of our children. Also, chances are if you are sitting down to a meal as a family, the meal is home-cooked and not take out or pizza.

More information on the benefits of Family Dinners can be found at:

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Ramblings of a Working Mom

Working moms, I’m sure you will agree that Mondays come around way too fast and Friday’s take forever to get here! Just read all the FB statuses or Tweets on Monday morning and you will find that you’re not the only one who hates Mondays!

For working moms, Monday represents the end of two unscheduled (or overscheduled) free days to enjoy life with your children. Mondays are the hardest day of the week because Friday is so far away! Now, Fridays, people love Fridays. On a Friday, especially in the afternoon, you can find social networks sites full of elated posts about upcoming weekend plans. But, Mondays… Mondays are another story indeed.

There is always so much to do at the office on a Monday. Co-workers and colleagues are full of energy and rested up from the weekend. They decide to get a jump start on the week, which of course means you’re plate will be full, full, full trying to keep up!

There is a bright side about Mondays though. Mondays generally go quickly since you are so busy. Someone at the office always brings in bagels on Monday because, well because it’s Monday. If you’re late to work on a Monday, you can blame it on that fact that it’s Monday. Too exhausted to cook dinner? You can order pizza, because after all, it’s Monday! The best part about Mondays? At the end of the day you are always one day closer to Friday!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Stories of Our Lives: The Three Amigos

Last Friday night, my niece Trinitty spent the night at our house. Trinitty is eight years old, about the same age as my son Riley and my step-son Khegan. The boys love playing with their cousin, but it is always quite the adventure!

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law, ambitious as they are, were scheduled to race in the Commit to be Fit Race, an annual 5K race held locally in Columbus, Ohio. The race was early Saturday morning, which conflicted with Trinitty’s soccer game, so being the wonderful aunt and uncle that we are, John and I naturally offered to take Trinitty to her soccer game. And being that the race was scheduled so early, it only made sense for Miss Trinitty to spend the night at our house, especially since the boys had been begging to have her over to play for more than a week now.

After picking up the boys from the babysitter on Friday afternoon, I swung by my in-laws to pick her up. Riley sat in the car with his nose in his video games while Khegan and I ran in to get Trin. She was packed and ready to go, with her Pokémon card collection in hand!

You see Pokémon card collections are very important to seven and eight year olds. Not only are Pokémon cards a cool “battling game” as Riley says, but they also seem to represent a type of currency amongst school-age children. Khegan likes Pokémon cards because, “you can trade `em and collect `em and stuff.” If you have the best cards, with the most powers, other kids will both fear you and want to be your friend.

So it was no huge surprise that when we got home the children wanted to spend the afternoon up in the loft playing Pokémon. Now it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day – the first day of May to be exact – and these energetic, vibrant, seven year olds wanted to spend the afternoon indoors! What I did next, it was what any New Breed Mom would do… I got out my soapbox and gave a little speech. “When I was a little kid I couldn’t wait until spring rolled around so I could spend my afternoons outside!”

After a few eye rolls and “aw mom’s”, the kiddos begrudgingly made their way outside to draw with sidewalk chalk, ride their bikes and scooters, and play secret agent man. A short while later I was reminded why three is harder than two. Both of my boys adore Trinitty and want to play with her equally, but one false move by any one of the three, and the trio becomes divided. It is now two vs. one, which isn’t any fun! It is extra not-fun if you are the mom trying to make everyone happy.

Being a New Breed who is quick on my feet, I say, “Ok, instead of playing two good guys hiding from one bad guy, let’s play Batman, Robin, and Cat Woman.” Well, the kids couldn’t possibly play that game because as everyone should know Cat Woman is a bad guy too, so they would still be playing two vs. one! After several minutes and much consideration it was determinate that they would play Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman – all good guys! “Great!” I say, and I am about to go inside when I notice that my neighbor’s granddaughter was sitting on his front stoop with her baby doll in hand, looking ever so longingly at the trio, who by then were making a plan for this new game.

“Go and introduce yourself to the little girl,” I say. “She looks lonely and wants to play with you guys.” Though at first they weren’t all so receptive, I was finally able to coax the trio into talking to the little girl and inviting her to play. Trinitty took the lead, and as soon as she did the boys followed in suit. The trio became a foursome – two girls and two boys- all was right with the world again. The children spent the late afternoon and early evening running and skipping and playing and riding!

Then on to dinner (brauts – very yummy!), PJ’s, and then finally slumber party time! We set up an inflatable mattress in the loft for Trinitty to sleep on. The boys decided they wanted to sleep in the loft too, which they were permitted to do so long as they stayed calm and went to sleep. Soon they were all settled down watching a movie that miraculously they had all agreed on!

The next morning, after a breakfast cinnamon rolls with orange flavored icing, we all headed out the door to Trinitty’s soccer game. My husband had gotten up early that Saturday morning, to get our yard mowed before the rain that was expected for the afternoon. Well, it was a good thing he did because the rain arrived early!

Before we even made it to the soccer game, the rain was coming down. Now I may be a New Breed of Mom, but even New Breeds aren’t perfect. What kind of mom doesn’t carry several of those giant “soccer umbrellas” in her trunk? Me, that’s who! Although my boys play all sorts of sports – soccer, basketball, football, and this season baseball – the only umbrella I own is a small one that fits in my purse, which I occasionally use when I have to walk from the parking garage to my office in the rain.

I dropped John and the kids off (in the rain) near the soccer field while I went in search of a place to park. As I parked and walked back towards the fields (in the rain) I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe they would cancel the game. No such luck. So there we sat – John, the boys, and me – in the rain watching a muddy soccer game. Trinitty had quickly squeezed in under an umbrella that belonged to her teammate so at least she wasn’t getting soaked in between her playtime.

Luckily, there was another New Breed Mom that came to our rescue! She did carry several giant soccer umbrellas in her trunk, and so kindly shared an extra one with us. So there we sat, John and I on chairs, me holding Riley on my lap and him holding Khegan on his lap, all squashed together under the extra umbrella trying to stay dry! As we sat there (in the rain) I made a mental note that I must buy several of those giant umbrellas next time I go to Walmart.

My in-laws, who are not only ambitious 5K racers but also devoted parents, made it to the field in time to watch the last two quarters of Trinitty’s soccer game. They were also smart parents who brought an umbrella!

All and all it was a great time, having Miss Trinitty spend the night at our house. The boys really enjoyed her company and I learned a couple of lessons. Lesson #1: When planning a play date involving three children of the same age, it is wise to plan ahead for activities that will promote harmony among the trio. Lesson # 2: New Breed Moms must carry, at all times, several giant soccer umbrellas in their trunks!