The three four-letter words blended families would benefit from never using again.

Let me tell you something – biological or otherwise, if you are a good mother/father, your title will never matter or require clarification. Being a biological parent doesn’t exalt authority over another parent except in cases of the law, and even then only if acting in the best interest of the child – when the parent can’t manage it on their own. The title or biology of a parent doesn’t make someone a parent anymore than standing in a garage makes them a car.

Words matter. I’m sure some of you think they don’t but respectfully I disagree. Just the same, names matter too. When a parent first learns they are expecting, they spend countless hours researching origins, meanings behind, and deciding on the perfect name. I’m curious if you have researched the origin of the word “step” in terms of a child or parent? Sure, mostly being called a stepparent, stepfamily or stepchild is harmless in the grand scheme of identifying family having gone through divorce and remarriage. But would you call the child you gained through marriage, orphan-daughter, orphan-son or call yourself father of an orphan or mother of an orphan? I doubt that you would. Unless you are a blended family, which treats each other like orphans. And, if so, that’s a whole other blog post.

The word “step” originates from the old English word – steopcild which means orphan. Not having parents and that is not the case with stepchildren as they belong to one spouse now remarried.

The word parent means: brings forth, offspring and relates to DNA. The act of parenting means: bringing up, caring for, promoting and supporting. There is a clear difference. One can be a parent in the word’s sense and not be a parent by definition of actions. The ones requiring clarification are the parents, not the children. And, when all are acting in the best interest of the child, why some refuse to acknowledge and celebrate even that another person cares for, loves, and supports their child just blows my mind. I’ve never understood it.

At first, the word “step” never occurred to bother me, the meaning or otherwise. In fact, when I first started writing about being a “step” mom, I playfully used the term in my title, “That’s Mrs. StepMom to you!” and I loved it. Being both a biological mother and now gaining a son through my husband, the way parents treated, spoke of and disregarded stepparents disgusted me. It still does to be honest. The only time I reference being a stepparent is when someone needs clarification or when writing on this topic.

Now when I hear it, I cringe. It is like cusswords for blended families. Step, mine, and your are all words that blended families should limit or not use entirely when speaking of/to a child. It discredits, disregards and makes it known they don’t belong to you or come from you. Why would that be necessary or even a desire? It surely is not a loving or kind desire. Let’s be real here for a moment, there are some families who fondly speak of each other with “step” and this is not for them. This is solely for the ones who can’t figure their own feelings of inadequacy and insecurities out. And who furthermore places those feelings onto their children who innately want to be loyal.

Saying “your child” does more harm than good. Using terms such as “my child” and “your child” are used to separate the child, parent, fault, and involvement. Why not just tell your spouse their kid sucks and yours is better? I mean, that is what your actions are doing and saying. Because when they are pleasing and doing something we are proud of, we wouldn’t say your child is smart, or your child played great in their game – that is how you talk about someone else’s child in another home, not someone in your own family and home.

When I speak of my sons, I speak of them as my sons, both of them. I do not address one as my husband’s son, or as my husband’s ex-wife’s son, or as my stepson – just my son. Our children call us both Mom and Dad, because we are both a Mom and a Dad. Children can have multiple parents without the need to differentiate. That need for differentiating comes from hidden insecurities in other parents and people unfamiliar with how blended families work. With the utmost respect and kindness for those who don’t understand blended families, it is not our job to make them more comfortable because they either don’t understand and cannot see themselves calling someone else aside from a biological parent, Mom or Dad.

The hidden or even visible insecurities that some parents have gives them this need for the world to know that they were the parent first. Let me tell you something – biological or otherwise, if you are a good mother/father, your title will never matter or require clarification. Being a biological parent doesn’t exalt authority over another parent except in cases of the law, and even then only if acting in the best interest of the child – when the parent can’t manage it on their own. The title or biology of a parent doesn’t make someone a parent anymore than standing in a garage makes them a car. And yes, I know that some judges and lawyers put ridiculous clauses in orders such as, – the child cannot call the stepmother, Mom. I’ve read these orders and they are ridiculous and assumptions lead me to two things. First, the mom was insecure and felt entitled to her role, and second, the child will resent one of these parents at some point.

I’m curious how many parents speak to their children and ask their feelings, opinions and desires about the other parents and really listen to their hearts. If a child wants to call someone else, Mom/Dad that is something that requires attention and consideration. A child desiring inclusion in something created by division of something which directly impacted them takes guts. It comes from a personal desire for connection and being part of a family, and that is beautiful.

We will never have a role superior to one-another because of marriage or biology. Countless times people have told us that a decision or action being made by us was the “main” parents’ place in our home. And, we smile and disregard it every time for two very good reasons: first, most often this advice comes from non-blended families and respectfully the will never understand, and second, we are the main parents in our home, as one united family.

I guess for me; I choose my son as my son. I choose him on the days he acts in such as way that screams he has other parents that raised him differently. I choose him on the days it takes the act of love and patience to love him. And I choose him on the days he acts just as I have raised him both good and bad. The moment he asked to call me Mom, I made a conscious decision to treat him as a mom would, as a mom to her own children would. The same goes for my husband and the way he loves, treats, supports and raises the two children he gained through our marriage – as his own; a daughter and a son. Not as orphans or steps – one united family acting in the best interest of raising our children with love and to love whoever they choose.

A fresh (step)parent perspective.

Did I feel like a jerk and a failure on the days when I couldn’t hang with the super stepmoms? Sure. But you can’t base your days or family dynamics on other blended families or stepparents. It’s okay to not have it figured out, it’s the quitting that’s bad. You have to ask yourself why God has put you where you are and how you can be used for good. There is a purpose to his plan, and you are more than capable.

Have you ever felt like blending your family isn’t possible? Or, that being a stepparent is too much work for you to take on alone? That failing is your new favorite pastime and honestly you are unsure what or who you are even fighting for? Do you question if you have what it takes to be a stepparent? If your answer to any of these are yes, then know there is hope. Being a stepparent has days, months and even years where you are and will be tested and pushed. But, when you’re able to see past the step, and only see the parent, those rough days become more and more manageable.

When my husband and I blended our family seven years ago, it was rough. We’d both been divorced more than once before. We both had children and very different parenting styles. (We still have different parenting styles) There were days I was angry, days I cried, days I wanted to give up and say “no this is not my problem or my job” and truthfully a good reason behind dating for so long, well that and our failed marriages.

Did I feel like a jerk and a failure on the days when I couldn’t hang with the super stepmoms? Sure. But you can’t base your days or family dynamics on other blended families or stepparents. It’s okay to not have it figured out, it’s the quitting that’s bad. You have to ask yourself why God has put you where you are and how you can be used for good. There is a purpose to his plan, and you are more than capable.

When Cole first came into the mix he was struggling in school, and as harsh as it sounds it was a huge cause of friction in our home. When you blend children who’s parents have different expectations or even the lack of, it can rock even the most sturdiest of ships. Gracie and Gage were expected to come home right after school, homework was done first, playing was second. Cole had his own idea of how it should be done, which was not at all. And, to be honest there were days, weeks and months that felt like the only person in the entire universe who cared about his education, was me, and it was exhausting. My husband and I fought, the school and I fought and Cole and I fought. It was awful.

School nights consisted of tears, frustration, too many erasers and both of us going to bed defeated. Cole did not have confidence in his work or himself. Sports were his priority, and schooling was mine. It didn’t take long before I saw things differently. One of the great blessings of being a stepparent is you see things from a different perspective from your spouse who is more intimately connected to situations with their child. You are a fresh view, and that’s a blessing. I could see Cole was capable of much more than he was letting on, I could see he knew more but something was holding him back AND, I could also see how at times he was working both the school and my husband.

Admitting that you need help or that your child needs help, is no easy feat for some. With that in mind, imagine how it felt for me trying to persuade my husband into understanding (his son), our son needed help. Ours, was not a word he heard, he only heard, his, help, and failing. It was as if I was telling him Cole was damaged and it was his fault. He was against it all. Cole’s hesitance at least made sense because kids can be awful to anyone who learns differently, and he knew that. But, after my incessant pleas, we eventually approached the school about getting him into an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Coming from a place where I wasn’t directly or personally connected to a false sense of ownership, I could see this was a need not a fault, and it was in his best interest and would help him. And, luckily the school agreed.

The days of missing assignments, lies about homework, bad report cards, all the times Cole would say “I don’t know”, “I’m confused” or “I’m just dumb” were enough for all three of us to want to give up and run in separate directions. There were days I would go to work and cry because I was so frustrated, and felt like it would never change or get better. But, it did change. IT GOT BETTER. SO MUCH BETTER. The school has been incredibly instrumental and supportive along the way.

Cole was now not only getting the help he needed, but it fed his confidence and made him see he was capable of more, he did know more and understood more. He just needed to be expected to try by us, and then taught how to do things in a new way at school until eventually it all clicked. He will be a freshman next year and has all A’s and B’s this year so far. He had all D’s and F’s…even in PE. That’s how I knew this little turkey was capable of much more!

My point to this is, it may not be school you’re struggling with, and it may not be homework that your crying at work about. But whatever it is, if it’s going to benefit your child/stepchild, don’t quit advocating for it, even if it is with your spouse. The day you committed to your spouse, you committed to being a parent who looks out for and fights for the best interest of your children as a whole. You may start off as a fresh stepparent with no idea of how to parent differently than you did before blending your families. But, being new and fresh is a hidden gift in itself. You are a fresh set of eyes, ears and a fresh heart even, which is necessary when your new family may come with broken or bruised ones.

When I talked to Cole’s teacher the morning of our annual meeting she said somethings to me I will never forget, “He had such great things to say about you. He talks about you a lot and even shared you’re writing a book, he’s very proud of you, so you should know you’re doing great!” Yes, my little kiddo who used to battle me on everything was PROUD OF ME! It did feel great to know that as he’s making me proud, I’m making him proud too! And, I’m (just) his (Step)mom “technically”… So don’t think that restricts you from wanting and being more or doing better for your kiddos.

Keep fighting and love until it’s natural, you’ll be glad you did!

– Jess

I never…words from a bio/step mom that hit home.

This morning I received a letter from a fan of my Facebook page named Bobbie Ann Phillips and as I read it I knew instantly this needed to be read by all of you. This is her story and its an honest account of how it feels, of what we don’t expect, our fears and our goals. Enjoy!

” I never imagined I would have to co-parent with an ex of mine, much less an ex of my new husband. I did know I would be co-parenting with my own husband. I never imagined my husband would be someone else’s ex husband. I never thought I would have to share some of “my” weekends and “my” holidays, separate, from “my” son. I never thought I would have to long for the chance to do those same things with and for a son whose dad is dead. I also never thought my deepest fear would be that my third son may someday meet the same fate of a broken home. I never thought I would be fearing completely loosing two of my children if my marriage ever did fail. I never thought most of my scheduling would revolve so much around picking up one set of kids at 6p on Friday, meeting to drop off another kid before or after that, and then meeting back on 6p Sunday for drop off of two kids and then meeting before or after that to get another kid back. I never thought I would both look forward to, and dread those weekends at the very same time. I never imagined I would explain to two of my three biological children why daddy can not be here, or does not live here and the reasons be because of such different circumstances. Circumstances that would cause as much hurt for both of “my” boys and myself as both situations do. I never even imagined my children would have different dads. I never thought I would have “other” kids ask me why my husband, their dad, is not with their mom. I never thought I would be making beds, cleaning laundry, preparing meals, buying necessities, and supporting “other” kids. I knew “my” kids may look past all I do for them and it would hurt some. I did not know having “other” kids look past those same things would hurt as much. I never thought I would have “other” kids sometimes resent me for my role in their lives. A role they only want their mom, and their dad, to have. I never thought I would feel so much hurt for them, and for my husband, because they too come from a broken home. I never thought I would love each person in “my” blended family so much that I would wish each child could have their mom, and their dad, in one home. If I had that wish though, several of my biological children would not exist, and I would never have a chance to even meet two of my “other” children. I would have never met my husband. I never thought I would have to accept that because someone I loved died, and because a different relationship failed I would find new love and create a new family. I never thought I would agree that when one life ends another begins. I feel as though I have personally lost two lives and began a new one each time. I feel I am on my third life, and feverishly pray for it to be my last.

I never thought I would be the “other” parent that another parent would resent. I am that parent whose mere presence in a child’s life causes another adult resentment, and pain. Though “her” family ended long before “mine” began, I never imagined my place with my husband would be a stark reminder of another woman’s lost place with her husband. I never imagined That my place with my step children would be a reminder of “her” time she “has” to share, with me. I never thought my loving them could hurt her as much as it would if I did not love them. I do acknowledge that my presence does cause these things, though completely unintentional. I never imagined two children who “are not mine” would have me so wrapped around their little fingers. I did not know I could love a child I did not give birth to so much that it literally hurts. I did not know I would want to fight so fiercely for my time, my bond, and my place with two children who I feel with every bone in my body are mine. I knew I would have children that would fill my life with love, joy, hope, chaos and clutter. I knew I would do everything in my power to protect, love and cherish every moment with “my” kids. I knew I would become a mom by choice to children I gave birth to. I did not know that I would have that same desire to love, protect and cherish children not born to me. I knew there would be times my children would be angry with me. I knew I would make mistakes and cause hurt. I knew I would mend the hurt, calm the anger and explain why I do what I do to “my” kids. I knew I would both reward and punish “my kids” with no remorse because that is my job as their mom. I did not know I would feel so guilty by my own presence that I would overly reward, and seldom punish the children I did not give birth to. I never knew I would feel I don’t have the right to demand and earn respect from “other” children as much as I do from “my” children. I never thought I would always worry my actions and words would favor “my” children over the “other” children so much that I actually show more favor to “other” children over mine at times. I never thought I would say I am an ex, a wife, a mom, and a step mom, All in one. I am all of those things and I am these things at the very same time. I sometimes struggle to decide which hat I am suppose to wear at which time. All of these inner struggles are real, and part of my life. I am exactly where I want to be. I realize I am exactly where God planned me to be. I do have the husband and children I did always long for. I am thankful for all the good and bad that comes with this life and these roles. Yet I have no idea how to navigate my happiness and love without someone else being hurt, or resentful, in some way because of it. I have no idea why I even care that my presence, my role, and my place effects any person other than my husband, and our children. I just know that I do care.

I do not co-parent with my ex’s new wife or serious girlfriend, not yet anyway. I do know that the day will come when I will. At least, I pray it does. I do want “my” son to have another parent love him. I do want him to have someone else he can learn from, respect, love and cherish. I so want him to know I am okay with him loving some “other” parent. I want her to know that while her presence may cause some stinging, I’m happy to share “my” son with her. I want her to know that he’s “our” son, and that “our” will include her. I know that during my time as a step mom I have learned many things to do, and not to do both with “my” son and towards the “other” parent. I hope I will remember to respect her, and to honestly cherish her. I hope I will remember I should view any person my son loves as an extension of himself. I love “my” son, and so I will love those he loves and that love him. I hope I can remember I should love “my kids” mom because they love her and she is an extension of them. For the love of a child even the most difficult situations on all ends I am involved in will be handled with love and care, by me, for them regardless of how the opposing end on either side of these blended families are behaving. That is my goal anyway. I know I pray daily that God shows me the way to do all these things with Grace in each of the roles I am fulfilling.

~ Bobbie Ann Phillips

Non-traditionally traditional

Maintaining, re-creating and even inventing new traditions is hard work on a blended family. Whether or not to carry on a tradition from a previous marriage – for the sake of the children , or to throw caution to the wind and start all over again is a question we asked ourselves. For us, there was one tradition that took no consideration as even as adults we enjoyed it as much as the children.

Every year the kids know they get a special set of pajamas and a special pair of slippers that can’t be opened or worn until our special night a week or so before Christmas. This particular tradition comes from my side, something I have done with my children since they were born. Which of course begs the question who is it really for, right? My youngest was a just a baby and it started because she simply wouldn’t sleep, and I was exhausted. My husband at the time loaded us into the car, pajamas, slippers and all and we went for a late-night drive. On our search for something exciting, while trying to get little miss to fall asleep – we came across beautiful Christmas lights. There were these two streets which came together  and would put on an elaborate production of animated lawn ornaments  and lights that led from one house to the next. The lawns were all lined in white bulb lights and every house had its own theme, yet still maintained the uniform flow. One stop for some hot cocoa later, and we had a tradition on our hands.

Over the years those nights came complete with diaper blowouts – being cleaned up along the side of the road. Vomit filled back seats when hot cocoa and our son didn’t mix; and of course some pretty great nights of looking at the most beautiful lights. One night a year we could peek into the life of a complete stranger, imagining what their life might be like, or how it would feel to live in a big home like the ones we visited. Homes that even if on the inside were broken, the lighting and theatrics would work as a beautiful cover-up.

As our marriage diminished,  the children needed that tradition, that piece of normalcy  – a gentle reminder that somethings do stay the same. Possibly even doubling the occurrence, which in this tradition it did, since now both myself and my ex-husband did them separately.

Now six years later we have both re-married and carried on this tradition ( minus the divorcing of course)  to our new spouses and children. The kids still get just as excited picking out the special set of pajamas and slippers, and help with getting their younger siblings equally excited. They still get ready for bed every night close to christmas just waiting for one of us to say tonight is the night – go get your pajamas on. The only difference really is that our daughter likes chai instead of hot cocoa – but the rest is pretty magical every time.

Thinking back now,  it is a pretty great realization to see that traditions can take form in any manner, not just from great-grandparents, which seems to be the norm. They can be passed down from friends, family, previous relationships whatever your heart and home are open to.

What tradition did you come about non-traditionally in your home?

Step moms aren’t made of steel

Thinking back I feel like I instantly became a step-mom, and honestly its a little shocking that it went so seriously so quickly. I remember being at my Mother-in-laws house for Christmas dinner, and all the family being there. My Stepson walked up to me and said something along the lines of “Mommy can I have some milk?”, and I didn’t know how to answer, and not about the milk, but the mommy part. I had at that point made sure that he knew how to call me by my first name, but because my children called me Mommy, he just picked it up. I of course stumbled, and mumbled and I overheard some voices behind me asking my mother in law “Did he just call her mommy?” and she very assertively said, “Yes, she is his mom when he is here, and we don’t see the need to differentiate in our home.” Getting him his milk, and moving on without a thought, our life just moved forward from there.

Being a mother to children whose father is remarried, I understood the stigma behind my children calling some other woman, Mom. It is not a dismiss-able, minor detail, and I talked to my mother-in-law and husband about how it would make me feel, and that I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. But, they both made a great point, I didn’t ask him or tell him to call me that, neither had my husband, he had done this on his own, and it would make him feel different if I made him stop and call me something different. But, I would by lying if I said that deep inside, I don’t still feel a little guilty that even two years later, he still calls me mom.

The difference between now and then of course, is that I am his mom, for all intensive purposes. He is the brother to my children, my husbands son, and we do everything any other normal family does. My duties as a mother to my two biological children, are no different with him, I still feed, bathe, and care for him. My husband and I provide a loving home for him, incur medical expenses, take him to regular doctors visits, kiss away boo boos, discipline him, and have weekend morning snuggle time. The only difference between me and my husbands ex-wife, is that I didn’t give birth to him. One small, MAJOR detail, that is constantly thrown in my face, a non-existent serious life event that will forever exclude me from all the future “Mom” events.

But, when we are in our little home, with our little family, I am safe from this exclusion. There is no worry about his wedding day, and when he has his first child, and what role I will play in those days, if any. We don’t talk about the day when he might come to me and decide to no longer call me mom, or the day he is old enough to not want to come for visits, and the possibility that he wont always love me the way he does now. Forgetting that I will more times than not come in second, possibly be forgotten, excluded and deemed the enemy by his REAL mom.  I forget he isn’t mine, that he isn’t fully my daughters brother, and my sons brother, and that he isn’t going to stay forever. Then, when Sunday comes, my heart feels heavy, the day is saddened, and I prepare for the disconnect that will continue my hearts beating while my son goes walking on his own for another week. Which in and of itself makes me feel like his is my son, because there is a quote that says ‘Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” by Elizabeth Stone. Which rings more truer that I ever realized.

Seeing the excitement, when we pull up to where his mother is waiting, makes my heart both happy and sad – obviously I love anything that makes his little heart happy, and even though for me personally she ranks nowhere, she makes him happy – and I know at the end of the day, if he never got to see me again, he would be just fine. Sure, he would ask about me, but he has his mom to fall back on. For me, if I could never see him again, my heart would suffer, it would break and I would never be the same, he is apart of me, he has grown into my heart, into my soul, he is an incredible blessing to my life, and it terrifies me to think of losing him.

But, this is the life I chose when I chose my husband and son to join us. I chose this when I decided to love without any conditions, to love completely, selflessly, and to never let him feel any less than mine.