“Step back, take a deep breath, and get to know each other.”
That’s what Shirley Cress Dudley, MA LPC suggested after I wrote about how to fight for a place in your blended family.
She hit the nail on the head.
Because in the beginning, getting to know the step kids is easy. The main focus is getting them to like you, right? Coming into my kids’ lives when they were both under age 4 meant playing and giggling was second nature. If I had a bag of candy, they liked me. It was pretty simple.
As Mr. Right and I got serious, the fun and games slowed down. Getting to know the kids meant really getting to know them. (Let me tell you, they’re not always giggling.) It meant figuring out how to be a parent, instead of just a fun friend. (Note: Some steps are the fun friend, which can be an important role and awesome in each unique situation. My family is custodial, which means the kids are with us most of the time. My role is definitely more parent than friend.)
As a wide-eyed 22 year old, getting to know “the other side” led to a lot of frustration and fear. I think a comedian said it best when he compared parenting to acting like there’s a two year old with a pistol in the other room. I was afraid to make a mistake. Suddenly, the fun and games got replaced with chaos and a really big pile of laundry.
Looking back now, I understand how poignant Shirley’s advice was, both as a stepparent a few years in or for a newbie step. Here are some ideas to help you get to know – and re-know – your step kids before the other side of parenting takes over your sanity:
- Schedule alone time. A weekend away with one of the kids will not only mean a lot to them, but gives you a chance to practice being a mom, and for them to practice you being their mom.
- Immerse them in your side of the family, too. There’s a new set of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles to get to know. Some will handle this beautifully, others will take a while to warm up. That’s ok. Don’t make an issue of it. Just gently keep the relationships plodding along. Help people remember their birthdays. Make them feel as important as the rest of the grandkids.
- Do things you don’t like doing, but they love. Pick them up from school on your next day off so they don’t have to ride the bus. Plan an all out birthday extravaganza complete with a rowdy sleepover.
- Start new family traditions. I remember how hard it was hearing about all the great stuff they “used to do” at their old house, with their old dog, during their old Christmas traditions. Don’t get caught up in that. Start some new, fun traditions they can relive in future memories.
- Don’t try too hard. Let them get to know you, too. Let them know your limits and the things you need in order to be a good step mom. If they compare you to their birth parent (which they will!) remind them there are certain things that are not your style. We’re all individuals figuring out life. They’ll appreciate it, even if they don’t understand it at first.
For me, marrying someone with kids meant motherhood was happening now, not down the road in future plans.
And I’m learning with every year that passes: Catch it while you can.