This past Labour Day long weekend was surreal. As I set my step-daughter up in her first apartment for her first year in college, I was battling morning sickness and heartburn since I’m also pregnant with my first “born to me” child.
Being a step parent is an interesting job, to say the least. I’ve been in my step-daughter’s life since she was 7 and, even though I’m no longer married to her father, I follow the ideology that you can divorce a spouse but not a child. In my new marriage, I have a 9 year old step-son and our family is going to transition again this February with the birth of a new baby. Why not just jump in with both feet, right?
I suppose it is unusual to be in your late 30s and feel like you’ve been through all the ups and downs of being a parent but you’ve never actually done it full time for a child that truly belongs to you. I have always been able to plan around our kid-less nights and summer weeks. I’ve had the luxury of that break time from being a parent to schedule date nights and set aside time for myself. I realize that having a new baby of my own will come with a big reality check – proper full-time parenting (add scary music here).
As I prepare to have my own child, the most frightening and exciting part is the fact that he/she will be mine, truly. When I split from my step-daughter’s father, I had to face the scary reality that I had no rights to her anymore. At 14, she could have decided not to see me, or her mom could have decided that she wasn’t allowed to. I was already shattered by the end of my marriage and the thought of losing my parenting role as well as my marriage was truly horrible. I’m so lucky that it didn’t end that way. I’m so grateful that my step-daughter and I have the strong relationship we have now.
I grew up in a split family – my parents separated when I was 4 and both remarried by the time I was about 10. I transitioned. I learned about how to operate in two different homes at different times and allowing for all kinds of changes – added siblings, different traditions, different cities and changing dynamics. The hard times come with good times and, in general, likely because I was so young, I learned to enjoy the different cycles of time with my family.
Although there were rough times in my own parents’ divorce, I have to admit that both of my parents were reasonably similar in their values and approach to their families. We had curfews, we were expected to learn our manners, and do well in school. The structure between houses from a parenting perspective was generally consistent. But, as a step-parent, this hasn’t been my experience. The other houses my step-children lived in sometimes had vastly different rules. So, how do you transition a child between houses when the value systems and approach to parenting is very different?
I’ve found that some divorces don’t lead (at least at first) to situations that allow healthy co-parenting discussions on the majority of topics. So, those joint decisions are left for the really big issues only or even emergency situations. It is a big challenge and you have little control. You are left to try to set up your family the way you and your spouse believe is best and, in many cases, have only minor glimpses into what happens at the other house, because you can’t put that child in the middle. The more your house rules vary from the other, you’ll likely see more push back from the child, but don’t think they don’t understand the differences, they know very well what the rules are and they are just testing those boundaries. As a child it was easy for me to know what I could and couldn’t do in each house. So there isn’t a need to adjust to make the houses similar in their approach but keep consistent on the behaviours you expect in your home. The children will understand and adapt.
I’m hoping to help other blended families with my thoughts in this blog and plan to share some tips and tricks that have helped me along the way, including my challenges. It will be an interesting new world for me once baby arrives in February. I’m looking forward to the challenges and the joy of my crazy, extended family.