On Being the Step-Mom on Mothers Day

When I became a mother to my two boys, it was in the typical fashion: wanting babies, making babies, growing babies, birthing babies, loving babies. I bonded with my baby boys quickly and easily, as I nursed hem, changed their diapers, and cared for them.

When I became a step-mother to my two girls, it was in the typical fashion: dating their dad, loving their dad, marrying their dad, learning to love them. That’s right, I said learning to love them. One of the more important things I have discovered along my step-mothering journey is to allow myself time to love my girls. I don’t know that I ever experienced a crystallizing moment in my life when I knew I loved them, but I can honestly say that I have grown to love them. Yes, there are definitely days in these teen years, when they challenge my loving feelings, but I think that is pretty normal, even among fully biologically related adolescents and their parents. During these trying times I think to myself that it was a really good thing that I became a step-mother when the girls were little. It has allowed us time together when they when they were sweet and cute, before they became hormonal teens.

Juan and I started dating when the girls were 6 and 3. I can still remember the first time I saw Erica. She was in Juan’s car, perched up on her car seat holding an empty bottle. She had long since given up drinking from a bottle, but she still held onto an empty Playtex nurser as her comfort. When I asked her about it, she told me “I just like to hold it.” My heart melted a little. I’d like to say that at that moment I instantly fell in love with that little girl with a quick smile and fly away curls, but I would be perpetuating a myth that becoming a step-mother makes you love your partner’s children automatically. It doesn’t. In fact, becoming a step-mother probably has less to do with love and more to do with compassion and endurance. Step-mothering is a test of love. A test of the love you have for your partner, and the love you have for your family and the family you hope to become.

Juan and I have been married almost 9 years now. This year I will celebrate my 8th Mother’s Day as a step-mom to my girls. Every year, it’s a little awkward, and every year it get’s a little easier. On one of my earlier Mother’s Days as a step-mom, I woke to the sound of activity. Juan let me sleep in a little but I could hear the unmistakable sound of kids trying to stay quiet as they started their Sunday morning. The custodial agreement between Juan and his ex-wife stated that the girls would be with their mom on Mother’s Day. It was our weekend together but of course, they needed to be with their mom on this special day. They were excited to go and share with her the handmade gifts they created at school. When I got up I could see that Olivia had two beautifully wrapped packages waiting on the window seat in the living room. I commented on the packages and she said that the gifts were for her mom and aunt. Olivia left a few minutes later calling out to me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” taking both presents, and leaving me empty handed, and feeling hollow. Ouch.

It’s gotten better since then. I know Juan remembers the bitter sting I felt that morning when I realized that all my efforts caring for the girls went unrecognized. It was a painful lesson, that as much as I cooked their meals, washed their clothes, combed their hair and helped them with their school work, I was just the step-mom. But it was also a lesson in compassion for me, and it continues to remind me that as difficult as step-mothering can be for me, step-daughtering for them is just as difficult. Of course, they love their mother, and even through the teen conflicts we endure right now, I know they love their dad. Loving me, is a little trickier. Isn’t it a fantasy of nearly every child of divorce, no matter what age, that your parents will get back together? How do you love someone who is the obstacle from your parents ever getting remarried? How do you love someone who does the “motherly jobs” without betraying your loyalty to your “real” mother. It’s complicated and I am sure the girls felt conflicted, and still do feel conflicted at times.

That morning was a reminder to me that I needed compassion to fill in gaps as I learned to love my girls. Yes, it hurt, but they needed time to get to know me and what our relationship as step-mother/daughters would be. We needed time to grow to a place where they could love me without feeling they were disloyal to their mom. I needed time to know them, and not feel pressured to love them instantly. Different from bonding with my newborn sons, bonding with my girls is prolonged, and seems to be a more back and forth; a shared process between me and each daughter. This process is evolving still today. It is constant shift in what it means for us to be in relationship with each other, especially since now Olivia lives with us full-time and Erica spends the majority of her days with her mom. Through it all, I am loving their dad, loving my family, and I am loving them.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers and step-mother’s everywhere.

On our wedding day, the day I officially became their step-mother.

Mothers Day morning update: Juan surprised me with this link to a video he made and posted to You Tube. Watching it made me realize that through all our years together we have really bonded as a family.  Plus, it made me really cry!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8NmfBNCYeg&feature=youtube_gdata_player

 

 

 

Smells Like Teen (Christmas) Spirit

My kids are now 7, 13, 13 almost 14, and 16. When my teens were little Christmas was a no-brainer when it came to gift giving. The biggest challenge was restraint. When the Toys R Us Big Book would arrive with the Sunday paper, or the weekly Target ad came out, my kids would circle items on their wish lists. I think most kids from divorced parents may say that Christmas is one of the few times, where divorce and remarriage works to their advantage. With three or four sets of grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles from all sides of our extended families, and two separate parenting households,  Christmas was just a toy bonanza for my kids. Beginning in December I would start fielding calls and emails from various family members, keeping track of who I told what to buy for whom.

Now that Nico, Erica and Olivia are in their teens, Christmas gift giving is still hectic, but it’s more expensive.  Gifts on their lists range from Uggs priced at $200, to Mac laptops, priced at over $1000. I hate to disappoint, but those gifts are just not happening. Sure, I can ask for family members to contribute towards these things, but with so many different family branches and varying degrees of financial resources, I just don’t feel comfortable with this. Besides, in addition to all my responsibilities, being the manager of a gift registry is something I just don’t have in me. Christmas came way too quickly this year. This year, I am stuck reaching for ideas, cajoling my kids to give me some kind of affordable gift wish list so that I can pass along the information to family members, and save a bit for myself.  I would like for my kids’ Christmas not to be a total bust and I’d like to be able to support the many relatives who want to gift them something, and experience their own joy in giving.

So, with only 10 shopping days until Christmas, and only two affordable items on Nico’s list (Hunger Games and plaid shirts), I was happy to see him looking through a catalog the other day. The catalog was from ThinkGeek.com, a site that we purchased some items from last Christmas, and which gifts he really enjoyed. When he was done looking at the catalog and marking items he wanted, I was less than enthusiastic about his wish list. How could I tell family members to spend their hard earned money on this:

Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers

But,  apparently people besides my teenaged geek son like them, because the site says that they are out of stock.

Nico also asked for this:

It’s a Screaming Monkey slingshot

The last item he asked for was the  infectious disease stress ball .  I found it a bit disturbing that the stress ball comes in four varieties of disease: bubonic plague, zombie virus, smallpox and cooties.

Maybe he will get plaid shirts in every color of the rainbow instead.

As for Olivia, my 16 year-old step-daughter, when I asked her for some gift ideas she replied, ” I don’t want anything for Christmas.”  Wow, the spirit of Christmas selflessness, or a surly teen? My initial reaction was skepticism, but I should have known better. Olivia is a good student, with a keen interest in politics and foreign policy, and when I watch her interact with her peers and other adults, she is very friendly, polite and respectful. However, like many parents of teens, communicating with adolescents often involves navigating through through long periods of silence or interpreting unintelligble responses of hmm or mmm. When I suggested to Olivia that maybe her relatives want to give her something for Christmas, she  replied, “Well then, tell them to give a donation in my name to Human Rights Watch.”  In these days of Christmas spending and commercialism, and as I experience these challenging teen years,  I choose to accept her wish list at face value and see it as a gift for myself.  Maybe, all our efforts spent of teaching her to be gracious in receiving and imparting the value in giving, are paying off after all. At least she’s not asking for the Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers.

Mom’s House, Dad’s House – When Back and Forth Doesn’t Work for Back to School

Today I have a post up at Huffington Post. You might want to check it out by clicking here.

But, put on your earmuffs if you don’t want to hear a lot of divorce bashing from the commenters. I am tempted to respond to all the ruckus, but honestly, I agree, a little. Divorce can hurt kids. It’s difficult, for everyone. Staying married in an unhealthy situation can hurt kids too. It’s difficult, for everyone. I used to think I would never get divorced, but here I am. And I am doing the best I can, as I think we all try to do with our kids, and our families. So, read the post if you want, and leave a comment if you are so inclined.