The Package Deal

I define “The Package Deal” as an understanding that a woman accepts before taking on the role of stepmom or bonus mom. At times, we believe it’s enough to just love your partner and all things will just work out. However, it’s a bit more complex than that when you consider the family dynamic before you entered the picture. In the beginning of a relationship, you are enjoying the blissful aspects of your relationship such as the romantic dates, flowers, gifts, sex, daily text messages and phone calls. You are aware he is a father but depending on the visitation schedule, you may not have that much exposure to the child(ren). As a result, you can easily make a decision with limited information. I would suggest giving yourself time to see the family dynamic firsthand before making such a commitment. Because your partner has a dual role, you can’t have one without the other which is why it’s considered a package deal. If you try to divide the two, you will lose! When I started dating my future husband, he would have his son every other weekend but made it to school events, games and anything he was involved with. Every other weekend is not enough time for anyone to bond with their child(ren) and certainly not enough time for a future stepmom to catch a glimpse of what her life could be like.

As a stepchild myself, I resented the relationship or lack thereof with my stepfather no matter how bad I may have wanted it. He would make it clear that I wasn’t his daughter so we never connected on that level. I believe his rejection shaped me into the stepmother I am today because I refused to allow someone else to feel that pain. Many years later, I found myself feeling the same way because as much as I loved my stepson as if he was my own, he still wasn’t mine. Ironically, I have my stepfather to thank for showing me all the things I wouldn’t ever do with my stepson. I had so many choices early on to reject the package deal and make excuses to avoid connecting with my stepson. As I said yes to my future husband’s proposal, I was also saying “I DO promise to love you, be loyal, faithful and protect you and I DO vow to love your son and nurture him as my own.” It’s been many years since I’ve accepted the package deal and I still stand by decision to be the best stepmom/bonus I could be.

In-Laws

When you find the person you want to spend your life with, very seldom do you take into account your in-laws. After all, you are marrying him not them, right? This mindset can be helpful or hurtful especially when you are co-parenting and your in-laws are on neutral ground. When I say neutral ground, I am referring to inclusion of family events and being amicable towards the biological mother despite knowing of the ongoing issues. In my family, if a person is a known source of issues for a family member, they are not invited or treated friendly. I know it sounds immature but it is what it is! Inclusion and being amicable towards the biological mother took a long time to come to terms with because I never understood it or agreed with it. For me, it was difficult to appreciate them as my in-laws when they failed to preserve our peace at a family function. At certain functions, I would alienate myself from them to avoid being the “problem.” I struggled to respect their decision, not despise the biological mom and enjoy myself at the function. Whew, that was a lot of work! As a result, these choices, if not all, allowed me to build resentment towards my in-laws and the biological mother.

What is the bigger problem? Some may believe that it’s okay for the biological mother to be there because she had been invited and is amicable with your in-laws. If we were co-parenting successfully, inclusion wouldn’t have been an issue for me at all. The fact that she would show up as if we were had become more disturbing than anything. Did I really expect my in-laws to ban the biological mother for the sake of my husband and I? Truthfully, yes! I would have preferred for them to wait until both sides were amicable before inviting the biological mother. I understand they made the decision based on her being my stepson’s mother. However, it created a false sense of reality for him because once the event was over, we went to back to business as usual with us barely speaking to his mother. Essentially, what was this really communicating to him?

The question remains: Is it okay for the in-laws to invite the biological mother to functions knowing that there are unresolved issues? Does the answer depend on the offenses of the mother and should it? Every family is different but by choosing to invite the biological mother, does that translate to your relative and his wife that you are not concerned about their feelings or situation? Can the actions of the in-laws be viewed as waving the white flag and choosing not to pick a side? I would love to hear another perspective on this.

The Uneven Seesaw

When I became a custodial stepmom over 8 years ago, I was foolish enough to not have expectations. My stepson came to live with us when he was nearly 8 years old and one month before giving birth to our first child. I thought it would be a great bonding experience because although the boys had different mothers, the idea of “half brothers” would never be an option in our house. I didn’t have any initial concerns because I didn’t believe that my role would change from when he visited on the weekends besides helping with homework. However, you can call it naïve because I stepped knee deep into the role of being a martyr stepmother without a clue. To be clear, my husband never once asked me to do it but it was in my nature to take care of my stepson like he was my own. It didn’t bother me to take care of homework, doctor appointments, sports, after care, school shopping, etc until I became overwhelmed.

My husband had got promoted on his job a few months after my stepson moved with us so he started working more but I still had hopes that his mother would help. When he started school that year, I remember her bringing school clothes then it was reduced to a half pack of underwear. There were opportunities at school to be involved in that she missed and she was unavailable to help out with homework, doctor appointments, sports, after care, etc. It was a stressful time because I was learning to be a mom to two kids at the same time. I had no experience with being fully responsible for a child yet alone two so I was looking forward to the weekends where my stepson would visit with her. Sadly, the visits were not on the regular as we hoped. Naturally, there was a lot of resentment towards her because I expected her to be more involved as his mother and be a co-parent. As a result, the tension between us grew and she never did assume the responsibilities I had hoped she would. So my mind began to wonder…

Why wouldn’t his mother want to do the things she once did for him? Was it my fault? Was I a threat to her? Not in the physical as in bodily harm but as it relates to role and position. Do I simplify my efforts to put her at ease? Or do I continue at my maximum capacity and wait for her to catch up? I know I am naturally an over-achiever but is she accustomed to operating at her potential? Do I boldly exercise my strengths which highlights her weakness and insecurities? Or do I reduce yourself to her level of capacity? How do we find a common ground or will there always be an uneven seesaw in the relationship where one side is carrying the heavier load? Where do I dump the extra weight I willingly packed onto my shoulders? Do I trust releasing that much weight for the other side to hit the ground hard and fall off? What would be the benefit? For the sake of feeling free and lighter when I know she can’t handle the pressure?

The obvious solution would be for both sides to share the load to balance the seesaw. If one side continually handles the heavier side, they enable the other side to not do their part. As I’m looking back, the adults (us) did a terrible job in communicating the transition my stepson would have to face. We never set boundaries, expectations and really thought it would naturally work out. I regret not doing that because it led to countless arguments, tension and anger for years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we took one responsibility at a time from our plate and placed it onto hers? As she managed that, we could add another and so forth until the seesaw was level. We understand now that both sides that are willing to manage the load together will find balance, peace and a stronger relationship.

Half Empty or Half Full?

I found myself looking at my contribution as a stepmother to measure what I was bringing to the table. I always found the analogy of the half empty/half full glass of milk to be interesting so I applied it to my co-parenting situation.

To answer the question whether the glass is half empty or half full depends on the perspective of the one holding the glass. One parent may feel that he/she is doing everything possible for the sake of the child but in reality they are not pouring enough milk (time, money, resources) into the glass to nourish their child. We can describe their parenting level as the glass being half empty. Another parent may actually be doing everything possible to nourish the child and pours all of their milk (time, money and resources) to fill up the child. Their parenting level can be described as the glass being half full. Theoretically, each effort adds more milk to the cup in hopes of filling it to the brim. It seems unfair to have one parent do more than the other, right? I argue it’s all about your perspective. If both parents are lucky, they will see an overflow of what they poured into that child which then can be used to help others. How would you describe your parenting style?

As parents, we believe that we are doing all that we could to pour the right things into our child so that one day we can be proud to show off our accomplishment: a smart, respectable, mature, responsible, talented young person ready to take on the world. However, I challenge every parent to reconsider what else they may have poured into their child(ren). While you may have paid for sports or music lessons, have you also allowed the drama and negativity of your co-parenting to seep in? Is your child(ren) aware of the ongoing battle over him/her? Are they able to communicate this to you or do they internalize it? As co-parents, we must be mindful of what we pour into our children because if not, we can cause more damage which will result in expensive therapy now or later.

The Unforgiving Heart

I’ve always struggled with unforgiveness no matter the size of the offense. It’s deep rooted in me. I would put grown adults on “time out” unbeknownst to them for something I had not forgiven them for. It was my problem not theirs. So I began to wonder…..

How do you forgive others who aren’t truly sorry? How do you overcome forgiving others when they are unaware of their offense? How do you overcome forgiving others when they don’t understand the depth of your pain? How do you overcome forgiving others when they are unapologetic? More importantly, how do you forgive yourself? How can you move forward with the person you forgave? Do you stop all interactions until the feelings pass? What if they are family or even a spouse or child? It’s much easier to forgive them, right? Does forgiving mean that you are weak? Does forgiving mean that you allow the same opportunity for another offense to occur? Are you supposed to resist the urge to speak your mind and destroy them with your venomous words if you have truly forgiven them? Is this a sign you are on the road to forgiveness when you choose not to unleash hell on them? What does forgiveness even look like? It’s an ongoing behavior that must be consistent with that statement without pretense. Are some people more unforgiving than others? Does it depend on your upbringing? Is it a learned behavior?

For years, this was a sore spot for me and honestly, it still is. Too many times, I confused forgiveness with being soft or passive out of fear of the offenses continuing. In retrospect, I would say my upbringing had alot to do with how I chose to forgive others. In my family, we held grudges for so long that people often forgot what they were originally mad about and instead of dropping the matter altogether, the cycle continued for years. I knew it was unhealthy to hold these grudges but my pride wouldn’t allow me to give in.  Every now and again, the BM (Biological Mom) needed grace and I was ruthless in withholding it. I had been scarred pretty early on in my stepmom journey so it took very little effort to spark an outburst. The few times when I tried to convince myself that I had actually committed the act of forgiveness, I would find myself in a situation that proved to me how wrong I was. I would hear people say that forgiveness is for you and by doing so, it would free the burden in your heart. After a while, I decided that forgiving BM took too much effort and I would never learn the lesson. Eventually, I began to look at forgiveness in a practical way because as humans, we all mess up and will continue until the end of time. Everyone has at least one thing in their life they just can’t get right. Just think about how draining it would it be to have someone constantly holding that over your head. Get the point? Choose to forgive over and over if you have to. It’s not a one time thing and then you’re done. Forgiveness takes daily discipline.

Unforgiveness freezes time while forgiveness allows the sun to rise daily and the moon to take its place. Whether you choose to hold onto grudges or forgive with no expectations, only you can decide how to use your time.