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i’m allowed to get upset as a stepmom, too

Stepmoms– and even some biological moms– will tell you this: they aren’t “allowed” to get upset at their stepchildren. I read this quote that said, “When a mom has a bad day, she’s allowed to vent. If a stepmom does the same, she’s stereotyped.”

Of course feelings don’t listen to any of that. Of course stepmoms do get upset. But, you see, what they really mean isn’t that they aren’t allowed to show that upset feeling—and if they do, then they get punished in ways that a biological parent would not. A biological parent, they say, can get mad, display that anger, and get “away” with it. A stepparent cannot.

Fortunately, neither the quote or the sentiment is true.

Sure, I will be judged harshly by many if I get upset. And I happen to be a stepmom. It’s true the same people who will judge me won’t judge my munchkins’ biological mother. As their biological caregiver, she gets certain privileges with them.

But, you see, people like to judge. And they like to support. It’s not about you, it’s about them. So, yeah, these people will judge me. Because they are her people. But, you see, mine will support me and judge her. Only I don’t surround myself with sycophants, like she does. And, hey, maybe most bio mothers will surround themselves with “yes” friends, whereas stepmoms will surround themselves with all types—and maybe that’s why stepmoms feel extra judged. I have no idea. But I do know this.

Let’s not forget whose opinion truly matters when it comes to you and your stepkids.

Even if it were true that society likes to condemn stepmothers over biological mothers? I’d personally argue against it– don’t feel like getting into it here and now–, but I’ll allow it for a thought experiment. Let’s say that I get judged for displaying anger and frustration, but she does not. It’s okay, because, quite frankly, I don’t care about their opinion. I do care about the munchkins’ feelings toward me.

And the truth is, my kids accept a goddamn lot from anyone in their life—including me. I haven’t been perfect, anymore than their mother. And they forgive her, yes, but they also forgive me. They just want me to be better than I was yesterday. They want me to apologize and say thank you and recognize what they do. I think I do mostly good and very little bad these days, but I have messed up. Fairly severely sometimes. I’ve never crossed the line with them. That line varies from person to person, but I’ve never crossed theirs. I hope to God that I never do.

And when I wake up the next day and I treat them well and I try their best, they respond to me. They understand I mess up. I can see it in their faces when they help me celebrate my birthday and they are so excited and anxious that I like what they did for me. Did I like the cake? It was pretty good, huh, special buttercream frosting. Did you like the frosting? The big fancy balloon, that was so you, right? Did I do a good job distracting you with games while everyone else got your birthday stuff ready?

And consider this: Maybe you aren’t judged more than she is, but, rather, you beat yourself up more over every loss of emotional control.

You can get mad at yourself for getting mad. But, remember, she does the same thing. You can think you are the only one that gets flak, but trust me, you don’t see everything in her life anymore than she sees everything in yours. She gets judgement, flak, cruel comments and snide looks, too. You just aren’t there to see them.

So, regardless of what is happening to you, please forgive yourself. Trust me, she’s probably not only forgiving herself, she’s not even acknowledging she did anything wrong. Why should you beat yourself up daily, while she skates?

And most importantly, accept the kids’ forgiveness. Because they want to like you. Every time I want to respond petulantly, but I choose to step up and be an adult? The kids reward the heck out of me! They let my past go, all the bad bits and let me focus on the good bits, because I guide how the conversations go. I’m the adult. I set the tone. And they happily follow when it means a warm, happy relationship between us (because after all, they mess up, too!).

Plus, kids are just as much of little sh*ts at times towards their own parents as their stepparents. Yeah, they say mean things to me sometimes. But they’ve never told me I ruined their life ON MY BIRTHDAY. Yeah, a certain bio mother I know can’t say the same about her kids. And that doesn’t mean they love her any less than they love me– but they don’t exactly act like little angels with her, either. Let’s not fool ourselves.

So, let them see your best. Remember that you can always strive for your best, whatever others may think of you. Because the ones who matter? They are waiting for it.

loving a motherless child

“I couldn’t love a motherless child.”

So said Catelyn Stark about the boy she thought was her husband’s bastard. Games of Thrones is my new background noise. But I don’t really understand. It’s so easy to love children, I think. Especially the three in my care.

Sometimes it might be easier if they were motherless. Everyone loves you if you love a child who has lost a mother. Nobody cares if you love a child who’s mother is still living. They’re supposed to be happy with what they’ve got. And you’re the intruder.

And it’s even harder when the children love you back. Because you feel guilty for doing something good.

I don’t know if their mother loves them or not. But I can’t not love them. I can’t not be there for them when she’s not. And even when she is. It’s not enough, and it’s too little, too late.

And even if she were the perfect mother, they deserve all the love they can get. And I will keep on giving them that love.

…no matter who tells me I can’t.

how to earn a child’s respect (spoilers)

…from Game of Thrones. (Although, if you haven’t seen the show by now, spoilers probably won’t matter)

I apologize- a bit, but only a bit– for my latest bit of obsession with this show, but I wanted to write something light and sweet. Too many hard subjects on my mind of late.

Do you know the scene where Jon Snow gives Arya her first sword? He tells her, “First lesson, stick them with the pointy end.” To which she replies, annoyed, “I KNOW what end to use!” Like, geez, brother, how dumb do you think I am? I’m eleven years old already!

But then, later, her dad knocks at her bedroom door, and even though she’s angry with him, she opens the door. She’s standing there, sword at the ready. Her dad gestures her to sit next to him. After ensuring she’s not practicing in order to stab her sister, he asks,”Do you know the first thing about sword fighting?” “Stick them with the pointy end!,” she responds instantly.

…because, yes, she’s a little girl.

And even though she’s angry and annoyed with everyone around her (what 11 yo isn’t?), she still listens. Her brother TOLD her the first lesson was “stick them with the pointy end,” and he must be right. Because he’s her brother. Most importantly, she trusts him.

And that’s the first sign you’ve earned a child’s respect. When they repeat something you’ve said. Sure they might brush you off. Snap at you. Ignore you (or act like they’re ignoring you).

But they’re not. They’re always listening. And, if they feel a connection to you, they’ll internalize your wisdom.

Take care what you say around children that care about you…
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how to be a great parent AND a fantastic partner

“[My] kids come first in everything…We live and breathe for our children. When they are grown and have families of their own then we will have our time together again….No exceptions. I love my children far more than I love my husband!”

“We raise our children to become independent, to leave us and make their own lives. If we wish to have a life with our spouse after the children leave? We have to put the marriage first, nurture it. So there will continue to be a marriage when they move on.”

“No babysitters. Our children are TOP priority and we haven’t been on a real date since before our oldest was born. It’s rough but it’s our reality. And neither one of us trust just anybody with our children.”

I read this article, “Put your spouse first, kids second!” The article claimed this to be the way to ensure a happy family and marriage.

Of course not everyone agreed. Some vehmently objected and said their kids always came first! Others said, yes, if you don’t take care of your spouse- the one who will be there for you when the kids are gone- you will end up with nothing. Most took one side or the other.

I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that not everyone lives this way, because, well,

What about the crazy idea that you put both (kids and spouse/partner/insert any other appropriate relationship title) first?

Is it truly that hard? I understand for some it can be…they don’t want to put one above the other, but they don’t always know how to make it happen.

Some parents do understand this, of course.

I’m currently trying to balance this in my own marriage. After we had kids i feel like we kinda forgot there was an us first. My first child was always there (she was 2 when we started seeing each other) but after we had our son our marriage kinda got put on hold. We had to take a step back and remember WE were important too!”

Facebook commenter

I’m tired of the idea that it needs to be a competition between spouse and kids.

I don’t want that life. I didn’t agree with the person who said that they never went on a date, because they had to be with their kids every second. Or the person who said you had to put marriage first. Their argument being that kids would grow up and leave, but the marriage would always be there. Because parents need date nights and an identity that isn’t being a parent. And kids need attention, too.

I’d like to propose a modest solution: find a way to put the FAMILY first.

Which includes YOU as part of the family. I have no intention of my kids growing up and leaving me, anymore than I left my parents when I left my family home. Of course I’d want our kids to be independent and living on their own– but I don’t want them gone! I am still there for my parents on a near weekly basis. So, no, I won’t find myself in the position of having my kids gone and only my spouse left.

I don’t think you should choose kids now, spouse later OR spouse first, because kids will leave, spouse will stay. I think you should have date nights and be there for your kids. Take care of everyone’s needs and wants, as well as your own (theoretically your spouse and even, to an extent, your children, are doing the same for you; it’s not just you giving and everyone else taking).

There must be a way to live that doesn’t make either feel “second place.”

Because that’s what I have with my partner and family. And I wouldn’t ask anyone else to accept less.

I’ve always felt lucky in that my primary partner has always made me feel valued and prioritized in our relationship, not despite, but because of the fact we have kids that we are raising together.

And to be quite frank, while it is hard work, I don’t think it’s any harder than trying to make your spouse happy at expense of children (or vice versa.) Having a family and raising kids? It’s hard. But that doesn’t mean it has to be painful and miserable. (And if you want an easier life, which is PERFECTLY fine, don’t have kids! It’s avoidable these days, and if you are unable to access these options, CONTACT ME and I WILL help you! You do not have to be a mother unless you want it! I cannot entirely say this about fathers, so please be smart about this!)

What if life was more like this?

“I love my kids with all my heart. I do everything for them. But if I have the opportunity to leave them with family and take my husband on a romantic vacation? That’s happening. If my husband and I are having an argument that’s difficult to come to terms, you bet my kids are being sent outside. Or to their rooms, until we have both resolved our issues. Prioritizing my marriage isn’t about putting my kids last, it’s about keeping their parents happy, and their lives stable.”

Facebook commenter

And this,

“I always feel these articles should be worded more along the lines of “Don’t let being a parent completely overrun your relationship.” As in, I am always a mother first, however I still am a human seperate that with hopes and dreams. You are allowed time to be just yourself. In the same way, we should remember that it’s okay to leave the kids with someone and go out with your SO. It’s okay to occasionally “put them second” in this sense, to make sure you get to remember who you are as a couple as well ♥️ but, no, I couldn’t imagine saying they come first all the time.

Facebook commenter

Because that’s how my life works, and it actually does work, and everyone is pretty happy. No, I’m not saying that everyone is happy all the time and always gets what they want. But the compromises work well for all involved and aren’t usually much of a compromise. And it isn’t just me. Just from the support of comments I made on the article, I know that many find ways to balance the needs of everyone in the family.

So how do we move away from this competition between making the marriage succesful and making the relationship with children successful?

Because, while some have found their own solutions and balance, this remains a problem. Many couples with children do choose to neglect one or the other and make one come “first.”

I noted this statisic from the article,

“[M]ultiple researchers have shown a precipitous drop in the level of marital satisfaction in the first three years of a new baby,” says Liz Colizza, a licensed professional counselor and head of research at Lasting, a relationship counseling app. In fact, 67 percent of all couples experience a drop, while only 33 percent maintain their level of satisfaction, according to research published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

“Why My Children Will Always Come Second to My Marriage”

I don’t know what to do about solving this widespread problem. But I do think we can encourage some- in my opinion- healthier behaviors. Perhaps ask your non monogamous friends in healthy, happy relationships.

Some of my non monogamous/poly friends in the healthiest relationships I know also have some of the best relationships I know with their children; because they’re already used to balancing multiple priorities. They already learned those “relationship skills.”

Similarly, I wonder if that makes -good- parents great candidates for polyamorous relationships, “I can treat both my spouse and children well, of course I can treat a new partner well.”

Or…here’s a few suggestions. Such as:

It’s okay to go on a date night and leave the kids with Grandma.

Or with any other family member. Or with a babysitter. Or at a sleepover with friends. Your kids, in fact, need to develop good relations with people that aren’t you. I think it’s much more selfish to make your children dependent on you and only know how to interact with you– than it is to allow them some time away from you. You get time for date night with your spouse (or whomever)! And Grandma has the chance to get to know her grandchildren. Win-win-win.

Develop friendships, close relationships, with other adults who can help you as you help them. I am my kids’ “friendmom.” My family wouldn’t know what to do without me. Can you find a friendmom for your family? Someone like an aunt, but closer to you emotionally (or perhaps you do have an aunt that is an integral member of the famiy, rather than a distant, or even loving, relative)?

Because I promise you that you don’t want to end up having it so bad between the two (your children and spouse) that you are forced to choose the happiness of one or the other. Because their wants and happiness are so divergent that you cannot possibly make both happen.

Or let’s say you absolutely cannot find a way to make both parties happy and prioritized.

You never have a date night, because your kids need you with them every second of every evening. Or your husband tells you that you need to move to a home that is more convenient to his work, even though that means uprooting your children for their friends, life, and the school that they love to a school with which they are incredibly unhappy (yes, sometimes moving is necessary but the children should benefit from the move, too).

Well, that is a sucky situation. I, personally, would choose my children in that case and find a new partner to help raise them. And I think, often, most others do, too. Or maybe they just make the best of it for everyone, with nobody really getting what they want. But I don’t think anyone would say that’s a great situation.

Please try and make sure that you and the mother/father of your children are on the same page as to A) how to raise them and B) how to balance your family life! Failure to do that (and, yes, life happens) can have miserable consequences.

The rest of it?

A good relationship counselor or marriage counselor can probably help you figure out the day to day issues, if you have trouble with time management, etc.

It’s not at all impossible to reach that place of happiness and contentment among your family; it’s just a life skill that some haven’t learned (like any skill, it’s hard until it’s not hard).

How do you balance YOUR family life?


P.S. Are you trying to find a way to balance your spouse and children AND considering entering a polyamorous relationship, too? Not sure how you’ll manage it all? Stayed tuned for my next piece on “scheduling poly dating life and childcare: how do you make them both work?”!