Category Archives: Relationship Stuff

The Rewards of Being a Childfree Stepmom

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 9/16/14)

Today – September 16th – is National Stepfamily Day. Did you know there was an actual day to bring awareness to and celebrate stepfamilies? Me neither – and I’m part of a stepfamily!I suspect one big reason why we don’t celebrate National Stepfamily Day is because, for many stepfamilies, there is little to celebrate. It makes sense, if you think about. Stepfamilies are generally formed because of divorce, and divorce is one of the most unpleasant things on earth, so why would we want to celebrate something that is a result of divorce?

Well – I want to celebrate!

I’m a childfree stepmom, which means that I have chosen to have no biological children. Being childfree has it’s own set of challenges, the most basic being a lack of understanding. I read a marvelous article on nymag.com yesterday – 25 Famous Women on Childlessness. If you want to get a good idea of how I feel about not having children, I definitely recommend checking it out. They hit the nail on the head.

So – in honor of National Stepfamily Day, I’ve decided today is a great day to focus on the positive aspects of being a childfree stepmom. There are things I love about having someone else’s children (and not my own) in my life, and I think it’s about time I paid tribute to that.

Having the ‘kid experience’ without all the responsibility.

I choose to be childfree in part because I don’t want the full time responsibility of raising a child. Having stepkids means I get to have kids in my life, but I’m not the primary parent who is making all the choices about their welfare. Instead, I get what I think of as the ‘good stuff’ – learning what makes them tick, hearing about their days and what’s new at school, celebrating birthdays and holidays, shopping for the presents. What I don’t have to do is discipline, drive them to school, pack their lunches, talk to their teachers, teach them to drive – the list goes on and on. I get to know them as people without all the responsibilities that the bio parents have. I think that’s pretty cool, and it helps me build a unique relationship with them.

Having the time and space to pursue my own interests without guilt.

Parenting is hard, there is no doubt about that. Every day is a new challenge, from getting them to eat something healthy to dealing with their performance at school. But not being the biological parent means that generally the onus is off me to solve those problems. I only get involved when it’s clear I need to be involved – I do believe too many cooks in the kitchen can be a problem in stepfamilies, especially when the bio parents have different parenting styles. The kids already have so many different voices to listen to and to please, they don’t need me adding mine to the mix to make things even more confusing. So I stay out of most of those parenting issues. The flipside is that I have extra time to pursue my own interests. My identity is not wholly wrapped up in being a parent. I think part of my success as a stepmom is knowing when my husband needs personal time with the kids without me and not feeling excluded because of it. I simply see it as time that I can spend with my friends or taking a class or gardening or whatever I happen to be into that week.

Being in touch with what it’s like to be a kid today.

As a childfree woman pushing 40, it would be easy to be disconnected to younger generations. But having a unique relationship with my stepkids means I get to see the world through their eyes. I have long discussions with my stepdaughter at the kitchen table. I ask lots of questions about her classes and her friends and her thoughts about life. I think it’s so important just to give kids a chance to talk and be heard, and I like providing that for them. Being a good listener, and offering up advice when needed, gives me a perspective about them and about the world they are growing up in that I think I wouldn’t have if I were a biological parent. I like knowing about what kids are into these days, and seeing how things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same.

It gives me a different perspective about my husband.

I would never have met my husband if he hadn’t had kids. He would be off in some foreign country doing international aid work, most likely. Instead, because of his school age kids, he was here in Los Angeles when I moved here. When we first dated, the kids weren’t there most of the time so I got to know him as an adult. Once our relationship got serious and I saw the kids more and more, I got to know him as a dad and to see a totally different side of him. I find it deeply moving how much he loves his kids and what he’s willing to do for them and it has made our relationship that much more meaningful to me.

It keeps me on my toes with endless surprises.

I’m not always in the know about when I’m going to see the kids or the minutiae of what’s going on in their lives. This certainly keeps me on my toes and teaches me to be flexible. There are also tremendously rewarding surprises, such as last Christmas when my husband and my stepdaughter went to Indiana with me to spend the holiday with my family. My stepkids don’t normally give me presents on holidays (I don’t expect them to), but this Christmas the two of them gave me something special – a necklace that had been given to them from their grandmother, my husband’s mother. I was totally flabbergasted and genuinely moved by their thoughtfulness.

It stretches my heart in ways I never thought possible.

Having kids around has altered my perspective of the world. When they are here at my house, their needs come first. When they are not here, I wonder what they are up to and think about how I can be a better stepmom the next time I see them. Having them in my life has taught me to open my heart and has challenged me to attain higher ideals. I want to be a good role model for them, and that means working on myself so I can be a better person for them. I’ve learned better how to deal with situations I have no control over and how to handle some pretty explosive emotions. I’ve learned that my heart has space in it for them. The heart really is a muscle – the more you work it, the stronger it becomes.
Are you part of a stepfamily? What are some of the things you enjoy about your role? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. And if you’re looking for a great resource for stepmoms, check out StepMom Magazine (and yes – that’s me on the cover!). This magazine has truly provided wisdom and advice when I needed it most, and it is always presented in a positive, problem-solving way.
stepmom

Does Honey Maid Get Their New Stepfamily Commercial Right?

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 9/10/14)

honeymaid

There was a minor stir in my corner of the Internet yesterday. Honey Maid has released a new “documentary” (aka commercial) as part of their This Is Wholesome campaign, featuring what they call a blended family. It features a boy named Isaac with his two parents and two stepparents.

As Isaac sees it, he has two moms and two dads. In fact, the stepmom, in the beginning of the spot, says “I’ll never forget the first time Isaac called me ‘Mom.'” The commercial then goes on to show how these two stepfamilies have come together to raise their children. We see them all together celebrating a birthday, and playing at the beach. The parents talk about how the situation isn’t easy, but that they come together for the sake of the kids. The full clip can be seen at the bottom of the post.

In what world does this actually happen? Is it wrong to say that when I watched this commercial, it made me feel a little queasy?

Please don’t misunderstand me – I think it’s great. I would love to be part of such a highly-functioning stepfamily.  I’m a stepmom, and I enjoy a healthy relationship with both of my stepchildren. I want to be a positive adult role model for them, and I want them to feel that they can talk to me about anything.  But our stepfamily looks nothing like this TV stepfamily. The bio parents struggle to get along, and it feels like we are almost always on the brink of war. The divorce has unfortunately caused a great rift in my husband’s family, and family members have taken sides. It would be a stretch to say that everyone over 20 has acted like an adult at all times. In the beginning, we tried to blend like Isaac’s family. We all attended birthday parties and family events. But that didn’t last, and we’re all still sorting out how to get along well enough to make sure the kids have a good environment in which to grow up. And no matter how much I love my stepkids, I don’t expect or even really want them to call me “mom.”

I feel like the commercial sets up unrealistic expectations. According to the statistics presented in the commercial, more than 40% of Americans are part of a blended family. How many of those families do you think actually look like this one? From my experience, very few. In a perfect world, we’d all behave like adults all of the time. But in most stepfamilies, the reality is quite different. Seeing commercials like this makes it easy to feel like we’re failing, when we are already trying as hard as we can to make the situation as best as it can be amongst people who just don’t get along.

I applaud Honey Maid for daring to approach this subject, in the same way I applaud Cheerios for showing a different kind of family in their recent campaign. But I look forward to the day when we can be more honest about how these types of families function so that we don’t feel like we have to live up to impossible standards. I gave up trying to look like a swimsuit model long ago, even though that’s what the media tells me I should look like. I don’t want to be made to feel that I’m also failing as a stepmom, when I think I’m doing a pretty damn good job considering the circumstances.