Step- Parenting: Recharging your Batteries

 

It wasn’t until I met my partner and his daughter that I realised just how important it is to take time out for yourself.
Being a step- parent figure is incredibly hard, especially if your partner’s children aren’t as welcoming of you as you would like. It is a thankless job (I think in this day and age we deserve a ‘Step-Mother / Step-Father Day) made all the more harder because there is this unspoken expectation that you will automatically (and successfully) assume the parent- type role. This expectation isn’t just from external sources either, but can be an unconscious expectation of yourself.
‘Surely, my partner wouldn’t be with me if he didn’t see me being a good role model for his daughter?’
Whether this is true or not I can’t say but this is what I unconsciously assumed the expectation was and have since tried desperately to be the best role model and guiding figure I could be.
I have since learned that he didn’t expect me to be all- singing- all- dancing but that doesn’t detract from that fact that by stepping into an already formed familial unit, you feel an obligation to automatically assume a particular role.

I am still young(ish) and don’t have children of my own however, from conversations with friends who do, being a mother in general is exhausting. Tiring, never-ending, incessant and rewarding, they all agree they wouldn’t have it any other way because they’re “their kids” and they love them unconditionally.
So what does this mean for the step-parent? For me?
We go through all the same trials and experiences but we are fought all the way by the kids who don’t see us as an authoritative figure; by undermining partners who can’t see the potentially devastating effect their actions have on an already tentative relationship; and even our own consciousness second guessing if this is OK. And we do this for kids we don’t automatically love. We might be lucky enough to learn to love them but it is not an automatic, intuitive state for us- we are in this situation because of our love for our partners.

I have always said that I have been incredibly lucky with Miss E. and I will say it again- Since day one she has been nothing but lovely and accepting of me and I am very aware of how lucky I have been with her. I do love her and keenly want the very best for her and her future. However, this does not mean that this role and its transition has been easy.
Miss E. will listen to me when I ask her to do something but if she doesn’t want to, she will choose to ignore me and either push or overstep my boundaries. Unfortunately, this is because her father still (unconsciously) undermines me- despite telling me I can give her boundaries and say no if I feel I need to- on pretty much everything which means that I perpetually feel at limbo in our little unit when she is around.

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I do find this incredibly difficult as each time this happens, I feel that the path I’ve been on needs to be reset each time he undermines me because suddenly I don’t know where my parameters lie any more.
Am I not allowed to say that any more? Can I not do that? Is she allowed to do that in future? I thought you said you would support me?
I find this state of limbo incredibly unsettling and distressing because I feel like no matter what I do, there will always be that rejection and denial.
As I’m sure many of you are familiar, things like this eventually add up until you literally feel like you have nothing left to offer- that you’ve tried everything to get it right and still your efforts are shunned. For me it stacks up into this big ball of anxiety, frustration, resentment and displacement which I eventually vent hopelessly at my partner amid tissues and tears, exclaiming that ‘I can’t do this any more’ and that ‘I don’t know what you want from me’.

We have just had a fantastic weekend with Miss E, which unfortunately ended on a low note as I discovered the cake tin I lent her- my only one- to take her mothers day cake over to her mums, ended up in the bin because she ‘forgot’ to tell her mum that I wanted it back. (Before any of you ask, her mother is f***ing useless so yes of course she just binned it without checking with Miss E. if she needed to return it.)
I later found out that my partner was aware of this and they both “forgot” to tell me. Miss E is nearly 13 years old and I have been trying to teach her about taking responsibility and ownership for her actions, but obviously I am alone in this as neither parent (nor her) thought it right that she owned up and apologised.

Rude
That’s just RUDE.

Neither Miss E. nor her mother have offered to replace my tin- so much for responsibility and ownership!-  so I’ve just decided not to lend anything out again and she will have to improvise from now on.

This may seem trivial but I believe that if someone is kind enough to trust you with their property, you look after it or replace it if you don’t. At the moment I feel like I am the only one out of the four of us that believes that.

So today I have taken some time out and taken a day for me. I left the house at 08:30 am for breakfast and had a lovely smashed avocado and bacon bagel with a strong cup of tea before mooching into town to do some clothes shopping for my holiday in 5 weeks and to buy a new cake tin (Didn’t happen as couldn’t find one I liked- if i’m going to buy another one I may as well get a pretty one!).

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It seems mad to think that simple issues like the above can take such a toll on your patience but when you constantly find yourself in situations where you, the things you care about and your property are so easily overlooked and dismissed, it is easy to see how situations can escalate and stack up and tempers fray.

This is why it is so important to take time out for you on a regular basis.

I perpetually feel like I have completely subsumed myself into my partners life (I gave up my flat, sold a lot of furniture, given up my free time to plan meals and activities etc around my partner and his daughter) and it is the only way I can do something for me to combat these feelings and not feel guilty.
Giving yourself permission to do something for you is a double edged sword however. You shouldn’t have to give yourself permission to make you the priority- the child is your partner’s after all and not yours, you are still independent from your partner to some degree. But by giving yourself permission you remove all the guilt you would normally feel and you can really enjoy your day.
I try and do this at least once every fortnight and if I leave it for much longer I find my energy and patience reserves waning.

This morning was a beautiful, sunny morning when I walked into town and as it is Easter Monday there weren’t many people about which really made it so much better.
I sat at my table, looked out the window at the world waking up, enjoying my bagel and tea and started writing this post- I can’t tell you how easily these words came to me and how carefree it made me feel.

I am wondering if this is the routine I should adopt every fortnight if it feels this good.

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Step-Parenting: A Letter To Her Mother

 

To the mother of my partner’s daughter,

I wish we had a better relationship.
I wish we were able to work together for the good of your daughter.
I wish that discussing any issues and concerns with you wouldn’t be seen as a direct betrayal of my partner.
Were he to grant his permission for me to do this, I wish you would listen and acknowledge my concerns- you won’t.

I wish I didn’t have to put the below into a letter and hope you may chance upon it and read these words. I know you won’t.

I wish you paid attention to her daily routine.
I wish you realised that at 12.5 years old, washing your face and brushing your teeth should by now be routine.
I wish you were proactive enough to ensure she does this every day.
I wish you weren’t so oblivious that you allowed her to go 3 days at a time without doing this, resulting in hideously bad breath and a dirty, spotty face covered up with too much foundation.
I wish that being with her father and I wasn’t the only time we knew she did this.

I wish you cared about the state of her room.
I wish you were concerned about the disgusting state of her room at yours.
I wish you ensured she didn’t leave copious amounts of cups, plates and saucers lying around in her room for days on end to ferment and mould.
I wish you were worried about the large amounts of sweet and chocolate wrappers littering the floor and limit her intake of sugar.
I wish you were as worried as we are about the health of her teeth with all the confectionery she eats, especially when she isn’t brushing them.

I wish you would impose a bedtime routine.
It is nice that you afford her a certain level of autonomy concerning her bedtime routine (brushing of teeth and washing of face not withstanding) however I wish you wouldn’t allow her the freedom to stay up past 1.00 am every night watching YouTube videos after she has sneaked her phone up to bed, especially on a school night.
I wish you understood that it is neglectful when it gets to the point that she falls asleep in the car when we come to pick her up after school.
I wish your lack of parenting didn’t affect her to the point where it impacts on our time with her.

I wish you would be assertive and ensure she actually sleeps when she goes to bed.
I wish you cared enough about her and how you come across as a mother to give us more than a half arsed “well… she has had a few late nights” and casting a casual ‘haven’t you?‘ glance at her.

I wish you would put a stop to her having her phone at night.
I wish you cared enough to put a stop to her sneaking her phone up to her room.
I wish your lack of authority hadn’t encouraged her to twice attempt to sneak her phone upstairs after we sent her to bed- she knows that with us, her phone is to stay downstairs on charge once she goes to bed.
I wish I hadn’t had to worry about catching her in the act of sneaking it the first night.
I wish we hadn’t realised at 12:45 am on the next night- also a school night- that she had snuck downstairs and sneaked it up. She was still watching her YouTube channels when we went to retrieve it at this ungodly hour.
I wish it hadn’t encouraged her to lie about knowing where her phone was a few nights later resulting in us searching for it for half an hour (to no avail) before seeing her on Whatsapp an hour after she should have been asleep.
I wish you had raised her to understand that there are consequences for breaking rules.
I wish you would implement them like a parent should.

I wish her poor absence record wasn’t down to your lack of stoicism.
I wish you weren’t so lax about allowing her so much time off school for stupid reasons.
I wish that 1 time when she had Tonsillitis wasn’t the only real occasion she has had for not going to school.
I wish you and her father would take me seriously when I tell you that each time outside of that illness, she has admitted that her ‘headache’ and ‘leg pain’ wasn’t bad enough that she couldn’t go to school.
I wish you understood that she plays you to get time off because she knows you will let her.
I wish you would realise that in the 2 and a half years since I’ve been around, she has not once tried to get a day off school.
Not. Once.

I wish you saw the patterns of avoiding that German test on the Thursday, Friday and Monday, despite being with us over the weekend and being perfectly fine.
I wish you noticed how many last days of school before holidays she has pulled a sickie on.

I wish you realised that you are raising her to think that absence records don’t matter.
I wish you realised that you are raising her to be weak and give up too easily.

I also really wish you knew that as an asthmatic, you should not, ever, be giving her Ibupofen as a pain killer. It makes me sick to see how quickly she asks for it if she feels slightly off.

I wish you reminded her to take her inhaler everywhere.
I wish you knew she doesn’t bother taking it with her when she goes out with her friends from yours.
I wish you knew she had a minor asthma attack in town with her friends because she ‘forgot’.

I wish you would stop being lazy, thoughtless and callous when it comes to raising your pre-teen.
I wish you could see how detrimental your lack of parenting could potentially be to her development, not to mention her health.

I just wish you would stop being you and start being a fucking parent.

 

Kind regards,

The other woman that truly loves and nurtures your daughter (when you apparently can’t be bothered)

 

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The Perks of Being a (Step)Parent

 

 

When you first meet your partners daughter, don’t give her a flat coke- That guilt will stick with you.

I’d only been seeing my partner for a month before he (unexpectedly) introduced me to his 10 year old daughter.

I don’t know how you feel about this but I know I definitely didn’t feel ready and I was worried about how she might feel and react.
My cupboards were bare at the time, I had no juice or milk to offer her, just some coke from a recently opened bottle. My place could have used a bit of a tidy and a clean and as someone who hasn’t got kids nor had much dealing with them, I was more than a little unprepared.

Thankfully I was very lucky with Erin and the meeting went much better than expected (bar the flat coke incident above of which she was too polite to tell me about until months later. I am still mortified to this day.)

Since then I have made every number of mistakes and constantly find myself wondering how I am still here and managing to avoid ruining her for life.

It’s coming up to 2 years now and I truly love her to bits. I am so proud of her and how sweet, gentle and polite she is. She still retains that innocent naivety of youth, but at the same time I am lucky enough to see her grow and evolve into the beginnings of a lovely young woman.


Sharing the milestones

Sharing in many of life’s milestones is one of the key experiences you will get as a successful step- parent.
The first one for me was when Erin allowed me the privilege of sharing in one big milestone of any girl’s life- bra shopping and buying ‘lady things’. The latter she won’t need for a few years yet (she is so slim and her development so slight that we doubt she will start anytime soon) but it makes sense to be prepared and it was important to me that she felt she had our support for the changes coming her way.

I remember the first time I went shopping for these things with my mum for example, and I was quite uncomfortable.
With Erin it’s different. She is excited for the changes to come and has embraced what development she has. Being slim and a ‘young’ 12 year old, she is almost desperate to catch up to her friends, many of whom have developed noticeably after hitting puberty.
One of my  struggles at the moment is getting her to dress appropriate for her age and development, to understand everything has its time- which is a problem as she wants to keep pace with her friends.
Personally I don’t agree with a pre-pubescent 12 year old running around flaunting her first bra- the bright orange and blue padded one- through a sheer lace crop top, so trying to get her to understand the concepts of ‘dignity’ and ‘age-appropriate’ is my current goal.

Saying this, a work colleague told me 12 is the new 15, so I fear my quest is doomed

Despite this, I am glad that she sees these changes in a positive light, I wish I had at her age because it is an exciting time and a right of passage.

Just as a side note seeing as we are talking about milestones, Erin and I said our first official ‘I love you’s’ last week and I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since.


Being the Confidante

secret

A year ago Erin described me as ‘like family but a friend‘ and it is by far one of my proudest moments.
She has since then confided in me about her first crush and first boyfriend- the innocent first boyfriend that you hang out with at school and put a title to- Inside I freaked out when she first told me, but as she got squeamish at the thought of what you do with tampons and begged me not to buy her any, I can safely say that sex definitely isn’t on the cards just yet. (Phew.)

Being the confidante and the person she talks to puts you in a much better position to that of the parent. You are given access to what is going on in their heads and their lives at a stage where most parents are kept in the dark. After reading a few blogs on the subject of parenting a teenager, the more they tell you the better so the longer you can maintain this level of communication the better a ‘parent’ you can be.
Finding your Place in the Familial Unit

 

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Family is the most basic unit in a society. We need to do what we can to strengthen and protect it. As a Christian, it is my prayer that God grant me the wisdom to do just that.

As a step-parent, you do have that awkward position of helping to mould them, care for them and love them but disciplining them is a grey area and I’m not sure it’s ever a place where the goal posts don’t move- I know I have long struggled with where mine lie as my partner keeps unintentionally moving them, making me uncertain of how I can impose guidelines and rules.

It has taken me a long time to realise that maybe I don’t belong in that role. Perhaps I belong on the flip side as the ‘family but a friend’ they can confide in.
Who says that as a step- parent you have to fit into the mould of the generic parent? Why not be the confidante that can coach from the sidelines, moulding and shaping through alternative avenues to the parent?
This is not to say don’t put your foot down. Sometimes you need to say ‘no’ but in situations where guidance is a solution, the step-parent is in the ideal position to do this.

If the child trusts you and respects you enough to divulge their secrets, then they will respect your opinions and listen to your guidance.

Leave the discipline and conventional parenting to the parents. The child has given you an incredible gift- an opportunity- they have provided you with an alternative more natural position in which to parent and mould them into the young adults you hope them to become.

I feel honoured and privileged that Erin sees me as a guardian figure, confidante and a friend. I love seeing her grow and the changes in how she acts and thinks. She surprises me every day with how mature she is becoming while still being so young, sweet and generous, and I look forward to being there through the milestones to come.

To me, these are the perks of being a step-parent.

 

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