Yours, Mine, Ours

I got a text the other day from one of my BFF’s who mentioned that she was impressed with the fact that while my boys were away I was taking the time to hang out with my skids.

She thought the tendency would have been for me to think “my children are not around so I can use this time to do things for myself, catch up with friends, or just let Rob hang out with his own kids”.

I think she is right. That is the tendency of a lot of step parents. It’s just not the dynamic that Rob and I chose to create early on in our relationship and blending of families.

When we met, we were lucky that our children were all relatively little. Here’s the first picture ever taken of the gang: January 2008 on New Year’s Day.

This was our first “Family Picture” taken in Kingston a few months later.

I say we were lucky that they were little because I think the approach we decided would be the best for our family was possible in part because our kids were little. Dealing with tweens or teens would have been a whole different ball game.

When we decided to get married, there was a lot of chaos and commotion in our lives. It was not easy to figure out how to transition the lives of 5 children, never mind plan a wedding, sell two houses, buy one together and think about what our married life would be like.

It was all sunshine and lollipops at first. We had a great wedding. They look so small! (Unfortunately I don’t have a ton of our wedding pics that I can download onto my computer – but we did get some amazing ones from the professional photographer that grace my walls all over our house!) These are a few snaps:

But after we all moved in together, we saw all the challenges that we were going to be faced with. We decided to be a little proactive and seek some “expert” advice from a professional counsellor. She was supposed to be experienced in divorce and remarriage and blending families.

We visited with her for a few sessions bringing up some of the challenges we were facing. While she seemed knowledgeable, much of what she said didn’t sit well with either of us. Everything she wanted us to do seemed to point us in the direction of “two families”, “you deal with yours, I’ll deal with mine”. I just couldn’t imagine a life with two families living side by side. I needed and craved unity. I felt like our children needed it too.

We canned the therapist, and I decided to do what I do best: read and research. I bought a ton of books about step parents, step parenting, step families, blending families etc. and read them all. Most pointed us in the “two team direction” too. But I was not satisfied: Why could we not be one team, while still respecting the fact that biologically we have different ties?

Rob and I talked about it an awful lot. Luckily, we were both on the same page. We decided the heck with it, we were doing what felt right to us and for our family. We weren’t going to be two teams in one house. We would be
co-captains and be responsible for raising our team together when they were all under our roof. We knew that when they left our playing field they might have other rules to play by, but while they were with us, they were on an equal playing field. We chose this and never looked back.

Later, I came across one book called: “Understanding StepMothers” by Elizabeth Church. It was in that book that I found a little bit of peace and support for our decision. The book looks at StepMothers and the intricate relationships they can develop – or not develop with their Stepkids (or skids as I call them:)) The author reviews the different “kinds” of Step Mothers out there; a few examples: those who force the kids to treat them like their biological mother (they must call her Mom), those who treat their biological kids one way and their step kids another way (view themselves as two families living under one roof), those who just view their step kids as their spouse’s kids (they are primarily a couple, but then have the kids around too at different times), those who completely opt out of any role (I’m around when it’s just us or my kids are here, but I’m outta here when your kids are around), and those who view their skids as just an extension of their own family.

They researched these StepMom’s (or Smom’s as we call it around here) and found that the happiest connections were the ones where the Smom embraced the extended family viewpoint: You have your own Mom, but I can still be an important and special person/caregiver in your life; you now have more siblings, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and extended family around you to love you. The relationship between the step parent and the skids is independent of the biological parent, and a very deep bond can grow between them.

I felt good when I read this section of the book. It reaffirmed what we were feeling: we were a big extended family. We have always talked with the kids of the importance of their biological parents: it is a very special bond; no one can take their place. However, there is room for more special bonds, one with a step parent too. I am not your Mom, but I can be your Smom.

We have only experienced the stereotypical, “I don’t have to listen to you because you are not my parent” backlash once from a couple of the kids. And I highlight the word once. Because our response is always consistent: “I know I’m not your mother/father, but in this house I am the parent and a partner to your biological parent”. I have said to my skids in many discussions that if they want me to be take the “mother role” in the home when they are here, then they need to take all the things that go along with having a “mother role” (which means I will get mad at them too:)). It also means that we need to have a mutual respect of our relationship and nurture it and build memories to create that special bond that will be so rewarding and fulfilling to us all.

So while when we got married we had “Yours”:

And “Mine”:

And we have created “Ours”.

And that is what it is: this is our family, our kids. We are partners and so we parent them together when they are with us. Yes, it gets very complicated I have to admit, but as time goes on, we are so happy that we made the choice to only live with one team.

So, when “my boys” are away, I don’t feel that I have freedom – like I have no responsibility because my kids aren’t here. All I feel is that part of my family is missing and I can’t wait to get them all back together again.

We have become the CDF’s. Three last names, but one family.

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