My parents separated when I was four years old, so of course, through the years they went on to date various people, have long-term relationships, and also remarry. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I had a negative experience with my stepparents, but if I could go back and change anything, I definitely needed more emotional support from my family and more communication about what my step-parents’ roles were to be in my life. I was young and simply didn’t understand what was happening.
What happens in childhood shapes your future
When you are young and your parents separate, no matter how understanding you are of all the reasoning they give you, it’s still traumatic. It’s really important for parents to speak openly with their children about what’s happening because if no words are mentioned, kids are constantly projecting, wondering what massive change is coming next.
It’s easier to help your children accept new people in their life if you speak frankly to them about it.
I learned a lot from having stepparents in my life. When the opportunity arose for me to become a stepparent myself, I felt like I had some insight from my own experience, both good and bad.
Becoming a step-mom
I met Quintin, Mike’s son, about three months after Mike and I started dating. He was eight years old and painfully shy. Very quickly, I had the impression that Quintin needed a lot of emotional support. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made this obvious to my parents as well. Because of my own experience, I was very conscious of how I chose to act and what I chose to say in front of him when the three of us were together.
You see, children can’t help but feel threatened by a new partner in their parents’ life. I was well aware of that and wanted to make sure that Quintin felt secure with this major change in his life. I knew that it would take time, and for his sake, I was very cognizant of not rushing things.
Over this time, I enjoyed getting to know Quintin on a friendship level. He was very different from me, and I was curious and interested in learning more about him. I wanted to know what was on his mind, what made him laugh and smile, and what he really loved.
It took Quintin and I a good year to feel comfortable having each another in our lives. Mike had him on weekends, which made the process of becoming comfortable with one another a little longer. Despite this, I wouldn’t say that the time away made it more challenging. It may have actually made it easier because it allowed us to have time away from one another and reflect. It also gave Quintin some time to get used to the idea that there was somebody in his father’s life.
From the early stages of meeting Quintin, it was clear to me that he needed time to process. He had a hard time communicating his feelings, but it was obvious to me that he needed time on his own to think these situations through and to really pay attention to what felt comfortable to him. Once he had, he would then act accordingly. It was easy for me to see. I was there once myself.
Kids are people too!
Too often, parents put unreasonable expectations on how their children are to feel about this new person in their life, but it isn’t about what we think our children should feel, it’s about them figuring it out on their own. Our job is to sit on the sidelines, make sure they feel comfortable, and be a listening ear to help them navigate the process. Having a new person in their life that’s suddenly acting in a parental role is a really big deal!
I have been a stepmother for five years now, and although I had never in my wildest dreams imagined myself being in this role, I wouldn’t change a thing. It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know Quintin and being a part of his life. He’s smart, funny, has a real spark, and is in possession of one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever come across. He is a teenager now, and although that will undoubtedly pose many more challenges, I’m happy to be a parental figure through all the good and hard times and to let him know that I’m here and want only the best for him.
My tips for all you step-parents out there is to take it one day at a time. Don’t put too many expectations on yourself or on the children and just allow things to evolve naturally. Your new relationship is about you and your partner, however, if children are in the picture, they are very much a part of that. Always be respectful of their time and needs, allow them to get to know you better so they can discover a sense of comfort. Don’t ask too much of them, and instead of working so hard at becoming that parental figure, focus first on becoming their friend.