I got the honor of receiving some very kind words this last week from a member of Jason's family that I have had a chance to spend some time with. She talked to me about being a stepmom and told me how proud she is of me and how I am with the kids. As a stepparent, it is such a nice encouragement to hear that you are doing a good job at raising that kids that weren't born to you.
I have written several posts about being a stepmom...here, here, and here, to name a few. It's been a little while since I've written any new thoughts on this topic, so I thought I would add a few now.
As I've watched the kids grow, as we've spent more time together, and as they get older, I can honestly say our relationship has changed, it has matured, and it has become different, in a good way. I remember I wrote once that now that I had a child of my own, I know that my love for all three kids is different, and that is OK. I don't think I feel that way anymore. Not that it's not OK to feel like that, but as our family has been a family for a while now, I just think the love for the kids is evolving - I think of all three of the kids as "our kids," I treat them all as "my kids." I love them all as "my own." I never thought of the kids as bonus kids or extra kids. I just came into this parenting thing, not sure what to expect and not sure if I was making the right choices. I watched Jordan go through being a boy to being a pre-teen (with an attitude sometimes) and now almost to being a teenager (who has become one of my favorite people to spend time with). I've watched Sophia as a girl who would talk constantly, even though we couldn't understand what she was saying most of the time, become an almost ten-year-old with thoughts and opinions and a nearly unsinkable spirit. I thinkt we have almost gone full circle - Avery is almost the age Sophia was when I first met her, I feel like I've finally been around this block before and know what to expect, although I don't know if you can ever fully know what to expect where kids are concerned.
I've learned what things with kids are phases they go through and what is really unacceptable behavior. I used to take things really personally, even though the kids never meant anything by it most of the time, but things were said that would hurt my feelings. There were times I wanted to hide in my room all weekend because I had a hard time expressing myself in positive ways. I don't want to paint our history with only a rosy hue and I don't want people to think that just because we've had it more smoothly than most blended families, that it didn't come with it's share of uncomfortable moments and mistakes. It did. But what I have learned is that my stepkids are two very resilient kiddos who luckily, have short term memories and are very forgiving. And for that, I will always appreciate them and will always be grateful.
I have learned to talk to other parents and have taken solace in the fact that whether my kids are from a blended family or not, most of the things they are going through are normal phases of growing up. Biological mothers are just as annoyed with their sons and daughters as I can be with mine. Something about that made our relationship better for me - knowing that it's not just "this way" or "that way" just because I was their stepmom, it was like that because it was like that for all families. When the kids would go through phases that made me want to ground them indefinitely for being smart mouths, and I thought, "Why am I having such a hard time liking them right now?" I realized that the feelings I was having was a feeling all mothers have gone through at some time or another, and it made me feel more normal and less awful for feeling that way.
I learned to appreciate all three of my kids for their individuality and unique personalities. Instead of trying to make them handle things "more like I would" or like the things I liked, I tried to stop forcing the issue and going more with the tide. I let the kids be who they were. I let them reap the consequences of their own actions and stopped allowing myself to become so emotional about it. I told them when I loved them, I told them when they could do better or made a wrong choice, and I told them when I was proud of them. Even though they are not just like me, I have really worked on loving them for what they bring into my life and our family and appreciate them as human beings, not just tolerate them as kids. I started being OK with them having feelings. We expect kids so often to be obedient, robotic-like entities that accept everything we say with a good and grateful attitude, but often forget that even though they are 6, or 12, they still have feelings that should be discussed and accepted, even if we don't like them. I am not saying disrespectful. I am saying, if someone told me to constantly have a good attitude about having little to no control over lots of things in my life, I might not be a great person to be around a lot, either.
I started looking at the kids as people whom I was responsible to help raise, but also as little people who would one day be adults. I wanted to be a person that once they had a choice about seeing, that they would still choose to hang out with me. I saw Jordan getting engaged, Sophia walking down the aisle, Jordan getting his first job and Sophia telling us she was pregnant, and I yearned to be a part of those times. It is not mandatory they spend time with me or include me in any important event in adulthood, and it become really important to me that I create and invest in a relationship that they felt was meaningful and loving so they would want to include me, even though they didn't have to. I think this last paragraph really changed my mindset - I stopped being so focused on the problem at hand (this too, shall pass) and I started thinking long term. I am not saying that the kids are never held responsible for their actions and are never corrected, or that nothing is expected out of them. But we deal with the problem, then move on with our lives. "You made a bad choice, here is the consequence, don't do it again, now let's move on with our lives!" I think all parents could learn from this a little bit, but it helped me tremendously.
All in all, I am so excited to say that things over the years have become so great. We've had experiences and memories as a family, we have allowed ourselves to have a sense of humor about each other. I can honestly say that when the kids aren't here, I genuinely miss them. When we have a party at church or friends over and they aren't here, it makes me sad, and I feel like a piece of our family is missing. I think that is a good indication of how well things have gone and the growing pains we've been through haven't all been for nothing.
I leave you now with a picture that we took last weekend that sums up my feelings in a smile...
I love my family.