Today my stepson Ferris turns 8. He is the oldest in our combined family of 5 kids and the only boy, and my only stepson. He is an intelligent, inquisitive, challenging, sensitive, compassionate, hot-tempered on occasion, and beautiful-looking kid. Before we eat birthday tacos and watch him blow out his 8 candles tonight I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on what I’ve learned being around this boy, my only stepson, in the past four years:
Lessons From My Stepson
It’s tough being the oldest. I know because I was the oldest in my household, and so was my husband. In Ferris’ case, that difficulty is elevated since he has FOUR younger sisters. It may not always be fair, but we hold him to a higher standard than the others and expect more from him behaviorally, academically and when it comes to things like helping out around the house. Sometimes I have to check myself when it comes to piling on the responsibilities and be reminded that while he is the closest thing to a third adult in the house, he is actually still just a kid.
It’s nice having a son. I’ve written before about how much I love having four daughters, especially since I don’t have any sisters. It’s also pretty great having a stepson though. I may not have birthed him and he may not call me “mom” but there is a bond there that is different from the one I feel with my girls. And it’s nice.
They eventually DO sleep in their own beds. When my husband and I got married, Ferris was four and had grown accustomed to sleeping in the same bed as his dad when they were together. Then I showed up. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t really want a four-year-old kid who didn’t belong to me sleeping between my new husband and I each night. So I fought it. I implemented rules on bedtime, and had the nighttime ritual of the two of them together moved to a different room. My own daughter had never shown much interest in sleeping with me so the whole concept was foreign, distant. I felt like it was probably time that he just “grow up” and start sleeping on his own.
Looking back now, I regret those feelings and the way I acted because in retrospect, that time passed so quickly. On a rare occasion we still find him asleep on the floor of our room, clutching his stuffed bear from infancy but he doesn’t want to sleep in our bed, or near my husband. He’s too old for that. He grew past it, but not because we forced him to – because that’s just what happens with all kids.
Boys cry too. In fact, I’ve found that the boy of the house is perhaps the most sensitive of all when it comes to his own feelings and those of others. Like his sisters, he can feel self-conscious, and anxious, and discouraged. Sometimes he just needs to let out all that emotion that goes along with being a kid and I try to meet these moods with the same level of compassion I afford my daughters when they have a bad day.
Intelligent children are challenging. When asked what they hope their kids will be like, most parents mention the word “intelligent” — but the reality of truly intelligent children is that they demand your A-game, all the time. I can’t put any of my conversations with Ferris on autopilot. Not only does he expect you to listen but he asks questions that take some thought to answer. He also calls you out on any little white lies you try to slip past him on the days when it is easier to just say there are no more cookies than to try to divvy up the three remaining among the four kids who will want one. Intelligence IS a blessing in children but it is also a special responsibility for parents.
Sometimes you just have to act. When Ferris decides he is going to do something, he doesn’t sit around and contemplate it. He just does it. Two weeks ago he came home from school and said he wanted to draw so he found some computer paper, looked up some YouTube how-to videos, and drew over a dozen things before bedtime. It was the first time he had ever drawn at all at home and he did it again for several of the following days. Two weeks before that, he said he was ready to ride his bike without training wheels, so he sat down on it and started riding perfectly down the sidewalk with no assistance from us whatsoever. The next day he was begging us to get to ride around the block.
Ferris doesn’t see barriers the same way that I do. He only sees the opportunity and he only assumes that he will be great at whatever it is he does next — and he’s always right.
Parents should side with their kids. All of my kids have bad moments, bad hours, bad afternoons, bad days, bad weeks and more. As parents it can be easy to commiserate with others about the challenges we are facing with these kids who are driving us nuts (and sometimes that is needed to stay sane) but at the end of the day, my kids need me to believe in them and to have their backs. Ferris can say some pretty rotten things and can be so far out of line that there is no way he will be able to get back on track, but he’s my stepson – not my enemy. He is where my loyalty lies and on our tough days together, it’s important to remind myself of that and work toward understanding, not alienating, him.
Love isn’t perfect. Neither am I. It took me awhile to realize that being a stepparent has no achievable end goal, per se. I can’t work my way up to the top and reach a perfect place with my stepkids, nor my biological ones. Mistakes will be made every day. Hurtful things will be said over the course of time. Some days we all may downright not like each other, but there will always be that baseline love that binds us. I don’t try to do everything right anymore, I just try to do the most loving thing from moment to moment for each of my kids.
Happy Birthday, Ferris. Thank you for the many lessons we continue to learn together.
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