I’m a mom to five amazing kids – three biological, and two step. I love being a mom to all five but sometimes it seems like the rest of the world isn’t on board with that. I get a lot of strange, and sometimes rude, questions from strangers. I get similar versions from people we know sometimes, and since I know they are well-meaning, I view it as a chance to get some misconceptions cleared up. I decided to write up a few of those here. If you’re a stepparent and want to add your own, please feel free in the comments.
They are ALL mine. Sure, some weren’t organically grown inside my womb – but if you see me and five kids in line to check out at Publix on a Saturday afternoon (or if you are our cashier), it’s safe to say that I’ve taken ownership of every last one of them. I am their parent – even if I’m not their mom. If you are someone we see a lot and you really are dying to know who biologically belongs to whom, I’m happy to have that conversation with you but not while my children are there. We try not to separate “his” and “hers” and “ours” in our home – so I don’t use step terms in front of the kids. Buy me a cup of coffee and we can chat – or just check out my Facebook and Instagram pages. You’ll likely put the pieces together on your own.
I don’t hate my husband’s ex-wife. How very Hollywood-cliche of you to assume. She’s smart, bad ass and pretty (damn her!) AND she’s a great co-parent and our kids are very lucky to have her. Even “my” kids love her. Parenting kids that I didn’t birth is a gift. I’ve thanked their mother for baking them just the right amount and then letting me be a part of the “icing” of their growing up.
It’s a lot of work to keep up with custody schedules, and whose clothing and homework are where, and what time we want to meet on Fridays or Sundays, but you know what? Parenting in general is a lot of work. I guarantee you raising a child with special needs is a lot harder than figuring where to meet on Christmas to pass off our perfectly healthy kids, or at what house the big, expensive gifts will live. There’s some extra adjustments that have to take place for everything to work in a combined family but that’s life. It’s not harder to have a combined family – it’s just different.
My stepkids don’t call me mom, or Mrs. Parsons, or some other made-up word to signify respect. They call me “Katie” because that’s my name. Occasionally they call me “mom” in a general sort of way, or when they are telling someone something about me (“My mom will drop off the homework I forgot” or “My mom cleaned up the puke in the hallway.” **both me**). Some families do it differently. We get to decide that for ourselves though based on what we are comfortable with in our homes. We don’t need to run that by the rest of the world for approval first. If a woman or man is actively helping raise humans that aren’t of her or his bloodline, that’s good enough. Please let our kids call us whatever we want without commentary.
Stepmoms are the most-hated villains in childhood lore. You can’t twirl a fidget spinner around my house without hitting a storybook or video that includes an evil stepmom. Would you want to read stories where the villain is always the office manager, or the teacher, or the postal worker (insert your own job title here)? Please send coffee!!!
My stepkids aren’t someone else’s problem. I, of course, joke with my husband that all of their difficult traits come from him (but what parent doesn’t do that?). I’m pretty sure their mom says the same thing. Remind me to do something nice for my husband later…
When my kids are going through tough times, including completely acting like a#@holes or being disrespectful, that isn’t a “not my problem” moment for me. That’s an in-the-trenches moment where I get to be one of the experienced humans helping them navigate those trials. I’ve apologized to other parents at the playground when my stepkids (and my other kids too) were rude and I’ve helped them get the nerve to apologize to people on their own. I’ve told them when they are wrong and I’ve also apologized to them when I’ve done something I shouldn’t (like yelled or… mainly yelled).
I recognize that there are some inherent things about their personalities, amazing and challenging, that I had nothing to do with creating. I’m here now though. I’m going to help them channel all of that energy into the best paths for their lives moving forward. It’s not fair for me to take some of the credit for good report cards but wash my hands of all the nasty hormonal tirades. I take the good and bad – and there’s a lot more of the good.
I miss my stepkids when they’re gone. It’s hard to see them go and it actually seems to get harder as the years go by. If your family is nuclear, imagine sending your kids off to overnight camp every weekend, several full weeks each year, and for part of every major holiday (including their birthdays). It’s like that except you know that they are with family – and that cushions it a little. Are there days when three kids instead of five feels like a relief? Yes, of course. I think that’s basic math. But my home feels incomplete without them in it and I’m happy when they return.
I will defend my stepkids (come at me bro), fight for them when they need me, advocate for the best education/health/safety for them, put them in ALL my family pictures and on the front of all my Christmas cards, sit with them to do homework, feed/clothe them, laugh with them, yell at them if they’re about to do something stupid, cry with them, buy their favorite foods and snacks so they always feel wanted in my home, remember their friends’ names, post pictures of them on my Facebook/Instagram, write a “happy birthday” blog post for them each year, be at their weddings in whatever capacity they want me to be there (fingers crossed), be an active grandmother to their kids (double fingers crossed!), and enjoy watching them grow up.
I would do it all over again, from the beginning, in a heartbeat.
All non-phone-camera photos were taken by Pineapple Photography by Jillian.
Katie Parsons is a writer, editor, podcaster and actor who lives on Florida’s Space Coast. She is the co-author of The Five Year Journal, available on Amazon. Visit her website ByKatieParsons.com for more information or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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