All in Life as a Step-Mom

JUST SAYING NO when it doesn't work for your schedule or your emotional health is absolutley neccesary when you're a Mom and/or a Step Mom in a blended family. If you're anything like me - you may be saying YES when inside you're screaming not only NO, BUT HELL NO!  

It's a common habit for StepMom's of a blended family to do especially when you're the newbie on the block! You want to be liked, maybe even loved and you mistakenly think saying YES - being everyone's Go To Gal will you get you there, but it rarely does.

I hate to admit it, but I've been watching Mrs. Eastwood and Company.  It started out of flat out curiosity (Dirty Harry's wife after all) and, well, my secret love/addiction to reality TV. That initial curiosity quickly turned into a real love of the show in large part because I immediately identified with Dina Eastwood.  

Dina is married to a older man with children from prior marriages/relationships. Although,  Dina is a Step Mom to six kids, with a wide age difference - her blended family and child rearing has included one of Step Daughter - Francesca - a few years older than her own daughter she shares with Clint.  

Dina and Clint have raised the two youngest girls as a family. Both Dina and Francesca are quick to point out that Francesca is close and spends time with her Mom. Right there the show had me - you can raise a close knit family and your kids can still have a healthy - positive relationship with the other parent! 

Mrs. Eastwood and Company on E!

While I identified with Dina the real connection came when she said essentially - Francesca is my Step Daughter, but feels like my daughter in every way and one of my favorite people in this world!  And there it was - I was totally hooked! I would absolutely say the exact thing about Little Hart. 

I've been in a blended family for 13 years now and I am continually amazed at the judgement from some Bio Parents, a vocal minority(I'm hoping), expressing judgement over LOVE, specifically in reference to the Mom/child relationship I share with my Step Kids.  

The notion that love between a parent and child is somehow wrong, disrespectful and/or disloyal to a Bio Parent if the love exchanged is between a Mom and kid has a Step or Bonus attached to it - drives me mildly insane! Insane because STEP or BONUS doesn't change the feeling of love or its legitamacy between the parent and child. 

My three kids - Period!

I could ramble on about my relationship with my Step Kids, specifically my two youngest and all the reasons why sharing the parent/child relationship is a good thing for everyone involved, but I won't! Instead I'll talk about my own daughter who was thrust into a divorce and blended family situation by no choice of her own.

When I agreed to marry Raylan, we had been living together for six months - attempting to blend our three youngest on a 50/50 schedule.  Halle and John lived in an apartment nearby. Chris lived with his Mom an hour away - spending the occasional weekend.  I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into when I agreed to marry my Hubby. Then life took over and I realized I knew nothing about the life I had chosen. 

This month marks the 2nd anniversary of Little Hart's brush with death. We sat by her bedside watching the respirator take her every breath - wondering if she would ever tell another funny story that made us laugh uncontrollably, inform us she was not going to do this, that or the other (she's so damn stubborn!) or be able to say "I Love You Mom and Dad."

Little Hart and her BFF from the hospital

Greta, Raylan and I sat in a small ICU room for NINE days and nights - all unified in praying for a miracle. One arrived on day six when she the turned a corner.  A lot of things in our Blended Family Life were forever changed after those nine days.

As a Step Mom, my role in disciplining my Step Kids has been different with each kid and changed as the kids have grown.  The biggest change has been with my Step Daughter Little Hart.  She was just two years old when we moved in together and is now almost fourteen. In Little Hart's younger years the bulk of her care fell to me and so did the bulk of the discipline.  We were very close during that time -  it was a natural fit.  

stock photo : Illustration of puffed up girl and her mother 

When Little Hart entered the teenage years, my husband took over the reigns of outlining and enforcing the rules of our house and the rules we have partnered with Greta as universal between households. When Little Hart asked to have a Facebook page, it was at an younger age than her siblings which gave us pause.  

Creating traditions in our blended family gave us a launching pad for building our family unity and close relationships.  Two traditions we started early on have stuck with our family, movie night and bowling! The last two days of the Holiday break we were lucky enough to find time to do both with all three kids.  

Movies have been a big part of our family life.  Since the creation of our family, most nights we have watched a movie together. When the kids were younger, we would split the movie viewing over a couple of nights. The whole enchilada came as they've grown older.

Some movies we've seen a like million times - Home Alone! Ugh! Others we've had to negotiate with the kids - watch a 20 minute preview before they can say no to the particular film - never had a NO after the preview period.  Everyone in our family can repeat any number of favorite lines from hundreds of movie. No background information necessary - just the delivery of the line and we all chime in with the punch line. It's a language that created a bond that continues to grow with every laugh, thrill and cry we share.  

In fact, one of our family trips was inspired from a movie we watched together and the kids fell in love with - namely it's location.  The movie - Italian Job. The location - Venus, Italy.

Our Christmas holiday has been a little upside down and every which way this year. We haven't quite got our groove with the new reality - one home from College determining his own schedule, one almost ready to leave the nest and our youngest - 14- still needing and wanting structure in a Holiday schedule. 

In years past, the schedule simply rotated from year to year  -  one family spent the week before Christmas through Christmas Day at two o'clock with the kids - the other family spent Christmas Day through New Years Day.  No negotiation, that was just the deal we had all agreed too.  Parents and kids looked forward to essentially a Holiday break from the divorce schedule. 

This year when we acknowledged Jax"s freedom to make his own schedule as an "adult" we indirectly gave that freedom to Little Hart 14.

Jax arrived home for Christmas Break 11 days ago.  So far, Jax has been strong and confident about where and how he is going to spend his time.  A 360 degree turn from the Thanksgiving Break. Long story short, Jax tried to please everyone, but himself. Doing the bulk of what others wanted and very little of what he wanted. He was frazzled and anxious by the time Sunday rolled around.

On Thanksgiving Sunday, Jax arrived at our house - twenty minutes before he had to leave for the airport. He took a quick shower - finished packing - leaving just a handful of minutes. Jax spent them sharing the latest sports news with Raylan.  As Jax left he looked at Raylan "Dad, I can't wait to watch a football game with you in the same room!" The door closed and he was gone.

Jax determining HIS own schedule was bound to come with some growing pains. 

It was my scheduled day to pick Little Hart up from school as it has been for years. I typically leave at 2:15 to make the 30 minute drive. Just before leaving I uploaded my post to Facebook when I noticed Little Hart's status posted two hours earlier: Can't wait to see my brother in 30 minutes! Um interesting, since Jax, home for less than 24 hours - left over two hours earlier to meet Greta for lunch.  No communication from anyone the lunch involved Little Hart.

I shared the status post with my Hubby, asking his guidance - he responded;" hold tight, Greta must of forgot to share with us the schedule change."  At 2:35 Greta called - she had taken Little Hart out of school to have lunch with her and Jax - he would bring her home. No need for me to pick Little Hart up. 

I quickly got off the phone - looked at Raylan - I guess I should feel lucky she even called.

Our family not only survived our first Thanksgiving without a divorce decree, we managed to do it with a lot of fun and humor along the way.  Over the past thirteen years we have done a pretty good job of avoiding the two families splitting the actual holiday, opting instead to rotate between families.  

This year, Jax asked that we change the schedule mainly because of logistics; he was home FIVE short days with a very long list of people he wanted to spend time with including the respective extended families. To squeeze everyone in it meant splitting the holiday.

I have to admit, there have been a number of times over the years I secretly wished for the day one of my kids would turn 18. With my three youngest, it had nothing to do with them, rather the Ex. Specifically haggling with the ex over the "proposed" holiday schedule. One year Dick/Malus got miffed that I dare email a schedule over without "proposed" in the title.

Most of the years we have shared 50/50 custody with our respective Exes.  Agreeing on what was a fair 50% time split was a moving target year after year. By the time the actual Holiday rolled around, it felt like we had negotiated peace in the Middle East. Instead of wanting celebrate, I usually felt like going to bed for a few days due to mental exhaustion.

This year we've added a new twist - Jax turned 18 in July.  No longer a valid divorce decree awarding joint custody to his Mom and Dad. No more detailed spread sheets about what days he will spend at Mom's house and Dad's house.  In my opinion, that was a huge motivating factor in Jax going out of state for College - he could sleep every night in the same bed, his clothes all in one place - just one home base.

Today Jax is coming home for Thanksgiving! This isn't Mom or Dad's Thanksgiving - it's HIS THANKSGIVING!  But what home will he come home too?