Sermons and Step-Parenting

IMG_1654I gave my first talk in my new ward yesterday. It’s up at By Common Consent, if you’re interested. It’s difficult for me to know how much to share with new people; there’s a line somewhere between giving context, and giving oneself away. Of course, my modus operandi in my writing is being an almost entirely open book- but things are a little different in real life. Does one stand at the pulpit and pound a fist and say “Listen up! When I say I know what it’s like to be tried, I know what I’m talking about! And not just in the comfortable way of tight finances or a husband who forgets to pick up his towels!” Yeah… probably not. But sometimes I want to— I’m never dishing platitudes. Maybe that’s just part of getting older? I have less patience with people who love their problems, and more patience with knowing things usually work out, even when “working out” seldom means what we want it to mean. Anyway, that was the gist of my talk.

My husband’s ex-wife attended our ward yesterday. I don’t get nervous when speaking, so it didn’t really phase me on the stand- but it’s part of an emerging pattern of interjecting herself when we have the kids. A phone call each evening (which is what he does when the kids are not with us) is perfectly fine and reasonable, but half a dozen phone calls and twice as many texts in a few hours is a bit over the line. We clearly have some work to do.

I realize it must be very difficult to have another woman have access to and personal time with your children. This isn’t a challenge I’ve been given, but my capacity for empathy is decently calibrated, so I can imagine those shoes being uncomfortable, particularly at first. I want her to know that her kids are being loved and cared for with us.

Learning to be a good step-parent is like anything when you’re learning— you’re going to goof a few times, but sincerity and love go a long way towards cementing new bonds. I’ve never done this before, but I have been a step-kid and I have been a kid of a divorce, and I’ve been trying to remember what I needed; the answer always comes down to love. If I err on the side of love, I think it’s pretty hard to go wrong.

From day one, I decided all children in our new family would be treated and loved equally. There would be the same set of rules for all the kids. They are radically different children, and all five have wildly different needs many days, but it’s possible and necessary to make the family a place where everyone is loved, and everyone’s input is valid, and most importantly, wanted and heard. Despite the fact my own kids are here every day and my step-kids divide their time between two homes, all kids have dedicated space and a dedicated voice here. Taking the time to listen— really listen— has already opened up some unique and healing conversations with my step-kids and with my own kids, as we navigate combining families.

The kids are getting along better than I ever dared hope. They’re 17, nearly 13, 11, 10 and 8. They’re playing together, working together, helping each other, giggling a lot, staying up way too late talking, teasing each other, and now, even solving problems together. Just like siblings. At first everyone was understandably careful, but I see the problem solving and relaxing as evidence of feeling comfortable and safe— and that’s a good thing.

I haven’t been writing about this much because honestly, I haven’t known how to navigate the new interpersonal byways. My kids are used to being part of my narrative, and while I give them veto power now over anything I write about them, they still are used to being part of a somewhat public story. I’ll clearly be more careful with my step-kids’ privacy, but I simply cannot ignore the impact and beautiful part of our lives they are becoming. My husband encouraged me to just write; to do what I do best. So here it is.

For their mother, I want her to know what their father already knows— maybe it will help her feel more comfortable: They are safe and loved here in this newly formed, unconventional family. I will love and protect them as if they were my own. And that’s saying something.

7 thoughts on “Sermons and Step-Parenting

  1. You will do the best you can do. That’s all anyone can ask reasonably – and, in your case, that’s so much more than so many kids will get.

  2. What is excruciating as the mom whose children are being step-parented is wondering if the stepmom is going to try to demonize you or passive aggressively criticize you so that the children realize that it was YOU who caused the divorce and not good ol’ Daddy. What’s excruciating is wondering if she’s going to try to usurp you. My kids’ stepmom has attempted both of these things in several ways.

    I’m no longer insecure about it because my kids are old enough now and smart enough to see that no one knows and adores them and puts them first more than I do. And I’m just awesomer. But that first year was horrifying. There is no more primal relationship, so fear comes easy and often.

    Add to the fact that you are also awesome? That’s going to be really hard for Mom. BUT, you’re more sensitive and thoughtful and a better communicator than my kids’ stepmom. As long as you can keep that up and not be territorial, insecure, and competitive, I think things will relax in due time. If the stepkids have problems, I suggest that you remind them/suggest to them that they can call their mom before you attempt to fill that role, and that you never, ever refer to yourself as “mom” or “their mom” or a “mom of five.”

    • N, worry not. A negative word will never/has never crossed my lips about their mom to those kids. I am neither insecure, territorial, nor competitive. I am not their mom, and I will never be their mom- and I have told them as much. I reassured them that no one can or should take their mother’s place, and that I am simply another person who will love and care for them.

      If they are ever placed in the middle, it will not be by me. Ever.

  3. Being a step parent and dealing with an ex is the hardest thing I have ever done. My husband did not establish proper boundaries with his ex and 11 years and 2 kids later, we are separated. My advice is demand boundries be set now. Good luck.

  4. I am new to your blog and found this topic of particular interest. From what I can tell, you seem a decent person, but this post seems so condescending and smug. Have you considered that your new husband’s ex-wife might be feeling a little anxious about your influence on the lives of her children? She doesn’t know you like your new man does, and she may be questioning his judgment these days, given that he now bears the title of “ex” and there is a reason for that. Have you asked yourself how she might feel having a new woman bear an influence on her children? She didn’t ask for your help, for your love and support, for your participation in her parenting. That is hers and her husband’s role, and now he has included you. She didn’t get a choice. You moved into her house… one she probably bought thinking she would share it with her husband for a lifetime. Now that man is YOUR man. I would think you would be a little more tolerant of her feelings, all things considered.

    • You have no idea how much thought I do give to the feelings of others. I would like to gently suggest your assumptions about me are just as uncharitable as you accuse me of being. You make a lot of personal accusations – and frankly, about things which you actually know very little.

      Divorce is painful, but it is never one-sided, even for people who wish fervently for that convenience. I understand this more than I can adequately express.

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