April is the month of birthdays in our house, and this April was particularly significant with my stepson turning 13 and my stepdaughter becoming 16. The idea that both of them are now teenagers makes me feel both nostalgic and philosophical.
I agree with the saying, “The years are short but some days are long.” Time seems to have flown by since I first met them at a beach picnic in 2009. That afternoon they were far more interested in the bouncy castle than they were in talking with their dad’s new “friend,” but I don’t think the significance of my presence was lost to them.
As I said in my original blog, I Am a Stepmother (and I Love It), our family has been lucky because, at our core, my stepchildren and I like genuinely each other.
The nostalgic side of me can easily recall heart-warming memories. My favorite is when, after dating my husband for more than a year, I finally decided enough time had passed and I could take a bath at their house without freaking out the kids. To my astonishment, my stepson (who was 5) jumped into the bathtub with me. I laughed, welcomed him and his huge bag of toys, and I suddenly understood that he felt more at ease with my presence than I did!
To this day, my stepchildren have a great way of making me feel welcome, trusted and loved. Nothing makes me happier than when they bring up something we’ve done together and tell me how much they enjoyed it. As with all children, this usually happens years after the fact, but their positive feedback never gets old – and is the greatest Mother’s Day gift I could ever receive from them.
And as I have written before, I will always love my stepchildren for the way they welcomed my daughter into our family and treated her as their sister from Day 1. Their enthusiasm and generosity towards her melts my heart. We have precious few years left with all three of them at home, and the more time the three of them can spend together, the better.
But the practical side of me also remembers that none of these memories or the love we have for each other has been easy to come by. Philosophically, I’ve had a difficult time reconciling the world that my stepchildren live in, because I literally only know half of it. The children rarely speak about what goes on in their lives when they’re with their mother. When I first met my husband, I thought this was really weird and was certain it would be best if I understood the whole picture. I wanted to know all the details about the children’s lives with their mother, and thought if I had those details, I could relate to them better.
But I had no experience with divorced families and had never heard of the “loyalty bind” that haunts children as they travel between households. In our case, it’s easier and more comfortable for my stepchildren to keep their households – and part of the lives they live in them – separate. Don’t misunderstand: They don’t have a double standard where they tell their mom everything and tell their dad nothing. Rather, they just adapt to where they are and pick up where they left off.
Our situation is far from the celebrity blended family fantasy that I read about while standing in the grocery line. We don’t live down the block from each other and the children don’t come and go as they please. Co-parenting decisions aren’t all made quickly, easily and with consensus. In fact, communication between the households is still hard. Most of the time it’s peaceful, but when emotions flare, it frequently becomes a wildfire. And my stepchildren are right: Controversy usually starts when there is co-mingling between the households.
So, in our situation, I’ve learned that it’s better for me to only know one-half of their world. And the best birthday gift I can give my teenage stepchildren is to follow their lead; to not only accept but believe that, for my children’s sake, each household deserves their privacy.
What do you think? How have you learned to balance life in your blended family? I’d love to hear you suggestions in the Comments section. Our last post on this topic received so much feedback, I know your thoughts will help many others just like you.