My second husband Andrew and I have been a couple for five years, and last spring we married. When we started dating my kids (boy and girl) were nine and six, and his two boys were three and seven. I know it didn’t happen immediately, but now it seems that my son and daughter have always loved Andrew.
My girl is effusive and generous with her love, hugs and kisses. She asks her stepdad to hang in her room while she gets ready, cuddles with him on the couch, plays with his hair, washes the car, goes swimming and biking with him and pretty much has him wrapped around her finger. My son, a cooler cucumber, accepted Andrew easily and, as time went on, his feelings moved from neutral to positive to all out psyched. “We’re with Andrew tonight? YES!” (accompanied by a fist pump)
It’s easy to see why they love the man. He’s easy-going, even keeled, up for most activities, generous with his time and energy, never pushes himself on them, respects their dad and shows it. My son loves the testosterone in our otherwise female-dominated home and my daughter loves the extra attention bestowed upon the only girl out of four kids. My kids and my guy have a good thing going.
His kids and me? Well, it’s not exactly all sunshine and rainbows. We have fun; they now love challah and enjoy a stepmom who loves family dinners and baking. My interests and home in the city are different than their otherwise suburban life, and they relish in newfound activities and action. But being and having a second mom is complicated.
Complicating the already complicated, I am not easy. I have high expectations of myself, my children, my husband, and my stepkids. I expect the same of my stepsons as I do the two children I birthed. But, in the cases of my son and daughter, the fact that I birthed them myself has afforded me ample slack to be myself.
My kids, having been with me their whole lives, don’t remember being trained to sit nicely, say please and thank you, elbows off the table, look in my eye when you answer a question, don’t whine or I’ll ignore you, don’t kick the car seat… I prattled off endlessly and consistently from the time they started kicking, eating and talking so that now they don’t need much prodding. What I expect is ingrained.
All parents are different and my expectations are just that — mine. I know my kids have different rules at their dad’s house, and the same goes for my stepsons. Plus one. They have different rules with their dad, and then another set with their mom. I’m third on the list, late to the game, and a very intermittent coach. Often when I step into the huddle with my rules and game plan, my kids suggest I go easier on their new siblings.
“ I don’t ask them to do anything I don’t ask of you,” I say.
They shrug, “Yeah, but…”
What comes after they don’t say, but I know what they’re thinking. “We already love you. Get them to love you and then worry about rules and manners. Go easy now and then you can be annoying.”
From time to time, I hit pause on my normal mode and focus on enjoying our time together. That only lasts an hour and then I hear myself saying, “Wash your hands, don’t forget to flush…” Even though I want to shut up, I know I can’t. Because while it would be nice to go easy, I am not easy. We’re in this for the long haul and I can’t fake it for the next 40 years.
My stepsons don’t yet adore me, and that’s okay. I love and care for them. Deciphering that my love is a strong, good love takes time. My plan is to keep treating them as my own and be me; I can’t be anyone else. And they’ll be themselves; they can’t be anyone else. So sometimes they’ll look at me with wide-eyed curiosity, sometimes I’ll get some affection, and sometimes when I put my foot down, I’ll hear, “I miss my mom.”
Side-eye, a hug, a little retaliation — it’s all fine. My stepsons and I are letting our love develop naturally. Some things can’t be rushed. Our combination isn’t instant hot; we’re a slow boil. The less I look, the quicker we’ll get there.