When I was 27, I moved in with a man who had a young daughter. Overnight, I became a full-time stepmom. Both he and I were completely unprepared for the impact that momentous decision—and our new blended family—would have on all of us.
When we didn’t work out, I moved out and spent several years on my own as an attempt to heal and move forward. In early 2017, I met and fell in love with the most incredible man, and after we got engaged earlier this year, I moved in with him and his two energetic, happy, kind little boys.
Now that I’m on my second round of step-motherhood, I’d like to think I’m a little wiser. (But really—as parents, aren’t we all basically just trying to figure it out as we go along?) The emotions around becoming a step-parent are often overlooked, with rightful attention going to the kids during this huge life change. But if you’re the biological parent in the partnership, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your partner to get your blended family off to a happy and successful start.
1. We’re constantly playing catch up.
Your kids have known you as their parent since the day they were born, and you were preparing to be their parent for nine months before that. Even if it’s the warmest welcome to your family, we are still trying to figure out our place in it, and prove ourselves as a worthy part of it. Understand that playing this game of catch up can be mentally exhausting, and ask us what you can do to help alleviate some of the difficulties around it.
2. We don’t love your kids as much as you love them.
WAY HARSH, TAI.
But it’s the truth. And while it might not be true for all stepparents, it’s certainly true for me.
Now, that’s not to say I don’t like his kids. I like them a lot. I care about them, and we are all learning to love each other. We’ll get there, but forcing feelings that just aren’t there yet is a recipe for disaster. It’s okay if your partner doesn’t love your kids like you love your kids (as long as they aren’t saying that to them). They haven’t been their parent since day one; there isn’t that bond. The potential is certainly there, but not if you try and make instant parental love appear out of thin air.
3. It’s a big, life-changing transition for us.
Before we moved in together, my partner and I talked endlessly about how this change was going to affect his kids. We slowly introduced me into their lives, slowly started doing more and more things together, slowly started talking with them about my moving in. I’m so proud of how we handled it, because by the time moving day came, they were happy to gain another family member, and the change seemed to be a minor blip on their radar.
Not so for me.
In between my step-parenting years, I lived alone. I went out when I wanted to go out, slept in when going out at night meant getting home early in the morning. I ate what I wanted, watched what I wanted, and lived in relative peace (save for my adorable, hyperactive dog). I made the decision that I didn’t want to have my own children—and then I fell for a man who had two of them.
The transition from single woman to stepmom has been more difficult this time around, mostly because I’m a little older, more stubborn and set in my ways. As much as I love and want this new life, I’ll sometimes feel homesick for my old life. Thankfully, I have an amazing partner who understands and supports me through it all. But if I were to do it differently next time, I’d pay a little more attention to my needs during the transition, taking time to take care of myself as well as the kids.
4. Understand. Support. Love.
These are all pretty obvious standards for any relationship, but they are especially important in a blended family setting. As I said, this transition has been tough for me, and if it weren’t for my partner who does all of the above, it wouldn’t be possible.
Before moving in together, talk about the kind of role your partner/your kids’ new stepparent wants to take on in your kids’ lives. They might not want to shoulder the parenting responsibilities with you, or they might want to do most of it. (I’m a control freak who happens to fall in the latter category.)
And once you’re all under the same roof, there will be times when they need to tag out—retreat to the bedroom and read a book, or get out of the house and meet a friend for coffee or glass of wine.
Understand that we love you, even when it’s tough. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be there. Support what we need in order to take care of ourselves so the whole family succeeds. And no matter what, love us through it all, and we promise to love you back.