I remember it like it was yesterday; the first day I was introduced to Marc’s oldest child.
She was only eight years old when Marc and I first met but had turned nine by the time he arranged for us to meet. Matt was still an infant but my relationship with Marc had progressed to the point that he felt comfortable with introducing me to his daughter who was indisputably dear to his heart. Long before I met her, I’d already been informed by his relatives that he and his daughter were very close. I can remember a time or two calling him on the phone and he telling me he had to call me back later because it was time to help her with her bath or tie up her hair for bedtime.
He knocked on the door of my apartment and I opened it. There before me was the cutest, light skinned and version of him. She was quiet but very polite, no disrespect in sight. She had a story of her own.
By eight years old, she’d already seen both of her parents move on to other relationships. Her mom at the time was living with her then boyfriend and the two of them had a son together. Marc was in a six year relationship with a woman before me, but the two of them had no children. I would discover later that this point caused insecurity and strain in their relationship.
What I don’t think either of them realized at the time as we all stood staring at each other in the doorway of my apartment was that I was probably the most nervous person among us in that single moment. I’m sure Marc had his jitters. He was hyper sensitive to my reactions toward his daughter because of what he went through in his last relationship.
It was all new to me.
I was a mommy for the first time.
And I was being introduced to the child of the man I loved for the first time.
This was a dynamic I’d never had to deal with in any of my previous relationships. Most of the men I dated were as I was: without children. I’m not sure if I made this a requirement or if it just worked out that way. And then I met Marc, fell in love with him and my world changed.
Periodically I’d see his daughter, but never as often as I wanted. After a while, things began to feel rather heavy. When she would come, my house would be filled with a very uncomfortable vibe. I didn’t know where it was coming from then, but now I do. There was a conversation and a fear going on in the minds of Marc, his daughter, and his daughter’s mom that I wasn’t privy to. I know it takes a lot for a mom to let her child spend the night at another woman’s house. Even though she was with another man herself, she was also introduced to a new scenario. He daughter’s father now had another child with another woman.
Let the drama begin!
So I walked into an atmosphere filled with expectations, fears and assumptions and I didn’t handle it well. It nearly broke me down. It made me snappy and short tempered when all I wanted to be as accepted and loved. Marc expected me to love and treat her as I did our children together, but that was something I couldn’t do.
I made a few mistakes in that relationship but I learned some things along the way that I think can be applied to future blended family situations:
First of all, kiss the “step mom” title good-bye.
I will never forget the first time Marc yelled out, “Do what Melissa says! She’s your mama”. I think I went pale underneath my brown skin. Seriously?! She was 11 years old. The last thing she wanted to hear was that some woman she barely knew and that had two children who were competing for face time with her dad was expecting to be called “mama”.
That wasn’t my expectation at all. She had a mom and a very good one at that. I wasn’t in any way trying to take her mom’s place or even share her space. What I did want, was to be respected in my own home. That’s a difference. Let’s face it. Few couples are widows and widowers who have small children and are waiting for a replacement parent to come along and sweep their children off their tiny little feet. When it comes to life in America today, most children come from homes much like the ones my children are in: mama and daddy were never married and now are no longer together. Each parent has either moved on or is in the process of moving on to different relationships. They spend time with or visit one parent or the other and for the most part, they will never live together all under one roof. My advice is for the blended families who will most likely never live under the same roof. Drop the step mom expectation. It will take a way a huge and unnecessary burden.
Secondly, you automatically have authority because you’re the ADULT!
Truth of the matter is that if you’ve got issues within the relationship with your man, it’s going to be projected onto the children from outside of the relationship. I was insecure with where his commitment was for me so I dealt with moments of feeling as if he favored his child over me, respected her and her mom’s feelings more than mine, and he expected me to do things that I didn’t necessarily feel I had to. For example, if his daughter had a need for school supplies and he didn’t have the money, it was his expectation that I would take care of it because we were a couple. Umm, no. lol! This didn’t fly because #1, he payed his daughter’s mom child support, not me and #2 I simply refused to do his job for him. I believe dads should be dads and moms, moms. When it came to the well being of their child, I felt that was their responsibility to handle. That may be wrong, but where we do start when it comes to the number of things wrong in that relationship?! You see, Marc and his daughter’s mom made it very clear that when it came to decision making for the care of their daughter, I was an unwelcome party. I was fairly ok with this sentiment because he and I had our hands full with our two. I gave the two of them a liberal amount of space to raise their daughter as they saw fit. My only issue was that when she came into my home, they both needed to relax their stance a bit. Your child isn’t going to stay in my home and not be corrected when she does something wrong. Seriously? And I’m not going to all of a sudden be respected as a parent of your child when it comes time for me to spend my money. No sir, no ma’am.
Examine the needs of your children and establish the appropriate relationship based on those needs.
Marc’s daughter didn’t need a step mom. She wasn’t an abandoned child in need of a positive female role model. She came from a very good single parent home and her mom worked hard to provide for her. What she needed from me was someone who could facilitate a better relationship with her dad. That’s probably where Marc and I drew our most obvious disagreement. He was focused on bringing his children together. I was focused on bringing him closer to his daughter. By default, he was already closer to our two children together because for a time, we were all living under the same roof. It was his oldest child who felt as if she was on the outside looking in. And because of this, she and her mom began to resent the relationship Marc had with my two children. I know how easy it is for little girls to feel neglected. I was one such little girl. So I realized that it was imperative that Marc spend as much one on one time with his daughter as possible. He felt that one on one time was reinforcing the divine between his children so he pushed to bring them all together. However, this only heightened the tension between all parties. Had he given her time just with him, she would not have resented his time spend with her brother and sister. She would have had something to call her own, instead of feeling like she had to share everything. Here’s a hint parents: children don’t mind sharing if they can have something to themselves. But when we force them to share EVERYTHING, that builds resentment.
Just because you’ve invested time into your romantic relationship, doesn’t mean a relationship has formed between you and the children outside of the relationship.
This is something that I’m also guilty of. Relationships take time to build. Children rarely take to a person instantly but don’t be discouraged. Time can and will improve the situation if it is actively worked on. My relationship with Marc’s daughter is certainly better now than it was then. She’s also 14 years old now.
There’s a lot of things she can see for herself and understand a lot better than she did at age eight. When she comes up to visit now, she greets me warmly and gives me a hug. Considering all that she’s been through, I treasure her affection and acknowledgement of me. I wasn’t perfect in the early days but boy, I tried to be. I worry about her relationship with her father because he still hasn’t made the strong effort he should to spend time with her. When she moved to Atlanta three years ago, I knew her mom was doing so to send a message to Marc. She was tired and to prove it, she was moving away from him and the life she used to live. She was done with his excuses, promises, lies and laziness. What you don’t value, you lose. I don’t know her personally. We have spoken maybe four times since I’ve known Marc but one thing is evident: he made his bed extremely hard with her. So when she announced that she was moving to Atlanta and DID it, I knew it was an indictment against Marc. I’m not saying that I’ll never move myself. After all, I have a right to live my life and find a good life wherever it may be. A lot of times, moms bear the burden of facilitating a relationship with their children’s fathers but here’s the truth. When Marc’s daughter lived just six minutes away, he would barely spend time with her. He was never a terrible dad.. just a lukewarm one. His daughter’s mom got tired of waiting for him to heat up.
I told him, from a daughter’s heart, that if he had to borrow a car, he needed to set up a consistent schedule of driving to Atlanta to go get her and spend time with her. She needed to know at this critical age that her daddy would move heaven and earth for her. She needed to know by his actions that she was worth a sacrifice. But for the past three years, all I’ve heard is excuses and complaints of more bills than money.
Daddies, being superman aint easy, but it’s your job.
Bottom line is that relationships of any construction and composition take work. It takes work to build a life with a man. Takes work to blend a family. Takes work to form a relationship with children who aren’t biologically yours. It’s a lot of man and woman hours, but it does pay very well.
Let go of your expectations, really… let them go.
You will not be Mrs. Suzie Homemaker. All of your children probably won’t be sitting around the table singing songs together and sharing laughter. You will probably have to cancel that appointment at Portrait Innovations because someone may have a problem with everyone being posed up in matching outfits.
But that doesn’t mean that it can’t and won’t be good and that there won’t be memorable moments made. My children’s big sister may not share my DNA but she is dear to my heart because she shares DNA with them. I view her very similarly to her father. He’s as much a part of my family tree as anyone, and so is she. At first, she represented his past and because I wasn’t sure if I had a future with him or not, I felt very threatened by her and her mom. But six years later, the threat is gone. Now I see that no matter what, we’ll always be a part of each others’ lives in some form or another. I don’t sweat the form anymore.
I’m just thankful for the love however and whenever it comes to each of us.