In this entry in the series, Raising a Modern Family, Jessica talks about moving to Europe, falling in love, and becoming a “stepmum” to two sweet boys. Come to find out international borders do not restrict having to repeat, “They are not trying to hurt your feelings.”
Tell me about you, and your family. How long have you been married? How old are your kids?
My husband and I were dating for over 3 years before we got married, we have now been married for 3 years. My stepsons were pretty young when I first came into their lives, 1 and 5, they are now 7 and 11.
Did you ever think you would be a stepparent? Do you have stepparents?
Never, ever did I think I would be a stepmum!! I’m surprised I actually started dating my (now) husband way back then knowing he had 2 boys…someone else’s kids were not what I thought would be my biggest challenge in my mid/late 20s! My parents are still married and have been for over 40 years so the whole “stepparent” things was totally new to me. I felt pretty lost to start out with and really didn’t know how to maneuver the situation in the beginning!
How has this experience changed you?
I’m not sure it has changed me as much as it’s made me really analyze myself and point out some strengths and weaknesses that maybe weren’t as strongly highlighted before! Like the fact that I have SUPER high standards (this is no secret) but having kids who don’t fold their clothes to my standards or think that washing their hands means splashing some cold water on them, well you have to realize that they don’t get your standards (just like many other people in the world, adults included) so you kind of realize you need to “chill the heck out”! And on the flip side, it’s highlighted what a creative person I can be…planning activities for school breaks, Easter, Birthdays…it’s really let me be a big kid at times and I love that!
Once thing it has changed is my image of what having kids was like and what being a parent was like. Not having my own kids, this definitely made me think long and hard about that…being a “part time parent” (with shared custody of my stepsons) was tiring and hard work, and for a long time I thought doing it full time with my own kids would be too much but as my stepsons have gotten older I realize that each phase has their own challenges but also their own benefits. I went from thinking “no way!” to my own kids to “yes please!” – I feel like it was a good trial run and now I feel more equipped and better prepared for what parenthood (full time) is gonna be like. Most people don’t get a test run.
Has your parenting style influenced your relationship with your partner?
At first it was really hard, I felt like I didn’t have a right to have an opinion when it came to my stepsons but as time has gone on, I have gotten more comfortable with my role as a “parent” and authority figure, and my husband has too. He says I’m his voice of reason, often times I can give a view point that isn’t as emotive as his and I think that has helped him at times. We have a very collaborative style, we talk most things through before talking to our stepsons, from little things like if they can go on their video games to sharing big news like when we decided to move. Whilst it may seem silly getting the children to ask before they jump straight onto their video games, it is actually positive. They need to know that it is a luxury and they can’t just use it as and when they want. However, when they do play these games, we try and make them as fun as possible. One of my friends recently told me about a website called Gamulator. She said that there are so many games on there for kids to play on their computers. She said that her children were currently playing The Legend of Zelda- the wind waker iso. Maybe that’s something that our kids can do. We might look at that website later. Anyway, we know that communication with each other is key and I was nearly in tears when even my parents (married for 40 years and successfully raised 3 kids) commented on how amazing they thought we were as a team!
What advice would you give to someone new to this game?
Buckle up and hold on tight! Some days are gonna suck (sorry but it’s the truth), other days will be the best of your life! Look for the good whenever you can and appreciate those special moments because sometimes they feel far and few between! And at the end of the day, above all else, just remember to love!
Is there a story about your kids you’d like to share?
My husband and stepsons are British, I’m American. In my general life this has sometimes felt like a barrier (especially when I lived in England) but when it came to me and my stepsons, it’s been such a blessing! I have never tried to be their “mom;” they have a mom, they love their mom, I will never be that. So instead of trying to replicate/replace what they do with her, I was able to share new experiences with them by introducing them to American foods, traditions, places, etc. They now love root beer, the San Francisco Giants, anything with cinnamon and Thanksgiving dinner! The unique memories we’ve made because of it has created a strong bond that I know will last forever!
Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience?
Write this down, keep it with you and repeat it as/when needed “they aren’t trying to hurt your feelings”…..because that was the first couple years for me! They only ever wanted to sit next to dad at dinner, have dad take them to bed or have dad kiss their owie….if it was me, there was a literal audible sigh or disappointed “ohh”. And at first it really really hurt, never being the one they wanted, but then I started doing stuff with them that my husband didn’t [like breakfast dates to Starbucks] and they knew that dad didn’t go so if they wanted to, they went with me and they were happy about that and would start to ask when I’d take them and it made me feel better to have stuff they WANTED to do with me. And 6 years on, they no longer say they want dad to take them to bed when it’s my turn, they don’t complain about sitting next to me at dinner and I can console them when they need it. I just stuck it out, cried in private when my feelings did get hurt because I knew they didn’t mean to and now I’m so glad I did!
Thank you Jessica!