The Stepmom Standard

Since 2010, I have been a stepmom. During the course of my relationship, my stepson has been a constant presence as my spouse has shared residential placement. My stepson is a fixture in the home every other day and on alternating weekends.

During the years, I have developed a loving and wonderful relationship with my stepson. But, it has not been without effort. Learning to stepparent is not easy. Being a stepparent requires patience, humility, and respect. But, it can be worth every learning curve and frustration placed before you. It has been for me. Thanks to my stepson, I have had the opportunity to have a hand in a child’s life.

If you are contemplating marrying into an already started family, consider it carefully as it may not be what you expect. Here are a few ideas that can help you as you navigate this new role.

Ask Questions

First and most important, ask questions. Ask your potential spouse about the expectations they and the child’s other biological parent have of their child. Ask about the level of involvement they expect from you. Ask about the methodologies of discipline used and agreed upon for the child. In other words, ask before your act. You will not fail if you ask questions. It will ensure that you and your love set expectations and boundaries for your involvement with their child.

Once you have established the expectations and boundaries for your involvement in your stepchild’s life, the next thing you need to do is learn to be a parental figure.

Learn Everything

Biological parents do not often think to read about parenting beyond “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” As a stepparent, you do not have the luxury of making mistakes because you will be scrutinized on a different level by everyone- your spouse, your spouse’s family, your stepchild’s other parent, that parent’s family, etc.

For that reason, I encourage you to learn about parenting by reading parenting books. A favorite book of mine on parenting is “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” This book, written by Wendy Mogel, is a no-nonsense approach to raising children to become adults that will not be annoying AF.

When you find a particularly good book that helps you improve your parenting skills, share it with your spouse and the child’s other parent. Open the door to communications about child rearing. Remember, the goal is to be the best parents you can be for the child you share.

Support the system 

You have asked all of the necessary questions about how your new prospective family functions. You are ready to sign up to be a part of that system. The next steps are both complex and simple. Complex- figure out your place in that system. Simple- do what you can to support the system.

Well, simple is not so simple. Simple means helping to maintain the status quo for the child’s situation. Need an example?

Your love interest has a 50-50 shared parenting plan with their child’s other parent. They both live within the child’s school district and participate actively in the child’s life daily. If you are going to get involved with such a family, you do not get to come into the relationship one year in and ask your love to move with you to a different city for a career opportunity. That is not fair to that child and that child is the most important thing.

So, now that you have asked all the questions, read some parenting books and said I will or I do. The time has come to get to doing. Support the system help your partner where you can with their child in your life. And, take time to enjoy the new child in your life. A stepparent relationship can be incredibly rewarding. I know mine is.

Learn your place

You are now in the relationship. What is the most important thing you can do? Learn your place.

I am a dominant personality. I tend to have opinions. Lots of opinions. And… I am not afraid to share them. However, when it comes to stepchildren, I have learned that the best thing you can do is leave the parenting to the parents. Parents, after all, are the ones that must deal with the real-life consequences of their children’s behavior.

Along with that, I recommend that you push the same expectation on your spouse AKA the child’s legal parent. Your child’s legal parent needs to be the primary parent in the household. Do not let them leave all the parent-like work and responsibilities to you.

Child is hungry and wants a snack? Your spouse needs to address that situation. Child’s clothes is dirty? Your spouse needs to make sure the child has clean clothes for school the next day. If you need more help as to why this is important see the paragraph below entitled “Do not be a Doormat.”

Never speak ill of others

Throwing shade. This term refers to making snide comments to or about someone. This is something that is commonplace in our culture. But, this type of behavior has no place where your stepchild’s other parent is concerned.

Yes, you may be justified in your statements or comment. But, the hurt that you will  cause your stepchild will not be worth the small, smug satisfaction you feel. Remember, children are connected to their parents by biology and emotional ties. A negative comment about your stepchild’s other parent can be taken by the child as an attack on their person. And you just do not want to do that. Your life and marriage will be better off if you show respect to those who ultimately make up your family.

Another reason to carefully contemplate what you say about your spouse’s ex is that children’s perceptions of life partners take shape from their perceptions of their parents. In other words, we become our parents and we marry people similar to our parents. Pointing out flaws in another parent is a surefire way to send your stepchild to seek out the same level of crazy as that other parent that you just don’t like.

Rather, be the positive influence. Be the one who tells your stepchild to love and respect ALL parental figures. Be the one who makes them feel like divorce is not tearing them apart but adding more love into their lives. And, yes, you should learn to say positive things about the other parent because at some point your stepchild will rant and throw shade at their other parent. At that moment, you can listen, support and even encourage to give their parent a little wiggle room. But, you cannot join in and start your list of why that person is a P.O.S.

Do not be a doormat

Now that you have signed on to be in a stepparent role, it can be easy or even tempting to want to do too much. You must resist this slippery slope.

Your partner, not you, should be the one primarily responsible for their child’s own rearing. You can help, of course. If you enjoy cooking, make meals with your stepchild in mind. If you like to shop, help your spouse shop for children’s clothing. But, you should not be expected to do everything for the child.

This should not be interpreted to suggest that you cannot contribute to the child’s needs. What this means is to be clear about boundaries in this regard. Remember that if the focus becomes the child and not your relationship, you do not want to end up in a position that you cannot leave the relationship because you are too invested in your stepchild. This recommendation is about self-preservation.

Do not distinguish

I learned one of the most important lessons in life in high school speech class… end with the most important point.

If you are contemplating becoming a stepparent, you must think carefully. The most important thing that you must do is ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you currently have children? Ask yourself, am I going to distinguish or show preferences between the children I currently and the stepchild coming into my life; or
  • Do you want to have more children? Could I see myself treating a biological child differently than a stepchild ?

If the answer may in any way shape or form be yes, do yourself a favor- do not become a stepparent. Children do not deserve to be made to feel inferior. Better that you just walk away and spare that child those feelings of neglect and mistreatment.

Are you a stepparent? What other recommendations would you share about joining an already established family.

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.”

-Khalil Gibran

Rethinking Relationships

For this month’s Amada’s Guide to Men essay, I wanted to consider the way we think about relationships.

Prior to embarking upon my journey as an aspiring author, I have been working as an attorney in the areas of family and immigration law. Family law has given me insight in the ways in which relationships go astray. And, it has made me reconsider the standard relationship advice and beliefs.

Relationships are 50/50

There is a common notion that relationships are 50/50. First, this isn’t event true. Romantic relationships require each party to give 110% every moment of every day. Sure, you can give less but if you have too many days where it seems like you are giving less than your best, you will eventually see problems percolating in your relationship. Conversely, if your partner has too many days where they gives less than their best, eventually you feel resentment.

Second, the problem with this convention is that it requires each of you to constantly be assessing to determine whether you are getting a “Return On your Investment” (ROI) in the relationship. While it is important to ensure that you get as much out of your relationship as you put in, the reality is that you cannot keep tabs on it ALL the time. And, thinking of relationships as 50-50, in my opinion opens you up to constantly be looking at that ROI.

Finally, this convention creates the belief that each person is responsible for 50% of the obligations of the home and family. That’s also not true. You are each responsible 100% for everything in your life. Consider this. Almost any contract you sign jointly with another person contains a provision that requires each party to be “Jointly and Severally” liable. That means you are each 100% responsible irrespective of whether the other person pays their share. That perfectly sums up relationships. If your spouse is sick and he is the one that feeds and bathes the children, then you have to pick up the slack. If your spouse does not work in a capacity outside of the home (s)he is likely to be primarily responsible for overseeing all home responsibilities. And so on.

Your partner will complete you

I don’t mean to be insensitive here but… What’s wrong with you? What is missing from you that you require another person to feel complete?

This is one of the most concerning conventions that I hear. The problem with this one is that it puts all of the pressure on the other person. It requires them to do the work. Not only that, if there is something missing in your life and you expect the other person to fill that up, you may end up resenting them for trying to do just that.

Consider this scenario. You are a bit of a couch potato. You wish to be more athletic and adventurous. You find yourself an athletic adventurous partner. The first few months are fabulous. You have gone rock climbing, cycling, and kayaking. Things are great. A few months down the road your favorite series is coming out and you want to spend the whole weekend binge watching the previous seasons. No. Your more athletic half says. We should do some cycling this weekend. You feel frustrated. Why?

What at first felt like a rounding out of your personality, quickly becomes a competition for use of your time. Once the newness wears off you may be left feeling that you are only doing the things that the other person wants you to do.

You have an all or nothing mentality

One of the worst ways in which we approach relationships is with an all or nothing mentality. The person who doesn’t believe in divorce. The person who wants to cut their losses the first sign of problems. The person who refuses to make changes after their spouse has voiced concerns. These types of conventions cannot align with marriage because marriage is a bit of a paradox.

Marriage requires us to be strong within our own selves AND be willing to give in to group thinking. As an example, you cannot decide that you wish to buy a motorcycle with the money you and your partner have been saving for your first born’s tuition. It does not matter that the kid is only two years old and you just know you will be able to make up the money you take out.

But, it is important that you not lose yourself in the process. If you have been contemplating a motorcycle, talk to your partner. Discuss creating a special savings account devoted to the money you would need for such a purchase. In the meantime, take riding lessons from a friend or check online for local lessons.

Reframing the way you think about what it means to be in a relationship will increase your satisfaction in life. And, can prove a useful way to improve the quality of your current relationships, romantic or otherwise.

What are some relationship ideas that need to be reframed?

Power of the Pocketbook

I am not someone who loves to shop. But, I will shop for good causes. I will buy items from friends who are in direct sales. I will stop at a roadside stand to support a local business person. I shop the small businesses in my town whenever I can. And… I am the person who will not go to a place if that business does not align with my belief system.

Case in point…

For years, I have avoided places like Hobby Lobby and Chick Fil A because I do not like the causes that they support. I do not hate on them. But, I will never volunteer to go to these places. In fact, if others suggest I will politely decline. I simply say, “I do not patronize that business.” I just do not make a big showing of it.

Now, I want to make a big showing of it.

On July 8th, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Trump administration regulation that allows businesses to opt out of providing their employees (through health insurance) free birth control. Businesses are permitted to do this if they have “religious and moral objections.”

Prior to this administration’s regulation update, an Obamacare mandate required company health insurance policies to cover birth control. As a result, millions of Americans had access to free contraceptives. Now, thanks to this SCOTUS decision, those same people will now incur out of pocket costs for their contraceptive care.

When I heard about this case, I was disappointed. This is just one of many cases where I see companies putting their needs above their employees. I am tired of seeing companies litigate against their employees best interests. It seems as though companies only want to look at their bottom line.

But, I think consumers have tremendous power to make companies reconsider how they treat their employees. I ask each of you to recognize the incredible power of your pocketbook. By publicly voicing our dissatisfaction and committing to avoiding businesses that litigate against their employees’ best interest, we use our power.

This is not a new idea. Delores Huerta and the farm workers union used such a similar technique by encouraging Americans to boycott grapes. This technique has proven successful. Additionally, thanks to social media and corporate presence on those same website, consumers have more voice now than ever with American businesses. So now the piece remaining is you. Start using the power of your pocketbook at businesses that promote their employees’ best interests.

How do you use the power of your pocketbook?

Book Review: Kulti by Mariana Zapata

For years, I have been passionate about sharing books and authors focused on Latinx representation. As a reader, I have always loved being able to get lost in a book. Kulti by Marian Zapata met both of these needs.

Kulti is led by protagonist, Sal Casillas, a Latina playing professional soccer in the US. The book’s action begins when her childhood hero/crush, international soccer star Ryan Kulti joins her team to serve as assistant coach. Kulti and Casillas begin a mentoring relationship in which the focus is advancing her soccer skills. Meanwhile, Sal’s tenuous relationships with teammates begin to crumble as rumors circulate about her relationship with Kulti.

In this book, the lead character is a career-focused Latina. That resonated with me because I am a career-focused Latina. And although my career is not the same as the characters, being able to identify a hard-working, career-focused Latin lady in a non-labor job was cool to see.

I thought this was a strong storyline, for “chick” lit. The writing was compelling. You wanted to finish the chapter and start the next one. But the most important aspects of this book for me were its diversity and apolitical message.

The truth is that as a lifelong reader, I have had to make efforts to find books like this one- books featuring protagonists living regular lives. Normally, books featuring Latino protagonists are immigration focused-stories. As an immigrant, I do acknowledge that immigrant stories are important. But, as someone who grew up in this country and feels American it was nice to see a regular American woman who happens to be Latina, living her life.

If I had to give this book any criticism, it would be that the end of the book turns romantic and I wish that this had not happened. I wish that the story had allowed the male and female leads to just remain as friends. Of course, that romantic turn is what puts this story in the “Chick Lit” genre.

Overall, I found this book incredibly satisfying. I thought that the author did a great job of making a likable character and a good storyline. The story kept me hooked until the end. I highly recommend it.