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

Why Checking Solely White is No Longer Right for Me

In 2012, I visited the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. There I learned that race is a social construct. There are no significant scientific distinctions between people of differing pigmentations. To be more precise, human DNA varies no more than .01% between people of different “races” or skin tone. (For more information, check out this archived NYT story and this National Geographic book review.)


For a long time, race was something I took for granted. Like every other American, I have filled out forms that included questions about my race, ethnicity, gender, and religious affiliation. And, based on my understanding of race and ethnicity, I have filled always my forms out as follows:

  • Race- White
  • Ethnicity- Hispanic/Latino- Yes

In 2017, my husband purchased for me an ancestry kit. Through that process, I learned that I was 44.7% European descent and 41.5% Native American descent. Yet, throughout my entire life, I had only identified myself as racially White. I always understood that my Mexican-ness was an ethnicity, not a race. I now believe that by identifying only one aspect of my lineage, I missed out on an important part of my family’s history.


Why does it matter?


I have pondered this question since I learned about my ancestral history. I have begun to put more thought into it as I contemplate how to answer the census questionnaire that will be hitting my mailbox this year. What is the longterm impact in my life on thinking of myself as a White Hispanic? I am not sure.


But, I do think that it has some impact.


You see, I now believe that it is important to see myself as all the above- Mexican-born, Native American and white, US citizen. In the past year, I found an article on PBS about the shifting nature of the definition of whiteness. And, I came to recognize that many of the same people who now disparage the incoming immigrants, were, at one time, seen in those same terms by “Real Americans.” However, once they got scooped up into the definition of whiteness, they forgot what it meant to be immigrant. They became the haters that their ancestors once faced.

I don’t want to be that way. And, I want to help others not to be that way. By reminding myself of the ties I have to other people that inhabit the land around me, I can encourage others to consider how they see themselves. I think it is worth it to try to relate to everyone. I think that when we see more of ourselves in others, we are able to see the humanity in everyone.

In the time that I have been contemplating this, I have slowly begun to include Native American as part of my self identify on various questionnaires. I have tried to be careful that I do it in a way that is not misleading or distracting from those individuals who have been raised in largely native or indigenous communities. And, I have decided that I will be checking both Native and White in the 2020 census along with Latina and Mexican.

Are there boxes you should not check?

The same ancestry test told me that I have 3% Subsaharan African and 1% Western Asian and North African descent and that 1% of my European descent derived from an Ashkenazi Jewish ancestor. I am excited to learn a little more about these connections. Nonetheless, I do not plan on including black or African American as a box that I check.

I think that in order to identify with a race or ethnic identity one must have had experiences or awareness of that identity in youth.

I grew up speaking Spanish, brought up by Mexican parents in a community that included large numbers of Central Americans. My parents tethered me to that world.

At the same time, I grew up in a primarily white school. All of my friends were of European descent. I went to college in Topeka, Kansas and was in a sorority. I tethered myself to Anglo America.

When I think of those two things- the world I came from and the world I created for myself, I do not believe that my lived experiences enable me to check the box for Black or African American. In other words, I have not lived the experiences of a black person.

Do you have a story of contemplating your ancestral identity? Share it with me.

My Worlds Collide

Ways to incorporate Mexican traditions into your holiday season.

Welcome to 2020 amigas and amigos. I am excited to come back from the holiday season renewed and ready to rock a new decade. How about you?

From reading my blog in the past you may know that I am an immigrant from Mexico who came to the US at a young age (6.) Over my lifetime as an American, I have assimilated into the mainstream, anglo culture. Perhaps a little too well. As a result, I oftentimes find it difficult to incorporate Mexican traditions into my holiday season.

This Christmas, I experienced the joy of having my parents in my home. That helped because when they are around, I feel more authentically Mexican. See, I don’t spend every Christmas with my parents. Every other year, they travel to Mexico during the holidays to see my paternal grandmother.

During the holidays when my parents are in the US, we make tamales. This has been a tradition for my family since I was a child so it absolutely helps to make me feel more authentically Mexican. But, this year, we did not make tamales. So, how did I end up feeling that this was my most authentically Mexican holiday season? Check it out…

Let the magic happen

As I shared earlier, my parents visited our home during the holidays. This was wonderful but can prove challenging. When my husband and I spend time with my parents, I become the de facto translator between them. I am not complaining. I enjoy nothing more than to help my parents communicate with the English speaking world. I have done that since my age was in the single digits.


But, as you can imagine, translating is mentally exhausting. Additionally, I don’t enjoy what happens when I serve as a translator in a conversation between my parents and my husband. It seems to me that when I am around, my parents speak to me and at my husband.

However, this wonderful thing happened, my worlds collided. I stepped away to my bedroom for a few moments and suddenly… Magic. Rather than relying on my translation skills, my parents and my husband began to communicate and interact with one another. My parents used their English speaking skills to converse directly with my husband.

It was wonderful. My husband instantly became more attentive and focused on what they had to say. The people I love the most were sharing in laughter and fun. I sat and listened to them for about ten minutes just talking with one another. I will treasure that memory always.

Explored other Mexican flavors

As you know, we did not make tamales this Christmas Eve. However, we did explore another Mexican delicacy. Beef tongue tacos.

This was a fun experience because we invited a few non-Latino friends to our home during our Christmas Eve celebration. Since I know that food likes are based on what people grow up with, I did have an alternative meat to the beef tongue (for a good recipe, click the link) that was more traditional American fare, ground beef. After all, my non-Latino husband does not like the idea of eating a beef tongue.

At least in my family, there are several philosophies about whether or not you should tell your non-Latinos guests that they are eating a beef tongue. My brothers just tells people it’s beef, shut up and eat it. On the other hand, I believe that full consent is necessary.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is some value to just telling people it’s beef. For some reason the fact that it is a tongue freaks most non-Latinos out. But the reality is that beef tongue, when prepared correctly, is just as soft and tasty as beef filet. I personally find it weird that the same people who are grossed out by beef tongue are the same people who have no qualms with eating an American hot dog. But, I digress.

I notified my guests what was on the menu. I am happy to report that those that did try the beef tongue found it enjoyable. In addition to having a delicious taco bar, we played Spanish Christmas music all night. It was one of the best Christmas Eves we have had.

Found new holiday classics

One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is enjoy all the holiday movies. From classics like Scrooged (yes, Bill Murray’s Scrooged is the best rendition of the Dickens classic and don’t tell me different or I will fight you) to the cheesy (this year’s fave? Netflix’s The Holiday Calendar), I love to watch them all.

This year I shared my new favorite (which I found last year thanks to a great Remezcla article) with my husband. Nothing Like the Holidays. It was a wonderful experience. My husband loved the movie as much as I did. We agreed that it would be added to the list of holiday classics we watch each year.

In sum, my holidays season was wonderful. Thanks to giving my family the opportunity to interact, I witnessed a beautiful moment between my husband and my parents. I found an alternative to the heavy work that tamales require by trying another Mexican foodie favorite, beef tongue tacos. And, I shared a great movie with my husband and son that also gave us some insight into the beautiful traditions that Puerto Ricans incorporate into their holidays. In sum, I was blessed.

How did you incorporate your family’s immigrant traditions into your life this holiday season?

American Me

 
Recently, I was having a conversation with my spouse about identity designations. The conversation went something like this,
 
“Why are people using Latinx? Why don’t you guys just use Latin instead and omit the need for X?” He assumed that Latin was gender neutral.
 
A brief history of Latin
 
According to Dictionary.com, Latin is a word with three meanings. First, it refers to the official language of the Roman Empire. Second, it identifies the forms of literary Latin- Medieval, Late, Biblical, Liturgical or Vulgar. Finally, it identifies natives or inhabitants of Latium or ancient Rome.
 
Napoleon III coined the term “Latin America” in the early 1900s. It aligned the countries of the American continent where Latin-based languages were spoken. This was important for the French. The goal? To align “Latin-Americans” with “Latin Europe” against “Slavic,” and “Teutonic Europe” as well as against “Anglo Saxon America.” More relevant, by changing the prior description of Hispanic America, it could increase France’s role in the region. This would enable France to invade Mexico and install Maximilian I as its emperor in 1861.
 
So back to my husband’s question, why don’t I call myself a Latin Because I do not connect myself to ancient Rome. But, I do identify myself as Latina, Latinx or Latino-Americana, so why distinguish?
 
In the US, Latinos were not identified differently from whites prior to this time period. This is not to say there was no discrimination against people of Latinx descent. In the US, social movements sought to increase the voices of minority groups in the 1960s and 1970s. To identify the needs of Spanish (here I use it to mean the language) people, a special designation was needed.
 
By the 1990s when I was growing up, Latino-Americano was part of the vernacular. I embrace it because it aligns me with women who have similar life experiences, even if their families aren’t from Mexico. And, I believe that hate reduces when we see ourselves in others. Can you imagine what it would mean for “White America” to realize that the term “American” is not exclusive to them? Imagine if they realized that the term includes all the people living between Denali and Del Fuego? Such a realization would change our society.
How do you identify? Why?
 

Motivational Mantra Monday

“She who buys what she does not need steals from herself.”

January Watchwords- Re-evaluate and Reset.

In the coming year, I expect big changes in my life. But, change does not come when one continues to do the same things that have led to the status quo. No. To bring about change, one must change their mindset, actions, and desires. This month, re-evaluate and reset your life. Now, begin to imagine…

How will life change for you?