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Nov 13 2013

The Six Hardest Things About Being a Stepmom (And the Two Things That Make it All Worth It)

By at 10:10 am

the six hardest things about being a stepmom

If there’s anything I’ve learned from being a longtime Kveller reader and contributor, it’s that raising kids is HARD. Kids need attention and love all the time, but they also need dinner, a bath, and a bedtime story, all before 7:45 p.m. or you will pay for it in the morning. Diaper changes and temper tantrums, picking a school, picking up toys, monitoring screen time–it’s endless.

All of that said, I envy all you moms and dads out there, because being a parent seems (from my no-doubt warped perspective) a whole lot simpler than being a stepparent. There are approximately 673,491 difficult things about being a stepparent, but here’s my top six list (and then two things that make it all worth it).

1.You never did any of the awesome bonding.

Those first few months after the baby arrived you probably didn’t get much sleep. And you may have felt like kind of an imposter (who let you take this baby home from the hospital? Don’t they know you have no idea what you’re supposed to do?) but you figured it out. You suffered through the sleepless nights and the cryfests because your baby was gorgeous and perfect and you just LOVED looking at her while she nursed or playing peek-a-boo with him. You watched him laugh for the first time, take her first steps, and you cried when he first said “Mama.” Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 5 2013

The Great Fashion Debate with My 5-Year-Old Step-Daughter

By at 1:58 pm

pink

Just before bedtime I put on a brave face and begin “The Great Fashion Debate.” What will my step-daughter wear the next day? I try to open with a note on the weather or the next day’s activities–long sleeves if it’s cold, something fancier if we’ll be going to synagogue–and then wait for Ronia’s first choice. At 5 years old, Ronia is not as invested in fashion as some of her friends, but she definitely cares, and has a strong affinity for dresses and skirts, pink things, and anything with ruffles.

This could not be farther from my own fashion sense. Seventy percent of my wardrobe is black, and it’s safe to say I wear a cardigan over a tank top with jeans six days a week. Meeting in the middle is a pretty far walk for either of us.

So why do I care what Ronia wears? I know that there are some parents who feel like they have neither the time nor energy to police their kids’ fashion choices, and I salute them. But I find that I really do care what Ronia wears. Partially it’s because I know that I get judged based on how she looks and behaves. Though I did not give birth to Ronia, and only married her father a few weeks ago, when people see us together, the assumption is that I’m her mother, and that I’m responsible for making her look neat, clean, appropriate, and fashionable. I’ll never forget the time that another parent came up to me at synagogue, looked at Ronia, raised his eyebrows, and said, “Wow, you guys let her dress herself?” That stings. And it implies bad mothering on my part, for allowing her out and about in one of her more creative ensembles. Read the rest of this entry →

May 1 2013

Six Easy Steps to Being a Pretty Good Step-Parent

By at 12:09 pm

crocsWhen people find out I’m a mom and a stepmom (my partner, Joseph, has three children with his ex-wife, and he and I have two children of our own), they’re curious about how we make it work.

I’m lucky to have three lovely stepkids whom I adore, but we’ve had our fair share of bumps in the road.

A child of divorce myself, I brought my own baggage into the dynamics of our relationship; maybe I thought that being the “perfect” stepmother would help me heal the emotional wounds of my parents’ divorce and my own difficulties with my dad’s new family. I also rushed into my role as do-it-all stepmom without taking the time to let everyone (including me) adjust to our new, extended family. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 10 2012

The Other (Better) Side of Divorce

By at 2:41 pm

broken heartMy parents separated over 18 years ago and since that time, my younger brother and I have seen three marriages between them and one more divorce. We’ve gotten six step-siblings, lived in seven houses, and many times struggled with finding a place in our parent’s new world.

We were told all the right things, things that you don’t understand at 4 and 9. We never thought it was our fault or that we had caused the marriage to end. We never considered that we were capable of breaking apart our family. We were 9 and 4 and had parents that loved us as much as any parents have ever loved their children. They were parents who would have died for us without blinking, parents who went without to give us things we didn’t need. They were great parents, but they couldn’t figure out how to put aside their anger for one another, their hate, and so even though they would have died to give us life, they never figured out how to live to give us something greater. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 15 2012

Should I Just Give Up on Step-Parenting Books?

By at 10:13 am
idiot's guide to stepparenting

I have not tried this one yet.

I have been trying to read step-parenting books for about six months, and I think I’ve concluded that reading step-parenting books is significantly harder and less rewarding that step-parenting.

For a while now, Jesse and I have been talking about our plans to start our own family once his divorce goes through. But even before we get to that stage, I’m working on being the best future-stepmother I can be to Jesse’s daughter Ronia. And because I’m a nerd, part of my preparation process has been checking step-parenting books out of the library.

But the books I’ve looked at so far have been laughably unhelpful. One seemed to have been written by a woman who married a guy with only a loose understanding of what the words “I have kids” mean. The other was so vague and full of platitudes that its chapter summaries read like fortune cookies: “Strive to understand difficult issues and reframe them in a positive way,” and, “Family vacations can be bonding and great fun, but also very stressful without planning.” Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 3 2011

Don’t Call Him Mr. Mom

By at 10:39 am

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time with my boyfriend and his 3-year-old daughter, Ronia. We flew together to Minnesota, spent Sukkot with his parents, and then returned to New York City, where we took Ronia to my shul, to several playgrounds, and to a time-honored New York tradition—Sunday morning brunch in a bar.

On planes, trains, and automobiles Ronia is mistaken for my child. People gave up their seats on the subway, so she could sit next to “her mama” and said things like “Aw, she loves her mommy” when I carried her after a particularly exhausting day. And of course, Ronia does love her mommy—I’m just not that person. I’ve learned not to jump in with a correction in these situations. Our story is personal and complicated, and the history of our new family need not be explicated to everyone who feels the need to comment on my interactions with Ronia.

But it has been weird to me how often people address their comments to me, rather than to Jesse, the one of us who is actually a parent. Sometimes he responds to comments that have been posed to me, or I deflect the question to him, or we just decide to just play along and answer together. But it’s clear that as the woman, I’m assumed to be the parental authority, and Jesse is just Mr. Mom.

And we do hear people using the term Mr. Mom as if it’s a novel and cute way of describing fatherhood. (It was even in a New York Times headline recently.) But Mr. Mom was the name of a bad movie in the eighties. Even the humor of it is hopelessly outdated. It’s supposed to be funny because “Mr.” implies a man, and Moms are WOMEN. Get it? Not exactly a knee-slapper.

Jesse isn’t playing at being a mom when he parents Ronia. He’s being himself—a dad. A dad who stayed home with his daughter when she was a baby (he wasn’t pretending to be a mom then, either), and who now makes pancakes for breakfast and macaroni and cheese for dinner, who does load after load of laundry (Ronia’s princess dresses, and my jeans and cardigans), reads stories, sings lullabies, cuddles, and watches, rapt, when Ronia swings happily on the playground.

In this 21st century world, where we all know tons of non-conventional families, it seems everyone still wants to cast me as the mom, and Jesse as the Mr. Mom. I’m thinking about investing in t-shirts. His can say, “I’m not Mr. Mom. I’m Dad.” And mine can say, “Ladyfriend.” And then when people ask, I can just refer them to my chest. Wait, that might not actually be the best plan…

Mar 4 2011

Friday Night: Ritual for a Step-Mom

By at 11:29 am

Although I never identified all that strongly with my Jewishness as I was growing up, when I met a handsome, erudite, sophisticated guy during college orientation who was active in the Jewish community on campus, I decided to drop in on a bagels-and-lox brunch and hear a rabbi give a talk about practical, contemporary Judaism.  Maybe this was my chance to find religion.

I was feeling extremely open-minded until I arrived and saw that the “bagels and lox” were actually Lenders and tuna salad. The fact that this Jewish guy, for all his apparent worldliness, didn’t understand the sanctity of good deli closed the door on any future for us then and there.

Well, that and he never called me back.

After the Lenders debacle, I dated a Lutheran. We shared some intense conversations about religion.  I visited temple a few times. But aside from that, I didn’t give my position on Judaism a whole lot more thought until eight years later when I met my husband, M. As we dated, I discovered that M., while not being what I would call religious, finds it comforting to recite the prayers and sing the songs in synagogue. Jewish faith is important to him in a style and degree that I don’t necessarily share, but that I respect.

He wanted to be sure that his three young children from his previous marriage continued to grow up familiar with their Jewish identity. Since their mother’s new husband wasn’t Jewish, M realized he would likely bear the bulk of the responsibility for passing along Jewish traditions to the children. He would share this responsibility with his new fiancée, yours truly. And since the custody schedule had the kids at our house on Friday nights, I suddenly found myself, a nice Jew-ish girl, preparing for a Shabbat dinner.

When we were all assembled and as quiet as it gets with a 3-year-old girl and 6- and 8- year-old-boys, they all looked at me.  Tradition dictates that the matriarch lights the candles and leads the prayers. They were waiting for me to take the lead. This was daunting, as I was even newer to the idea of step-motherhood than I was to Shabbat dinner.

Technically, I was neither matriarch nor stepmother at this point, since M. and I were living together and engaged, but not married yet. I managed to light the candles and recite the first few words “Baruch ata Adonai…” before standing helplessly until the 8-year-old gave an exasperated sigh and coached me through the rest.

I am about as prepared for parenting as I am for being a good Jew.

Luckily, my stepchildren don’t actually need me to “step” in and be their mother because they have a mother who loves them and is dedicated to raising them. Since we can put aside any sort of confusion about that, I get to be what the family therapist lady at the temple referred to as a “bonus parent.”

In my short time as a bonus parent, it’s been enlightening to see kids’ need for ritual in action. My little girl needed to have Goodnight Moon read to her multiple times every night for a long time. She and I had our own bedtime ritual for a while, talking about how much we love our friends and look forward to seeing them tomorrow at nursery school (or at the theater, in my case). M and I encourage them all to read before bed, but that didn’t need to be suggested twice to my oldest guy. I’ve never known him to go to sleep without flipping through a few pages of something. My middle guy has always woken up on the early side, but isn’t ready to consider breakfast until he’s watched a bit of Sports Center.

I began to better understand the importance of the repetition and reliability of Friday night Shabbat together. No matter how the family bond began, be it genetic or through a second marriage, furthering it with a ritual for bringing kids and parents together is a keeper.

Feb 18 2011

Weekly Roundup: Reading Woes, Family Vacations, and Econ 101

By at 12:43 pm

All the parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this week.

- Many parents are confused by a new methodology taken on by several private schools that delays formal reading instruction until the 1st grade. One parent pulled her child out of a prestigious school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for fear that the elite institution was actually delaying her kindergartener’s growth, who had been reading since he was 18 mos. (NYT)

– Our own Mayim Bialik has been cheating on us blogging for the Today Show’s Mom blog, and this week she shared her thoughts on why the pace of her sons’ development does not need to be compared with the pace of any other child’s development. She also has some tips for raising polite, compassionate kids without drilling ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ into their heads. (TodayMOMS)

– Did you know that there’s a business side of marriage? Paula Szuchman writes for the Wall Street Journal about how using basic economics lessons can result in a more blissful marraige. Two key points: Do the dishes and put out. (WSJ)

– The ever-impressive McSweeney’s franchise is taking on two things we love: food and kids. The San Francisco-based publisher will be launching a children’s book imprint with 10 titles already planned to be released this year, so keep an eye out for some lovely-looking, quirky books to read to your kids. (GalleyCat)

An Israeli step-mother who married into a “ready-made family” full of all the expected drama that comes from dealing with an 8-year old, a 14-year old, and their mother, has found the perfect solution for some much-needed stress relief: a family vacation. (Tablet)

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