I was never one of those girls who dreamed about getting married. When I got engaged and started planning our wedding, I was surprised to find out that people expected us to have an engagement party and pick a color theme for our wedding. Barf! I did neither. Because I never dreamed about what my wedding was supposed to be like, I had few expectations. As far as we were concerned, we needed a priest and a church, a hall, some food and booze. Booze was basically the theme of ours and that is probably why 9 years later people still talk about our wedding. There was also an odd couple hook up at our wedding, but I’m sworn to secrecy. Luckily my husband and I were in the lobby during the time my girlfriend did the walk of shame. Unfortunately for her, she will never live this down.
The reason I never dreamt about my wedding was because I never really thought I would get married. But, I met the right person and the rest is history. I also never thought that I would have children, but I was wrong about that too. My perfect groom came with a son. When we got married he was 6 years old. I have been in his life since he was 3, so luckily for me, he really doesn’t remember a time when I wasn’t in his life. I couldn’t imagine him not being a part of mine…
This past Saturday I had to take my husband to the emergency room. He suffers from kidney stones so we are frequent visitors. While we were in the waiting room my phone kept buzzing with text messages from Junior. I couldn’t help but feel super duper happy that he felt that I was worthy of multiple text messages. Most of his messages were about what he was eating. After all, he is 15 and spends more time than not with his mouth full. It didn’t matter to me what his messages were about. The fact was, there were things that he wanted to tell me. He could have just as easily text messaged one of his friends.
Now I am not one of those parents who are kidding myself about my relationship with him. I know that he thinks I am old and uncool. I would never do anything to get him to think I am his friend, and I don’t mean that in a harsh sense. Parents can’t be both parent and friend. One of the reasons my husband asked me to marry him was because he felt that I was worthy of helping him to raise his son. The second reason was that I chose steak over salad on our first date. My eating skills rival any man out there, with the exception of maybe Takeru Kobayashi.
People always ask us if we will have children. Our answer is always the same: we already do. There are no and have never been any plans to have more children. Some people in our lives can’t let this go. “But you are such good parents.” “Don’t you want your OWN children?” The second one pisses me off the most. Of course I wonder what our biological child would look life. After all, I am a geneticist and I can’t help myself. What I have learned after all of these years as Junior’s mom is that DNA really has nothing to do with it. He is my kid in my heart and that is what counts.
Over the years people have asked me what it takes to raise a kid when you are the extra parent. I certainly have made my fair share of mistakes, believe me. But, here are a few things I have learned:
1. Do not use the word step parent. This is an ugly word. It should never be said in front of the child. Kids do not hear “step” but hear “less”, “inferior”, you get the point. I have made this mistake 2 times and unfortunately it was because of my own vanity. It can be confusing to people who are capable of doing the math: 34 year old woman with 15 year old kid. I am deeply sorry for ever saying this and have sworn to myself that it will never happen again.
2. With that being said, you are not the child’s parent. In my situation, Junior has two sets of parents. His biological mother is still in the picture. She is a trouble maker and a flake and that will be the last I will say about her. But, she is his mother. I am the extra mother. The job of a step parent is to help your spouse raise the kid/s in the manner they see fit. My husband wants me to contribute, and I do, but ultimately how Junior is raised is his choice.
3. Never ever bash the child’s biological parent. This should be an obvious one, but it is the one that is most forgotten.
4. You should never force the child to call you mom or dad. Besides, it is much cooler when they make the decision to do this on their own!
5. Never give your spouse grief about money that is spent on the child. The same thing goes for time.
6. Try to understand their situation. Often times the child goes between two houses, has two set up parents, two sets of clothes/toys and the king daddy, big kahuna, drum roll please, two sets of rules. My parents divorced when I was 18. I did not live at home, but have experienced my fair share of duplicates, two Thanksgiving meals in one day is a personal favorite. If you are lucky enough to have married parents, just ask an adult who had to deal with their parent’s divorce. Trust me, there are enough of us out there.
7. Do not try and become the child’s friend. They have enough of their own at school who are their own age. No matter how hard you try, you can’t compete. And, if you try, you will look like a chump. But, keep in mind that this is coming from a woman who has a blast with her son. When Dad is out of town, we always eat ice cream before our dinner. The two of us can often be found dancing around the house and downloading music. This is (sadly) because I have the musical taste of a 15 year old boy. There is a line between having fun with a kid and being their friend. Parents should take the time to enjoy their kids. I’m convinced that this, along with Suduko and Oil of Olay eye cream will keep me young forever.
I am no expert, just someone who has experienced divorce and remarriage from both ends. It has been no picnic. It took me many years to deal with my parents divorce. I’d like to think that those years of trying to figure it all out helped me in managing my current situation. I am and will forever be a true optimist.
If there are others out there in my situation, I’d love to know more about how you make it work.