Labels and Negativity

Girls and AydenFeatured on Big Blended Family.

In our blended family, I am the bio-mom of two girls. My ex-husband and I have both remarried. I only have the two children from my previous marriage and my husband has no biological children. My ex and his wife have two children of their own.

We do not use the term bio-mom in our family. I am mom, and the girls call their step-mom by her name, Molly. Recently, my youngest called her step-mom, Mom. Read about my reaction on Her View From Home. They call my husband by his name, and he calls them his daughters in social situations. In his eyes they are his daughters, regardless of them not being his biological children. He and step-mom Molly both help the girls with their homework, they take the girls or pick them up from school, they make them dinner, they tuck them in, and they are both patient when the girls take things out on them. In my view, it’s fair to say they are in parental roles.

Step-parents go into the relationship knowing that their new partner comes with children. They choose to love the children even if they get the brunt of the blame for the failure of the previous marriage. They are treated differently than the parents by everyone outside of the home due to their role as stepparent. That is a brave choice. It’s a giant a leap of faith—not only faith in the new marriage, but also faith in the children that the step-parent has accepted as their own.

I’ve heard so many stories from step-moms, and most of them are similar. They are often treated differently, both by their step-children’s mother, and by teachers, doctors, neighbors, etc. They are told they are not a real parent.

My thoughts: Both of the stepparents in my family go out of their way to do things for the girls, even when it isn’t their day. They still consider themselves responsible, even when it is not their day. The girls respect and love them. They have been taught that we are all their parents. As far as the step-parents not being responsible for the children or obligated to see them in the event of a divorce, I would make sure that the step-parent was still in their lives. Also, blood does not make someone a parent, love, patience, a since of humor, trust, and putting the child first makes someone a parent.

With an invitation from one of the biological parents, a step-parent chooses to take responsibility for the children, with very little recognition or reward. Step-parents who co-parent are even more amazing. It takes a tremendous amount of forgiveness, love, and faith for a step-parent to sit side by side with their spouse’s ex, someone whose flaws have been revealed to them before ever meeting them.

Many moms are upset by the term bio-mom, but not the word step-mom. I don’t really like either term, but it does not bother me to be called bio-mom. I know my role, and I choose not to take it personally. Molly has said she likes the word step-mom, because she feels that she steps in for the girls to be a mom when I am not with them, and she’s right. She does.

Each family can choose their own titles, and each can choose how they react to the labels others give them. I feel that every parent deserves equal respect, regardless of the label that is forced upon them or whether or not their contributions to the children’s lives involve DNA.

What do you think of labels and titles?

One of the toughest aspects of co-parenting with step-parents involved is when the kids badmouth the step-parents to the biological parents. We have experienced this in both households.

In the beginning of our blended family, my eldest daughter attempted to play both households against one another. She felt the tension from the divorce, and intuitively sensed an opportunity to gain power in the situation. Children have a natural need to control aspects of their life, and because their parents’ divorce takes some control away from them, they may act out. My daughter would either exaggerate one of our words or leave important details out, and she was very talented at spinning something that was not meant to be hurtful into something more.

As parents, it’s our job to guide our children to be respectful to their parents and step-parents, and to stand up for truth. Here’s how we’ve managed negative step-talk in our blended family:

Lesson 1. Don’t assume that your child’s description of the step-parent’s character or actions is accurate. Until you hear it directly from the step-parent’s mouth, do NOT believe everything you hear. Remember, they are children, and they will test boundaries. It is a naive parent who takes everything their child says as gospel. Many children go on for several years spinning tales, so your endurance in managing the issue is necessary.

Lesson 2. Don’t let negative ideas about the step-parent that you’ve heard from your child lodge in your brain. Each time you hear something negative, imagine a filter that sheds the harsh, judgmental or rude things the step-parent supposedly said and holds onto the good. There is no benefit to believing or engaging with the negativity, unless there is evidence of abuse that puts the child at risk.

Lesson 3. Go to the source. I learned quickly that my child would slightly or significantly skew a story to push my buttons, so now when she talks about her step-mom, I check with step-mom to see what’s up. My advice is to listen to what the child is saying and give them respect as they speak, and then let them know you will be checking with the person they are talking about to find out their side of the story. When the child knows there is accountability for their words, they learn to decipher the truth. If a child believes their special bond with their parent is shrouded in secrecy, they may use the trust to poison the relationship between parent and stepparent.

Lesson 4. Defend the step-parent, especially to the child. Parenting is not just about listening. Children need guidance and direction, and they can learn from your words. Tell your child the many qualities their stepparent has that you admire, and that they should admire. Redirect them to build trust with the stepparent instead of subtly encouraging distrust. It may be tempting to let your child conclude by your silence that their negative story presents an accurate picture of the stepparent. If under the guise of confiding the child is sowing seeds of distrust, be aware of it, and correct it.

Lesson 5. Offer a positive road to empowerment. If the testing, lying and divisiveness are attempts to gain power and control in their life, opportunities to be strong and have a voice will help your child. Even as you instill the importance of truthfulness, also give your child choices as part of their daily life. Depending on their age, appropriate choices for kids could be things like choosing which friend they will play with, choosing an outfit, choosing a family activity or choosing how their room is decorated. There are also choices that are not appropriate for children, such as deciding whether they will spend more or less time at their other household, choosing their school, or choosing immodest clothes.

To enable my daughter’s empowerment, I work with my husband, my ex and his wife to create healthy boundaries and choices for her. Independently, there’s only so much I can do, but in cooperation with my ex-husband’s household, my daughter is surrounded by accountability and love every day.

Featured Photo from Photography by Bethany.

Trish Eklund is taking a nontraditional approach to parenting children after divorce and remarriage. Raising her two daughters of ten and fourteen with her husband, ex-husband, and his wife, they consult one another on all parenting decisions. Trish has been featured on www.playground-magazine.com, and www.bigblendedfamily.com. She is a regular writer on www.herviewfromhome.com, writer and co-editor for Her View From Omaha. Follow her on Twitter: @trishiewriter, Google +, and Pinterest.

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