When you think of the term stepparent, what comes to mind? I know for me, even Disney only had horrible images and impressions of stepparents. Why would anyone want to try and compete with that? No matter how you look at it, stepparents take on a negative image by definition and virtue of only being a “step”. Let’s just review the terms for a moment. I’m not hugely into semantics, but I like to know what the words I use are meaning. Otherwise it breeds miscommunication and confusion. According to Webster’s dictionary a stepparent is defined as: someone that your father or mother marries after the marriage to or relationship with your other parent has ended. I know it’s not simply my perception that this definition leaves something to be desired. This definition says nothing about the insurmountable love and adoration a stepparent may feel for their child. Let me break this down for you.
When I met my husband I fell in love with him and both of his children. I would walk through fire and back for each of them. We all walk on steps, right? We use steps to achieve a destination. We climb steps. But who amongst us loves steps? Who would do anything for the steps in their lives? This is a complete paradigm shift for most people. Allow me to explain a little more.
I have chosen the term bonus for my relationship with my children. I also claim them as mine, because it’s an honor to both love them and be loved by them. I don’t simply have a relationship with them as a by-product of my marriage to my husband. I consider it a great honor to know, love, and enjoy each of my bonus teens. I know them fairly well. I can tell you about my bonus son if you want. He’s wickedly smart, somewhat introverted, and loyal until the day is done. His loyalty is fairly hardcore. I also know what kind of music he likes, what he prefers to watch on television, and most of the books he would like to read (or has read). My bonus daughter is a whole other issue. I’m not sure she could be more like me if I had given birth to her. I know her inside and out! I know what kind of guy she will be attracted to (typically the opposite of mine), I know what she values, I know what she appreciates, and I know what annoys her. While these relationships don’t happen overnight, it honestly hasn’t been all that hard to cultivate these relationships.
Growing up my biggest, secret, hidden desire was to have children of my own. I am coming to terms with the fact that this may not be a reality for me (to “give birth” to my own children). I don’t view my bonus children any differently than I would if I had given birth to them. Although, perhaps I value and cherish them a wee bit more than I would have, if I had given birth to them.
I never knew my heart could hold so much love in it! I never knew someone outside of myself could impact my heart. I have no selfish motives or goals for either one of them. Literally, my only goal for them is to be healthy, happy, and loved! That’s what I want for them in their life. I have told my bonus daughter perhaps 100 times (if not more) that I don’t care who or what she dates. However here are the requirements: they must treat her well, they must make her happy, and they must respect her. After that I don’t care.
I don’t think I’m the world’s best bonus mom by any stretch of the imagination. However, I have developed a formula that has been implemented fairly successfully for me. I would encourage any other stepparents who want to make the transition to bonus parents to implement these suggestions:
- Be authentic: One of the things I did from the beginning was to be comfortable in my own skin and to not be fake or superficial around the kids. When you are fake or superficial around kids it sets off their trust radars. I can freely admit that I have acted poorly and done things I am not proud of in front of and around my bonus kids. However, I can also admit that I have cleaned it up afterwards to the best of my ability.
- Don’t push: I have never ever pushed, rushed, or forced anything in terms of a relationship from my bonus kids. Instead, I gave them respect and love. I worked to be cognitive of where they were at and gently enter their lives, versus being a force to be reckoned with.
- Communicate: Outside of my husband, I suspect that there are no other people who know me nearly as well as my bonus kids. Our relationship is very open, honest, and transparent. We communicate about everything! That is no exaggeration. Here’s the key: I never forced communication. Instead I attempted to be the gentle spirit that was just “here” for them. It has paid off time and time again.
- Don’t compare: You will never be the person who facilitated in their being brought to the earth. And do you know what? That’s actually okay! In the beginning this concept was very upsetting to me. And now, I can recognize that I have a part to play in their life. Which is not diminished by when I entered their life.
- Respect: I can with absolute certainty say I have never spoken ill about my bonus children’s mother to them. It’s not who I am. Plus, my professional background gave me the biggest heads up about this aspect. When you complain about a child’s biological parent you are complaining about a part of them. When you complain about the child’s bonus parent’s you are putting them in a position to choose loyalty. I have worked diligently to steer clear from this behavior.
- Honor: My bonus children are teenagers. As such, they can be somewhat thoughtless when it comes to other people’s birthdays, holidays, etc. Every Mother’s Day, Christmas, and birthday since I came into their live I have ensured that they have a gift to give their mother and other people. At times this concept baffled some people close to me. Until I explained my mindset: I am grateful to their mother. If it weren’t for her, they would not be in my life today! How amazing is that?
- Be present: This is especially true in the electronic (and social media) age that we currently reside in. Make the decision to set down the distractions when your bonus kids talk to you. I don’t care how old they are. If you can’t tear yourself away from the electronic stimuli it sends them a message that they are not a priority or are not relevant. Is that really the message you want to send?
- Parent with love: I will attest to the fact that I am not a perfect parent of any type. I have made countless mistakes. However, here’s the catch. No living and breathing being can ever accuse me of not parenting out of love. Every mistake I have made has risen from a place of love and support. I also know my children’s love languages so I can speak to them in the way that they need to be spoken to.
I will be forever grateful for my bonus kids! They are the best bonus teens I could ever imagine living with, loving, and respecting. I’m sure once you make the transition from step to bonus, you will feel the same.
Jenn Bovee, LCSW is a spiritual life coach and psychotherapist. She offers in person and distance sessions. Learn more about Jenn here:www.JennBoveeLCSW.com