-What is your name and general location? (South, New England, etc)
Molly Schaar, Indiana, USA
-How many stepchildren do you have? (And what age and gender, if you’re comfortable sharing) If you have biological children, feel free to let us know about them here, too!
Brandon 26, Katie 22, Makaela 15- stepchildren
Grace 8, Elizabeth 2 -biological children
-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your stepparenting story?
I’ve been a stepmom for 10+ years now, in particular, a custodial stepmom, and more recently a custodial stepmom with the biological mom living several states away. This means my stepdaughter (15) who still lives at home (the other 2 are adults living on their own) lives with us the entire year with the exception of a week during winter break, a week during spring break, and anywhere from 4-7 weeks in the summer. Prior, when the other parents lived in the state we had custody except for every other weekend and an even split of any holiday/summer breaks. I have 2 young daughters at home as well that I share with my husband and we try to get the adult children and children at home together once or twice a year if possible.
-What does your stepchild call you? If you also have biological children, how does the role of titles (ie mom and dad) work in your family?
I originally insisted that my stepchildren call me by my first name. It was never an issue for me until my youngest stepdaughter started seeing a counselor, who told me in no uncertain terms that it had to be up to the child to decide and assign titles to people as she/he needed to feel secure, wanted, and loved. My stepdaughter at the time felt that both her biological mom and I were “mom” and that she could title us both as mom without incident. She now calls me mom, as well as her biological mom, and I can see how it helps her to feel secure and cared for in both homes. For a period of time the kids adopted “Mama” as my title, which has stuck with one of my adult children somewhat.
-How/When did you first meet your now stepchild(ren)? Did you run into any difficulties bonding with them? (right away or just in general)
My husband explained to the children who I was before we met, and we were very serious about each other before that point, as I wasn’t going to meet children unless I knew what I was doing. I don’t think there’s any blended family that just…blends. There are days where it’s the most wonderful relationship and joy and there are days where it can be difficult to get in each other’s shoes, especially with the heavy emotions that can come from not being a traditional household- on all sides. In general, I feel very fortunate that all 3 of my stepchildren, to certain extents, welcomed me and respected me. I was and remain open to the fact that sometimes I’m just a great support and partner for their dad and they appreciate that and respect that, which is awesome, and sometimes they really value or desire for me to be more a parent in areas where I might have a little more insight. There’s been a really nice balance, which I appreciate, and I know they do as well.
-How do you and your partner handle discipline/rules within your family? (Is it 50/50?) How do you and your partner make sure you are both respected by the child?
In our home we are the adults. It is not different than if I send my child to a friend’s home, and the friend’s parents are in charge. We expect basic respect and courtesy. My husband and I take the major load of house chores and expect the kids to keep their rooms cleaned, help when asked, and be kind to each other. Otherwise their job is school excellence. We both back each other and we agree on how we are handling the kids together and the kids respect and know it.
-Do you participate in communication/relationship with your stepchild’s other biological parent? (Not your partner) If so, how much and how do you maintain that relationship?
We attempted to do so for several years. There were times that was a wonderful thing and times that it just made things worse. In the end, it was best for the kids and us to keep communication necessity-driven only between the dad and mom. I don’t have any issues with the other parents, I respect them and encourage the shared kids in loving relationships with all of us and expect they do the same for us. However, especially with adult children, we felt and the counselor we worked with felt that it helped the children’s relationships more to be in direct communication and have some control over their relationship with each parent/stepparent. This way there is no “middle man” that can be questioned- it’s direct from the child to the parent- about their grades, their life, their events, etc. When major things happen- major health issues, major medical or financial decisions, or changes to the schedule/transportation- my husband communicates with the mom factually and keeps emotions out of communication to keep things peaceful. I think their communication is the best it has been in years now by approaching it as the counselor instructed.
-How do you decide what things to do when you don’t have the child (when the child is with their other parent) and what things you want to wait to do until you have the child with you?
For the most part we don’t have to struggle with this issue, as she is with us more than she is not. She and her siblings when they lived at home understand that we don’t stop living just because they aren’t there and that they are benefiting from also having things like vacations, activities, and fun things when they are with their other parents, so they aren’t missing anything in our opinion. We do try to do more for our marriage when she’s gone, so anniversary trips or get-away trips for just us adults we typically plan when she’s gone anyway.
-Hardest/Most Difficult stepmothering memory?
I think, in general, the hardest part about being a stepmom is truly loving children as your own and doing for them as you would do if they were 100% yours, but often having people see something you do in love or in desire to help as overstepping or trying to slight or outdo the other parent. No one can really see your heart for the children, so you have to just know you’re doing it with the right intent and let other people live with their judgements and continue to do your best.
-Best/Funniest stepmothering memory?
The best memories I have are really just seeing all the kids (bio and step) together. My oldest laying with one of my youngest watching a movie and snuggling, them cheering each other on at special events, and teaching/learning from each other. The real blessing has been how much step and bio doesn’t matter in our home- and how everyone comes together when it matters most.
-Any particular resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc) that have helped you along in your stepmothering journey?
I read a lot of stepparent facebook pages, blogs, etc- if nothing else because you will either find camaraderie or see people with situations that are far worse. It can put things in perspective how many hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to blend a family at various stages of their own lives and the children’s lives. The sense of community can really make a difference in knowing it’s not just you and in the grand scheme of things, even the worst days aren’t all that bad.
-What advice would you give your former self if you could send a letter back in time? Please write a short version of that letter here.
Postpartum depression is the real deal, don’t ignore it. You have a right and responsibility to take care of yourself first, then your marriage, and then your children (bio and step). You can’t fix anything for anyone else, they have to do it themselves, children and adults alike. Children learn by example. You have a right to respect, dignity, and safety in your own home, never question that. You have the right to live your life with your spouse as you agree on without interference and have a right to ignore or disregard those who disrespect or disregard your marriage and partnership without fear of retaliation. Those who don’t understand now either don’t need to because they’re not involved or will someday.
-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
Yes and no. Being the biological parent is somewhat easier- there’s always going to be that connection no matter what. But I don’t find myself jealous of that role as my own role is very established and I have solid relationships with my stepchildren that I am happy and comfortable in.
-What do you say when people ask if you have kids?
I have 5. No one is lesser or greater, just have different “need” of me.
-What do you say when a stranger (waitress or something like that) refers to you and your spouse as mom and dad? (ie “Ask your mom and dad”)
It doesn’t bother me and I don’t correct them. It’s not necessary to do the whole life story to a stranger, plus imagine how my stepdaughter feels when I say “no, she’s not mine”. Unless it requires clarification (like for a counselor or a doctor needing medical history), we let it be.
-How are you preparing for when the child might someday say “you aren’t my real parent” or if others say that to you?
It’s happened. It’s factual. I’m not. I live as my husband does- based on facts. I may never be a parent for someone, but I am a part of their life and we can find respectful ways and establish comfortable boundaries to share in a relationship that works for everyone, especially in my home.
-Was your now partner having a child or children a pro or a con when deciding whether to date and ultimately marry them?
It certainly made me see how great of a father he was, how responsible he was to them, how much he could love others and give to others with no thought to himself. He is truly the greatest father and has worked so hard to give his kids the best he can give.
-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?
-Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with stepmothering.
- Sweatpants and Coffee are always appropriate.
- I hold my MBA and can design a responsive website from scratch in a day.
- My husband and I are both adoptees.