Ep 30 – Stepparenting Through A Bio-Parent’s Lens

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Hello, step parents, I’m so excited to share this episode with you, I had the pleasure to interview my partner, John Swain. And we dug into some of the challenges that we faced on my step parenting journey and the journey of us blending. So without further ado, I know that you’re going to find some extremely valuable nuggets to take away, probably also find many relatable aspects. And I’m so excited to be sharing this story with you. Let’s listen in.

Hey, John, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on.

Hey, thanks for having me.

So let’s dive right in. What was it like to realize that your partner is going to be your child step parent, what was that situation like for you?

You mean actually realizing that that it was happening or knowing that it could happen?

Realizing that it was happening when everything was sort of transitioning from your previous relationship towards that end?

What a positive! I can’t even put it properly into words, just how calming it is. It’s exciting and wonderful. But mostly calming, because you essentially anticipate what can go wrong and hope that it doesn’t. And to see it not only go well, but to go in a way of watching them together. This is my experience. It went so well. That … Can I say you? Can I say you when I say this, instead of she?

The Bio-Parent Thoughts Around His Child Having A Stepparent

Yes, you can share that it’s me. I think though, before, sorry not to cut you off, but I guess to cut you off … I was hoping you could speak to before there was a “me” your previous relationship as you’re realizing that things aren’t working out. And the end of that and the transition to this new phase is inevitable. What was that experience like for you?

You know, relationships fall apart. And I think we go to the worst of thoughts when it happens. You know … we’re not a family anymore. It’s not going to be this tight group. It was like the, you know, the VIP club is no more. Now it’s just falling everything to shambles. And it’s just, it’s terrifying. Because all you think is the worst. What’s going to happen to your children? What was going to happen to my daughter? She doesn’t have a family that’s together anymore. And trying to make sure I can re-establish some sort of warm family environment without tossing her in and out of possible suitors. The relationship between them.

That was a crazy transition, as you know, you were there. It took months before you met her. And that was months after being sure that I wanted to date you and then dating you for months. And then you finally met her – a very scary ordeal as you want it to go right. And the last thing you want to do is pull everything out from underneath your kid. That’s a lot. Well, at least that’s what I didn’t want. We built up everything this life together and then we are no longer together. And then, what? I’m going to introduce somebody else impossibly, that falls apart.

I wanted to make sure that I was very certain and then I had to make sure that she was very certain. Because for me if it didn’t work out between you two then how could I keep going? My daughter is number one for me. And I was quickly falling for you. And it had to be just right. And it just was. And I went from having heart attacks and from contemplating the worst of scenarios, to quickly realizing that you were the right puzzle piece for the family. And and over the years it blows my mind how much we vibe properly together.

The Bio-Parent’s Biggest Fears Around Stepparent Coming Into The Picture

I’m going to take it back a little slower. If you could, remember back. What were some of your biggest fears?

You know, what’s funny is, I shouldn’t have had the fears that I had. They were very irrational. Because I know my daughter very well. And being friends with you and then dating you and going throughout that whole process, I knew you very well. So I shouldn’t have had the fears.

But it was the biggest one, that I introduce you to my daughter and she just hates you. It just doesn’t work out. She doesn’t like you at all. “You’re not my mommy get away from me.” She wasn’t that kind of kid. But still my mind builds up the worst of fears. And that was a big one is that she would just hate you. Then next, you hated her. She loved you, but you hated her. You’re just like, “Oh, I don’t like her. This isn’t for me. And I don’t want to be a mom. I’m not ready for this, you know, stepmom…” whatever you want to say.

We put those labels on there mom and stepmom, but there’s no way that in your mind coming into the situation that you’re not like, “I’m a mom now.” We have to slap these labels on there and be like, “Oh, that’s a stepmom.” But no, I think as the person in the situation, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you’re not telling yourself, “Well, I’m a stepmom.” You’re saying to yourself, “I’m a mom right now. Do I want to be a mom? Am I going to be a mother to this child?” And that was a big fear. Are you going to meet her, and then it just all falls apart? And you’re just like, “No, I don’t want this. I don’t like this.”

Or a mutual hate. “I don’t like her at all.” “I don’t like her either.” You know, those are the big ones. Other ones are, I find myself to be a little more perceptive when it comes to the emotions of people around me.

And there’s the, as you call it, the bio-mom, and how she was going to react to you. And, because she was important to me, to make sure that it didn’t create chaos. So I was afraid that you know, okay, here’s somebody new coming in. And I had already anticipated that she would be like, “Hey, she’s not mom, I’m mom,” you know. “Whoever this person is, you know, she’s not your mom.” And like that would create chaos as well. And, just a disturbance in the force that we couldn’t come together and have that wonderful, comfortable life. Because there would be that constant tension “Oh, who’s mom here?” So those are the the biggest fears.

The Stepparent’s Top Priorities And Struggles With Coming Into The Family

Just to add to what you pointed out, especially because you’ve invited me to do that. I think, for me, the experience was – I’m stepping into a serious caregiver role. I don’t think that it was completely clear about step mom or mom, because I think just in the reality of what the stepmom role is there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of grey areas. And a lot also has to do with the specific situation.

Plus juggling and understanding and recognizing what is necessary and what is an absolute no-no. Because, like you said, for me, my priority too was “How do I add value and only do things to help and support without at all taking away from the parents that this child already has?” And how do I minimize any sort of, like you said, turmoil, or stress, or disconnect. So with that, again, just lots of grey areas. And to a degree, I guess vigilance and trying my best to be responsive to what was happening.

And also lots of transparency, so that there wasn’t any question as to what I’m thinking or what I’m doing or why I’m doing it and inviting feedback, to do something differently. Or to be more collaborative in how to make those decisions between yourself and to the best of my ability with your former partner too. But, of course, that’s a tricky thing to navigate also. Because sometimes, just the shear inviting feedback and taking the initiative isn’t always the right step and can in and of itself cause tension.

And I believe that you accomplish those goals, which made it a lot healthier of an environment. Because if you did not, you know, it’s it’s not very conducive towards – what do they call it? The strong front?

The united front.

United front – that’s it. All being able to come together. Everybody has to realize their role. I think even the child. Knowing what their place is in the family. And it’s really difficult. I already knew that trying to bring somebody into a family. Like, how scary is that for the person coming in? They’re coming into a family and what’s their role going to be? And how are they going to … how’s it going to be defined for them? And how are they defining it for themselves? And it was a merge that was a very comfy one. You know, obviously, we had rocky points down the line. It’s always going to happen. But, ours was a beautiful story, a beautiful fit.

The Bio-Parent’s Top Priorities With Bringing A Stepparent Into The Picture

My next question: I know, you touched on a little bit of this, but if you could specifically speak to what were your top priorities?

Number one was my daughter’s happiness in the order of everything. And she wouldn’t believe it, if she heard this but yes, it was bio mom – her feeling secure with everything. Because if she doesn’t feel secure, if she’s upset, that just throws off the whole thing. So she was a major piece of that. So I needed Lilah happiness, number one, that was her happiness.

You know, what’s kind of silly is … my happiness was last. It would be Lilah’s, bio-mom, you and then me – in that order. Because I know if bio-mom’s not happy, it’s just going to get worse from there. And if everything’s cool, and I did my job properly, bio-mom should be comfortable and understand that her place is her place, and no one’s coming in to dominate that. And my daughter understands what the relationship is of the person coming in. And how it’s not a pressuring position that she’s coming to fill by any means. Meaning that it’s not something “Oh, well, this is mom, now. You call her mom. And this is just the way it goes.” No, I needed both of their comfortability.

And then, very importantly, is yours. Coming into that and making sure you don’t feel pressure, like, “Hey, you’re a mom now. Slap you in the face with that. Enjoy that. How did that feel? Does it burn? Does it sting?” I wanted you to feel very comfortable coming in. That even though this is a big deal and a major step in everybody’s life, that there wasn’t this major pressure. That we could find a way to vibe together.

And then at the end, once I realized it was going well, then I was just like, “Alright. How am I doing? Am I okay? Oh, I’m still alive, then I’m okay.” Yeah, those are my priorities. It’s always happiness. Happiness is always my priority. Because we, I feel like we give ourselves these goals, “I have to make all this money” or “I have to have this kind of house or apartment or car.” But really, we’re getting these things because we think it’s going to make us happy. So I just skip all of that stuff and get right to the happiness. Like how can we make sure that everybody feels emotionally taken care of? So that they can feel content and calm. Which leads towards that happiness that I’m pushing for.

The Hardest Part Of The Stepfamily Dynamic For The Bio-Parent

What was the hardest part of blending or the stepfamily dynamic?

Let’s see … I would say the hardest part was bio-mom. Because it felt like you couldn’t breathe improperly without it becoming an issue. And that’s because … I can’t be on that side all the time. I don’t know all the insecurities she’s feeling. You know, everybody’s different. And so if I took her anywhere with you that she wanted to take you…

When you, sorry, when you were talking about “she” I’m assuming you’re talking about Lilah?

Yes. When we took when we took Lila anywhere you know that bio mom wanted to take her. Or if it sounded like you disciplined. Or how you talk to her. You couldn’t have a conversation with her. And she would just get so antsy she would get so riled up. And you know, the thought was always going towards her replacement, she’s going to be replaced.

And for people listening, I listened to the show. So you guys probably know as well as I do the basic things that have happened between our daughter and bio-mom and her not seeing her anymore. You know, I think a lot of these things lead towards pushing herself out of the picture. The thing was nobody was trying to do that. We really wanted to be that strong team together. And at one point, it felt really good. And then it just was falling apart.

I worked really hard for that because that’s what I wanted more than anything was everybody to be comfortable. But that became the biggest struggle. It was super difficult for us to be able to do anything plan any events. Well, realistically I think it was just YOU couldn’t do anything. And that upsets me because I don’t want to tie anybody’s hands behind their back. You should be allowed to be yourself. As long as you’re not hurting anybody or stepping on anybody’s toes. And you definitely were not.

And it was a constant like, from bio-mom, “I heard this.” “This is what I heard,” “Oh, what’s going on over here?” “What are you doing over here?” “And I just want to make sure that she’s not trying to be mom, because I’m mom,” it was a constant thing. And it was, it was probably the biggest struggle because it didn’t seem to matter how hard I worked. I mean, I can’t reach into her head and get her to understand that my intentions were valid, they were real. I can be as calm as I’m talking right now I can be as logical or thorough, detailed about anything but I think that sadness, and that fear eats away at us. And that became my biggest struggle with everything.

The Bio-Parent’s Perspective On Discipline

Follow up question to that. You mentioned discipline, and full disclosure, discipline does come up pretty often. It is a very personal topic for both parents often. Certainly both bio-parents in situations where there are stepparents involved or blending of families.

I was wondering, your honest opinion, did do feel that I ever overstepped? You know, with regard to disciplining or pushing an agenda or anything like that? Because to be fair, that does happen sometimes. And as I said, it can often be a point of contention, and certainly a very sensitive point for parents, especially when they’re not physically at that household.

That’s a great question. And I want to make sure I answer that thoroughly and honestly. Because there are two things here. So my initial answer would be – yes. Yes I felt like you did go too far in certain areas, or you were too much. And you know, we’ve had different interactions. But I also have to ask myself, because it’s emotionally overwhelming for you. “Well, did I miss read that?” That’s a question you have to ask yourself as a parent, right? “Is everything the way I see it, the way it really is?”

So, without going down that rabbit hole, yeah, it did happen. I know that there were frustrating aspects for you. And even though we have this really sweet kid, there were times where you would be frustrated, and you’d find something to get angry about. And it’s like, “Oh, well, that’s unnecessary. You don’t need to get angry about that.” And those would probably be our biggest struggles as a couple. Because I know you want to raise her our way, but there’s another household involved. And making sure that you are heard, because it doesn’t mean I just shut you down. Like “Oh, it’s not happening that way. Sorry. Peace out. You have no say.” You know, that just makes it more frustrating for you.

But yeah, there were times where I felt like it was too much. For those listening, you know, it’s not like it was ever violence or anything like that. And there’s no touching or something like that. But sometimes, you know, I think we probably all get grumpy and bark at our kids too much. And I think as a parent, with a step parent coming in, we will get a little defensive about that. “That’s my baby, back off. What’s your problem? You don’t need to do that stop attacking her. I’m right here.”

Where it’s really not that bad. They’re just trying to say, “Hey, you brat stop doing that.” So yeah, in my recollection, there were times where it was too much. Looking back, I was lucky. The times we had were the times we had. We were lucky enough to have wonderful moments. Times of bonding, and in times of rejoicing and praising our kid and growing together as a unit. I think we’re always going to have mistakes. And whether we dwell on those mistakes or learn from them, whatever, they’re going to happen. They will be there. So nothing that I would ever hold against you rubbing it in your face all the time, “Oh, yeah. Remember that time you did this?” So nothing so bad.

The Bio-Parent’s Advice For Stepparents

What advice would you give stepparents to help make the transition easier? Or just cautions.

The best advice I could give stepparents is the same advice I’d be giving parents, which is you’re literally all feeling the same stressors and fears at the same time. There’s not anything that’s happening that’s unique to you. A blended family is a blend for everyone. It’s not just a blend for a stepparent, it’s not just a blend for a parent, it’s definitely not just a blend for a child. All of you are trying to find your footing in this new ordeal.

You’re coming together. And when you’re frustrated, let me tell you, they’re frustrated too. And it’s hard. It’s really difficult to think about that. When you’re in the heat of things, you’re like, “No, this isn’t right. This isn’t fair. I feel so angry and nobody else…” No, everybody does. Everybody feels that way. Whatever you’re feeling, I promise you, everybody feels that way … uncomfortable, awkward, angry, shafted. Everybody feels like they’re the only ones struggling at certain times.

And this is the best thing to keep telling yourself is “Yes, this is where we all come together.” Because not only do we all have the good times to get to share in those good times, but while we’re having the bad times, everybody takes a piece of that. And when you realize that, it helps you blend in a much healthier manner.

And everybody needs to keep that in mind – bio-mom, bio-dad, stepmom, stepdad, a child. Everybody needs to realize that we’re all taking a piece of this burden. And when you do that you don’t feel so alone. You don’t feel like the intruder, the trespasser in this family that’s so perfect. Because it wasn’t perfect, which is why you’re there. They separated because it was not working out. And you have the possibility to be that key, that addition to make this machine run a little more smoothly.

The Bio-Parent’s Regrets

If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

This is very much a John Swain answer. Because I know people have asked me this about many things. I can’t think that I would want to change anything. Because I do live my life in a manner where I can be happy and content. And I do feel that way right now. And I wouldn’t change a thing.

I mean, you know, the butterfly effect … change one thing and everything spirals out of control. I absolutely adore my daughter the way she is. I love our relationship together, you and I and the family that we’ve created and the life that we have. And I don’t think I would risk changing one thing, just so I can try to take away a painful memory or a painful accident. Every one of those accidents contributed to the life that we have today. So that’s the gamble.

Would you go back and change something and all of a sudden you find out that was the thing that brought you closer together? That suffering that pain or something like that it brought you closer together. That one fight that was really brutal that pushed you to the end of the relationship made you so much stronger when you made it to the other side.

So no, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t change one thing. I want to make a joke and say, just put in some small little change. But no, even if I just ate a little better. You’d never know what that’s going to do. So no, I wouldn’t change one single thing.

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us for this episode and sharing your wisdom. Take care.

You too.

Thanks so much for tuning in to this episode of synergistic parenting podcast. Be sure to give us a like and follow us on your favorite streaming app.

Until next time, be well!

Related Episodes:

Confessions of a Stepdaughter

Abuse and my Stepparenting Story

Your Stepchild’s Loyalty Conflict – Part 1: Background

Interview with Dr. Patricia Papernow: Part 1

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