They’re Not Your Real Kids (and Other Dumb Things People Say)

Erika Headshot (1)By Erika, The Bonus Mom

I’m a step parent.  I know that.  I knew that being step parent was a very real possibility when Roger and I started dating.  In fact, that was his deal breaker when we first started to talk about being more than friends.  If I thought, for any reason at all, that I couldn’t handle being a Bonus Mom then I was not the woman for him.

So, yeah, for as long as we have been together, I have always known I was going to be a Bonus Mom.  I may not have pictured my life this way as a kid, but now I can’t imagine it any other way.   And, in 2018, you would think people would not at ALL be fazed by non-traditional, blended families.  I mean honestly, how many families are “traditional” anyway? What does “traditional” even mean? If kids are in a household with a mom and dad, two moms, two dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents, adoptive parents or anybody else who loves the mess out of them, isn’t that what matters?   But no, in 2018, people are still awkward and clumsy as hell when talking to me about my family and my kids.

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If I’m honest, it’s one of the things that has been super surprising for me since getting married.  I had a good girlfriend ask me “what has been the weirdest thing [I’ve] had to adjust to since getting married?”  And while hubs and I have warring kitchen sensibilities and our bed is almost never made (much to my chagrin, as a daily bed maker) – the biggest adjustment is how weird, and sometimes uncomfortably forward, people are about me being in a blended family.  And when people realize our kids live in Florida with their mother? Just forget about it.  The stammering and foot-in-mouth syndrome reaches a fever pitch in the conversations.

I think, what makes the conversations worse is that once someone says something slightly offensive (even if they don’t mean to offend) they try to clean-up their missteps and only say things that are worse and far more offensive than whatever the initial comment was.  Take, for example, “They’re not your real kids anyway.”  People say this to me . . . often.  It’s never hurled as an insult.  They usually say it when, for whatever reason, I have to explain our custody arrangement.  It’s meant to soften the blow of the fact that our kids live in Florida with their mom during the school year.  This conversation about custody happens far more often than I would like since I now work at a school and people are always curious as to why I wouldn’t want my kids to come here (it’s a REALLY good school).  So after I explain that the kids live in Florida during the school year and with us for the summers they say “oh well that’s hard, but at least they aren’t your real kids.  Being away from your real kids would be really hard.”

The first time I heard it, I sort of winced, half-smiled, half-grimaced and slinked away.  I didn’t know how to respond to someone assuming that because Roger and Londyn weren’t my biological children that they were any less mine to miss.  That stung.  Not because the kids or their mom or their dad thinks they’re not really mine/I’m not really theirs, but, because someone, a stranger no less (!!), had verbalized something I grapple with – not being a “real” parent. As a step parent, in the back of my mind I sort of brace myself for the day one of the kids gets so mad at me they say “you’re not my real mom and I don’t have to listen to you/I hate you!”   I don’t actually think my kids would say this and, in reality, I don’t feel like any less of a parent.  Trust me, bonus parents share all of the emotional, physical and financial responsibilities of a bio parent and, in our family, all major decisions about the kids are made by all THREE of us.  I’d be lying, though, if I said “real parent” wasn’t a thing that crept in the back of my mind sometimes. In actuality, if the kids did get angry enough to say this to me it would, truly, mean I’m very much a parent; much in the same way I unlocked a new parenting level when Londyn called me “embarrassing” for doing the Keke dance challenge this summer. So yeah, the first time someone said it to me, I just shrugged and walked away.  Now more annoyed, and more bold, when people say it, I ask “what is that supposed to mean? What exactly is a ‘fake’ kid? Would you say that to me if my kids were standing here?”  Then it’s their turn to wince, half-smile, half-grimace, and slink away.

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Another dumb question I get a lot is “when are you going to have children of your own?”  Again, the first few times I heard this I didn’t know how to answer it.  I would stammer and dish out a lot of “ummms” and “uhhhs” until I could mumble “I don’t know” and get the heck outta Dodge. Of course, people were asking when I was going to get pregnant and birth a baby out of my own womb. Generally, I have all SORTS of issues with people being all up in my uterus (one skim of my InstaStories and Facebook feed and you would see that) but it really boils my BLOOD when people phrase it this way.  Having one of our own, as if Roger and Londyn are any less our children and aren’t “our own.”  Now, when people ask me that I say “I have two children already” and watch them squirm as uncomfortably as I used to when I get this question.

My other least favorite question about our little blended family is “how does it feel to be an ‘Instant Mom?’” As if my husband popped me in the microwave for a few moments and out jumped “Mom!” And, as if every other parent on the face of the earth wasn’t an instant parent the moment their child was born.  EVERYBODY is an “Instant Mom” or “Instant Dad” the moment they become Mom or Dad.  It’s not like there is the slow cooker variety versus stove-top minute variety of parent.  I guess maybe if you go through nine-months of pregnancy it can feel less instant.  But, as I’ve heard from many friends and family members who had babies, it all feels pretty instant once the baby is here.  I think the phrase “Instant Mom” is also so insulting because it completely negates the fact that throughout the duration of my time building a loving, trusting relationship with my husband, I was also building a loving, trusting relationship with my kids.  It is a huge disservice to me and our children to think that we didn’t take the time to develop the parent-child relationship we enjoy today – a relationship of love, trust, understanding, communication, discipline, and fun.  Trust me, that was NOT instant.

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I guess, I’m writing this post to remind all of us to be kind to one another.  To stop mom (and dad) shaming, even when accidental or inadvertent.  To be careful about the words we choose. To surround blended families with love and compassion and support.  To be decent human beings to one another.  Because, well, there are more than enough trash human beings out there already.

And to the Bonus Moms and Bonus Dads out there – remember, they are absolutely you’re real kids.  They are your own kids.  And you worked really hard to develop the bond and relationship you have with your Bonus Kids.  I see you.  I salute you.  I honor you.

Namaste (because I felt like that needed to go here).

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