By Erika, The (Expectant) Bonus Mom
Any Project Runway lovers out there might recognize Tim Gunn’s famous phrase “make it work.” He often said this to designers during crunch time – when they had to finish their garments ahead of a runway presentation. This phrase is a signal to the designers that it is “go” time; and they have to make their pieces, well, work. Now, as a part of a blended family, I often say this to myself – “we gotta make this work.”
A lot of people have told me that they admire me and Roger and how we make our little family work. I am always quick to remind them that it isn’t just me and Roger who make our family work. Our kids have four parents who work together to help raise them. They have grandparents and bonus grandparents who help support and love on them. And they have a host of aunts, uncles, and Aunties (my girlfriends whom we call auntie) to support and, at times, spoil them. It really, truly takes a village.
With that said, I do sometimes get asked for advice about how to make a blended family work. I am, by no means an expert – I’m learning day by day. And, I don’t always get it right. AND, I am really lucky to be in a partnership with three other parents who, like me, always try to do what is in the best interest of the kids. Now that my disclaimers are out of the way, here are three tips that have helped me “Make It Work” in our family:
- I Know My Place. I know, this sounds super harsh. Hear me when I say this – as a bonus parent I am absolutely allowed, and encouraged, to share my thoughts and opinions regarding our children. With that being said, I am neither the biological mother nor father of those kids and, ultimately, their parents have the final say in decisions regarding the kids. I’m not saying I back down or keep quiet as decisions and solutions are being discussed. However, at a certain point, I have to accept that the biological parents of our kids have final authority on decisions. I may not agree – and that’s OK. But I can’t hold a grudge or continue to bring it up after the fact. And (and this is hard), should the decision turn out to be the wrong one, I (mostly) keep the “I told you so’s” to myself. Now, I’m really lucky in this sense. In our family, the parents (bio and bonus) generally work together to make decisions – from how to talk to kids about the opposite sex and appropriate behavior, to punishments, to scheduling vacations. I know that this is not the situation for everyone and that, as a bonus parent, some may not be included in decisions.
- I Am Set Up for Success. It may take some time for the other parent of your bonus children to warm up to the idea of another person being involved in their kids’ lives. It is also going to take some time for your kids to warm up to the idea of a new significant other and, eventual, bonus parent. That is to be expected and understood. This is a big transition for everyone. Roger helped facilitate a smooth introduction and transition by setting everyone up for success. Establishing healthy communication between the adults is helpful – it could be setting up a meeting before an intro to the kids or simply making sure everyone has everyone else’s contact information. Upon our first meeting, Roger established me as another authority figure in the children’s lives. This meant making sure the kids know that this is another adult who is to be respected and listened to. It wasn’t mean, just clear and firm. The kids’ mother also sets up that same expectation. And both of them reiterated it every time Roger and I had the kids for a weekend, a week, a vacation, etc. Roger also gently course corrects me, when needed. For example, early on, Roger would get on me about spoiling our kids. I, obviously, wanted them to like me and would overcompensate for that by being super lenient and spoiling them. Roger noticed that and course corrected me – reminding me that I didn’t have to spoil the kids or always let them get their way for them to like me. He was right. They still like, and love, me even when they’re on punishment. By course correcting me early on, he set me up for success long-term.
- I Do My Own Thing. As a Bonus Mom, my job is not to replace Roger and Londyn’s mother. My job is to be a bonus in their lives – by adding value to it. One way I try doing that by creating new routines or traditions with the kids. This way, I’m enriching their lives and adding to them – not trying to take away another part of it. On Friday nights in the summer we have breakfast for dinner. The kids take turns helping in the kitchen because making the waffles (especially chocolate chip!) is a big deal. It’s our thing. The kids also get to have “Cousin’s Week,” where they spend time with my brother’s three kids and my parents – being wild, spoiled, and having crazy amounts of fun. It’s a summer tradition that adds something new to their lives without taking away anything they do with their Mom and Bonus Dad.
I do have to say, I love our little family. We are crazy and non-traditional but we make it work! For the other Bonus Moms and Dads out there – how do you guys make it work in your blended families? I hope you’ll sound off in the comments!