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This weekend was special to me. We went camping with a bunch of our extended family. We go camping all of the time, so that part isn’t unusual.
What is unusual is who we took with us.
We took Aaron’s ex-wife’s daughter Ciara camping with us. She is family to me and Aaron even though she isn’t blood.
I learned a really valuable lesson about family shortly after marrying Aaron.
As a little bit of back story, I have three step-daughters. When Aaron and I married, they were 12, 14 & 15. The two younger daughters Abby and Britney have a younger half-sister who was 5 at the time.
Ciara loved being with her sisters and was frequently at the home. I quickly grew to love her.
Shortly after we got married, I ran into some friend while I was out doing something with Ciara. I don’t have a clue what I was doing, but it was just the two of us.
To avoid confusion I introduced her to my friends as Abby & Britney’s half-sister.
This is where I learned a lesson I’ll never forget.
Ciara looked up at me and said simply, “I thought Abby and Britney were my sisters”.
It has been 6-7 years since that incidences and I still tear up thinking about that moment.
She wasn’t there “half-sister” she was their sister.
Things changed for me after that moment. I had tried to be inclusive before, but after that incidence, I went above and beyond to make sure that Ciara always knew that she was welcome in our home.
Since that time, she has been on multiple family vacations with us, attends family functions and is considered by all of the extended family to be another niece or cousin. I even went to her back to school night once (you should have seen the teachers face when I explained who I was).
I want to make it very clear, I’m not her mother, nor do I try to fill that role. Her mother does a great job and doesn’t need my help at all.
My role is Aunt Amy and I’m incredibly thankful for the time I get to spend with her.
It hasn’t always been easy and I don’t want to make it sounds like it is always perfect.
It is hard to be a step-parent and I constantly struggle with my decisions and hoping that I’m doing what is right. Unfortunately there are no guarentees in parenting. So, I just keep pushing forward and trying to do my best.
What matters to me is that my daughters know that their sister is always welcome in our home. What matters is that they know that she is family and that family sticks together.
I struggled with my decision to share this story.
I’ve written a little bit about my experiences as a step-mom and shared bits and pieces of my story.
However, I’ve always struggled with the line between privacy and helpful content.
This weekend as we shared another family vacation and I watched her interact with her cousins I was reminded that she is family.
I am so thankful for the decision I made years ago to treat her as another child I could love.
I know as a step-parent it is hard to always love your step-kids. It is even harder to find the energy to deal with their siblings.
Looking back over my relationship with my step-daughters, I firmly believe that one of the reasons it is so strong is because they appreciate the love and support that I’ve shown to their mother and their sister.
I know that every family is unique and I can’t even begin to write a post that covers all of the issues that happen within blended families.
All I can do is share my personal experience.
To my fellow step-parents who are struggling with raising step-kids, I just want to offer my encouragement and support. Now that our daughters are adults and I believe we are through the worst of the parenting issues, I can look back so clearly and see the mistakes I made (that will be for another post).
I can also look back and see the impact of the positive decisions I made.
Choosing to accept their sister as just another member of the family was one of the best decisions I made.
Having half siblings is hard and as parents, our job is to encourage and support loving relationships between siblings.
Family is so incredibly important and I don’t want my girls to miss out on a wonderful relationship with their sister because of me and my inability to love a child.
I know that most situations aren’t as amicable as our is, but there are a lot of little things that you can do as a parent to foster positive relationships.
- Ask questions about their siblings. Show genuine interest.
- Remember their siblings on birthday’s and other holiday’s
- You don’t need to go overboard, but a small gift goes a long way
- If the situation allows, invite extra siblings to your home or other family gatherings.
- Always speak positively about their siblings and encourage your step-children to love and support their extended family.
- Reach out to the other parent and explain your desire to be inclusive and loving.
- If the other family has a family party that intrudes on your weekend, be flexible and do your best to accommodate changing family schedules.
- Avoid labels. They are siblings, not step-siblings or half-siblings. They are brothers and sisters
- Try and attend special events to help your step-kids support their siblings. If they are performing in a musical, dance or sporting event don’t be afraid to attend.
- Choose to love the extra kids in your life.
I know that not everyone is in situations like mine with a healthy relationship between all the exes and kids.
I know that many parents look at their current relationships with their ex-spouses and step-kids and half-siblings and just pray for anything to make the situation better.
I started out with a good situation, so I feel like a bit of a poser talking about this issue.
Unfortunately, there are many situations that don’t allow for positive relationships between the parents that in turn lead to positive relationships between the kids.
As corny as it sounds, I believe love will find a way.
Depending on your situation you may need to start small and honestly, it may take years for the hurt and anger to dissipate enough to form real relationships.
However, you kids are watching every move you make. If you set the tone and do your best to be inclusive they will eventually grow to appreciate your efforts.
I doubt it will solve all of the potential step-parenting issues, but I do believe that little actions lead to big results down the road.
If all else fails, just put yourself in your step-kids shows and imagine how hard it is to be shuffled back and forth between homes, to have siblings that aren’t “real siblings” and to be stuck navigating through situations that would stress out most adults.
This weekend as I watched Ciara play with her cousins, I was so thankful for the parenting lesson she taught me all those years ago. I would have missed out on a wonderful relationship with her and potentially damaged my relationship with my other girls.
It hasn’t always been easy, but the positive benefits have more then made up for the extra work.
You can read more about my experiences as a Step-Parent here:
- How to Avoid Being the Evil Stepmother
- 4 Ways to Create A Positive Relationship With An Ex-Spouse
- What To Do When You Become A Grandma at 37
- The Best Teenage Lessons are Learned From Snakes
- When To Let Go Of Your Expectations For Your Teenager
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