What Stepmom’s want Bio-mom’s to Know.

If you’ve ever searched “Stepmom,” “Blended Family,” or any other related word or phrase, you’ve undoubtedly came across a list like this. Recently, I’ve felt drawn to write a list of my own, from my perspective.

Some things Stepmom’s want Bio-mom’s to know:

Trying to manipulate the kids in to “liking you better” or “feeling sorry for you” is going to backfire on you in the long run. When they’re older and can process things, they are going to realize that their Dad & I always encouraged their relationship with you, despite you always discouraging their relationship with us. They’re not going to care if you think their Dad & I started dating too soon after you split. They’re going to remember how each of us made them feel growing up, and they’re not going to turn against their Dad and I, since we have been a joint, stable, reliable unit in their lives since they were toddlers.

You do not need to repeatedly reference things that happened when you and my husband were together just to make me jealous. Trust me, I’m already jealous enough. While you’re still working through your feelings regarding your split, I’m still working through my feelings of resentment about all of the things you got with my husband that I will never get. All the firsts you got, the big wedding, the pregnancies… Also, the nice things you two had that him and I just haven’t got yet… the nice house, the nice top-of-the-line SUV, the new furniture, the big back yard… It’s tough. Please know I’m human too and I’m processing emotions just like you are.

You can take as long as you need to “get over” your failed marriage, but please cut out all of the petty stuff. The phone calls just to yell, “Why did you pack [SD3] three salty snacks today?!” … Directing us to buy blackout shades and put the girls to bed at 7:30pm… Criticizing everything we do with them, dress them in, etc… It’s exhausting, not to mention hypocritical since you aren’t doing any of the things you’re “telling” us to do. We have joint legal and shared, 50/50 custody. We get to parent however we want to on our time. You know they are well taken care of and safe with us… so please stop being petty.

Custody

I am not your enemy. When the girls talk about things they’ve done with you, I engage in the conversation and speak highly of you. When they say they miss you, I comfort them, and remind them it will only be 2-3 days before they see you again. On the flip side, when they cry and say they don’t want to leave our house, I tell them how much you miss them, and how excited you will be to see them. They actively talk about how they have “two mommies” and they love us both. They don’t remember the time before I was in the picture, so why bring it up? They will only have an issue with their blended living situation if we create one.

You will find someone new. I know you’ve had many failed attempts at a new relationship since your marriage ended, and I’m sure it’s devastating. You will eventually find the right person, and that person is not going to want to see you acting super high-conflict with your children’s Dad & Stepmom. Men don’t process things the same way women do. Men won’t buy into your charade the same way women will… they will see the “crazy” and run for the hills. Maybe that’s what’s happened in your past few relationships? You being a supportive co-parent will ultimately help you find the perfect man for you, and the perfect Stepdad to our children.

In the end… I just want you to know that we’re not as different as you think. We both have big emotions and a lot to process. My best advice for you is to embrace your time with the girls and be fully 100% invested in them, but then embrace your time without them and be fully 100% invested in yourself. I think a little honest, soul-searching self-care will be great for you. Things don’t have to be this stressful forever.

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Marriage Benefits

Marriage is hardor at least that’s what they say, right?

Although my husband and I hate that we only have our kids half the time, there are some huge marriage benefits to it. I used to feel guilty when I thought about it like this, but seriously… why should I feel guilty about making the most of our situation?!

For starters… we had to deal with so many hard things before we ever got married. We both moved a couple of times while we were dating… I had job transitions, one which sent me an hour away for about 10 months… he had a failed mediation, and subsequent court to create the initial custody agreement… divorce being finalized… moving in together… inevitable family drama… the list goes on. We worked through so many raw, emotional situations while dating that we learned so much about each other. We learned how each other processes intense situations. We learned how to work together to problem solve, and we developed an “us against the world” mantra. We developed an unbreakable bond through our dating years.

Additionally, now as old married folks, half of our time is spent just with each other. We have built in date nights, without even trying! We haven’t let our spark slip away. We aren’t constantly wrapped up in the kids… we have time to be wrapped up in each other. We get to reset and re-prioritize frequently.

So, although some would say the odds are against us as a blended family, I’d say the odds are in our favor. We’ve been through it all, and we have persevered. We’re lucky that “marriage is hard” isn’t true for us at this point, because we’ve been conditioned to work together in harmony. We’re prepared for when more “hard times” come around, and we will overcome whatever obstacles are thrown our way. We get to focus half of our time on family, and half of our time on each other, which I think is healthy.

In a situation where it’s easy to focus on the negative, there are many positives. It will always be important to never overlook those, or take them for granted. Life is beautiful, and it’s way better with my husband in it.

Five Things: Memorial Day

ONE: We took the girls fishing for the first time this weekend… I was sure it would be a disaster, but they loved it. We used the live bait (worms) and bobber approach, and actually caught more fish than we had all year so far! They both loved holding the bass and throwing them back in the water. They loved grabbing the worms and watching their Daddy put them on the hook. SD4 actually caught about 4-5 bass by herself! Reeled them in and everything. It was wild. This was a day my husband and I will hold close to our hearts for many years to come.

TWO: There are major structural changes going down in my office. Some changes have been announced publicly, and some changes I know about because of my expert detective work. Regardless, I am hoping these changes will allow me to go for a promotion this summer! I am genuinely praying that the Lord will open up an opportunity for me where my career could develop for many years down the road. Wish me luck!

THREE: SD4 took her Kindergarten early entrance exam for BM’s school district about a week ago, and BM still has not told us how it went (although SD4 has told me twice that she did not pass). Maybe SD4 doesn’t know what she is talking about… or maybe BM is stalling to buy time, because she is dreading committing SD4 to our school district. Either way, I know the first real sit-down between my husband and BM in about two years is on the horizon [and I know I am not invited because I am a “distraction”]. The thought of a sit down (especially one I am not present for) terrifies me, but I know my husband can handle himself.

FOUR: My husband is working his tail off for us these days. We are going to the beach for a week at the end of June, and he has not let an “extra” work opportunity pass by, because he wants us to take as much “play money” as possible. He has actually said, “I want the girls to walk through the stores and buy whatever they want.” I am so thankful for everything he does for us, and really hope he thinks I pull my weight. Sometimes I question that about myself (i.e. a night home alone is much better spent with a Bud Light and Netflix than it is a dust rag and vacuum). But I don’t want to be a bench-warmer… I want to be a legitimate team player. Cheers to constant self-reflection and self-improvement!

FIVE: I’ve been dreaming a lot lately, which is out of character for me. Dreaming about the day when we have a big back yard and a grill. About the day we have a boat. About the day I get a baitcaster. About the day we have a Coke Zero fountain in the kitchen. About the day I am permanently tan without effort. Okay, maybe some of those won’t happen… but I’ve been dreaming! I know most people in their 20’s do not have “everything they have ever wanted,” but it is a little daunting to think about how many years it will take to make some of our dreams come true.

For now, I will keep prioritizing family, grinding at work, and keeping my chin up!

-Ashley

The Proposal

It has been six months since my now-husband proposed to me, and I still flash back to that moment often. Wow, how shocked I was, and how well thought out his master plan was…

We had been planning a trip to Atlanta, GA for months. He told me that he had an “all-day Sunday surprise excursion” for us. He decided he would give me a “clue” every Friday for about 8-weeks leading up to the trip. Clues ranged from, “we will be ‘picked up’ at least twice during the day,” to “the sensation will be under your feet.” He told me this was a three-part excursion and that we were being picked up that morning and chauffeured around. He told me this was all booked through a top-secret company in Atlanta that was heard about through word-of-mouth only. He even created a fake email account, and emailed himself [to show me] with confirmation of the booking. All roads led to skydiving, which I had no interest in doing. Nonetheless, I was excited for the trip and knew I would commit to whatever he had planned.

Now, I really need you all to understand he was working on this for at least three months… between the clues and the talking it up, I was stumped. In the beginning, I was confident this was all a big cover up for a proposal. As the trip drew near, he finally convinced me that was not the case. He had to go deep for that, and let me know that “he wasn’t ready” to be engaged. I was hurt, but understood… and that was what finally got me off of the proposal trail. My friend CML and I researched for two months about what he could possibly be planning…

He kept all of this a secret from nearly everyone. I don’t even think he told his parents until a couple of weeks prior. And he had everyone lying to my face… his coworkers, his parents… it was wild. I thought I could read his mom like a book, but I was wrong.

That Saturday morning, we woke up early and hit the road around 3am for our 7 hour drive. I am not a morning person, and ended up sleeping through the whole state of NC (copilot fail, I know). We arrived at our hotel around 10:15am (too early for check-in), changed in the hotel lobby bathrooms, and immediately hopped on the MARTA to go downtown to the spot I was most excited about, Olympic Park. I absolutely love the Olympics. Neither of us had ever been to Atlanta, and when we finally stepped onto the park grounds and saw the Olympic ring fountain, I was so excited. He then said he was going to go ask a woman to take our picture. While he walked over to her, I stood at the fountain in awe, looking at the torches that surround it. What I didn’t know was that while he was grabbing the woman, he was also tipping her off to what was about to happen…

We took a “normal” picture, and then he looked at me and said, “You ready?!” and dropped down on one knee. I kid you not, I totally blacked out in this moment. I’m sure he said, “Will you marry me?” but honestly I don’t remember. I do remember him holding up a ring that literally blinded me. While the nice woman kept snapping pictures, I remember repeatedly asking him, “Are you serious?! Are you serious?!” and I remember him saying, “So, is that a yes?” Poor guy, what a response I had… I guess I was able to say “yes,” because then I remember him jumping up to hug and kiss me. I was shaking. What an amazing moment! I was in disbelief. He thanked our new friend, then suggested we sit down at the fountain. Apparently it was obvious I needed a moment to collect myself.

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Proof of my sheer disbelief…
Over the next several minutes, we called and text relatives and close friends to share our great news. The time stamp on the pictures started at 10:43am… this was the first thing that happened on our trip. He didn’t waste any time. He was so excited and knew this would make the whole 4-day adventure our best one yet. Once we got ourselves together (okay, once I got myself together…), we found a spot to eat lunch, then took a tour of the CNN Center (Side note: This was 3 days before the Presidential Election… at the CNN Center… so you can imagine how out of place we felt). The trip continued to be the most memorable once I’ve had to date, including all the tourist attractions, so much good food, and so many kisses. But mostly the trip was just me staring at my ring, or intentionally taking pictures in a pose that would show it off (#MillennialProbs).

Four days and one car-wrecked-by-the-valet later, we were headed back home to Virginia. I was on cloud nine (while he was mostly just mad about the car). I still cannot believe he kept this a secret from me. I cannot believe the planning that went into it, or how well he executed it. I still remember exactly how I felt when he dropped to one knee, and for the immediate days following. I remember how proud I felt to walk around town with him wearing my ring. I remember how confident I was that every single person we passed noticed my ring, then looked at him and went “wow, how did she get him?!” Seriously, how did I get so lucky?!

After weighing our options, we ultimately eloped six weeks later. Although the scenery wasn’t nearly as beautiful as where he proposed, my view was just as captivating. That day, in that real estate office of that crazy old lady officiant, was the best day of my life. My husband changed my life forever, and I love looking back at our crazy, beautiful ride. The best news is, this is still only the beginning!

I love you, babe. Thank you for everything.

The Long Stretches

Because of the way my husband’s work schedule was at the time the custody agreement was created (and because of BM’s unwillingness to make adjustments without going back to court), we end up having a 6 day stretch where we don’t see the girls about once a month.

“The long stretches.” The weeks where I crave their company the most. The weeks I cannot do a simple household task without picturing them there to do it with me (such as folding clothes… our 2 year old loves to help me fold clothes).

The days I look back at their empty car seats, and feel tears well up in my eyes because I wish they were there to sing with me. The days I can’t even go into their room without feeling sick to my stomach, because their beds are empty and their toys are all put away. Because their room doesn’t look lived in.

The moments my husband calls them to tell them goodnight, but I can’t talk to them (Flip side: The moments my husband tries to call them, but BM totally ignores him). The moments I listen to our babies tell their Daddy how their day was, and how much they love him.

The times where it is just painful to not have them in my arms. The times where I could break down and cry because I miss them so much. These are my least favorite times. These are the times where being in a blended family hurts the most. It’s not how high-conflict BM is, or how chaotic decision making can be… it’s the long stretches when I can’t even talk to our beautiful, smart, hilarious daughters.

Thank God we are at the end of a long stretch. After work tonight, I will have the girls in my arms for four days straight. Our family will be whole again, together at last.

While the long stretches are painful, I praise the Lord for the moments we have.

Advice

I had a close friend of mine from back home text me recently and say, “I need advice.”

I immediately assumed she was in trouble… “Oh no, what happened?”

Her response: “I think I’m about to start dating a man with kids, and I need tips.”

Then it hit me… I have become the Token Stepmom among my friends. I am the model for this. I am the source of experience and wisdom. Oh, no!

I am not equipped to handle these sort of questions! I have no magic answer for my friend. I have no idea if any “advice” I could possibly give would actually help her.

She gave me the quick facts (how many kids, how long he was married, BM is high-conflict, the Dad has primary physical custody…), and I decided to give this “advice” a shot. I thought I’d share with you all what came to mind first…

ONE: There is so much out of your control while dating someone with kids, and being a Stepmom. You have to focus your energy on the things you can control. You cannot let a HCBM destroy what you’re building. You cannot let her rob you of your time with your boyfriend or his kids.

god grant quote

TWO: You have got to communicate with your boyfriend openly, even when it hurts. He cannot leave you out of the loop. You have to communicate the essentials- such as whether or not he is interested in or able to have more kids- early on. There is no room for secrets or surprises in a blended family.

communication quote

THREE: He has to model to the kids that you are someone who needs to be respected. I know different blended families do this differently, but whatever they choose to do, they have to be on the same page, and be consistent. I could never be in my relationship if my husband didn’t respect me, show the kids how to respect me, and consider me on the parenting team.

respect qupte

FOUR: You have to be confident to be a Stepmom. There will be so many opportunities to be jealous, envious, or upset. There is so much room for unnecessary comparisons that are wildly out of your control. You have to be confident and overcome your insecurities. This step is so critical.

brave quote

FIVE: If he treats you right, and if you love the kids, this is totally worth it. Being a Stepmom is so hard… but if he treats you right and you are a good team, it is even more rewarding.

team quote

Talking to my friend made me reflect on the early months with my husband, and made me remember just how far we have come. I am so blessed to have this family as my own. I am certain that I could not receive this happiness anywhere else. I am exactly where God wants me to be.

Maybe I won’t be the Token Stepmom forever… maybe my friend will be joining me on this journey! I’ve shared this site with my friend… let’s show her love and encouragement!

My New Last Name

I am so proud to wear my new last name.

For the first time in my life, I am proud of the name I bear, and the family I represent.

It has been a long time since I used a last name that was not my legal last name. That name, my mother’s maiden name, was never truly mine. That name was given to me by my grandma, who couldn’t bear to use my legal last name… my “father’s” last name. I believed that maiden name was my legal last name all the way through adolescence, until I applied for my Learner’s Permit and I, for the first time, saw the truth. I went by my “fake” last name until college, when I decided it was too confusing to try and correct every faculty and staff member I encountered. I opted for consistency over pride.

After 8.5 years of bearing and representing my “father’s” last name.. I am no longer bearing the last name of the man who destroyed my family. I am no longer representing a drug addicted murderer who has been in and out of prison, and who no one in my family (even on my paternal side) keeps in contact with, or even cares about. I am no longer burdened by the last name of a man who had two daughters by two different women, but has never once tried to make contact with either. I am free.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been at peace regarding my “father” for a very long time; however, wearing his last name from 18-26 years old was not fun. Having the first name “Ashley,” I was constantly surrounded by other Ashley’s, and therefore, being addressed by my last name. For example, when I joined my sorority in undergrad, I was one of six Ashley’s out of 55 members. The only thing worse than seeing that name on my legal documents, was being called it out loud. Thank God, those days are behind me.

I now proudly wear the name of a man who is an exceptional son, father, and husband. I now represent a lineage of public servants, with my husband and his late grandfather being police officers, and my father-in-law being a firefighter. I wear the name of a man who puts me and our kids first every day… a man who would never do to us what my father did to my family when I was only 4 month old. I am no longer embarrassed by my monogram, or expected to explain to my high school friends why my last name “changed” when we graduated. I am married to the most amazing man, and have been accepted into an incredible family. I will proudly represent my new family until the day I die.

Family can cause a tremendous amount of pain, but remain optimistic, as good things come to those who are determined.