The other day someone asked me what caused me the most stress when I first became a stepmom.
I think the answer will surprise you.
Sure, moving away from the city I loved and being thrown into a family with three kids was a huge adjustment. Trying to figure out my role in this family was also quite the challenge.
But when I look back on the situations that caused me the most stress and anxiety, the hockey arena takes the cake!!
Yes, the hockey arena.
I believe the best word to describe being a new stepmom at the hockey arena is A-W-K-W-A-R-D.
It was unknown territory for everyone involved, especially in the midst of the growing pains that came with trying to figure out how this whole co-parenting thing was going to work. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I often went to the arena with a huge pit in my stomach.
I had no idea how to act, where to stand, who was safe to talk to. Knowing no one in our small town before moving here, I couldn't help but think that people were wondering "who is this new young wife?"
In retrospect, I was definitely over thinking it, but straight up, that first year I could have thrown up before every single game I attended.
A few years later, it's just not an issue anymore. In fact, I've met some of my best friends through my stepson's hockey team. I now look forward to the games.
We've navigated our way through the growing pains of co-parenting at the arena and have implemented some unspoken systems that have really helped!
Plus, we also just let time do it's thing!
Now, no matter what is going on in our co-parenting world, we always put on a happy face and be there for the kids. In fact, we often stand together in the lobby.
Since I know many of you are kicking off the hockey season, today I thought I'd share a few tips for those of you who are still trying to navigate your way through the challenges that come with co-parenting when your step kids are in competitive sports.
1. STAND NEAR THE EX
Yes, you read that correctly, Stand near your husband's ex-wife.
I'll never forget the uncomfortable look on my stepsons face a few years back, when he came out of the change room and saw us at opposite sides of the arena lobby. He literally stopped In the middle and looked back and forth, clearly confused about which parent to go to first.
I'm willing to bet that he was scared that the parent he didn't chose, would have their feelings hurt.
In my opinion, a child should never ever feel like they have to choose between their parents. Ever.
Since then, my husband and I have been very cognizant of this and deliberately try and stand close(ish) to his Mom while waiting in the lobby. We don't want the kids to feel anxious about coming out into the lobby after the game. We want them to be excited that all of their parents were there to cheer them on!
2. DON'T MAKE IT AWKWARD FOR OTHER PARENTS
Other parents can pick up on the tension. So try and keep your conflict out of the arena. If you have a high conflict relationship or you're currently in a battle over child support payments or the vacation schedule, table it when you go to the game!
Again, you're there to support your child.
One of my favourite parts of of the hockey season is the socializing outside of the arena. For the past few years, we've been lucky to have a really good group of parents!
Make it a golden rule to not unload about your stepfamily stressors, and certainly don't expect other parents to choose which one of you they will chum with. It makes it very uncomfortable for everyone! You're there to support the kid and be apart of a team - not to act like tween-agers on the school yard.
3. LET THE PARENT WHO HAS THE KID GET THE TREATS
Or at least run it by them before you buy something from the concession stand.
When it comes to after game treats, we've made a habit of letting the parent who has the kids get the treats. This way we're not stepping on anyone's toes.
We don't know if the kids have already had a sugary drink that day, or are going out for a big family dinner afterwards. It's important to respect how the other parent is parenting the kids on "their time"
After a few situations where we clearly stepped on each others toes, we decided this is the best way to go!
4. ASK YOURSELF: WHAT DO I WANT MY [STEP}KIDS TO REMEMBER ABOUT THEIR CHILDHOOD?
Kid's pick up on the tension. Even if they aren't outright told, they have an idea what's going with their parents. Trust me, I know this from experience.
When their parents are in the same place and barely speak to each other, it is A-W-K-W-A-R-D for them... like very very awkward. In fact, this feeling will likely be engrained into their memories for years.
So the question is, what do you want them to remember? Do you want to them to reflect back on their childhood and remember how awkward it was at the hockey arena when both their mom, dad, stepmom and stepdad all came to watch - or do you want them to look back and think about how great it was that everyone came to cheer them on?
5. BE THE BIGGER PERSON
Some of you may be reading this and thinking, "That's all great Jamie, but what happenes if the ex is very high conflict and will never ever act this way. Whast happens if the ex is constantly starting drama at the arena, creating tension and uncomfortable situations - what are we supposed to do then?"
First, I have to say, that's crappy and I really feel for you!
But at the end of the day, the only person you can control is yourself - so be the bigger person.
Put yourself in your stepchildren's shoes and try to help ease any discomfort.
If standing close to the ex in the lobby fuels the fire - don't do it.
If she constantly buys the kids treats that you don't want them eating on your week, just let it go. 5 years from now it won't really matter if they had a snickers bar or a Gatorade after the game.
If she talks smack about you to other parents on the team - don't engage, or retaliate.
People have a way of seeing through that type of behaviour.
At the end of the day - keep your focus on the kids and try your best to make it the most enjoyable experience for them that you can!
Just do whatever you possibly can to keep the co-parenting conflict out of the hockey arena.
You won't regret it!
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