When I first became a stepmom, the kids were 6, 8 and 10 years old.
I'll never forget the first time that we met. They were sweet, interested and excited about this new woman in their life. The introduction went better than my husband and I could have expected, and even the years following have been pretty blissful.
As I transitioned from dad's girlfriend to stepmom and then parental figure in the home, there was never any backlash. It was all quite smooth. Surprisingly smooth actually.
As a child of divorce who would try and scare off my dad's girllfriends for sport, I expected to be put through the ringer. I was sure that becoming a stepmom was going to be some deserved karma.
Almost 5 years later, the two oldest are officially teenagers. To this day, I will admit it's still pretty blissful. While we have dabbled into some teenage rebellion and attitude, I haven't had to deal with any of the teenage drama that I've heard can come with the dreaded teenage years.
Nonetheless, as the two older ones embarked into these teenage years, I've changed the way I step-parent.
In fact, I am not sure you can even call it that, because truthfully, I don't do a lot of the "parenting" at all!
When the kids were younger I was often the primary caregiver in the house. While my husband was at work, if the kids needed to direction, I would provide it. If a rule needed to be enforced, I would do it. If I needed to take-away an iPad as a consequence, I would take away the iPad. He and I were on the same page, and there was an expectation that the kids listened to me the same way they would listen to him.
Now, the kids are pretty self-sufficient. While I used to spend days in the kitchen making meals and snacks, they not longer want that. They'd rather make themselves some waffles after sleeping in until noon, and then head off to hang out with their friends.
Up until last summer, I had days planned with fun activities for us all to do together - this summer, they aren't really interested in my itenary.
In short, they are independent and need me less.
The issues that require parental guidance have also changed. Before my parental responsibilities included reminding them to clean up their clothes, breaking up an argument or supervising a playdate.
Now we're dealing with curfews, friends with cars, hormones, boyfriends, snapchat, fears of underage drinking, peer pressure from friends, parties on the weekends and grades that can determine their future...
We're dealing with real life issues with real life consequences for their adult lives.
Somedays my head spins. In just over four years, I've become a parental figure to kids ranging from 3 all the way to 14. I thought we were supposed to have 13 years of parenting experience before embarking on this teenage crap?
All jokes aside, I think I have a pretty good grasp on this stuff. In fact, I feel fully (I mean somewhat) prepared to tackle these new teenage parenting challenges....
but I'm not going to.
I've taken a MAJOR step back in the step-parenting department. And I've done it very consciously.
In fact, even though my husband still expects the kids to respect me as they respect him, I've decided to take on more of a "babysitter" or "cool aunt" approach.
I can see you stepmoms getting squirmy in your seats with me saying this, but hear me out!
Here are the 3 Reasons Why I've made this decision..
1. Teenagers are less forgiving of their step-parents than they are their "real" parents
If my husband gives one of the kids crap about something, they get mad, yes. They are upset and potentially have some attitude for a bit, but they bounce back quickly.
The first time I tried to approach one of those teenage issues I listed above, the rebound time was a lot longer. Walls were put up, and it took us a while to bounce back to regular programming. The truth is, they don't see me the same way as they see their parents.
I didn't like living like that. I hated the tension. I know it is part of parenting, but I don't want to be the bad guy in the house, especially when it's not as effective coming from me, as it is when it comes from my husband.
So I've made the conscious decision to let him have those tough conversations with the kids - as he should!
When an issue arises and he isn't there, I take a deep breathe and wait until he is home to fill him in on what went down - he can then proceed as he sees fit.
2. My husband and I aren't on the same page when it comes to what gets a YES
Up until this point, we've even very much in sync when it comes to parenting expectations. Sure maybe I was the one to enforce it more regularly, but for the most part we have the same beliefs.
Like I said though, that was up until this point. There are things that he says YES to without batting an eye, and I'm left looking at him thinking "are you freaking kidding me" ... and there are things that I would like to say YES to and his response is "over my dead body"
Where he is strict, I am lenient. Where he is lenient I am strict
But at the end of the day, it is essentially his call. So I let him make it... and then I pour myself a glass of wine!
I'm not interested in a scenario where I say no, when their dad would say yes....
I'm also not interested in getting into an argument with my husband because I have allowed something that he would not...
It's not worth the battle, and I'm saying this from experience.
3. They are good kids and I trust their judgement. I want them to be independent.
Look, I know I lucked out in the step-kid department. I really really did. At the end of the day, these teenagers are pretty stand-up kids. They make mistakes yes, but they know the difference between right and wrong.
When they do come to me and ask something, my response is always "what do you think is fair?". I think seeking their opinion is important when it comes to developing independence.
For example, my step-daughter often asks when she needs to be home at night. I ask if she has homework, and then ask when she thinks she should be home. Her response is typically earlier than I would have told her.
An area where my husband and I are on the same page is, TRUST. We trust the kids. We've told them that we trust them and will give them the freedom that comes with that trust, but if they break the trust, life will change very quickly...
Now when I do sense that they may be teetering into a not so great decision, I'll provide guidance and give them my opinion.
I'm always here to talk. I'm always here to help out. ALWAYS! That will never change.
But that's where I draw the line.
Discipline is 100% on my husband and their Mom.
It wasn't an easy transition to make, especially because I am the one who is home more often. But it really was the best thing for our family.
It's called pulling the "just the stepmom card" - and for us, it's resulted in a more harmonious home.
If you have step-teenagers in the house, I'd love to hear how you and your partner handle the parenting. Remember, just because this works for us, doesn't mean that it will work for you. Every stepfamily dynamic is unique!