When I met my step son he was 10 years old, and my step daughter was 6 months old. I have to be honest, I was a bit nervous about dating a man with children. I didn’t have any children of my own and in my own life I was not too fond of my mom’s husband. I wasn’t coming from a total deficit though, as a teacher I had excellent training in child development and I never have any trouble accessing my inner child. As my relationship with my then boyfriend developed, I fell in love with him, not only as a man, but as a father. And when we decided to marry, I decided, then, that I would be a “bonus” mom rather than a step mom.
The term “step” has such a negative connotation. Many kids, particularly older kids are resistant to the fact that someone may be coming in to try to replace their biological parent. In order to ensure my bonus children and their mothers that wasn’t the case, I told them to call me by my first name, “Donnie.” Interestingly enough, my step son has actually slipped up sometimes and called me “mom” as he lives with my husband and I. He also told me recently that when he gets married he’d like a wife just like me. I never tried to force myself on my bonus kids.
Additionally, my husband put up very clear boundaries. Very early in our relationship he informed all parties that he would not tolerate any disrespect of me. When two people have a past together and circumstances force them to move on, it can be very difficult to move on without “rules of engagement.” This meant that he would never even listen to negativity. Additionally, when it comes to discipline, I’m very careful and gentle about how I approach it. I discipline my bonus children the way I do my students – with an understanding that they have their own moms & dads and I serve more of a supportive role. If there is something particularly sensitive or problematic, I talk to my husband privately about it, and he then addresses it with the children and their mothers.
When you think of yourself as a “bonus” parent, you approach your role differently. You have the potential to be a prize in a child’s life, an extra set of ears, another shoulder to cry on, another pair of hands. You will develop a unique relationship with your “bonus” children because though you may not be a biological parent, they will come to value your opinion and seek your advice. Ultimately, the best thing you can do as a bonus parent is show your bonus children a healthy relationship by loving your partner, and how to be mature by encouraging healthy co-parenting between your partner and the biological parent of your bonus children.
BMWK Family: What do you do as a “bonus” parent to develop a relationship with your bonus children?