Back to school picnics, meet the teacher nights and open houses are usually tinged with a bit of awkwardness as we navigate walking along with co-parents and introducing our blended family to new teachers and other parents. Stepparents don’t have the legitimacy that bio- parents automatically do and it takes some effort to be recognized as an engaged and important part of a child’s life. Attending these events with all of our children is one way to insure that our roles as active participants in the children’s lives are understood and that our children, step and bio, feel equally loved and supported.
Although my instinct had originally been to give the bios’ space and privacy during parent/teacher conferences, etc., my bonus daughter was always bothered by my lack of participation. I viewed it as taking the necessary backseat to the two involved parents whose boundaries I didn’t want to encroach. She, however, viewed it differently.
She had hinted at it in the past, but last year, my bonus finally made it inarguably clear that she wanted me to be just as involved with school life as I am in home life. After all, if I packed her school lunches, assigned chores, trimmed her nails, arranged play dates, picked her up after school, bandaged her scrapes, did her laundry, cooked her meals, made sure she brushed her teeth and tucked her in at night for 50% or more of her life, why couldn’t I attend school functions?
It was her school’s Exhibition Night that changed my perspective. She had worked on a special project in school for months, the culmination of which was an evening presenting it to parents. Unfortunately, Exhibition Night fell on a night I had set aside to spend with friends at a concert. I let her know that unfortunately, I’d already purchased tickets to the show but, not to worry, her Mom and Dad would be there supporting her hard work. She didn’t even try to hide her disappointment. She looked at me and said, “But you’re my parent, too. You’re important, too.” I think all stepmoms will understand how those words might have taken my breath away.
So, of course, I arranged for someone else to take my place at the concert and instead, drove 20 minutes to her school to see her present her 15 minute project. She had an ear to ear smile on her face when I walked through the classroom door and the tight hug she gave me afterwards confirmed how important having me there was to her.
Last night, we had a “meet the teacher” event at her new school and, as usual, we braced for the typical questions, the surprised looks as we ALL introduced ourselves, (Mom, Dad, Stepmom, step-siblings) and the side way glances. No, we don’t all get along like great pals and yes, it’s awkward, but we all have a very important thing in common; the desire for the success and happiness of a sweet, kind kid who just wants to feel loved and supported by her entire, non-traditional family. As a stepmom, it’s my obligation and my honor to follow her lead and show up when and where I’m wanted and needed.
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