When children come into your life, it helps to have supporters surrounding you, whether they’re also parents, family members, or good friends who know you well enough to tell you to go get a massage before you go berserk.
When the kids aren’t your own and your family lives across the country, none of your friends have children, and you’ve never approached any parenting communities, it can be a challenge to figure out how to create the village you desire so deeply (and you will desire it deeply).
I became a step-mom right before my now 6-year-old started kindergarten.
All of a sudden, I was mothering two young boys, and I had no idea what to do, especially when it came to education.
All I had to go on was my own upbringing (which was amazing), and my strong beliefs that all children have a right to learn and be happy (and it’s the parent’s job to make sure those things happen to the best of their ability).
I’ve learned quite a few things over the past year that have helped me immeasurably. At the heart of all of this is community – no one is an island when it comes to bringing up happy, healthy children.
1. Find other parents. You need them. They need you.
A great way to do this is through school – our kindergarten class had an email listserv (that I didn’t find out about until December – but what a relief when I did!). I sit near other moms at the park and crack jokes to break the ice, and have joined several local parenting groups on Facebook. It takes time and effort, but if you can meet just one person – one parenting soul-mate… that can make all the difference.
2. Everyone has advice, words of wisdom, books you should read, best practices.
In the end you have to listen to your heart, and take all advice with a grain of salt, but receive it with gratitude. You’ll cobble together your own brick road, and you’ll realize that it changes direction without warning (and you’ll be OK with that).
3. Be a team with your child(ren)’s school.
Make sure that when things are rocky at home or with custody situations, that the teacher knows about it and understands what could be leading to unusual or non-ideal behavior in the classroom. Become friends with the school office staff and keep lines of communication open, always.
4. When it comes to learning and homework, be patient, and take time out if you need it.
All kids learn differently, and it’s really important that you try not compare them to yourself at that age (or to other kids in their class). There’s always support through tutors or community programs that can help out when the going gets rough.
5. Read to them all the time.
Not only is it a great learning tool, but it’s a really lovely way to bond with your new kiddos — it provides an opportunity to get close, to reveal your personality, and to spend quality time with them while doing an activity that everyone enjoys.
6. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Parenting is rewarding and challenging in equal parts, but the only way to learn how to do it is by doing it. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re failing, but self-forgiveness is essential.
7. Love deeply and with abandon – and let them fall in love with you.
You’ll get mad and get crazy, but apologies go a long way in forming a trusting and respectful relationship with your kids, whether you share genes or not.