Monday, July 30, 2012

Reader Request: The "Bonus" Mama---AKA Step parenthood

I am very fortunate in that I grew up in a family with parents who have stayed together for over 30 years.  My grandparents have been married for over 65 years. I've only ever experienced divorce through television, movies, and the occasional friend along the way through life.

Divorce is often focused around the children and how they deal with the changes in their lives.  But what happens when you are the new member of an "old" family? What happens when a new, bonus mama, comes into play?  How does the family, as a whole, react and how do they, in the words of Tim Gunn, "Make it work"?

I remember being younger, watching Cinderlla and being introduced to the concept of a step parent.  Step parents are notoriously viewed in popular culture as the "evil intruder" into a once happy family.  They are the person who is taking the other parent's place.  You see the movies about the mothers who feel threatened by the new woman in their childrens' lives. The classic cases of Bonus Mama "incorrectly" parenting the children and WWIII ensues.

As I said before, I cannot speak on the subject from any personal experience, but as this blog post was a Reader Request, I wanted to take a stab at the "outsider's" perspective and see what other mamas and Bonus mamas out there have to say on the subject.

I would imagine that some of the biggest struggles for families with Bonus parents would be  fitting in/acceptance and discipline.  I can see two perspectives here:

  • Birth Mama: 
    • I would imagine, if ever placed in this circumstance, that I would feel very uncomfortable having someone else parent LJ.  Especially if this began to take place when he was older as opposed to a young baby, I can see where birth mothers might feel that the Bonus mama is undermining what they have been doing for years.  
    • What happens if Bonus Mama and Mama disagree about the severity of a punishment? Say, for instance the little one fails a big test because he was watching too much television? If Mama says he is grounded from TV for a week, does this punishment stay at Dad's house? Or what if Bonus Mama feels that this rule can be broken for a special circumstance? Does Bonus Mama, as a third parent, have an equal say in what happens with the little one? I can see being rather upset if I found out that a Bonus Mama had decided my little guy could watch television if I had already ruled that he could not.  I can also see myself being upset if Bonus Mama punished my child for something I did not feel was punishable.  I think it is a very sticky situation.  
    • Being replaced: I'm sure every kid at one point or another wishes they could get a "cool new mom/dad".  With divorce and remarriage, this in a way becomes reality.  Suddenly there isn't just Mom and Dad, but cool new Bonus Mama (or Dad).  As a parent, I would immediately feel concerned that my children would prefer Bonus Mama, particularly if she played no role in discipline.  I would fear that LJ would resent me and wish he could live with Bonus Mama or that somehow, he would love me less.  
  • Bonus Mama: 
    • Becoming part of the family: This would intimidate me immensely.  I would be the "newbie", the intruder, coming into a family that has already been through the hardship of divorce. Would the children like me? Would they respect me? Would I be able to love them as my own? Would the mother accept me and trust me with her children? Would we get along and be able to parent together, or will she try to make me simply a "babysitter" of sorts, without any parenting rights? 
    • Discipline: As I mentioned above, I would feel that a Bonus Mama would be placed in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to discipline.  On the one hand, I would feel that I need to respect the parenting decisions of the mother, as the children are "hers". But, on the other hand, by marrying and accepting my role as step parent, I would feel that I should be able to discipline the children when I feel necessary.  I would not want to feel that I cannot set rules in my own home simply because they did not coincide with their other home's rules.  
    • Replacing Mom: This is another area in which I feel it would be just as hard on the step parent as it is on the mother.  While mom is worrying about being replaced, the step parent is faced with attempting to become accepted by a whole new family.  Instead of having to become accustomed to a new person in your life, the step parent needs to gain acceptance from the children, the other parent, the grandparents etc. How incredibly overwhelming! 

Now, as I said before, I have ZERO personal experience with this. But to me, I feel like in order for a mixed family situation to work, both parties must be willing to accept one another and work together for the betterment of the children.  The way I see it, the ideal bonus parent would love and care for the step children as their own. They would consider these new additions to their lives as family and view themselves as just as much of a parent as the birth parent.  It would, however, be important to have a discussion with mom, dad and bonus parent in order to assure that all three are on the same page as to what is appropriate behavior for the children, and what discipline will be made if necessary and by whom.  Maybe there are some areas that mom feels should be decided between herself and dad... talk that through so that when that problem arises, it won't be an issue.  

Now, that is all easier said than done, but again, I was stating this as  an "ideal" situation.  

Bottom line: As long as the step parent loves the children as her own and wishes to be an active participant (note: not dominating) in parenting, the children will benefit from this and truly gain a "bonus" parent :) 

In the coming weeks, I actually have lined up a guest Bonus Mama to graciously write an opinion piece from the Bonus Mama's perspective for us here at The Mama Life.  

I would love to also feature the perspective of a mom who must share her children with a Bonus Mama. What are YOUR struggles? How have you made it work? Please feel free to  comment or email me at if you are interested in writing a featured piece for our blog! 

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