Back-to-school season sometimes hits a little differently as a stepmom or stepdad.
That’s a statement with a lot of flexibility because there’s a lot of variety in the roles and responsibilities as a stepparent.
Today I’m going to share a few things about my early experience with back-to-school season as a stepmom and a few things that surprised me.
Why is Back-to-School such a complicated time for blended-families?
The summer is a busy time with kids. There is usually plenty of fun time and play and down time.
Winding that down and transitioning to the schedule of school is a big transition.
For young kids the beginning of a school year is exciting and also a little scary because it means all new things.
For big kids the school year might signify social pressures and academic rigor.
It’s a roller coaster of a time.
In blended families and families where the parents are divorced or just don’t live together it’s also a place where the previous family structure collides with the new family structure.
Even though they are divorced all the parents have to do the paperwork and pay the bills. There are back-to-school nights and class choices and after school activities and PTA and fundraisers and all the things.
For stepparents this can be a time and space where they feel excluded.
For parents this can be a process that highlights what they feel are failures because they are no longer living together.
For the kids the complication of not having just one house can add to the stress of the experience.
It can be a lot. It can be isolating.
Here’s a story from my experience as a stepmom.
The school schedule makes the family schedule
I was child-free when I started dating the man who would later be my husband. I will say that I don’t think I fully realized the impact of the school schedule on a family.
Obviously, as a kid this had been true for me but I don’t think I ever really thought about it much. It just was.
I don’t fully think I realized how much of an impact it would have on my life and flexibility as an adult until well after I was married.
The school schedule impacted when I vacationed, when we woke up, when we made doctors appointments, what we were able to do every day. So much was impacted by the schedule for school.
I’ll give you a pre-marriage example. When I started dating my the man who would one day be my husband it was a while before I met the kids. A long while actually. This was okay with me.
The custody sharing for my boyfriend and his ex was every other weekend and every other Wednesday night. Every other week he would take off from work early and pick up the kids from school. They would do kid activities and sleep over and then he would take them to school the next day.
He loved this time with his kids. It was super important to him.
For me at the start of our relationship it meant that I did not see him on those days.
Fast forward to when our relationship was more serious and public to the entire family. When I finally did meet the kids if I was part of that time it was kid / family time – not couple time. I remember thinking that there was a strict schedule set for this time. I thought that came from my husband’s ex. Which it did. She was the person who set the schedule.
I bristled at this a little bit. Why do we need to eat at this time? Why do the kids need to be in bed by this time?
Remember – I had no children. I was in my early 20s I had recently been a kid myself.
My then boyfriend just smiled and said that his ex did have a very planned evening schedule and that it was good to stick to the routine.
What I now realize that I didn’t quite see then was that this schedule really starts with the school schedule.
In order to be at school on time we need to do the following things. One of those is that we need to try and get to bed and get enough sleep. So the school start time which is not set by the parents or stepparents is the point where things begin. In this way, the school schedule puts the whole family into a routine.
In my experience as a stepmom, the majority of the work was handled by my husband’s ex wife. This is not the case in all blended families – it is just my experience.
For me the way this showed up is that I was kind of along for the ride. I would occasionally feel like I was a 5th wheel and my time was being set by the kids and their mom. That can be a disempowering sensation.
Luckily there are some tools that can help.
In August 2022 I am putting together a virtual event all about Back to School for blended families. You can get more information here.