Everyone’s life is filled with mini-journeys. Careers, moves, relationships—you name it—these moments shape and shift our directions. They change us, guide us, and bring us, perhaps, to the exact places we are meant to be. That’s how I feel about walking into my boyfriend and his son’s life. That’s how I feel about their story becoming our story.. And that’s how I feel about my ‘parenting’ and the adventure it’s been so far—a mini-journey becoming a big journey that, above all else, has led me closer to the core of who I am.
I’ve always loved children. From a young age I loved babysitting and nannying, spending time with kids with whom I could grow close with and play an important role in their lives. I’ve always wanted children of my own, but never felt fully ready. With career dreams, a young spirit, and a selfish to-do list, I’ve put having kids on the backburner.
Though I knew I’d love being a mother, there were so many things I want to do for myself first. There were relationships I wanted to pursue before introducing a child into the mix. And there were places and pieces of me that I would seemingly sacrifice in becoming a mother to my own flesh and blood.
At least, that’s how I felt before my boyfriend and his son entered into my life.
My boyfriend’s son is not my own. I did was not required to, nor did I get to enjoy the privilege of being there for all his earliest and most hands-on moments. I did not put aside some of my biggest desires to help him grow. And I was not asked to stop being who I am, or change the entire course of my life to raise him. Yet, there are many things that have shifted and changed because of my motherly role in his life.
The difference, though, is that when he became a big part of my story, I didn’t feel like I was losing anything. In fact, it was the opposite—there was so much gained.
This has been a defining moment for me, a realization of both ‘readiness’ and joy in being a ‘mother.’ ‘Parenting’ has been one of my big journeys, and in the ups, downs, and moments of celebration and chaos, here are 9 things I’ve learned.
1. You don’t have to make up for lost time.
When I really got to know my boyfriend’s son, Austin, I was instantly overwhelmed by all the little (and big) things I’d missed. The first steps, first days of school, first roller coaster rides—I was caught up in the moments I hadn’t been a part of. And with my teacher education background, I found myself stressing over his schoolwork, wishing I had been there earlier to help with letters, numbers, and first books, etc.
This mindset is toxic, though, because as a girlfriend/boyfriend, stepparent, guardian, or other parental figure in a child’s life, you can’t worry over what you’ve missed. You can only live in the present and create new memories and moments. So let those things from the past go. No, you might not have been there for some of the firsts, but you’re there now. And that’s what matters.
2. You will never be a ‘replace’ a biological parent (and that’s okay).
If your goal is to be the ‘best’ or ‘better’ parent, especially when it comes to a biological mother or father, you’re fighting a losing battle. Regardless of how hard you try or ow much you do, you’ll never replace a child’s blood relatives. And that’s okay.
It’s not a competition, and you’re not them—you’re you. So work on developing a unique, imperfect, wonderful bond of your own.
3. Simply being there means more than you think.
Never underestimate the value of being there. When it comes to broken families, having someone show up means so much. It doesn’t matter if you’re a biological parent or playing a parental role, showing that you care in physical and emotional ways makes a world of a difference.
4. Love is natural and unconscious.
Don’t try to force things. Learning the dynamics of a parent-child relationship with a kid that’s not yours by blood will take time, but if you’re trying too hard, it will be messy and awkward. Just be yourself and let love come. It will.
5. Failure is a part of the process.
When you’re ‘parenting,’ you’re going to fail. Maybe you’ll yell instead of bite your tongue or say something you shouldn’t. Maybe instead of reacting with kindness, you’ll speak in anger. Or maybe you’ll completely forget an important milestone. Things happen. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
6. Nobody cares if you’re perfect.
When I stepped into a more ‘motherly’ role in Austin’s life, finding my ‘groove’ was tough. I held myself to unreasonable expectations, I was constantly worried about doing ‘too much’ or ‘too little,’ and I was always thinking about what others were thinking.
The truth, though, is that no one cares—not how messy or how ‘perfect’ you are. People are always going to have opinions, but what really matters is the bond you’re creating with the child. You’re going to mess up. Just keep love and kindness at the forefront and in the end, that will triumph over any bumps in the road.
7. Consistency really is key.
This goes with point three about being there, but one of the most powerful components in a relationship is consistency. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you make a promise, keep it. And above all, have true and honest intentions. This consistency will show the child(ren) that you’re someone they can trust and depend on, which in the end, means everything.
8. You don’t need to be so hard on yourself.
This is probably one of the most important lessons I’ve learned (and one I’m continually learning). You don’t need to be so hard on yourself. You’re going to make mistakes—you’re not a parent (yet)—but if you’re doing everything with love at the forefront, you’re already succeeding.
9. There isn’t one set definition of family.
When you’re ‘parenting’ someone else’s child, you’ll realize that there isn’t one set definition of family. Family can be broken, it can be complicated, it can be filled with multiple kids, ‘parents’ and other guardians, it can be messy, and it can be imperfectly perfect.
Whatever your family looks like, embrace it. It’s yours, and that’s beautiful.