“2020 was the year I chose to be more outgoing, more socially brave, and more playful. I wanted to be less shy, less structured, less uptight. It was the year I chose to overcome my social anxiety.
I made specific goals to accomplish this at the beginning of the year. To start, I planned to attend a Meetup.com group and go to a local brewery that I had not been to yet. True to being socially anxious, I procrastinated going to a new brewery until the last weekend of the month. I almost chickened out. Going to a brewery by yourself as a single woman on a Friday night probably sounds terrifying to even the women who do not experience social anxiety!
All the photos you see here, all the memories – would not have happened if I chickened out that night.
That night I sat down at the only open barstool at the bar; it was the seat next to my now fiancé, Tim.
What struck me about Tim was his sincerity and good-hearted nature. We shared a love for the outdoors; he even had a Ford Transit camper van he was building himself! I had always dreamed of having an adventure buddy to go on camping and road trips with, someone who could show me the ropes because I was clueless, and he was perfect.
Adventures in the van, aka Brutis, were a regular occurrence for us from the start of our relationship; whether it was dinner by a lake or a weekend excursion, we got outside, we had fun, and we enjoyed life. Even when the pandemic shut everything down, we still went to primitive camping sites and enjoyed ourselves.
Of course, Tim told me about his children, Bowen and Brooklyn, the first night we met. I remember being both wary and excited, especially because I had never dated someone with kids before. There was no rush for either one of us to have them meet me. I am so grateful for the months he and I spent together without the children because it helped us grow a really good foundation.
Building any relationship with another person takes time, and if you force it to be something it’s not, it won’t work. The same is true when you’re trying to build a relationship with a kid. Tim and I were both in agreement that introducing me to the kiddos should be casual and fun.
I met Bowen (then age 8) and Brooklyn (then age 4) at a local park where they were barbecuing and camping for the night. Brooklyn took to me right away, although all my life most young girls her age have for some unknown reason. Bowen was a little cautious yet curious; I remember while eating our hamburgers he asked, ‘So what is it you do for work?’ By the end of the night, Brooklyn wanted me to stay the night and camp with them, and she was sad when I politely declined. I remember telling them I’d like to hang out with them again though. Bowen was quiet for a moment, and then he held out his hand for a high 5 in acceptance and agreement. Tim and I agree that meeting the kids couldn’t have gone any smoother that night.
After that first night, the main way I continued to build trust with Bowen and Brooklyn was by showing up and playing with them a couple times a month at local parks and campgrounds. There are so many ways to bond and build trust through playtime with children, such as playing make-believe with Brooklyn, going down the big slide with Bowen, pushing Brooklyn on a swing and helping her on and off the swing, encouraging them to move up to their big boy and big girl bikes, and playing ‘I Spy’ in the van. When they excitedly greeted me at my car door and grabbed my hand to play before I was even fully out of the car, I ran with them rather than pushing them aside or telling them to wait. Both kids also love the water, and water activities present numerous opportunities to build trust! One time, we took a trip to the Oregon Coast and stayed at a hotel with a pool and jacuzzi. Brooklyn wanted to join Tim and I in the jacuzzi, but she was nervous. I held her hands as she stepped into the jacuzzi, and she leaned onto me for support as she floated around cautiously. At one point, she exclaimed, ‘Please keep me safe!’ My heart melted, and I thought, ‘Yes, baby girl, I will always keep you safe.’
I also think that showing affection and admiration toward Tim, their beloved Dada, helped me gain the kids’ trust. Kids see EVERYTHING, and they take note of how adults treat each other. Whenever Tim and I kiss, Bowen can be heard saying, ‘I saw that!’ with a smile on his face, and Brooklyn now exclaims, ‘Kissing!’ with a shriek and giggle. It brings them joy to see us together, and to see their Dada happy.
I feel so blessed and fortunate that Bowen and Brooklyn have been so loving and accepting of me. I know that isn’t always the case when a new partner or parental figure enters the picture. Their loving natures speaks volumes to the love they’ve received from the many, many family members who love and adore them.
I feel like I could write a book about all the meaningful moments from this last year that show how my relationship has blossomed with Bowen and Brooklyn. It was around Christmas when Bowen went from cautious to complete blabber-mouth whenever he sees me; that kid talks to me about anything and everything! And then a couple months after, he pulled the classic kid move of asking me for something after Tim just told him no.
This brings me to the best advice I could give to all stepmoms or stepmoms-to-be: Don’t discipline or parent the children right away. Bite your tongue, step back, and let the biological parent be the parent. I’ve had to redirect the kids from a sibling squabble when Tim wasn’t around, but Tim does the majority of the parenting when we are all together. I am focused on building my relationship with them and being another positive adult in their lives who gets to love on them and have fun with them. Thankfully, Tim feels the same way, and he has never expected me or pressured me to do more or fill a role that doesn’t feel quite right.
Recently, I did reach a milestone with Brooklyn that brought me higher on the stepmom level. One night, she chose me to help her at bath time rather than Tim. I was so shocked and felt so special! She assertively told me she could do it herself, but she admitted she needed help washing her hair. So I ran the bath water then left her to bathe by herself. After 10 minutes, she called me into the bathroom, and for the first time ever, I washed a little girl’s hair (and then by her request I also washed the mane and tail of her My Little Pony). I will add this is the same girl who has exclaimed, ‘Don’t look!’ (appropriately so for her age) whenever she had to change her clothes while we were camping. The trust that I’ve had to build to help in those vulnerable moments is something I don’t take lightly. It is precious, and I cherish it.
If I could give one last piece of advice: Figure out what your kiddo’s love language is, and speak it. Brooklyn’s is clearly Touch; she is always asking to snuggle. Bowen’s is clearly Words of Affirmation; he beams whenever you tell him he did something great. In the same regard, don’t act in ways that go against that love language. I am mindful to not ignore or push Brooklyn away when she asks to snuggle, and I am careful to not be critical of Bowen. By speaking their love language, you build on the relationship by making the child(ren) feel cared for and secure.
When I originally sought out stepmom support groups online, I was shocked and appalled at the negativity I found in such groups. My journey to being a stepmom has been the biggest blessing and the biggest learning experience, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. My hope in sharing my journey is to provide hope and encouragement to other stepmoms and stepmoms-to-be that happy, thriving relationships with stepchildren are possible.
Circling back to my goals for 2020: Overcome social anxiety, be more playful, be less uptight. In 2020, I met the love of my life who is a man with an adventurous spirit and his just-as-adventurous children. They have taught me so much about how to overcome fear, to let loose and have fun, and most importantly, they are teaching me how to be a mom.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Carolyn Ferreira from Bend, Oregon. You can follow their journey on Instagram here and here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more beautiful stories like this here:
‘Just to put it out there, I have two kids and I’m going through a divorce.’ Nothing could’ve made me run away faster.’: Woman shares the ‘ebb and flow’ of being a stepmom, ‘I CHOOSE to love these kids’
Please SHARE this story on Facebook and Instagram to encourage others to live life to the fullest.