Local stepmoms share joys, challenges
FARGO - Jenny Krag says she has great relationships with her stepsons. They make her a better person and put life into perspective. "They have just brought so much joy to my life," she said. "It's been such an amazing experience to have them in m...
FARGO - Jenny Krag says she has great relationships with her stepsons.
They make her a better person and put life into perspective.
"They have just brought so much joy to my life," she said. "It's been such an amazing experience to have them in my life."
Katie Hutton, of Fargo, has a 5-year-old stepson she sees every other weekend and on rotating holidays. She said she loves being a mom, especially the simple things like when her stepson hugs her hello or thanks her for taking him to the pool.
"It's really worth it to hear him say, 'I love you' and to know I matter," Hutton said.
While Krag and Hutton love being stepmothers, there are challenges stepparents have to deal with that biological parents don't, they said.
"Stepparenting is incredibly hard," Hutton said. "It can be painful at times, but one of the greatest joys in my life is to be in his life."
Their biggest frustrations don't come from their kids or their kids' mothers. Instead, they come from the way society views stepparents, both women said.
Hutton has had people tell her it's nice to see her "playing mom."
"I'm not playing mom," she said. "That's difficult to deal with. People don't understand that just because we don't have him all the time doesn't mean that we don't take full parenting responsibility as well."
Krag, of Fargo, sees her stepsons, ages 12, 6 and 2, every weekend. She's not married to their father, but they do live together and she considers the boys her stepchildren, she said.
"I've had times where I've just cried," Krag said. "People don't think I can take ownership of the fact that I have these kids. I didn't birth these children, but they are my family."
Krag has also had close friends say they can't imagine how hard it must be for the boys' moms to have another woman care for their kids.
"Those are the hurtful things that get me," she said. "Luckily our kids' moms are mature enough and respect me enough to understand that I'm not trying to take their spot. Those kids only have one mom. I'm not in competition with that. They understand I would do anything for their kids."
Krag and Hutton say they're not trying to take the place of their children's biological mothers.
Hutton's son calls her "Katie" or "My Katie" and Krag's kids call her by the nickname "Nenny."
But defining their roles can be challenging, the stepmoms said.
"One of the biggest struggles for me is to find my place in where I matter," Hutton said.
Good communication between all parents is important in defining that role, they said. It's also vital in letting the children know that it's OK to love and talk about other family members; that it's not a taboo topic, the women said.
"I never want them to feel torn," Krag said.
John Lyon, a therapist with The Village Family Service Center in Fargo, says the most common issues stepfamilies face are children struggling with living in separate households and stepparents feeling disempowered.
Birth parents need to recognize that stepparents are taking care of their children and try to build a healthy relationship with the other parents for their kids, he said.
Parents might play power games with each other and put the child in the middle by trying to use the child as an informant or berating them for things they do in other households. But doing so takes away the child's sense of being surrounded by loving adults, Lyon said.
Making a child feel that it's not OK to love a stepparent is the most damaging thing, he said. It can cause problems in school or make them feel depressed, withdrawn or that they can't do anything right, Lyon said.
Parents don't have to have the same rules at both houses, and if parents support each other, children will be able to figure out how to live with two sets of rules, he said.
"They don't have the same rules at home and school, and kids figure that out all the time," he said.
Building trust and respect takes time and is a constant work-in-progress, Krag said.
"I think there's an expectation that things can happen overnight," she said. "This has taken work."
While it takes time to form bonds between stepparents and stepchildren, those bonds are still there and they are still strong.
Hutton cried when her stepson signed his name on her birthday card.
"As a parent, you're proud, and it doesn't matter if you're his stepmom or not," she said. "I'm proud that he can write his own name."
Krag said building those relationships of respect, love and trust are also some of the best parts of being a stepmom.
"The highlight of my week is Friday after work. I'm so excited to get to see these three little people who are super-excited to be with us," she said. "Every day is a great day with them. I love watching them explore new things."
The women formed a stepmoms group with some other friends who are also stepparents who they met through the United Way of Cass-Clay's 35 under 35 Women's Leadership Program last year.
"Even in the lowest moments when I feel completely insecure in my place in this child's life, I'm able to talk to people who have had those similar experiences," Hutton said.
The group has helped them understand they are not alone in their feelings or experiences. The women are also able to give each other tips on how to handle difficult situations.
Krag, who is a stepdaughter, said her own experience in a blended family has helped with her relationship with her stepsons.
Hutton's mom is also a stepmom, so she's able to go to her for advice, too.
"We're just people who love our children regardless of whether we're directly related to them," she said. "It's being a parent, but it's being a parent in a different way."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526