My husband Chris and I are lucky to have a big blended family: There’s my stepdaughter Trinity, who’s 9, my firstborn son Jackson, who’s six, my four year-old daughter Dylan, and my two year-old twins Phoenix and Lenox.
I’m fortunate to have been in Trinity’s life since she was about 18 months old. She was a flower girl in our wedding. Being what I call a “bonus parent” to her has been one of the greatest joys in my life, but I will be the first to admit that it’s been challenging at times—not because Trinity is a challenging child. She’s a delight, and we all love her more than you can imagine.
It’s mainly because I haven’t always had a roadmap of how to be the best bonus parent. And sometimes things are out of my control that mean we don’t get to spend as much time as we’d like with her, but that’s out of our hands. Our other kids miss her, too, and want her around all the time, which can be hard for all of us.
So below I’m sharing some of the things I’ve learned over the last eight years or so. I don’t claim to have all the answers—as parents we never do!—but these are just some of the ways I’ve tried to be the best bonus parent I can be.
1. Don’t try to replace anyone. I’ve never seen myself as competition to anyone else in Trinity’s life. I’ve always just tried to make her feel as included and encouraged and loved as I can so that she feels like an integral part of our family. I’ve always kept a photo of her mother beside her bed, too—it’s not something she even asked for, I just wanted her to feel safe and loved, and to know that we weren’t trying to overstep any boundaries in her relationship with her mom.
2. Take it one day at a time. It’s not written anywhere that you need to wake up and be your stepchild’s best friend. I’ve found that it helps to recognize that any jitters you as a parent are feeling, they’re probably feeling times ten. I can then take a step back and put things in perspective. It’s really about respecting the child and letting them come on the journey with you in their own time and in their own way.
3. Find something that’s “your” thing. Whether it’s sewing or science or doing artwork, start building something that the two of you can bond over. For Trinity and me, it’s gardening together. She loves that she can check up on the progress of the plants whenever she’s over, and when she’s not there I might snap a photo of a hummingbird in one of our feeders and send it to her so she feels like she’s part of the process. Again, I’m not trying to replace her mom, and even though we do girly things together too, gardening is something that we can always come back to when she’s at the house.
4. Encourage your spouse to have one-on-one time, too. Chris takes Trinity on dad-daughter dates so he can make sure they maintain a close relationship. I encourage him so that he feels supportive to be the best parent he can be, too. I’ve never wanted him to feel like he has to choose.
5. Let your bonus child see you shine. Like I’ve said, I’m not trying to replace or one-up anyone in my relationship with Trinity. I do, however, try to show her different sides of me so she has another female role model in her life. When I had the Sparkle & Shine Darling boutique in Miami, she loved to come and see all the things I’d stocked in the store. So she’s gotten to see a woman as an entrepreneur. And she gets to see me and Chris being happy and healthy and loving, so I hope we’re giving her a positive environment and relationship to look up to, too.
We’ve worked hard to be the best parents to Trinity that we can be. We want her to know that there’s always a place for her in our home, because it’s her home too. I love that she can come here and play with her brothers and sisters and enjoy the time they have together. As parents, I think we feel like there’s never enough we can do for our kids—it really does take a village to raise a child—and all I know is that I try to be whatever she needs me to be.
I hope you’ve found this inspiring, whether you have a bonus child or not. Please feel free to share your own experiences and advice in the comments. I’d love to hear how you sparkle and shine as a parent.