The Stepmom Club Series: Camille!

Hello my friends!

I'm so excited to bring you the next installment of The Stepmom Club Series!

We are back this morning with some stepmom REALNESS from Camille.  Camille has FIVE STEPKIDS - yes, that's right, five!  She has a difficult time acclimating to her new role as a stepparent and I love her honesty here about that experience, as well as the message of hope to "keep on keepin' on," even when things seem too hard to handle!

(Would you like to be part of the project, too?  Fill out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

And without further ado, here is Camille's story...

-What is your name and general location?
Hi there, my name is Camille.  I live in a small rural town in Utah about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City.  
-How many stepchildren do you have? (And what age and gender, if you’re comfortable sharing) If you have biological children, feel free to let us know about them here, too!
I have 5 stepchildren, yes I said 5 bonus kiddos (I refer to them as bonus instead of step kids, because they are my “bonus” kids.)  I have 3 boys, ages 17, 15, and 11 and two girls ages 13 and 9.  I have no have no biological kids, only my bonus kiddos.  

-Can you tell me a little bit of background about your step parenting story?
I married my husband when I was 41, he was 46.  My husband has 5 kids from his previous marriage and is the legal custodial parent, however he has joint physical custody of the kids with his ex-wife.  When we first met, the oldest child was 14, and the youngest was 6 years old.  Although I’d had several relationships prior to meeting my husband, I had never been married, and I do not have any biological children… basically I was living the single life, traveling, being with friends and family, and working.   
Our schedule with the kids can get a bit hectic.  We split the week exactly in half with their bio mom, which means they are with us Sunday morning until Wednesday when they go to school.  After school on Wednesday they go to their mom’s house until Saturday morning.  We then alternate every other Saturday.    Holidays are split in half, literally, so we have them for half of the day and then the other half they go to their moms.  Their mom and her side of the family all live only about 2-3 miles away and after the divorce, my husband stayed in the house they shared when they were married, and he and the kids have been there since.  When I married my hubby, we decided it would be best to have the kids keep the same consistent schedule, and to have me move into their house, so it would be more consistent for the kids.  I do think that’s been the best decision for the kids, however, I will not lie, it has been hard for me and our goal is to move into a new house now that the kids have adjusted to our blended family situation and are a little older.  
A little about me, and my “story”.  Like I said earlier, I have spent most my life single and never married. I am the oldest of 6 kids, have a degree in social work, and love being an auntie to my 15 nieces and nephews.  My family and friends have described me as funny, outgoing, kind, care-free, fun-loving, and I love to laugh.   I am not sure that is how my bonus kiddos and husband would describe me however (it’s easy to be fun when you are only taking care of yourself… not so easy when you have 5 kids LOL).  I love to cook and I used to love to host dinner parties for my friends and family.  I also love people, and making connections with others.  I’m pretty much an extrovert and I love to make those around me laugh, and feel loved and cared about.  My motto in life when hardships have come my way is to “build a bridge and move on” and not dwell in mistakes too long.  Some of the less positive things about me…. I am always late… always, but of course never on purpose.  Because I love being around people so much I have a terrible habit of overcommitting myself.  
So why am I sharing this with you and what does it have to do with stepparenting… well, because I married a man who is the complete opposite and so are the kids and that has been a very difficult aspect in adjusting to blended family living.  I also share that with you because once I became a stepmom, I felt like there were two versions of me… the old “fun me” and the new “not always fun and easy going - stressed out, exhausted stepmom me.”  Thankfully after almost 4 years of marriage and step parenting, I am getting back to the old me - just a less selfish, better and more mature version of me.  Of all the hard things about step parenting, and we know there are a lot of hard things, the hardest has been the conflict between the “old me” and the “new me.”  The first couple of years I found myself saying things like “everyone usually likes me, why can’t the kids like me?” or “I never cried, ever, and now I cry all the time,” “why do I get so upset that I can’t control everything?” or “why am I getting so jealous? - I’ve never been a jealous person.”   My life mantra changed from “build a bridge and move on,” to “I can do hard things” which comes from my favorite bible verse in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  
My husband and I met the old-fashioned way… online ;)  Over the years I had tried online dating a little here or there, but never seriously.  I decided to give it one final try the year before I turned 40.  This time I approached online dating with a different, more carefree attitude and just meet people instead of trying to find the perfect guy who’d meet all of my checklist requirements.  Anyway, I’d gone out with several nice guys, but I was never interested in pursuing anything serious with any of them.  One day, Joe’s profile popped up in my newsfeed, and without even reading his profile, I clicked yes to sending him a “flirt”.  Not too long after that, he replied to my “flirt” and then we started communicating.  It was then that I read his profile and found out that he had 5 kids.  I loved how he talked about how much he loved his kids in his profile, and that he wasn’t online just looking for a “good time” because he had to put his kids first.  I also loved how witty his emails were, and I think those two combined is what first attracted me to him.   Of course, the 5 kid thing did scare me a little, but I found the fact that he seemed to put his family and faith first intriguing and decided to meet him.

When we first talked on the phone and in person, we seemed to laugh a lot, share stories, and just enjoy being with each other.  I also liked that fact that he was so independent - I had dated some very “emotionally needy” people and he was the opposite.  He also seemed to be the calm to my hectic life and perpetually overcommitting self, and he still is.  He is loyal to the core, and is the sort of person who never gives up on anyone.   He had been through a lot of hard things in his life (like the divorce) but moved on, just like my life motto says to do.   

Other than the divorce, the other really hard thing he had to go through was losing most of his eyesight in his late 30s.  He has macular degeneration, and is considered legally blind.  He still has some sight, and can do anything that you and I can do, except for drive, so he walks everywhere.  He has never in the almost 5 years that I have known him let his eyesight stop him from doing anything he wants to do and being the best dad he can be.  NEVER.  He made sure he was at every doctor’s appointment, every school function, every band performance for the kids, although he could no longer drive.  He even enrolled a couple of the kids in Tae Kwon Do and got them to every class, again, although he can’t drive… he just finds a way to do it, because the kids are his world.  Several weeks after we met in person we decided that it was serious, and after 3 months of dating, he asked the kids if it was okay if he asked me to marry him.  They all said yes, and then with the kids, he asked me to marry him.  Seven months later we were married.
Was I scared about getting marrying a man with 5 kids under the age of 14?   Yes, a little, but I thought I could handle it.  That, sure, it would be hard, but it really, how hard could it be?  Looking back now, I can see how absolutely na├»ve I was about the whole situation.
Those first 2 years of stepparenting and blended family life were not just hard, but life-changing… I honestly don’t think it was just being a stepparent, but also going from being single for 40 years, to now being married, moving to a different town, living 30 miles from my friends, family, job, giving up everything that I knew (like my house, furniture, etc), and moving into an already established family… it was hard on me and I really did turn into a different person as I mentioned earlier.  During that first year of marriage, my sister was so concerned about me that she flew me across the country to come and visit her. Her exact words to me were: “Cami, I think you lost your “sparkle,” you just don’t seem happy, and your love for life is gone.”  And she was right, it was gone - I went from being in control of every aspect of my life, to being in control of nothing.  

Hard does not even begin to explain how difficult those first 2 years were.  Everything I believed to be true about myself was tested.  I have always been known as the “fun one”, the person who makes you laugh when you are feeling down, the easy going person who never seemed to have a care in the world except for having fun, the girl who loved to hang out with her friends on the weekend, and was always planning another adventure. I turned into the girl who nobody liked, who felt left out a good share of the time, who couldn’t seem to bond with at least one of the kids, and the one that everyone took their anger about their parents’ divorce out on… I really was not prepared for all the emotions that come with being a stepparent.   
The bulk of the hard time came from really not being able to “bond” with one of the kids, who was 12 at the time we were married.  He had a lot of emotions going on inside him from his parents’ divorce and would usually take those negative feelings out on me. Our relationship was tough, he would say mean and hurtful things to me when his dad wasn’t around, he would yell and scream at me, try and sabotage our relationship, and at the worst point of that first year began threatening to hurt me or himself anytime I even asked him to do a simple thing like set the table.  Anytime I would bring it up with the hubs, or want to discuss the situation, I always felt that my husband would defend his son and not me, and our “conversations” (by that I mean heated discussions) about this child always seemed to end with him saying something to the effect of “well you two just need to get along better.”  I felt so guilty that I just couldn’t get him to like me, and that I was a little scared of this 12-year-old kid.  I felt alone, really alone.  By the end of that first year, I was an emotional wreck.  I had always relied on my friends for help, but I didn’t want to tell anyone how hard it was, or how bad it had gotten, so I would just cry.   Honestly, within our first 2 months of marriage we were in marriage counseling.  Finally, after a series of events that I will not go into here (I am already way too long winded LOL), we were able to get our 12-year-old some professional help and counseling. I started to go to counseling with him, and we tried to bond more via a professional therapist, but that didn’t seem to work.  Finally, a medical professional found out that he as a serious thyroid condition and that all his hormones were completely out of whack and that a lot of the hostility, anger, and depression he was manifesting was caused by the thyroid condition.  Once he started on the right medication, things have gotten better with him and continue to get better.  I am not sure I will ever be as close to him as I am the others and vice versa, but I can appreciate each other, joke around, and he even asked me to teach him how to drive, which is seriously progress in my book.

Things now altogether are much better and our family is much stronger.  I also feel like I am coming out of that negative spot and finding the balance of the old and the new me.  I’ve also gotten a lot of my “sparkle” back, so life in general now is pretty good.
I have often referred to life as a stepparent and blending families as an excursion to the ocean.  You see, at first it’s exciting - you get to the ocean and it’s beautiful, peaceful, and calm (for me that was the dating phase of things).  There is a beautiful sunset, the water looks so inviting so you decide to jump in (marriage).  As soon as you take the plunge into the ocean it’s like bam - you are hit by a wave, then another, and then another and it gets to the point where you feel like you are going to drown, like you are being swallowed up by the sea, getting farther and farther away from the shore and you can’t hold on any longer (the first years of blended family life).  Then all of a sudden, the winds stop, the ocean goes still, the waters become calm and you are able to get your head above water, catch your breath, and float, looking up at the beautiful sunrise (after the first years as a blended family).  Then every now and then as you are floating on the ocean, enjoying the beautiful  sunrise, another wave comes and it starts again,  you feel as if you are drowning, becoming swallowed up again, but this time you know that the calm will come, that you will make it through if you just hold on, keep swimming, and never give up.  And just as you think you can’t do it anymore... you are able to look up and see the sunrise and the waters become calm again…. And this happens over and over, but each time the waters stay calm for longer, and the sunrise gets even more beautiful.  

-What do your stepchildren call you?  If you also have biological children, how does the role of titles (ie mom and dad) work in your family?
My bonus kiddos call me Cami for the most part.  When we first got married the youngest ones asked if they could call me mom, I told them they could call me whatever they felt comfortable with.  They called me mom for about a day, and I think it felt a little awkward for us all, so we went back to Cami.  My 11 year old decided last year that he wanted his own nickname for me, so he started calling me Pickles (I love pickles) and so he will call me that sometimes.  

-How/When did you first meet your now stepchildren?  Did you run into any difficulties bonding with them? (right away or just in general)
My husband I had been dating for a couple of months before I felt comfortable meeting the kids.  I was a little nervous about if they were going to like me or not, so I thought if I brought them little gifts it would help make our first meeting not so awkward and that did help.  It was a pretty funny night because my husband (boyfriend at that time) had cooked a big Thanksgiving dinner but when he cut the turkey up and served it to everyone, I noticed it was way, and I mean way undercooked.  I guess I should mention that my husband is also legally blind so he had no idea that he had just served us all up an almost raw turkey.  Anyway, we had a good chuckle that night over it and I think it helped us all to bond a little because we all now had our own little “inside joke.”  The younger three bonded very quickly to me, and on that first meeting asked me if I could tuck them in bed, and even if I could please marry their dad.  
I talked a little bit earlier about the trouble I have had bonding with one of the boys, but the others and I have a good relationship, and bonded easily.   They have all had some difficulty trying to figure out how I “fit in” because they already have a mom, and they are very loyal to her, so trying to sort out how they feel has been difficult for them. I have been told on many occasions that they love me, and they want me in their lives, but they want me to know that they love their mom more.  I never want them to feel like they have to pick sides, or choose their mom over me, so when they tell me things like that, I just tell them it’s okay that they love their mom more, and that if they ever feel like they need to make the choice between me and their mom, it’s okay if they pick their mom and that no matter what, both their mom and I will always love them.

-How do you and your partner handle discipline/rules within your family? (Is it 50/50?)  How do you and your partner make sure you are both respected by the child?
How I handle it now is different than we handled things at first.  I think a common mistake stepparents make when they first get married is the belief that as the stepparent, we are the ones who must “fix” everything, which usually ends up causing more problems than it solves.
I fell into this trap at first and was always getting irritated with my husband because he would then feel like he was in the middle of everything so he became more of a “peacemaker” than the disciplinarian, and I was constantly feeling like he was defending the kids and not me.  I thought “my way” was the “best way” and have on many occasions gotten pretty upset with my husband when he handled a situation differently than I thought it should be handled.
Through a series of meetings with a therapist, and our church leader, I was counseled to step back, stop trying to “fix” everything… that is what God is for.  So, I have learned to step back, pick my battles, and not worry about the rest.  Of course, this is easier said than done, but it is something that I am working on.

-Do you participate in communication/relationship with your stepchild’s other biological parent? (Not your partner)  If so, how much and how do you maintain that relationship?
Nope, not really.    I leave the bulk of the communication with her to my husband.  They are the biological parents, so I let them do the communicating about medical appointments, bills, scheduling etc.  If I have concerns, I tell those to my husband, and let him communicate them to her if he feels like they need to be.  I have seen too many of my stepmom friends get involved in mean and ugly situations because they did not let their partner handle the situation themselves.  Of course there have been many times I have wanted to contact her about issues/problems, concerns etc, but I usually just let it go, and if it continues to be an issue, I will discuss it with my husband.   
In general, we are all supportive of the kids, and their activities and so we’re usually all there together to support the kids.  Yes, it gets a little awkward sometimes, but it’s the best thing for the kids.  Just last week one of our girls wanted to get her long hair chopped off and donate to Locks of Love and had asked me if I would take her.  On the way there, she called her mom and asked if she could come as well.  I could have made a big deal out of it, but why?  I felt special that she had asked me to take her, and be there, so what if her mom was there too?  Had I made a big issue of it, it would have only hurt my bonus kiddo and our relationship, so I chose to just roll with it, and I am glad I did.  I will also say that I have been very lucky because despite the differences between their bio mom and I, she has always supported me with the kids, and defended me when the kids were angry at me, regardless of the differences in our parenting styles and philosophies.  It is comforting for me to know that she has never tried to sabotage my relationship with the kids, or talked bad about me in front of the kids, and I in turn do the same.  
-How do you decide what things to do when you don’t have the child (when the child is with their other parent) and what things you want to wait to do until you have the child with you?
At first, I felt like their mom and I were in a competition of who could take the kids to see the newest movie etc… there were a couple of things that I wanted to take the kids to that their mom took them to first…. Anyway, I finally figured out that I could create different memories with them but doing different activities with them.  Their “things” they do with their mom is go to movies, go camping and to other big adventures, so my husband and I try and do smaller things like having game nights, staycations and just fun times closer to home.  My mom was great at making the everyday moments special, and so that is what I try and do with them.

-Best/Funniest step mothering memory?
It’s hard to pick just one, there are so many.  My favorite things about being a stepmom are just the simple things like when the girls ask me to do their hair for them, or when the kids ask for my help with their homework or school projects, or when the older ones asked if I could teach them how to drive…. Stuff like that. I just love being part of their lives, and watching them each grow and develop. It’s all those little things that I love most!
-Any resources (books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, etc.) that have helped you along in your step mothering journey?
At first I signed up for every step parent group out there, but I soon found out that many of them got negative and I didn’t want to be a part of that.  I love this group because it is a little of everything, but mostly positive and supportive.  I think the book “The 5 Love Languages for Teens” has been helpful, I also get a lot out the website and program, and the podcast from Family Life Blended.   The most helpful resource for me has been my faith in God and Jesus Christ, prayer, and reading my scriptures.
-What advice would you give your former self if you could send a letter back in time?  Please write a short version of that letter here.

Dear Camille,
Hang on!  You’ve got this!  Yes, it will be hard, really, really hard, but you can do it.  Everything is going to be alright!  You are going to need a crazy amount of courage, self-control, patience, faith, and unconditional love to get you through the hard times, but hang on, you can do it!  Be sensitive to the needs of the kids, put yourself in their shoes.  If you are having a hard time, just think about how hard it must be for them.  They are people too, don’t forget that!  Don’t be afraid to love the kids, even if you feel like they may not love you back as much in return.  Keep loving, keep trying and don’t give up!  Don’t expect everything to be perfect, or the kids to be or act perfectly.  It’s okay if it’s not, quit trying to be perfect!  Quit trying to fix everything, they don’t need fixing, they need love and nurturing and someone they can trust.  Most of all, don’t forget to have fun, to smile and laugh with the kids.  You are going to need all those fun memories to hold on to during the hard parts. Things will get rough, but you will get through, I know you will!

-Do you ever get jealous that you aren’t the child’s biological parent?
Absolutely, all the time.  There was one time early on in our marriage when my husband found a little photo album of the kids when they were babies (most of those types of pictures are with their mom).  As I was looking through it, I started to sob.  I felt so sad and jealous that I did not get to be there when they were cute cuddly babies, I wasn’t there for all those important firsts in their life, and it hurt because I missed out on so much of their lives (the youngest was 7 when we got married).  Even now I have a hard time looking at their baby pictures without feeling some sadness.  Honestly, it’s a constant struggle for me.  I’m trying to find that balance of dealing with all the emotions that come with doing all the “mom” things for them, but then not getting the same amount of respect, love, appreciation, and loyalty that bio parents get.  

Prior to entering a blended family, I had never experienced anything like these emotions before, and I do struggle with it.  Somewhere I read that kids are intrinsically loyal to their bio parents, and I have found that to be true.  I could be the best stepmom ever, and do everything perfectly, but at the end of the day, they are still going to want their bio parent.  I have come to accept it, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt sometimes.  

-What do you say when people ask if you have kids? (if you’re a stepmom with no biological children).  
At first, this was a hard question to answer, but now my standard response is yes, we have 5 kids.  If it is someone that I will probably never see again, I leave it at that, but, if it’s someone that I’ll see frequently, I clarify and say that they are my husband’s kids from his first marriage.  

-What do you say when a stranger (waitress or something like that) refers to you and your spouse as mom and dad? (ie “Ask your mom and dad”):  
This happens a lot, especially because the girls are blond and blue-eyed like me, so it’s an easy assumption to make. I usually will let the kids take the lead on this and if they feel they need to correct them, they will, if not, I just let it go.

-Knowing what you know now, would you still choose to get into this relationship?  Absolutely!  No questions about that! Although it has been hard, the payoff has been so worth it!

Tell us three interesting facts about you that DON’T have to do with step mothering.  Also, please leave any blog or contact links below if you’d like that information to be featured here.
1. I am a distributor for LipSense (this seriously amazing liquid lipstick (not a stain) that bonds to your lips and lasts up to 18 hours without smearing, or coming off).  I have always loved make-up, so being able to wear awesome make-up, have fun get togethers with my girlfriends and make a little extra money just for me has been such a blessing.  I know this all sounds like a sells pitch but it is not, I had been praying to find a way to get back to the fun loving, outgoing, and social me, and so when I found LipSense and began selling it, I felt like I got a little piece of the “old me” back.  I have a facebook group and I have so much fun in there posting videos, throwing parties, and just being able to connect with some awesome ladies!  I have loved having my own little lip biz, that is just mine, it’s been so fun.
2. I have traveled around the world to fun places like Paris, London, Mexico, but my favorite place to be is right here in Utah.  We have some amazing scenery, mountains ect. And I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else.  
3. I was able to be in the hospital room when my nephew was born. It was awesome to be right there when he took his first breaths, opened his eyes and greeted the world for the first time. It is one of my most cherished memories ever.

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Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Camille.  I know that many, many women can relate to the struggles (and blessings!) you've experienced as a stepmom and I'm grateful you were able to share them with us today.

Did you like reading Camille's story?  Want to read more in this series?  Check them all out here!

(Don't forget that if you're interested in sharing your own stepmotherhood story just out this Google form and I'll get back to you with more information within 48 hours!)

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