When my husband and I first decided to move in together I had a few ‘must haves’ on my list that I thought would help protect my sanity when I was about to A.) move in with a man and B.) move in with a six year old girl. One of my requisites to moving in together was to have two bathrooms (non-negotiable). I commandeered the ensuite and my husband shared the second bathroom with my stepdaughter, HJ. When it was just the two of them living together in his previous suite they shared one bathroom and, being a regular guest in their home in the months prior to officially moving in together, I was quite aware of what life might be like sharing a bathroom with the two of them. No thank you!
The two bathroom arrangement lasted for about a year and a half while we lived in that apartment until we moved into our current home which hosts three bathrooms. There is no ensuite and, with the way the bathrooms are arranged, it made the most sense for me to share a bathroom with my stepdaughter and for my husband to have his own ‘man cave’ bathroom in the basement. When I agreed to this arrangement, I’m not going to lie, I was nervous.
Biological parents are generally equipped with the ability to overlook their children’s quirks, messes, attitudes etc. to a different degree than everyone else. The biological bond coupled with having raised the child from infancy creates that ‘love is blind’ phenomenon as well as that naturally occurring unconditional love. Stepparents, on the other hand, usually start their parenting journey somewhere after infancy and don’t have the memories of a big eyed bouncy baby to fall back on with their stepchildren. Love is not yet unconditional; love must grow in the hearts of stepparents and stepchildren alike. The quirks and, honestly, irritating habits of a step child are quickly noticed by a step parent and less easily overlooked. Don’t get me wrong, biology isn’t everything. However, biology combined with the prefix “step” in the parenting title can sometimes offer little to stand on in terms of guiding toward what you might find more appropriate/less irritating behaviours. A stepparent walks a more convoluted path to adjusting behaviours than your average parent — discussion with your partner about your thoughts on the behaviour; Is it something that is allowed in the other household? If yes, how will that affect our efforts?; How do we approach the behaviour and continue to enforce a change? All of those thoughts do not go through the minds of a biological or legal parent. As that parent, if you witness an action or behaviour you can simply nip it in the bud immediately. My husband never has to discuss behaviours with me before guiding adjustments with his daughter. That’s just one of the subtle eases of being a non-step parent.
So back to the new bathroom arrangment where I would now be sharing with my stepdaughter, HJ. I was nervous that the crumpled up towels, toothpaste in the sink, sharing a mirror, borrowed belongings etc. would be too much for our budding relationship to handle at such an early stage. I can’t accidentally lose my temper with HJ if I’m frustrated by how the sharing is unfolding. Biological parents can do it and be forgiven, stepparents do not have the luxury of easy forgiveness when accidentally not making the best parenting decision (ie. raising your voice in frustration). I’ve also always had my bedroom and my bathroom to fall back on when needing to be alone from the hustle and bustle of stepfamily life. Now I’m willingly narrowing down my options of ‘me’ space. With all of those thoughts in mind, I still moved forward with the shared bathroom.
Fast forward a year and half with this new arrangement and I’m happy to report on a few things I was not expecting:
1.) My relationship with HJ has grown closer with each morning of sharing the mirror to get ready for work/school. She’s a chatty young girl and talks to me about all sorts of things while brushing her hair and getting ready for the day. Sharing a bathroom provided a new space for us to talk where the conversation flows naturally. I spend more time helping her with her hair and giving her my opinion (when asked) about her day’s outfit choice.
2.) HJ is in awe of makeup and will simply stand and watch as I apply my usual routine. She asks questions and continues to chat while I do the finishing touches. She has her own play makeup and tries to copy what I do with her little kit. Although she used to play with her makeup before, since she now sees me doing it everyday, it’s become more of a bonding activity as she practices and asks me for advice on her newest creation.
3.) It’s become OUR space. Something that is just hers and mine. We use it, we make it messy and we clean it. There’s something very special about having something that it ours in a stepmother/stepdaughter relationship. Who knew it would be a bathroom.
4.) The crumpled up towels (and now that it’s summer there are bathing suits hanging everywhere) and the toothpaste in the sink don’t even phase me. I’ll rearrange the towels so that they’ll dry thoroughly or I’ll remind her to hang them flat herself. We both clean the toothpaste out of the sink and it just doesn’t irritate me like I thought it might.
The shared bathroom was a blessing in disguise. The sharing, bonding and special ‘us’ space means so much more to me than the messiness of sharing space with a child. I’m not irritated by her quirks because I see my own quirks in her as she continues to learn and grow into her own person. She’s talked to me about so many more life things than I would have had the opportunity to be a part of otherwise had we not shared this space. Step mothering win!