Did you know that 40% of married couples in the United States with children are stepfamilies?(www.smartstepfamilies.com). This number has tripled since the 1960’s. Even looking back on my life, three out of five of my friends have step parents. I was raised with a step father. Even though he has been in my life since I was very young, it was still a difficult adjustment to get used to. A lot of times, when we speak of parenthood, we tend to leave out step parents and the roles that they play in raising children who biologically do not belong to them. It can be a very warm and loving situation but also straining on relationships and the emotions of the step parent- causing them to not feel a part of the family or leaving them in a space of feeling as if their word has no standing when it comes to their stepchildren. I have been wanting to explore this topic for quite some time but honestly, did not know how to go about it. The subject of coparenting, blended families, and raising step children can be very sensitive to discuss out in the open, especially if there is not a great relationship with the other parent who is no longer a part of the family. Thankfully, I have some pretty amazing sisters in my circle who have really made this blog possible with their personal stories and life experiences. Joining us today is Tiffany Janay who has so eloquently expressed into words her life with her husband of ten years and her “sprout” sons. Stepmoms Are Moms Too————————–Black Moms Blog: Hi Tiffany! Thank you for sitting down with Black Moms Blog. I chose you specifically to talk about the topic of step parenting because of a post you put up a while ago speaking very positively about your relationship with your “sprout” sons as you call your boys. Can you tell us a little about your connection to them and why it is so important to you?Tiffany Janay: Thank you for providing an outlet to share! This is huge and more step parents should be heard from. I appreciate you all! I have four sprout kids and have spent the majority of my time with two of them, as they have lived with my husband and I a lot since we have been together. We’re cool! They are really loving and fun to be around. BMB: You and your husband have been together over ten years. How has your journey developed into what it is now to what it was in the beginning of becoming a mother to four kids?TJ: Its been an expansive journey and its still evolving. A lot has happened in ten years. My husband and I chose to give up everything we had that revolved around us working a traditional 9-5 and that caused a ton of waves to happen within all of our relationships, including the one with the kids. His two boys have been with us for the majority of the time and have spent a lot of time living with us so they have been frontline with us since the beginning. At one point we all shared one bedroom and we did not have the funds to do things that they wanted to do so we had to teach them about what we were doing and the importance of building a legacy. We made them aware that everything they felt and experienced during that time was about believing in yourself and your mission regardless of what others believe. We showed them how to build something from negative and they have been able to see our progression over the years and are now building their own businesses which is really exciting to see! They have always been involved with our business and have played a major role. Everything that has transpired contains our connection.BMB: I saw the most touching video of step parents and biological parents coming together to share their love and gratitude for each other for taking on the responsibility for loving and taking care of their spouse’s children. How would you describe your relationship with your children’s biological mothers?TJ: I seen that video too and definitely use that as a vision for my life. That hasn’t been my reality at all in this journey. “I wasn’t welcomed into the circle of co-parenting and was given a lot of slack, not necessarily for things I did wrong, but simply because of what I represented. As the receiver of that, it was challenging. But it kept me focused on what was important which was making sure the children were comfortable with me and allowing them to get to know me. “There has been some growth over the years but it is no where where it ideally could be. BMB: What has been your family’s biggest challenge to overcome in being blended?TJ: The lines of communication were shut down between all of us in the beginning and that boundary has been fiercely guarded and protected over the years. When there is no communication, growth can not happen. Old stories are being told and many that aren’t in alignment with truth, its unfortunate to witness the segregation and separation that has occurred as a result of it. There is still a lot of pain and things being dealt with on the mothers’ ends and I respect that and of course would love it more if we could truly unite and build upon what our current reality is rather than what it should of would of could of been.BMB: You are one of the coolest and down to earth people I have had the pleasure of knowing. So I will be honest, I can’t really see you being strict parent. Are you the party mom or the rule enforcer? TJ: I am a total rule enforcer and I am cool. There are things that I don’t trip on at all and other things I am hardcore about. Definitely, if you talked to one of my kids, they would say that I do not play when it comes to food. We maintain an organic, plant based diet, which in the beginning, was foreign to the kids. It was foreign to all of us really. But I really believe in it and I have seen the shifts that everyone in our home has went through when they eat in a way that is nutrition based and I feel that as the elder in the crew, I need to put emphasis on what is important.Our personal health is the foundation for all things to be built upon and if it is shaky, all other efforts could be threatened. I tell them all the time, that as long as I buy the food and take care of medical expenses, I will make the decisions on food choices and when they become their own Masters, they can decide for themselves. BMB: I have referred to you as mom several times in this post. Is this what your sons call you? If not, what do you answer to and how did you all come to this Namesake? TJ: They don’t call me mom and thats perfectly fine with me. I grew up having step parents and I would have never stood for calling them Mom or Dad, not out of disrespect, but because calling them that did not equal showing respect in my mind. They were my parents’ mates and their relationship was their own and did not change who my parents were. So I feel like that with my step kids too. I don’t expect that of them. We have had a lot of rockiness in bridging our families together too so it definitely wasn’t the vibe for that to transpire. “Personally, I call them my Sprout kids. I say that because it wasn not I who planted the seeds but I do help nourish and care for them as growing sprouts. My oldest sprout son calls me his Sprout Mom when introducing me to others.”BMB: What has been your personal biggest internal and your biggest external challenges when it comes to being a step parent?TJ: The biggest challenge is society expecting me to accept them as my own but yet I do not have the same connection or power over them as I would if I birthed them so its a constant Catch 22. I can’t say they are like my own because I do not have any children of my own first of all, and secondly because I am never the final ruler in the grand scheme of things and my voice can always be overruled. I don’t believe it would be the same if I birthed them. It is challenging dealing with conditions and choices that are made that I have no control over yet still have to deal with and adjust to.Another challenge for me is not being loved or even respected at times by the mothers involved. One mother has never thanked me for what I have done for her children and that is tough. There are often times more respect shown to their teachers or strangers in their communities than there was towards me and their father. The children were also encouraged and taught to show disrespect to myself and their father as an expression of her pain and not wanting to see him be successful without her. “I fell in love with a man and accepted that he had children and had to immediately adjust to that role; which for me took me from being a single woman to being responsible partly for the care of four kids. That meant I had to devote time, resources, finances, energy, and love towards them. For their creator to not show appreciation for that is extremely hurtful and challenging and baffling to me.”I have sent letters and gifts and have went out of my way to bridge an authentic connection and they were never accepted or even acknowledged. But it is where she is at and I never allowed that to harden me nor did I treat the children improperly to retaliate against her. It taught me how to love and how to strengthen my weaknesses even more so. Overall I am thankful for the experience. “As a woman, I can see the pain that must come with plans not working the way you intend and I know the emotions that run deep in our feminine bodies so I send love to them and hope one day they can overcome it and embrace all forms of love, even if it does not come from where we expected it to.”BMB: You and your husband are both entrepreneurs who work together. How has your lifestyle benefited your family in becoming close? Do your sons help you in your family business? TJ: It definitely is rubbing off on them! They have been key players in our business since the beginning. They used to run their own table next to ours while we were out vending and would often times outsell us! They are finding their own voice and confidence in making currency by being who they are. Its really cool to watch them develop.Each of the boys has a different mom and one of the mothers was closely tuned into our journey and did not understand it at all at first but soon she became inspired and went on a similar journey to pursue her passions. We all now work in close alliance with each other, supporting each others businesses, and as a result, the son we share, has formed his own business too! BMB: What would be your advice to a woman preparing to marry a man who already has children?TJ: My husband was first my best friend and I thought he would make a perfect mate if I liked him like that. I was not initially attracted partially because he had children already and that did not fit in with my ideal plan. “But when The Most High has a plan for your life, you have to roll with it. We choose to form a relationship with each other and acceptance of the children and his reality had to happen, as he had to accept my reality too.” I recommend a woman adjusting to the reality of her creations and being the best version of herself that she can be. Go with the flow and spread love everywhere.BMB: What has been your greatest lesson learned on your journey thus far?TJ: I had a hard time with my step parents growing up and the fact that my parents divorced and brought new people into our lives. A lot of my trauma came as a result of that root and in order for me to fully step into my womanhood and grow past my blockages, I needed to attract the flip side of my childhood to see it from a different perspective. There has been a lot of painful and spirit crushing times in this journey for my husband and I was able to see him from my own father’s perspective and how my actions and choices may have affected him and as a result we cleared a lot of our past karma and were able to become closer. As a step parent, I was able to see things from my step parents’ perspectives’ and travel back in time to tell a different story with my newly gained perspective. And I have been able to heal my inner child and have compassion for my husband’s kids as I watch them struggle in some of the same ways that I did too. Its been a fun and enlightening circle to be part of and has all been one big great lesson.Sharing this story with you all, Black Moms Blog, was really challenging for me. I would have loved to have told a story of unity and saying we all function as one big happy family but that is not yet my reality and doing this interview was therapy in itself. “ I was not sure how to best answer these questions and did not want to hurt anyone in the process but it is my truth and experience and it is important to share it for others who need to be able to relate. “I hope this brings courage to people an inspires someone to push past your blockages and truly do what is best for the children and to have peace in your life. Passing your pains from your relationship on to the children and forcing them to carry that load is so uncool and I hope as a society we can do better and progress. With love,-ShaniciaTiffany Janay and her husband, Malik Zakee are the founders of Organic Blood where their mission is to connect women with themselves and to awaken them to the power and beauty that lives inside of them. OB Yoni Eggs are charged with the intention for women to begin to nourish themselves and dig to the root of all imbalances in their lives, bringing order. To find out more about their movement and business, visit their websites: www.yonieggs.com or www.organicblood.com.