1. Your schedule is suddenly divided into two distinct categories: grownup only time, and family days. Each type involves starkly different activities, priorities, bedtimes, and cooking habits.
2. You learn that your fridge and pantry aren’t fully stocked unless they include many types of snacks, preferably the individually packaged kinds. (For example, raisins in their own small box are far more more delicious than a handful of raisins scooped from a large container.) Keenly aware of “what mom has at her house,” you determine to maintain acceptable snacking options at all times.
3. Instead of considering cuisine above all in choosing a restaurant, you think of venues in terms of whether or not they’re “kid friendly,” or feature a sufficient number of menu items your boyfriend’s child will actually eat without complaining. It’s not your place to insist on table manners quite yet.
4. You’re pleasantly surprised the first time you catch yourself looking forward to a night at home making mac and cheese from a box. You definitely steal a few spoonfuls before serving.
5. The bedtime story selection process alerts you to the reality that too many classic fairytales depict stepmothers as witches. Certain titles like Cinderella and Hansel And Gretel seem to send a dangerously misleading message about stepmoms, so you avoid reading them.
6. You take great joy in cutting the crusts off of sandwiches, and thinking to ask whether a toast with butter and jam should be cut diagonally “into triangles,” or vertically “into rectangles.” Does the novelty of crust cutting eventually wear off, you wonder.
7. On the occasions you’re alone with your boyfriend’s child, you get stumped by some seemingly straightforward questions, like “What is heaven?” It’s hard to explain abstract ideas to a young person. Another reason you hesitate is that you’re uncertain it’s your place to tackle certain subjects.
8. You find yourself wandering over to the kids’ sections of bookstores and clothing shops, perusing the miniature products and trying to guess what your boyfriend’s child might like. On the back of your mind, however, you wonder if it’s okay to buy them anything. Will their mom object? You don’t enjoy entertaining your boyfriend’s ex-wife’s hypothetical feelings, but you do anyway.
9. The first time you decide to take the plunge and buy a small gift for your new young friend (you’re struggling to come up acceptable alternatives to “my boyfriend’s kid”), you’re surprisingly nervous to present it to them.
10. You’re yet more perplexed when the child’s reaction (which is likely to fall under one of two categories: unbelievable enthusiasm, or complete disinterest) seems to inform your emotional state for the rest of the day. When did you get so invested? So attached?
11. Eventually, you realize that kids’ tastes vacillate like crazy, so you can’t internalize their indifference. They mean no insult, and you’re new at this. It’s okay.
12. The ads that populate your browser suddenly feature an eclectic mix of electronic devices, lingerie, small plastic figurines, and tiny sneakers. Since you’re not officially a parent, this makes you feel a tad fraudulent, so you promptly clear your computer’s cookies.
13. Speaking of computers, your inbox is peppered with kid-centric newsletters so you can be the one to suggest a fun activity during the next block of family time.
14. Whenever your boyfriend’s kid says something inadvertently hilarious, you delight in this particular brand of humor. You also think: Sheesh, children really can be idiots! but in the kindest way possible. You wonder if all parents entertain such thoughts.
15. Once you’ve really warmed up to each other, it brings you and your boyfriend’s child both great pleasure to cultivate inside jokes that poke fun of daddy in a manner specific to your very own modern family dynamic. (Fart jokes are always a good place to start).
16. On rainy days, your crafty side reemerges from wherever it was buried so you can plan fun indoor projects. Markers that write on mirrors are great to have around, and the possibilities with food abound. Baking works, as long as you steer clear of “mom’s specialty.”
17. The first time your boyfriend’s child accidentally calls you mom is one of the highlights of your entire life. So is the second time. And the third. Moving forward, you secretly hope everyone mistakes you for their biological mother.
18. Grateful for the valuable parenting practice under your belt already, you inevitably begin to think seriously about getting pregnant.