Some little girls dream about weddings. I always dreamed about being a Mama. I spent hours doodling various names for future children in notebooks. I planned all the things I would do with and for my little ones. At different stages along the way, I wanted different numbers of babies…sometimes all boys…sometimes all girls…but always, always babies.
I never had dreams about becoming a Stepmom. I have serious doubts that any little girl ever does. Growing up with the vilified Snow White and Cinderella depictions of those women, why ever would we?
As things turned out, however, I entered motherhood through that less-traveled route. When I married my husband, I received an insta-family. I gained not only a husband but also a five-year-old son—all in one fell swoop. To say the least, it’s been an adventure.
Going into our marriage, I thought that I might be fairly prepared for the role. I’m the eldest child from a large family, so I was pretty familiar with most stages of childhood—but it turned out that the thing I was not prepared for were the dynamics of what we love to call “the blended family.” Stepmothering is a role that is every bit as challenging and rewarding as biological parenting but comes with about half the recognition and appreciation as well as a healthy dose of gut-wrenching isolation that can make it feel unbearable at times.
As Stepmom, you did not bond with this child as a baby. You are not blinded by a mother’s love, nor do you labor under a divorced parent’s guilt. You see this child in your home for who he is and what he does. And that can be a very difficult vantage point to communicate to your spouse who, understandably, wants to always think the very best of his child—especially in light of the fact that their time together is limited.
If you are considering taking on the title…or, like myself, have already done so…here are a few things that I’ve found to be important to keep in mind:
(1) Your relationship with your spouse HAS to come first. People may tell you (or your partner) that the kids should come first. No…just…NO. If this was a first marriage, no one would ever advise you to put your kids ahead of your spouse. A second marriage deserves no less respect, and the relationship between husband and wife should be treated with just as much honor and care (regardless of children from a prior marriage or relationship). You can’t do this alone. Your partner must be on board.
(2) Allowing and supporting one-on-one time between your partner’s child(ren) and your partner will benefit everyone. I was fortunate to come into my family when our little guy was really young, but his Dad is still his Dad. All little boys (and little girls) need to know that they are special in Dad’s life. I think this need may be even stronger in a child whose life is split between two households. Sending them off for some quality time gives you a break and builds their bond. Win-win.
(3) You CANNOT fix what you did not break. This is something I have to tell myself so many times a day. It may sound uncaring, but it’s not. It’s just good sense. (I don’t mean that a child is broken—but I do know that I have to recognize that this boy has been through a tremendous upheaval, and he now deals with living in two homes with multiple parenting styles and views.) I think that we, as Moms, have a tendency to feel responsible for far more of our children’s lives than we actually can claim. As Stepmom, you can only do your best. You cannot compensate for what is missing, and you will only wear yourself out if you try—and that can lead to pain, frustration, and resentment. None of these things are going to benefit you or your family. Take a step back. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself: “I cannot fix what I did not break.”
If you know a Stepmom (or have a Stepmom), please give her the benefit of the doubt. Give her a hug. Send her a little note of encouragement or appreciation. I can guarantee that she needs it—and it will mean the world to her.
And if you are a Stepmom, know that I hear your heart-cry. You are not alone. Loving your partner means embracing and loving his or her child(ren), and sometimes that’s hard—but I guarantee you’re doing a better job than fairy tales would have you believe.