by Tamara Flaherty
There are a few lessons that I’ve learned in my almost 10 years as a stepmom that I feel compelled to share for those naive women who come after me.
It probably won’t alter anyone else’s path but at least they will have had the benefit of being warned beforehand.
Like so many step moms before me, I went into my second marriage with the best of intentions.
I loved my husband’s children immediately, because they were part of him and I loved him so much.
We were so optimistic, and determined to blend our new family successfully. His three kids and my four kids. We were going to become the “Brady Bunch.” It was going to be great!!!
Second marriages are much more likely to end in divorce (67%) than first marriages (50%).
There are well researched reasons for this. One of the more significant reasons is the presence of children from previous marriages and the challenges that accompany blending this new family.
Loyalties are challenged.
“Sides” are taken.
In some cases the children are actively encouraged to, and praised for hating the step-mom and making life as difficult as possible for the new family.
They are not allowed to love the new step-mom, or they risk losing the approval of their mother.
This creates a no-win situation for both step-mom and step-kids.
It can be a nightmare of epic proportions for all involved, with all those good intentions and dreams turning into years of conflict, hurt, misunderstandings, alienation, and ultimately, breakdown of relationships.
Without further ado, I shall attempt to outline some hard earned lessons.
They are not your kids and you are not their mom.
Repeat this to yourself as often as needed.
I think the terms step-kids and step-parents are misnomers.
They only have two parents and you are NOT one of them!
That is not to say that you can’t “parent” them if you absolutely have to, but I would caution against even “acting” as a parent at all unless their “real” parent is absent and you have no other choice for their own safety.
If you do have to “act” as a parent in their dads absence, ensure that your husband has already outlined the rules and the consequences in writing so that your role is only to follow his guidelines. That way it is clear that it’s coming from him and not from you.
The only realistic outcome of actively parenting someone else’s children is that they will resent you even more than they already do for taking their moms “place”, both in the marriage and as a parent figure.
You will not “love them like they are your own.”
If you already have your “own” you already know the truth in this statement. If you don’t yet have your “own” you will understand when/if you do.
Let me put it like this. The boat has capsized. You have only enough strength to save one person. Floundering beside you in the water is your child and your husbands child.
Which child do you instinctively reach for?
I rest my case!
I think many step-moms (step-dads don’t seem to have this struggle) experience a certain level of guilt for not feeling the same love for their partners children as they think they should.
Please re-read lesson number one.
They are NOT your kids, therefore you will not love them the same way, or with the same depth as you love your own children.
Recognizing this simple fact will alleviate all kinds of unnecessary guilt from both sides of the equation.
It’s funny how stepchildren feel no need to love the stepparent the same way they love their “real” parents, and yet we put a ridiculous amount of pressure on ourselves, and our partners to feel that level of love.
That is not to say that you will not love them because you will.
Just not the same, that’s all.
It doesn’t mean the love is not real, or valuable, it’s just different.
Despite the fact that you are not their parent, you will be blamed for everything that goes wrong, no matter what you do.
The truth is that it’s “safer” emotionally for the kids to take out their frustrations on you than on either one of the bio parents.
If you are loving, caring, and actively engaged in their day to day lives you are “trying too hard”, controlling, or trying to take their moms place.
If you act only in the capacity of wife, and disengage from the day to day parenting you are cold-hearted, and uncaring.
Middle ground is almost impossible to find, and as I stated previously, no matter which route you take, you will be blamed for everything.
You will have to develop a very thick skin, learn to roll your eyes surreptitiously, and coat your feathers well.
You will get credit for nothing!
Even if you spent years raising the kids, helping with homework, making sure they are fed, clothed, hugged, praised, listened to, and cared for in every way, all you will ever hear is your faults, and all the ways, real or imagined, that you screwed up.
When they receive awards, bring home awesome report cards, get accepted into college etc, you will hear about what a great job their mom and dad did, how thankful they are , yada yada yada.
Thick skin, I tell you..Get some.
Maybe someday when they are grown, they will recognize and appreciate all the things that you did for them that you didn’t have to do. Don’t expect that now, you rarely even get that from your own children.
I have one adult step-child who I now have a great relationship with. He has grown into a mature, responsible adult and has a much clearer view of life than he did as a teenager. I also feel no more pressure to “raise” him or be responsible for him and so the relationship has now moved past the parent-child dynamic into one of mutual respect.
Stop trying so hard!
Seriously, just let it go. Let your husband do the hard work with his kids, and you do the hard stuff with yours. Support each other and set some common household rules that are enforced no matter whose kid it is. Respect, accountability, responsibility. Basic stuff. Then walk away from any expectations beyond that.
Focus on your marriage.
Ultimately all of the children, his and yours, will grow up and move on (please dear GOD) and you and he will be left with what you have cultivated together in your marriage.
No marriage, whether 1st or 2nd should revolve around the children. The primary relationship is the husband and wife together in the center with the children in the second ring around them.
Every effort should be made to prevent the disruption of the primary relationship.
Go into step- parenting with your eyes wide open.
Be proactive and start counseling early with someone experienced at guiding blended families through some of the major pitfalls.
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