If you asked me a couple of years back what I thought about step-moms, I would have probably told you that they are a mystery.
My parents separated when I was nine years old. At that moment I didn’t really understand what it meant to us children. We were split in half: boys lived with my father and girls lived with the mother.
My dad quickly remarried, my mother never did. I remember being very resentful towards my step-mom. Not because she did anything at the beginning, but because everyone else said evil things about her. We didn’t have any relationship with her. I only got to see her when I visited by father for a couple of hours whenever I had the chance to.
I remember my mother being so cordial about it and my stepmom trying to show who run the household.
It’s only when I got older that I got to get a clue on what the situation really was all about. But that was just a clue. It’s only when I got together with a man with a daughter, that I finally understood why my stepmom acted the way she did. She was probably in the same age I am now: mid 30s.
Married to a man with 6 children! What a shocker it must have been for her. She tried, God knows she did. With all her flaws and shortcomings, she really tried her best. It comes as a surprise to me to always think back about my childhood and my interaction with my step-mom and try to compare my situation now: being a step-mom to a 9 year old and the actions she took.
I think back about how each action, word or silence made me feel as a child. Through my own experience, I put myself in my stepdaughter’s shoes and think back about when I was a child and based on that I am consciously aware that my words and actions will forever impact my stepdaughter.
With this consciousness also comes awareness that boundaries have to be drawn, expectations set, sometimes hearts broken, and tears shed; but at the end of it all it’s a learning curve and everyday brings in a new lesson that shapes the future of the relationship.
It took a while to get to where I am today; to mentally adjust my thoughts and expectations; to evaluate my balance; to learn to interact on a totally different level with my stepdaughter, her mother and mother’s family.
It was hard work and sometimes can be very overwhelming. If I was asked to do it again, I would be a stepmom without hesitation. Blended families are not for the faint hearted; but can also nurture some of the most extra ordinary relationships ever.
My mantra for sanity is:
1-You are not their mother: Regardless of the kind of relationship you build with your stepchildren; regardless of how loving and nurturing you may be; regardless of how many school events you attend; regardless of loving them with you all your heart: you will never be their real mother. But that is ok.
You don’t need to try fit into their real mother’s shoes. There is no competition, because you will not win.
Learn to accept and embrace this. Be ok to love your stepchild knowing that there is a chance they will reject you in future. But love them nonetheless.
And if you feel that you don’t have that beautiful loving feeling inside yourself; that is also totally ok. Just don’t mistreat your stepchildren. Be comfortable in your own shoes as a stepmom.
2-Draw boundaries: The sooner you do it the better. Draw boundaries with your stepchild; with your husband’s ex; with the ex’s family; with common friends your husband and the ex had and also with your husband. It is very important that you protect yourself.
You come into a broken relationship where resentment and pain come sometimes cause boundaries to be crossed. It is important that you let the parties involved: husband, ex wife and stepchild know what you can/cannot accept.
Without these, chances are people will walk over you.
3-You don’t need to say what you think all the time: Sometimes silence is more golden than voicing out your exact thoughts.
Remember that when it comes to your stepchild, you are an outsider regardless of how close you are to your stepchild. The thought of: you are not my parent always lingers on the back of children’s minds.
If you really think you should say something, find the right time to say it. Pick a moment where everyone is relaxed. Chances are you will be listened to more than during a heated moment. Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything, and that is also very ok.
4-Take a step back: You probably want the best for your stepchild. However, sometimes the real parents know what is best for their own child. Know when it is the moment to take a step back and let your husband and the ex make a decision when it comes to their child.
This doesn’t mean that you are not involved; it simply means that you trust that they want the best for their child as you would. Trust them enough to take that step back.
5-Find a way to deal with the ex: You might be able to avoid the ex for weeks or months or even years, but at some point you will come face to face. Knowing how to deal with the ex in a way that protects you and creates respect between the two of you is the best thing to do. After all, you both play a very important role in your stepchild’s life.
How your stepchild sees you interacting with their mother creates permanent memories and images that can help the child or break the child. Find a way to interact with respect even when keeping your distance. Always remember that to her, she knows what is best for her child and not you the stranger.
Learn to make your point without losing your cool. Learn to draw the line and create boundaries of how you deal with each other.
6-Don’t ignore your marriage: Don’t let the fight between your stepchild and you come between you and your husband. Don’t let their fights come between your marriage. Don’t let decisions that your husband makes about his child that you don’t agree with come between your marriage. Don’t let how he lets his ex talk to him affect your marriage.
You were not part of their marriage; and neither were you part of their communication or lack of. Let your husband deal with his ex and trust him enough to know that he will deal with her in the best way he possibly can. Trust your husband to make decisions about his child; sometimes together with his ex.
Learn to communicate and let your husband know your opinion even though he might not take it into account. Learn to talk and share with your husband when you feel frustrated with your stepchild. But be prepared for situation that your husband might take his child’s side.
Whatever the situation, put your relationship on first priority and discuss and agree this with your husband. Children will grow, move out and move on; and it will be your husband and you to continue with your lives after that. Make sure you are both committed and on the same level when it comes to relationship priority.
7-Finding supporting groups: Blended families can be challenging even when they are rewarding. Find support groups where you can share with other people in blended families. Chances are many people will understand how you feel.
8-Take time for yourself: It is important to create time to do things as a family with your husband and stepchild. But it is also important that you create time to do things for you. Give yourself time to be with yourself and enjoy the things you enjoy on your own.
9-Learn to forgive yourself: This whole blended family thing is probably new to you. You are therefore going to make so many mistakes. You will be judged. You will judge yourself.
You will doubt yourself and sometimes you will feel totally overwhelmed by the whole situation of being in a blended family. You might even have doubts whether you made the right decision or not.
Learn to accept and embrace all these feelings. Learn to be ok with them, but most important learn to forgive yourself for not being perfect.
10- Don’t lose yourself: Whatever you do, it is very important that you stay true to yourself; your beliefs; your interests; your desires; your hobbies; your friends and everything that made you- you.
Don’t lose yourself in the whole stepmom thing that you totally neglect what really made you alive. Should you make such a mistake, you will build a lot of resentment towards your marriage and blended family without realising it. Make time to do the things that keep you alive.
Make time for your friends and your family. Pursue your career if it’s important to you. Go to the movies with your girlfriends every once in a while. Continue attending the women groups that you were involved with. Don’t leave your clubs. Whatever you do, don’t lose yourself or else you will lose your soul.