I am aware that on my blog I often portray near-perfect relationships with my stepkids, especially Tori. And I do have good, if not great, relationships with all three of my stepchildren.
But step-parenting also has its share challenges, not only for me but for all of us. I can only speak about my own experience as a stepmother, though I know full-well it has been a strain on everyone: Bill, his kids, and his ex-wife.
|Ryab, Tori and Kayla|
When Bill and I met, he was newly divorced and I had never been married and without a boyfriend for about three years. I was a happy, single woman in the prime of my life at 31-years old. I loved hanging out with my girlfriends and dating. Although I did think it would be nice to have someone special in my life someday.
Bill's best friend, also a friend of mine, set the two of us up. I knew Bill had young children and an ex-wife and that he lived an hour away from me. Back then, all three of those things were deal breakers for me. But I was so taken with Bill, I pushed it all out of my mind, let go of all expectations and allowed things progress naturally. We simply lived in the moment and didn't worry about all the "what ifs" and "hows".
Five months later, things had become serious and only at that time was I introduced to the children. All went well with meeting them; I thought they were darling. And one month later we were engaged. Shortly after that, I moved in with him and the kids. It was fast. Too fast for me to think much about what I was getting into.
From the start, I experienced some unexpected feelings of jealousy when his kids were around. I can't tell you how childish and self-centered I felt having those feelings. I constantly beat myself up for being jealous of a seven-year-old until I read a couple books that said it was normal. I needed to realize that the love he has for his kids is different from the love he has for me and that he had plenty to go around. Knowing that helped, but the twinges of envy persisted for the first few months.
For the seven months we lived in his house, purchased soon after his divorce, I was absolutely miserable. The courts had given Bill 50% custody, every other week. That meant that while he was at work on 24-hour shifts at the firehouse, I was IT.
I was the primary care-giver for three small children for sometimes up to three full days a week. I had moved an hour away from my friends and family, given up my career, and became a parent in what seemed like an instant.
We lived in the same neighborhood that Bill had lived with his former wife. That in itself was more than a little uncomfortable as I was referred to as "the new girlfriend" by some and totally ignored and shunned by others, particularly the parents at the kids' school. On top of it all, I had no previous experience in child-rearing since baby-sitting as a teen and was going solely on instinct and common sense.
The kids were mostly well-behaved but they were kids. At ages 4, 5 and 8, they fought often. And the last person they wanted to listen to was some lady their dad moved into their house.
I quickly became depressed, not just blue, but depressed. I cried myself to sleep nearly every night, saw a therapist and considered leaving almost daily. Each time I thought about my life without Bill, I resolved to make it work. I believed that someday, things would get better.
And they did. Eventually.
We moved to another town where no one knew us. We married, made new friends and carved out a little life for ourselves. My role as stepmother was still challenging but moving to a new area and starting fresh helped immensely.
I managed to get through all of their many stages of growth unscathed and so did they. I learned to be self-sufficient, self-sacrificing when needed and gained more patience. It's now been thirteen years since I first met the kids. I have been fully accepted as a permanent part of the family and am proud of myself for sticking it out through the rough times.
|Kayla's high school graduation, 2009|
For me, the most difficult aspects of being a stepmother are:
~ You do everything a birth parent does, but you are still "just a stepmom". From teacher-parent meetings, taking them to medical appointments, making lunches, buying their clothes, attending their games, driving them around town, attending field trips, helping with homework and school projects...I did it all. There is this idea some people have that step-parents just hang out in the background while the parent takes care of everything. Not me. I was/am a very involved step-parent. With my husband's work schedule, I had to be.
~ I openly admit that the ex-spouse was hard for me to get along with, to put it mildly. But I realize, looking back, that it was as hard, if not harder, for her. I was someone off the street, as far she was concerned. And here I was raising and influencing her children. There are no winners in divorce and child custody battles except family law attorneys.
~ Stepmothers are portrayed as villains in the media and in some children's movies and books. No kid really wants to have one. They are often portrayed as cold, evil and manipulative witches. Because of this, you are held to an even higher standard of "niceness" to your kids. That is if you care what other people think, which I did.
|Disney's evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine|
~ The jealousy issue mentioned above.
But there are upsides of being a stepmother, too:
~ I have a secret to share with you: I didn't want kids of my own. I wasn't 100% sold on the idea of not having kids, but I knew what a commitment it was and thought it better, if I wasn't sure, to skip it. By being a step-parent, I was able to have kids in my life and have a rewarding role as parent.
~ I have such strong and loving relationships with my step kids. They are very special people and treat me with the utmost respect and lots of love, which I give to them as well. And we have a lot of fun together.
|A funny outtake from some self-portraits a few years ago.|
~ As a step-parent, I am more objective when it comes to the kids. I can sniff out when something is not right. You know, when the kids are up to something. Parents often live in denial that their children could get into trouble, like cutting school or partying. As a stepparent, I can often see things clearly that perhaps their parents can't see or don't want to see.
Finally, here are a few tips for those of you who are considering taking on the stepparent role:
~ Run for the hills! (just kidding)
~ Spend time getting to know your future stepkids on your own.
|You know, take them out for cocktails!|
~ Make sure you carve out alone time with your spouse, away from the kids, on a regular basis.
~ Defer to your spouse for disciplining the kids whenever possible. This helps with the "evil stepmother" image and takes the pressure off of you.
~ This may not be popular with some of you parents out there, but in our relationship, we put each other first, above the kids. I always know that Bill has my back, as they say, and I have his.
~ Don't take things personally. Often hurtful words from an ex-spouse or a stepchild are directed at you because of what you stand for (a threat to the relationship you have with their kids or father, for example) rather than you as a person.
~ Find other stepparents to talk to. You can't really know what it's like unless you've been a step-parent. Talking to someone in similar circumstances can help you not feel like you're losing your mind. Realize your friends who aren't stepparents don't really want to hear about it, so try to keep it to yourself unless they bring it up.
~ Make your boundaries clear. My step kids know where I stand on most things. They know I tolerate no disrespect, and I expect them to behave in a certain manner, just as their birth parents do. Try hard to communicate openly with your step kids about your boundaries and ask them about theirs if they are old enough.
~ Don't try to replace their mother. Why would you want to anyway? It's pointless and it's uncomfortable for the child. Be a friend to them but remember you are in a parenting role.
Step-parenting is not for the weak. Be prepared to feel insecure a lot of the time, question yourself often and get your feelings hurt on a regular basis. Being a stepmother is hands down the hardest role I have ever had. But it's also helped me to grow and mature into a better person.
The best part is I have had the priceless experience of watching three adorable little children grow into three wonderful, well-rounded and kind adults. I love them all dearly and am grateful to each of them for putting up with me all these many years.
Are you a stepmother?
Have a stepmother or stepfather?
If you are single, do you date men with children?