Melissa and Suzanne came to spend part of their summers and December holidays with my husband and me when we lived on the West Coast. With our move to the East Coast, holidays became impractical, but the girls would stay with us most of July and August.
Then due to an unfortunate turn of events in the form of an abusive stepfather, the girls came to live with us for several years. I found out that summer fun is not the same as daily living. Everyday step-parenting required much more of me. Here are some of the ways I made mistakes in my
Below are 5 mistakes I made as a stepmom, and some of the lessons I learned.
1. Thinking it was going to be easy to be a step-parent. After all, I had always wanted children and was very fond of my husband’s two girls. But I had no idea how much care should have gone into planning our lives together, and how we should have sat down to talk about our life changes. If I had it to do today, I would suggest a weekly sit down, both with my husband alone and with all four of us to keep tabs on our feelings and concerns.
2. Not insisting on some ground rules for discipline and boundaries. I came from a strict German upbringing while my husband was a laid-back Irishman. I was often forced into the role of disciplinarian, which I came to resent. Then there would be conflicts because he didn’t agree with me, or the girls knew he would give in to them and what they wanted. This is an issue not uncommon in regular parenting but complicated when one of you is not the birth parent. I now see where we two really needed to set some standards and establish our roles as parent and step-parent.
3. Recognizing my insecurities from a troubled childhood. At the time I didn't realize I had very low self -esteem, though, I put on a good show. Jealousy and possessiveness caused me to try to be a better wife and mother than my husband’s first wife. At times, I felt lonely, insecure, and left out of their close bond. I learned I should have found a way to be less needy, and more tuned in to what my husband and his children were going through. I also learned I should have sought help or counsel for my childhood issues.
4. Not completely understanding the pain my step-daughters were going through. Torn between having to leave their mother and yet wanting to escape an abusive situation, they could have used more empathy from me. Instead, I was at times protecting my emotional territory and protecting my own frailties. I wish I had been more aware of how I could ease their pain and be less obsessed with my own.
5. Recognizing my fear of another divorce. I think I was afraid of a breakup and consequently, “walked on eggshells,” most of the time the girls were with us. I consequently learned that fear is debilitating and needs to be handled by therapy, prayer, or some healing means before it gets out of hand.
Finally, I consulted Suzanne, my step-daughter for her thoughts on my step-mothering. Suzanne refused to make any assessment of my time with her but she did have this to say:
“I think the newly minted step-parent should keep an open mind, think logically, have empathy and discuss with their partner areas of concern. And finally, to understand that no matter what, the only thing any person can control is their own reaction to a situation, good or bad, that they may face.”
Suzanne thrives today as a happy wife and mother and causes me to believe maybe my mistakes didn’t cause as much harm as I thought. That’s encouraging.