Six years ago I dove in feet first to what I imagined to be a glorious new chapter in my post-divorce life: remarriage and becoming a stepmom.
What could be so hard? I got along with his kids, and he with mine, and we were ready to start a new life together. I certainly predicted some bumps in the road as all of us adjusted to our new family dynamics; but, I was convinced that with concerted effort, love, patience, and commitment, we could overcome our challenges to be a success.
I opened my heart to four new children (in addition to my two), and made it my new life’s mission to be as loving, supportive, and inclusive to my husband’s children as I knew how.
Painstaking efforts were made to demonstrate equity in the time we spent with each, opportunities presented and gifts given for special occasions, and so on. We felt it was critical that they received a message from us that there was no “us” versus “them,” that our home would have one set of consistent rules, and we would function as a family unit.
I invested myself in getting to know them, supporting their activities, and creating a nice home for them to live in every other week.
We’ve had our good moments. I’ve watched these kids grow and change in six years from little ones trick-or-treating and making mud pies to teens and pre-teens going to dances, becoming individuals with their own dreams and goals, and preparing for the future. I am thankful for the memories we have all made together on holidays and average days, and I can only hope that I’ve made a difference, on some level, in their lives.
I never imagined it would be so hard to be a stepmom!
I never imagined that I would become a target for everyone’s anger and frustration. The scapegoat. The alleged evil puppeteer behind the scenes making all bad things happen.
I have been stolen from, lied to, lied about, cussed at, yelled at, and disrespected with a frequency and intensity that I could have never imagined.
I live like a prisoner in my own home with locks and alarms on doors and cabinets to prevent theft, or me hidden away in my bedroom to avoid the fights, complaints, and disrespect.
Every nice gesture from me is met with a hiss and claws from them.
One moment I am accused of abusing them, the next moment an open hand is extended in my direction with requests of things that I need to buy for them.
That’s all I am to them. A wallet with legs. As long as I am buying them something or doing something for them, I am tolerable; otherwise, I am a burden and at the center of all things wrong in the universe.
I realized, too late, that my presence was a threat. The very fact that I was there was a reminder that their mother was not. Every caring action I performed for them was offensive because it was me doing it- not her. If they loved me, they would feel disloyal to her. If they didn’t love me, they were disloyal to their dad. How could they win?
I finally recognized that all of the “family” propaganda we shoved down their throats from day one was just too much. What they needed, most of all, was to know that they still had their mom, they still had their dad, and there was no pressure on them to accept anything else. I never attempted to take their mom’s place; still, they may have interpreted an expectation to have to love me or consider me family.
I know now that a stepkid just needs to be given room to breathe, heal, and accept then new way of things organically. Yes, a stepchild should be expected to be respectful to a stepparent, but we have to remember that the child never asked for their parents to divorce, let alone for new people to move into their lives, taking away valuable time and attention from their parent.
It took me six years to figure it out, but I resolved that I am not pushing the “stepmom” agenda any longer. I am their dad’s wife. I still hold out hope that we can have the close and loving relationship that I would like to have; but, these kids have to come to whatever place they will land in their own time and in their own way. Me backing off doesn’t mean I no longer care, it just means I recognize the need for space. I have to protect myself from continued heartbreak, and I am allowing them room to figure their lives out.
I will still be here, on the sidelines, cheering them on or willing to help if they seek my attention. What I will not do is chase them down to force myself into their lives. If I am welcome, they know I’m here. I won’t put them into awkward positions where they feel I threaten their ability to maintain loyalties. I won’t insert myself into their lives if they feel they have all they need. I won’t inflame their divorce wounds by trying to make them buy stock in the “family” if it’s not something they truly feel.
It was necessary for me, as a stepparent, to step back. I won’t allow myself to be hurt anymore, and I just need to focus on being a mother to my children and wife to my husband.
I often hear soon-to-be stepmoms asking for advice prior to becoming part of their new families. My knee jerk reaction is to yell “run! Don’t do it!” But, because I know that love will always find a way to make people optimistic and open to plant a flower garden where once there was ruin, the best advice I can give is to go in with eyes wide open.
Even though you and your significant other may be excited and ready for “family”, that doesn’t mean the kids are.
Don’t create expectations for them to subscribe to your new family or be forced to love you and step siblings. Let things develop with time and patience.
Set boundaries to prevent anyone from being taken advantage of or hurt.
Communicate with your spouse often about household dynamics, rules, discipline, and behavior so that you’re both on the same page and presenting a unified front.
Don’t be their mom, just be you! They already have a mom, you are a wonderful addition to the people who love and care about them.
Beware that damaged people can sometimes do crazy things! You may be pulled into all kinds of drama, accused of things, and mistreated in any number of ways as they test your limits and act out on their pain.
Do yourself a favor and be calm and realistic. Develop a thick skin and a forgiving heart. If you are fortunate enough to earn a loving relationship, count yourself as fortunate. If you discover land mines, know that you’re not alone. Most likely, you will find a blend of both warm and prickly moments in this new adventure.