The weekend has arrived. Your husband is making plans for his kids to visit, while you are counting the hours until they’re gone. Visitation can be miserable, exhausting and even heartbreaking for stepmoms. It’s understandable when stepmoms dread the experience. However, circumstances are just as hard, and potentially more awkward, for the bio-parent and the stepchildren.
1. Differing Views of Visitation
Bio-parents and stepparents often have differing views of visitation time. Stepparents are often apprehensive and uneasy when children invade their space and their lives, especially in the beginning. On the other hand, bio-parents are using the weekend to cram in a weeks worth of missed memories. It can be especially trying for busy couples who work all week and look forward to spending time together on the weekends.
First, realize that you may not share your spouse’s feelings but you both have valid viewpoints. Your spouse is likely worried that his children will not accept the new arrangement. Even though you may have dated, and even lived together, marriage changes the family dynamic. Secondly, accept that visitation will bring disruption to your already too-tight schedule. In this day and age, most couples, even those without children, struggle to find sufficient time to spend together and nurture the relationship. Add children to the mix and complications rise to tensions which boil over into resentments. Share your feelings with your spouse. Often, being heard and acknowledged is what you are in need of most.
2. Prepare for Visitation
Most custody arrangements are governed by a parenting plan so it’s not necessarily an unknown when your spouse will have visitation. However, when a more permanent or stable home environment is available to them, stepchild visits may become more frequent. Acknowledge that there may be a shift in visitation as everyone settles into a family routine. The family dynamic will also change as the children age and have their own events and activities.
When preparing for visitation, first, discuss plans with your spouse. What activities are on the agenda? Ask what is expected in terms of your participation. Allow for children to spend time with the bio-parent on their own. This will help to alleviate feelings of jealousy towards the stepparent. After all, gaining a stepparent should never feel like losing a parent.
Also, as you encourage your spouse to spend time with his children individually, treat yourself to a brief respite. This might be an ideal time for a nap, a pedicure or a chat with friends. In other words, use the time to take care of yourself.
As your relationship with your stepchildren progresses, there may be a less definitive line between what they do and do not want to share with you. When you accept the responsibility of being a stepparent, you buy into your stepchildren’s lives. You will need to be flexible and supportive of their activities. Be prepared to loosen up the reins in your home and be present in their lives. What may seem burdensome in the beginning may one day be revealed as a gift.
3. All Things Equal
Nothing makes a kid feel as unimportant as being left out. Every child wants to believe that they are loved and wanted. If both you and your spouse have children, ensure that they are treated equally. Each child should have his or her own space. While you may not necessarily have a bedroom for each individual child, they each need to know that they have a right to privacy. Perhaps they have a den allocated to them for their stay, their own bed or a specific place to put their belongings.
Also, house rules should be extended to all of the kids, both those who live in the home full-time and those who don’t. Discipline included. Consistency is key. If all kids are on the same page and no one is being singled out for special treatment, they will be more likely to bond.
4. Keeping It Real
Super Stepmom Syndrome. Ever heard of it? Symptoms include attempts to rise above every obstacle imaginable. This stepmom is an overachiever. She is Betty Crocker, Martha Stewart, Florence Nightingale…you get the picture.
Overcoming Super Stepmom Syndrome can be one of the most difficult issues for new stepmoms. Too often the need exists to cure all ills. Stop fixing. Stop overindulging. Stop over-parenting. Stepmoms, your husbands invited you into their lives and that of their children because of your own unique gifts. It’s important that you share those gifts with your stepchildren. Be real. Be you. You are enough.
5. Recovery Time
You survived! The weekend is over. Take a little time to detox. Discuss how things went with your spouse. Listen for feedback on what worked and what didn’t. After all, who knows all of the parties better?
Despite all attempts otherwise, you may feel discouraged that things are not progressing as you had hoped. Don’t dwell on the hiccups. Keep in mind that for most stepfamilies it takes four to seven years for bonding to occur. Take the long range view, realizing that you are building relationships and those take time. Therefore, be patient. A time may come when both you and your spouse are living for the weekend.