My husband and I were celebrating his birthday and reminiscing about the first of his birthdays that we celebrated together. Both he and his oldest daughter invited me to join them as they gathered for dinner at a local restaurant. It was just my husband and his kids so it seemed innocuous enough. But before the evening was over, I was in full-on “mom” mode, answering homework questions, cutting steak for the child in the cast and planning our next outing.
That first evening I began exhibiting all of the behaviors that I would eventually become responsible for in our stepfamily life.
When you marry a man with children, you automatically take on the title of stepmom. However, not all stepmoms are created equal. If you are a full-time custodial stepmom you likely have greater responsibility for your stepchildren than a stepmom whose stepchildren spends weekends or summers in the home.
What is important is that the role you play in your stepfamily is a role that you, your partner and your stepchildren agree upon.
When I met my husband he was a single parent with sole legal and physical custody of his children. Their mother was allowed visitation, but they did not spend overnights, therefore, he was responsible for their well-being 24/7. Thus, when I became a stepmom I too became responsible for their well-being 24/7.
I recently saw a movie called Ricki and The Flash starring Meryl Streep as Ricki. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my childhood crush, Rick Springfield, co-starred, but I digress.) Ricki is a non-traditional mom complete with Joan Jett eyeliner and a rocker boyfriend.
She abandons her husband and three children to follow her dream of rock and roll stardom, only to be called back home when her adult daughter suffers a crisis of the heart. During Ricki’s sojourn home, she and her husband’s second wife have a verbal exchange which between two less-civilized, non-movie written characters could have devolved into a screamfest.
Fortunately, these characters kept their level heads. What was most poignant about the dialogue between these combatants was the reasoning behind the stepmom’s position in the family. Ricki was hit with some hard truths, namely, that she wasn’t there for her children when they needed her while the stepmom was.
In essence, there was a need and the stepmom filled it.
Not all stepfamily relationships evolve in this manner. If your husband shares custody and his ex is an involved co-parent, it is natural to let familial decisions rest with them, especially if it is not affecting your welfare or your home.
Kids don’t generally want an extra parent in their lives, therefore if all parenting bases are covered, step back and remain a support system for your stepfamily. Being “dad’s wife” is perfectly okay. Let your partner steer you in the direction where you can provide the most help.
However, if, like me, you become a custodial stepparent with all of the associated privileges, there should be no shame in fulfilling the needs of your stepchildren. You may incur the dreaded whispers and prolonged stares when you show up to the ballgames, plays and parent-teacher conferences, yet, don’t be concerned with silencing the critics. Creating a safe, responsible and happy home life is your priority. If your family agrees that you need to take on major tasks in your family, then so be it. Your priority is your family.
Either way, remember that the title stepmom is fraught with all sorts of callous and unkind associations. Don’t buy into them. Your partner brought you into the family so that you could share your unique gifts with both he and his children. Whether you offer a listening ear to a beleaguered husband or take on PTA duties, your standing in your family is your own. Wear that badge proudly.
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