We’re Moms, Too; Struggles and Rewards of Being a Stepmom
*This post was submitted anonymously.* It finally happened. The words I’ve dreaded hearing since day one. I was picking up my 5 year old stepson at school, and bent down to tie his shoe. One of his little friends tried to give him a hug and his teacher asked him to give my stepson some space because his mom was tying his shoes. I said nothing, as I always do when someone mistakes me for his biological mother. But my stepson said, very matter of fact, “She’s not my mom!” Although he only meant it as a fact, that I am indeed not the one that gave birth to him, it still stung and my heart sank. Since coming into this role, I’ve often heard being a stepmom described as having all of the responsibility with none of the authority. While this is true, I’d also add that we rarely get any of the credit either. Wednesday Martin, PhD, and author of Stepmonster, describes the risks of entering a marriage with children; “My marriage was meant to be. It was also doomed to fail. You see, I chose a man with children. Experts estimate that more than half of all adult women in the U.S. will do the same in their lifetimes, and that up to 70% of those partnerships will fail.1 Factor in all the odds and on the day I said “I do,” I might as well have picked out a divorce lawyer as well: the greatest predictor of divorce is the presence of children from a previous marriage. In fact, divorce rates are fifty percent higher in remarriages with children than in those without.2” All of that to say, step parenting is not for the faint of heart! The first time I read those words, I panicked. Who wants to enter a marriage with those odds? But I did, and I plan to beat the odds. So, for all of you who will never experience what it’s like to be a stepmom, here are the 5 biggest struggles and 5 biggest rewards of being a stepmom that I wish society knew.
1. We live a double life. Especially if you, like me, have no bio kids yet. Most mom’s rejoice at the thought of getting a break from their kids. Freedom from responsibility! Right? But everyone involved in a step family doesn’t have a choice. Sometimes kids and parents feel like they didn’t get enough time together, but the custody order says they have to go to the other parent’s home regardless. Often, their lives at each house are very different. If they are young, sometimes transition days can be challenging because the kids struggle to adjust. When the kids are at mom’s house, there’s also a transition time for dad and stepmom to remember how to just be a couple again. While my husband and I enjoy our quality time alone together, we both miss the kid when he’s gone. 2. We often feel like an outsider. I used to struggle with this A LOT. Being a step parent is HARD y’all. You have so much love for a child that’s not yours, and at the same time you have a constant reminder of the life that your husband had before you. I spent a lot of time in the beginning of this joyous ride feeling like a complete outsider. Like the third wheel on a date with my husband and his son. Nobody wants to feel left out! Through constant persistence, a positive attitude and a strong backbone, I penetrated their inner circle and gained my stepson’s trust. Being included is just one of the many obstacles stepmoms have to overcome. 3. We don’t get many firsts – Some stepmoms find themselves mourning for the nuclear family they could have had. Chances are, when you marry a man with children, he has already had many firsts without you. Maybe a first marriage (or multiple), a first time experiencing the birth of a child and parental love, first time buying a house, first time seeing his child walk or talk. The list goes on. It’s hard getting the leftovers. As a stepmom, you have to let yourself mourn the loss of the nuclear family you’ll never have. It’s hard living in the house that your husband lived in with his ex and finding pieces of their life together that have been stashed away. It’s hard worrying that your wedding or the birth of your child won’t be as special to your husband because he’s already experienced it. It can cause resentment in your marriage. The bright side is to focus on the firsts you do get. You get to be the first person your husband has a happy and healthy marriage with and the first example of a happy and healthy marriage to your step child. That in itself is pretty special. 4. We don’t get recognized for being a mom. This mostly goes for childless stepmoms. Stepmoms are “real” moms too. The difference is that bio mom’s have to love and care for their kids, where stepmom’s chooseto. It’s a pretty selfless decision to love and care for someone else’s child. My husband has my stepson half of the time, and during that half of the time, I am mom to him. I am in no way replacing his bio mom. This just means there is one more person to love my stepson. I make sure he is fed, bathed and in bed on time, attend play dates, and school drop off and pick ups just like a bio mom does. I kiss boo boos and dry tears, wipe butts and runny noses, and give my little one love and attention. I am so much more than a “glorified babysitter'”. Society generally thinks of stepmoms as “less than” a biological mom. Some stepmoms are even custodial stepmoms, meaning they have MORE time with the child than the bio mom. So when Mother’s Day rolls around this year, if you have a stepmom in your life, give her some credit and buy her a card or say “thank you” or “I appreciate you” to her. Trust me, it will make her day. 5. We are constantly on trial. I signed up for this, right? True, but does that mean I won’t ever make mistakes? Stepmoms will inevitably be judged by the bio mom and by society and will constantly be put under the microscope. Let me just say that complaining about your kid, step or bio, is a normal thing to want to do when you’re frustrated. I hear my bio mom friends complain about their kids all the time. The whining, tantrums, mood swings, and power struggles are hard! Sometimes you want to be that mom that hides in the closet to eat chocolate. I have friends that regularly call their kids assholes, and they are right! Kids can be total, irrational, jerks! But if I say my stepson is being a jerk when he’s having a meltdown because I put his drink in the Spiderman cup instead of the Star Wars cup, I’M the one who looks like the jerk. If I need a break from my stepson, I’m the one who looks like I can handle being a parent. If I allow my stepson to not take a shower one day, or skip his vitamins, or not brush his teeth, I’m the neglectful stepmom. You get the point!
1. We overcame many challenges before even getting married. Many couples get married before they choose to have kids. I got an instant family when I said “yes!” to my husband. It forced us to talk about the hard things, fast. We had to learn how to co-parent and be a family of 3, all while getting to know each other as a dating couple and then engaged couple. We by no means have it all figured out, but there’s no doubt we’re stronger for it. 2. We have the opportunity to show the child what a healthy marriage looks like. This is so important. It’s very common for stepchildren to not come from a place of love. Many bio moms and dads were never married and only had a futile attempt at being together because of a pregnancy. This is sad and unfortunate, but it’s the reality of the society we live in. Until I came into the picture, my stepson had never seen what a stable and loving relationship looked like. It’s important to my husband and I to keep our marriage first so that he always has that example to look up to. 3. My stepson is my biggest teacher. As a single twenty-something, I was naturally only concerned about myself and my own well being before I started dating my husband. Boy, did that change! I quickly learned that it would no longer be all about me, and I’m so much better for that. Children have a way of making you selfless whether you like it or not. He has taught me so much about myself. More importantly, he has taught me how to love selflessly, deeply and unconditionally. 4. While living the double life is hard, the breaks can be nice. Transitions are always hard and awkward. How do you just magically go from being a family to a couple again? There is always a period of adjustment. However, once we get past the transition, it’s a relief to have a break from responsibility sometimes and to be able to reconnect with my husband. 5. It’s all worth it. Stepmoms have got to have backbone. We take the constant rejection, strive to stay positive and keep pouring out love regardless of our own feelings. Once the child finally lets you into their inner circle, it’s like winning the lottery. I remember the first time my stepson wanted to hold my hand, and the fist time he wanted me to put him to bed instead of his Dad. It was a slow process and took months of earning his trust and respect, a ton of triumphs and setbacks, but we finally got there. When he spontaneously hugs my neck, kisses my cheek and says “I love you SO much!” it makes those months of frustration and rejection beyond worth it.
Considering marriage to a man with kids? Here are a few tips: 1. Keep your marriage first. Chances are, the kids are coming from a broken family. Whether bio mom and dad were married or not, the kids likely haven’t seen an example of a loving marriage and family. Making your marriage a priority is one of the best gifts you can give them and yourself. If you’re not sure you’re ready, don’t rush! 2. Seek counseling. You’re going to experience a rollercoaster of emotions and frustrations. Vent to someone that can actually help you work through those feelings and come out a stronger, more sane person. Remember, your feelings are real and valid. A stepmom who feels unheard, who has unmet expectations and who’s feelings are not validated is not a mentally healthy stepmom. 3. Find support. This could be an online private Facebook group, fellow stepmom, book or podcast. You will need people that are in the same situation you’re in to talk to! Nobody else will understand you better than a fellow stepmom. Remember: “You can’t always fix what you didn’t break!”
This post was submitted anonymously. The Author is a wife, part-time not-so-evil stepmom, and full-time stepmom advocate. When she’s not consumed with all things stepmom related she enjoys traveling, binge watching her favorite shows, amateur photography, and chocolate chip cookies.
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