Stepmoms have a bad rap. Think about it. Before you’ve even spoken or had chance to demonstrate your parenting skills you have a reputation and it’s not a good one. Think Snow White and Cinderella.
In reality, being a stepmom requires some special skills and with the complex dynamics of a blended family I think knowing how to choose your battles and resolving conflicts are the top skills.
My current guest Lucy doesn’t have any biological children but has two stepchildren through her current marriage. She says going into her marriage, she didn’t have a realistic understanding of what being a stepmom entailed. Here’s Lucy:
My husband does have two kids and the role of being a stepmom is tough. Do you have about three or four hours?
His kids are great. They were nine and 11 when we got married. They were pretty harmless at the time; respectful and really nice. So, I thought, “OK, we have them on Mondays and every other weekend. I can do this.”
But I think, especially if you go into this not having your own kids, you don’t realize what being a stepmom means until you’re in it. Then, it’s like a role of a public safety officer, like, “I have a club but that’s about all.” You really don’t have a say in anything but you have a say in everything, kind of. It’s just an odd role I have trouble with.
My husband and his ex are very friendly, very cordial and I’m friendly with her. If she’s waiting for my step-daughter, she’ll come in and we’ll talk. They were divorced for five years before I even met my husband, so there’s no weird feelings. It’s all good, it’s just messy, because it is what it is.
I don’t really get involved in disciplining them and that’s the part that’s been tough. My step-daughter, who’s now 16 is pretty much a model student. She doesn’t do anything wrong. She’s fine.
My step-son is 18 now and went through just a total hot phase in high school; got in all sorts of trouble. I had a totally different philosophy with that. I thought we needed to drug test him in our house every week. It was really tough, because my husband had his own philosophy and that was that. It created a lot tension between us.
Those were things that I never even thought of when they were nine and 11 and just these nice kids. I didn’t think, “What if one of them is a druggy in high school, what do you do then?”
I think my willingness to speak up might have hurt me, especially being a teacher, being a middle school teacher, I don’t tolerate a lot of hooligans and things like that. I’m like, “This is ridiculous,” and I’ll say that to my husband, forgetting that this is his kid, that he was five years old at one time; a sweet little boy. I’m too harsh sometimes, I think, in my assessment of what’s going on. Well, I don’t really think I’m too harsh but he thinks I’m too harsh, so I don’t know.
I advise women to realize that you are going into a role where you’ll make a lot of sacrifices financially, emotionally, personally and otherwise and it’s just the way it is. There’s no way around it, because they’re kids and you’re the stepmom. It’s just a tough role, so be aware of what you’re getting into.
Financially is the biggest issue, in that even though we keep our finances pretty much separate, it trickles down. Because he’s paying his ex a certain amount and he’s sending his daughter to France with her French class, it affects me and that is hard to swallow when I’m working really hard. That kind of stuff you don’t think about either.
I think that a lot of women are like I was. I looked at it as the custody percentage agreement like, “Oh, it’s just one night per week” and it’s so much more than that.
There’s several valuable points in this segment. Yes, childless stepmoms-to-be are at disadvantage: it’s hard to know what being a parent is truly like until you actually are one and while teaching gives you hands-on experience with kids, being a parent is still different. And the beauty of parenting a child from birth is that you get to learn as you go. Becoming a stepmom means getting thrown in the deep end.
I often say that regardless of shared parenting time designated by your legal agreement, you are a parent 100 percent of the time. Your commitment to your child rarely fits into those neatly designated hours of your agreement and as the parent, I don’t want it to. It’s easy to see the potential for conflict especially when it comes to finances.
Lucy’s comments are echoed in by an article in the Huffington Post by Mary Kelly, Help For The Childless Stepmom. While Lucy thinks that being vocal about the issues may have hurt her, Kelly says it’s important to make sure your partner understands your feelings. Kelly also says that feeling an outsider is inevitable and there is nothing that will change that. It’s normal, it’s natural and it isn’t personal.
It’s messy, just plain messy and perhaps accepting that is half the battle.
What has surprised you about being a stepmom?
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