The title of ‘Step Mom’ can be such an unenviable one. One minute you are cool, the next you are unfriended or simply disregarded. You may be branded as the questionable adult in the room with little to no parental power. Did you break up the marriage? Are you trying to replace the “real mom” or are you the “trophy”?
Being a stepmom is one of the most challenging roles a woman can take on. The rewards, if any, seem to come years down the line when hostility and blame have settled and sorted, children have phased through the love-hate ‘frenemy’ relationship with you and your partner is often dismissive and in denial about how all of the churn effects you. You are balancing partnering with your spouse while trying to help raise their children and deal with the ’other’ mom.
And let’s be brutally honest, you may have been a little naive when it came to the day to day of an instant family. Because no matter how hard you try there are times when no matter what you say or do there is that one sucker punch that will leave you gasping for air, ”YOU aren’t my REAL mother!”
So how do you survive being a stepmom and what are some ways to be successful and have a positive effect on the children that you are now helping to nurture and raise?
1. Accept your place and your role.
Accept the fact that no matter how well you do this job of mothering you are not “the” mother. Even if “the” mother is a total trainwreck you cannot replace her. Your role, although parental or custodial in nature, is slightly different. Even if you are the one packing lunches, soothing fevers, picking up after school the sooner you understand that you are important but different it will take the pressure off you and the kids. You have an important role as a secondary, not a primary parent and definitely not a friend.
2. Stay out of the Friend-zone with the Step Kids.
If I can’t be their parent then I might as well be their friend is not only a no-no but, it can make a big fat mess of an already sticky situation. When you play the friend role it can easily undermine the parental framework. It may be tempting because it can be a shortcut to creating an alliance with a child. However, you are supposed to be a support to both parents in this blended family scenario. Being a friend confuses the child and sets everyone up for failure when trying to balance the adult to child ratio and good parenting habits.
3. Learn to sacrifice without a reward.
Many have opined that motherhood is a thankless occupation. If that is true then being a stepmom is not only thankless but, akin to paying someone else to allow you the privilege of working your fingers and emotions to the bare bones. If you expect a ‘thank you’, gratitude, some sort of recognition, you will need to seriously adjust your expectations. Your reward is knowing you did everything in your power to nurture, love, teach, guide, serve, and raise children that are in your partial custody. And that you did so with integrity and a desire to be a positive influence in their lives. This sort of sacrifice without expectation of recognition is the highest form of charitable service for the greater good. Your actions can literally save a child from an otherwise adverse childhood experience. That is your reward.
4. Be the Neutralizer, not the Agitator.
From the first moments of being a stepmom you get to make a conscious decision, are you going to be a Pot Stirrer or are you going to Serve the Soup? Someone who stirs the pot is an agitator that is more apt to add turmoil and elevate emotions. Conversely, the one who serves the soup is the one that nourishes. They are a neutralizer and an authentic voice of reason. You can act as a mediator and facilitator of peace between the exes. Your two cents are meant to disengage the dissension and introduce level headed conflict free conversation. You serve up the soup of creative calmness in the wake of history-laden madness. You can choose to stoke the fire or extinguish it. Being a neutralizer is better for kids.
5. Be the best Backup Support.
Fading into the background after sacrificing, doing the heavy lifting and being present every step of the way is really, really hard but, it may just be the thing that takes a load off the kids and ultimately enriches their life. You were the one who went to the store on a rainy night when you had a miserable cold to get the supplies for the science fair and now here we all are at the event. Both parents and you, the bonus parent, are there front and center. And, the curtains go down on the play or the coaches award goes to your Step Kid or the science project just made State.Fade into the background.
Let the parents give out the bouquets, be the first to embrace or high five, join together for the celebration tunnel at the sporting event. Fade and give them their moment to bask in parental glory and glow. I get that you just pitched 8 flawless innings but, the primary parents are the Closers. Let them close.
Let their children go directly to them without guilt, without the pressure of having to choose between “moms”. Fade, knowing you did an awesome job on those 8 innings and that you are an amazing Stepmom.
Stepmoms can be an integral and important part of the family ecosystem. They are in a unique position to boost the family with a focused, supportive, loving additional adult in the life of a child. The exposure to conflict and parents acrimony is tough enough on children adding another angry adult can be devastating and immensely confusing to a child. Stepmoms can either add to that inflammatory and damaging brawl or can be the extinguisher that dampens the flame and settles the discord.
Stepmoms that are authentic in their supportive parental role can be the key to a child’s well being and comfort within the transformed family. I should know, I was a bonus mom to two little girls who have grown into two beautiful, accomplished and courageous women. My husband and I are the proud parents of a blended family which includes stepchildren, adopted children and biological children. At the end of the day, we raised 6 amazing children and even better we are grandparents to 12, one more due any day now.