Much like being a mom, being a stepmom is full of self doubt, questioning your every decision, having no idea what you are doing, and feeling like you’re failing while simultaneously hoping for the best.
But unlike being a mom, there’s not a lot of support systems for the stepparent. I’ve found some negatives groups online, that I ran from quickly. But articles and blogs are few and far between. Each family dynamic is different and blended families add a complicated layer that is just not easy to talk about.
Since I’ve been a stepmom for almost 11 years now, I’ve learned a few things that I wish I would have know from the beginning. Trust me when I say – I’m far from perfect. But I love my stepkids and I know they love me, so hopefully that means I’m doing a few things right.
1.First and most important – become their friend. Your stepkids already have a mom and dad. And when you drop into their family, it’s hard to figure out exactly where everyone fits. True, I’m a parent figure and deserve respect. But respect is earned and it’s so much easier for kids to respect you when they like you. As the adult, the burden falls on me to find common interests and build a relationship. It’s not always easy. On multiple occasions I had my stepkids tell me they wish their mom and dad were still together. But being understanding and compassionate at how hard this situation (which is completely out of their control) must be and truly being their friend will help in a hundred different ways. And since you fell in love with one of their parents, finding things about them to love shouldn’t be that hard!
2. This advice is harder to follow, but almost as important – Learn when to bite your tongue. Of course, in your house you have a say. Often times, as the mom, we have the final say. But when something is a matter of opinion about the stepkids – try to remember that they already have a mom and dad who’s final say trumps yours. There have been many times I didn’t agree with a punishment or pick up arrangements, or something else that was important (or even affected me) but I butted out and let the parents decide. (Sometimes I gave my opinion to my husband separately if possible.) But there have been several occasions where me keeping quiet has helped keep the peaces. Not everything has to be a power struggle. And deciding to let the parents make the decisions helps take the pressure off and allows me to simply be supportive.
3. Create a calendar and ask to be included on correspondence between your spouse and his ex. After years of being told things last minute and having to change plans because of bad planning (or no planning), I asked to be included on all messages between my husband and his ex. Not because I didn’t trust them (I trust them both completely) but because it was a thousand times easier to keep our calendar updated when I was included on all the planning. Also, I was able to make sure questions were answered and plans were decided on. My husband gets busy with work and can be forgetful, so despite his best intentions things always fell through the cracks. Being included helped take the pressure off him and helped me not pull my hair out because I found out on Sunday that I’d be taking my stepdaughter to soccer camp all week even though I’d already made plans for the week… but I digress…
4. Insist on one on one time for the kids and your spouse. As much as it’s important for a new stepparent to be included in this new family dynamic, it’s equally important for the kids to feel like they will always be able to get their parents undivided attention. We love doing things together as a family, so making this a priority for us was difficult and took time. But once we made it a priority we could see the difference it made.
Since I’m not a morning person, my husband loves spending mornings waking up early and taking my stepkids out for breakfast. And now that they are teenagers with busy schedules, that is the perfect time for them to catch up without the distractions of younger siblings and get that much needed one on one time.
5. Don’t be jealous. This one is hard to admit. But there have been several times I realized I was jealous of my stepkids – jealous of the time they took from my new husband, his attention, and jealous of the family unit they were. Jealousy doesn’t always listen to reason, and while I know I have no reason to be jealous – those feelings can still creep up. I don’t have an easy fix for this one. Just know that if you’ve ever felt that way – I completely understand, you are not a horrible person, it’s totally normal. But please do not ever take those feelings out on your stepkids or husband. Find what works best to help you resolve them. Whether it’s “me” time, more family time, more dates with your husband or even counseling. Or a combination of all of the above.
6. Talk nicely about the ex in front of the kids. I had a friend once tell me that her daughter’s stepmom was calling my friend (the bio mom) names – ugly, fat and other horrible things. And this poor kid stuck in the middle, was the one to suffer the most from those harsh words. As soon as I met my future stepkids I decided I would make every effort to talk nicely about their mom to them all the time. This ended up doing so much good for our entire family. The kids didn’t ever have to pick sides. But even more importantly – it forced me to find the good in their mom. It’s easy to try to vilify an ex, but marriages break up because of 2 people, and pointing fingers makes everyone lose. Talking nicely, even when I may not have wanted to (that time we didn’t get a birthday party invite), made me realize that she was not a bad person (she had her reasons and we were able to move past them). In fact, we have a lot in common and have even become friends. Which makes our family dynamic so much happier and easier for everyone!
I understand that every situation and family is different. But maybe one or some or all of these suggestions can help make your blended family work a little better.
And I’d love to hear any other suggestions YOU have that work for your families!