Divorce: A Stepmom's Guide to Stepmomming
It's no secret that the divorce rate today is anything but ideal. With the numbers looming close to 50%, nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Some say that the incline is slightly less for couples who have not had any children. This is true enough as couples tend to "stay together" for the "sake of the children"; a logic I have never understood. Coming from a family where the parents were no longer intimate, to us kids divorce was the only logical move. However, my parents did not feel this way, they felt it would "hurt" us too much and they didn't want to be a dysfunctional family. Little did they know that we already existed in one. My parents slept in two separate rooms and both had "side partners." This was not conducive to raising independent, happy children. We often saw them fighting, arguing and disrespecting one another.
Today I am going through my own divorce, a decision that was not difficult to make considering I had a little girl and I was wary about her exposure to an unhealthy relationship. It is hard to comprehend that there is still life after the failure of your first marriage but it's a life that is new and unbeknowst to you. Meeting my current partner (K) was liberating and a breath of fresh air. It is so much unlike my prior relationship, in all the good ways. We happened very fast and before anyone knew it we were engaged to be married. The relationship between my daughter and partner is heaven and I can't ask for a more supportive and encouraging person to be her other parent. Seems like life is picture perfect? Check again! Note: More than half of remarriages include children from prior relationships. The number is closer to 65%. Enter my partner with two children from a previous marriage. She now has visitation with them every weekend from Thursday to Saturday evening and the girls other parent (S) having them Saturday evening through Wednesday. The girls are close in age to my daughter who is 3 years old. The oldest is 6 and youngest is 4. Thankfully they get along fine, better than fine. They call one another sisters even though they don't spend much time together (we are currently trying to fix this) because my daughter visits her other parent on weekends. So Thursdays through Saturdays it is just us; me, K and the two girls. The fun begins..
1. Never belittle the other parent (mother) **No matter how much you may want to**- When we spend family time at home, I often fall into my "mother" role. The oldest is the sweetheart of the bunch. She is looking to me whenever I do my nails and helps me with getting dinner on the table. She is stubborn and affirmed in her feelings and thinking. She adores her mother (S) and often mentions her when we are eating dinner at the family table. There is a problem however with S. She never is around. She leaves the parental duties to the person she and the girls live with, their grandmother. S is somewhat of a party girl, not wanting to settle down but settled down for all the wrong reasons. The oldest daughter is so lovable and she leans to K for all the affection and love she can get. K is so good with her, giving her attention and encouragement whenever possible. It's frustrating to have one parent involved and not the other. The children feel it and one can tell it's written all over their faces. The lack of nurture and compassion. As someone who sees all that's going on, how can I stay quiet? How can I let things go? This is where patience and understanding kicks in. Unfortunately, this little girl will come to terms with S as she gets older. She will see all that's there in true form and resent all those times her mom was not there. But I could never tell her these things now, it will only confuse her already tender mind and I will become the enemy for saying negative remarks about her mom. Children are in the middle, regardless of who's right. Besides, she is too young to be involved in adult matters. Something her mother fails to acknowledge when she belittles K.
2. Don't rush into becoming a family - My partner and I were ready to declare to the world that we love one another and that we are family. However, with children from previous marriages this could not happen as soon as we liked. My daughter as well as hers needed some time to get used to new living situations, new routines and new rules. Rushing or forcing children to accept a new partner and/or step-siblings will only backfire and make adjustment harder. Time is of the essence and acceptance will come in it's own way. Just remember to always try to be encouraging of the new relationships forming around you and sometimes allow your child (or children) some one on one time with the new people in your life so they can form their own opinions about the situation. This gives the children some breathing room and alleviates some pressure.
3. Recognizing another parental figure - My partner and I made a pact that we would never step on each other's toes when raising and disciplining our children. I think this is essential in a child's upbringing. As soon as we got a place together, we instilled in our children that whether I stated something or K did, one or the other's instructions is just what it is. Sometimes when my daughter wanted her way and K said no, she tried her luck again and would ask me. I told her that if K says no it's no. I will not overrule her and if there was ever a time I disagreed with her parenting style we would talk about it behind close doors so our kids wouldn't see a "weak link." The same went for K's daughters. I sometimes would ask them to pick something up and they ignore my instructions. K would have them stop what they were doing and ask if they heard what I said. We used this parental technique from day 1 and although sometimes it can be a challenge, we found it has helped us very much.
4. What do I call you? - One of the complications we faced as a blended family was the title of the step-parent. We did not like the title of "step" because we felt it was cold and has gotten a bad wrap with all the movies demonstrating evil stepmothers. My daughter and K's daughters have no problem calling each other sister. They do not see step-sisters or that almost 3 years ago they were not in each other's lives. I think that is one of the benefits of getting remarried while still having younger children. They will grow up being more comfortable with the new family as opposed to being set in their own ways of what once was. However, we have come across the problem of what the children should call us. My partner's daughters heard my daughter call me mommy and the youngest of the two indeed started calling me that. Unfortunately, S heard of this and felt extremely uncomfortable having her daughter calling me mommy. Me, as a mother can understand this and I was all for having her call me something else. But what angered me about the whole situation was that S accused me and K of forcing the girls to call me mommy, something we would never do. For S, it was unfathomable that her daughter wanted to call me mommy. That was indeed the case. The youngest of the two girls, came up to me one day and asked me if she could call me mommy like my daughter does. She was barely 3 at the time. How could I say no? I was touched she felt that warmth from me enough to call me something so special. S was infuriated and taught her daughter that I am not her mommy because she was not in my belly, a thought that went against the very existence of her children and in fact she herself is adopted. We saw the detachment the youngest went through but we had to honor S's wishes for she was trying to make it a stipulation in a court order. So now they just call me by my name but refer to me as their stepmother if asked who I am. Initially, K did not want them to call me by my name. It seemed too formal. We tried to come up with a nick name but they just shortened my name and that sufficed. My daughter, on the other hand, had no real problem adapting to the situation. She calls my partner the same thing the other two call her.
5. Explaining to the outside world - No doubt that trying to explain your entire situation (I was married before, now divorced, met the love of my life, have two step children along with my own daughter from another marriage, and I am the stepmom to two girls who already have two moms) in a few minutes is not only impossible but overwhelming to the person you are trying to explain it to. I often feel the need to divulge my life whenever I pick up the oldest from school and the parents look at me as if I have 3 heads. I feel the judgemental stares upon me and I just want to yell, "So say something already!" However, I resume control again and try to not let it bother me, afteralI I have a 6 year old looking up to me. Fitting into a role that was previously filled by someone else can be hard, a little resentful and self-conscience. Parents who don't come from a blended family usually look at the stepmom as someone trying to impose on the biological mother. Someone trying to take over and be better than the other. Someone who possibly created trouble within the now broken marriage. Someone who is a pretend mommy. When some of them do take the time to get to know us, they enjoy our company and everyone has a good time. I live in a community where I am new whereas my partner and her ex have lived here their whole lives. So we find ourselves often bumping into former friends of K who asks about S and the kids. Imagine the uncomfortableness! It got to be a problem sometimes, where I started resenting K and the whole family she built with S. I was irrational and jealous and upset because we couldn't just be without the connection to S. We talked hours and hours on end. One time, the prospect of moving came up but I turned it down. I enjoy the location and it's a good place to raise kids. The only piece of advice I have is to develop tough skin. Not everyone is going to like you. And not everyone is going to accept you but you have to keep living. As long as you and your family are happy it doesn't matter all the stares and whispers. Just remember to wear a cute outfit and shades when going to get them from school, give them something more to talk about. :)
6. Taking a Stance - In the beginning (and even sometimes presently), the children may feel like you are just someone their other parent is shacking up with. You don't know the numerous times I heard the girls say this is K's house, this is K's car, this is K's TV and so on. Having someone there to help reinforce that you are more than just someone visiting is extremely beneficial to your state of mind. I went practically crazy with everything being referred to K's. Luckily, K wasted no time in reaffirming my role being more than just a "substitute". She corrected the girls repeatedly and referred to things as "ours." This was a great alleviation for me up until I was left alone with the two darlings. Of course, as natural little button pushers, they tried to get over me, especially knowing that I didn't want them to feel like I was being "mean" or what was that popular phrase?? .... of yeah "the evil stepmom". So I was pulled, and pushed and yanked and stepped on. Not literally of course (well maybe sometimes). I didn't want to tell them no or create an uneasy environment. You want candy for dinner? No problem. No, you don't need to brush your teeth if you don't want to. I know, I know, you're probably shaking your head right now. Easy for you to say! But I knew this mediocre way of parenting was not going to last very long. I had to take back the house!! The next time I was with the girls alone I made sure I took a stance. When I said lights out, it was lights out. When I said no more TV, that TV was off. Yes, it was frustrated in the beginning but that was because I let it happen. Respect was eventually earned. So put your foot down as soon as you can. Of course, initially forming a bond should be top priority but make sure they know you are not going away. Everything you and your partner create is a team effort. Repeat "ours" as much as you can.
7. Be a mediator - One of the advantages of being a stepmom is being able to look at things through a third party perspective. Many times I have opened my partner's eyes on varying issues regarding the girls upbringing. I would witness when the girls were going through things emotionally like feeling like they were in the middle of a child custody war. Talking to K about these issues helped her make the necessary changes to confront the girls positively. Also, because I am not biologically their parent, the girls spoke to me frequently about things they were scared to bring up to their parents. So your job just got a little more tougher. Not only are you stepmom and wife but consider yourself a Dr. Phil.
8. Communication - In any relationship communication is key. In a blended family, communication is a lifeline. Having all members of the family come together on the living room floor or in the family dining room can invite ideas and concerns. We try to make it a habit to eat dinner together to discuss our day. We let everyone have a turn talking and asking questions. It's a great way to bring everyone together. We also have our "talk times" at these locations. These are times when we discuss a problem that has come up in the family or a special announcement like a big vacation or a surprise. The purpose of this is to have the children (as well as the adults) feel comfortable with open communication and expressing feelings. As children grow into teenage-hood, they tend to create a bubble around themselves limiting their ability to talk out their emotions. We are trying to instill that they don't have to be alone in what they feel, that they have a family that cares about them and wants to help in anyway.
9. Can I get a thank you? - Being a mother is a selfless job. It's the most important job however it's a thankless job. Oh, the saying rings true for us stepmoms as well! I sometimes get up in the early morning to do hair which involves detangling, brushing, hair tying, straightening, braiding and/or curling. I work and adapt to all the girls hair type. By the time I do them all, I am sweating and in need of a new manicure. But seldom do I get a "thank you." I sometimes get it from my own daughter but it has to be forced out of my step-darlings. K is very modest and humble. She reminds the girls to extend their appreciation. They do but sometimes I wish they would do it on their own accord. I don't think much of it now. Why would I want a thank you from them and not mind if I don't get one from my daughter? Because often as stepmoms we feel like we are doing something for the kids. And maybe a little of that frustration stems from not being recognized as someone important in their lives. A few months ago, the oldest was invited to a birthday party by one of her school friends. I did her hair fabulously. Her hair is difficult to maintain because it easily gets tangled and whenever we get her from S's house her hair always looks crazy. I knew as a young lady she wanted to feel pretty and all dolled up. She was looking great. Upon arrival at the party, everyone said how gorgeous her hair looked. She just coyly smiled not uttering a word. She did not want to give the credit to me. This is a little girl that is so proud whenever someone compliments her. You say nice earrings and she's quick to say "my mommy bought them for me." You say "you smell nice" and she'll say "it's my mommy's perfume." You get the picture. I was so hurt. It took awhile to get the courage to do her hair again but I know she likes when I do because she gets all excited. And for now, that's good enough for me.
10. Take time alone - Mom or stepmom, you have a vital role in your family. With being a chef, a mediator, a chauffeur, a nurse, a friend, a playmate, a teacher, and Dr. Phil there's bound to be times when finding alone time can be mission impossible. But its important. Discuss this with your partner and allow space so that you can recharge your batteries. Go to the library and read a book, take a trip to a spa, hang out with some girlfriends, go to a movie, stay at home and nap while everyone's out, get a manicure or do your own nails, write a hub--whatever you do take the time to focus on yourself for a change. Everyone will benefit from you being refreshed and refocused.
Accepting being a Stepmom
I have a saying I use quite often, "It's all or nothing." I am usually that type. I don't like doing half jobs or just being shy of completing a goal. My experience with being a stepmom is kinda like that phrase. "All or nothing." You are either 100% committed to it or you're not. It's a decision you alone can make. It's not an easy one (remember I came from a family that did not believe in divorce.) However, once you make your choice you have to see it all the way through. This was a personal battle I had with myself. Sometimes I was there, involved, teaching, guiding, playing. And other times I wasn't. I found the fast leap of going from 1 child to 3 was something I was struggling to get used to. I also saw the withdrawal I was going through whenever my daughter would visit with her other parent and K's girls would come in her place. My adjustment was one that took a lot of time which meant I had little time with them. By the time I was ok enough to be there for them, it was Saturday evening and it was time for them to go. I saw the impact it had on the girls. I heard them ask K if I was OK and what was wrong with me. Did I already have a significant place in their lives? I did. They enjoyed the time spent with me when I would do their nails, their hair or help pick something to wear. I was the girly girl that lacked in K and I had the "mommy gene" that lacked in S. I was their balance. It wasn't until recently I came to realize this and it really touched me. I decided that I would be no better than their biological mother if I was only half in it. I care about these girls and I know that I could never be their real mother. But I can be something more, something not many little girls have. I can be the person they turn to when that first love crushes their hearts. I can be the cool person to hang out with when they want to bring their friends over. I can be their shoulder to cry on when they fight with either parent. I can be their go to person when they suffer a wardrobe malfunction. I can just be me and I think they like that so far. No labels, no titles but to everyone else I can be Stepmom.
Are you a step-parent?
Visit Some of These Helpful Sites
- Welcome to StepMom\'s on a Mission, a support group for stepmothers
SMOMS (Step Mothers on a Mission) is a non-profit peer to peer help group for stepmothers to help other stepmothers.
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- Divorce Support and Advice: Divorce Laws, Child Support, Custody, Divorce Lawyers
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