Many stepmoms enter into their new family, and before they know it — without warning — find themselves providing transportation for the kiddies, cooking for the family after a long day of work, making sure homework gets done, dealing with their husband’s ex, and doing many other energy-draining tasks.
Unfortunately, when they come up for air, they find they’re all alone.
Left to defend themselves against Mama Tiger, left to take on parental responsibilities that aren’t really theirs, and sometimes even left to act as a mediator between the two households.
And in the end, they’re left wondering, “Where is my husband? I do for everyone, but when I need some help, why is there no one around?”
If you’re one of those women, I ask you: is this the life you envisioned for yourself when you met your husband?
I doubt it.
You see, stepmoms have a tendency to want to fix everything. This usually includes an attempt at cleaning up messes that aren’t theirs. That could be anything from baggage between their husband and his ex, to trying to provide what they think the kids need, but aren’t getting from their parents.
This inevitably leaves the stepmom feeling spent, frustrated, resentful and powerless.
When asked how they ended up like this, a common answer among stepmoms is “Because no one else will do it, so I have to.”
Perhaps your husband would rather avoid conflict than address uncomfortable issues. Maybe he’s a people pleaser, trying to keep the peace at all costs.
Maybe he’s just tired.
The thing is, his behavior, that avoidance may work for him, but it’s not going to work for you or your relationship. Your marriage will suffer. It probably already has.
Because when you’re working tirelessly for HIS kids, only for them to disrespect you yet again (or at least, that’s what it can feel like) — and you look to your husband for support and he’s nowhere to be found, the resentment is hard to hide. It will cause a rift, which if left unchecked, may cause irreparable damage.
Luckily, the solution is in your hands. You hold the power!
Here’s the thing.
Why would your husband step up, when you’re already doing everything for him?
People are always going to do what’s easiest for them, and if you’re taking care of all the stuff that is really his to do, he’s going to let you.
Anyone in their right mind would.
By taking on his responsibilities as a father and ex-husband, you’re showing him it’s OK for him stand down, to disappear. You’re basically saying, “It’s OK dear, I got this.”
You’re enabling his behavior.
Which means you also have the power to stop enabling the behavior, by stepping back and letting your husband handle the stuff that is his to handle.
This has been said over and over again in the stepmom world, yet women still find one reason or another not to do it.
If you need a break from shuttling the kids back and forth, then take it. (Replace “shuttling the kids” with any activity that causes you stress.) It’s the parent’s responsibility to find alternative methods of transportation.
If your husband’s ex-wife finds you an easy target for her anger against him, set YOUR boundaries and let him know what you need from him. It’s his responsibility to be protecting you from his baggage. He should be acting as your safety net, keeping out the bad stuff.
Joel Schwartzberg said something that I whole-heartedly agree with: “Every husband should have an opt-out clause for his wife.”
Meaning, at any time, a stepmom should be able to say “No honey, I’m not able to do x,y and z for you or the kids today.” And the husband should be okay with that.
Being a stepmom should not mean being a door mat. If you find yourself uncomfortable, unable to laugh, constantly frustrated, stressed to the bone, wondering what you got yourself into, you’re probably doing too much.
I’m passionate about this stuff because I live it, but luckily, I’m on the other end of the spectrum.
My husband absolutely supports me and steps up when he needs to. He IS my knight in shining armor. He’s my safety net. If he weren’t, I never would have agreed to marry him, because the situation would be intolerable.
And I refuse to be okay with that.
What are you saying “okay” to that you don’t want to?
I know it’s scary, and I know you might think you’re doing a disservice to the kids if you step back, because maybe he WON’T get the kids to practice on time, or maybe they WILL miss a homework assignment because you weren’t there to remind them to do it. Or maybe you can’t bear the thought of them being caught in the middle of their parents’ battle.
But eventually, when he sees you’re not going to rescue him, he WILL step up.
And that lesson is far more valuable than any cost the family will pay for you stepping back.
Look at this way: By setting this boundary, you’re helping him to grow.
You may find this hard to believe, but it’s not your job to make life easier for everyone else, especially when doing so makes life more difficult for you.
And if by chance he never steps up, then ask yourself if this is the life you want for yourself? Is this the type of man you want to spend your life with? And what IS your quality of life, if you can’t remember what it’s like to feel free because you’re so busy dealing with crap that isn’t yours?
I’m not saying it’s easy to do. For some, it will be extremely difficult and unnatural. But can you imagine anything being harder than what you’re doing right now?
And if in the end, you decide you WILL continue to sacrifice your own sanity for the sake of someone else’s children and choices, then that is your choice.
And the blame cannot be placed anywhere else.
Many stepmoms before you have chosen to step back and have been deeply rewarded with a more fulfilling life. Even their husbands will testify that being forced to step-up gave them a sense of “showing up” in their children’s lives.
I always say, “Start with baby steps.”
What’s one responsibility you’ve taken on that isn’t yours? Begin with that. Have a conversation with your husband. Explain to him that you need a break from it.
You deserve it.
And everyone will benefit.
© 2011 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
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