Stepmoms: You Are Not Alone (Part one)

(These are excerpts from an article that was originally published in the July 2011 issue of Stepmom Magazine)

Stepmoms often feel very alone in their journey, but they’re not. Here are some common thoughts and emotions that stepmoms experience.

1. I FEEL LIKE AN OUTSIDER IN MY OWN HOME: 

This is one of the worst feelings for new stepmoms. You’re supposed to feel safe and secure in your home. It’s the one place you can go to be yourself and get relief from the rest of the world. But when you’re living with children you don’t know very well, it’s hard to feel comfortable. All the rules change when they’re around.

The degree you will feel like an outsider largely depends on the age of the children and their personalities. But it can feel like the kids and their dad are in a gang and you’re the new kid—the outsider they haven’t invited into their inner circle yet.

You watch as they laugh about a memory that was before your time. Your stomach is in knots as they say goodnight to their dad and ignore you, even though you’re sitting right beside him. none of this is intentional, but that knowledge doesn’t ease the pain. You’re not quite sure where you fit in.

Don’t take it personally. Yes, much easier said than done. But keep in mind that it can take several years before a stepfamily starts to function like a cohesive unit. I know that’s a long time to wait to feel comfortable, so create your own family ritual as a way to slowly bond with the children. Make sure it’s something that’s fun for everyone. this is a great way to ease that outsider feeling and help the kids be more at ease with you as well.

Be cautious. Don’t try to force a relationship with the children. It’s a lot of pressure on everyone to feel they have to instantly get along. It takes time to build trust and adjust to new living arrangements, rules and responsibilities. So try not to rush the kids.

Also, try to carve out an area of your home that is all yours. My husband was thoughtful enough to suggest this, and I’m happy he did! I have an alcove off our living room. We call it the “J Café.” there’s a sofa, bookshelf, lamp and a coffee table—and it’s all mine. It’s my no Kids zone.

2. UM…I BARELY LIKE MY STEPKIDS, MUCH LESS LOVE THEM:

Some stepmoms absolutely love their stepchildren from the day they meet them. This is more common if you’ve been in your stepchildren’s lives from a very early age. But many stepmoms find themselves joining their stepfamily when the kids are almost teenagers. I dare say it’s an almost impossible task to instantly love a teenager.

A big misconception and dangerous expectation for stepmoms is that they will love their stepchildren. Just as you didn’t get to choose your husband’s ex-wife, you didn’t get to choose his kids either. Getting to know them can be an agonizingly slow process.

Let yourself off the hook and do the kids a favor. Don’t have any expectations about how you should feel about them. or about how they should feel about you. Don’t get down on yourself because you don’t have loving feelings for them. It can take years to form a connection with or an attachment to your stepchildren. And for some stepmothers, it never happens. That’s OK, too. It doesn’t mean you can’t care for or nurture them. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or them. It just means you’re normal.

3. MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP EXCEPT WE HAVE COMPLETELY OPPOSITE PARENTING STYLES:

You cringe as you see your stepchildren manipulate the heck out of their dad. Is this really the same man you fell head over heals for?

It’s common to feel conflicted about having a different parenting style than your spouse. You’re not exactly sure when to speak up and when to hold your tongue. And you know he can get very defensive. The tricky part about stepparenting is the reality that ultimately they aren’t your kids, so where do you come in?

You have a right to be comfortable in your home, yet you can’t make all the rules. This is a conversation for you to have with your partner. How involved does he want you? What are you comfortable with? How old are the children?

A lot of factors go into deciding what kind of parenting or disciplinarian role you’ll have. Remember that experts agree a stepparent should not discipline a stepchild until there is a bond formed and trust has been built. Otherwise, the child won’t be receptive to the discipline and the stepmom-stepchild relationship could be damaged for years to come.

If your stepchild is displaying a behavior you’re not comfortable with, discuss it with your husband and let him address the child.

Stay behind the scenes until you have formed a connection with the child.

Compromise is a necessity. There will be things that you and your husband will each have to bend on. To come to these agreements, have a win-win mentality as opposed to one where you feel you’re always right and he’s always wrong.

(Stay tuned for part two next week!)

© 2011 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

(Photo credit:David Castillo Dominici)

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Comments

  1. Shannon Bentley says:

    It was so nice to read this and know that I wasn’t alone in my feelings being a mom to two kids and a stepmom to 5 more, they range in age from 11 – 22. It has been one of the biggest challenges of my life.
    I was very independent, a successful business owner and wanted more then anything a man to share my life with. When I was clear as to the man I wanted in my life, my husband appeared. He is the most fabulous husband and is perfect for me. I had known him for over twenty years, and when we started dating we knew that we would spend the rest of our lives together. So two years ago we married after dating four months, I sold my business and the kids and I moved to California to become part of a big family. Boy, did my way of life ever change…I became a domestic goddess. That alone was a transition that I’m just becoming comfortable with. My youngest stepdaughter moved in with us a year ago, and my two kids live with us as well.
    As for feeling like a stranger in our home, that is understated. Is has become easier with time. In the beginning I would wait for the kids to acknowledge me, but I realized that I needed to set the tone. For example, if I wasn’t saying goodbye, why should they? Now, I’m making a concious effort and they have been following my lead. My husband and I also started remodeling the house, it’s finally starting to feel like a home…our home.
    Liking and loving the kids has been a really big one for me. Raising my youngest stepdaughter has definitely brought us together, she is a great kid and I love her. The relationships with my stepsons have been growing stronger. They’re all great and seem to go with the flow. Sometimes I think as long as there is food in the house…they’re happy campers. Our biggest issue has been with my husbands oldest daughter, the 22 year old. She has made it very clear to me by her words and actions that she is not going to allow me to be a part of her life. This has caused issues over family vacations, holidays etc. etc. etc. My husband asked her if I had ever said or done anything to her that was mean or hateful and she replied, no. She does take most of the responsibility for the tension between us, but doesn’t apologize for her behavior. He did warn me in the beginning that if I was going to have any problems with any of the kids, that it would be her. The problem is that the family has chosen to walk on eggshells to be in her life. No one has ever set boundaries with her, so she intimidates or bullies them. Her mom is proud to tell you that she is a “bitch.” Just to give you a little background as to the woman who raised her. I will not allow her to manipulate me the way she has chosen to manipulate others, and others have allowed her to do so.
    So as for parenting styles…like you mentioned, my husband and I have the most amazing marriage. We went to counseling to try to figure out how to cope with his daughter. We had to finally agree to disagree. I felt he should set boundaries, he felt I should let what she does and says to fall by the wayside. Easier said then done, so at this point, he sees her without me being involved. It’s sad, because of the dysfunction that it has caused in the family.

  2. I recently moved from one coast to the other leaving behind everything and everyone I have ever know, so that my boyfriend could be close to his kids. To say it has been difficult would be a massive understatement and I will spare you all the bitter boring details, what is done is done. All I know is I get the chance to have a relationship with two amazing little people. Being so far from home and having few people I can talk with about my situation I do a lot of writing, I wrote this a little while ago;

    Here I am the same as before, but different in every way.
    Me,
    wanting to be there for them every second but knowing full well such things are impossible.
    I have to let go everyday, every morning when I wake up and they are not there.
    Each time we get in the car headed South again.
    They inspire my every thought and they hold my dreams in their ever growing hands, their smiles are like grated wishes and their laughs like answered prays.
    How can I describe the place they have in my heart?
    I have read the words of many women in my situation and though some come close,
    all are off by a long shot,
    because every situation is as unique as the two of them
    I did not bear them and I can never claim them as my own
    and none of that matters in the slightest to me.
    Their pictures hang in my office, our bedroom, all over the house, they are tucked in my wallet and always behind my lids as I rest.
    My sleep filled with hopes of the next time we meet or memories of last time we saw each other.
    Every time they call to me, reach out to take my hand or we share a silent joke I am born again.
    Reminded why I do any of what I do and why it is all worth the effort and pain.
    It is not their reaction that matters what is important is that every second we have together I tried my best.
    They know how much they mean to me and they are comfortable in the space we share together,
    absolutely sure of their station in my life.
    We are bound by their father but we have found a common ground apart from him, not that he is apart from us only we are not dependent on him to hold us to one another.
    We build what we can with the time we have, we do not fret when we part only hope for more time in the future.
    Years pass like minutes flying ever closer to the unsure future I try not to be greedy but I can’t stop the wishing for more of their time.
    Missing them completely but knowing they never really leave me when they are gone,
    this is what it means to me to be a step mom.
    Giving all that you have without any assurance or guarantee only the constant choice to put them first,
    to hold them up and let them shine.
    It’s not about me and it never was,
    it’s about them.

  3. Hi Shannon, you’re definitely not alone. Have you located any stepmom support groups in your area? Check out http://www.meetup.com to locate something in your area. There are also a good amount of stepmom support groups on Facebook. I wish you the best of luck! :)

  4. Beautiful, Just me. Thanks for sharing!

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