Contrary to the extremely popular myth that stepmothers are evil, there are quite a number of great ones out there. The smart ones. The ones who don’t try to replace the biological mother nor insist that the children call her mom. The ones who prepared to handle the complexities of step-family life. The ones who discover the things they can control and let go of the things they cannot. I could go on and on but that’s an article for another day. Am pretty sure you know one, a good friend of yours, your sister or may be even your mother. These step-moms always look like they have it together. They are happy and cheerful most times, giving you all manner of stories about their family, their spouse, their children and their family life in general. Listening to them am sure you have found yourself saying “You are so strong. I have no idea how you do it, if I were in your shoes, I would not be able to handle this with the courage, grace, dedication and commitment that you have.” If you are a step-mom you have probably heard this a million times from your friends and family. I know I have.
However, the truth is that there is really no such thing as a perfect step-mom. They may seem perfect from the outside but the truth is they struggle. Everyday, they struggle with the tiniest of things that ordinary families just don’t have to deal with. They constantly choose to rise every time they fall and believe me falls are in plenty in step relations especially for a family that’s just starting out. It eventually eases with time but with step-families every unique stage in family life especially for those that are centered around the children has the potential to generate memories of loss, new feelings of inadequacy or guilt, fear and other insecurities. All of which, if not handled properly can easily escalate to conflict for the couple and the children.
For those who are already stepmothers with several months or years under their belt, you will definitely understand what I have to say next since you have been through it. However if you are new to this or are dating a man with children and planning on settling down then this is for you. Unfortunately there are no models or manuals and your girlfriends will definitely not throw you a stepmother shower so here are some of the experiences all stepmothers go through that you are bound to experience yourself. This is to prepare you for the journey to come, to comfort you during any one of these moments and to give you courage and strength to keep going but more importantly to let you know you are not alone.
You will cry …. a lot
The dynamics of step-families are so different from those in original families. If they are not handled properly they have the power to turn into conflict causing you much stress in your relationships both with the children and with your spouse. Between meeting the children, meeting your ex-in-law, embracing your identity crisis and adjusting to suspicion, resentment, rejection and biological parent loyalties you will have plenty of moments to cry your eyes out. There is nothing wrong with that, its a good, healthy way to release your feelings. However, after you wipe your tears you will have to take action in order to change your situation. Start by setting the right expectations. Step-families take time to bond and become one, for everyone to be comfortable with everyone. You are not the only one adjusting and not all the members will adjust at the same time. The adults tend to adjust much faster while the children are usually way behind. Do not ignore this fact. Learn how to deal with with all the dynamics. Equip yourself with right knowledge and apply this in your situation and slowly by slowly, step by step, day by day you will learn how to deal and live with it all. It will take time and lots of time so be patient.
You will doubt yourself
It is not surprising for stepmothers to question their abilities, their position and their success even when there are signs all around them that they are doing something well or at the very least they are on the right track. You will find yourself asking “Why did my partner pick me? who am I to raise and love someone else’s children? what authority do I have to parent yet I have never had children of my own? who am I to have a strong successful family? Can I really do this? what in the world did I get myself into?
These doubts will always creep in every once in a while. They can be your own internal thoughts or negative ones from people around you. Honore de Balzac said “When you doubt your power, you give power to your doubt.” During these moments you will have to ground yourself. Don’t focus on past experiences and comments from other people. Surround yourself with people believe in you. Those who know you for who you truly are and remind you when you forget. Balance the negative by writing down 5-10 positive things about yourself and finally, take a break. If you are feeling overwhelmed and feel like things are not going so well, take some time away from that situation and focus on something totally different. Sometimes shifting your focus away from what you are stuck on helps you take a new perspective when you come back to it.
You will wish you could run away
Many stepmothers occasionally wish they were not in the situation that they are in, more so during the tough times. This is totally natural for us humans to do when things don’t go as we have planned. The Israelites did it when they were stuck in the dessert for 40 years before finding their way to Canaan. They were convinced that slavery was better. There are times you will feel stuck. You will have no idea which direction to go and your past will seem more attractive than your present. During this time its important to remind yourself of the big picture. Your promised land. The reason why you do what you do day in day out with dedication. That will help you refocus your energies positively.
You will be lonely
You will feel like a total outsider in your own home. This is mainly because you have to fit in to a ready made family with its own history and traditions formed way before you came into the picture. Before you fully adjust to this accommodating old family traditions and developing new ones it will be easy to feel like the stranger in the family. Don’t despair, you can overcome these feelings. It will be important for your partner to help integrate you in the family. Changes like moving to a new house will help everyone get a sense of a new beginning for the new family since its neutral. Allow your partner to spend time alone with their children. What this says to them is that you are not stealing their dad away from them which will make them view you less as a threat and more as a friend. Take baby steps. Rome was not built in a day and neither was a successful step-family. Take it slow, let the children guide your pace. During those lonely moments, call up your girlfriends. Time spent laughing or crying with your friends helps restore and rejuvenate you.
You will overcome
Its not all doom and gloom. Despite the challenges, if you are set on succeeding and do everything in your power to achieve it, you will reap the rewards. Like I said, there are many great stepmothers out there, they went through the same ups and downs and succeeded. The only difference between those to make it to the other side and those who give up and quit, is perseverance. Only those who stick with it, those who are committed to the process are victorious. Ensure that you always have the proper perspective. Equip yourself with knowledge about step-family life whether its through reading or coaching and apply the strategies and tools you learn in your own circumstance. Then and only then will you have solid foundation on which you can build the kind of family you desire. One day you will look back and say it was well worth it.
Happy Hump Day!