Are you a stepmother? Or, perhaps you identify better with the term, “step monster.” Well, if you are, don’t dismay, there is hope! You can have a successful and fulfilling life, even in this difficult and unappreciated role.
There are no expectations quite so unfulfilled as those of the stepmother. When a woman falls in love with a man with children, she begins her journey hopeful, loving her relationship with the children, finding them enjoyable and adorable. When first married, she plunges into her role as the woman of the house, fully assuming that the transition will be seamless. She may begin to read books about what it means to be a stepmother. Many books suggest patience. She plows ahead as if she knows what she’s doing, acting like a “real” ‘mom most of time, while explaining to others that she “doesn’t try to take the place of the kids’ mother.” Eventually, her patience runs thin.
Over time reality sets in. In the home a stepmother is both expected to be a parent, one who is responsible for nurturing the family and organizing the household, and at the same time is resented for taking on this position with the children. This double-bind position is miserable. After a few arduous years of trying to make it work, she finally realizes that her job was much harder than anticipated and that her efforts are mainly fruitless.
No one really understands how hard it is to be a stepmother unless they’ve done it themselves. On the one hand you are a parent, and on the other hand, you aren’t. Stepmother relationships are usually harder than stepfather relationships. Children tend to like stepfathers and resent stepmothers. This is almost unavoidable.
Because of this, stepmothers tend to feel lonely and rejected. They are safe targets and scapegoats for the children. While children may be really angry with their bio-parents, they usually focus their anger on the stepmother. No matter how much she tries, she will be found lacking.
Other women will never understand the stepmother dynamic unless they experience it themselves. Because of this, a stepmother really lives in a lonely place. Many people assume everything is the same in stepfamilies as they are in non-stepfamilies; or, equally misguided, others may discount the fact that stepmothers are even parents at all! Either one of these positions is inaccurate.
In addition to this, there is also the ex to contend with. This adds another stressful dimension to the already complicated system. Ex-wives and bio-mothers naturally resent stepmothers (and vice versa.) An ex brings drama and financial burdens to the stepfamily, adding even more difficulties to the stepmother’s reality.
A stepmother’s job is not one for the weak or the weary. It requires tenacity, inner-strength, grit, determination, and heart. The best way for a stepmother to navigate her role is to focus on her own attitudes and behaviors, find fulfillment outside of her relationships with her stepchildren, and nurture the relationship with her husband.
If you are a stepmother or about to be one, here is some sound advice to keep in your back pocket:
- Learn to love without strings
- Understand that you will be resented, dismissed, and/or betrayed by your stepchildren.
- Treat your stepchildren like your own children, but realize that the parenting rules are completely different with your own children than with your stepchildren.
- Do not force yourself to feel the same toward your stepchildren as you do toward your bio-children. The relationships are different.
- Never personalize your stepchildren’s behavior (I know, it’s ALL personal.)
- Do not take full responsibility for the success of your relationships with your stepchildren.
- Do not get your hopes tied up in an outcome.
- Do not take your own issues out on your stepchildren. If you find yourself being reactive, step back and work on whatever is being triggered inside of you.
- Learn to make friends with the ex.
- Let go of anger.
- Practice self-care.
- Allow your husband to make mistakes as a parent.
- Realize that your emotions and point of view matter in the family.
- Realize that you deserve to be treated with respect.
- Have a sense of humor.
- Look at what you can be grateful for each day.
- Hold on to your own principles as a woman of integrity.
- Do not allow yourself to be manipulated.
- Keep your power.
I do not want to end this article with the impression that being a stepmother is horrible and unrewarding because it is not. Being a stepmother is an honor and a gift. While it may be one of the hardest jobs you’ve ever had to do, you can rest in the knowledge that you are using your life for good.
Remember that stepfamilies are created out of loss and grief. Understanding this can help you realize your job is to bring healing to hurting people. You are a role model and a support system. You can be a steady and safe presence. Take each difficult situation as a separate challenge and be a problem solver. Figure out how to create happy memories for your family and hold on loosely – to both people and outcomes. Over time your relationship with your stepchildren will mature and you will be a stronger, wiser, and more content person.
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