When I first considered seriously dating the man I now call my husband, I can’t tell you the amount of agonizing thought I put into whether or not I was capable of being a stepmom. The prospect is overwhelming, and if you Google it, you’re likely to see an overabundance of advice, war stories, and counseling resources available to blended families. At the time, I wished there was some sort of guide available, something along the lines of What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Stepchild.
I don’t claim to be an expert, and no one really should. Each stepfamily is different, each child is different, and the dynamics in every relationship are different. But I can offer you a few things that I’ve learned along the way:
1. There Is No Formula for When to Meet the Kids
There will be better times than others, but I think that’s one of the hardest first steps to figure out. How soon is too soon? When has it just gotten weird that you haven’t met them? At some point, it stalls the relationship to have a piece of your partner’s life you’re not allowed to see. The best time to meet the kids, in my opinion, is when you and your partner are both on the same page about where the relationship is and where it’s going—and when you are at least 95% sure you’re ready for the onslaught of emotions that is step-motherhood. (I say 95% because you can never truly know until you’re in it.)
2. Not Every Bio-Mom Is Crazy
Relationships end for a number of reasons. Maybe even some of your exes would call you a little nuts. And you’re sure to find plenty of horror stories online about over-the-top, nut job baby mamas that will make you want to run for the hills. But here’s the rub: They’re probably just women who have been through a life-altering event (their family is broken, and that’s pretty hard) and are handling it the best way they know how. It doesn’t make it right if they exhibit behaviors that are unacceptable; it’s just the fact of the matter.
It is realistic to hope for a civil relationship. The extreme ends of the spectrum (crazy mom vs. your newest BFF) are pretty unlikely. They’ll fall somewhere in the middle, and possibly you’ll see them bounce around the spectrum on occasion. But you shouldn’t go into it assuming she wants to make your life hell.
3. You Are Likely to Experience Jealousy at Some Point
Try not to act out because of it and certainly don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens. While most adults have previous partners and loving relationships before they end up in their current one, not everyone has to deal with a constant reminder of this fact every single day. Memories you’re not a part of will loom everywhere. And if you want to make yourself crazy, you can look at the stepchild like a walking, talking reminder of at the very least a physical love affair that happened before you.
In a non-blended family, it would be insane to have your partner talking to their ex on a constant basis. It would be considered outrageous for them to have any input into your current life. And yet in a blended family, these things are pretty normal. It’s natural for you to rebuke this on some level, and that’s how jealousy crops up. It’s just important to keep honest communication with your partner and not allow yourself to dwell on the reminders.
4. The Kids May Not Like You, Especially Right Away
But on the other hand, maybe they will. You can’t just assume that it’s going to be an insta-family. Try to remember that a stepchild is handling a lot of emotions that they’re probably not equipped to deal with. Their family has changed. They maybe share time between two houses with two different rules, schedules, and atmospheres. And even if they do fall in love with you, you may not ever be “Mom.” It’s a different dynamic, so the best you can do is go into it with an open heart and mind. Your relationship will develop as it may, but if you’re doing the best you can, that’s all that matters.
5. You’re Going to Have to Be the Bigger Person Much More Often Than You’d Like
There will be times when the bio-mom makes you crazy. There will be times when the kids treat you like dirt. There will be opportunities where you can lash out and scream your face off, but the best course of action is to just let it go. Pick your battles and learn to find grace in the positives.
6. You’re Going to Feel Like a Mom Sometimes, But You Aren’t
While there are exceptions to this rule, I’d recommend going in with an understanding that you’re not the mom. If it ends up being the opposite, well, great! But more than likely you’re going to live in some weird hybrid land where you have most of the responsibilities of a mother, but you’re still not the mom. I make breakfasts, I kiss boo-boos, I do laundry, I rearrange my schedule, I do homework, I give hugs on demand, I listen when he’s sad, and I discipline him when he does wrong. But I’m not his mom. I’m his Steppy. And it works.
7. You’re Going to Have to Put Your Partner First Even Though You May Come Second
Hopefully this isn’t all the time, but you need to realize he is juggling a ton of weird dynamics. You and his kids should be his top priorities. But sometimes, the kids are going to come before you. And it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to grate on you. But if you’re putting the relationship first, you’ll forgive him. You’ll support him, and you’ll help him find ways in which everyone wins.
8. You Have to Take Care of You
Whatever that means for you, you need to do it. It would be really easy to lose yourself in the mom/not-mom role and get caught up in all the blended family stuff and soon find yourself without a sense of identity. It happens to bio-moms, too. But with blended family stress, it’s incredibly important to be self-aware. You cannot pour honey from an empty jar. Taking a little “me time” will help to refill your honey jar.
9. Communicate Constantly
You need to have a relationship with your partner that centers around acceptance and communication. He needs to know there will be times you’ll need to vent, and you need to know there will be times he maybe has to make a tough decision. You need to be able to work through those things together. While communication is important in every relationship, I can honestly say it has never, ever been as important in my life as it is now. Help your partner understand what being a stepmom feels like in its darkest hours, so you can celebrate the light together.
Being a stepmom isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. But with tough skin, open arms, and a willing heart, you’ll find that it’s incredibly rewarding too.