During my 20s, I had a list of criteria for I was looking for in a husband. That list did not include a previously married man. Let alone a man with a child. Let alone a man with two children, by two different women. I don’t believe that is what my husband had in mind for his life either. It’s not that I thought being previously married or having kids was wrong, I just figured I was young enough that the men in my age group hadn’t experienced marriage and/or kids either.
In those young years, I had such a positive outlook on what it would be like to marry my husband and become a stepmom after we became engaged. I believed that if everyone had the kids’ best interests at heart then everything would work out. To my frustration, I learned that optimism would not always carry me through when best intentions went awry. There are times, days, or hours when I wish I could write my pre-married self a letter with some gentle suggestions. It might go something like this:
Before you become a stepmom, you need to understand you may be disliked for no legitimate reason merely because you carry the title of “stepmom.” Remember that stepmothers have been painted as villains for decades (thanks, Disney), if not centuries. Create a support system of other stepmoms who recognize what it is like to be in this role and have them on speed dial. Your friends who have nuclear families will be kind and lend a listening ear, but your fellow stepmoms will cry, rage, and laugh at all the right moments because they just get it. They are invaluable.
You may be disliked based solely on the fact that the father of another woman’s child is now in love with you, though he and the mother have been separated for quite some time. Remember that you cannot ease another person’s feelings of jealously or anger. Be kind. Be brave. Try not to take it personally. You do not need to be liked by everyone on this planet so spend time with those who act like adults and value your friendship.
You are likely to be blamed for things that you had absolutely nothing to do with. You will not convince your future stepchild’s mother of this if she is focused on making you out to be an evil person. Move on. Those who are mentally healthy will remember that there are always two sides to every story and, quite possibly, two truths to each situation. Do not worry about what people think of you if they only believe what they did not hear or see themselves. Your energy is a finite resource. Don’t waste it.
No matter how you try to convey that you are well aware that you are not your future stepchild’s “real” parent to their biological parent, you may still be regarded as a rival. Building a strong and loving relationship with your future stepchild is the important component. Don’t lose sight of this when the crazy-making starts. If a biological mother takes offense to another person loving and caring about her child, remember those are her issues that she needs to work out.
Allow yourself to grieve the loss of your idea of a nuclear family. It is hard to schedule birthday parties, events, vacations, and family pictures around a parenting plan and in between every other activity that is on a typical family calendar. Scheduling issues may be compounded if the custodial parent is more rigid in nature. Mourning the fact that you can’t be a typical family does not make you a bad person or mean that you dislike your stepchild. It simply means you are human. On the upside, you will learn how to be an extremely flexible person, which is a great asset. And don’t put your family plans on hold if you can’t make all the moons align in scheduling events. It’s just not realistic.
Lastly, you will be expected to love and care for this child as if they were born to you. If you do anything less, you will be judged and thrown into that category of “evil stepmother.” Now this is important, Self, so listen up: You will be expected to do all of the things for your stepchild as you do children born to you, but you will not have the same benefits or decision-making authority. This is a hard one. There may be times where you have to stand by and watch decisions being made while the stepchild you love suffers. It sucks something awful. Counterbalance the negativity, smile, and have faith.
You’ve got this girl! Be true to yourself, and don’t worry about what anyone else thinks or says about you. Focus on being an authentic person who builds a unique relationship with your stepchild who needs you. It won’t be easy, but it will make you grow into a stronger, better person.