I never imagined my life would include me being a stepparent. Never. If you would’ve told me I’d be sharing vacations, Christmas’s, and parenting styles while raising a child other than my own, I would have told you you’ve lost it.
In fact, quite the opposite was my expectation. It would look something like this: I’d meet a wonderful man at the age of 23, get married in lavish ceremony, and have my first son or daughter two years later. The world taught me from a young age that family was a mom and a dad and their happy children with a white picket fence, BBQ’s on the weekends, and holiday traditions.
Funny how life throws curve-balls at you. As a person who went through every emotion in the book when I met my now husband, who had a four year old at the time, I can speak to the challenges that come along with being a step mom.
Here are 5 simple steps to help you in the unexpected journey to being a smarter stepparent:
#1. STAY IN YOUR LANE.
We all have the desire to pass on our knowledge and to raise our children in the way we want. When you become a stepparent, the first thing to recognize is the authority and position of mom and dad. They are the parents of this child and have the responsibility of making the important choices that go along with that, not you (at least at first).
As difficult as it can be, at first it will benefit you to be a patient observer in this new family situation. Don’t be too quick to pass judgment, discipline, or interject your own styles of doing things. In time, these things can be slowly introduced as the family, and the other parent especially, gets to know you and trust you.
This was a tough pill to swallow for me. I found myself wanting to “jump right in” and interject my own ways of doing things. But at the end of the day, it was much smarter for me to allow my stepson’s mom and dad to handle the difficult logistics, schedule discussions, and conflicts that arose.
I was of course supportive and empathetic towards my husband during this time, and soon found my voice to speak up when it mattered, but waiting to find my place was the BEST DECISION I could have made. It allowed trust and respect to be built towards me, and also helped break down the stereotypes associated with my “stepmom” title.
#2 ALLOW YOURSELF TO GRIEVE.
You’re going to feel sad. I know I was. I had a vision of what my family would look like, and that was just not reality anymore. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would never be the first “mother of his children.” And yeah, it really hurt. Badly.
All of the expectations that come along with that I had to slowly grieve. And just like losing a loved one, it came and went, at times being almost unbearable. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I was angry that I had to deal with this. I handled this by being open with my husband, and made sure to keep my expressions to him about my own feelings. I tried to not respond with passive aggressiveness, crassness, bitterness, or resentment. THESE TYPES OF STATEMENTS DON’T WORK AND WILL DAMAGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP.
Instead of expressing your feelings in this way, work on communicating effectively with your partner, as this is one aspect you can control. Own your feelings, express them in a way that is healthy, and work on changing negative assumptions and perceptions.
#3 BECOME A FRIEND.
At first, the best advice I received from other stepmoms was to get on the child’s level and empathize with their feelings, even if it can be hard for you to hear. Most likely they are experiencing some confusing emotions: grief, sadness, abandonment, anger, and hurt to name a few. If a child sees you as someone they can talk to, someone who listens and understands their feelings, you will develop a stronger relationship with them.
#4 REMEMBER ITS NOT A CONTEST.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am incredibly competitive. I love winning and being the best. Well guess what, when you become a stepparent, there is no “being the best” or “winning.” It’s not us versus them, even though it can seem like it. I found myself early on comparing our family to his mom’s side of the family. I felt very much like an outsider and that I had so many old traditions and memories to combat against.
It’s very normal to feel this, and it can be hard to break your own thoughts of comparison. What can you do? Own the time you have with your stepchild as the time you have control over. You can make this time whatever you want. I found if I focused on what I could control, I was less concerned about what “the other side of the family” was doing.
#5 TAKE THE SHORT END OF THE STICK SOMETIMES.
The hardest day for me in the beginning was always Mother’s Day. It was a reminder that, yes, in fact, I am not my stepson’s mom, even though I take care of him half the time. I wake him up for school, tuck him in a night, make sure he’s brushed his teeth, driven him to school, worked on homework for hours with him, and all of the other endless things that come along with being a mom.
On the day where it feels like you should get some well deserved recognition and praise, many times there was none of that. I came to realize that sometimes, this sacrifice is necessary and in the best interest of the child.
Children with multiple parents often times find themselves in a loyalty conflict between the households, and children are relentlessly loyal to their biological parents, and are conditioned to do so. Loyalty is not unconditional with stepparents; it has to be earned. By taking the short end of the stick, you don’t put your stepchildren in a place of having to choose or feel disloyal to their biological parents, which can end up creating emotional strain and stress.
Obviously, this will just push you further away from the family, making you feel MORE like an outsider. Even though this can be extremely difficult, it will make you a better stepparent at the end of the day. On Mothers day, my stepson honors his mother as he should, and my husband makes sure to do something nice for me to make sure I feel appreciated.
The role of a stepparent is one of the most challenges positions to be in, but also the most rewarding. With these tips, we hope your experience as a “stepparent” will be easier to cope with. You can do this!
If you are still finding yourself struggling in this new role/transition and want further guidance than call Life Counseling Solutions today at 407-622-1770. Or schedule your first appointment online here.
About the Author: Lauren’s mission is to help individuals, couples, and children become the most genuine, happy, and fulfilled versions of themselves. She also specializes in counseling children experiencing loss, divorce, blending of families, and low self-esteem. As a step mom and wife, Lauren finds that from her own experiences she has grown to understand the challenges associated with changing families and wants to assist other families, couples, and children. See Lauren’s full bio.