It seems like there are more and more blended families. I grew up in a blended family with one half-sister, two half-brothers and three step brothers. My family growing up wasn’t perfect, but whose family was? My husband has two kids – a 11 year old daughter and a 7 year old son. In the beginning, it was very confusing for me. I am a person that needs clarity around my role and purpose and it was very unclear at first. Fellow stepmoms can relate. I was becoming a part of a family that had so much history and so many memories that I was not a part of. That intimidated me at first, but over time I developed an understanding and an appreciation for it. In my case, I did not have any kids of my own, so I was coming into a situation where I knew NOTHING about parenting. I mean… I babysat for a few kids back in high school. Does that count? Coming in midstream like this stepmama, I was royally confused. I am supposed to know what to do? Do people expect me to know what to do? Am I setting a good example? Should I be doing more? Am I doing it right? Plus like ten thousand other questions. My husband (before we got married) was incredibly supportive and shared with me that he did not expect anything from me. That gave me some space to process and find my way. Eventually, you catch up enough to have some level of parenting confidence.
So here are the things I love about being a stepmom. I’m not sure how these are similar or different from being a “real mom”, but here are my thoughts…
You can create the stepmom that you want to be. For me, once I gained my parenting confidence, I was able to shape my stepmom brand as fun, passionate, dedicated and trustworthy. Goofiness runs deep in my veins, so of course I am goofy with the kids. Often I try to make them laugh (sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t). It was important to me that the kids see how passionate and dedicated I was about certain things like running, health and my relationship with their father.
You can be a trusted adviser and friend. I’ll never forget when our daughter came home several months ago and opened up to me about something personal. I realized after she told me “don’t say anything, not even to dad” that I was the only adult that knew of this story. I kept her secret for real! Later, she shared the story with her dad and I could sense her appreciation that I kept my promise.
Your relationship is what you make it. The relationship you have with your step kids is what it is because you both choose what you want it to be. They don’t have to like me or love me, but I am incredibly grateful that they do and there is something beautiful in that. I enjoy spending time with them together and individually and that has helped us to deepen our relationship.
Let your partner and kids shape your role in the family. I didn’t understand this at first and I really struggled with needing clarity of my role in the family. Honestly, there just wasn’t any and I needed direction. Looking at my strengths and passions helped guide me, but really understanding what my husband the kids appreciated about me and relied on me for helped me to find it. In my situation, my role started to form as a co-parent to my husband with helping to run the kids around (pick-ups, drop-offs), preparing dinner, helping to keep tabs on homework and projects and motivating the family to pursue the things important to them.
For all you stepmoms out there, keep your chin up and I’m sure you will find your mojo. You need to work with your partner to help you through this journey. Thankfully, I have an amazing partner and he provided me so much support through my journey. My advice is that building a relationship with your step kids takes time and demands your patience. You shouldn’t expect your step kids or the kids of your partner to immediately accept you. Keep an open mind and invest in getting to know them. You should be transparent about who you are and when the time is right, your relationship with your partner. Allow the kids to ask questions and be prepared to give honest and appropriate answers. They need to have space and freedom to express their feelings and ask questions. Sometimes their thoughts and feelings may be hard to hear, but it is so so so important to allow them to speak their mind and embrace those feelings. I know this might feel uncomfortable for you, but it is the best thing for them and long-term the best thing for you.
Best of luck in navigating your journey!