I have been an official stepmom for seven years this month and let me tell you – it is hard. People say parenting is hard in general, but parenting my “ours” children is one-thousand times simpler than navigating the life of step-parenting. I don’t mean the struggle isn’t worth it, or that I would change being a part of my bonus son’s life for the world, but it’s just the simple truth that it’s not easy. Here are some of the reasons why from a stepmom’s perspective.
You are not perfect but you’re supposed to be.
When it comes to parenting, everyone readily accepts that parents are going to make mistakes. We have emotions, we have bad days, and, simply put, we are human. But as a step-parent, when you show off your human side, you will never hear the end of it. Your bonus child lets their other parent know, they get upset, your spouse gets upset, and it seems like the whole world judges. If you become super involved, you are overstepping, and if you back off, you’re not loving your bonus child. I’ve come to accept the fact that I am just never going to win, and the only thing I can do is just do the best I can. Yes, I am going to make mistakes, so I apologize. I apologize to my bonus son, and I apologize to my spouse…I have even *gasp* apologize to my husband’s ex at times. This doesn’t make things right all the time or fix feelings, but it’s the only thing you can do sometimes.
Your spouse won’t always take your side.
Through thick and thin, your spouse is supposed to have your back, right? Well in this situation, you could be wrong. Not only are they trying their hardest to navigate your marriage, they still have to navigate maintaining some kind of relationship with their ex because that is the right thing to do for the child. It’s not an easy pill to swallow to realize that your husband’s ex is ALWAYS going to come up at major milestones within your family, but try to imagine how your spouse feels. When any relationship ends you want it to just be over, but for them, it can’t be. They have to navigate multiple people, multiple households, multiple emotions…I mean honestly, it has to be exhausting. So allow for some grace, and realize that there are going to be times that they have to do what is best for the future, not what is best for your immediate feelings.
Sometimes you are just “the help”.
For most kids, you have to remember that they already have a Mom. While it doesn’t mean that your role isn’t important and that you don’t hold a special place in their heart, it does mean that you don’t have to be “their person”. Sometimes being involved means taking a step back and just being there for them. Be an ear they can talk to; be the person they can have fun with; be the person who teaches them things. You are a bonus in their life, just as much as they are a bonus in your life. So be ok realizing you are not Mom, you are the help. This has taken me YEARS to accept. My bonus son calls me Mom, but I am not THE Mom. I think it was hard for me to accept because my stepmom is the only Mom I’ve ever really known, but our situations are very different. Being “the help” isn’t bad, it isn’t negative, and it doesn’t make you any less significant in their life; all it means is that the role you play is different for them.
You don’t always need to be involved.
For the longest time, we thought that the best thing would be for me to be involved in EVERYTHING. That meant I was at every pickup and drop off, each appointment, and all of the events. Guess what? It wasn’t! It not only was hard on our relationship, but it also made his ex feel uncomfortable and therefore made my bonus son uncomfortable. It was also very detrimental to our “ours” children. They felt like everything revolved around our bonus son and they weren’t as special because they only had one home. So now I don’t come to everything. When she comes to pick up my bonus son, the other kids and I do something special just for us. This doesn’t mean I’m not kept in the loop, or that I am an outsider, it just means that I don’t need to be there. I trust my spouse has a handle, and if me taking a step back can help diffuse things, then that is what I am going to do.
I am incredibly grateful to have my bonus son in my life. When I married my husband, it automatically made me a mother in some fashion or another. Over the years, I have learned to navigate being a stepmom through growth and maturity. I’m still not perfect and neither is my husband nor his ex. But the truth is, this isn’t easy for any adult in the situation and it’s not easy for the child either. Our relationships will continue to adapt throughout the years, but it’s important that you allow that to happen. Just as parenting isn’t easy, stepparenting definitely is not either!