Any stepmom will tell you that walking in her shoes is not for the faint of heart, whether she has her own children or has the dreaded “Childless Stepmom” label (that’s another post all together), if she’s a new stepmom or has been pouring into the lives of her stepchildren for years. No matter where she may be in her journey, the consensus is the same: it ain’t easy. I can tell you from my own experience as a stepmom of two boys that it is not an easy life. Hardly anyone chooses this position, rather, it chooses them.
While, for me, the rewards that come with sharing in the responsibility of raising children in a blended family environment outweigh the struggle, the difficulties of this type of life are varied and aren’t always rooted in negativity. Parenting and marriage are hard no matter your family dynamic. Add to that the need to co-parent from two different homes and establish rules, routines, traditions, etc… Like I said, it ain’t for the faint of heart.
When I married a man with two children I was joining a family that was already established. The boys had a dad, mom, and stepdad already. Finding my footing in this dynamic was difficult. I didn’t know where I fit or what my boundaries were, so I established a few of my own right out of the gate. Now, I should probably qualify the rest of this by telling you that I do not have children of my own and came into a situation setting boundaries with the boys’ bio-mom right off the bat with no experience. I do not need to tell you how that turned out! Future interactions with her and the boys were stressful and all of the drama that you might expect from two women trying to love and raise the same children was underway.
As women, I think we are naturally territorial and have an innate need to protect what’s ours, or what we perceive to be ours. We like structure and we do not like anyone outside of our home having a say in how we will live our lives. It’s just how we are built. It’s why you hear horror stories about mother-in-laws, ex-wives, and new wives constantly. Movies, articles and blogs (like this one) have been made about these things. There are entire online communities dedicated to dealing with these types of relationships. Sadly, it’s become a normal part of modern culture.
I spent the first few years of my marriage reading article after article, blog after blog looking for a way to re-engineer my relationship with the boys’ mom and still have total control. While I did come across many incredible blogs, my favorite being The Childless Stepmom, I didn’t find a way to get my way completely, but I would like to share with you what I feel was the best strategy for our family. I need to warn you that it may not be what you want to hear, however it could be just the thing that ends the drama for good.
1. Ask yourself “Am I putting the needs of the kids first or am I pushing for my own comfort?”
Many times, the drama between homes can become so intense that one very important factor is totally lost in an effort to “win”: THE KIDS!
At one point in the course of trying to figure this out, I was so caught up in getting my own way that I failed to notice how nervous the boys were around me and when it was necessary for their mom and I to be in the same room, their behavior changed significantly. My right to run my home the way I wanted was damaging two little lives that did not sign up for this. Any damage caused would be on me. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
What is most important to understand about this is that the perception that kids aren’t paying attention or that they are resilient and won’t remember is 100% wrong. I came from a blended family myself and I can tell you that I wasn’t all that resilient and I remember almost every fight or power struggle and the damage of that was not evident until early adulthood.
Bottom line: Your kids are wondering how you feel about them as their step-parent. Do they see that you are working to put their needs first or are they probably feeling a sense of rejection because the only thing evident is your need to prove their mom wrong at all costs?
2. Actually do what Bio-Mom is asking you to do.
Ok, now don’t shoot the messenger here, just hear me out. I’m not saying meet every demand and just roll out the doormat. I’m under no illusion that there aren’t women out there that have no interest in a cohesive relationship and want nothing more than to control every aspect of what goes on in their ex-husband’s home. That type of situation calls for strict boundaries and lots of therapy.
What I’m suggesting is if bio-mom just wants to check out the place her kids are going to be staying, let her see it. If she wants to meet your mom before the kids hang out with her, let her do it. She very well may be just trying to be difficult, but it may open the door for a better relationship if she sees that you’re willing to try. In my particular situation, the boys’ mom just wanted to know that they were being taken care of. She’s their mom! And she was sending her kids to a woman she barely knew every other weekend and being expected to just mind her own business. It was unreasonable of me to expect that she wouldn’t want to be reassured.
Bottom line: The road to a peaceful relationship has to start somewhere and if you want it, it’s your responsibility. To stack this on the first strategy, your kids will only benefit from the peace.
3. Be her friend
Half of you may just stop reading right here because the very idea of this already has your blood boiling and saying “Hell NAW”. That’s ok. I get that and I do understand that this solution is not ideal for everyone. After all, it takes two willing individuals who lay aside their own desires and agendas to cultivate this type of relationship. Just don’t let it be YOU who isn’t willing. Your kids will not forget who kept the family from peace over the course of their childhood. I don’t think that’s what anyone wants for their family because it guarantees that the nightmare never ends.
More than that, if you love your kids why wouldn’t you want to know the person with whom they share half of their DNA? She makes them who they are! Also, you both married the same man so you must have SOMETHING in common. I can remember watching certain shows or wearing certain things and the boys would tell me that their mom watched that show or had the same shirt. It became obvious to me that in any other circumstance, I could very well have been friends with this woman.
I’m not going to tell you getting here was easy, but today I count her as one of my very best friends, speak to her daily and actually miss her if we haven’t had time to chat for a while. We still have situations that we don’t agree on, but all parents do. The key to it is that we don’t get upset and that we respect one another. Most importantly, we keep our common goal at the forefront: Our Boys. The drama has ceased and the boys have thrived because of our friendship and that is the greatest reward.
Bottom line: Keep an open mind and an open heart. Consider how your kids might benefit from seeing the two of you respecting one another and working together instead of trying to win some invisible prize. What do you really win by being right anyway?