(These are excerpts from an article that was originally published in the July 2011 issue of Stepmom Magazine)
Stepmoms often feel very alone in their journey, but they’re not. Here are some common thoughts and emotions that stepmoms experience.
1. I FEEL LIKE AN OUTSIDER IN MY OWN HOME:
This is one of the worst feelings for new stepmoms. You’re supposed to feel safe and secure in your home. It’s the one place you can go to be yourself and get relief from the rest of the world. But when you’re living with children you don’t know very well, it’s hard to feel comfortable. All the rules change when they’re around.
The degree you will feel like an outsider largely depends on the age of the children and their personalities. But it can feel like the kids and their dad are in a gang and you’re the new kid—the outsider they haven’t invited into their inner circle yet.
You watch as they laugh about a memory that was before your time. Your stomach is in knots as they say goodnight to their dad and ignore you, even though you’re sitting right beside him. none of this is intentional, but that knowledge doesn’t ease the pain. You’re not quite sure where you fit in.
Don’t take it personally. Yes, much easier said than done. But keep in mind that it can take several years before a stepfamily starts to function like a cohesive unit. I know that’s a long time to wait to feel comfortable, so create your own family ritual as a way to slowly bond with the children. Make sure it’s something that’s fun for everyone. this is a great way to ease that outsider feeling and help the kids be more at ease with you as well.
Be cautious. Don’t try to force a relationship with the children. It’s a lot of pressure on everyone to feel they have to instantly get along. It takes time to build trust and adjust to new living arrangements, rules and responsibilities. So try not to rush the kids.
Also, try to carve out an area of your home that is all yours. My husband was thoughtful enough to suggest this, and I’m happy he did! I have an alcove off our living room. We call it the “J Café.” there’s a sofa, bookshelf, lamp and a coffee table—and it’s all mine. It’s my no Kids zone.
2. UM…I BARELY LIKE MY STEPKIDS, MUCH LESS LOVE THEM:
Some stepmoms absolutely love their stepchildren from the day they meet them. This is more common if you’ve been in your stepchildren’s lives from a very early age. But many stepmoms find themselves joining their stepfamily when the kids are almost teenagers. I dare say it’s an almost impossible task to instantly love a teenager.
A big misconception and dangerous expectation for stepmoms is that they will love their stepchildren. Just as you didn’t get to choose your husband’s ex-wife, you didn’t get to choose his kids either. Getting to know them can be an agonizingly slow process.
Let yourself off the hook and do the kids a favor. Don’t have any expectations about how you should feel about them. or about how they should feel about you. Don’t get down on yourself because you don’t have loving feelings for them. It can take years to form a connection with or an attachment to your stepchildren. And for some stepmothers, it never happens. That’s OK, too. It doesn’t mean you can’t care for or nurture them. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or them. It just means you’re normal.
3. MY HUSBAND AND I HAVE A GREAT RELATIONSHIP EXCEPT WE HAVE COMPLETELY OPPOSITE PARENTING STYLES:
You cringe as you see your stepchildren manipulate the heck out of their dad. Is this really the same man you fell head over heals for?
It’s common to feel conflicted about having a different parenting style than your spouse. You’re not exactly sure when to speak up and when to hold your tongue. And you know he can get very defensive. The tricky part about stepparenting is the reality that ultimately they aren’t your kids, so where do you come in?
You have a right to be comfortable in your home, yet you can’t make all the rules. This is a conversation for you to have with your partner. How involved does he want you? What are you comfortable with? How old are the children?
A lot of factors go into deciding what kind of parenting or disciplinarian role you’ll have. Remember that experts agree a stepparent should not discipline a stepchild until there is a bond formed and trust has been built. Otherwise, the child won’t be receptive to the discipline and the stepmom-stepchild relationship could be damaged for years to come.
If your stepchild is displaying a behavior you’re not comfortable with, discuss it with your husband and let him address the child.
Stay behind the scenes until you have formed a connection with the child.
Compromise is a necessity. There will be things that you and your husband will each have to bend on. To come to these agreements, have a win-win mentality as opposed to one where you feel you’re always right and he’s always wrong.
(Stay tuned for part two next week!)
© 2011 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
(Photo credit:David Castillo Dominici)
- Why Owning Your Own Crap Empowers You, Instead of Takes You Down
- The Top 10 Best Things About Being a Stepmom
- Apologizing 101
(New here? Join our no-cost, private member’s community for some unique tools and hands-on support. Subscribe to our RSS Feed or via email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter and check out excerpts from our book or audio book.)