Other Mothers: Our Own Worst Enemy

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce
Like the bodies that make the babies, motherhood itself comes in all shapes and sizes. And it really doesn’t matter what kind of mom you are; you’ll end up facing criticism. If you work while parenting, you aren’t there for your kids. If you stay at home, you don’t understand how to balance work and family. If you’re a single mom, you’re depriving your child of a father. If you’re a married mom, you have no idea how hard it is to do it alone. Don’t breastfeed? Don’t tell anyone – you obviously don’t love your child as much as nursing moms. Only have one kid? You can’t possibly call yourself a real parent.

Wanna know what’s worse?

It’s not dads or society doing the finger pointing, blaming, and labeling. It’s other mothers.

Perhaps it’s deeply seated in our own insecurities, but many of the harshest critics of the way we all mother is other mothers. Us. We look at another mom and don’t understand her choices, lifestyle, or parenting methods. And rather than extending her any understanding or even an open mind, we judge, quickly and harshly. Many of the issues over which mothers disagree have no clear cut answers. Every mother does the best she can with the experience and unique understanding of her own child that she has.

I’m guilty of this judging.

As a mother of five, I’ve often joked that you’re not a “real” mom if you only have one child…even though many of the most lovely women and mothers I know and are friends with do only have one child. Honestly, it’s more a reflection of my own jealousy or frustration, because with five kids, we couldn’t afford every event and dance lesson our kids wanted that my friend with only one child always could. Or I was frustrated at one more sibling argument that my friends with only one child would not experience.  Suffer with me! That’s what I wanted.

As a stepmom, I was also quick to pass judgement on other stepmoms who complained more about their situation or blamed their husband for the troubles they had. It took a lot of time talking to other stepmoms (and a little growing up) to realize that my situation was the one that fell outside of the norm, with far less baggage and frustration from bio mom than most had dealth with. And now that I regularly work with stepmoms and talk to them about their experiences, I have been humbled by how many struggles they’ve had to endure but still keep loving with all their heart and soul.

Mothers have a hard job, whether they have one kid or many, work outside the home or in it, breastfeed or don’t, have a partner or don’t. It’s time for all of us (me) to be more understanding and supportive of every mother and how she chooses to raise her kids.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Claim Your Status, Stepmoms!

familyI don’t run into as many problems any more with the older kids out of school, but there was a time when being a stepparent caused annoyance and frustration.There were times when I was unable to speak for my kids, like when teachers called and wanted to speak to a parent, or when the doctor called. I literally wore through the paper I carried with me that Dave signed authorizing me to seek medical treatment for the kids – just in case we ran into some administrative jerk.

It was upsetting when a school administrator or other authoritarian would dismiss my role as inconsequential. These are MY kids!

Although I knew it wasn’t personal, it certainly felt like it in the moment. Sometimes being a stepmom can make you feel a little second rate, especially when you’re the primary caregiver. You don’t have to be helpless, though.

I had to remind myself that regardless of what the birth certificate said that they were my kids and I was not going to stop advocating for them. You do have rights as a stepparent and you should take every step necessary to be recognized as a guardian if that is what your family needs. It’s unfortunate that both biological parents can’t always be around. But that doesn’t mean you or your child deserve to be short-changed. You can still be a first-rate stepmom.

Adjusting to Life in a Blended Family

Probably one of the more notable challenges of living in a blended family is adjusting to the various lifestyles and attitudes each of us bring to the newly formed group. The kids were old enough, when their biological mother left, to remember some differences between her style (everything from clothing to discipline to attitude) and mine. Dave had been a single dad for almost two years and was very independent about everything.  His kids had been, from my perspective, somewhat coddled in the inevitable guilt that follows divorce.

While our differences were probably what made our relationship and marriage so much more successful than the first marriages we each had ended, it also challenged us (and continues to challenge us occasionally, even as the kids are now adults) to some degree particularly with how to handle child-rearing and parenting issues.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

 

Stress-Free Summer: 5 Ways to Manage Disrespectful Stepchildren

Getting Real With Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC

During summer break, it seems like kids get the “green light” to misbehave. For blended families with teenagers, it’s often twice the challenge to parent stepkids along with your own children. Stepchildren often don’t want to listen to their stepmom or stepdad, causing friction in the household. Sibling rivalry and conflict is also common when two families become one.

As a stepparent your role is a bit different from the parent.   Here are a few tips when it comes to disciplining stepkids and having a calm home during the summer break:

 1.       Establish rules. Present rules with the other parent so both your own children and your stepchildren know that they are expected to follow these rules. Say “no” when necessary–take a firm stand if it is in the child’s best interest. Before deciding a rule or how to discipline, discuss with the other parent first.

2.       Pause, breathe, and wait. Don’t immediately respond just because you’re in the heat of the moment. Take the time you need to gather your thoughts, ground yourself, and think about how you’ll handle the situation. Finding the space between your child’s action and your reaction allows you to calm down. Know when to step back and breathe, breathe, breathe at those times.

3.       Question instead of judge. When you are ready to talk (not scream), ask yourself, “What’s going on? How can I communicate in a calm way?” If your stepchild is still upset, say to him, “We’re not going to talk until you calm down. I’m going to give you time to think and we’ll talk later.” This way, both you and your child will have time to cool off and be proactive instead of reactive.

4.       Commit to getting calm. As the parent, it’s your responsibility to lead by example. If you’re calm, all your kids—biological and step—are more likely to calm down. Take charge and promise yourself you’ll no longer let yourself be emotionally pulled into arguments, even when your child is pushing your buttons. You’ll find that having that emotional distance allows you to be more objective and rational.

5.       Create structure. Kids often fight when they are bored and want to get a reaction, because getting that reaction (even if it’s negative) is a way of staying connected to you. Make it a goal to plan time when they are away from each other. Older teens can get a summer job and younger kids can enroll in a sport or camp. If they still argue (and they probably will from time to time), let them work their problems out alone. Simply say, “If you guys are going to fight, you need to do it in another room. I don’t want to hear the noise.” Keep in mind that for older teenagers, both parent and stepparent may need to be more consultants than managers with them.

Be there for your stepkids as a support and for guidance. Be a friend and that will help your stepkids eventually trust you and be willing to be influenced by you. Remember that good relationships take time to develop, so try not to expect instant love. Do, however, expect respect.

It is possible to reduce the stress in your household over the summer. Remember: The only person you have control of is yourself. So, take charge and commit to staying calm. It seems simple, but you will be surprised how kids will react. Calm is contagious, and if parents are calm, kids will soon learn how to better manage their emotions, too.

For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Broken Ornaments Better Than Broken Hearts

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Opening Christmas presents might be what the kids look forward to the most, but it’s decorating the tree together that builds memories that last.

If you celebrate Christmas, it’s likely your kids are already bouncing off the walls with excitement, counting down the days to Christmas morning when they get to tear into their packages. The anticipation is often more exciting than the day itself (which is why our family goes to see a movie on Christmas day now, to give us something to do when all the excitement is over).

Leading up to Christmas, though, is when you can build the most memorable moments with your kids. Whether you put up one tree or you’re crazy enough to do several (like we are) letting the kids help with the decorating can give them lasting memories about the holidays.

This only works, though, if you can chill out about broken ornaments and tree perfection.

Unfortunately, when Dave and I shared our first Christmas together back in 1997 when Derek was 10 and the twins were 7, I wasn’t so good at that. I’d never really been around kids, and suddenly there were three of them underfoot.

While Dave and the kids had always had the tradition of going out and picking the perfect live tree and loading it with Hallmark and homemade ornaments, I had amassed a collection of glass treasures that were carefully placed on a white fake tree every year.

What a collision!

Rather than any of us give up our trees, we did both, one for the living room and one for the family room.

Kira especially wanted so much to help me with the fancy tree…and I’m afraid that first year I was more worried about ornaments breaking than a little girl’s heart. What a jerk I was, worried about some silly glass ball breaking instead of creating special memories.

It took me a couple of years to really chill out and realize that the ornaments could – and would – be easily replaced. Luckily, the kids were quite forgiving, and now, putting up the trees (the first of them starting the weekend of Thanksgiving, then more throughout December) is something we all look forward to sharing.

Read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle or request a review copy.

25 Rules for Being a GOOD StepMom

by Shadra Bruce

I am very lucky to have been involved in the raising of five wonderful children, two of whom are my birth children (an 11-year old son and an 8-year old daughter) and three that I inherited by marrying their father, who retained custody of the children after divorcing their mother. I’ve learned some things on this journey that seem important to share with anyone who is a step mom or is planning to marry into a stepmother role:

1. In the children’s eyes, you are the final and most obvious symbol of their dashed hopes that their parents might someday work things out, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while for them to warm up to you.

2. There cannot be two sets of rules – daddy rules and wicked stepmother rules – you and your spouse should communicate regularly and have a united set of family rules that everyone lives by.

3. Do not try to compete with them-your husband loves you, but he loves them too. Don’t put your spouse in the middle of every tangle.

4. If you cannot open your heart to his children, do not marry him.

5. They are kids, you are the adult – they are supposed to make things difficult, and you are supposed to rise above it.

6. Children need consistency to build trust. Provide it with an open heart and mind.

7. The kids do not go away just because you said I do. They were there before you started dating, and they will always be a part of your life and his.

8. It is ok to demand time for just you and your husband-no kids, whether they are his, hers, or yours.

9. It is normal to feel a little insecure at times about where you stand-sometimes you are the outsider and they’ve had special memories without you, but it’s a sign of a healthy relationship when you can communicate those insecurities to your spouse and he understands and can help make you feel more a part of things (Dave shared old family videos with me so that I knew that the kids were like when they were little).

10. You have the right to be treated with respect, and your spouse should demand it of his children (he can’t make them love you, call you mom, or forge a friendship, but he can demand that they behave properly).

11. Be nice to the ex-wife. Period.

12. Never, ever, ever say anything disparaging about the children’s mother if there is even a remote possibility they will hear it-from you or anyone else.

13. If you and the new spouse have children, don’t forget that no matter how you feel about your step kids, your children will love them because they are siblings and will not want them treated poorly or differently.

14. Grin and bear shared holidays and birthdays-all the kids deserve to be with their families.

15. They don’t have to call you “mom” to have a parent-child relationship with you. It’s not the word that is important!

16. Be flexible. Realize that your husband has to balance many roles, and he needs your support and love, not criticism and manipulation.

17. Never, ever discuss child support, custody issues, or legal issues in front of the kids.

18. Give the kids time to get to know you BEFORE you get married-and give yourself time to get to know them.

19. Don’t berate your spouse in front his children. (This actually applies to your biological children equally as well).

20. Be prepared for tumultuous times-the children may try to test you, push you, find your boundaries. Be firm, pick your battles wisely, and remember that they ARE kids who are trying to find they’re way through an awkward situation they never asked for.

21. Biology does not make her a better mother than you, but children will only learn that over time, and only if you let them.

22. Children only want to please. If you just care and love and pay attention, they will respond and fill your heart.

23. If something does go wrong, don’t bury it-talk about it, with your spouse, with the kids. You’re a family, regardless of biology, so act like one.

24. Divorce is a life-altering moment for most children, and there will be issues of insecurity and fear that arise. Be there if they want to talk, reassure them that ALL of their parents love them, and help them work through their feelings.

25. Biology is only one way to be a mom. Tucking a kid into bed every night, being there for every success and failure along the way, holding their hair out of the way when they throw up-those things count, too whether or not you gave birth.

I have been raising my stepchildren for over half their lives now, and other than making the distinction for the sake of this article, I do not ever refer to them as “steps.” They’re just my kids, just as much as my birth children, and I’m grateful to have them in my life.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.