The Challenges of Being a Stepparent

Getting Real With +Shadra Bruce, Owner of +MomsGetReal

Parenting, as rewarding as it is, can be a tough job. There are a lot of demands and pressures that go with raising kids, but they are often offset by the enormous fulfillment that comes from raising children.

Stepparenting is even harder.

Stepparents often do all the things parents do – providing emotional and financial support for the kids, participating in and encouraging the child’s success, and putting their own needs aside to meet those of the children. You do the work of a parent, in most cases, either full time or part time, but get none of the recognition. You raise the children, love the children, financially support the children, and guide them through life, mostly from an unseen and under-appreciated place. Stepparents do not even get a line on the family tree!

It’s not about recognition, of course, but it’s never easy to make efforts that are not recognized or appreciated. It’s no surprise that some stepparents end up feeling as though the efforts are not worth it. More than once I’ve worked with a stepmom who is so overwhelmed by playing the role of mom while being treated like the unwelcome intruder that she is ready to give up. It’s really, really hard to be still in the building phase of a new marriage while having extra people to care for whose needs and wants are complicated by their insecurity about the changes that are happening in their lives.

 No wonder so many end up divorcing again. Stepparenting is HARD.

There are no easy answers. Successful blended families happen because the biological parent supports the stepparent, because the adults act like adults, because the families embrace open communication and mutual respect, because of deep commitment and a willingness to persist, and because of luck. Most of all, though, successful stepparenting comes from being willing to put your heart out there, even when it might get stomped on a bit.

It’s Not Always Easy Being a StepMom

First Mother's Day with my new family

I often write about being a stepmom from the point of view I have now. Right now, I have three step kids, ages 20, 20, and 24. Right now, I am the only mom in their life and we consider ourselves an integral and closely connected family. Right now, I don’t even think of them as step kids but as my own, children I love and cherish as much as the two I gave birth to. And truly, after almost 15 years together, we’ve made it through the rough stuff.  I have legal guardianship of Kyle, who has Down syndrome, and I’m working to legally adopt Kira at her request. While Derek is on his own, in the military, and far away in Japan, he chooses to spend all of his leave time with us, wherever we happen to be. That’s right now. Sounds pretty idyllic, doesn’t it?

It was not always that way. We have had our share of frustrations and growing pains to get to this point. In fact, there were times when I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to make the whole step mom thing work. It’s not easy, and it takes a huge commitment that will make you at times question your sanity.

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