I never wanted to be a step-mom.
Perhaps more accurately, the possibility never crossed my mind. I wonder if it does for anyone.
I met my husband when I was 23 and fresh out of college. I didn’t really know what I wanted in life (or who I was, for that matter). I figured I’d get married and have kids someday—that was about as far as my plans went.
Looking back, sometimes I think he was crazy for asking me out. He was established in his career and had been married and divorced with a soon-to-be-five-year-old daughter. I’d graduated six months prior and was in my first job, figuring out how to function in the adult world, where I was now responsible for rent and paying my own bills.
We lived on different planets.
Somehow it worked; we got married three years later. I figured I could handle the step-mom thing. How hard could it be?
I laugh at my younger self’s naïveté (in a nice way—she had no idea what she was getting herself into).
If I could go back and impart some wisdom (or at least a few thoughts to help a future step-parent avoid the worst potholes), here’s what I’d share:
1. You may feel like you’re coming in second.
I hadn’t had kids before; I didn’t understand how they change priorities and dynamics. All I knew was that the more time we spent together, the more I felt like I was competing with my step-daughter for attention. I felt resentful (yeah, not my proudest moment). Once we added two more kids to the family, I got how kids change things. I intensely loved these new family members; however, it wasn’t “more” or “better” than how I loved my husband or step-daughter. It was just different, and that was okay.
2. Your spouse and his/her ex are doing the best they can; stay out of their stuff.
Their history wasn’t my history; there was no way I could know what happened during their marriage and breakup. And really, it wasn’t my business. Once I got a grip on this, it became easier to keep unnecessary comments to myself, and I noticed I didn’t feel as emotionally charged when things did come up. I could be an observer rather than a participant. This was much better for everyone.
3. Your baggage is going to come up. Deal with it.
Perhaps this has been the least expected and most challenging part of being a step-parent: seeing my “stuff” come up in situations around my step-daughter. At first, I’d get all judgmental about what she was doing and/or her parents’ choices (“I can’t believe she’s doing that!!”). One day it dawned on me. The judgment I was feeling had nothing to do with her or her parents; it was my stuff. Maybe there was something I would have liked to do as a child and hadn’t been allowed, or some crappy belief I was holding tightly. When this light bulb went off, it gave me a whole new appreciation for being a step-parent. I was being given the opportunity to work through some of my own baggage (and I saw I’d better deal with it now or it’d just come up again later).
4. You’re not the child’s mother/father, and that’s okay.
Being a step-parent is a special role. Honor that and let the role evolve on its own. I had to forget what I’d seen in the movies or how I thought I “should” be.
5. Let yourself feel however you’re feeling.
Growing into a blended family (or any type of family) will take time, and some times will be easier than others. There is no guidebook. Acknowledge whatever feelings come up. Take their message to heart, and then let them pass through.
6. There is no “there” or “perfect.”
Every family is different and that’s just fine. Once we got married, I went about trying to be the “perfect” blended family where everyone got along and it was all cupcakes and rainbows. Yeah, it didn’t work. People had varying histories with each other and maybe wanted different things. There were many, many different factors. When I let go of how I thought we “should” be and focused on being the best me in interactions (so that I was proud of how I handled myself in whatever came up), things started to get easier and relationships started to shift.
7. Time heals.
A lot of life has happened in the years since we met. Maybe it sounds cliche, but the distance of time can take the sting out of old memories. Some of what has changed hasn’t been because we’ve done anything differently (though some has); it’s just that we’re a lot farther down the road and things in the distance aren’t as important in the now.
Over a decade in, I’m a different person; my husband, his ex, and their daughter are different people, too. I suppose it’s no surprise our family functions differently now as a result. I see that it couldn’t have happened at the beginning, because we weren’t there yet. It’ll be interesting to see where we are in another 10 years. I look forward to it.
Author: Robin Massey
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Toby Israel