Watch any Disney movie and the stigma around stepmothers is clearly evident. These women are usually evil, profoundly jealous and have deep intentions to hurt, if not eradicate their stepchildren. This doesn’t really help the cause in real life. Being a step mum has its difficulties anyway, but with this kind of reputation how can you change the way your step kids see you? You no doubt love your partner and wish to make your new family harmonious, but this isn’t always seamless. Being a step mum myself, here are a few tips on how to go from step monster to step mom.
- Acknowledge the Differences
Blending families is not easy; ask anyone who has remarried with children. There are a lot of kinks to be ironed out, even if there is loads of love and compatibility. Learning the different family cultures and making those work harmoniously can be tricky, but with hard work it is possible create a large and happy family. Just like no one can ever prepare you for motherhood, the same goes for creating a blended family. Trying to make your step kids conform to your norms will probably not go down very well, so find a way to create new family norms. Expecting your step kids to fit in with your routine only makes if more difficult for you all and alienates you from the family.
- Understand the Deeper Impact
Divorce has a lasting impact on both children and parents, sometimes resulting in years of conflict and drama. Often there is guilt from both parents because they were unable to make the relationship work, and shared custody can make things even more complicated. It can happen that the parent who has less time with the children will try to make up for it in other ways, such as indulging the child either materially or emotionally. Parents often struggle when see the kids after being with the other parent because there can be behavioural issues requiring firmer discipline. Moving between two homes can be confusing for children, causing them to act out in ways that they may not normally, so patience is paramount.
- Remember your Love
This is a biggie, because while you are trying hard not to perpetuate the step monster image, jealousies can arise from time to time. Always remember that you married someone that you love deeply, and when you did so you knew that there were children involved. When you first meet it is understandable that you want to rejoice in those honeymoon feelings, and having kids around can dampen that experience. Expecting the stepchildren to put their needs on hold to make way for your new love is unrealistic. If you find yourself becoming annoyed or judgmental about your stepchildren, always remember the love you feel for your partner. These children are an extension of them, if you have committed to loving them, then the same level of commitment is required towards their kids.
- You are not the Primary Parent
It can be confusing when you have step kids because you want to parent them in the way that you would your own children, but this only leads to more conflict. There may be ways that the primary parents are behaving that you don’t approve of or would do differently. Expressing this privately with your beloved may be important, but this can only happen if they are resilient enough to handle your feedback. It may at times lead to conflict within the relationship though, so be prepared to deal with that too. If your partner is strong enough to have a discussion about their parenting and kids, sometimes just talking through it is enough. As much as your stepchildren may impact you, you are not their primary parent and as such, it is important to respect their parents’ wishes.
- Don’t be a Frenemy
Another conundrum that arises when being a stepmother is that you have to interact regularly with your partner’s ex. If there were no children involved, you would usually never normally have contact with a partner’s ex, so this can be a little confronting. It may be important to remember that this woman is the mother of your partner’s children; there is no competition there. If you start to get competitive with her, usually you will come out second best. Seeing your partner’s ex as a friend, a partner in parenting if you will could change the dynamic significantly, taking it from a fractious relationship to one of harmony and friendship. Your partner will thank you for this in the long run, because they too struggle between you, their ex and their kids. Support harmony in the relationships and ditch the antagonism.
- Don’t Become the Critical Parent
It can be easy to criticise every thing about step kids or their Mum, especially because they are probably doing things vastly differently to how you normally would. But being critical doesn’t help at all, it only results in discord and resentment. While your mind might point out all the things that others are doing wrong, remember that there is no normal. Just because you think something should be done in a certain way, doesn’t make it right. Ease up on the criticism and rather support those things that you accept.
- Your Stepchildren did not Choose You
This is hard to digest, but it is the truth. Simply because your partner loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you does not mean their kids want you in their lives. You cannot force them to accept you or love you. If you let go of that notion early on, then you will be a better stepmother. Trying to make them love you or accept you will only push them further away. If you are fake with them in the beginning, it won’t work. Eventually the truth of how you feel will emerge, and if those feelings are less than loving it will cause disagreement. Consider them with positive regard and make space for their humanness.
Being a step mum can feel like a very unnatural relationship in the beginning and it is hard to know what is right or wrong. If you take your cues from the children, your partner and their mother you will likely improve the relationship. These kids are here to stay if you have married their parent, so making an effort in your relating to them and their mother will make a big difference to all your relationships in the long run.