When I took the position as Stepmother, I realized with the position comes stigma. When the word “stepmother” is uttered many people envision “the wicked stepmother”. It doesn’t help that there are always stories in the news about a stepfather or a stepmother or boyfriend or girlfriend of the parent abusing kids, physically and/or sexually. I was told over and over again by my counselor and anyone else who felt it necessary, that I would always be only their stepmother, never their mother. I was offended by these warnings because I never had any intention of trying to take their mother’s place. What I wanted was for us to be a family and for the children to have my love and support. I wanted to help them have the best life possible with Danny and I, giving them a stable, comfortable home base.
I do, however, refer to our three children as “my” or “our” children because I never wanted them to feel any different. Also, I did not want them to feel they had to make explanations about their parents which could be dicey for them. Even before Danny and I were married, we became a family. Since Danny had custody, I believe it was because they needed me to fill the void left by their mother’s inability to be in their lives daily. This was evidenced by their behavior once we all decided that it was o.k. for me to sleep in their dad’s room. That move forward did away with the usual arguments over which of the two girls I would sleep with when we spent the weekends together. A calmness came over the household like this was what they were more accustomed to. It was like having a mother figure rather than Dad’s girlfriend.
While being a stepmother has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done, it has also been the most difficult. If you are considering taking it on, be aware that it is a serious commitment. Just loving each other is not enough because I promise you that love will be challenged on a regular basis. When you are a bio-mother, you grow with your children day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year but as a step-mother, you are already in the year by year. Your husband has already developed a relationship with his children as has their mother, and you are just getting started.
When Danny and I met, we were both coming out of marriages with chemically dependent spouses. Bad timing, you bet, but we got into couple counseling right away because we knew about baggage. When the children and their therapist decided it was time for me to meet them, we had dinner at a restaurant. I was nervous but brought pictures of my cats hoping it would be a good conversation starter and it was. The dinner went well and when we returned to their house, they introduced me to their cat.
I was asked to join them in family counseling which included their mother. Family counseling went well because we were all on our best behavior but out in the real world, not so much. I did my best though there were problems with their mother. Out of respect for the children and their mother, I will not go into detail. Yet, we were able to come to an understanding about my role in her children’s lives and we still have our moments, but only in the background. As a stepmother, I highly recommend setting aside one’s feelings about the person and respecting her position as the children’s mother. I call the kids’ mother my ex-wife in-law because there will always be family ties between us. Danny cautioned me early on that, as the children’s mother, she would be in our lives for the rest of our lives. I learned acceptance from her family who encouraged me to be comfortable in their presence, acknowledging my place in Danny and their grand-children’s lives. We often have family events together so that the kids don’t have to do double duty. It depends from event to event, year to year, on how well we are all getting along. We are a blended family made up of high strung individuals and all it takes is one person to say the wrong thing and the shit storm starts. Don’t get me wrong, there is never a free-for-all, again, it is all in the background but drama is always the motivator.
The hardest thing for me to handle has always been having joined a family already in session. It hasn’t been easy for Danny having to balance his loyalty and attention between his children and his wife and even now after 20 years, it remains a struggle. We didn’t have that alone time that newlyweds need to adjust to living with one another. One would think that having had so much counseling and having dated for three years, we would have had it all down but though we spent most weekends together as a family, I never moved in until we were married.