Thanks for making it to my site and welcome to my first blog post that's not actually written by me. Being a step-parent can be complicated, messy, wonderful, fun and all things in-between. The following post is one women's experience as a Step-Mother and the challenges and joys she encounters in her day-to-day life as a Step-Mom.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of some individuals.
If you would have told me when I started dating for marriage at 19 years old, that I would eventually marry a man with children, I never would have believed it. Like Sarah, the Jewish foremother, I would have laughed at that even being in the realm of possibility. But at the ripe old age of 26, I met the man I wanted to marry and he was a package deal with not one, but two wonderful children. At that time, I made the decision to move forward with the relationship because I felt confident in my ability to take on step-children. I am not going to say that I did not have my reservations or that everything came easily to me, but I knew that I loved my future husband and that I could make a difference in the lives of his children.
Being a child of divorce myself, I had experience with step-parents, merging families and the trauma that comes with a family being torn apart and having to rebuild. I will say that my own step-parent experience was unfortunately not a great one. Although my mother never remarried, my father did. I had several step-mothers, each very unique, at different parts of my life. However brief each experience was, I learned from them all. Painfully - much of what I learned was what not to do. My first step-mother came into my life when I was 9 years old. She was fun and energetic and she transformed our physical environment into a real home, but she also created conflict in our home. She repeatedly lied to my father about myself and my siblings. The marriage did not last long, ending within half a year. As a child, this experience was quite traumatic and left me feeling confused and upset.
You want your children to see healthy relationships, after what they have already gone through, so I think it is so important to make sure a potential relationship makes sense for them before you cause more upheaval to their lives.
After my wedding, real life started. I was thrown into “motherhood” without ever having had children of my own. It was definitely an adjustment. I felt completely overwhelmed at times and some days all I wanted to do was crawl under my blankets and not come out. Normally, you are given a certain amount of time after your wedding to adjust before you have kids. I, however, gained a husband and two children all at once. I did not have a clue as to what I was doing, but I knew that I wanted to create a warm and caring environment.
Thankfully, I am an organized person by nature. This skill really helped me to be able to bring order to my home and to the lives of my new family. I had so much fun creating a room I knew the kids would love, getting them toys and clothes I knew they would like, and making sure that they were involved every step of the way. I treated each opportunity as one to bond over, and I was lucky because my step-children were very receptive.
But, I also will acknowledge that not every experience is a positive one. When you marry someone with kids you need to expect that you will get mad – you are an imperfect person. Similar to when you have your own biological children, you will be the subject of negative comments, fighting, and crying at times, you will need to discipline. You will need to remain calm even though you want to scream at the top of your lungs.
How can you succeed as a Step-Mom?
I’d like to share some of the insights I gained as a step-mother. Please note that I am writing from my experience as a step-mother, and so my focus will be from a woman’s perspective.
1) Determining when to meet your future step-children can be tricky. Your future step kids need to be able to trust you, & to trust that you will now play a regular part in their lives. I don’t think there is one right answer, but I do feel you must be confident in the stability of your relationship that it makes sense to meet & build a relationship with the kids. I personally did not meet my step-children until I knew that I was getting engaged.
2) Building a healthy & loving relationship from the beginning is no easy task, but it is instrumental in how things will continue. Children who have been through a divorce can sometimes have difficulty trusting relationships will last. The more time you have to develop this relationship, the better it will be in the long run.
3) There are important conversations you should have with your future spouse & step-kids before you say “I do.” If you are reading this & you are already married, don’t worry it’s not too late to have these discussions.
Spouse - I would highly recommend discussing finances, court agreements & what his expectations are of you & your new role as a step-mother. When you marry a man with children, it's essential that you are aware of the arrangements with their ex-spouse, their financial responsibilities, & their time commitments to their children.
Step-children - I would discuss how they feel about this big change. Ask if there is anything you can do to make this transition as smooth as possible. Not every child will want to or be able to have a discussion with you. Age is an important factor here, as children who are too young will be unable to process things, & children in their teens may be unwilling to discuss their feelings with you. If your step-children are in the sweet spot it will be easier to not only bond with them but also to have some realistic discussions. You want these children to know that you will be in their lives because you love their father & not because you are trying to replace their mother.
Self-Care is A MUST!!
If there is one thing you can take from this piece let it be this – self-care is extremely important. If you are not in a good place because you neglect yourself then you will not be able to properly care for anyone else. I have been guilty of this my entire life and even more so when I became a step-mom. You need to remember to take time for yourself. I would say the same thing for any mother, but if you are a step-mom with no bio kids, you may not realize how crucial it is.
Do what makes you feel good. Trust me, the better you feel, the more energy you will have to put into your relationship with your husband and step-children. So if you need to go for a half-hour walk every day, do it! If you need to get a manicure weekly, do that. Even if you just need to close the door to your room for an hour, just do it!
Remember to make your relationship with your husband a priority. If you form a solid relationship as a couple, you will be better parents together. We all know that marriage takes a lot of work, but a second marriage takes even more. When I decided to marry my husband it was very important to me that we had pre-marital counselling. I wanted to make sure that we could have a safe place to go throughout our marriage to discuss all the difficulties that would inevitably arise.
Often the new spouse feels neglected or feels secondary but in reality, there is no first and second when it comes to new wife versus children! Both relationships are equally important. A husband needs to learn to balance the needs of his children and his wife. He needs to learn to make her feel appreciated for everything she does and respect her opinions in the home they are building together. A wife to a man with children must remember that he needs to make sure his children are comfortable, protected, and get the proper attention and support. That does not mean you won’t feel jealous, lonely, or upset at times.
Even though I have been at this a while, I am still learning new things every day about how I can be a better step-parent. There are always new situations that come up and can be hard for me to determine when to step in and when to step out. It’s no easy endeavour to take on someone else’s children, but there is so much to gain and so much you can give. As hard as some moments are (and there are plenty), my step-children are a gift and any positive impact or difference I can make in their lives makes it all worth it.
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