It is often said that motherhood is a thankless job, but what about stepmotherhood? Who even applies for that job? Apparently, a whole lot of us. According to Psychology Today, demographers have predicted that, if we include cohabiting versus marriage in the projections, as many as half of all women in the United States will find themselves in the role of the stepmother at some point in their lives.
Many of us have been told to mind our own business when it came to making decisions for children who are not biologically ours. However, when it came to paying for things, doing the legwork of parenting and actually raising them, stepmothers were more than welcome to have at it! It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, but it’s not impossible. I know this from experience.
Eighteen years ago, I was a recent college graduate with an emerging career in marketing/advertising. My life consisted of friends, travel, and happy hour networking, and that life definitely did not involve being anywhere near any small children. Then I met my would-be husband Michael and his son Devyn, then aged 3. Michael was the custodial parent, so our dating days during our early 20s became a whole lot of serious within a short amount of time.
Even before our first date, Michael put all of his cards on the table. He told me about his goal in raising his son to become a decent man, and I admired that. So I jumped in head first into a whole new relationship scene I had never been a part of before.
It definitely opened my eyes and heart in ways I could have never imagined, and my relationship with my stepson is unlike any other relationship I will ever have.
Devyn and I had to figure out a whole lot of things together, and we worked hard to make it work. I am proud to say that my stepmotherhood experience is as close to the happily ever after that I can ever get. Devyn is a self-sufficient young adult serving our country and paying for his own way. He is definitely a decent young man, just like his dad wanted him to become.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Know your boundaries and limits. Then stick to them. Besides the biological boundaries, blended families need to establish their unique boundaries to maintain healthy relationships. This was something very difficult for me to figure out after we were married because we had him with us full-time. Only I could determine what my limits were, and I needed to be the adult in this situation. I had to also protect myself. My worst fear was that if I had to establish myself as an authority figure in this child’s life, I would get the dreaded comment: “Well, you’re not my mother!” However, there is no need to feel like you have to do everything, so be sure to ask first and act accordingly. Your partner/spouse will tell you when help is needed, and they will appreciate your honesty. That way, you would avoid resentment from both sides. I’m happy to report that not once did Devyn ever tell me I was not his mother.
Understand and accept the other parent’s role. The other parent is another key player in this game. We did the “every other weekend and every Wednesday evenings” court-ordered exchanges with his biological mother. You will have to understand and accept the other parent’s role no matter how much you disagree with each other’s parenting styles and each other’s lifestyles in general. And there will be disagreements. Lots of them! Let go of the judgmental attitude. Be mindful that this can get costly, so be cordial as much as possible. You don’t have to be best friends, but the sooner you understand that you will have to interact with the other parent on a regular basis, the easier you can accept that you will have to work with them.
Bonding moments are windows of opportunities that you cannot miss! Even though Devyn does not remember his life without me in the picture, it was important for me to remember that he did not sign up for this. His world had been rocked after Michael and I married. “I thought it was just you and me, Dad!!!” (awww) Alone time with him was important to develop our relationship. I took cues from him, but we were both lucky that we shared the same interests: reading, storytelling, and playing board games. He was such a chill kid, and he was ultimately the one who inspired me to become a teacher and a children’s author. My favorite comment from him was something he brought up recently. “When my girlfriend and I went to Half-Price Books the other day, we spent hours together there just reading. I laughed and told her that this was something you and I used to do.” Awwwww….
Let the love grow and let go. They will grow up, and they will “rebel.” It’s part of growth. Sometimes, people will say something like, “I don’t know if I could ever love someone else’s child like I do my own.” Don’t worry, you can. You really can. It takes time to let love grow because you do have the biological boundaries that exist, but the little stuff is how you can let love grow. I promise. But then, be ready to let go. They might want to explore the missing relationship they had with the other parent when they grow up, and this will hurt. It will feel like rebellion, and it cuts like a knife. But it’s not about you. Remember that.
Stepmotherhood is tough. We already have the Disney misconception of the “wicked stepmother,” but as we dial down on expectations, we can find genuine ways to connect and celebrate being the matriarch of the blended family unit. Eighteen years ago, I met a sweet boy named Devyn. That was the day I became a mother.
“It’s Different for Stepmothers.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers
“Are You Mature Enough to Date Someone With Children?” MeetMindful | Online Dating Evolved, 26 Feb. 2015