A little over a decade ago, I met a wonderful man. I was a single parent to a three-year-old little boy and he was a single parent to eight-year-old triplet boys and a nine-year-old boy. As things became more serious, we started talking about marriage. We knew the statistics for second marriages and stepfamilies were not favorable, so we started doing research.
We spent time researching blended families through articles, books, and talking to others. Eventually, we felt we had a good grasp and understanding of what challenges to expect. We even met with a counselor before to get his stepfamily advice. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we were ready. We were not going to become part of the statistics because we had prepared!
Year two is when the trouble started. The stepkids hated me. I didn’t like them. My husband felt he was always in the middle and could never “win” because either I was complaining about his kids or his kids were complaining about me. It got to the point divorce was the only option we could see.
As a last ditch effort to attempt to salvage our relationship, we went back to the counselor. The counselor wasn’t shocked, he knew we’d be back. As we were talking, the counselor told me “they are not your kids.” I obviously knew this. My response was, “I know but, I care about them. I want them to grow up and be responsible adults.” His response, “They are not your kids.” Everything I said to him, his response was the same. It hurt my feelings a little bit because I felt like he was saying I couldn’t care about them.
On the ride home, I was joking about the counselor telling me “They are not your kids” eight hundred times. I said it in a funny southern accent that sounded like “They’re Nacho Kids” and we laughed. Laughing helped break the tension. That’s when it hit me! I was creating my own misery! I was not their parent. I couldn’t expect more from the stepkids than their own parents did. I hadn’t “earned the right” to parent the stepkids in the stepkids’ eyes. I needed to step back… way back! From that point on, my relationship with the stepkids changed dramatically. I treated them as a friend’s kids. I didn’t parent them, I didn’t discipline them, I didn’t interject in conversations their dad had with them.
I’m a bit outspoken at times, so for me to not “give my two cents” was very difficult. Not parenting them was difficult as well because I’m a bit motherly by nature, but I knew I had to keep in my newly found place of stepping back. I had to learn to walk away if I felt the need to parent them. I had to keep reminding myself “They are not your kids.” I actually would think “They are Nacho Kids” because it seemed to “lighten the load” by using the play on words. Almost instantly, we saw the positive impact my stepping back was having on everyone! I was a lot less stressed. My relationship with my significant other was getting better. My husband no longer felt in the middle because the stepkids couldn’t complain about me because I was not engaging with them and had removed myself as a target. Over time, I was able to build bonds with the stepkids and our stepfamily life was good!
I never thought I’d have to step back from the “motherly” role with the stepkids. My husband and I both felt I would be a motherly type figure to them. Truth being, that was destroying our marriage. I have received a lot of criticism for using this method for our stepfamily, but it was the best thing I could have ever done. It was a blessing in disguise. It not only helped with the “blending”, but it also helped me learn to let go of things I can’t control in other parts of life as well, and learn to control how I let these things affect me.
One thing I’ve learned in this decade of being part of a stepfamily is there is no one-size-fits-all to making it work. We have to find what works for our specific situations. We shouldn’t judge other stepfamilies if they find another way to survive the blend. Every situation is different. “Blending” is hard! The last thing struggling stepparents need is judgment. Just because your way is different than mine, I will not judge you, and I applaud you for giving it your all to survive and thrive in the “blend”! You can do it! Don’t give up!