From One Stepmom to Another
The day I chose to get divorced, I knew I was relinquishing some control. I also knew that I was gaining some freedom. The control I gave up was in the day-to-day decisions that would be made regarding my children outside of my home. The freedom I was gaining was a life free from conflict and negativity.
What I didn’t realize I was acquiring was the need to build a relationship with a third party: My ex-husband’s new wife.
My goal for my children is that they see a family who loves them not only through actions but words, parents who support them unconditionally, and an environment where they are safe to explore the intricacies of childhood with all the ups and downs that comes with it without feeling judged or criticized.
When I hear people say, “Wow, I’m so impressed with your ability to get along!” I give myself credit for that.
From day one, I chose peace over conflict. From day one, I put the children first in my decision making — all of my decision making. From day one, I chose to take the high road to minimize, mitigate and diffuse.
When I hear stories of arguments, tears and nagging, it breaks my heart. When I receive texts and voicemails fueled by anger or misunderstanding, I am saddened.
Over time, I have created a set of rules that I follow, religiously, to ensure I meet my goal stated above:
- I never drive my children to tears in a conversation. Ever. If I notice they are getting upset, I take a deep breath and a step back. My job is to love them, raise them, encourage them, support them. Do they make me frustrated sometimes? Of course. Yet I realize that there is nothing easier in life than to hurt a child with words. Why would I want to hurt the thing I love more than life itself? There are no medals at the end of the journey for the person who bullied a child. But there is unconditional love and strong relationships when you choose to be kind and caring 100 percent of the time.
- My husband and I never communicate with my ex-husband when my primary emotion is anger or frustration. I choose to calm myself down (through time, distance, meditation, exercise, etc.) Nothing constructive has ever been accomplished in a conversation when the primary emotion is anger.
- I never discipline my stepchildren. Ever. If I have a challenge with one of them, I discuss it with my husband, their father, in private and he chooses how best to handle the situation. Even though I am the one doing most of the parental roles (chauffeuring, laundry, cooking, family decision-making, etc), I am the step mom and it is not my place to take on the role of disciplinarian.
- I never point out flaws to my husband’s ex-wife or to my ex-husband’s wife. I assume she is trying her hardest and doing her best.
- I never criticize my stepchildren’s mother to her face or behind her back. She carried these children, birthed these children, and loves them in a way that I, as the step mom, can never comprehend.
- I realize that each child, biological or step, has their own personality. It is not my role to break them or change them, having them conform to my needs. It is my responsibility to provide them opportunities to thrive in their own way. Honestly, it is my job to get out of their way and not impose my own needs on them. I must fulfill my own needs, not expect that from them.
Being a stepmom is one of the hardest roles in a family. I know from personal experience. But it is also one of the most rewarding.
The world is not perfect. Our relationship will never be perfect. But if there is one thing I will do daily, it’s work to make this relationship the envy of others even if I know, behind the curtain, how challenging it can be. The well-being of my children makes it worth it.