The Courage to Be a Stepmom
SPOILER ALERT! Being a Step Mom is hard. So hard that 60-70% of step-parent marriages end in divorce. The hardships of step-parenting aren’t really discussed openly – in fact, the only time I’ve ever heard about them was from other stepmoms in quiet, out-of-the-way conversations or in anonymous forums. Truthfully, it’s not even something I as a stepmom talk about much. But maybe that needs to change. I don’t plan on changing the world with this post or even changing society’s notions about step-parenting. All I can do is share my story.
Before I got married, one of my wise step-mother friends bought me a book, called The Courage To Be A Stepmom: Finding Your Place Without Losing Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele. The premise is that a step-mother starts out a marriage relationship with three strikes against her: 1. Negative step-mother stereotypes, 2. These are relationships born of loss, and 3. You are constantly reminded that you are “just” the stepmom.
Wicked Step Mother
Fairy tales are full of these vengeful creatures, and it sticks. After all, what little girl grows up with the thought “Some day, I really want to be a stepmom”? I didn’t. But four years ago I met my soul mate…who just happened to be a full time dad to his 2 year old son. At first I was very resistant to dating a man with a child because of the possibility of step-motherhood. But eventually true love won and we got engaged. Then from many people, I heard: “Wow, Congratulations! *pause* Are you sure you want to be a Step Mom???” Yikes. And even now after we’ve been married for three years, when I’m introduced as my son’s stepmom, I inwardly cringe. Embedded prejudices die hard. However, you have to see the bright side in things too. I have a darling boy whom I didn’t have to go through the pain of pregnancy and childbirth to get. There is a chance I may never be able to have a biological child, yet I have been blessed with motherhood.
A Relationship Born of Loss
Step-parents enter relationships born of loss. You aren’t the biological parent, and for whatever reason (death, divorce) that biological parent is gone. The kid is missing something in their life that was supposed to be there and isn’t anymore. They are grieving. However while you’re parenting kids who are grieving, you need to allow yourself to grieve too. Thoele writes “It’s important to realize that it isn’t only the children who mix grief with the joy of remarriage… Most of us have ingrained happily-ever-after fantasies… So to be part of a step-family means that we, too, must cope with the loss of an old dream or several dreams”.
And then there’s the biological mother. You can find entire forums and blogs devoted to horror stories of stepmoms and their dealings with the bio-mom of their step-children. I was lucky that I never had any horror stories of my own. The bio-mom of my son was in a set of circumstances that lead to her divorce and the rights of custody were given to my husband. By the time I met her ex-hubby and son, she didn’t express much interest in either. Shortly after we married she passed away. I was the one who told my son that “Mommy is in heaven now” and I’m also the one he asks questions like “Does Mommy eat food in heaven?” Again, not questions a little girl grows up dreaming about answering, but I’m honored that I’ve been given the privilege of being the person he trusts for questions with difficult answers.
Just the Step Mom
Toele starts out a chapter in her book by saying, “One reality we stepmothers need to keep in mind is that we are not the real mother. Even if our stepchildren’s mother is dead, drunk, or unfit, she remains the real mother, not us. This can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you are a stepmom who does most of the mothering and receives very little credit”. I have been pooped on, puked on, cried on, and bled on. I cook meals, wash clothes, read bedtime stories. I give out hugs, kisses, and love every chance I get. I am at every school function, sports game, and event. Yet, my son was given a photo album called “Mommy and Me” by a well meaning Grandma without a single picture of me in it. That stings. As does the fact that she will always be “Mommy” and I will probably always be “La La”. But it is what it is, and if it means I am La La, who has the privilege of being an important part of his life, I’ll take it.
It’s All Worth It
Lastly, Toele says, “The role of step-mother carries a vast potential for opening our hearts, broadening our vision, and increasing the scope of our awareness. We are changed, honed, and influenced by every individual who touches our hearts. And therein lies a profound blessing: the possibility to grow from step-mother to heart-mother to the children marriage brings into our lives”.
So yes, being a stepmom is hard. But the love you find makes it all worth it.
Lexie Robinson Austin is one of the few born and raised Huntsville natives. She is a stepmom to one, a librarian to many, a reader of books, and baker of cookies. She likes ridiculously impractical shoes and the color pink.
Um, so, HIGH FIVE.
Also, I love your sparkly pink shoes.
Lastly, I am a stepmom as well .. to a boy .. and yes. Yes yes yes. I have often mentioned in the backchannels of RCM that there should be a support group for steps, because HOLY MOLY.
I married my second husband almost twenty years ago. At the time I had a 12 yo and a 10 yo from my first marriage. So it was my husband who became the step-parent. The kids were old enough to resent him because their dad wasn’t always there, and too young to realize he wasn’t there much before.
I remember hearing something from a psychologist about the time we married that made an enormous impression on me; that it takes a MINIMUM of SIX years before a step-family becomes fully integrated. Honestly, that took a lot of pressure off all of us.
Now that my kids are adults, they see that my husband was the one who paid for braces, and drove them to rehearsals, and built sets for plays they were in, and was there at every game or performance. They love their dad, of course, and we are fortunate to all be friendly with one another to the extent that many holidays are shared together. But it takes a long time. It will never be as though my husband is the “real” parent. But with patience and time, there is a wonderful special relationship that can happen. I just wish there was another name for “step-parent”.
Great article Lexie! I’d like to see more from you.
I love the term heart-parent (heart mom or heart dad) as opposed to step parent!!!
Thank you, Lexie! I so needed to read this! I love your positive outlook and the term heart parent–something all step moms can strive to be!!