Sorry in advance, THIS is a long one. But it’s a topic I hear about every single day and I have a lot of personal experience with learning how to love your stepkids the RIGHT and GENUINE way. So here is my input on the topic. It may be worth the price of admission for some, others it could be life-changing. I wish someone was HALF as honest with me about all this 3 years go. So here goes.
I’m kind of over the whole mass stereotyping for blended family members in general, but one thing that is near and dear to me is the expectations placed upon stepmoms to BE something but EXPECT nothing. We are told to be nurturing, kind, patient, and loving. If we aren’t, we’re selfish. Go too far and you’re overstepping. Who do you think you are anyway, those are not YOUR kids! Uhhhh what? So what you’re saying is, handle mom duties without ever complaining but don’t expect any mom perks. (PS – this is the PERFECT STORM for resentment to brew – in case you were unaware!)
I was contacted recently by a stepmom who was struggling with the way she felt about her stepkids. Shocker. She feels GUILTY because she doesn’t love them like she is “SUPPOSED TO”. Shocker. And who dictates how we are ‘supposed to’ love these kids? Ahh yes, everyone but US. WE can’t do it, because we are either selfish, or overstepping, no matter what opinion we come up with.
Before I EVEN begin – I recognize there are PLENTY of people who say they love their stepkids like their own flesh and blood. Who am I to disagree with them? After all, we are ALL entitled to feel ANY way we want to at any time. And if they truly do love their stepkids as though they birthed them- GREAT. This is not a blog about telling THOSE CERTAIN PEOPLE that they’re lying or for me to prove them ‘wrong’. So before I even get the engines going on this, understand, YES some people do probably love their stepkids like they created them, at least I guess they exist because they say they do. I myself am not one of them.
Gasp! That’s right folks. I don’t know what this bond looks like from a biological mother perspective….I’m not one.
Now before you get all bent out of shape, I advise you to read my blog entitled “The Biology Card – Throw At Your Convenience” (https://thechildlessstepmom.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/the-biology-card-2/). I came to realize that the reason I clung so tightly to what I believed was “REAL MOTHERLY LOVE” was because I had a biomom stabbing me with insults and CONSTANTLY on a mission to remind me I was not his real mother. Read the blog, I won’t waste a ton of time on this but the point is, when a biomom is all up in your face telling you how you are not the kid’s mom and you will NEVER have a bond like SHE does, it gets old. It’s hurtful. ESPECIALLY if you have done nothing to deserve this constant reminder, and have made every effort to keep OFF her toes. And it brings up a fire inside you and your own COUNTER-MISSION to remind HER that you damn well do love that child and you mother them just as well if not BETTER! And another thing! And another thing! And …what was I talking about again?
The truth is, I believe with every piece of my heart that if YOU are genuinely not trying to take over, the ONLY reason a biomom is CONSTANTLY playing that damn biology card is because of her own insecurities with the relationship with her child. If she was truly secure in her relationship, she would not need to REMIND anyone she birthed them, she would know they hold a special place in each others hearts that cannot be filled or replaced. THAT BEING SAID – stepmoms are just as guilty of doing this in our own way. It wasn’t until I became truly confident with the fact that I may never understand a biological bond that he shares with his mother, that I let my guard down and began to build a relationship that belongs SOLELY to US just like he will always have one with her that belongs SOLELY to THEM.
Why are we so threatened by admitting we may not love them like their biological mother does? And how dare I, as a custodial stepmother raising this boy with NO participation from his REAL mother, not love him like SHE should in HER place? The answer is simple. I’m not his biological mother. That should never suggest I don’t love him, I don’t nurture him, I don’t discipline him or offer him incredible security, even more than he would have ever had with her. I believe all of those things to be true, I do offer them, and am proud to offer them. But they are MINE and HIS – those things are OURS in our own way. You don’t have to replace anyone and the only way to find contentment is to work on this relationship in your own way.
Sounds so simple doesn’t it? It took me a LONG time and LOTS of therapy to come to this conclusion. But I no longer hold resentment to his biomom for the things she said about my relationship (or lack of) with him. The relationship he and I share is ours, and no one can touch that. It’s a relationship of choice, which is beautiful. He chose to love me, as I have chosen to love him. In our own way. I no longer feel that fire inside when I think of her putting me down or trying to belittle me by the ever-consistent ‘I’m his REAL mom’ reminder. It actually doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. I TRULY feel secure enough with myself and my relationship with him and don’t need anyone’s approval but his. I don’t parade the kid around like I made him, and I don’t pretend she doesn’t exist.
I’ll never forget one time meeting with his child therapist and I confided in her that I didn’t feel the way I thought I should about him. Since I was his full-time, takeover over-freaking-night mommy in her absence I thought I should be feeling more and knew something wasn’t right about how I reacted to her ugly statements about me. I said I don’t always enjoy having him around. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. She said two statements that have always stuck with me, one that I agree with, one I found to be more harmful to me than good actually.
First, she said parents don’t always like their kids. No matter who they are, they don’t always like them, they get annoyed by them and want time away. But when a stepparent says they feel those very REAL and JUSTIFIED emotions, we are selfish. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. THAT I agree with – is IS the reality and we DO feel that way and are JUSTIFIED in it.
The part though that I disagree with, was she said I just had to ‘fake it til I make it’. The trouble with faking ANYTHING is the fake becomes the norm, and you never work to get past the incredibly shallow nature of that concept. You never get to the root of WHY you’re faking it, and you never learn enough about yourself to get in there and really make a change. I chose not to take that advice and instead, to put some HEAVY work into some honest self-assessment. And I’m glad I did. I don’t FAKE my relationship with the Little Bear. Kids are NOT stupid, they know when someone is disingenuous and that is NOT a good foundation on which to build a relationship with your stepkids. I understand what she was saying looking back on it, and she offered wonderful insight throughout our journey, but it is just another lesson along the way. Not EVERYTHING you hear will work for your family. I chose not to adopt the fake it til you make it philosophy. I chose the get into the ugliest part of myself and find out if I could make a change to help this. And that is what I did.
I’d like to share what I wrote to this follower of mine as she actually caught me RIGHT when I was about to sit down to write this blog. Her note to me was about how her and her husband were soul mates, a fantastic match, but she started dreading the kids coming over. One of them was really obnoxious and she felt SUPER guilty saying that. But her husband was noticing she was distant, and if something wasn’t addressed and a change made, things would go south quickly. MOST stepmoms can relate. Here is part of my response to her- slightly altered to maintain anonymity:
“You NEED to know, you are not alone in feeling this way. I am contacted every single day by someone from the (Facebook) page or other online network and MOST OFTEN the issue is ‘I can’t always stand this kid. I love my husband, he is awesome, or I wouldn’t be here. His kids are good, I want to love them because I love him but I don’t feel it…..or I hate them’. YES I have had people tell me they hate their stepkids.
Little Bear is 6….but we’ve had him full time since he was 3. Before we got married, DH had 50/50 split. We found out bm was doing some things she should not have been and we ended up having full custody 6 months into my marriage. SIX MONTHS IN. No honeymoon….no “I think I know what I’m doing”…no, I just had no idea. The PERFECT breeding ground for resentment.
Let me back up. You and I sound very similar on a lot of levels. Before I married or even started seriously dating DH I was finishing my Master’s degree. I was doing lots of dating but had no interest in anything serious. My day was work….gym….school….ME…alone with my cat. It was WONDERFUL! Oh how I miss it – A LOT some days! It was easy…I didn’t deal with ANY of this shit and as much as I love my husband I have wanted to trade in my ring for my own apartment on MORE than one occasion….NOT because of him….because I couldn’t stand how I’d chosen to turn my life upside down like I had without having any REAL idea what I’d signed up for. Many childless stepmoms are guilty of feeling this way, we traded in the ‘easy’ life for a life FULL of bumps and twists we could have never foreseen.
You said some interesting things I’d like to touch on. First, you called your husband your soul mate. I find that intriguing on a lot of levels but what it tells me is you are in a marriage of mutual respect, you are kind to one another, and you probably get along very well. YOU TWO get along very well. YOU TWO enjoy each other. YOU TWO are a match made in heaven. My husband and I are the same. Most marriages fail because of one of two issues (or both) – sex and/or money. We don’t fight over either. When we are alone, it’s wonderful. I find my husband INCREDIBLY attractive, we have great conversation, we enjoy each other’s company and we are truly that couple that people hate.
Add a kid into the mix with a rocky background, a biomother with a slew of issues and the fact that he is just a normal 6 year old who needs and wants CONSTANT attention- and our match made in heaven becomes….not so heavenly. And people will ALWAYS tell you that is YOUR problem and YOU knew what you were getting into and YOU are selfish for putting your marriage first. Number 1 – FALSE. Your marriage NEEDS to be a priority. Number 2 – Everybody has an opinion, stop letting it dictate your behavior or what you think you’re ALLOWED to feel.
MANY people do marriage the ‘right’ way. They enjoy alone time first, they date, they are ALONE. Could I make this “ALONE” idea any clearer? It’s a portion of the mix we MISSED. We LITERALLY have to mourn it, it’s missed, it’s gone. I am so tired of hearing how I am selfish for wanting it because the KIDS COME FIRST. YES, they certainly do, but it’s still VERY real that we missed all that time to just BE a married couple, which PLENTY of people take for granted. It is the time to learn and grow TOGETHER as a UNIT. I don’t care if it makes me selfish that I am sad I have missed it, or wish I had it some days. I SIMPLY DO. Therefore, since we missed all that time to try and figure out how we fit TOGETHER PRIOR TO THE KIDS, we are often in a state of confusion, we didn’t do this the “right” way so steps are out of order, leaving us unsure of how we feel at given times.
MOST of us find that we don’t love the kids right off the bat, but let’s explore that a bit. When DH and I were dating, I loved the shit out of that kid. He clung to me, I was always buying him presents and could not wait to see him! Why? Because when I was done visiting, he went back to his mom’s or I went home to MY own place…where it was quiet – and I was alone. OR I got to have DATES, REAL DATES! And ALONE TIME with my husband! Now, as a custodial stepparent I don’t have any time to miss him because he is there – CONSTANTLY! My husband and I don’t have alone time. We don’t have a custody split that allows for it, our work schedules are demanding and me being suzy psycho about who I will and won’t allow to care for him means our options for babysitters are limited – and that can feel very overwhelming. I signed up to have a child for half of my life, and overnight, it changed and became my every waking moment. I wouldn’t trade it for the world because now he is safe and in the best place for him, but I AM allowed to address what this does to a marriage and one’s perspective when that which they signed up for originally changes drastically without notice.
Which brings me to the issue at hand. You WILL find you’re struggling with how you feel about these kids and I want to help with that because I’ve been there SO SO MUCH myself. Your husband created them, of COURSE his feelings for them differ from yours. And I don’t care what anyone says there IS a biological bond that is experienced by their ‘real’ parents that we don’t have. I freaking wish everyone would stop trying to change that. Society has wrapped stepmothers up into this neat and concise package : You are to love the children as a mother, care for them, bond with them and drop EVERYTHING for them or YOU are selfish. HOWEVER you are NOT to replace their mother, attempt to BE their mother or ever ONCE expect any of the perks of parenthood because you are NOT their mother”.
Well shit! What the hell am I doing here then?! How in the world does that make sense?? Well it doesn’t but it’s probably not changing soon so what you have to do to overcome this is start accepting that the stereotypes are real but you don’t have to fit them OR care about them. The reason I offer such a ‘judgment free’ place like you said is because I finally gave up on caring what people thought of me. A DIFFICULT task for me, my feelings get hurt EASILY and I am ALWAYS worried about how people perceive me. But in this role, you just can’t be. It sounds impossible but it can be done.
The problem is you and your husband are great together, you enjoy each other’s company but you know damn well when those kids show up you will inevitably fall to the wayside (and don’t you dare say it’s a problem or you’re the bitch!) and the kids are really starting to annoy you because, well, they’re kids and they want their dad (and that is their right and again, children are all perfect angels, don’t you say otherwise or YOU’RE THE BITCH!) ….I’ve been there. I get it.
We finally got to the point where it all made sense and I really hope I can help you with that because it took me far too long. The relationship you have with those kids NEEDS TO BE YOUR OWN. DH loves them, they are HIS, he probably notices their quirks but he overlooks them because he doesn’t have them all the time, probably harbors some guilt and expects because they are just the best friggen things in the world, YOU TOO will believe that of them. BUT THAT IS NOT FAIR NOR IS IT REASONABLE.
Let me give you an example. I get annoyed by the bear. He is a great kid, he has a good heart, but for fks sake he is 6. He talks CONSTANTLY, and *I* had to discipline him, like, ALL ME for about 2 years because his mother has no idea what that even looks like and his father spent so much time fighting in court and just trying to keep him clean he didn’t have time to teach him the BASICS….enter me…a VERY well disciplined individual whose parents held them to the highest standard. I walked in and that kid was a WRECK. Not potty trained, could barely speak and his manners were AWFUL not to mention his behavior in general was OF THE MAP TERRIBLE.
You can see how I’d build up some resentment. The ONLY thing my husband and I fight about, is that child. What is right, what is too much, what does he need, what does he not need. NOW here’s the kicker….he is JUST like every other DH- he expects I will love that kid with a biological fire like he does. Wrong-o. Sorry, but that’s just a false hope and it’s not going to happen – I completely accept there is a bond that he shares with his mother and father that he does NOT share with me. BUT our bond is still a remarkable one and it is MARKED by OUR journey and what we mean to each other and know and expect of each other. Yesterday, the kid was screwing around on the stairs for the 87,000th time. I’ve told him to be careful and not to mess around or he will fall. Well whatdyaknow he was screwing around and slipped and hit his head on the wall. Mommy instinct took over – I heard him cry and ran right up and scooped him up.
It is NOW INSIDE OF ME to MOTHER him and keep him SAFE and HEALTHY. Of course it is, but you can bet your ass I scolded him for messing around YET AGAIN and he already knew it was coming. It was a picture perfect example of our relationship and my husband was able to witness it first hand. I WILL take on this role and mother him to the very best of my ability. I will ensure he is ALWAYS safe and well disciplined, but I am not always thrilled about every aspect of this job as NO mother is! And as much as I love him, I don’t always LIKE him. Like I don’t always LIKE my sister, or my best friend, etc etc etc.
WHAT?! You can’t say that you evil stepmother! Oh yes I can and I just did. Here’s the issue. EVERY PARENT gets annoyed with their kids. I don’t care WHO you are. EVERY parent does. BUT stepparents aren’t allowed to. Because then we’re the bitch. I decided to fight that because it’s absurd and it’s a completely irrational expectation. We WILL get annoyed with them, we WILL have times where we don’t want to be in the same room with them.
But when it gets to the point where you honestly dislike them and want them to go away entirely, that’s when it becomes dangerous. It’s dangerous because it will spill over into your marriage and the child will start to feel unwanted. Enter…my therapist. She warned me as soon as I started to resent the child there would be trouble. The problem with that is by the time I confided my resentment toward him in her, it was too late…I already resented him….and had LONG before I said anything. I turned my life upside down for this kid. I did NOT always feel love for him, but was expected to. And my husband truly believed it was appropriate for me to share all the same biological ties/wants/needs to his son that he has, and I don’t. I CAN’T. That is not a FAULT of ours, it’s a reality. We are NOT biologically linked of COURSE we don’t share the same ties – and that is OKAY!
The trick to fixing this issue is discussing realistic expectations with your spouse, UNDERSTANDING them YOURSELF and working to form YOUR OWN relationship with them…..not a kind of relationship that ANYONE ELSE TELLS YOU YOU SHOULD HAVE. I finally was able to get my husband to understand I am OKAY with not sharing the bond that he does with him, and I can’t be forced to. No, YOU have to do what YOU feel comfortable with and what comes NATURALLY to you.
LB knows when I put my arm around him and hug him close to me I do it because I want to. And that is important to our relationship. I had to start doing things because *I* wanted to, not because someone else told me to or I felt I was expected to. It’s actually very damaging to them to have a FAKE relationship with them. And you said it yourself, about how you feel you’re faking it. We all do, because we’re expected to. All that does is breed resentment and ill feelings toward each other, the child will also feel it from you. They know when they’re not wanted.
And I am guilty of not being nearly as caring as I should on more than one occasion because he has gotten on my nerves. Let’s just be honest. I don’t come home every day from work thrilled to be with him – like many times his father does. SOMETIMES I totally do, but those are MY times to feel that and if I don’t feel it, I’m not so hard on myself over it. Often times his father is so happy to be around him and just adores the ground he walks on. That is AWESOME for THEIR relationship, I don’t always share the same excitement. And I’m okay with that. I show my love and my feelings come out for him in other ways.
I am SO PROUD of how far we’ve come as a family, but I spent a GREAT deal of time depressed inside my own head and wanting out of this whole thing so badly – it was just TOO HARD. But I finally started to get it, this was MY love, it’s the love I DECIDED to feel, it’s not a love a ‘real’ mother has necessarily and I am okay with it never being that way. It’s just not realistic. There are MANY types of love I’ve come to find, and even many types of likes. But you have to come to like them before you can love them. And if they are forming that much bitterness in your life, you should totally see someone to discuss it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, THOUGH WE ALL ARE BECAUSE WE ARE TOLD WE HAVE TO BE. No we don’t. I finally called bull shit on that theory….as I have on many others.
ME and LB dictate our relationship. No one else. Once you realize you have that power and do not have to rise to any standard but the one YOU AND THE KIDS choose, the pressure starts to decrease and you can actually start to like them in your own way. They in turn will feel that off of you and their behavior towards you will start to change too. They can feel that you’re annoyed by them. Don’t feel guilty over it, we’ve all been there. It’s just that when you recognize it, it’s time to work on changing it. But to make ANY change you have to be realistic.The reason my bond is strong with the little guy is because it’s OURS. NO one else gets it, no one else is a part of it. There are days I am going to stroke out if he doesn’t stop talking. But it’s like that for ANY parent. We just feel guilty because we’re told we aren’t allowed to have those feelings.
Lastly you said something that I feel I’d like to branch off of. You closed with God Bless. I try to be cautious about my faith because I don’t like to push it on people. But since you opened the box I feel comfortable sharing. The message at church today was about giving God control. I find that when He is in control, I am literally good to go. I am enveloped in such peace I cant even describe it. BUT it is our nature to take that control back, therefore we live stressed out lives, and we are focused on the negative. I lived focused on the negative for SO long. FAR too long. And I have let that child, and this lifestyle completely annoy me and break me down. I try HARD to keep God at the center of my life and this family, it REALLY helps.
LB goes to children’s ministry while we are in the adult service. Today, they gave him a Jesus Loves Me kazoo. A FREAKING KAZOO. A 6 year old…a kazoo…a midsized vehicle, and a 25 minute drive home from church and it is TOTALLY my nature to be like STOP WITH THE KAZOO! I am not the most patient person in general – I work on it A LOT, and that could have been a recipe for disaster! But I CHOSE not to let it. I walked out of church and DH knew it would probably annoy me so he kindly reminded LB not to use the kazoo in the car and that he was welcome to use it outside when we returned home. I actually said the words, “Who is in control? Not me. I’m okay, he is 6, let him use his kazoo”.
NOT NATURAL! LOL Now, check back with me next week and the kazoo may be in the garbage but the point is we naturally live trying to be in control and not allowing God to do His work in us. The BIGGEST test God has ever given me was to become a stepmom. And some days I’d like to go ahead and give Him this test back…crumpled up…with my back turned walking in another direction. But since I finally have found an outlet to be HONEST about feeling that way without caring if people think being REAL makes me a BITCH (plus therapy really helps!) I am no longer afraid of this test. I embrace it. Some days will feel impossible and it takes WORK and HONEST self assessment to change.
But if you WANT to care about those kids, that’s the hard part, and the hard part is over. Next…start allowing yourself to feel ANYTHING YOU WANT TO FEEL, make realistic expectations…and take BABY steps towards it. When you go all SuperStepMom in, you’re setting yourself up for failure. But when you start to find you’re liking something with them even in SUPER SHORT spurts…you’re well on your way to mutual respect. Respect grows to love….but it has to be YOUR OWN DEFINITION of love. No one else’s.”
I will never dictate how anyone is supposed to feel about their stepkids, that is not my right, and opinions are just that, someone ELSE’S idea of what it should look like. But I know for me, when I started accepting that the only reason I was so quick to defend my relationship with LB was because biomom was defending hers, I just let that go. She will ALWAYS share a bond with him that I don’t. It’s just the truth. Kids will ALWAYS want to know and be a part of a life that includes their biological parent, even if that parent is less than stellar.
BUT I will also always have a relationship with him that SHE will never understand. When you start making your relationship your own, with your own boundaries, your own expectations, a love that is truly just YOURS, you don’t have to worry about what anyone else is doing or saying. Allow yourself to FEEL whatever you want to feel. Set REALISTIC expectations for your relationship with your stepkids. No one wants a relationship that is forced and it will only hurt BOTH of you. Allow it to form naturally, slowly, and within reason. Allow it to be YOURS. You HONESTLY don’t have to replace their mother to be ‘a’ mother, or find your place in their heart.
BE GENUINE, do some TRUTHFUL self-assessment. Take some of that pressure off and start being YOURSELF without worrying about anyone else. Your stepkids HEAR constantly. SHOW them what you are. BE what you want to be. When you find them loving you for you, and vice versa, those are the strongest relationships of all. Allow yourself to be a part of something like that. Then the day will come when you’re on the other side of the fence and can confidently say you are not threatened by their relationship with their biological mother and you’re not in competition.
I also believe often times the kids who aren’t accepting of a stepparent are that way because the stepparent is trying too hard. Do your BEST to shut off the outside noise. Be the best you you can be. It’s all you can do. They will come to you in time, and if they don’t, and you are truly amazing, it’s their loss. Either way, it takes TWO to form a meaningful relationship. Do what you can and allow the other piece of that puzzle to be whatever they want to be. You can only ever change yourself.
We are the adults, yes, and as such we should take the lead on LETTING THEM TAKE THE LEAD. They may feel guilty for liking you because that means not liking their mother – in their mind. Loving you may feel like a dangerous proposition, after all, THEIR parents split, how long will YOU be around? The point is to let it happen naturally, pushing it won’t work for ANYONE. It will take lots of time and patience, but let’s face it, marrying into a blended family has “I gotta have time and patience even if I don’t want to” written all over it. Do yourself a favor, remember you are only human, but you are special. Stop competing, take some pressure off, and allow for some SLOW, REALISTIC feelings to form. Fake it til you make it only means you’ll always have a shallow bond. Get in there and allow something real to grow. SLOWLY. Rome wasn’t built in a day.