Recently a lovely soon to be stepmother reached out to me saying she was having second thoughts about marrying into her situation. I decided it was a good time to reflect on my own journey and perhaps offer some guidance. Here is my response:
I’m so glad you reached out. To be honest, what I wouldn’t have given for someone to speak to me or even be available with some experience before I took the marriage plunge. I am not saying I would not have done it, but I would have been in a very different place had I had a realistic preview of what I was getting myself into. The truth is, I had to learn many things, very very fast, and I grew immensely in a few short years. That would never have happened had I not entered this situation. But still, a few things you should know:
It Is What It Is
Unless you’re being heard, or there is an least the option of you being heard, nothing will change. What it is now is what it’s going to be, unless you are lucky enough to have co-parents who are willing to grow and compromise along the way.
Trust Your Gut
If you are having doubts about getting married – Wait. WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT WAIT. Getting married and being legally, emotionally and physically bound to these people is not going to fix any issues that are there now. In fact it may make them worse. The old – ‘if you don’t know what to do, do nothing’ – really stands here. You can’t sit and wait forever to make a move in either direction, but at least for now, if there is a nagging sense of worry in your gut – DO NOT IGNORE IT.
Parenting is hard. Marriage takes work. Throw a few boomerangs in there like the fact that you’re parenting children you did not create and will share that responsibility with another adult (or a few), and you’ve got a fun recipe for toughness. The road is not easy and it is long. I’ve found that the only thing that has truly helped me along my journey is to grow and mature.
Be Mature or Lose
Which brings me to what “maturity” really means. I used to think maturity meant paying your bills on time, being a responsible adult, making choices for a child that were productive and positive, and not being an asshole to other people. It’s much much more than that. It’s knowing yourself well enough to know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s being the bigger person at all times. And I mean ALL times. It’s the intricate and difficult dance of avoiding conflict where it just doesn’t matter and yet standing your ground where it does. The children will say hurtful things. Their biological parents will have their opinions. Your job is to be a supporter. This may mean you’re in the background and not always get the recognition you may deserve. If being #2 is painful for you, admit it now, and either work on it, or choose another life. I hate to be blunt but it’s true.
The Concept of Being #2
Some would argue that your marriage comes first. I would say a solid percentage of blended family marriages do not fit that model. Many dads feel guilty so they put the time with their children above everything else, including time with you. Please note this one super truth – if he is not taking your feelings into consideration, you have a large problem. That is a red flag and cannot be ignored. The flip side of that however is that it’s really hard for dads (and moms) when a new partner is brought into the mix. They are splitting their much needed love and attention and it’s not easy. This is a terribly difficult balance. If they don’t care about how you feel and say, “take it as it is or go”, well, there it is. However, if they are open to compromise, as ANY relationship should be, while it could take a very long time to find that balance, it can be found.
I don’t know many stepmoms who aren’t exactly the same in this one truth – when we got married we ran at it head first. There are some who were not afforded that “luxury” if you want to call it that, because their circumstances were different. But as ignorant steps, we ran at this as fast as we could and gave of ourselves desperately. We wanted the children to love us. We wanted to work with “biomom” and we wanted to be PERFECT. Let me tell you now, you’re wasting your time and you will burn yourself out with this mindset. I invite you to try, as we all have, but in the end you’ll learn it’s the most unhealthy way to go about this whole blended family deal. You matter. Do not ever for a moment stop remembering that. While you must make compromises for this new family it does not now, nor will it ever mean losing yourself in the mix. You are wonderful and unique exactly as you are and if you lose yourself here, you will play hell trying to get it back. And that comes directly from experience on my end. Do not forget your worth or what makes you you. And the most ironic piece? The children want genuine. Children are the best fake detectives on the planet. If you don’t bring the real, you’re going in the wrong direction. Bring the lovely individual qualities that only you can bring and leave it at that.
Don’t Attempt to Replace Their Mother
As fast as you are humanly capable, let go of the competition. I don’t care if she is the most horrible person on the planet and is out to make your life hell. I don’t care if she tries to ruin any chance of a relationship with the children she shares with the man in your life. Children are not stupid, and words spoken do not trump realities behaved. You are to respect her as their mother, even if that is the only thing you can respect about her. You do not have to be her bestie, but being nasty and playing the game is a game of two losers. Be above it and keep the mindset that you are not in competition with her.
The Dreaded Biomom
Yep. Sometimes she exists. But she is not EVERY biomom. Be careful where you seek advice. There are MANY people dealing with the aftermath (or continued distress) of a high-conflict divorce. These stepmoms scream loudly and most often are exactly where the evil stepmother idea comes from. If they are still nasty and hateful, they won’t help you in your dealings with biomom. If it is TRULY that bad, why on earth would you stay? A strong determined woman will rise above the nonsense, or will be healthy enough to realize when enough is enough. Otherwise, just be honest with yourself about your own behavior and try to be better. The ONLY one you can ever change is yourself. You do not have to take abuse, you do not have to make everything into a show. A game is only a game when two people are playing. Simply stop playing or choose another path. And remember, it was not your marriage to break, it is not your relationship to fix. Let them deal with each other. She may be a difficult monster. But maybe, just maybe, she is threatened, or confused, or feeling mowed over and wants to be respected. Especially for those who are new to this, this is hard for everyone. As difficult as it may seem to grasp, be humble. Continue to see her perspective. Not to be a doormat, but to be a woman, just like she is a woman. A human with flaws. It will help you greatly I promise you. Even if she is horribly overboard in her behavior, if you keep an open mind, it will guide you. Some of us are in situations where the mother of these children is so badly broken that we cannot even attempt to wrap our head around what she is doing. BUT is ALL of it that messed up? Take the pieces that are beyond you and remove them from this idea. Some of it is simple human nature. Jealousy, fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, sadness. These are all normal human emotions. Try to see why she may feel YOU are being a bitch, and it will help you. And don’t be a bitch. Plain and simple. You don’t have to be perfect. The high road is not the easy road. But if you try and stay humble, EVENTUALLY things could change.
I Said EVENTUALLY Things Could Change
Some women have been here for years and it never changed. That’s because even though their heart told them it could go well, and they had high hopes, the truth is it was just too broken to begin with, or in some cases moved to an irreparable state. I do not encourage quitting, because people quit too easily. BUT there does come a point where it’s just a horrible scenario and perhaps you shouldn’t be there. I speak often with women who have been in their blended family marriages for YEARS, dealing with PTSD that continues because they got wrapped up in such a high conflict situation. If it is TRULY that bad, you’re not a horrible person for removing yourself. But it’s about doing it when it’s right. When you’ve tried everything. When you’ve made peace with it. We ALL want to throw in the towel at times. It’s about trusting your heart. Do you?
Don’t Avoid Growth – Embrace It With Every Piece of Yourself
I read recently that you need to lean down close to your soul and listen. If you’re like me, that’s hard. ESPECIALLY if you’ve been in a relationship (or led your life) as the person who is a fixer. You want to make everything right for everyone else. So you throw a nice big SHUT THE F**K UP to your insides and keep on fixing. That will make you miserable. Not might. It will. Go to therapy. Read some books. If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging. I encourage you to stop living this way if you are. It will only last for so long, because if you give endlessly of yourself without listening to your own wants, you will hit a brick wall. Some of us hit it faster than others.
Know that you’re in for the ride of your life. Sometimes these stories are so twisted that eventually they break. They cannot find happiness and they don’t end well. But sometimes, they are woven so beautifully that they give way to encouragement for others. It will be hard. You will get tired. Sharing your life with another person is difficult. Sharing your life with a spouse, plus their children plus someone who lives in another house is super difficult. Finding the balance between what works for you and what works for the other co-parent is necessary. Even if you disagree with every piece of what is happening in the other household, you can only ever control your insides. There will be days that you hate everything about this. There will be days where you couldn’t imagine yourself anywhere else. There will be days where the children dagger your soul with words and behaviors that only someone you love is capable of. And those days will be countered by the times that you have real bonds with them. Where they appreciate you even if they can’t articulate it. And one thing is for sure, it will change you. You will not be the same person ever again after marrying into a blended family. But it’s up to you to decide if that means you’ll be changed for better or for worse.
Never Be Afraid To Seek Support
You’re going to need it. And if you decide this isn’t for you, it doesn’t make you weak. It means you know yourself, your limits, and actually it speaks only to your maturity level. It is an extremely difficult decision. Marriage should NEVER be entered lightly. Marriage under these circumstances should take even more thought and emotional consideration. Just remember you’re only human, you have limits. BUT if you keep the right perspective, the right circle, the right wise counsel, you will go further, learn more, and be bigger than you ever thought you could.