By : Amie Martin
Mother’s Day – A Reminder that Can Smart:
If being a stepmom is anything like walking a tight rope, then striking the balance is easier some days than others. In particular, one day each year, a stepmom is reminded that her heart is lined by a struggle for acceptance she knows she’ll probably never have. At least not fully. This day is…
The song, No One Said it Would be Easy, by Cheryl Crow, may not be about stepparenting, but stepmoms likely experience feelings about the role in just that way. Stepmoms face interesting and unique challenges, to be sure. A few of them include:
Reminding Yourself You Still Like the Guy You Married:
The fact is, a stepmom does know that her proposed spouse has children, and – except in very rare circumstances – is quite aware of this fact prior to the exchange of nuptials. Under the influence of the warm, intoxicating guise of relationship-invincibility, it’s easy to get almost excited about being a stepmom! The internal monologue during a couple’s courtship probably goes something a little like this:
[My fiancé] is the best thing to ever happen to me! Boy, am I lucky we bumbled into one another’s paths in life! This is the man I will be spending the rest of my life with. I can’t wait to start over, to help him start over, to build a new home, and new memories – a new life together. And his children? I love children! It will be wonderful. I can extend my love for him to them. The ex-wife? Well, she’s no comb-pack of rainbows and butterflies, but a small price to pay to be married to this wonderful man…
While the exact inner conversation might differ from woman to woman, something at least similar to this internal monologue swirls in the head of a soon-to-be new wife during the “dating” phase.
There’s really no way around it: There are factors that are imperfect (does a stepmom dare say GRUELING in moments?) about the blending of families that get overlooked. The do this because – ultimately – they feel at the time that these life compromises are worth it. And they are. They really are (in most cases, anyway). It’s common for a stepmom to harken back to memories about the courtship phase for comfort, maybe even inspiration to keep on keepin’ on during the tougher moments of stepparenting. She finds herself repeating that the many challenges crammed into the package of man-with-ex-wife-and-children were worth it. During the hardest moments of stepparenting, she reminds herself that because they were worth it, they still are worth it. She is left reminding herself that she took on all of the challenges of stepparenting willingly because she deeply loves the man she married. He is worth it.
Defining Indefinable Relationships:
And while it’s all – ultimately – worth it, it doesn’t mean it’s not hard being a stepparent. Take, for example, the internal monologue a stepmom has when trying to purchase a birthday gift for a stepchild. It might go something like this:
Should I get her a book? I know she has a great imagination and she seems to love to read. Wait. Maybe she only reads at our house because she’s bored. Then again… I thought I heard her mention something about that new Nintendo DS game she wanted. I don’t know. It’s pretty pricey, and [my own child] isn’t even allowed to have electronic games… will that cause resentment? Hmm. Maybe we can enjoy a nice day at the spa together. No, of course not. What was I thinking? She’ll think I’m trying too hard. Maybe –
This (or at least something like it) probably sounds familiar to most stepmoms. Even something as simple as gift-buying, a typically enjoyable and rewarding thing for a parent to do, can be extremely complex when it comes to the stepparent/stepchild relationship. If something as simple as buying a gift for a stepchild can seem so exhausting, imagine the challenges faced when a stepparent confronts the more high-stakes issues of everyday life, like: disciplining, teaching morality and manners, boundary-setting, offering useful advice, fielding coming-of-age conversations and more. Take these more serious events and that internal monologue turns into something resembling a master’s thesis. No matter how many of the “step” issues are ultimately worked through, there seem to always be more lurking around the corner. The relationship between a stepmom and a stepchild is multifaceted, at best, and typically lands in the realm of indefinable. Usually, at some point, a stepmom is called to make her peace with that.
Resisting the “Pity Party”
As complex as mere parenting can be at times, stepparenting involves all of the same challenges – sometimes more – but often with pretty thankless outcomes. Take, for example… Mother’s Day. A stepmom journeys through the year struggling with all the things that go along with the title of “stepmom.” By the act of marrying the man she loves, a stepmom willingly places herself under a microscope, to be scrutinized by his children and others – often involving expectations that can’t and won’t ever be met. The stepparenting role can get a little harrowing at times. Then, on the day a “real” mom might otherwise have the countless hours of frustration, work, sacrifice, lost sleep, planning, engaging, supporting and – perhaps persevering – rewarded with some small show of understanding or appreciation (if only a card that Dad helped pick out), a stepmom receives – in most cases – nothing.
Mother’s Day, instead, often represents an awkward day for a stepmom. It’s on days like Mother’s Day that a stepmom is called to buck up. She is called to understand and to remind herself that Mother’s Day isn’t for her. The role of stepmom (though a wonderful role as much as it can be challenging sometimes) is anything but the role of plain, old “mom.”Amie Martin is a master-level social worker, freelance writer, and mom or stepmom to five, wonderful, quirky, interesting children.