5 Things Stepmoms Want Bio-Moms to Know
The Truth About Blended Families — Part 2
If you missed Part 1 of this post series, click here.
For the past twenty-five years ( gulp!), I’ve been a biological mom. For the past ten years, I’ve been a stepparent to three children, currently ages almost-22, 20, and 12. The two oldest are my husband’s children with his first ex-wife. The youngest is his child with his second ex-wife. I have been in their lives since they were 12, 10, and 2 and I can tell you that there is no rollercoaster in existence that could ever compare to the last ten years of learning to be both a bio-mom to my three and a stepparent to his three. My hairstylist will confirm the amount of grey hair I’ve accumulated over these years, too.
On a personal level, the relationships I have with the two bio-moms in our life are very different. The first one is someone who had we met in a different life, we probably would have been naturally good friends. From very early on, we have always been able to figure out how to “divide & conquer” so to speak when it comes to her children. Maybe it’s because we had an unfair advantage — she’d already had to deal with getting used to a stepmother in her children’s lives and I benefited from her already-achieved level of comfort that I was never going to “replace” her in her children’s eyes.
She and I have always communicated more frequently with each other than she and my husband have — even now that the children are basically grown. It seems we both quickly recognized that since neither of us had extended family who lived nearby — we were kind of it for each other. We each helped the other out with things that have nothing to do with our children for no other reason than that’s what family does for each other.
I’ve covered for her in the mother role whenever necessary and ( get this!) she’s always been willing to do the same with my biological children whenever I couldn’t be in three places at once. We refer to our collective children as “our children.” She has seemed to accept from day one that my children were part of her children’s lives, so that meant they were her family, too. And, yes, we are very aware that we are the family law unicorn — the exception to just about every “rule” about bio-moms and stepmoms — and while I won’t speak for her, I’ve always been thrilled about that. In my opinion, our children, collectively and individually, have certainly benefited in more ways than one.
The relationship I’ve had with the second one has been very different. But I will always hold out hope that it might one day be similar to the first.
But now that five of our six children are, or are nearly, launched into the world, looking back there are some things I wish I could’ve said at the beginning to the bio-moms in our lives. I don’t know for sure that it would’ve helped during the difficult times, but these were all things I wish could’ve been the foundation of our co-parenting treaties right from the beginning.
As a family law attorney and private Guardian ad Litem tasked with helping families navigate initial divorce scenarios and modification cases where usually one or both parents have remarried, I believe if every family started with (at least) these five things as a basic premise in their blended families, the children would be saved from a lot of heartaches and unnecessary drama.
NOTE: These tenets are written from a stepmom’s perspective, but the same is typically true with any person who finds themselves in a stepparent role, regardless of gender.
1. Stepmoms have no desire to replace you, therefore any comparison is not necessary.
We are different people. Even if we have had similar tastes in romantic partners, even those relationships are likely very different. We don’t want to replace any bio-mom in our children’s lives. We have a firm grasp that your children are not our children — we only must look in the mirror for that to be obvious. Please don’t ever think that our home is where your children come to hear about how much better we are than you. You are respected in our home.
We want your children to know that they are loved and cared for in our home, too. We understand how difficult it must be for them to see a new woman in the role of their father’s wife — where you used to be — especially if our home is the former marital residence. But we don’t ever want your children to feel like they are guests in their father’s home — regardless of how much or how little time they spend with us. Especially if we have other children of our marriage living with us full-time.
You will always be their mother. You will always be the person who carried them for nine months and gave them life. You will always be the first person to feel their heartbeat and protect them with every fiber of your being. But, when a court order says there are times when the children can’t be with you, know that we are here, caring for them as we would our own, and they are safe until it’s time for them to be with you again.
2. Stepmoms are parents in their own homes.
Like it or not, we are the parent when you’re not around. To pretend we are not is, at best, naïve, and at worst, disrespectful. This is not to say that we “replace you” — please refer back to #1. But in our homes, we clean and bandage boo-boos. We read bedtimes stories. We help with homework. We manage the household chaos. We provide meals. We shop for new clothes. We provide transportation to and from school and other activities. We buy birthday and holiday gifts. We enjoy our family time. We are cheering in the stands and taking photographs for our family albums. We are making memories. We celebrate the child’s successes, and we help soothe, then boost, their bruised egos following their losses. We help clean up after nighttime accidents. We give pep talks and advice after teenage break-ups. We make sure teeth are brushed and shirts are tucked in. We can and do encourage healthy relationships with both of their parents.
Our role in our home is as the “mom” even if your children never call us that, especially if we have our own biological children. If you choose to not respect that role and you badmouth us to your children, you are making their ability to enjoy time with their father that much harder. Allowing your children the freedom and peace to enjoy their time and relationships in both homes is the best gift you can give them.
3. Stepmoms need information and communication, too.
While it’s true your divorce decree probably says nothing about sharing information or communicating with us, this is one of those things that should just be common sense. We want to care for your children in the ways they are accustomed to and in the ways that you’ve always done. We need to be included in the sharing of information about the children to accomplish this goal.
We shouldn’t be the last to know about a schedule change that leaves little Suzie waiting alone on the school steps for hours or that little Johnny is allergic to peanuts when you know we’ll be the one taking him to a birthday party or Trunk-or-Treat. When you cut us out of the loop of communication or information about the children, you may achieve your goal of making us look incompetent, but you risk putting the child in a bad situation — one that could be harmful to them rather than just embarrassing for us.
If the children are having a bad week, if they have a big test coming up, or if there is an illness or injury that needs caring for while they are with us, please share this information with their father with us. By doing so, we know it feels like you’re conceding that your ex has moved on completely or that you’re raising your kids with two people instead of one, but at the end of the day, communicating with one extra person to ensure your children have what they need isn’t really too much to ask. At least when you look at things from the children’s perspective.
4. Stepmoms know we’ll never be your BFF, but we can be allies, and maybe even friends.
There are certainly exceptions to this rule. Some mothers and stepmothers have an innate ability to get along and work together right from the start. With others, there is a period of trust-building that must happen first. And then some just never find their stride.
Regardless of which camp we’re in, we do want to be your ally in this game called “parenting.” It’s not going to be easy for either of us. As the bio-mom, you have children who may be taking advantage of the fact that dad is no longer around, especially if he was the disciplinarian in your former home. As the stepmom, if your children know you hate me, then you can just imagine what I’m dealing with in my home.
When the pre-teen and teen years are upon us, and the kids are trying to play all of us against each other to get their way, we’re going to need to have each other’s backs. When a daughter is rebelling and you’re the last person she’ll listen to, maybe I can be the neutral advice she’ll hear and help guide her back in line with the values she doesn’t know we share. When the son is embarrassed to tell you about how he feels about you entering the dating scene, I can be that extra nudge he needs to know you’ll want to hear about his feelings.
But at the end of the day, no matter how much we disagree about certain things, we both love the same children. We both want what is best for these children. We both want the children to have healthy relationships with their father. We both want these children to grow up to be successful and happy and hopefully never have to experience divorce in their own marriages. The best way to do that is for all three (or four) of their parents and stepparents to be on the same team for them.
And, who knows? Maybe, if we’re really lucky, while we’re both pulling in the same direction for them, we discover we like each other more than we thought we would. Anything is possible. But even if we just remain two distant members of the same team, we’ve probably raised some pretty awesome kids in the process by working together.
5. TRUTH BOMB AHEAD ===> Stepmoms are terrified most of the time.
We know the societal stereotype we’re walking into, a.k.a. the “evil” stepmother. We know that by marrying the person we’ve said “yes” to, we will never truly have a honeymoon period of our marriage — we are jumping straight into the fire with someone we believe (hope) can take the heat with us no matter what.
We know that you probably hate us before you’ve met us. We know your children are already thinking up ways to try to come between our spouse and us. We know that the years ahead of us are nothing like we had planned when we were little girls dreaming of our forever life. We know that every single holiday and special occasion will include people we are not related to and with whom we most certainly didn’t choose to spend our precious family time. We know that our schedules will often be dictated by an agreement we had no voice in making.
We know we are being judged on what we do just as harshly as we’re being judged on what we don’t do. We know we will never be able to please everyone at the same time, even in our own home, which should be our safe place. We know that we will fall in love with our spouse’s children, but that at the end of the day, we will be the last person they acknowledge (if they ever do) when they talk about their family.
We know we will screw something up in this new role of ours at least three (okay, ten) times a day. We know that on most days there won’t be enough grace in the universe to make us feel okay about those screw-ups.
But even given all that fear, even with all those odds stacked against us, we still love our family more than words could ever accurately describe. And despite everything, and even though your children are not our blood, we would still lay down our life for them, just as you would.
And we hope that counts for something.
Originally published at https://www.scchildcustody.com on February 15, 2022.