If you’ve ever seen a Disney movie, you already know who’s the wickedest of all: the stepmom! The very word “stepmother” conjures a prickly and cold sensation and most of us can’t help but assume that the woman bearing that moniker will be harsh, unloving, and a threat to peace and love as we know it!
As a proud member of the United Association of Stepmothers (a fictitious organization that really should exist!), I take offense to the notion that a woman who became a mother through marriage is someone to revile and be suspicious of! Folks, it’s time to get with the times and recognize the important and prevalent role that stepparents play in family and society today! Stepmoms are everywhere, we’re amazing, and we’re not going away!
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Obviously, the inspiration for the folk image of the evil stepmother had to come from somewhere, and it only takes one poison apple to spoil the reputation of the majority! Let’s be honest, in any group of people, there are both good and bad. Perhaps the Brothers Grimm has a particularly nasty step parent, who they decided to pay homage to throughout their tales. Some people are not cut out for parenting in general, and perhaps others have difficulty warming to offspring that are not biologically theirs.
Whatever the case, I refuse to let examples, such as Cinderella’s stepmothers taint the perspective we all have of the many dedicated and loving bonus parents who do a fantastic job of helping to raise their partner’s children. So, let’s form our opinions on the matter with a grain of salt and an individualized approach!
Divorce rates linger at or slightly below the 50% mark, meaning that an awful lot of parents (75% according to The Stepfamily Foundation) will eventually remarry, adding a stepparent to their family dynamic. Many of these stepparents will have children of their own to blend into the family, while others will experience parenthood for the first time with children born to another mother.
The US Census reports that 50% of the 60 million children under the age of 13 live with a parent and a partner who is not the child’s other biological parent. The days of the traditional nuclear family are well in the past. The family of today presents in many unique and beautiful ways, and stepmothers are an important part of countless families!
So, now that we’ve established how common stepmothers are and the fact that we simply can’t make blanket assumptions about the parenting style or capacity for love that these remarkable women possess, let’s consider what’s involved in the role:
I have been in a step parenting role for eight years, and I can confidently say it’s the most challenging job I’ve ever had! It’s not easy to be the new person joining into an already-established family system. Pretty much everyone already living in that system will resist the introduction of a new member.
The kids will fear that dad’s new partner is going to steal away his love and attention and that she will be one more adult nagging and telling them what to do. The children’s mother may see a stepmom as a threat. Will the kids love her more? Will she be a bad influence or try to overtake everything?
Step-parenting includes a lot of tip-toeing around initially to become part of the family without cramping anyone’s style or causing conflict. Many mistakes will be made in an effort to fit in and gain respect.
I have always enjoyed the joke that being a stepmom is “all the work and none of the credit!” Most stepmoms do everything any other parent does including taking care of children when they’re ill, driving kids everywhere they need to go, washing clothes, cooking meals, reading bedtime stories, helping with homework, and tending to broken hearts. Many stepmoms are unsung heroes who sacrifice much and receive little in return. If you’re looking for the spotlight and top billing in the credits, this job may not be for you; however, if opening your heart to accommodate new family members is your thing, you may succeed!
Just as much as not every situation is hers to orchestrate, not every situation is the appropriate forum for a bonus mom to participate in. A stepmom will eventually learn the dance of at what moments her input is needed and welcomed, versus when it is best for her to let the biological parents make the big decisions. My rule of thumb has always been that a school open house, for instance, is a good activity for a step parent to partake in, while a parent-teacher conference or doctor’s appointment may not be in her realm. Every situation is different, and the players in each family may be more or less open to her involvement.
Nothing worth having comes without hard work and time. The same can be said of step-parenting. There is no such thing as “instant family, just add water!” A stepfamily takes time, patience, lots of forgiveness, preferably some humor, and serious dedication to ride through the trying times and emerge successful. It will take time for everyone to open up their hearts and minds to the idea of new family members, to develop rapport and respect, and to build a life together.
Developing shared traditions, not rushing any members of the family into accepting something they’re not ready for, and having your partner’s back are powerful tools in bonding as a family. Stepfamilies are keenly aware of what loss feels like from their past experiences with death or divorce. What no one in this fragile relationship wants to experience again is more heartbreak. The stakes are high and giving up is the last thing to entertain!
Although stepmoms deserve a badge of honor for the bravery and strength required to rock their role, there will be times she will feel like throwing in the towel. I advise her to hang on tight to her partner and be ever willing and ready to learn from mistakes and continue to grow!
So, how does one define her role as a step mom?
Be you! Don’t let some tired stereotype convince you or others that you are a member of the evil stepmom club! Let your own personality show through and prove to everyone that stereotypes are made to be broken! Also, don’t feel as though you need to be Mom 2.0 in order to be successful. You are you, she is herself, and you will be of the most value to yourself and your family by being authentic and true to self!
Be the tortoise. We all know the old story of the rabbit and the hare. In a stepfamily, a hare rushes things in a frenzy to be first rather than taking matters at a comfortable pace and allowing relationships to develop when ready. A tortoise will win the stepfamily race because she exercises patience and a gentle pace. All are allowed to accept changes at the rate that feels right for them instead of being hurried into something they’re not yet ready for. The importance of taking ample time is just as important for you as it is the rest of the family. You need time to develop your style, find your voice, and become accustomed to your new position!
Self-care. A stepmom, just like a tortoise, needs to develop a thick shell because step-momming is not for the weak or weary! To keep those batteries charged, a stepmom needs to carve out daily time to rest, reflect, and pamper herself. Quiet time helps to put things into perspective, organize, and mentally prepare to be the best she can be tomorrow.
Find a stepmom tribe. No one comprehends the challenges of stepparenting quite like another stepmom! Seek out a band of like-minded stepmom warriors to help problem solve, share tips, and inspire your personal brand of bonus parenting. Support can be found through social media groups, local support groups, and elsewhere. Don’t go it alone!
The unique stepmom identity is within each amazing woman who accepts this special role. Forget what the fairy tales and stereotypes say about stepmoms, because all that matters is applying your own personal flavor in whatever way works best for you and your family! Practice patience, self-love, and always remain true to yourself, and you will find your groove as the best bonus parent the kids in your life could ask for!
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