I'm well into my third year of being an official stepmom (yay, marriage equality!), and in the beginning, because I grew up in a blended family, I figured I was pretty well equipped for the job. Little did I suspect that I had so much to learn. Here are just a few of the things I didn't know about being a stepmom before I became one.
1. Stepparents get a bad rap
When I'm having a parenting conversation with someone new, as often as not I feel the change the minute they realize I'm the stepmom, not a primary parent or the biological mother. Suddenly, that glib complaint about bedtime meltdowns is judged, and the opinion I just shared about screen time is taken much less seriously. Being a stepparent can mean you automatically get labeled with a set of assumptions – like, probably you enjoy your time more when you have your partner all to yourself. I wish I'd known sooner about misperceptions like this and that they're not worth caring about.
2. Nobody explains how to be a good stepparent
Becoming a stepmom means walking an invisible tightrope between overstepping and not stepping up enough. Finding just the right level of involvement sometimes feels impossible. And there's no road map or rulebook for how active a role you should take in your kids' lives, though you'll get plenty of advice.
3. It can feel like you're living in the shadow of your spouse's ex
After we got married, I didn't expect jealousy over my wife's ex to keep popping up. But that little twinge hits me sometimes when I know they've talked (and co-parenting means they talk all the time), or if they share a story and make each other laugh. I feel envious too that they experienced so many firsts together before I came along, from my stepdaughter's first steps to deciding what school she'd go to. After all, I'm only human.
4. Stepparenting is not a thankless job
All of the same work but half the credit sounds like a pretty rough gig, right? And before I became a mom, I sometimes wondered where the appeal would be for me, since it seemed like I'd never be seen as a "real parent" by anyone. But the truth is, the credit doesn't matter, the impact does.
You might not always get a thank you when you leave work early to go pick up your stepkid at school. But you do get that special extra half an hour to be the first one to hear about your kid's day. You might also get the chance to help her figure out that math problem that's been discouraging her for days. Being part of raising an amazing human is incredibly rewarding, not thankless.
5. You are a "real parent"
Before I became a stepmom, I assumed stepparents never stopped feeling, on some level, like outsiders in their kids' lives. I figured my wife and stepdaughter would always be kind of an exclusive pair, and a little off to the side I'd be the one taking pictures or smiling and watching while they played together on the playground. I thought I'd attend her recitals and sporting events, but stay home when she went to the doctor or had a school meeting.
What I didn't realize is that when you're a steadfast presence and build trust with your stepkids, in many ways they begin to see you as an equal. My stepdaughter still wants her mommy when she feels sick or gets hurt, but I think more and more, that will change too. Meanwhile, when she requests that I drive her to school or sit next to her when we're out to dinner, I know I've made it.
6. Your life is no longer controlled by you alone
As an adult, you expect to control how you spend your days. Getting married and deciding to raise a family brings on adjustments and new challenges, of course. But when I became a stepmom, I was surprised by how sudden the changes were. Much of my daily life immediately became dictated by custody schedules and co-parenting ebbs and flows, in addition to getting into the rhythms of my new married life. As a stepmom, you often have little control over things like when your stepkids are with you, how much your partner needs to interact with their co-parent, when you can take family vacations, and so much more.
Extra steps are involved in planning everything, so it's a good thing I'm addicted to lists, organizing, and paper planners. Flexibility and preparedness are crucial to maintaining stepparenting sanity.
7. Co-parenting is a constant work in progress
What I knew before I got married, what I know now, and what I will know tomorrow about co-parenting is different. Human beings are constantly changing. We all have bad moods, bad days, and stressful moments that are bound to spill over into our interactions with one another. My wife's ex chose to parent with her and not with me. I have to keep that in mind when things are tough and remember to feel grateful that at the end of the day, we all have the same priority: the well-being of our daughter.
In the beginning, I thought that eventually our co-parenting relationship and my role as a stepmom would settle into a routine over time and remain the same throughout my stepdaughter's life. What I didn't realize is that as my stepdaughter grows, her needs change, and our relationships with one another as parents evolves, too. Patience and persistence are key, and perfection just simply doesn't exist.
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