By Guest Blogger Dionne J.
My life changed forever on July 4, 2009. Not only was that the day that I got married, but it was the day I went from a single, career-oriented woman with no children to being a stepmother of a three year old toddler. Although I knew very little about parenting (surprisingly, at the age of 29, children were not even on my radar) and had virtually no experience caring for young children, I was looking forward to having a daughter to hang out with and do girly stuff. But, after the wedding, things started to go downhill; not in my marriage, but in the relationship between my husband, his Ex, and their daughter. To say that it was an adjustment is an understatement.
Being a stepmother can be very challenging at times. Sure, I know that parenting in general is challenging, but being a stepparent carries its own set of challenges that are unique to our situation. There are the challenges of raising a child that is not your own; having to “convince” a child that they do have to listen to you and follow your rules despite what their mother says; or even dealing with being told that “You’re not my mother!” The struggles of family court drama and the constant tension between my husband and his Ex quickly started to wear me down.
One day I realized that I was no longer a stepmother…I was becoming a step-monster! That is not my nature at all! I finally came to grips with the reality that I could not control what was going on around me, so I decided to step back, re-group and manage what I could control; my emotions, my reactions, and my relationship with my stepdaughter.
If you’re going through a similar situation as a new stepmother, I hope there is some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. It is okay to feel the way you feel, and there is nothing wrong with taking a step back for a little while to re-group. But, when you start to feel overwhelmed, don’t become a step-monster! The following are my top 5 pieces of advice (let’s call them revelations) on how not to become a step-monster:
1. Be Patient. It takes time for you to get to know your stepchild and it takes time for them to get to know you. Remember, they are also going through a transition and children are less capable of coping with stress and drama than adults. But, children know love; so, as long as you show them love, they’ll give it in return.
2. Be Careful. Be careful when discussing family drama or bad-mouthing your spouse’s Ex around your stepchild. Children can be very protective of their parents (especially their mother) and bad-mouthing their mother is one of the quickest ways to lose your stepchild’s trust.
3. Be Understanding. After all, children don’t ask to be born and they certainly can’t pick their parents. But, they can sense the emotion of “blame” and “guilt.” Place the blame on the appropriate parties, not the child; it’s not their burden to bear.
4. Be Responsible. Let’s face it… You knew he had a child and an Ex when you married him. In other words, “you knew what you were getting yourself into.” Instead of blaming your husband for all the drama, take responsibility for your actions. Think about what can you do to help the situation, not add fuel to the fire.
5. Be Yourself. That’s worth repeating… Be yourself! Your stepchild will not respect you if you don’t respect yourself. Don’t change your standards or expectations just because “We don’t do that at my mommy’s house.” You and your husband should create your own traditions, expectations, and rules for your household and, when they are challenged by your stepchild or the Ex, do not compromise.
My husband and I just celebrated our 5 year anniversary. Now, my stepdaughter and I have a very good, healthy relationship. I feel very blessed to have her as a part of my life. The drama between my husband and his Ex has calmed down significantly and I’ve even developed a relationship with my husband’s Ex! I still get overwhelmed at times with this whole parenting thing, but now I no longer allow my external challenges to change who I am as a person.