The Struggle With Finding Balance in a Blended Family

Carol Chea

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Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

This story is part of a continuing series about being a stepmom. If you are a stepmom and need help, visit https://onestepatatimecoach.com/ to book a coaching session.

“Well, you knew what you were signing up for.”

This has to be the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life.

Let me ask you this question: Does anyone know what they’re “signing up for” in any situation? Of course not. Life is a mystery, no matter how much we try to compartmentalize, plan, and develop steps to achieve what we want.

When you get in your car, do you think about the possibility that you could be involved in an accident? Sure, the thought may be in the back of your mind, buried under the piles of a million other thoughts, but you still drive.

Why is it that people feel justified to tell a stepmom that she “knew what she was getting into”? I promise you, she didn’t.

There is no possible way to prepare yourself for it. Imagine living in a home with children who don’t belong to you. Children who are sweet and precious…and not yours. Imagine trying to form a bond with them while dealing with a birth mom who hates you and everything you stand for without ever speaking a word to you.

Imagine trying to figure out just what in the hell your role is, trying to remain neutral when all you really want to do is tell mom and dad that they’re doing it all wrong. Imagine going to all the school functions, joining the PTA, helping with homework, teaching them how to drive, to cook, to fold laundry, to be productive little humans, only to have all of those accomplishments wiped away by a three-day visit to the birth mom.

Riddle me this: how are stepmoms supposed to hold back pieces of their hearts so they can remain whole while giving their all each and every day?

If you are a stepmom, I’m preaching to the choir here. Join any online stepmom support group, talk to any of your stepmom friends, and we all say the same thing. We’re tired. More than tired. We are downright exhausted. Many of us are balancing on the knife’s edge of sanity, almost ready to throw in the towel and rent a one-bedroom apartment and adopt a cat.

My life has been consumed by my stepkids. Between the custody battles, failed mediation agreements, erratic biomom behavior, sleepless nights, and stress that causes headaches and stomach problems are these amazing kids. Kids who are not to blame for their clinginess, their whining fits, and their constant need for validation.

When the kids are here, I have absolutely no time for myself. No going for a walk, no going to the bathroom without them yelling for me, no sitting on the couch and vegging out to Netflix. Throw into the mix that I work full time from home, and sometimes I’m ready to jump out the window.

This probably makes my hubs sound like an awful person. He’s the exact opposite. He is helpful and kind, keeping them occupied, taking them to the park while I’m on a conference call, or loading the dishwasher for me when I can’t get to it. Problem is, he works nights, which means he has to sleep, which further means that I have them by myself on those days. This also means I have them on nights when dad is working. Daycare is out of the question. There is no way to work that cost into the budget, so we have no choice but to have them here at home.

This means that between calls and emails I’m baking chicken nuggets and breaking up arguments.

On top of the full-time job, I have a side blogging business and I’m pursuing my MBA. I am determined to reach my goals even though I am afraid by the time I reach them my brain will be a big ball of mush. And I have a mom who is stuck in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s who I desperately want to move in with me, but I can’t even imagine adding that pressure to my already overworked brain and body.

Greater women than I have admitted defeat and walked away. I can’t do that. I simply don’t own my heart anymore. Hubs has it, and I don’t want it back. He’s the greatest gift I could have received. So, I have to figure out how to handle the rest of this.

Because, in all honesty, I don’t want them here all the time. I want to be the cool weekend stepmom who gets to take them to the zoo and buy them loud toys to take to moms. I want to be selfish and climb the corporate ladder while wining and dining my hubs, getting my nails done, and going out with friends. I don’t want to be filling out kindergarten paperwork and wiping bottoms. I’m 45 for goodness sake. I’ve paid my dues, raised my kids, kicking ass all the way. This is supposed to be my time. When is it my time?

Selfish? Probably. True? Absolutely.

The fact is, this isn’t my decision. I can share my opinion, but it’s ultimately none of my business. These children are my husband’s, so if I want him, I get them. Whole package.

And we have a blast. We play, and we read stories, we do cool stuff together, and we laugh. A lot. This house is basically built by juice boxes, Disney Plus, and laughter.

But the horrible, soul-bearing truth is this: I can’t imagine my life without my own children. They are grown and living their own lives, flying in and out of my orbit when they can. I worry about them every single day. Do they have groceries? Are their cars safe? Do they need anything? Are they making dangerous choices?

When my stepkids are at their mom’s, I think about them, but not in the same way. Not even close. I worry about them, but for the most part, I go about my day without thinking about them. That doesn’t make me horrible. It just recognizes the fact that I will never have the same bond with them as I do my own children. Some people may think I’m a terrible person. That’s okay. I’m not here to please random people. And if I’ve learned anything in life, pretending to feel something just to make people happy will never work. It will only lead to misery.

I need to be honest even if that honesty is hurtful.

My situation is not unique. There are stepmoms everywhere who have the responsibility of caring for their stepchildren for extended periods. And for many of us, this means we live in a constant state of increased anxiety which wreaks havoc on our health. I am usually full of energy, ready to go from sunup to sundown. I used to work out five days a week, now I want to sleep all the time, and I struggle to walk up the stairs.

I know that things will moderate as the children grow. They are needy now — but they are tiny. As they get into school and don’t need us as much, it will be calmer. I’ll finish my MBA, I will find a way to add some “me time” into the mix, and life will be sunnier.

I hope.

A huge problem I have is all the advice you can find on the internet. Most of them talk about this huge desire stepmoms have to connect with their stepkids. They give advice about all the ways you can create a bond. And don’t get me wrong, all of that advice is fantastic. You should create a bond with your stepchildren, but a dangerous side to this advice is that these bonds can make stepmoms feel inadequate if they don’t feel connected to their stepkids.

The painful truth is my stepkids have two parents already. I don’t need to create a mom-like bond with them because they already have one. The struggle is to figure out what the bond should look like. Should I be a teacher? An aunt? What?

Not to mention the big bullseye stepmoms have on their backs. Some people see us as homewreckers who took daddy away from his family. Those folks revel when stepmoms struggle like it validates their point. Others see us as some kind of superhero, thinking that we can leap tall buildings in a single bound. What none of them understands is that we are human. We are dealing with a situation that at times has no solution. We are fragile, full of doubt, and clueless. We have no framework, no instruction manual. We are authoring our own books with only our own experiences serving as research, erasing whole chapters, and starting over, time and time again.

Things will get better. I don’t know how or when, but they will. I may have to admit that I will never be a super stepmom. I will be kind, I will care for and encourage, I will support my husband as he navigates his relationship with the birth mom, but that may be all I can give. And if that’s all I can give, it will have to be enough.

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I want to draw attention to LGBTQIA+ issues, the struggles of finding legitimate work from home opportunities, and the need for employers to recognize how productive workers can be with a hybrid or work from home schedule.

Lexington, KY
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