The movies get the stepmom role all wrong
The birth mom/stepmom dynamic can be strained.
Many stepmoms feel the birthmom they have to deal with is "high-conflict". Many birthmoms feel the stepmom is overstepping her role and getting too involved.
It can be tough to negotiate and find a comfortable way to work together while you all raise the kids. It's hard enough when only two parents are raising kids together!
But it doesn’t have to be a strained relationship. In fact, placing simple boundaries around your own attitudes and behaviors makes it easier on everyone.
Step-parents are a common part of my family, as they are in many families today. I’ve got a stepmom, this year I became a stepmom, and my own kids recently got a stepmom. Wow — that’s a lot of moms! I've had a lot of time to think about what "stepmom" means for me and my kids.
These are five things I decided I won’t be doing with my kids’ new stepmom:
1. Telling my kids what they can call her
I know a lot of birthmoms struggle with what their children call their stepmom. On single mother's groups online, I’ve seen some birthmom's get quite nasty about it: “Over my dead body they’ll call HER mom!”
I get it. Mom is a special name. Becoming a mom is really difficult for some women and motherhood is often very emotionally charged. Mom is a special name to me too but personally, I’m not worried what my children decide to call their stepmom. I'm leaving it completely up to them and have told them as much.
My relationship with my children isn’t based on the title they give me, neither is it reduced by them calling someone else “mom” (or “mum” as we say here in New Zealand).
I know from my own experience there's enough love for two moms. When I was a child, calling my stepmom by her name or "mum" didn't change how much I loved my birthmom or how special she was to me.
2. Ignoring, excluding, or leaving her out of family events
Blended family events are unavoidable. There are concerts, prize-givings, productions, and, when the kids grow up, graduations, weddings, and baby showers. As a child, I always appreciated seeing my parents getting along at these events. I know it wasn't always easy but my moms (and dad) made an effort to say hi, talk to each other, and celebrate whatever was happening — together. At my recent wedding they were excited to see each other and support me as a family. It meant a lot seeing them all chatting happily. I want to do the same for my kids.
Last year, for my daughter’s dance comps, I wanted to make their dad and (future) stepmom feel included. My daughter needed a new costume at the last minute. Instead of doing it myself, like I usually would, I asked my ex and his girlfriend if they’d like to help. They’re both creative people and she’s a talented seamstress. We each made one part of the costume and it looked incredible! On the night of the competition my ex sent me a text. “She looks great! Awesome team effort.” Knowing three of her parents had contributed to her costume was special for my daughter and the pride showed on her face (she won that dance too!)
We don’t have to be best buddies to include the other parents in our children’s lives. Including their stepmom can be as simple as making sure she receives an invite with her name on it, or helping your children make her a birthday card.
3. Feeling bad when my kids talk about her
I don’t want any topics to be off limits in my house. My children spend almost half the week with their dad and his wife. If my kids can’t talk about her at my house, they’ll be unable to share a huge part of their lives with me.
I want to hear when they’re excited about what they did in the weekend. They love their stepmom and were excited about the wedding. They do sewing projects with her and want to tell me about it. They want to talk about who said what and where they went. I understand how hearing about those things could be upsetting for some moms — it’s a strange, complex mess of emotions when relationships end and new ones begin — but I’m happy that my kids are happy. I’m relieved that they’re enjoying themselves when they’re at their dads. I’m relieved that there is a family that loves and supports them in both houses.
4. Being jealous of their time with her
When I hear about the cool things they do with their stepmom, I think it’s a bonus! How awesome that my children have the benefit of someone else’s creative talent, experiences, and interests. We can’t be everything and do everything we want to with our kids — we just don’t have the time or skills.
My kids’ future stepmom is incredibly creative and the sewing projects they do with her are gorgeous. As a homeschooling mom, that means I can focus on other projects and activities knowing she’s got sewing covered. It takes the pressure off!
5. Thinking of her as unimportant
Good step parents do much of the parenting that birth parents do but without much credit. They comfort, advice, teach, support, encourage, and love their step children. They make a valuable contribution in their lives. Isn't that what we want for our kids when they're not with us?
Step parents, along with birth parents, also model values, relationships, and communication. They might do less of the disciplinary work — neuroscience lecturer and parenting educator, Nathan Wallis, says they should leave that to the parents where they can — but stepparents play a huge role in creating a family.
Families are created out of the culture parents design together. The birth parent and stepparent decide how the family operates, how they treat each other, and what they value. That’s incredibly important!
My kids' stepmom seems stricter than I am. I don't always agree with how she parents but I do support her parenting. She may be a little stricter but I know she loves and cares about my kids. Stepmoms are hardly ever the evil characters movies make them out to be. They’re women who care for kids who aren’t their own blood and love them as if they are. It’s not an easy job — they have less power than a birth parent and often get a hard time from the kids. They put a lot of pressure on themselves to bond with children they see part-time and (if the kids are older) haven’t known as cute little babies.
My own stepmom is incredible (my birth mom thinks she is too). I feel very blessed to have two wonderful moms and I’m pretty sure my kids will feel the same way.