A wonderfully impossible memory.
My very best friend and I could not be more opposite. Roommates in college, she scheduled all her classes in the morning. I never had a class before noon. She has 3 brothers. I have 3 sisters. She grew up in a teeny tiny town. I spent much of my time in a big city.
Even now, she humbly gave up her career to be an incredible Mother. I am smack dab in the middle of taking my career to the next level, and can’t imagine having a baby.
As we’ve grown into the women we are today, I used to oftentimes feel myself jealous of her simple life. Her organic family. Her ability to raise her kids how she sees fit. She has no ex-wife to deal with, or chaotic schedules to manage. She gets to snuggle her babies every night, and wake up every morning knowing there are no outsiders ready to attack her decisions.
Recently, my husband and I took a vacation. We were unable to take Stepdaughter with us, so to make the best of it, we pumped up the romance and enjoyed some white table cloth dinners. It was relaxing, rejuvenating, and a great escape from everyday life.
After catching up with my girlfriend, she exclaimed “You are so lucky! You have so much flexibility and freedom to travel with your husband…you are so lucky.”
Interesting, I thought. Me, lucky? I’m a Stepmom. Doesn’t she know I’m the villain of society?
Once I found my step in this whole Stepmom gig, I realized she was very right. I am lucky. It can be easy for stepparents to be blinded by the negatives in their life. The constant chaos, the bickering that comes with blending families, and the never ending quarrel between exes. Many stepparents have expressed their disappointment in the way their life has turned out. If you’re feeling burnt out, I encourage to stop and smell the roses. I bet there are some four leaf clovers in your path.
I’m lucky because I have a husband who makes our marriage a priority. Many, many, many remarried spouses don’t do this. The kids come first. Always. This is a recipe for disaster, and an eventual second divorce. My husband carves out time just for us, child here or not. He does not allow Stepdaughter to disrespect me, nor me to disrespect her. He shows both me and her, that our union is sacred, as is her place in this family as his daughter. His relationship with his wife is equally important as his relationship with his daughter. And having a united, stable front as the parents in our household is the key to our happy, peaceful life. I am lucky that I am a second wife to someone that doesn’t treat me second best.
I am lucky that I have a family that supports my role as a Stepmom. I’m sure my parents didn’t dream of me stepping in as a Mother figure to a child that is not “mine.” I remember being terrified to tell them this deep, dark secret about the guy I was seeing. After I revealed that -gasp!- he had a daughter, they responded with “…and?” There was no hesitation to welcome both of them into our family, and their support of my decision to pursue a life with him never wavered.
I am lucky that my stepdaughter loves me. Many stepkids do not feel this way about their stepparents. Their hatred towards these adults that inserted themselves into their lives can be very real, and very strong. It can make a journey as a stepparent heartbreaking. I am lucky that my stepdaughter, despite pressures and discussions she’s been exposed to, has kept her heart open to mine and squeezes me tight every night.
I am lucky that my successes and failures at being a Stepmom has led me down an incredible career path, and connected me with fellow stepmoms, stepdads, stepkids, therapists, lawyers, counselors…I have incredible people knocking on my door to connect with me. Everyone in today’s world knows someone touched by divorce. It’s been an incredible experience to hear about other’s trials and triumphs, and it has humbled me in the best way possible. Every stepfamily is different, and always evolving. I am lucky I have found people who just “get it.”
Am I lucky? I tend to think so. Is my best friend lucky? Absolutely. We are both very lucky, in very different ways. We’ve taken what life has handed us, and steered our families, one biological and one not, towards happiness. We both have our days of wondering if the grass is greener on each other’s side, but when all is said and done we are grateful for what we have. We are proud of who we are. We are both indefinitely and undeniably….lucky.
1 - Ask to be called Mom or Dad
Those titles hold very sacred meaning. Asking a child to call a stepparent either of those terms carries an unbelievable amount of pressure, especially if that child already has an active Mother and Father in their life. A stepparent is a stepparent, and they should be titled as so. I personally wear my Stepmom badge proudly, it carries an entirely different sense of pride and symbolizes perseverance in my eyes. I feel honored to hold that title, and I know many other Stepmoms do as well. If a child calls a stepparent Mom or Dad on their own terms, that can be a beautiful gesture of love. But if it’s a forced label, it can stir up feelings of uncertainty and resentment.
2 - Speak ill of their biological counter-partner
Tensions can run high in blended families. Disagreements run amuck, and emotions can get the best of even the most patient parents. It’s important to remember that when you speak ill of a child’s parent, you’re essentially attacking half of that child as well. That parent is a part of them, to say they are bad is to tell the child they are part bad too. On top of that, it can launch the child into protection mode, wanting to defend said parent, and begin to resent you for feeling the way that you do about them. It can be the hardest thing in the world, but biting your tongue in moments when you just want to scream the truth will help you in the long run. Does this mean staying silent if the Ex is bad-mouthing you the kids? No. Check out Divorce Poison for constructive ways to defend yourself to the kids, and encourage them to form their own opinions on situations.
3 - Monopolize their spouse
It can be fun and exciting to dive right into your new role as Stepmom or Stepdad, and it makes sense that the best way to cohesively bond your blended family would be to do things together as a family, all the time. While on the surface that seems the most logical, let’s take a moment and really think about it. Your spouse is their biological parent; the kids miss them immensely when they are at their other home. A great way to show respect for your stepkids is to allow them to be with their parent alone, without you. Not everyday, and not all the time, but sometimes yes. There are days when I absolutely love just being a wife, and all the duties that come with that role. I don’t have to worry about making a school lunch, restocking the popsicles, or figuring out a way to get Stepdaughter showered, fed and done with her homework before the bewitching hour strikes and she’s dog gone tired. Do I enjoy being s Stepmom? Yes. But I also am in love with being my husband’s wife. Just as I have a unique appreciation for the dual roles I have in life, I bet your spouse equally loves being your spouse as much as they enjoy being a parent. So once in a while, give them a hall pass to parenthood. Take a step back and let them give 100% of their attention to their kids for the afternoon. Let them just be Mom or Dad. They will love it, and the kids will love and appreciate it even more.
Let’s face it. Second marriages don’t have the best track record. In fact, 67% of them end in divorce. With custody battles, court hearings, child support arguments, alimony payments…the list goes on and on about all the negative ordeals second marriages face that first marriages don’t. It takes two very determined, very mature, and VERY level headed people to not only survive a second marriage situation, but to be happy in it.
Ex-spouses are ex-spouses for a reason. These reasons usually differ depending on which ex you talk to, but ultimately these two people are just fundamentally different. Different in their morals, beliefs, and different in their definition of love and marriage. When kids are involved, it can feel like an ex-spouse is an ex only in the sense that they aren’t in your bed. Raising kids with an ex means communication still has to take place, attending events for the sake of the kids happens, and generally having the ex a part of your life is unavoidable.
Honestly, I don’t know how my husband handles the daily stressors that come with having an ex-spouse. I’ve realized over the years that being a stepparent not only means loving someone else’s child, but it also means loving your husband through thick and thin and the downright unfathomable. For one, I love showing my stepdaughter what a healthy marriage looks like. She’s growing up witnessing a true love and will hopefully want that for herself someday.
Two, I married this man. I knew I was getting two for the price of one and I said “I do” loud and clear. His first run at marriage failed, and it rocked him to the core. His beliefs on love and commitment were challenged, and if you married a divorced person I’m sure theirs were as well. It’s scary to sign up for round two of something that exploded in your face the first time. Men and women in their second marriage deserve compassion, and a second chance at a happily ever after.
How do you do this? I’m a big believer in actions speak louder than words, so here are three things you can do to show your love to your better half:
Hug them. So simple, yet easily overlooked. As people, we crave the human touch. But we tend to focus on touch when we are scared, or need protection. How about hugging after a good home-cooked meal, or doing the dishes? And I’m not talking about a quick, half-hearted pat on the back. I’m talking about a slow, meaningful embrace. When my husband hugs me, I feel myself relax, my heart slows down, and I feel noticed and appreciated. Hug your spouse when they need it, AND when they don’t.
Listen to them. One of the benefits I discovered of being a second wife was the ability to avoid mistakes made by the first wife. When divorced people date, their new partners are naturally curious on the reasons why their marriage crumbled. As I heard my husband’s side of the story, I learned a lot about what bothers him, what makes him feel suffocated, what makes him feel unsupported…I don’t wish divorce on anyone, but if you find yourself dating a divorcee, learn from their past. It can protect your future with them, and make for a very happy, healthy relationship.
Romance them. As I said, second marriages have horrible statistics. Throw stepkids into the mix and the going gets even tougher. There I was, a googly eyed newlywed. Our first weekend as a married couple consisted of a Chuck E. Cheese playdate, folding clothes plastered with Ana and Elsa, and being woken up at the crack of dawn in my Victoria’s Secret silk white nightie. You see, not only was it my first weekend as a wife, it was my first weekend as an official Stepmom. I’ll tell you right now that no marriage can survive without romance. So get creative! Leave a sexy post-it note on their toothbrush, restock their favorite wine for the weekend, wake them up with a kiss before the kids come bursting through the door…whatever you do, don’t make a second marriage become second priority.
Show your spouse their decision to give marriage another chance was the best choice of their life. And I promise you, you will feel even more loved in return.
Adding An "Ours" Baby
My husband and I have yet to have our “own” baby. I hate that sentiment because it implies his daughter is not a part of us. But even though we have created our own family unit, I often wonder how adding my own offspring to the mix would shake things up.
Fellow Stepmom blogger Jamie Scrimgeour recently lived out this wonderment of mine, and she was kind enough to share her experience on what happened when she took the step out of stepmotherhood.
Before our baby was born, I felt like a bit of an outsider in my own home. Actually, more than a bit. I felt like a total outsider. A newbie if you will.
There was my husband and I, and then there was my husband and his kids. Two separate entities. As much as I was always included and lucky enough to quickly develop a special and unique bond with my three stepchildren, I always felt like it was THEM then it was ME. Because it was.
They had traditions and memories and routines that I wasn’t a part of developing. And although they did their best to include me in everything, it always felt a bit off!
So when my husband and I decided we wanted to have a baby “of our own” we treaded lightly. You hear horror stories about stepmoms and their husbands trying to integrate a new baby into a blended family. Hearing these stories about stepkids resenting their "stepmom + new sibling" because they felt like their father had moved on with a new family scared me to death. I didn’t want my stepkids to feel this way…ever. Because I knew all too well, that feeling like an outsider is no fun at all.
We have been lucky that none of that has happened with us. Watching the bond these four kids have developed over the past two and a half years has been nothing short of amazing!
However, over and over again I am asked about how the kids adapted to their new baby sister. I get the impression people anticipate stories of jealousy, resentment and attention seeking behaviors. But there hasn’t been any of that. I attribute that two things. First of all, my husband and his ex-wife raised very loving and well adjusted kids. Second, we were very intentional about the way in which we expanded our family.
Here are the 4 things we did…in a very intentional way.
1. We got the kids used to having a new baby in the family, as soon as we knew it was going to happen
As soon as my husband and I knew we were going to try for a baby, we dropped little hints about it with the kids. We asked them what they thought about it, and had open discussions about what life would look like with a wee one around.
This way, when we did the big reveal, no one was surprised. In fact, they guessed before we even had the chance to tell them what our big announcement was!
2. We involved the kids in as much as they wanted to be involved in
When it came to prepping for the baby, the kids were invited to be a part of everything… every step of the way. From brainstorming names, to attending showers, to helping prepare for the nursery, they were always invited to participate. Whether or not they chose to be involved was their prerogative, but the invite was always there.
3. We were very clear on how roles in our family were labeled
Personally, I hate labels. I hate the word Stepmom and stepkids and I especially hate the world “half brother or sister”. In my eyes, we’re all just family. I’ll never forget the day of our first ultrasound. We brought home the picture and shared it with the kids. They were so excited they all wanted their own copies for their rooms.
That night my heart melted when I saw my stepdaughter post it on her instagram account. Then it broke when I saw her caption. “My new half baby brother or sister”.
I hate that word. Half sister.
Every family is different and labels bother some more than others, but for us, we made it very clear from the very beginning, there are no half people in this family.
4. I made a very important commitment before I walked down the aisle
As a child of divorce, I know first hand how it can feel when your father is with someone who doesn’t treat you the same as she treats her own kids. You feel like an outsider in your own home, you feel like a guest, you feel like you’re not good enough. It’s nothing short of terrible.
Before I even met my husband’s children, I made a commitment to myself, to him and to the kids that I was always going to treat them the exact same as I would treat my own children. It’s a conscious decision , and one I have to remind myself of often. But no matter what is going on in our “blended family life”, they are all treated the same. End of story.
I always knew that having this sweet baby girl was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me. What I didn’t know is that it was going to be the best thing that happened to our family. Now, it’s not so much them and me. It’s us. With this new addition to our crew we’ve started new traditions and new routines. Ones we’ve made together as a new family unit.
Just because this worked for us, doesn’t mean that it is going to work for everyone. That’s the biggest thing when it comes to understanding stepfamilies and blended family dynamics. Every single family is different. There are many factors that influence how well a baby is integrated into a blended family, including how the children reacted to the divorce, their relationship with the stepparent, and whether or not the ex spouse is speaking negatively about the situation in the presence of the children.
Every situation is different, but at the end of the day, when integrating a new baby into this already complicated family unit, EMPATHY is number one. Consistently looking at things from the kids perspective can really help you understand their point of view and why they may be acting the way they are! Always remember, change isn’t always easy, especially for kids! And while you may be celebrating a new addition to your crew, the children may still be mourning the loss of their original family, and the new baby may solidify that things aren’t ever going to go back to the way they were.
Jamie is a second wife, Stepmom of three and Mother of one blogging about her journey navigating life in a blended family over at www.jamiescrimgeour.com. Since embarking on a this stepmom journey, Jamie has become passionate about supporting stepfamilies in overcoming the challenges that can and do come with stepfamily life. To learn how Jamie supports her fellow Stepmoms, you can check out her Blog and online Stepfamily Support + Coaching services.