“Hi, I’m Lindsay. I have no patience, I have a short-fuse and I don’t understand children.” That’s what I would say if I entered a “Stepmom’s Anonymous” group. Luckily for those of us on this bumpy journey, there are many other people in the same situation who can be a support group. When you can't take it anymore, when it feels like your marriage is going to fail because step-parenting is hard or you want to scream because your parenting styles are drastically different and the kids aren't listening to you, it's time to call on your people who understand what you’re going through.
Yes, biological parents have different parenting styles and their own children don't listen to them at times, but it is harder on a stepparent because our boundaries aren’t always clear and we take it more personally because we so badly want to be liked by our stepchildren.
I had been married about two years and I wasn’t happy with being a Stepmom. I didn’t understand my husband’s reactions when I would complain about things and I didn’t understand why kids didn't listen or why I had to continually repeat the same dang thing day in and day out. “Lean over your plate, put your clothes in the dirty laundry, pick up your toys, gross…flush the toilet and stop whining about homework.” About the time that my head was going to explode and my husband’s response was, “all parents deal with this,” I went in search of help and I found ‘my people’ through a stepmom boot camp.
You learn a lot about yourself when you marry someone with children, and prepare yourself because it isn’t always pretty. Through the boot camp and my encounters with other stepmoms (even biological mothers), I learned that my reactions, my idea of what my family should look like, and my expectations were a large part of my problem.
I still struggle on a daily basis with my lack of patience, completely understanding my role and at what age a child should be able to clean their plates after dinner or wipe their own butt. After the stepmom boot camp, where I thought I would learn about how to better cope with stepchildren, I actually learned something much more important; that I am the biggest part of my stress and unhappiness. I realized that I needed to lighten up, let go of some control and have an extra half glass of wine to enjoy things a bit more.
I am fortunate that I don't deal with kids who are disrespectful and rude. And I am blessed that my husband's ex and I have almost no communication other than saying hello at events, so we have no drama. Over the past year, I've realized that I have to work on myself and try to let go of things that drive me crazy (this is a good lesson for many areas of life!). Who cares if the toys aren't picked up right after the kids are done playing with them, because the same toys will be on floor in a couple of hours anyway. Who cares if they don’t like what I cook them; most kids don’t like new things!
I hated that my husband's ex never spoke to me, and then I realized it was for the best because we have no drama and it’s his responsibility to communicate with her. I hated that my husband didn't tell me about his interactions with his ex and then I realized it was none of my business and it had nothing to do with me. I hated that I wasn't invited to parent-teacher conferences and then I realized my husband would share the details with me and there is no need to be there in person. I hated that my husband acted differently when the kids were home and then I realized that he needed to focus on the kids when they're at our house; he only gets to see his girls fifty percent of the time.
Being a stepparent is frustrating, aggravating, humbling and also rewarding at the same time. I've learned and accepted that these are not my biological children, but I want to be a great role model – not some angry control freak. I also accept that I am responsible for them half of the time. I help care for them, work with them on their homework, drive them to school and pick them up, tuck them in at night and I teach them everything from cooking and cleaning to soccer skills and badminton. It's okay that I have no say in who their doctor is, when they get a haircut or that I don't have contact with their school teachers. Learning to let go of the control and enjoying the kids for who they are (as well as having fun with them) has made life easier, but I know I still have a long road ahead of me. I still struggle with these things and I am growing into a better person thanks to my stepdaughters. I enjoy my special role that no one else in their life fills: Stepmom!
Lindsay Barber Christensen is a Stepmom to two curious and active six and eight-year-old girls. She lives in the Green Bay, Wisconsin area with her husband, who spends his free time training for triathlons. Lindsay is a meeting planner for a national trade association, as well as a foodie (check out her blog full of delicious recipes http://lindsaylogic.weebly.com/) and a Beachbody Coach.