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What is a stepmom?

January 30, 2013

I picked up my youngest stepchild from preschool and the preschool teacher greeted me “there is your bonus-mamma. Do you prefer to be called that rather than stepmother?”. I felt validated. I also felt unsure of how to handle the situation. I said something like “well, it is not up to me to tell if I am a bonus or not. But my stepchildren certainly are my bonus!”.

To be honest, I have no clue  what a stepmom is. I do not feel familiar with the term. I can not explain others who I am in my relationship to my stepkids. “Stepmom” does not cover it for me. This is a confusing title, that does not say anything of the content of the role. I have very few role models as a stepmom. I know very few stepmothers. I have never had a stepmom myself. Most of my friends come from family where their parents are still married. I feel like I have to find my way in the wilderness. Using labels have not been most important in my journey discovering what a stepmom is. The definition of my role has been connected to the daily events in our family.

Do I usually feel validated? Do I usually feel people understand? No, not really. Does it affect me? No, not really. Outsiders usually do not understand. The most important thing is that there is an understanding within the family.

I am lucky I had a smooth start with my stepkids. They have been my biggest supporters. They have welcomed me into their lives with open arms and open hearts. One was big enough to appreciate the positive changes, the other one was too little to ever remember what it was like not having me around. There have been challenges. But these have come later in the journey. After we have settled. After my skin has grown a little thicker.

Most stepmoms do not have a smooth start like this. Many stepmoms experience lots of difficulties in the beginning of the family life. The kids might reject, rebel, ignore. The mom might try to put you down. If you are a stepmom you have probably heard one of these following statements from the mom:

– She is not family.

– The kids do not have visitation to spend time with her, but with the dad.

– I do not want anything to do with her.

– It seems like she takes over, and that the dad is less involved.

Blaming, criticising, ignoring can be powerful tools.

From others you might have heard:

– It must be real hard living with children that are not your own.

– They are not your children.

– One day, when you have your own child, you will understand the big difference between other`s children and your own.

– It sounds real challenging

– I could never have done what you are doing.

 

I have tried to come up with an understanding about what a stepmom is, just to make it clear to myself .  I would love to hear from other stepmoms out there, how they define their role. My definition might not apply to everyone.

 

– As a stepmom I am not a mom. Therefor I do not encourage my stepchildren to call me mom. I have actually encouraged them to not call me mom. They do have a mom all ready. The title  “mom” is something that belongs to the person who either biologically or legally is the mom.

– And yet, as a stepmother I am a mother figure. Or I do have a mother`s heart for my stepchildren, or at least something similar to that. I care about them, I love them, I nurture them, I play with them, I engage in their lives.

– As a stepmom I am not the main caretaker. Their parents are their main caretaker. In our home, my husband is their main caretaker. One practical consequence is that I usually do not have to ask my husband if he will stay home with the kids, so I can go out with friends. He on the other hand needs to ask me. He is their provider legally.

– And yet, as a stepmother I am a caretaker. I do provide for them. I pay for their food, their clothes, a house big enough so they have their separate rooms. I work part times at times, in order to be there for them. I cook, clean, and I am responsible for their safety when they are under my care. I am responsible for both their emotional and physical safety.

I am not the main disciplinarian. I believe that it is not my right to discipline my stepchildren, unless I have been given the mandate to do so. I need to follow my husband`s lead.

– And yet, I am a person helping to raise my stepchildren to become caring human beings, who can function in our family and out in the world. I have been given the mandate from my husband to participate in the project of raising his children. As an adult, I also need to set boundaries essential to living together.

I am not number one. My stepchildren`s loyalty will always be with their parents first of all. The greatest gift I can give to my stepchildren, is helping build a bridge whenever there is a gap between them and their parents. I can never expect them to side with me instead of their parents, no matter how wrong any of their parents are.

– And yet, I am (hopefully) an important person in my stepchildren`s lives. Someone who has dedicated my life to support them throughout their lives. 

– I am not bound to my stepchildren through biological attachment.

– I choose to love them. Sometimes it is harder to choose than other times. But I have made a choice to care for them. The day I married my husband, I also choose my stepchildren. 

 

The role is full of contradictions. But the most important thing is not how it is being defined, but how it is being exercised in our daily life. There are certain things I do and do not do as a stepmom. This might depend from person to person, and how much time is spend with the stepchildren, and how involved the mom is.

-I do not go to parent-teacher conferences. This is for parents. I do actually believe that legally teachers are bound by confidentiality. I do not believe that teachers are allowed to inform stepparents, unless both parents have given the mandate to go in their place. I do however ask to read report cards, help out with homework, and I always ask my husband how the conference went. I need to accept to not have the front seat, but be more a hidden helper for my stepchildren. I do, however, go to school plays and other gatherings open for the whole family. I try to be sensitive, though. I do not want to ruin proud moments for a mom, so I need to balance the needs of everyone.

– I do not get up to take my stepkids to school in the morning. It is my privilege to sleep in during weekends. However, whenever there is a need, I get up and send them off, take care of them. This is a typical example of me not being the main caretaker, but someone who can step in when needed.

– I do provide all the clothes for my stepchildren. To me it is important that my husband consider this to be my gift for him, and not my responsibility. It is a gift I love to give him and my stepchildren, and I also enjoy a lot providing for them.

I do not pay my husband`s child support. (In a later post I will write about finances). The child support does not affect me. However, I provide, together with my husband, for everything we spend on the kids while they are here.

– I do not take the kids to the doctor, unless there is an emergency. I do not stay at home from work to look after them when sick. That is a parent`s job. I do however, often (more often than my husband), take time off work to spend time with them during school vacations, or make transitions smooth. Again, that is my gift to my husband and not my responsibility.

I have the mandate to establish rules in our house just as much as my husband has. I have this mandate not as a parent, but as an adult, owning my own house.

– I do not decide how much the children are allowed to stay in our house. I have married a man who sees his children only part time, but  is a parent is a parent full time always. There must be valid reasons for me to intervene with visitation, or deny him from seeing his children more. Serious illness is one example. However, I do expect my husband to discuss any change with me.

– I spend most of my time, energy and money on my stepchildren. I consider them to be my family. They spend part time in our home, but our house is always their home. I am not their mother, but I am available to them.

 

How do you fill your role as a stepmom?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments
  1. frostbittenkitten permalink

    I loved this and shared it with my Sweety….

  2. frostbittenkitten permalink

    I had to absorb this a bit. It brings back a lot of memories from when I was a stepmom to three and gives me a lot to consider as I am dating a man with three small children now. After having raised 5 kids already (3 not my own), I can say I have been there, done that. Some of the things you pointed out here, I wish I had thought of the first time around. Small things like, sick days and who stays home, responsibility for who takes the kids where, disciplining and who should discipline…

    My situation was a little different, as his kids lived with us almost full time for most of our marriage. One ALWAYS lived with us. The other two went back and forth but overall spent most of their time living with us. Because I had two of my own to care for already, a lot fell on me because I already had to do it for my own two. Because my then-husband was out of the home more, more discipline fell to me, including dealing with the schools and doctor visits.

    Having raised 5 kids, and now just having my own two again, who are 16 and almost 19… I am about to enter another situation where my future stepkids are currently 3, 5 & 5. So yes, basically starting all over again. Hopefully I am wiser and less naive. In this new situation, the father has custody also. Like you, I am not looking to replace their mother, no matter what my opinion of her is. Like you, I wish to support my future husband and his kids, and be a help… at the same time, I’d like to enjoy some more freedom after raising my own kids… I like how you listed that you do not have to ask to go out with friends, but your husband does… because he is the parent. I’d like to hear more about how that works, personally… situations… do you leave when kids are having a meltdown? Are your outtings generally planned ahead or you just come home and say you are going out and leave him to his own devices with no warning? I want to be considerate, at the same time, if my friend calls and asks me to see a movie, I don’t want to feel guilty for leaving and going out, even though I know he is going to be busy dealing with bedtime routines and fussiness and I’d just be sitting there anyway.

    I apologize for such a long response. English major. I tend to be wordy. 🙂 Love the blog. Like I said, I shared it with my Sweety and hope it gets us talking more about my future role in their lives.

    • Dear Frostbittenkitten.

      Thank you for your very interesting reply. It certainly sounds like you situation was different than mine. I believe it is very easy for stepmoms to become primary caretakers for their stepchildren. For many women it falls natural to be a caretaker, it is also expected from us. Having children yourself, makes it even easier to slip into that role.

      As you probably agree on, having more experience than me, choosing your stepchildren is almost just as important as choosing your husband. Wishing they were not there, is not a good start for a family life. Choosing them is not the same as taking the role as a mom, does it? Choosing them is not the same as giving up everything for them, is it? To me it helps to view me as a sort of “aunt” or “granny” or “nanny” or someone like that. I want to be a loving person, someone who is involved, deeply involved in fact, but more as an additional adult rather than THE primary parent.

      How does it work practically for us? I love that question!
      I think there are certain success factors:
      First of all, my husband said early on that he considered himself to be the primary caretaker. In an early stage, where I really, really wanted to be involved and get to know the kids, he continued taking on that role. He always put them in bed. I sat there kind of wanting to do it, my oldest step child often asked if I could do it. But I had a gut feeling there was something right about my husband`s decision. If he was away, then I had the chance to do it. I could then be the fun babysitter. That was before we moved in together. He made it clear that he did not want me to feel I had to be his personal babysitter.

      He also told me “when we have the kids, feel free to do whatever you want to do. I have managed without you and will continue managing without you. And if we have a baby together, I can take on another child. You still have an opportunity to enjoy your life outside the family”. So this works, because I completely trust my husband to be a wonderful dad. Not all stepmoms do. He loves being a dad. He is doing a great job.

      We still do not have children together, so yes, I have the freedom to do whatever I want. I can call him from work and say “hey, a friend asked me to go out and have sushi, so go ahead and have dinner without me today”. I obviously do not do this on days where he has a conference at school and needs me, or the oldest one needs to be taken somewhere in the middle of the youngest`s bedtime. We are a family and I do have a responsibility for my family.

      We just changed visitation (we have the kids half of the time). The visitation came in conflict with one of my husband`s regular activities. He always discusses changes with me, and I told him the change was find with me, but that he could not expect me to be at home every week when he is used to being out. He accepted that. It makes it much easier for me to be generous in return. If his friends want to meet up a sunday night, and I do not have any plans, I am more than willing to put the kids to bed.

      During weekends we try to make plans. However, if I am not absolutely needed, and a friend calls me, I am free to go out and do whatever I want to do. Our relationship is asymmetrical regarding this, and it should be. The great thing is that when I have my freedom, I often chooses to be with my family. I often prefer it. I have a need for seeing my stepchildren regularly. I want them to feel I am a stable person in their lives. But lets say I go out and do my own things 2 out of 7 nights, and one time during the weekend? My outtings can be planned ahead, but it can also be spontanious (as long as they are not causing difficulties for my husband and the kids). I am free to work longer days, and sometimes I call him and tell him other times it is planned.

      I sleep in every weekend! Unless my husband is sick, that is my privilege 🙂 I let him go and have a nap during the day if he needs to. But he is the dad and needs to “pull himself together” much more than I do 🙂

      I do not leave when the kids have a melt down. I took a while before I started helping my husband raise them. for the first 1,5 year I was passive whenever a boundary needed to be made. I started slowly working on boundaries for myself: They needed to ask before they used any of my things. I started correcting them if they spoke to me in a rude manner. I am getting more and more involved regarding discipline as well.

      I am deeply involved in my stepchildren. However, there is an understanding in our family that the dad is the one it falls down on. I step in, and I do so often. The kids are our common responsibility when they are with us. I consider me to be a major contributer in giving them the best childhood possibly. But the dad is still the main caretaker.

      As you can see, my response is longer than yours and I do not have a major in english (esl) 🙂

  3. frostbittenkitten permalink

    I’d love to bend your ear some more on these topics, but I saw no email for you. I will say that you bring up many good points and I anticipate your entry on boundaries. My Sweety said he wished that there was a blog for custodial fathers similar to this, to help him and give him other insights.

    Having been a step-mom before, having that marriage end, and then seeing how after all the work, effort, time, sacrifices I put into that marriage and parenting those children didn’t seem to mean much in the end (2 do not speak to me, one I keep in touch), it makes it even more imperative that I evaluate my role in my future family.

    It did make a huge difference that I also had kids, but at the same time, looking back, I can see where I was taken advantage of and taken for granted. It sounds like I am doing things this time very similarly to what you did/are doing. At bedtime, although I would love to help and be a part, I resist. When they get ready for school, unless they come to me and ask me specifically for help, I do not take over or interfere, nor do I push things that I would if they were my children (like brushing their hair). I mention it casually to my Sweety occasionally, but ultimately they are his children and if he is happy with how they leave the house, I am fine with it. It goes against my nature, because I can be a control freak. I also want the kids to like me and come to me for things, when needed… at the same time, I refuse to push myself on them. I do not push affectionate actions on them, I let them come to me if they want a hug or snuggle, and one of the three is affectionate with me at times, says she loves me, etc. I’m not overly demonstrative with affections unless I know the other person is, and I want the kids to like me on their own terms in their own time.

    Thanks for responding! Looking forward to more.

  4. Thank you for your comment. It means a lot to me to get feedback. I am sorry to hear how all the effort you put in, did not pay off in lasting relationship. I am sure you have made some important everlasting impressions, though. I am glad to hear you are entering your new relationship feeling you have more freedom. It sounds like you really want to mean something to your stepkids. It is hard to balance, isn`t?

    I have a twitter account as well, and realized my e-mail address is only available there. I just started blogging, so I am new to the game. I also got the flu, and have not been able to keep up with the posts I would like to write. There will be two posts on boundaries and one on finances coming up soon.

    Feel free to write me: healthystepfamily@gmail.com

  5. Yes, my sentiments exactly! And, I think it does help that you have step-children who have openly accepted you and who respect you. I have the same and feel very privileged to be able to share their lives with them. I look forward to reading and interacting more with you.

  6. Thank you for your comment. That means a lot to me! I am glad to hear you are privileged. I am guessing both you and your husband have done a great job helping the children deal with the situation. However, this is often not enough. We also know the biological mother plays an important role. Sometimes our relationship with our stepkids does not reflect our effort and our love, because the children are living with deep loyalty conflicts.

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