No woman grows up dreaming of the day she will be a step-mom or, for that matter, dreaming of the day she gets to share her children with another mother figure. When that does happen, and it happens more and more in today’s world than having a nuclear family, fantasies and idealistic notions are shattered. Understandably, this can be difficult for some to adjust to and accept. At the very least, it takes time.
in my life, I have been able to experience all sides of this shattered notion. I have been, and currently am, a step-mom and I have had not one but a few step-moms in my children’s lives. To add to that experience, I’ve also had/have step-parents; I can safely say I have a wealth of experience in the world of blended families – some good, some great, some difficult, some horrendous and some simply indifferent…..some my experiences, some I have simply observed….
By far the most complex yet most beautiful display of blending a family I have had privilege to experience was that of my grandmother. Allow me a moment to explain the complexities of this dynamic. Gertie is my step-dad’s ex-wife’s mother. My step-dad has no biological children and so, no ties that bind he and Gertie other than a mutual love and respect for each other. We became part of her family the instant she met us. We spent countless winter hours at her cabin on the snowmobiles, bounding across snowdrifts and roasting hotdogs on the campfires as we warmed our bones. She has met and loved my children and now, my grandchildren.
The worst scenario I have experienced and/or observed is…well, there are a few that are on equal playing fields as far as difficulty.
A step-mom my child had is definitely one to be noted. Perhaps this story can give some relief to moms out there that they are very fortunate indeed their children have the step-moms they do because they are actually kind, loving and invested. The step-mom I am referring to, let’s call her Karen, would take a wooden spoon, or other such object, and chase my child up and down the halls of their home, striking the child each time Karen could reach any part of my child’s body and then would lock the child in the bedroom until such time as Karen thought was adequate – regardless of meal times or toilet needs. It wasn’t just my young child who told me this but the stories were confirmed by a paternal aunt.
The second is a situation where nothing done in the biological father’s home was done correctly. Let’s call this woman, Claire. I have been told Claire would text night and day informing dad and step-mom of their inadequacies, hurling insults and name-calling, making outings and events unfavorable and tense. Her behavior seemed erratic to say the least. It seems Claire demands her way and no other way is acceptable; I have overheard conversations that would be considered laughable save for the fact that this is a reality for real people. It is a confusing situation to witness and I can’t fathom the anguish dad and step-mom and kids deal with on a regular basis.
The third,that comes equally to mind, is a former step-mom who blatantly favored her children above all others. For the sake of this piece, we will call her Sarah. There were two separate sets of rules – one set for Sarah’s children and one set for her husband’s. Sarah slowly put a wedge between herself and her husband, her husband and his children and herself and her step-children until the inevitable dissolution of the relationship.
In today’s world, more often than not, we find ourselves tangled in a blended family dynamic in one regard or another. In an ideal world, believe it or not, step-parents wish and dream for a relationship with their children’s biological parents where they can communicate freely over a cozy cup of tea, regaling over the antics of the children they share. (Yes, share. A step-mom may not have birthed the children or have contributed DNA but an involved step-mother has equal time, love, energy, finances and hopes invested into them.)
Here are some tidbits I have learned over the past 30 years of experience with being in and observing blended families.
1. Biological parents and step parents, children want your love, acceptance, respect and support. We do not want your drama, insecurities and manipulation.
We do not want your hostility and negativity. We have plenty of love to give and we are not replacing anyone by loving another.
Please know that we can sense your tensions and your hostilities. It makes us feel sad and makes us feel like we have to choose sides. We don’t want to, nor should we have to. We love you all. Please stop making us feel like we have to choose someone over another.
Also, please treat us fairly. Do not favor your biological children or children you have with your new spouse or even their children over your own.
2. Step-parents, respect our children. Treat them as you would and do your own.
Know that we see how you look at them and they look at you. We see the love; please be patient as we learn to accept the changes in our family dynamic.
We know and understand that the rules at your house are likely different than at ours and we will try to understand that you and our exes have very good reasons for the rules you have very carefully weighed and set in place. We will honor and respect the decisions, rules and boundaries you both set in place. Deep down we know that these rules are made in the best interest of your household and your family.
We will do our best to not let our insecurities get the best of us and we will do our very best to not interfere in the time you and our exes have with the children, in the name of fairness. We will be mindful to not meddle but we ask that you please be patient when we slip up. We may not say sorry, but we are; we may not always say we appreciate all you do for our children, but we do. We will try to be better at telling you.
In fact, deep down, in a secret place where we probably haven’t allowed ourselves to accept or believe or admit it yet, we really wish we would make you our ally. Parenting is hard and we really would appreciate your strength, perspective, experience and resources.
3. Biological parents, we step-parents love and respect your children; we want nothing but the best life has to offer them. Our decisions are never to punish our children. Why on earth would we ever do that? Our decisions aren’t even to punish you – honestly, you are the last person we think of as we strive to forge ahead in our new life and new role.
We have no desire to replace you. We are perfectly content as step-moms and step-dads. We call you “Mom/Dad” when speaking with kids, listen to them with joy as they tell of the fun adventures they share with you, remind them of your upcoming birthday, etc. and help them to make or buy gifts for you.
We would love nothing more than to get along. We may never be great friends but we would love to be copacetic. It would make things so much easier for everyone involved, especially, and most importantly, the children. We need you to know that we feel very guarded as we know you are scrutinizing our every move and dissecting every word for fault and blame. We ask you to be patient as we adjust to a role we didn’t think we would be in.
We want you to know we would move heaven and earth for your babies. We do the same things in our weeks you do in yours: chase away bad dreams, tuck into bed, bandage owies, mend broken hearts, help with homework, take advantage of each and every learning opportunity and celebrate first dates, passed tests and riding bikes with no training wheels….to name a few.
We love your ex. We have, in some cases, watched as you name called, belittled, tormented and emotionally abused them. If we see it, so do the kids. Please stop. At the end of the day, your ex is doing their very best just as you are.
We understand that your marriage broke up for a reason….now it is time to move beyond that on both sides and use that energy to spend with your children when you each have them.
If you have an issue with something we step-parents have done, address it with us directly not our spouse. There’s enough for the two of you to deal with than for you to drag them into issues or concerns you may have with us. If it isn’t important enough to personally address with us, the step-parents, it simply isn’t important enough.
Remember, we love our spouse and chose to love their children as we do (or would) our biological children. That is not something that is required of us to do. Our wish is to work together with you, as a team, for the sake of the children (a team meaning working together to reach necessary agreements not one side being heavy handed and giving silent treatments and attitude until they get their way – I have honestly heard stories of this happening). If we can’t like each other, the least we should be is amicable – the children deserve that much but, man, we would appreciate your insight.
At the end of the day, the old adage of it taking a village to raise a child couldn’t ring more true. I feel, for how commonplace divorce and blended families are now, that we all need to “reimage” what that “village” looks like. (Reimage is a computer term; a reimage is necessary if your operating system becomes damaged or corrupted.) Our thinking is so corrupt by old school definitions and ideals that we corrupt the new family unit before it even gets a chance to flourish.
In today’s world, that village is more than mom and dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors and teachers. We need to add an entire fleet of step-family in there as well and do so with acceptance, kindness, respect, understanding and freedom.
At the end of the day we all feel the same uncertainties, insecurities, and hope we raise happy, healthy children who aren’t in need of too much therapy. Maybe we could work on strengthening our relationships with each other and let that be step one in our success as parents (regardless of prefix). Just a little food for thought…