StepMom Connection


Kerri Ann wrote to me sharing her journey from successful single girl to stepmom. Her wit, wisdom and honesty will touch you. Her heart for her family and the everyday challenges is refreshing. Enjoy Kerri’s story and check out her blog Simplicity Interrupted.

From Single Girl to Stepmom by Kerri Ann

Three years ago I was a single law school grad.  My cares and concerns revolved around my job search, my social life and caring for myself and my dog.  Are you sensing the theme? It was tough work, obviously.  At the time, my five year plan involved landing a dream job, finding the perfect man, and living happily after.  And three years later, here I am with all of that accomplished – kind of. 

The job is not anything I set my sights on in law school, but it challenges me every day and I am always learning and growing as an attorney.  And the man … well, he is my perfect man.  Except that I never dreamed my perfect man would be older, divorced, or a father of two.

My life has definitely taken on a new focus.  Now, I am grocery shopping for four, baking cookies, and packing lunches.  I’m helping with homework, coloring and crafting at the kitchen table, and folding doll-sized laundry.  I am playing Headbandz, listening to Radio Disney, and having impromptu dance parties.

The amount of four legged friends in my life has doubled.  My beloved Michael Kors purses have turned into carriers of crayons, snacks, band aids, and permission slips.

Any mom will tell you that this is her life too – a life that no longer revolves around just you anymore.  But moms have an advantage of a slow but steady evolution to this point.  It can be jarring to the system to have an insta-family, with no real preparation for what is to come.  And, especially at first, it was difficult for me to determine what my role really was.  I was busy – busier than I had ever been – and I was doing mom-type things.  But I am not the mom.

Their mom is very active in their life, whether they are at our house or hers.  It’s great for the kids – their parents are in constant communication about homework, doctor’s appointments, after school activities.  I would never wish that to change.  But it made it difficult for me to determine what I was bringing to the table, when the phone would ring with instructions on what to pack for lunch, who needed what at school the next day, and whose birthday party Todd and I would be bringing them to that Saturday.  There were (and still are) times I felt like hired help – baby sitter, maid, dog walker, snack preparer.

 

Knowing that I “chose this life” made it difficult to talk it out with friends and family.  This is not a situation that is easily understood from the outside – the relationships and the emotions are complex and confusing.  It was something that Todd and I were going to have to work on for ourselves, and only I could make the decision of whether I was happy in this undefined role.

 

It’s taken a lot of work, but we’ve gotten to a comfortable place.  I am not their mom.  But I am Dad’s partner, and that’s pretty significant.  Todd and I make sure that our relationship takes a front seat – date night is a priority, spending time together each week is a must.  We’ve decided that it is really important for the kids to see a healthy, loving adult relationship, and that they deserve the security of knowing that they cannot pit us against each other.

And as for my happiness in the role – well, it took some soul-searching.  I still feel like hired help at times, but then I remember that I am not doing any of this because Todd or their mom asked me to.  I am doing all of it because it is what I want to do for the kids.  When I get really overwhelmed with the situation, I stop to think – if someone else was caring for my child … if someone else was putting my daughter’s hair in a ponytail, getting my son ready for baseball practice … how would that make me feel?  I don’t have children and this thought causes a wave of uncertainty & regret … so I can only imagine what it feels like when it’s really happening.  This allows me to take a deep breath, and do what needs to be done, knowing that empathy is the only feeling I should ever have towards their mom.

The kids – they are thriving, and they are teaching me and helping me grow more than they could ever understand.  Without them, I’d never have developed this level of patience, never would have really understood what true empathy and compassion means, never would have learned how to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Now, as I’m picking up socks, making pancakes, and rushing home from work to read Harry Potter before bed – I smile.  This may not be exactly what I pictured for my life, but it’s beautiful and happy, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

~~~~~~

Kerri is an attorney in Boston and a lifestyle blogger at Simplicity Interrupted.  She lives just north of the city with her fiancé, Todd, his two children (half the time), and their dogs, Stella & Coco.  She loves joining the #TwitterStepMoms conversation on Twitter, and can also be found on Facebookand Instagram!

This is the third installment of my conversation with Brigette Lemos-Norman of In The Blender. Our conversation stems from the one we had on  The Stepmom Connection which aired live on March 16, 2011.

The third taboo topic: Do I have to be friends with my stepchildren’s mother?

This question stirred a lot of comments in the chat room during the show. As with every stepmom issue, this one has many, many layers. Some stepmoms want to be friends with the mother of their stepkids but the mom says NO! While others seek to get along for the sake of the kids but have no desire to “be friends.”

Why is this topic taboo? Why do stepmoms feel guilty if they don’t want to be friends with the mother of their stepkids? Is it because, as women and mothers, we are supposed to like everyone and be nice to everyone. We are raised to nurture and care. The fact that we may not want to be friends with our stepchildren’s mother does not make us wicked and evil.

Being friends can often mean walking a very fine line for many stepmoms.

Having said that, I believe it’s every mom – stepmom duo’s decision how they want to craft their relationship. I do believe that it is in the child’s best interest that both women are cordial to each other and never speak negatively about each other in front of the kids. However, how friendly you want to be is up to each mother/stepmother team.

The truth is both women do have one thing in common: the kids. Leaving egos at the door is a healthy practice in putting the emotional needs of the children first.

And whether it’s right or wrong, typically the mom sets the tone for the relationship. If mom wants to be friends with her children’s stepmom then it can become a reality. If mom chooses not to accept their children’s stepmom then patience and grace will have to be a stepmom’s friend until mom changes her mind.

One stepmom, during the show, shared that she and the mother of her stepkids don’t like each other. She said that they keep their “dislike” between the two of them and don’t believe the kids sense it. If you can maintain an amicable relationship in the children’s presence and never speak ill of each other in front of the kids that is a blessing.

Personally, I can’t be friends with my stepdaughter’s mother.

It’s not because I don’t want to be but given the fact that we’ve never met and she lives multiple states away, the opportunity for a friendship is nil at this point. Actually, deep down I wish we had an amicable relationship but the reality of being a custodial stepmom is that mom is out of the picture and therefore no chance of becoming chummy.

The way custodial stepmoms can be “friends” with their stepkids’ mother is to never talk ill of her in front of the kids. My youngest stepdaughter asks me frequently, “do you think my mom still loves me?” First time that question was asked, I was nearly speechless. I answer that question the same every time. I tell her that I believe every mother loves her children. She always follows up with “then why did she leave and why did she have more babies that she is keeping this time?” I just give her a hug and tell her that I think her mom shows love in a different way than how my husband and I show her love but that I believe with my mother’s heart that her mom loves her. I also tell her that I am not her mother and therefore I am not going to guess what her mom is thinking or why she did what she did. I definitely don’t want to put words in another woman’s mouth, especially when it’s their mother.

In that way, I try to ease my stepdaughter’s anxieties and build a bridge with her mother. Because someday we may meet. Someday we may co-parent and if that day ever comes I don’t want there to be any ill will. I want my stepdaughters to feel comfortable in a situation where we would both be parenting them.

Like all things stepfamily related, there is no right and wrong way.

There is only what works for your family.

Some stepmoms I talk with are “Facebook Friends” with the mom of their stepkids and consider that a good first step. Other stepmoms I talk with, while friendly with the mom of their stepkids, don’t want their “two worlds to collide” by way of social media. They want to be friendly at events, on email, over the phone, etc…. But when it comes to Facebook, Twitter, etc…they want to maintain their own space.

Regardless of how you wish to define your relationship with the mother of your stepchildren, I would recommend the book No One’s the Bitch by the mom – stepmom duo of Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine. You may agree or disagree with the book but one thing is for sure, this book will get you thinking and talking about the mom/stepmom relationship. And the ten step plan for cultivating a mother and stepmother relationship may just be what you are looking for.

So what works for you? Are you friends with the mother of your stepkids? Do you think you have to be? What are your thoughts about being “Facebook Friends”? Comments and encouragement are always welcome. Thanks for sharing.

This is the second installment of my conversation with Brigette Lemos-Norman of In The Blender. Our conversation stems from the one we had on  The Stepmom Connection which aired live on March 16, 2011.  Because the audio didn’t record correctly, we’re cross-blogging our conversation so you can join in, too.

The second stepmom taboo topic we discussed was:“If I knew what I was getting into, I would have never married you.”

This phrase is taboo for a reason. Once you say something like this, it’s out there. If you are going to tell your spouse this, you’ve got to be prepared to really sit down and work through things.

Having said that, I don’t believe it is wrong or atypical for any stepmom to think it especially during a heightened time of stress. It’s what you “do” with that thought that matters.

Thinking that “if I knew what I was getting into, I would have never married you” DOES NOT mean that you ARE going to leave the marriage. It’s simply an admission to the fact that you never thought it would be this tough.

Truly, I don’t think any woman marries a man with children focused on the rough spots ahead.  Personally, I thought I was really ahead of the game when I married my husband and we merged our six kids. We had read every book on stepfamily life that we could get our hands on and taken some stepfamily bible studies at our Church. We were so blinded by the love bug we would chuckle after reading a book or attending a class saying “that stuff will never happen to us. I’m so glad that our kids all get along and that they all love and approve of us.”

Well something happened on that yellow brick road to the land of make believe. Somewhere between the day we said “I do” and about six months into the marriage a little thing I like to call REALITY hit our stepfamily! It’s when the truth that my husband and I were together and a very united front and that neither of us would ever again be with our children’s other parent really hit our kids. And their grief became unanticipated stress on us, as stepparents and as a stepcouple.

It was in those moments that we ran back to the materials we devoured before marriage and realized all the stuff we were going through was so typical of a stepfamily. That knowledge and preparation was key. So while I’ve never said those words “If I knew what I was getting into, I would have never married you” to my husband I have said “I never knew this would be so challenging. I really thought my love for you and my love of being a mom would make things easy.”

Often times, I believe our husband’s see the pain that we, as their wife and the stepmom of their children, may be in at the hands of the situation. This can wear on our husbands and they often feel guilty about “putting us” in stressful situations when it’s not their fault. The stress comes from the reality of stepfamily dynamics. One stepmom in the chat room shared “my husband carried that guilt–that my life would have been better if I hadn’t gotten involved (with him). We’re far beyond that now, but it took a lot of work.”

Saying that taboo phrase out loud to our husband may only serve to make them feel worse. Yes, it’s taboo for a reason. Mostly because saying it out loud won’t do much good. But thinking it and sharing with your positive minded stepmom friends can help you feel that you are not alone. And may help you to know you are not the only one who thinks that the job of stepmom is much harder and different than what you anticipated and there isn’t’ anything “Taboo” about that!

How do you feel about the idea of sharing some topics with your positive minded stepmom friends vs. your spouse?

Be sure to check out Brigette’s companion blog post on In The Blender

Brigette Lemos-Norman was my guest on The StepMom Connection Wednesday. While we had a great conversation, the technology didn’t cooperate and only half of our interview was taped. Therefore instead of leaving half a chat in the archives, I made the decision to pull the show. Bridgette and I decided to cross blog the topic so you can get in on the whole conversation.

The first taboo topic we discussed was:  “I fell in love with my husband, not my stepkids”.

When you say “I do” to a man with children, you say “I do” to his children too. But while you are committing to caring for your stepchildren, you may not love those children in the same immediate, unconditional love that you feel for your own biological children or even for nieces and nephews that you have been involved with since birth.

Often times, stepmoms feel guilty when they don’t feel deep love for their stepkids. There is no cookie cutter way to love a stepchild. And the reality of stepfamily life is that the stepchild drives the relationship with their stepmother. If the child embraces you and the relationship flows easily then the love typically flow easily. If the stepchild puts up a wall either because they just don’t want to accept that dad is with another woman or perhaps their mom is not giving them “permission” to accept their stepmom, you can feel left in the cold.

One stepmom in the chat room during the show shared “I thought being a step mom would be easy… but so much depends on the bio mom and how she is with the children and what she imparts to them regarding the step mom.” We know these to be very true words.

Love and trust are given without question to a birth/adoptive parent but a stepchild chooses whether to love and trust their stepmom and to what extent. That choice impacts the relationship between a stepmom and stepchild.

Also, I think it’s fair to say that stepmoms can love their stepkids but not always like their behavior. And when a stepmom says she doesn’t love her stepkids, that doesn’t mean she is not going to take care of them, or treat them well or parent them to the best of her ability. It means she is being real about her feelings. While we are commanded to love one another under God, we also know that love can take many different forms and have different levels of feelings.

I feel it is so important for our community of stepmothers is to be careful not to judge one another. I think the reason that so many stepmoms feel guilty about saying what they are feeling is that they don’t want to validate that “evil stepmom” persona that the media has created.

You are not an evil stepmom if you don’t love your stepkids.

You are an honest stepmom.

It takes time for love to grow. If you are committed to your relationship with your stepkids and their dad, if you are committed to treating them with love and kindness then you are doing what you need to do.

Each stepmom has her own journey, and while you may not agree with how another stepmom feels and/or what she says, be cautious not to judge her character. Every woman is different and until we walk in her shoes (her past and her present), we don’t truly understand her. Because that is impossible to do, it isn’t fair to judge or criticize her emotions and actions. Disagreeing with someone’s words or actions is different than judging their character. The former makes for healthy discussion while the later fuels unnecessary discontent.

Only when we can all feel comfortable sharing our true feelings with one another can we remove the “taboo” label on topics and truly deal with our frustrations and work past them. You can feel isolated and lonely as a stepmom when you think you are the only one struggling with a certain topic. Knowing there are others out there that share your same struggles can be very comforting and encouraging.

What are your thoughts on loving your stepkids? Loving one stepchild more/differently than another? Do you feel this is a touchy topic in the stepmom community?

Make sure to visit Brigette’s companion piece at her blog InTheBlender

Next “Taboo” Topic that some stepmoms think but may not speak: “If I would have known what I was getting into, I would have never married you.”

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