One of the most common experiences reported by stepmoms is that of feeling like an outsider. You are joining an already formed family with a shared history, established traditions, and a biological bond that is stronger than anything. I think this can be particularly tough to navigate for childless stepmom.
I remember those early movie nights - the three of them (my husband and his kids) squeezed together on half of the couch, me with plenty of room to myself - and many comments that started with, "we always do…" or "remember when…"
This is, of course, completely understandable. It defies a strong parent-child relationship to have that same bond with someone who is basically a stranger. It is still not an easy situation, however, and stepmoms then have the challenge of trying to develop a bond with stepkids, without pushing it too hard and causing resentment. Why does it always feel like we're walking a tightrope??
And while we may not want to admit it, for some there is the complicated mix of emotions ranging from "oh my gosh I love these kiddos and I can't wait to take them to that movie/make them their favourite dinner/go swimming with them"… to "woah woah woah. Do I have to do this on my own today? What if I have plans? Did I sign up for this?…" We want to be an insider, but we are sometimes afraid of it too.
Are you feeling like a lost outsider? Here are my tips for you:
1. Give yourself a break and acknowledge that this is normal. Life is complicated and emotions are complicated, and nothing is black and white. The more you balk at these feelings and deny them, the stronger they will feel.
2. Talk to your partner. Explain to him how you are feeling and hopefully, he will make you feel heard. Talk about how you can find a balance between being a directly involved caregiver, and a stepmom who supports her husband in his parenting the children. Don't agree to what you can't handle - that will backfire on everyone involved.
3. Know that kids are kids. They want to be loved, accepted, listened to, played with, snuggled, and comforted. Stepping back and gaining a little perspective might help you to see that you are lucky to be included in a child's "circle" of people.
4. Reminder: you're a stepmom, you're not perfect. No one is. Deep breaths, you've got this.
I think it's healthy to acknowledge that it takes time to adjust to your new life. Take time to acknowledge and be grateful for the extra love in your life now. The love that is pure, innocent, messy, loud, tearful, joyful, sticky, sweet, and beautiful.
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By Erin Careless xo