When Steplife Problems Are Just Standard Family Problems
Featured by Mandy Read
I‘m pretty sure it’s fair to say that most stepmoms came into this blended life with rose coloured glasses, although we (or at least I) would have vehemently denied it. No matter how prepared you think you are, or how realistic your expectations, chances are that your life, home, and relationships end up nowhere close to what you thought they would be. I think fighting for those ideals, eventually learning to accept a very different reality, and grieving what will never be is one of the most painful and difficult things about marrying a man with children and trying to blend a family.
I’ve noticed that especially during the first stage of this lengthy process we become very, well, sensitive. I read somewhere that women define success by the quality of their relationships, so it makes sense that when nobody is getting along, we feel like a failure. The kids don’t get along with each other, your kid spends all her time in her room with the door closed, your step kids are surly and rude, now you and hubby are at odds too. Why we take this on as our sole responsibility, I’m not really sure, but our brain tells us we must Fix All The People. We know how our husbands should parent, how our kids and step kids should act, how family members should treat each other, and what the word respect means. And we tell them, loudly and often. Because we’re helping, right? We want so desperately for this to just WORK, and everyone to be settled and content. Because this union is a good thing, and we want everyone to validate that for us by just being happy, damn it.
But guess what? Not every issue is related to the new family dynamic. And the ones that are, often aren’t personal at all. Kids in intact families struggle in school, can be rude, lazy, and disrespectful. Shocker, I know! I’m not saying this to give them a pass, but if you’re in this first phase you really need to give yourself a break from being offended and defensive of yourself and/or your ideals. I guarantee you’re experiencing issues that predate your presence by a long shot. Here’s another gem for you: if you didn’t break it, what makes you think you can fix it? The dynamic between a dad and his kids, or your husband and his ex-wife, is extremely well-established and therefore very much outside your sphere of influence. Your husband’s intention is to parent (and co-parent) the best he can, I promise. He is not intentionally disrespecting you, you probably just have very different parenting styles. And let’s give his ex-wife the benefit of the doubt too, and realize that most of the time she probably doesn’t think of you at all, much less make decisions with the sole intent of annoying you.
Your teenage stepson eats what you had prepped for supper as an after-school snack, your daughter defiantly misses curfew, your stepdaughter offers to get her dad a drink and doesn’t extend the same to you. They don’t do it because they don’t like you/their mom told them they don’t have to listen to you/they’re mad you got married. These aren’t blended family problems. They are fairly normal KID problems. In our situation we often tend to paint all issues with the stepfamily brush and it’s simply not valid. In a way it’s a relief to realize this, and helpful to approach everything with that question in mind. ‘Could this happen in an intact family?’ I bet the answer is yes quite often. That simple realization and constant reminder can change our reactivity, help de-personalize and de-escalate a situation, and will absolutely benefit everyone.