Monday, January 21, 2013

On Being a Stepmom

Recently, a few of my friends have become stepparents. Before I became a mom, I was a stepmom, so hearing they were starting on this journey made me remember my first years as a stepmom. When I married Ren, Big Sissy was in junior high. Junior high! Those early years were a big adjustment for both of us, and nothing from that time was easy. It took us awhile to grow into our new roles, and I learned a few things along the way.

There are plenty of websites out there that give great advice on step-parenting and blended families, and if you are really seeking guidance on this topic, you should probably go to those sites. Just like every kid with autism is different from every other kid with autism, so, too, every blended family is different from every other blended family. So, much of what I learned was specific to our situation, but here are a few of the more universal lessons I picked up along the way:

1. The kids didn't choose the situation they are in. 

There's nothing glamorous about going from no kids to having stepchildren. They will use your toothpaste, dirty your furniture, break your dishes, hog your bathroom. You will feel annoyed and cramped and little bit of everything else. Get over it. When you got married, you were agreeing to become a family, a family that not only includes your spouse's kids but that should be focused on them. I'm not saying it's easy; in fact, it can be horrible at times, but you still have to bring your A game and be the parent your stepchild deserves.

2. If you put your spouse in the middle, he will choose the kids. 

He has to, and, really, you should want him to. I don't know what else to say about this except don't put your spouse in the middle.

3. American pop culture gives stepparents, and especially stepmothers, a bad rap. 

Think Cinderella. I can't tell you how many people have gushed over how great I am as a stepmom. I'm sure I make mistakes, and I'm sure there were times I resented the struggle of those early years, but compared to the stepmoms we see in the movies, I'm a saint. And, to be honest, I'm not comfortable with that (See point number 1).

4. You're always the stepparent. 

When push comes to shove, when your stepchild is in trouble, your opinion won't always hold the weight you think it should. There's nothing so demoralizing as pouring everything you have into your relationship with your stepchild only to have your motives questioned when things get dicey. But, it happens. Be patient, be consistent, and be tenacious, and eventually those moments of mistrust will disappear.

5. This isn't the movies. 

You know those heart-warming romantic comedies where the single dad suffers alone raising his kids until the perfect woman stumbles into their lives, filling the void, and helping everyone live happily ever after? This isn't that story. It's not that easy. Between the stumbling in and the happily ever after, you'll have a lot of work, a lot of frustration, and a lot of tears. Chances are, your stepchildren will never figure out how to thank you for all of the sacrifices you made (and shouldn't have to, really). And you'll probably never figure out how to love your stepchildren as unconditionally as you think you should. So, here's what you do: you stop worrying about it. You stop worrying about it and just do the best you can.

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