Leaning close to me, the counselor quietly began to speak. I expected encouraging comments and wise counsel on how to cope with the constant struggle of stepmothering. Instead I heard words that didn’t make sense to me. “I know it’s difficult at times, but you might consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to be part of raising your stepchildren.”
What? Is he crazy? My thoughts took over and I couldn’t respond for fear of what might come out of my mouth. Was he listening to my heartfelt cry for help?
Parenting stepchildren can feel more like a burden than a privilege at times. We have the responsibility of a parent with few parental rights. Fold the laundry. Cook dinner. Run the carpool. Despite our efforts toward mundane parenting tasks, we get little regard as a parent, or appreciation for our help.
So, how do we learn to embrace our role as a stepmother? A few key steps can help us thrive and gain confidence with the expectations placed on us.
1. Be your own person. Don’t try to replace or compete with the biological mom. It’s okay to be different. I recently watched my friend, a new stepmom, painstakingly mold herself into someone she hoped her stepdaughter would love and accept. Unfortunately, she created a bitter stepmom persona instead of a vested loving relationship. When we are comfortable with our unique identity, we yield confidence for new relationships.
2. Work harder at being a friend rather than a parent, particularly in the beginning. The primary goal for new stepparents is to develop a loving, trusting relationship with your stepchild. Find common ground that allows time together comfortably. Let the biological parent take the lead in disciplining during the relationship-building period. Moving into a parental role too soon results in anger and resentment.
3. Forgive yourself when you fail. You will mess up as a stepparent. During our early years of marriage, I was easily irritated with the shortcomings of my stepchildren. I reacted in favor of my biological children during times of conflict and was frustrated with my lack of patience and fairness toward my stepchildren. As I sought to forgive myself for my mistakes and learn from my failures, I could pick myself up and begin again with positive strides in my stepparenting role.
4. Make your marriage a priority. It’s easy to allow struggles with the kids to interfere with your marital relationship. Stay connected in tough times by taking intentional steps to work through conflict and create a united front. Recognize the challenge of blending a family and seek professional help if you reach an impasse in your relationships.
5. Allow plenty of time for new relationships to develop. Strive for love and acceptance of one another, but don’t expect harmony overnight. The average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate. Complex stepfamilies (when both parents bring children to the marriage) can take longer. But there are rewards on our stepmom journey as we learn to love and be loved by our stepchildren.
After 20 years as a stepmother, I experience far more rewards than burdens. I can honestly say, “It’s been a privilege to take part in raising my stepchildren.” I’m thankful for the healing that has occurred in our relationships and look forward to the years ahead as our family continues to grow and mature, embracing my role as a stepmother.
By Gayla Grace, who treasures her role as mom and stepmom to five children, ages 14-30. She loves to encourage stepfamilies through her website and blog at www.stepparentingwithgrace.com.