In pop culture, « stepmothers » don’t have such a good reputation. Just think of Cinderella’s, who was probably the worst of all malevolent stepmoms of all. In reality, stepmothers still suffer from these preconceived ideas, sometimes maintained by the former spouse (the mother of the children). Still, we shouldn’t focus on these bad stereotypes. It is possible to live happily as the stepmom of our boyfriend’s children even if it is sometimes complicated, hard, and a source of questions left unanswered.
Second mom? Great friend? Enemy? For a child, the stepmom represents the person because of whom things will never be the same again. Yes, children usually hope that their parents will get back together. The stepmother shatters this dream. This is why some children are so hostile, no matter how nice you are. Before getting involved in a relationship where your boyfriend has children, you cannot really anticipate how it will be.
Indeed, you are confronted with children who are not yours, whom you didn’t “want” and who may be the opposite of what you expected in a child. Maybe you never expected to be a mom at all and now you are becoming one without preparation or instruction manuals. It is scary. It’s also normal to have doubts, to ask yourself a lot of questions and to evaluate before you dive in. But it may also be the opportunity of a lifetime. Maybe you are relieved to have children in your life without the responsibilities. Maybe this new role will help you decide whether or not you want children. Perhaps this balance between a family and a love life will enchant you more than you think…
I fact, becoming a stepmom is an adventure that you rarely choose. Rare are those who openly seek a man with kids to begin with. It’s the adventure that chooses you! You can choose: you stay completely detached, you overly invest yourself or you slowly take your place. The first two options are a lot riskier for your couple. The last option requires a lot of work, perseverance, and compromise but it allows the creation of a healthier blended family.
To build good relations with your spouse’s children, it would be easy to think that you just make your efforts and that the children and their mom and dad will do the same. There is more than that. Each comes with their background, experiences, wounds, dreams, and desires. This is a lot to handle and it can sometimes become explosive and often emotional.
Time is a significant ally. There is no need to rush in and quickly come to magical relations. Your efforts and your initiatives are respectable but you could fail if you try too hard. Adapt to everyone’s pace, deal with your habits and slowly get to know each other. This is a process that will only result in success with time and patience.
So that all goes well, many people have tips or recommendations of friends or colleagues who have been through this. But what really counts is to rely on your instinct.
You are not their mother. You don’t really wish to become their friend either. Then who will you be? Be yourself… don’t try to be too nice or too understanding. Bearing this role is okay now and again but would you do that for a long time? You must be sincere and true with children, if you are not, they can feel it.
Take your place without taking the entire place
You will get the feeling of dancing a strange tango. Should you say what you think? Keep your comments to yourself? Establish some rules? Never saying anything is not a solution, you will get frustrated sometime. But learning to zip it now and again can be a good option. In fact, there are no secret recipes. You must learn to impose without breaking everything. Being too disengaged would stop you from developing a rich relationship with the children. This will require tact, diplomacy and a lot of patience.
Go to them
Children have special detectors! They know when an adult is true and when they are phony. Make an effort to go towards your spouse’s children and suggest discussions or activities. Be forgiving if they are not as enthusiastic as you would like. You will have to be tolerant. A separation leaves children fragile and suspicious. They will need time. Even more than you do.
Learn to accept
His children will never be yours. You probably would’ve raised them differently. You’ve never been a mom. They did not choose you. To begin a relationship on such grounds is never easy. You must learn to accept each other. There will be adjustments, discussions, arguments, etc. but if everything is done with respect and in hope of finding a way to be happy together, you will manage.
Yes! You want this relationship to be a good one. Yes! You want to do everything you can for these kids to accept you. Yes to all that! But you also have to be respected. You can’t accept everything. When the children show a lack of respect, mention it right away (otherwise, the message will lose its sense). Their attitudes don’t change? A three-way discussion, with the father, would be appropriate. Respect is the foundation of everything.
Be a team
The best help will be… your spouse. His attitude will make the difference in the future relationship between you and his children. So get ready for a good dose of discussion. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel. It is better that way. Your spouse must give you some leeway to act the way you really are – in concordance with his methods of education – and ensure that his children give you a chance. He must also understand and accept that you are doing things your way. Establish a new set of rules together to make your new household fully operational. The children must feel that you are part of the team and that you all follow the same rules. You must feel supported. It is important if you don’t want to feel lonely in front of the kids on your path to your new life.
The ex and you
Your boyfriend’s ex can make it hard for you, make you feel incompetent, judge you and even plot against you with the kids. With her, you should imperatively avoid confrontation. She will not become your friend either (not from the start at the very least!). Base your relationship on a deep mutual respect. Never criticize her in front of the kids. If the conflict continues, deal with it as an adult and keep the children out if it.
Stepmoms tell their stories…
”Usually, it is not with the children that you will manage a problem but with your new boyfriend. The hardest thing is that not everyone has the same morals or the same way to raise kids. If I had one advice to give, it would be to think about it twice before getting involved in a relationship where there already are children. I am not saying you shouldn’t but be clear from the start because it is hard to make requests when you have waited too long before explaining what your moral values are and what you find unacceptable.”
”Not too good but after a few years it got better! It’s not always easy for a child to see another woman replace his mother! Today it is better, with the child and with the mom. Be patient! “
”It’s hell! I’ve been with the father for three years; the little boy tells me that I am not nice, probably because the mother talks about me in front of him. I find it really annoying but I know he doesn’t mean it so I will be patient.“
”It’s going well but with six kids (3,6,9,16, 19 and 21 years old) our secret is simple: it takes two houses! When we will stay together we’ll see! For the last 14 months, we see each other five days a week. We don’t feel the urge of living together yet. It will come!”
”Being the stepmom or the stepdad – I think it’s the same – is really hard. When the children are young or in their teenage, it represents different difficulties. You need a lot, lot of communication, understanding but also and above all a lot of love in the couple to face all those difficulties. So PATIENCE! You must take it one day at a time!”
”By experience, I can tell you it’s not easy with kids. Remember this… never try to replace the mom or else… Especially with teenagers! Even if you don’t want to do wrong, teenagers always look for trouble and they are usually really good at finding it. And, believe me, no child needs a mother to make his own opinion about his stepmother. Trust their intelligence. Children can do really bad things when they feel like someone is taking the space in their father’s heart that rightfully belongs to them.”
”With determination and the father’s support, everything went well. I never heard anything bad coming from the kids, even if the mother was saying unpleasant things. I never put their mother down. She is and always will be their mother and I would never denigrate her in front of the girls (even though I don’t like her at all). The best advice is not to be apart and to get involved in their evolution. Don’t just be a couple where everyone has their own child but be a family all together. To be there for your love’s child like you would like him to be there for yours.”
”If I may, I suggest reading the Stepmonster written by Wednesday Martin. The daily life of a stepmother isn’t easy. Many situations become harder, our patience isn’t always what it would be with our own kids and we face situations that nuclear families do not have to manage. In short, Ms. Martin, PH. D. in psychology, tells us about the blended family but from the stepmother’s point of view, not the kid’s. We condone, we realize that we are not the only one to go through what we are going through. She gives us possible solutions. Our well-being is taken into account as a priority. It feels good. Yes, the child’s well-being is important but we have feelings too, we manage different emotions and I think it’s important to live them fully. This book was recommended to me and helped me to go through difficult times and helps me again and again.”
« When I started the relationship with my husband, he practically had his daughter with him full-time. The first weeks were quite hard because before learning to live as a family, we had to get to know each other as a couple. Then came the shared custody and it allowed us to know each other better and to appreciate the time spent together. As for the little one, she was 2 at the time and she was so charming that it was not difficult to bond. I am not her mother and I don’t want to replace her but I want to be an extra. We have a wonderful relationship and we now have an extended family with the little boy her father and I had. It goes so well that we would like to have another child quickly. Beautiful relations with our spouse’s children are more than possible… My husband who had to deal with a preteen (my daughter) has been very successful in creating a great complicity and he keeps reminding me that he loves her as if she was his own so I think it’s wonderful. We are very lucky!”
“I don’t have a child and I never wanted one for myself but my boyfriend has a three and a half years old boy. I know him since he was 1 and a half-year-old and I saw him walk for the first time. You always love a child, even if he’s not yours. And I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t half as bad as I thought. It is going very well with him, he’s a little bundle of love, I try to take care of him and give him as much love as I can without acting like his mother. We have had hard times in the past few months with his mother. This is the hardest thing to date because the two parents don’t talk anymore and it’s a shame. So it’s a bit unsettling for the child, for the parents and their spouses. For our part, we would like the communication to start again for the good of the child and to live in harmony… We cross our fingers because the important thing is the child!”
”The beginnings are always delicate because the children already have a mother and we must build our relationship on a new foundation (a base that would be neither friendly nor parental), for which we have no social model. If I had to give an advice to a friend who would begin this great adventure, I would say: build your couple, build your family. Talk to each other. Listen to each other. Because if you don’t have a social model as a stepmom, the father of a blended family doesn’t have one either! And in a blended family where the father doesn’t work on the couple, the stepmom almost necessarily become 1- a domestic 2- a weekend girlfriend or 3- a person who is constantly misunderstood and frustrated. I exaggerate a bit but hey… I have been blogging about this for a year for a reason!”
Joyful stepmother (Marâtre joyeuse)
To read on the subject
- Stepmonster By Wednesday Martin, Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN 9780618758197, $19.75.