Had I known (I’d do it all again)

Don’t worry, next week I’ll be at Disney…so should be lighter fare. In the meantime…

I started another Step-momming book a few weeks ago and, I’ve got to say, one chapter in and I felt like I could have written it. Several lines jumped off the page at me – but one particularly – a study (the book is full of studies) showing that marriages involving children from a previous marriage are 70% more likely to end in divorce. But, on the flip side, marriages involving children from a previous marriage that make it to the five-year mark are more likely to last for the long haul than any other type of marriage.

Which just about sent me cartwheeling around the yard (if only my wrist was fully recovered) as Rich and I are just three months away from the five-year mark. I’m not foreseeing any major issues in the coming 90 days, so I feel like we are totally going to get there. No, Universe, I will not hold your beer.

Part of me wishes I’d read this book before I said ‘yes’ or ‘I do.’ Part of me is glad I didn’t, as I likely would’ve had serious reservations. My life could have gone a completely different direction – missing so much stress and tension and arguments and threats and bag packing and therapy. But I also wouldn’t be here. Hitting the almost five-year mark and feeling like, ‘oh, man, we’re doing it.’ We’ve actually had that vibe for a few months now (maybe we’re early bloomers) – a pretty direct correlation to Zoe’s public revelations as to how I’ve ruined her life during the same five years. And, yes, that could have been a big nail in a teetering coffin, but we made a decision to dig through it together and have both worked really hard to stick to that decision.

I also joined a Facebook group for stepmom’s without their own children about a month ago – and am shocked at how much relevant and important advice I’m able to give. I’ve about earned a certified counselor badge. If only there’d been a group like this when I was starting this journey. Well, there may have been – I just didn’t know to look. When I started this journey, I did read and read and read – anything I could get my hands on regarding children of divorced parents. But there really wasn’t anything regarding the stepmoms that join them. I don’t know, maybe it’s more trendy now. But it should still come with a warning label.

I don’t often call myself a stepmom. I’m too much of a mom-mom. I actually have a tendency to call their actual mother their biological mom when speaking of her to others. It’s intentional. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that one can have more than one mom. And ‘stepmom’ really does have a huge connotation that you are just a parenting sidekick – there as more of an observer than a participant while leaving all decision making and discipline to the real parents. I’ve also learned the title of mom is something someone can have without necessary earning it. I’ve earned it.

What would I tell someone looking at the potential of being a stepmom? Besides all the good stuff? I’d probably lead with the good a little, but go heavy on the hard stuff – the bits I wish I’d known to make a more informed decision. Yes, there is a lot of good, but here’s what I want you to know.

  1. Don’t worry about whether you can have a relationship with him, your significant other. Worry about whether you can have a relationship with her, his ex. That’s the relationship that will bring you the most stress. And because he shares his kids with her – she will be around forever. She will be at every important event – graduation, weddings, grandkids – and your stepkids will not know who to give their attention to – her or you. She will be at many less important events – games, school plays, wisdom teeth extractions – and your stepkids will not know who to go to first when they are over. You will want it to be you, but you will acquiesce, offering to take ‘your turn’ later. You will be second, always, regardless of which of you spends the most time with the kids. Learn everything you can about her – not in an I-Spy way, but in a ‘Is this someone I can live with forever?’ Is she kind? Is she a mess? Who or what does she put first? How much does she rely on your significant other? How does she feel about you being with him? And with her kids? Are you wondering if the stories you’ve heard could possibly be accurate? They are – and you need to imagine yourself experiencing them first hand. We are lucky – we are not in a ‘high-conflict’ situation with Rich’s ex, just a roller coaster situation. Six years into it and I still get pangs of jealousy when the kids are with her. Six years into it and I worry that she’s better than me at mom-ming. Six years into it and I am already dreading the day we drop Zoe off at college, knowing that I’ll have to take my spot in the backseat as her mother weeps as Zoe walks away, bonding with Rich over ‘their baby’ growing up. Can you handle that?
  2. You will get zero credit for most of what you do. I am a full-timer. There a less of us than part-time stepmoms. Because the kids are with us 99% of the time, all parental duties land with us – and because I’m a bit of the house manager, many of those duties fall to me. If you are not okay with that, you need to be clear from the beginning. If that won’t work (your husband travels, you’re able to be the ‘stay at home’ person, he’s not really a disciplinarian, etc) decide early on how you will handle it. You will be the chauffeur, the cook, the contact for the schools, the nurse, the maid and more. If there’s a hat to wear – you will wear it. But the kids will not see any of those things – they will see you as their dad’s wife, someone who they live with, who they love mainly because you make him happy, but who is doing all of those things because she is filling a role – not because she is their mom. There are no drawn out thank you’s or revelations (well, maybe when they become parents). Which, yes, is a very mom-sounding situation…except you’re not.
  3. Are you prepared to do all of the above and be met with anger, non-acceptance and hate? You’ll need to be. And you’ll need to believe their father (and yourself) when you hear ‘it’s not you they are angry with’ or ‘it’s not you they think they hate.’ You will feel emotionally kicked. Any animosity towards their parents will be placed at your feet by your step kids. You’re the one they can safely despise, you’re the one they can safely hurt, you’re dispensable. Can you take all that and keep chugging along? Carrying a glimmer that maybe, maybe somewhere down the line they will realize it wasn’t you they were angry with? Can you persevere with the knowledge that they may never realize it? Make sure you are okay with that before you jump into this pool.
  4. If you’re lucky, their mother will be Mary Poppins. There will be no gaps to span, no holes to fill, no pieces to slide into place. She will be perfect. If she’s not, you will be responsible for two roles – yours as a stepmother and whichever pieces she’s not fulfilling as their mother. Are they nervous about her living situation? You will need to make them feel safe. Has she skipped ‘the talks?’ That will be your job – and then you will be chastised for having them. Does she lean toward disappointing them or shirking responsibility? You’ll need to give them a sense of security and be the woman they can depend on. She will not thank you.
  5. Don’t wait for support from your community – it’s not coming. Chances are high that your friends will have their own (biological/adopted) kids. They won’t have advice for you and they won’t be able to offer much support for lack of understanding. Many people hear ‘stepmom’ and assume yours is a part-time, easy life – devoid of any difficulties with someone else’s kids. Or worse, they hear your difficulties are think ‘oh, right, evil stepmom, didn’t I see this in a Disney movie?’ History hasn’t been kind to the role of the stepmom. Finding someone you can blurt out ‘oh my God, I don’t think I like these kids’ who won’t look back at you with eyes of horror will be a challenge – if you do, hold onto them tightly. You will have to fight to find resources, not for the kids of divorced parents, but for you – the one who will help fix the damage.
  6. The schools, doctors, dentists and other parents will assume you are not someone they should or can contact. They won’t understand that you are a real participant with a real desire to be involved. Yes, you husband will sign forms, make phone calls and send emails indicating otherwise – but that detail will have to be reiterated over and over and over. Yes, she can come have lunch at school. Yes, she can be the adult present when they get a shot. Yes, she’s able to drive carpool. Yes, she has a brain, breathes the same air and has a license.

Well, the list could go on and on. And while I don’t know – I just have to believe that raising a child that you actually birthed (or adopted), that you likely chose to have, has got to be at least a little bit easier than popping into multiple children’s lives at once and being handed the reigns to partake in raising them. If it isn’t, then good grief, how are people still at it?

There is good. I want to make sure you hear that again – there is loads of good. It probably means more because of all those things above – that despite it all, there are warm hugs and deep conversations and a thoughtful note on your birthday. You will get Mother’s Day off, oddly, but you won’t care because you will get a different ‘special’ day that you know really had to be thought through because there were no ads or hints or rows of cards at Target pushing ‘Stepmother’s Day.’ You will be appreciated. At first, just by your husband, which will have to be enough.

Later, maybe…I’m not there yet…by the ones who gave you this title.

5 thoughts on “Had I known (I’d do it all again)

    1. Oh gosh, I’m a member of a couple – yours, obviously, one that is I think called Stepmomming ain’t easy (your group is more relatable) and then I jump in and out of groups to see if I like them. Then there’s the arts & craft sites and neighborhood yard sales… okay I have no life…

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