Stepmoms come in all shapes and sizes. As adults, we all have baggage, but combining your baggage with a man who has kids can be a real pain. Who’s been married before? How many kids are involved, and how many homes are a part of the new blended family? How old were the kids when they met you? Do they live with you, or does your husband have visitation? These are just a few of the many contributing factors to a stepmom relationship with her stepkids.
If we could “check off boxes” as a stepmom, these would be mine:
- Husband was previously married (for about 3.5 years before separating); I was never married before
- Husband’s kids were 1 & 2 years old when I met them; I have no biological children
- We have joint legal and shared physical custody of the kids. We have them half the time (2-2-3 schedule)
In communication with stepmoms across the country, I often find that my situation is drastically different than others. I think this is largely due to my “boxes.” As a Stepmom advocate, I strive to keep the conversation flowing about blended family dynamics, and to put an end to the negative stigmas associated with the word “Stepmom.” With that said, I’ve compiled my top five differences for the under-five & childless, joint-custody stepmom. (Key: “Under-Five” meaning, the kids were under five years old when we met them)
The Unique Perspective of the Under-Five & Childless Stepmoms
Our family dynamic is raw, at first.
In many instances, when we first met our now-husband, his past 3 to 5 years included him meeting his ex, getting married, honeymooning, having babies… and now separation/divorce. Not long ago, our in-laws were being ushered in at his first wedding… or receiving the news they would be grandparents, maybe for the first time. Our husbands had babies when their previous family dissolved, and when we started dating them. We’ve also faced a torn and tattered BM. We came around too soon for her liking, and we have reaped the consequences in one way or another.
We get to parent our stepkids.
Unlike stepmoms who enter the kids’ lives at an older age, us under-five and joint-custody stepmoms get to parent. Our stepkids don’t even remember a time when their parents were living together. Switching back and forth between homes quickly became routine for them, and they have always seen us as a parent. They respect our authority. They also trust us just as they trust their Mom & Dad. We feel comfortable stepping in and contributing to the parenting team at home. Our partners see us as parents, too. They didn’t see their ex parent for very long in the home, so we don’t have a standard for “how it used to be done.” We are figuring out the kids as they age, together as a team.
We also get to grow with our stepkids.
These are our first children, so we are learning the ropes as we go. Some of us got to change diapers, and got to see the transition from baby food to real food. We get to teach them how to walk, talk, and how to use the “potty.” We see them through preschool, and send them off to Kindergarten. We are hitting these parenting milestones for the first time with our stepchildren. There are few milestones we have missed. We are present, and are not seen as a burden to the family or to teachers as the years go on, because it seems as though we have always been there.
Our insecurities don’t usually come from being a Stepmom… they come from being a Second Wife.
As previously mentioned, we are confident in our abilities to parent, and are well supported by our husbands. Any “stepmom insecurities” we may face are simply growing pains any parent may have. Our real insecurities come from what we missed out on. Not being the first engagement, the first wedding, the first new SUV purchase, the first house purchase, the baby showers… The excitement that you know your husband’s family had about his first wife, but they don’t have about you… even if they really love you. It’s just not the same. Unfortunately as a woman, our insecurities almost always stem from trying to measure up to other women… this is no different.
We view our stepkids as “our kids,” not “his kids.”
Our meaning us, the kids’ mom, and her partner… all of us. We don’t tell other stepmoms who are venting, “Just back off, they’re his kids!” Instead, we say, “Have you tried communicating with your husband, and letting him know how you feel?” Parenting relationships are shared within the home and not seen as a burden. We don’t dwell on the fact our family isn’t a traditional, nuclear family. Instead, we embrace our unique family. We don’t allow ourselves to harbor bitter, negative feelings towards the mom. Instead, we adapt to viewing them as a part of the parenting team. Again, they are “our” kids.
Just as there are drastic differences within the home for each nuclear family, there are also drastic differences within each blended family home. There will be other under-five & childless, joint-custody stepmoms who read this and only relate to parts of it. My favorite part of opening the blended family dialog is pointing out that these differences are okay. It is okay that we are not cookie-cutter, and our struggles are not all the same.
Perspective means the world to me. I believe so much of our happiness is triggered by our unique perspectives on the situations we face. The next time you talk to a stepmom about “her husband’s kids,” or ask her when she is going to have her “own kids,” I challenge you to consider her full situation, ask lots of questions, and open your mind to the uniqueness of her beautiful story.