A few months ago, we moved into a new neighborhood. It’s a quaint community full of families who spend a lot of time outside, and we have gotten to know many of the neighbors on our evening walks.
In a blended family, it’s always a little uncomfortable when the introductory questions start flying. Once you’re past the initial “What’s your name? Where do you work? Your dog is so cute!” conversations, slightly more personal questions always creep their way in. In a nuclear family, these are questions that could be answered without hesitation, but in a blended family, you brace yourself in preparation for the judging eyes you receive as you answer.
Fielding Questions as a Stepmom: The Curse of the Nosy Neighbors
These conversations follow the same trajectory almost every single time. We can initially meet a couple, talk to them for 30+ minutes, and hit it off great. Our kids will be playing, we will find common acquaintances or hobbies, and we walk away feeling excited to be surrounded by such great families.
Then, the next time we see them on a walk without the kids, everything takes a turn…
Question: “Where are the kids tonight?!”
Answer: “They’re with their Mom.”
Response: *Blank stare* “Ohhhhh.”
… and in that moment, you know your kids will never get to hang out with their kids. You know you will never grow close with that family, because they don’t want to associate themselves with the assumed drama that comes with a dad and stepmom.
Double Standard: It is important to note that if our response was, “They’re with their Dad,” the neighbors probably would not have batted an eye.
Question: “So, do you have them every-other weekend?”
Answer: *Annoyed* “We have them half the time.”
Response: “Oh! Well that’s nice of her… you must get along great!”
… and in that moment, you’re reminded why the stigmas surrounding fathers in divorce must be broken down. Educational conversations about blended families must continue to occur, even if it’s uncomfortable. You’re reminded that there are people who still assume outdated practices are in play, and believe that mothers are always more fit parents than fathers.
Double Standard: If we were the mom and stepdad responding with, “We have them half the time,” we would have been praised for our generosity in allowing their father equal time and access to the kids.
Statement: “I knew they aren’t yours! They don’t look anything like you!”
Response: *a kind laugh* followed by an unenthusiastic “Yeah…”
… I mean honestly, I don’t even know how to respond to this, so I just laugh and change the topic. How many kids do you know who don’t look exactly like their parents? I am a Caucasian woman with two Caucasian stepdaughters… one of whom has hair and eyes identical to mine. If I was looking at us, I would never think “Wow, they look nothing like her! She must not be their Mom.” So I really have a hard time believing that anyone has really thought that upon meeting us.
Relatability Factor: People just want to agree on things and find common ground. I really believe that the people who comment on how we “don’t look alike at all” are just trying to “connect with us” on some deep level, as if they really observed and understand us. I don’t know… honestly, this is a weird one for me.
Irony Factor: One woman who has said this to me in our neighborhood is in a blended family, with two sons from different fathers, and married to a third man whom she does not have biological children with. I’m always surprised when people in blended families say ignorant or disrespectful things on the subject.
Sometimes, we get the hard hitting questions on a first encounter, while the girls are with us.
Question: “What school does she go to?”
Answer: *Names a public school in the next county over.*
Response: “Oh, really?! Why is that?”
Answer: “It is more central to our jobs.” (a truth, as it is more central to ALL of our jobs.)
*SD Chimes In* “My school is close to my Mommy’s new house!”
… andddd, we’re outed.
Question: “So, do you have any kids?”
Answer: *Thinking yes, these two right here…* “Nope.”
Response: “Okay. Any idea when you’ll have one?!”
So you see, it can get pretty uncomfortable and frustrating meeting new neighbors in a blended family. Questions you never thought would bother you, do. Questions probably asked in innocence can rub you the wrong way. It’s silly, really… but it’s reality.
Although these conversations are not out of line, they can eat away at you mentally, if you allow them to. In the spirit of not giving a f***, here are my top 3 advice nuggets to move along with your life.
1. Remember, you are thinking into this way more than your husband or the neighbors are.
Sure, you answered some questions different than they expected you to. Sure, maybe you tried to tell a half-truth and your 5-year-old outed you. But other than maybe one exchange back and forth to one another as you walk away, your neighbors are not going to dwell on this. They may never see you as a “real mom,” but they will also not dwell on the information they learned.
2. Remember, people don’t know something about you, until they know something about you.
The questions you’ve been asked are generic conversation starters and ice breakers. The assumptions and accusations you’ve heard may be out of line, but the initial questions started from an innocent place. In my opinion, part of the problem with our society today is that people are too easily offended… you don’t want to be part of that problem! Be a part of the solution. Let it roll off your back.
3. Remember, it does not matter what anyone thinks about you or your family!
Is your family functioning in a healthy manner? Are the kids happy and well taken care of? Is your husband happy and well taken care of *wink*? Seriously, I’m not suggesting you blow your first impressions with people… but what I am suggesting is if someone is truly coming at you in a judgmental or negative way, you don’t need them.
You may or may not develop a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with your neighbors, so try not to sweat it. There’s a good chance that mom who you think mentally excommunicated you is from a blended family herself, and supports you!
Never be ashamed to tell your story and to speak your truth. The more we let awkward encounters phase us, the longer it will take for us to make an impact in breaking the negative stigmas associated with blended families.
Go for a walk, wear your Super Stepmom shirt with pride, and live your life, Mama! We will blink and the next 20 years will have passed… let’s make them good!
PS: It’s okay if you enjoy when you’re mistaken for your stepchild’s mom, even if you have to endure the awkward conversations the next go-around.