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What I Learned During a Global Pandemic as a Stepmom

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I truly believe that we do the most growing when we are put in difficult and uncomfortable situations. This is why stepmomming has such a profound effect on who I am as a person outside of my role as a stepmom.  2020 was definitely a struggle, but I like to focus on the growth and lessons that have been thrown at me. In an attempt to hang on to them into the new year, I want to share them with you.

You cannot do all things, for all people, at all times.

This one was like 2020’s big old billboard, flying right in my face in an unrelenting way.

In March, my four stepkids were sent home from school to do remote learning, and have not yet returned to a classroom. On the same day, I was sent home from work, and I have no yet returned to my office. My partner, the kids’ mom, and stepdad all work in the healthcare field and have remained working in person the entire time. While they may be “front line workers” to the rest of the country, I was our front line worker at home with four kids homeschooling.

I saw the posts where people had worksheets and projects and enrichment activities set up for their kids. I tried, that first week… I really tried. I got up early, made breakfast, woke them all up, and offered them something to eat. I made sure that they were ready for their classes on time, and had their laptops set up at a desk, weren’t in bed, and maybe had a clean shirt on. I tried to plan fun “activities” we could do. I bought a lot of lawn games and made fancy invitations to join me for tea and muffins.

I tried to keep morale up, and everyone happy.  Did I mention I was working a full 40 hours a week, as well? My efforts did not last long. After a month, they were lucky if I threw a granola bar at them when I turned on the lights to wake them up before class.

There was no way I could be “hands-on” with schooling for four kids (one in 5th grade, two in 7th grade, and one in 9th grade) and be the only parent at home, while trying to work full time. I couldn’t. And, I refused to feel guilty for that.

Their mom and dad were at work full time, not calling them before their classes to make sure they’d logged on, not sending food deliveries to them for lunch, and no one would consider them bad parents for it. They were working! But so was I. 

I learned to tell my stepkids what I needed from them. I needed them to wake up and get ready on their own. I needed them to come and get me when they had actual trouble connecting to class, but to not burst into my office because they forgot where we keep the forks.

I also had to let my partner and the kids’ mom know that while I was here for big issues (time management, IT troubleshooting, minor food fixing), I could not be managing it all, just as they could not manage it all while at work.

And, I had to tell my partner what I needed from him in the evenings, which is basically…for it to be his turn. I would cook dinner, but as soon as he came home, he needed to check in with everyone. He needed to help with homework, and do something entertaining as everyone was bored to tears all day. I needed to NOT be holding down the fort anymore. 

Compassion

I normally consider myself a very compassionate person, but sometimes it’s hard to assume that other people are struggling when you cannot see it. 

I’ve been so thankful for the outpouring of compassion so many people have displayed this year. Because we’re all struggling. No one needs to provide elaborate excuses—or any excuses—and so many people have been understanding with the fragile state we are all in just below the surface.

I’m not drowning in despair, but this year has been hard for me and I appreciate the delicate gloves that others are using.

I’m trying to remember that even when the pandemic is gone (which may happen someday…) everyone has something bubbling just below the surface that they are doing their best to deal with.

Maybe it’s okay that my stepdaughter does not want to shower today (or yesterday, or the day before that). Maybe it’s okay that my stepson is just not feeling soccer practice over Zoom for the 100th time, maybe it’s okay that I’ve been wearing sweatpants daily since March.

Even more importantly, maybe it’s okay that the kids’ mom forgot to email me back to answer a question I asked her. Maybe it’s okay that she lost track of the prescription for one of the kid’s medicines and we need to make a new appointment on our time. Maybe none of those things are about me at all, and maybe I just need to be a little more understanding and compassionate about things I probably am completely unaware of.

You cannot control the things you cannot control.

Okay, HELLO! This one was hard for me.

As a stepmom, we’ve all heard the advice “you cannot control what happens in the other house,” and as someone prone to anxiety, I’ve definitely heard it in non-stepmom arenas, too. But, even as I’ve repeated the idea that we cannot control everyone, I was still trying to control everything! I can’t be the only one…

The nature of a global health crisis really drives home the point that you just can NOT control the things that you cannot control. I cannot make other people wear a mask, or take the same precautions that I do. And, it does me no good to complain about the people who make decisions that I am not comfortable with. All I can do is the best I can for me, whatever that may look like.

As I mentioned, out of the four parents in this blended family, I am the only one not going in to work. Additionally, the other house lives in a different county with different restrictions than we do in our county. And, they have a slightly different threshold for what they are comfortable with.

It brought me great stress at first, and boy did I want to come up with some general rules for how “we” would all attack the various suggestions and mandates.  But I cannot control the other house.

What I ended up doing was deciding what that meant for me. I probably went out less, I spent less time trying to hang-out “distanced” from friends, I was upfront with people that I had a “bubble” that was not terribly locked down. I figured out what I needed to do to make it easier to sleep at night.  This will look different for different people.

I know some stepmoms who wear masks at home when their stepkids come over, that is fine. I know people who dump their kids directly into a shower upon arrival, that is fine. We all have to figure out what aspects we DO have control over, and how to exert that control in a way that makes our lives livable.

Take away the health crisis, and this is a REALLY helpful skill. Are bedtimes different at the other house? Does it drive you crazy? Can you do anything about it?  No, so you make choices in your own house that help you control the hand you are given. Maybe that looks like slightly earlier bedtimes on their first night with you. Perhaps it means giving a little more structure in the morning and throughout the day so that bedtime fits in better.

Whatever it looks like, it will inevitably be more successful than wishing the other house would change their way. 

The rules are made to be broken.

Some days, you just have to throw the rules out and do whatever works at the moment.

Don’t clean the house, don’t worry about the dishes, stay in PJs, throw wild dance parties, take sidewalk chalk out to the driveway and decorate the entire thing, set up a massive course of croquet in the front yard, designate “every man for themselves” dinner nights, watch movies all dang day.

This pandemic really showed me that sometimes we all just need a break to do nothing. Kids, parents, stepparents, everyoneWe need to throw it all out, and start over. For someone like me, a self-proclaimed control freak, that was not natural but, man, did we have some fun!

I wish we didn’t have to go through this hard year, but I do hope that some of the things I’ve learned stick around. I love my new levels of compassion and flexibility, the letting go of what we “should do” and the really figuring out what we “need” to do.

It hasn’t been easy, and I haven’t liked it all, but I think my stepkids and I are closer because we’ve been more real with each other. I know my partner and I are closer because we’ve really worked as a team to get us through to the end of each day. The kids’ mom and I are even closer, as we’ve shared some mutual understanding that this is hard, and maybe if we work together it’s easier for everyone. We’ve done some really amazing co-parenting when it comes to schooling, and I really hope this part of our relationship sticks around.

I hope that all of you reading things have some positive things you’ve learned and ways you’ve grown in 2020, and I truly hope that 2021 can be all the things for us that 2020 just never was.  Sending you much love, hope, happiness, and health for the new year and beyond, stepmama!

P.S. If your New Year’s Resolution was to finally find the elusive “peace” as a stepmom, then apply now to learn more about our stepmom support coaching services!

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