Have you ever had one of those seemingly innocuous conversations that end up slapping you in the face with a big fat reality check? That happened to me recently.
I was talking to a friend one day (not a close friend but more like one you catch up with every few months and skim the surface of your life) and she asked me a very simple question: why don’t I have a good relationship with my stepdaughter’s mom?
It was in response to something I had said. I was complaining about scheduling family photos and how our dates with my stepdaughter weren’t lining up with the photographer’s availability. She innocently recommended that I ask my stepdaughter’s mom to switch dates with us.
Not really thinking, I answered, “Oh we don’t have that kind of relationship.”
“Why?”, she said.
Why? Well it’s not a simple math problem. These are complicated and complex feelings spanning two different relationships with three different adults. Two of whom have already decided they don’t like each other before the third one even enters the picture.
I answered my friend honestly but vaguely that day. “Lots of reasons, I guess.”
But after we hung up, the question still lingered in my head. Why don’t we have a good relationship? While my initial reaction was to blame her mom for everything, deep down I knew I’d made my fair share of mistakes and of course my husband had his too but I can’t speak for either of them.
But what I can do is pass on my stepmomming wisdom in all of its glorious hindsightedness. That’s a word right?
My Top 5 Mistakes I Made in my Early Stepmom Days
Mistake #1: Not Having Boundaries
When I first met my husband, like many stepmoms do, I felt like I became an insta-mom. My future stepdaughter was only three so she required constant parenting still. And of course, I wanted to show off my momming skills to this amazing new man.
Daddy has a late appointment at work? Sure I can take off work early and pick her up from daycare. Disagreement with her mom? Oh, let me help you mend that fence. SD needs a new wardrobe? Sure I’ll spend my Saturday running around the mall.
My first huge error as a new stepmom was not knowing I needed boundaries. I lost myself very quickly in my new role. Friendships fell by the wayside and work became secondary because for 50% of the time, I felt like I had to be super-mom. And the other half of the time, I was recovering from it.
And to think, we were just dating back then. This was supposed to be the fun part of the relationship!
Looking back, I wish I had said no to more stuff. I stretched myself so thin and even left my career so I could be around more. I’m not saying I regret it, but just #doyou for as long as possible. There will be plenty of super-mom years later.
Mistake #2: Not Respecting Boundaries
When I was really young, I had a stepmom who treated me like the proverbial “redheaded stepchild”. She made it very clear I was more of a nuisance than anything else.
So my first goal when auditioning to be a stepmom was making sure that my stepdaughter felt the exact opposite! I bought us matching clothes, took her for mani/pedi dates once a week, helped her decide on new hairstyles and volunteered to coordinate her birthday party.
Little did I know, her mom not only didn’t appreciate my bonding experiences, she flat out detested them. Wrong of her? Maybe. But the fact of the matter is, in her opinion, I was overstepping and that caused a lot of pain and anger in her.
It took me a long time to realize that my actions were fueling her insecurities and ultimately hurting our co-parenting chances. So I stepped back slightly and tried to encourage my stepdaughter to ask her mom to do the things she was used to doing with me.
Mistake #3: Not Meeting My Stepdaughter’s Mom
I still remember the conversation so clearly. My now-husband and I were chatting about the coming week’s activities and he said so casually, “I was thinking we could do dinner with stepdaughter’s mom on Thursday.” Excuse me, huh?
It was a couple months into our relationship and things were good back then but… wait, what? I’m supposed to meet her? Is that a thing? I didn’t have to say any of this. It was all over my face. He could see very clearly that I was uncomfortable. He laughed it off and said never mind and then we just never talked about it again.
Now, I wish one of us had brought it back up. I quickly became “the girlfriend” to my stepdaughter’s mom and her family. It was easier for them to hate me because they had never met me. They created their own narrative, and by the time we did meet at an exchange it was awkward, uncomfortable and quite a negative experience for everyone involved.
Mistake #4: Feeding into the Hate
It wasn’t just my partner who had negative things to say about his ex. His co-workers, friends, family; seemingly everyone in his life felt that my stepdaughter’s mom was a very flawed person (and not a very good wife or mom either).
And because of mistake number three, I never had the chance to formulate an opinion of my own. So many people and so many stories; there must be some truth to it, right? Well there was definitely some truth, that’s for sure. She is no saint.
Mistake #5: Heeding the “Document Everything” Advice
I really can’t stress this one enough. Honestly, it might need its own entire blog post. Put down the pencil, step away from the keyboard and just STOP.
“My stepdaughter had too small pants on today and her ankles were showing in 40• weather.” “The ex was 20 minutes late dropping off and 10 minutes late picking up.” “My stepdaughter had a soda in her lunch box today.” “My stepdaughter said she wants to stay with us for the weekend and BM won’t let her.”
Sound familiar? Those are the type of things my husband and I documented. Because early in my stepmomming days, someone I trusted told me to document EVERYTHING. Like court was inevitable and that somehow this backlog of nitpicking would win us custody.
Looking back on it all now, I can’t tell you how silly I feel. To think about the time and energy I spent writing down every minor parenting misstep she took is absurd. All of those minutes could have been spent hanging out with my friends or putting more effort in my new relationship.
So please, take it from someone who did document everything and who did go to court eventually, it didn’t matter. None of it did. What mattered was the big stuff: school, health and physical and emotional safety. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories, make like Elsa and let it goooooo.
For us, all of these little things snowballed. Like a big wad of tape, it couldn’t be easily undone. Layers and layers of hurt and resentment developed in just a few short months.
I’m not taking all the blame here by any means. No one handled the beginning stages of our co-parenting arrangement well, but hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?
Try to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. Actually it’s more of an Iron Man triathlon… So pace yourself.
P.S. This is hands-down the BEST stepmom advice out there! Once I learned this, everything else fell into place!