To all the step parents out there – you’re not alone. There is a reason your step children were placed in your hands to love. It can feel very lonely and often like a punishment for other people’s sins. This doesn’t have to be the case for you.
A few years ago I fell in love. It happened quickly and very unexpectedly. As my then boyfriend and I were navigating the transition of dating to planning our lives together I had another dynamic to learn: how to be a stepmom to his youngest son. At first, we intended for it to be a casual relationship as we learned each other and bonded. Quickly the pain my kiddo was carrying from the divorce and relationship with his mother pulled me into his heart. He was in desperate need of love and consistency from a motherly figure. We bonded in a way I didn’t know was possible. We quickly became close establishing a healthy mother-son bond.
I found that falling in love with my now husband I also fell in love with his son. We all gelled together quickly and established a healthy family dynamic. This dynamic was new to all of us, I had never been married or parented and they were used to a toxic home environment. As we transitioned from dating to engaged to married there were obvious differences in my step son’s needs. The changes were both fun and challenging. As we were establishing a new family dynamic their old dynamic kept pulling on us to move backward instead of forwards.
Many times when we were in the season of establishing consistency I didn’t understand what was happening. I was trying to make the family fit into my ‘single life’ routine when I actually needed to fit into the motherly role. This was really hard before we were married. For us it looked like going from a very social calendar of meeting my friends and family and me meeting theirs to a minimal social calendar. We had around 9 months of consistent schedules where we had some time with friends but for the most part we were establishing our new normal. Remember, it is a season it is not forever. Many parents go through this adjustment when their kids are infants and the kids don’t remember anything! They get the cute pictures as a happy memory to look back on. Not the scenes of Mom locked in the bathroom with a bottle of wine sobbing because she just wants to be alone. These kids remember and are watching every move, absorbing every word and action. Talk about pressure!
Whether your step kids are hostile from the get go or overly attached – they truly need your love and attention. As you’re going through your own transition of figuring out your role they are going through the same thing. This disruption to everyone’s ‘normal’ is scary and unpredictable. You and your new kids are establishing roles and setting the rules for how the family’s culture. In this stage, it is important to show consistency demonstrating to everyone who you are, how you’re going to love them, and what they can expect from you. As you set these roles they will be tested. Kids are going to body slam those boundaries on your time. Your job is to stay predictable.
PAYING THE PRICE FOR OTHERS SINS
Stepping into what used to be someone else’s role is seriously hard. Not only in your marriage but also with the kids. Everyone is relearning a new partner or parent – this is messy. Everyone enters the family with filters of their past experiences. Adjusting those filters takes time and patience. In my experience, my families view of a mother and partner looked like it was smeared with roadkill and smashed with a sledgehammer,
At first, they were very accepting of my healthy approach as we established a loving non-toxic bond. It was a breath of fresh air and they basked in it. As time went on the real work of healing hearts on a deeper level came to play. It took almost a year to get the major expectations they had on my behavior to change. It felt like I was paying for the sins of the previous partner and mother. I would show love and get hate in return. I would stay predictable and watch my step son crumble into a hot mess. The real inner pain was coming to the surface and not only my step son but my husband had to learn that I was on their side. Emotional triggers would pop up out of nowhere. We would go from a fun family dinner to someone being pissed or hurt over, in my eyes, a small issue. I would go to bed feeling the weight of their pain. On one hand, I had a lot of empathy for their pain but I was growing resentment that I had to keep my shit together as the rock of the family. I started getting jealous of their tantrums wanting to lose my mind on them just as much as they were losing it on me. The truth is, my job is to stay consistent and not engage in unhealthy behaviors. My self-control went from a subtle concept in my life that was consistent to a blaring warning horn telling me to not let my emotions take over.
The truth is, you are paying for someone else’s sins – but the price you pay is up to you. I finally learned that part of being consistent involved a lot of self-care. Calling my best friends from the car to sob it out, reaching out to others for a reminder that you are strong and can do it. They are the ones healing and you have a major role but the work is theirs to do. Easier said to adults than children, but as my step son and I had conversations about his pain we discussed how it is his job to manage his pain. Kids put a lot of pressure on parents to fix things which is a normal natural desire. It is the parent’s job to teach kids how to handle the pain – not to carry the burden for them. We can show empathy and support by being by their side cheering them on. Do not carry their pain. Recognize it and love them through it. Once I learned this it felt like I was dragging a Mac truck through a muddy swamp and I just cut the ties.
I write these to reach out to others that are in the same position I was, either starting out or in the thick of it. Remember, you were put in this new family for a reason. You have something they need and you can deliver it without loosing yourself. It will be hard, you will have bad days, but in the end you are giving the greatest gift to your family. The healthy love of a parent. It is not only changing your life but theirs as well.
Also published on Medium.