A Stepmother’s Guide to Embracing the Queen She is
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and acquaintances lament about how difficult it is to be a mom. Being a mom is the absolute hardest job you could ever have, they’ll say, wiping some form of burnt sienna-hued mystery goo from their hair/shoulder/hands/wallet. God, I can’t remember what it feels like to have a good night’s rest, they’d yawn over their fourth triple no-fat-no-foam-extra-whip-extra-hot soy latte before 10 am. Don’t ever have kids, they’d caption as I’d open a picture message of a three year old’s rendition of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman on the canvas of none other than that ridiculously expensive (but oh so gorgeous) vintage velvet Restoration Hardware sofa.
Before I had a kid, I’d just smile and nod, recalling my previous night shift at work, remembering how it felt to have told a wife of over 40 years that her husband had died from a massive heart attack and that life as she knew it would never be the same. I’d pretend to be sympathetic to the wallet-covering mystery slime that so accompanies motherhood, only, as a Registered Nurse I couldn’t truly be that sorry for people who get barfed/pooped/peed on by their own offspring. I won’t elaborate. Before I had a kid, complaints from my mom-friends of being tired would elicit an (inconspicuous) eye-roll as I thought, yea, but have you ever worked fourteen 14-hour night shifts in a row?
Now that I have a kid, I can say working as a nurse and raising a human are two very similar, very demanding, very burnt sienna mystery goo-filled, coffee-fueled, unpredictable, non-stop, but highly rewarding roles. I quite honestly wouldn’t deem one more challenging than the other; different, yes, but my experience as a mother does not trump difficulties I’ve experience in my career. (I also don’t have a teenager. Return in a decade, I may have changed my mind by then.)
Sure, being a nurse is tricky. But I get paid for that. And I get free massages. Also, there’s usually cake, or donuts, or a potluck, or chocolate, or… ok. Food. There’s almost always a lot of free food. Being a mom is also tricky, but as biology and millions of years of evolution would have it, loving your own child typically tends to be a fairly unavoidable result of growing them from a cell (or two. Let’s not argue.)
There is one experience, however, that has trumped both of these for me in the difficulty department.
I believe myself to be quite fortunate in this department, for reasons none other than that: my marriage is rock solid (now); my 10 year old stepson doesn’t (usually) hate me (and actually more often than not, he quite likes me); and my husband’s ex-wife is a really great co-parent (I mean that!). Has it always been smooth sailing? Absolutely not, or the Stepqueen Movement would have never been formed. Have I learned a thing or two about riding the waves? You bet your bottom dollar. Spoiler alert: being a happy stepfamily does not require the stepmom to be invisible.
We won’t be getting into the Ways that Stepmotherhood is Trickier than Motherhood in this post but one aim of the Stepqueen Movement is to empower stepmothers to embrace their role and to defy society’s negative associations of us. Read on for my favourite 3 strategies to go from Stepmom to Stepqueen. Step out of your cocoons, you beautiful butterflies!
Take care of yourself first.
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a
Wicked Stepmotherwho cooked food that nobody liked; did nice things for kids who constantly reminded her she wasn’t their real mom so they didn’t have to listen to her; washed at least six hundred and forty loads of those children’s laundry per week (half of which ended up back in the hamper by Sunday and she was fairly positive had never been worn); worked at a job she didn’t particularly enjoy all that much to help finance those kids’ futures and their Bio-Mom’s shoe collection; struggled on a diet that wasn’t working ’cause she was starving all day nibbling celery and counting out ten almonds three times a day so she snuck into the pantry to shovel Crispy Minis in her mouth after everyone went to bed; and pretended she was happy doing all of it because she a) did not want to upset her husband and b) was resigned to the fact that this was just the way of stepmomming.
Whewf! Poor girl doesn’t sound so wicked! It sounds to me like she’s totally lost herself by putting the needs of others ahead of her own. Now trust me when I say this, but if you never put you first, and your stepkids never put you first, and your husband never puts you first, then eventually the wheels will come off. Pro tip: you cannot make your stepchildren or husband or any other person on this earth to treat you in any specific way that they themselves do not choose. But guess what? You can choose to do nice things for yourself. You have a responsibility to treat yourself in a way that is loving, graceful, and yes, selfish. Take that yoga class, tell the kids they can eat cereal for supper ’cause you’re not cooking, drink wine in your bathtub with your headphones in, go on a date with your husband, plan a girl’s weekend away, volunteer, take a cooking class, join a reading club, paint, dance, sing. B r e a t h e. Do whatever it is that fills up your cup, and do it often. You will find in very short order that when you reconnect with the woman you used to be, everything else will fall into place. You are not invisible. You are certainly not wicked. You are so worth it.
Make your marriage rock solid.
Ask yourself this question: Why are you a stepmom? Certainly all of our answers would be different in the events that led up to the dissolution of our husbands’ prior childbearing relationship. Some may cite divorce, or infidelity, or death, or other less than happy contributors. I’m not talking about those, however. One thing that I believe to be true in almost all of our cases is this: We are stepmothers because we fell in love with a man who, through whatever circumstance, created or was granted the rights to a young life.
When life and all its curveballs are thrown at you, it is so easy to forget why you fell in love. Remember the man who used to give you butterflies when he said your name. Think back to the endless hours you spent getting to know each other. Reflect upon any challenges you’ve had in your relationship, and how when you overcame them, you reached a new and even deeper level of intimacy. What were the little things that you used to do for each other when you were falling in love? Start doing those again. Put your trust in him; allow him to put his trust in you. Learn to be completely honest with him. Be his teammate, never his enemy. Be the woman he fell in love with (see point 1.) and allow him to be the man that you once knew him to be. You can revisit any issues you’re having with your stepchildren once you master the first 2 points. Until then, until you have learned to find your value and have protected your relationship, accomplishing anything else will seem insurmountable and perhaps even pointless. Which brings me to our third and final point for this post.
Have a positive mindset.
Have you ever heard Henry Ford’s quote: “Whether you think you can or can’t, either way you’re right.” Speaking from experience, I know that if you are expecting the worst when your steps come, then you will have a less than fabulous time. If you focus on how terrible their manners are, then you will have run out of fingers and toes to count the times they forgot to say please within about 8 milliseconds. If you feel, before it’s even happened, that you will be forgotten by your partner once they show up, then you will silently withdraw from any interactions you may have had, and reinforce to yourself how excluded you feel. It’s kind of like when you get a new car and everyone on earth is all of a sudden driving one just like yours. Instead of Little Suzy never says please or thank you, try to focus on the manners she does use, and then compliment her on them. Hey Little Suzy, thank you for holding the door open for me.
It might be an effort and feel forced at first, but positive reinforcement will go a long, long way. Turn it into a game with yourself, like a backwards real-life Where’s Waldo. Your stepdaughter’s dad gave her $20 to go to the store and buy junk food? Enjoy your 5 minutes of alone time with your hubs. Your stepson has been playing video games all day Saturday? Thank him for not complaining about being bored for an entire day. The kids don’t want to eat your super-healthy-extra-paleo-gluten-free-instant-pot-not-macaroni-and-cheese? More for you. Cool. Catch my drift?
Whatever the challenges are in your stepfamily, I hope you’ve come away from this believing that there is hope, that you are amazing, and you are so enough. May your coffee be strong, and your mystery goo minimal. Godspeed, Stepqueens.
Have you taken the above steps to begin your journey to a more positive life? What has your experience been? If not, what’s holding you back? Do you have any other strategies you’ve used to create a happy stepfamily? As Stepqueens, we are committed to ending negative Stepmother associations. How have you recently risen above the Stepmonster label?