“I hate being a step mom!” I yelled at my husband while curled up in bed, bawling. I knew these words weren’t true the moment they came out of my mouth and I cringe just typing them, but I also knew that there were so many things about being a step mom that just really sucked, and I was over it at that point. What was the straw that broke the camel’s back this time (cause this wasn’t the first time over the last 8 years that I had uttered these words)? A scheduling conflict. Here’s the thing, when you’re a blended family you have to have some serious organizational skills to ensure that everyone (both sets of parents) know who’s going where and when. Here’s an example, this summer we needed to plan our vacation around Charlie’s swim team; the volleyball camps her mom had signed her up for; her other family’s vacation schedule as well as our own schedules. For the last 10 years, Joe has always included me on any group text so that I know any schedule changes and can input them into our family calendar. For some reason, his ex-wife, doesn’t always include me on these types of texts; or conversations are had at a drop off and aren’t mentioned to me. And that’s what happened this time. Again. I know, it doesn’t sound like a big deal, until it happens over and over for ten years and you are constantly left in the dark.
Was this the only thing that sent me into a crying mess? No. For a couple weeks, I hadn’t mentioned to Joe or anyone, how frustrated I was at continuously being ignored by Charlie. Yes, I clearly understand that she is 13 and is going to ignore all of us, but I’m also highly aware that it happens to me much more than to Joe. Ever since we have been married, when Charlie needs something or has a question, she will literally walk right by me, walk across the house to Joe and ask for his help. Do I think she does this on purpose? My head tells me no, but my heart tells me otherwise. And it still stings every time it happens.
A couple of months ago, I was talking to my therapist, and she told me about an article she had read about being a step-mom and how impossible it is to discipline your step-children. I actually hadn’t thought about it in that respect before. From the day we were married, Joe and I focused on making sure we created a family unit where Charlie never felt left out. I made sure to plan all activities (i.e. Picking out the Christmas tree, the pumpkin patch trip, decorating the tree, all birthday celebrations etc.) on weekends when we had her at our house. I made sure that if I asked Charlie to help out around the house, that I was also asking the boys to help out as well. If I set household rules, they applied to everyone. But every time I tried to instill these rules and boundaries, I felt like the evil stepmom. Was I allowed to get angry or frustrated with her, because she had broken one of the rules, like I did with my own boys? Was she going to go back to her other house and tell her mom what a terrible person I was or how strict I was or that I had yelled at her? Was she going to get mad at Joe because he married me and now I was trying to tell her what to do and how to live her life? Was she going to resent me because I was trying to be her mom and I’m not her mom? You guys, these are questions that are in the back of my mind EVERY SINGLE DAY!!! When I set rules and boundaries with my own boys, it’s fine. I can discipline them, however I see fit as their mom (obviously, not in an abusive way) I feel well within my right to have conversations with them about rules, to take privileges away, if necessary, and to raise them with the values that Joe and I have established for our family unit. But that’s the thing. Those are our family values and our values don’t always align with other family’s values and they are definitely different from Joe’s ex-wife’s family values. So what happens when they collide? How do we address that as parents?
I don’t have all the answers to all of these questions. I’ve been a step-mom for 8 years and have been in Charlie’s life for 10 years and it still feels like I am navigating new territory every day. Maybe this is what happens when you enter the teenage years. Maybe you have to re-evaluate the way you raise and address parenting for all teenagers. I do know that I’ve had to re-evaluate how I am as a step-mom. It’s taken a lot of conversations with friends who have step-parents, therapists and my husband to come up with what will work best for both Charlie and myself. A few of the things that we have implemented to save from any frustration is working on our schedules. Joe very politely reminded his ex that he would like her to include me on all texts so that I am aware of any scheduling changes or conflicts. Joe and I sit down with our schedules once a week and look at what we have planned for all of the kids and who is going to be dropping off and picking up (honestly, when we don’t do this, our week falls off the rails). Here’s the hardest thing that I’ve had to change and adjust in my head, I needed to take a step back. This is to protect myself as well as give Charlie some space. When we started this marriage, it was my intent to have Charlie think of me as her second mom. It seems that that’s not how it works. Charlie has a mom. She has a dad. And she has a step-mom and a step-dad. That’s a lot of parentals in her life! One of my friends told me that Joe should be doing most of the disciplining and rule setting for Charlie. I had a serious problem with that suggestion at first. Shouldn’t she think of us as the same? Shouldn’t she know that she needs to listen to me too? How am I supposed to do that when I am home with her all day and Joe is at work? My friend said “think of it like a quota. You can tell her/ask her to do things through the day but once you’ve reached your quota, it’s Joe’s turn”. So here’s what we do now. Joe establishes the rules, the chores and following through. He talks to her about what we expect at our house. I give gentle reminders through the day. And if a serious conversation needs to take place, Joe and I sit down together with Charlie, but Joe does most of the talking. On top of all of this, I’ve come to the realization that Joe and Charlie existed without me for three years. They had a relationship before Joe and I had a relationship. Charlie wants to spend time with her dad without my interference. This was a hard realization for me and was a serious ego hit. But, I’m a grown ass adult, and have learned to give them that time and space. Here’s how I think of myself at this point. My mantra with Charlie is “I’m the aunt”. Aunts help out, give advice, give gentle reminders but are also not the parental. They are the ones that can have those uncomfortable conversations that the parents don’t want to have or that the teens don’t want to talk to with their parents. So whenever I start overstepping my boundaries, or getting butt hurt or angry about rules not being followed, I think to myself “I’m the aunt”. I back off, talk to Joe and we have a conversation about it. Has this solved all issues? Absolutely not, for goodness sakes, she’s a teenager! Teenagers are crazy!!! But it has given us a good baseline to work from.
Please know that this entry is about me, as a step-mom, and how I have had to change my way of thinking and parenting. I am very aware of how hard this situation is for Charlie and that she has to navigate some seriously tricky situations, bouncing back between two very different households and establishing her own personality amongst all this chaos. She is an amazing young lady and one of the kindest souls you could meet, but step parenting is tricky, no matter how awesome the child is. I also understand how hard it must be to be Charlie’s mom and watch another person come into her daughter’s life. But I can’t write from their perspective. But I can write from mine, and hope that it helps any step-moms out there know that they aren’t alone as well as give them some tools to use in their own lives.
I'm an average girl who has discovered her passion for self-development after warrioring (yes, it's a word) through 6 miscarriages. I took that passion and applied it to helping others find their passions through High Performance Coaching. Boy mom to two "energetic boys" and navigating the art of being a step mom to a teenage girl, all while working daily on maintaining an authentic relationship with the best husband around. Sometimes mindful. Sometimes a runner. Always a little crazy!