She is everywhere.
The evil step-mother in Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel (technically not a step-mother, but acts as one). Who else? I’m sure I’m leaving a few big ones off the list. Step-mothers have an awful, awful reputation and are often the scape goat of blame for many blended family issues.
Yesterday in the car Lily and I were on a much anticipated trip to Target. Just the two of us. Almost before we were out of the driveway a week’s worth of thoughts poured out of her head. The day before I had lost my temper when she and Benjamin and I went to DSW hunting for children’s shoes. After finding out they don’t have any there we had to leave the store empty handed and the two of them were both grumbling and whining about “not getting anything.” As a step-mother who is borderline spoiling all of them with gifts and clothes I should have taken a deep breath and blamed myself for their behavior but instead I said, “You two are acting like spoiled brats.”
I try to never do this. But it happens. We have three kids. We have a lot on our plates and every once in a while, one of us loses it. And today it was my turn. I calmed myself in the car and then explained what I meant.
“You are wonderful, beautiful people. You are. But what I saw in there, wasn’t you. I don’t know who those kids were and I can’t believe you were acting like that. So, we’re going home. No Build-A-Bear, no Lego store adventure. Home.”
The car ride home was silent and Lily was devastated. Not because we couldn’t go to the stores, because she really isn’t a spoiled brat. She’s not. She’s one of the kindest, sweetest little girls I have ever met. She was upset because I had lost my temper at her.
Now here we were in the car alone, sans Benjamin. Treasuring our alone time when she gets it, Lily dove right into conversation, spilling her thoughts to me one after the other.
She started with a thought a friend of hers had. The girl is also the child of separated parents and had described her own life as “horrible”. When she told Lily her life was horrible as well because her parents were divorced, Lily disagreed. She was relaying the entire conversation to me.
“I told her, ‘no, my life isn’t horrible at all, it’s actually pretty happy’ and then she said, ‘but it must be horrible because mine is’ and then I said, ‘no, it just isn’t’,”
“You’re right, Lily. You are a happy. And you have to remember that each of us has a different experience with different things. So, while she thinks her parents separating ruined her life, you don’t. That’s probably because you have a wonderful father and a wonderful mother who want to make you happy. And you didn’t get an evil step-mother.”
“Well, you are evil sometimes.”
Seth and I have a policy of letting the kids air their feelings, whatever they may be. And we’ve heard them all. Believe me. Benjamin once told me he wanted Cohen to live in a house in the back yard and Lily once said Benjamin was the root of all of her sadness. So, this–this was nothing.
“Just because I get mad every once in a while doesn’t make me evil.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
“Listen, I’m going to get mad and you’re going to get mad, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less. It just happens because we’re a family and families fight.”
While researching books about step-motherhood on Amazon for our blended family resource page I stumbled across the most frightening batch of comments. I mean, absolutely frightening. Take this one as an example,
“Since many won’t read this review in its entity, I must get this out right now…If you are contemplating marriage to a man with children then let me share a secret that no one shared with me… There isn’t anything fun about a step family, and to elaborate, there is nothing fun about being a stepmom. I thought that step-motherhood was a mission I could undertake and I thought my gain was going to be far greater than my loss. I assure you… I was wrong!! No one warned me AT ALL of what I was facing and I am straight up pissed off about that. Being a step-mother makes for a difficult, lonely life and it doesn’t ever feel like a real family. So I hate to sound bitter here, but the fact is, I am bitter. Save yourself the heartache. This is not what marriage (or family) was intended to be. Read this book and take heed! If you are not moved to seriously reevaluate your decision to marry this man, then you are a hopeless optimist. You will, throughout your marriage, be able to relate to damn near every sentence in this book.”
See? Terrifying? I read this and immediately went into a mental tailspin. Upon further exploration, I was able to determine that this woman did not have children prior to marrying her husband, had little support in parenting from him and he had older pre-teen and teenaged daughters.
There were more positive comments, such as this one:
“My personal take-away message from this book was that, as stepparents and stepchildren, we are, to each other, non-essential personnel and must strive to form our bonds based upon civility and mutual respect (picking up after oneself doesn’t hurt either!). We don’t have to a have a perfect relationship or one that mimics the biological parent-child relationship. Rather, the stepparent-stepchild relationship can take many forms, ranging from a close, warm, family-like interaction to an arms-length but cordial experience, depending upon each individual. Most importantly, a stepmom owes it to herself to carefully evaluate what she can and cannot give her stepchildren in order to preserve her family and avoid burn-out.”
I am incredibly lucky in that Seth and I have a few things working in our favor:
1. Seth and I both put our relationship first. He doesn’t take sides with the kids and we discuss all disciplinary decisions or family communication issues with each other. We also listen to each other without reacting defensively. This is critical and from many of the comments on Amazon is appeared the step-mothers did not have support from their husbands. I can’t even imagine having a husband who bows down to the kids demands out of guilt for re-marrying or one who can’t communicate about these issues, because they are huge issues.
2. We understand that we can’t expect the other to love our children as much or in the same way as we love our own. It’s just not possible and I think anyone who expects a significant other to miraculously wake up feeling this way about step-children is digging their own relationship grave. It’s unrealistic.
3. The children were young when we met. Cohen was five and Lily was six. I can’t imagine marrying a man with teenagers.
So far, for me, the biggest challenges of being a step-mother are:
- Adjusting to the sudden presence of three children, not just one.
- Dividing my time between all three, they do crave and demand my attention in their own way
- Handling the fact that Benjamin and I are outnumbered by Seth, Lily and Cohen. I am very sensitive to Benjamin’s experience as well and may overreact when I think Lily or Cohen are picking on him or at him.
I would love your thoughts on this, as I am a total newbie at step-motherhood. What do you think about those Amazon comments? Read more of them here.