I joke with my daughter all the time, telling her that I am a ruthless, meanest of the mean, stepmonster.
She smiles back at me. She laughs and says, “Yeah, right. Far from.”
She’s only nine years younger than I.
My husband is twenty years my senior. I met him at twenty-one years old. I was just a lost kid. Some days, I still am that same lost kid.
When I came into his life, his oldest daughter was sixteen, his next daughter twelve, his son ten, and his younger son eight.
They are now twenty-one, seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen.
I’ve been to my oldest daughter’s graduation, I bought her her second vehicle. I helped my younger daughter out of a very dark place in her life at a time that all of us felt helpless to do anything but watch her slip away. I share Yu-gi-oh! cards with my sons. I let them teach me about their favorite video games.
I share a unique bond with my stepchildren, and it’s due to the very thing that so many people swore would curse my ability to blend with this family – my age.
I greatly lacked the maturity to “parent” these kids – and am well aware that I still do. Having had none of my own children creates for a lack of experience that leads, quite often, to mistakes and over-stepping. There are many times I preach to my husband about how he should have, could have or would have raised his children. Then I realize immediately afterward – it’s not my place. I don’t know anything about raising kids, besides the experience I am taking in right now. I angered the kids’ biological mother many times with my choices of handling certain situations.
It wasn’t until I made the choice to be me, and only me, regardless of judgement or acceptance, that things began to fall into place. I became someone in the middle. Capable of stepping up to nurture and protect my kids when needed, and also capable of relating to them on a personal level due to the closeness of our age.
Suddenly my younger daughter was able to tell me the things happening in her life that she was horrified to tell her mother and father. Things that I would understand, because I’d been there, I’d done that. And as a result, I could tell her honestly, just how bad her life was about to get – and she listened, and asked for help. She asked for a way out. My sons could tell me about video games, and even let me play them, and I knew how to already, without needing to be taught and then expressing frustration and giving up right away. Our interests are common – they are interests of youth. Things we do know about, things we don’t know about. We relate to one another, and we share our experiences. I am not an authority, unless I have to be. I am just a bonus member of the family for these kids.
We are five years strong as a family unit. There are days that the kids don’t want me around, and there’s days that I certainly don’t want to be around. But then there’s more often days that we spend together, that we have fun, and we make memories that we may forever cherish. Life is not over for these children because their mother and father did not stay together. I believe that things happen for a reason.
This entry is not of any particular purpose. If anything, it is for me to accept myself as I am, stepmother or not. I am of value in this family, and I belong here.
My trial has been far from perfect. I have so much respect for all the fellow stepmothers out there, who support each other, and offer so many different words and phrases of encouragement.
There is no guidebook to parenting. There will never be a guidebook to step-parenting. No one’s trial as a step parent can be compared to another, or ever called “the same”. To tell you other step parents out there that I have a method and I have my sh*t under control would be a blatant, far-fetched lie. The only thing I can tell you that got me this far, and will (I pray) get me through for the rest of my life, was just choosing not to give up. And I came close to giving up, believe me. On more than just a few occasions.
I could walk away and never look back, and no one would blame me. Or I could stay, and keep getting back up every time I get knocked down, building a stronger and stronger foundation with the family I have become a part of.
Don’t waste your time trying to please the ex. You either get along or you don’t. She will always have her reasons for feeling the way she does, as you will have yours, so don’t blame her, either. She may manipulate, lie, and sabotage when she feels vulnerable. She may try to win her ex, your partner, back at what seems to you, completely random moments. Some days, she might surprise you with a polite “thank-you” for something you did for the kids, or even for her, despite all your previous grievances with her. It is not in any way your obligation to do right by her accord. Your very existence within her broken family is not right by her accord. Be polite to her. Don’t talk bad about her. Shut your partner down if he begins talking bad about her to or in front of the kids. And lastly, pray for her. Or hope. Hope that she overcomes her struggles, and moves past her pain, to let go of her ex and live her own life.
And pray for yourself. Stand tall, and smile into the storm. The sun always rises after every nightfall. Don’t play games. Be the woman you are, love the man you’re with, do the best you can, and know that you are NOT in control of his kids, his ex, or their ultimate outcomes as people. You CAN be an influence, and guide them down the right path if they let you. But don’t blame yourself if they don’t.
Keep your stress levels down no matter what. I have fallen victim to myself. Too many times, in an absolute stress storm after a disagreement with one of the kids, or a pileup of “to-do”s all heaped into one weekend that Super Man himself couldn’t get done with his powers of lightning speed. Flying off the handle with unreasonable anger and impulsive demands, in the heat of the moment. Makes for an ugly experience, and sometimes words got said that I couldn’t take back. I try my best to learn from my mistakes and improve as I move forward.
Go for a walk when you’re upset. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, then come back with a cool head. Spend time with your friends. They will save your life in your darkest moments. Make time for yourself and remind yourself that you are doing your best, and your best IS good enough. Be proud of yourself and everything that you are capable of doing. Not everyone can handle the load you are under. And remember that not everyone has any idea of the load you’re under.
Ten percent of life is what you make of it. The other ninety percent is how you take it.
To all fellow stepmothers out there, I wish you all the best. I have much respect for each and every one of you. Please pray for me along my path. This journey is far from over.