When a woman thinks about her future and the person she may end up with in a long-term committed relationship or marriage, a previously married man or woman is not what usually comes to mind. I don’t think any of us dream of falling in love with a divorcee and his/her children with another woman.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Many, but not all, remarriages involve blended families.13 According to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, six-in-ten (63%) women in remarriages are in blended families, and about half of these remarriages involve stepchildren who live with the remarried couple.”
Whoa! That’s a LOT of stepmoms!
Not only do I have a stepmom, I have been helping raise my step daughter since she was 2.5 years old. Now that I also have my own biological child, I can tell you with certainty that being a stepmom is a harder job in many respects. While not everyone’s circumstances are the same and I make no assumptions for other blended families, there are some circumstances that can make being a stepmom one of the hardest parenting roles faced by women.
Reason #1: Relatedness matters
Research noted in the book Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act, relatedness is a factor that is present in all biological species. Being related (biologically) is best for the survival of offspring. As a step parent we are supposed to ‘love the child like they are our own’. Many stepmoms achieve this feeling of attachment, but those who do not are weighted by the burden (and guilt) of maybe not even particularly liking their step child(ren). Children’s behaviors can be very colorful when they have to adjust to a blended family situation. This is a pretty deep dynamic and one that is real. Unless you are in the position of raising a child who is not biologically yours, I would hesitate greatly before judging the subjective feelings of any step parent.
Reason #2: The Blame Game
If you are a stepmom, you have probably been the victim of the blame game at some point. For me, the ex-wife blamed me for the dissolve of her marriage which was already in dissolution before I met my future husband. Some of this I truly understand. Humans like to look for reasons why unfortunate things happen and blaming others is a way of relieving pain. Looking within, being vulnerable, and taking responsiblity is difficult for most adults. Maybe she really needed to blame me. Maybe it made her feel better. Maybe it was even cathartic. But I can tell you that YEARS of enduring disruptive behavior has put an immense strain on my respect for her as a person.
Reason #3: Responsibility versus Authority
This is what I generally refer to as having all the responsibility of raising a child and keeping him/her safe and none of the authority to ensure the child is safe and cared for at BOTH homes. As a step parent, you are only part of Team A or Team B, but few of us get to bridge a relationship with the biomom that is an alliance. Often what biomom wants, requests, or prioritizes, even if you DO NOT AGREE, trumps even the ex-husband who really just wants to a) be left alone, b) not create waves, and c) has to trust that the child’s biomom has the best intention for that child.
This has been the hardest for me. Maybe it’s a control thing? Maybe it’s a genuine attachment to and concern for the child, but inevitably, a biomom’s disregard for boundaries, constant schedule changes, requests, and at-moments-notice-drop-by visits, can wear on any stepmom who is trying to raise a family, create cohesion, and maintain a routine essential for the stability of growing children.
What ever your situation, stepmom, biomom, or biomom who has to share their child with a stepmom, try to be the bigger person and display respectful behaviors. Set a good example, children are always watching. Put the child’s needs first. And most of all, have a wonderful MOTHER’S DAY.