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Today, when I googled “I am the worst stepmom,” I came up with some bullshit and then this:

10 Brutal Truths About Being a Stepmom

I don’t know why I clicked yet another redundant HuffPo listicle about parenting, but I did, and it ended up speaking to me for some reason even though it’s not that great. I don’t really have a lot to say, but I kind of want to talk about it? Because I’m feeling crappy enough to google “I am the worst stepmom”? So I thought I’d hash some of them out.

1. “You are not their mother”

Oh god, how I’ve hated the term “bonus mom.” I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how it is possible to be a second mom, or just like a “real” mom, or bonus mom, or whatever. That is not to say that it can’t or doesn’t exist? I just cannot fathom it, as I cannot fathom being a man or being 85 years old because those are inaccessible states to me right now. Maybe it is because I am a cold, unfeeling robot in a human skinsuit, but I just cannot. And not only can I not understand being “just like a real mom” to my stepson, I don’t really long for it either. And it makes me feel defective and terrible.

2. “Silence is the best policy”

I struggle with this one because obviously I am not silent. I try to be anonymous, but the fact is that if anyone who knows me even casually finds this blog, they will know whose it is. I sometimes wonder if I am laying this trap for myself intentionally.

4.”It’s ok to take a step back”

I think it’s pretty clear that I live several steps back. I have no trouble doing this because this is what feels comfortable to me as a stepparent and (or because) this is what I wanted and experienced when I was a stepkid. I think the general advice to stepmoms is to give the stepkids space and not overstep, but that’s assuming that you’re talking to a regular, warm human; not a robot human who already lives galaxies away. And what if your stepkid doesn’t want someone who steps back? What if your stepkid (and his father, and probably, even his mother) expected a just-like-a-real-mom who’s right there in the front lines at all times? The house is not crumbling down around us, but I do think the reality in this respect has turned out to be a little different from the expectation for everyone but me.

5. “Protect your marriage at all costs”

Yes. My husband and I are on the same page with this, which is probably one of the few key reasons we are doing so well throughout this challenge.

6. “Don’t compare yourself to other stepparents”

I appreciate and agree with the sentiment, but too late and also impossible. Oh well.

9. “You can’t fix what you didn’t break”

It seems strange, but I do have to keep reminding myself that I’m not the one who broke it. I had nothing to do with it. I think stepparents (or is it just me? or stepmoms as opposed to stepdads?) often feel that they are to blame for all the problems in the family. They’re right there in the middle of it with a role that cannot be performed correctly or even adequately. Everyone except our spouse kind of resents us a little bit. That’s where we live and it’s hard not to think that we deserve at least some of it. But we didn’t break it, at least. We are not the reason the family split apart and kids now have a Mom’s house and a Dad’s house and sometimes things are forgotten in the shuffle and Mom and Dad argue all the time… Not our fault. And nothing we can do about it.

10. “Stick with it and know that you will emerge from this a better person”

I hope so. But my biggest hope right now is to emerge (when does that even happen?) 1) still married to my husband, 2) without causing any lasting complex to my stepson, and 3) without anyone else thinking I am as horrible as I think I am.

Art credit: Kai Samuels-Davis

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10 thoughts on “the worst

  1. “9. “You can’t fix what you didn’t break”
    Everyone except our spouse kind of resents us a little bit. That’s where we live and it’s hard not to think that we deserve at least some of it. But we didn’t break it, at least. We are not the reason the family split apart and kids now have a Mom’s house and a Dad’s house and sometimes things are forgotten in the shuffle…”

    This is so where I am lately. Just constant reminders to myself that this is not my fault. And I’ve also been feeling a lot of compassion for my stepson, who is struggling with his Mom’s insecurities over my existence. That compassion is new … which makes me feel a little shitty. Like, I’ve never really felt compassionate for him before? At least not like this. Ugh.

    Because his Mom is doing a good job of pushing her insecurities on him – telling him it makes her “uncomfortable” when he talks about my family, or when he refers to my parents as his “other grandparents”. What does an 8 year old even do with that information? Double ugh.

    But, at least that part, is not my doing. And is not my fault.

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  2. I want to hit people over the head with the “silence is the best policy.” No, being silent in your own home is not the best policy. Would we ever tell this to one of the kids involved? I mean, other than the being-human part of learning how to choose when you speak up and when you don’t? I have a lot more of a rant about this. I will send you a longer email. Work has been a bit intense of late.

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    • I think I read the “silence” part, probably mistakenly, in a pretty specific and narrow way. Maybe that’s because no one in their right mind would tell someone who’s struggling with something this big to be silent about it. But how I read it was like, if you’ve got some steptalk-level shit to put down…. don’t put it on facebook or whatever. And more specifically, I heard “stop blogging so personally about your life in a totally public place.” And then I felt kind of worried about all of this.

      But I reread what she wrote and realized she was in fact saying don’t talk about this with anyone except a paid professional. Which, I agree, is batshit.

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  3. I am thoroughly blamed for my husband’s divorce from his ex-wife, so it’s really hard for me not to blame myself. I didn’t actually have anything to do with it, except that I existed nearby. We got together quite quickly after they separated which caused his ex to decide that we’d been having an affair. Nevermind that she started dating her now-fiancé before my husband had even moved out of the house! (With my husband’s blessing, because he’s a nice guy and wanted her to move on and be happy.)

    I think it’s important to remember when comparing yourself to other stepmothers that sometimes the things kids say are bullshit. I have a really great relationship with my stepdaughter: she calls me “mummy/mama” and tells me she wishes that I was her “real mummy”. She also tells us our house is her favourite, and I know for a fact that she says the same thing to her mother. We’re in a reasonably hostile, 50/50 custody situation with no co-parenting, because my husband’s ex prefers to pretend we don’t exist. And the lack of communication is allowing my stepdaughter to become quite manipulative. Her behaviour is completely different depending on where she is and who she’s talking to. Trying to deal with this from one side is basically impossible: the only reason we even know about the behaviour differences is because the ex will coccasionally send my husband abusive text messages blaming him for whatever tantum she’s having at their place. I love my stepdaughter very much, but I suspect she wouldn’t actually be as happy to ditch her “real mummy” as she would have me believe.

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  4. Interesting that the article says : “you will emerge a better person”, what about the stepkid? I think my biggest truths are (15 years in, kids are grown, and still like me; no, like me): 1) I wish that I could have put many of my opinions in a drawer and left them there. If my observations were helpful to the kids, telling my h and letting go was best; 2)you can’t have too many kind adults in your life; being a kind adult is about the best role I could have and do now, I hope. Have. In my family, it was the other (my) kids who made the steps feel part of the family, thank God. Hopefully, your child will do that as well. One of the most moving things in my life was having “my” son introduce his “step” brother at the rehearsal dinner to his “other family”- “Hey, guys, I want everyone to meet my brother!” (Custody had always kept them apart from joint family events). Finally, my steps still have many of the issues that they had as children AND they are kind, loving adults. Proud to know them.

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    • You know, I think this is hitting one of the things that is perhaps important to highlight. I think when someone says “silence is the best policy” it implies that anything you would say is only an opinion and that it’s better if you don’t share it. I think this can be true, and I also think that this obscures the message that households need to work for all members– not that everyone ever gets 100% of what they want all the time, but that there is a general understanding that everyone and their needs/feelings matter. Balancing that is hard but I do not think silence as a policy is healthy for anyone. I also think it’s important for women to model speaking up and having feelings and needs. If I don’t do that around my daughter and stepdaughter (clearly in appropriate ways, but ways that suggest that I count and not that I will just be the silent person in the corner), how will they learn what that looks like (and no, it’s not happening in healthy ways in the other household)? Even if it was though, I think it’s really important that it’s clear that everyone has a stake in how things are going in their home. I feel like the message that often gets said to stepmothers in particular is to sit back and be quiet. Sure, taking over is not so great, but there’s a middle ground that “silence is the best policy” seems to ignore.

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      • I don’t think there is much to be gained by trying to change how the child has been parented. I think this is a losing proposition. A family is a culture, even a broken family. What you can influence is how you treat the child(ren) and what you expect in your space. You have a right to expect completely different things, to teach how they are done. If you are kind about this, you will create your own, new culture, and develop your own relationship. If you try to get “into” the former family, you will fail.

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      • I think Victwa is suggesting modeling appropriate behavior, not trying to change how a child has been raised. I think modeling good (but also human) behavior across the board is one of the best and most lasting things we can do for our stepchildren.

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  5. This won’t let me reply to a specific comment, but I said nothing about trying to change how the child has been parented. I think it’s actually highlighting exactly the last sentence of your response– it’s a new configuration, and I don’t think it’s about trying to fit “into” the former family, it’s acknowledging that the configuration is different and that everyone’s voice matters in their own home. Including kids, including stepmoms. In talking to many, many stepmoms, the emphasis on silence ends up creating situations where someone feels like they have no voice in their own home. I think this is unhealthy for children and for adults, which was my point.

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