I clearly remember the day I got that phone call. It’s the most dreaded phone call for any of us. An ocean separated me from my home when I found out my mom had left me a message. For a brief second, I dismissed it. I can call her back tomorrow, after all. That brief second passed and made way for a pang of fear. The I-know-something-is-really-wrong kinda fear.
Why else would my mom be trying to get a hold of me at 2 am her time?
I sat in the room with the phone pressed to my ear until she finally picked up. Her voice was strained, breaking with tears. She said that my dad had collapsed and ambulance personnel were trying to revive him.
And still, in that split second, after she said those most dreaded words, I went into denial. Because there was no way my dad, my big strong dad, was not going to make it through this.
And he didn’t. Life ended for him that night.
In many ways losing my dad brought a perspective to my life. One that I wouldn’t otherwise have. This perspective has also helped me tremendously in my stepmom life.
I lost him when I was 19. He was 67. Not young, not old. In fact, a decent age most would say. Still, it was completely out of nowhere. He didn’t battle a nasty disease, there was no time to say goodbye.
First of all, life is short and you don’t know when it will end. In a society where we fear death and rarely talk about death, this was a huge eye opener for me.
Then comes the realization that you CANNOT control many aspects of your life. No matter how hard or how much I cry, he is just not coming back, not even for a few brief minutes so we can just catch up and I can show him what I’m up to now. There is absolutely nothing, literally NOTHING you can do.
So why is it that as a stepmom we try to control so much? There is just shit in life you cannot control. That’s a fact.
- What other people think a stepmom should or shouldn't do
- Whether or not your stepchildren like you all the time
- How your partner and his ex-wife communicate
- Access schedules
- The ex
It makes no sense to put unneeded pressure on yourself when you just can’t control some things.
But there is 1 thing you can definitely control, and that’s how you react. Mind you, I haven’t completely mastered this at all. I still make mistakes as I go along. Luckily my husband is my safety net.
1. Screw what other people think
Yes, you, that person who air quoted ‘’your kids’’ when you asked me so “how old are your kids?’’ I understand that this stepmom thing is confusing and people don’t know what the correct response should be. Totally understandable, I’m a pro in awkward social situations. It’s all ok.
Our society just needs to be educated on blended families, co-parenting and stepparents.
So the next time someone refers to my role as the babysitter I’ll politely correct, ask them why they think of my role in such a way and explain what it is that I really do.
2. Step back from teenagehood
This is a new one for me. My oldest stepchild is on the cusp of teenagehood and it scares me because I remember how I was during this time.
Then again, I’m definitely stepping back as I’m sure my stepson will listen to his dad and mom way better during this time than he will his stepmom. And I’m ok with this. The last thing I want to do is put the relationship my stepson and I have built in harm’s way because of teenage hormones.
So, in the next few years, I will be stepping back and will be lurking on the sidelines, biting my nails, whispering things to his dad while I also make sure I’m there when they open up to me.
3. Don’t lose yourself
Do not enter the household and allow your partner to step back and put all the weight on your shoulders. I say again, DO NOT. You’ll lose your mind if you do.
I’ve heard complaints from the other side, the exes side. Friends of mine who are now co-parenting. They wonder why it is they see the stepmom completely take over with all the homework, signing the agenda or scheduling appointments for the kids. It baffles them because the dad is more than capable doing it himself, even if it may not feel like a typical ‘dad’ job to him.
In a way, I get where bio-moms are coming from. Why is it that the woman should take these things over? Your stepchildren are his kids after all. I never took over. Don’t get me wrong, I do when needed or if I’m ‘lucky’ enough to be the first person to get to their lunch kits and school agendas.
My stepkids still bring me their school forms and permission slips. There are no rules in our home in regards to this.
However, when this form is for the next hot lunch order I nicely pass it over to my husband. My love-hate relationship with the school’s website is real and I avoid it at all costs.
And most importantly
4. Be patient and respectful
Be patient with your stepchildren.
Allow them to adjust to a new adult in their life. Allow them to lash out, allow them to show love, allow them to be kids, allow them to be teenagers.
In saying that, make sure your partner has your back and your stepchildren are respectful towards you.
And NEVER talk negatively about their mom in front of your stepchildren. It’s just not okay to put your stepchildren in the middle. It’s not their place to be, even if it’s done in the other household. Be the grown up and lead by example.
You learn new things as a stepmom every single day. You’ll fail, you’ll have stepmom wins but most days you’ll just make it through. Improvising along the way.