I am a full-time step-mom to two wonderful girls. With that simple statement comes an array of challenges that I never thought I’d be facing in life. Now don’t get me wrong, it is a gratifying and fulfilling role, but it is one of the most significant challenges I have ever faced.
A little history about me: I was in my mid-thirties when I decided to get married for the first time. Throughout my twenties and into my thirties, I was questioned about why I hadn’t gotten married or had children yet, and the answer was simple: I hadn’t found the right person to marry, and I don’t want to have children. When I started dating my now-husband in 2018, I knew he had majority custody of his two daughters. I thought that was awesome – we live in a place where it is rare for the dad to get custody, which speaks volumes for his character (in my opinion, anyway).
When we decided to get married in 2019, that meant I would be taking on two new roles: wife and mother. I was a little lost, so I did what I always do when encountering new situations – I went to the bookstore. I bought every book on being a step-mother that I could find, and I started diligently reading them. I joined mom forums and groups and asked questions, sought answers. I chatted with random people in similar situations. All of these avenues of research taught me one thing: it is RARE to be a full-time step-mom. Most step-moms only get their step-children every other weekend. Most step-moms also have children of their own. My situation is unique, and I have traveled through muddy waters to get where I can write this today.
Lesson 1: I do have authority.
This first lesson was a tough one for me to figure out. Simply put, I have authority in the girls’ lives. I can make decisions on their behalf and for their well-being. I was very cautious at first, not wanting to step on toes or cross lines because, while I refer to them as my children, they are not at their core. I set up chore charts and rewards systems but had a difficult time when it came to punishments. My husband repeatedly told me that I was in control, and I had his full support, but that was still hard to wrap my head around. I had never grounded someone before, so where was the grounding line? What warranted just a stern talk versus more significant consequences? For someone who has raised a child from birth, these lessons are learned early on and evolve as the children grow, but what about the person who jumps in during pre-teen and teenage years?
My husband and I now have a stable system between us, and we work very well together. If I feel something more than a stern talk is needed, the situation is handed to him to dole out the punishment. We work together to determine the severity and duration of said punishment so that we are always on the same page.
Lesson 2: The internet can be both wonderful and terrible.
As I said earlier, I turned to online parenting forums for help. Like anything on the internet, I found that reaching out for help from strangers can be both rewarding and hurtful. Some told me that I was doing a great job, keep my head up, parenting is hard for everyone, and everyone gets a little lost sometimes. I was told by others that I was not their mother and how dare I make decisions for them that should be made by their birth mother.
I found myself hurt and questioning everything I was doing. Was I wrong to take them for something as simple as a haircut? Should I call their mother every time they had a personal question about their changing bodies? Is it okay for me to take them to the eye doctor or medical doctor? Then their mom went from having the girls on the weekends to move 8 hours away, and those questions answered themselves. I am the mother figure who is present every day of their lives. Strangers on the internet do not know our situation, and they are (probably) projecting their own experiences with an ex-husband onto me.
In this lesson, I had to learn to remind myself of Lesson 1 above and take every digital response with a grain of salt.
Lesson 3: Parenting is hard for EVERYONE.
For the first few months of being a full-time step-mom, I felt like I drowned every day. I felt like I was a failure, and I would never get this parenting gig figured out. Then I started talking to my friends who have their children with ages ranging from infant to graduating seniors in high school, and I had a revelation. It’s not hard because I’m a step-mom; it’s just hard.
Our job is to raise tiny humans to be productive, self-sufficient, successful members of society, and that is quite a workload! I learned to give myself some grace and take each day one step at a time, one challenge at a time. I have had very open talks with both girls about how parents are not perfect and that we make mistakes too, and that we all have to learn and grow together.
Lesson 4: It is okay to need some alone time.
Before moving in with my husband, I lived alone with my two dogs. I thrived on being alone and had a lifestyle filled with travel, friends, and days when I just lounged on the couch with no responsibilities. When I took on the role of step-mom, I worked hard to be present every moment of every day, never miss a single activity, and put 100% of myself into the girls. Then I had a meltdown.
I questioned if this was indeed the life I wanted and if I should call off the wedding before it was too late. I opened up to my husband about how I was feeling, and he realized that I needed some alone time. Even before I did, he realized that I had made a complete life change practically overnight, and it was hurting me.
We came to an agreement that day that at least one night a month, he and the girls would leave the house – go on an adventure, have a daddy/daughter date night, send the girls to spend the night with their friends – whatever worked at the current moment, and let me have a few hours all to myself. We hear about self-care and it’s importance, but it is hard to take time to do it when you have children, but believe me, it is oh-so-important.
Lesson 5: They are going to survive.
This one is something I have to remind myself of often. They are going to survive. They are going to thrive. Times may be hard when they’re younger and just learning things, and teenage years are filled with trials and tribulations, but at the end of the day, the kids will be okay.
They will grow up and move out and be successful in whatever path they choose. This year, the girls picked out and purchased a Mother’s Day gift for me all on their own. They didn’t leave it to their dad to take care of, and that was a reminder that while I sometimes feel like a failure, I am doing something right. That was a reminder that I am going to survive this, too.