Many of you seemed relieved by the previous post, “Embracing Stepmotherhood”. It’s nice to know that we stepmothers don’t HAVE to become mothers “extraordinaire” just because we happen to fall in love with and marry a man with children. Knowing what not to do, however, does not necessarily inform our choices about what we SHOULD do, or what role we DO have.
So what IS the role? Well, first of all, I invite anyone reading this to come up with a better term than “female head of household”. Surely, our collective brains can engender more creativity than mine alone.
Next, let’s consider what territory we own.
1. I am Dad’s wife.
This is no small thing. While none of you dreamed that your knight would ride up without a white horse, and with an ex-wife, a mortgage and a passel of kids, you did dream of and plan for the kind of marriage you want. Your stepkids have, by definition, been through the demise of one marriage. You can and should do everything you can to make your marriage a healthy one–by using good communication skills, respecting each other, enjoying time alone, and being appropriately affectionate towards each other. You can indirectly teach your stepkids a lot about relationships just by modeling a good marriage.
2. I am an independent woman.
Balance your focus by including time for career, friends and interests. You were a whole individual before marrying into this family, and you can continue to keep parts of yourself separate from it. If you have given up your individuality, reclaim it by developing interests and friendships outside of your marriage and family. No wife or mother can be emotionally healthy while relying on her husband and family for her identity, and this is quadruply true for stepmothers. If you pour 100% of your energy into your husband and stepchildren, expecting to get the equivalent return in affection and appreciation, you are doomed. It is important to have areas of life outside the household where you gain self-esteem, positive feedback, and pride in your accomplishments.
3. I am a role model.
Like it or not, you can assume your every move is scrutinized, put through a negative filter, then reported to the ex-wife. Since this is true even if you have the demeanor of Blessed Mother Theresa, don’t sweat it too much. But do realize it and be proud of the way you behave. Of course, in order to take pride in yourself, you need to use or develop skills to remain calm, communicate well, and act in ways you would like to see those around you emulate.
4. I am an adult in my household.
You have a right to authority and respect. Have private conversations with your husband about how you want this to be played out in your household–you’re going to need (and you deserve) his backing. Take some time to objectify in your mind what your minimum expectations are for the way you’re treated by your stepchildren. Make sure they’re reasonable–acknowledgement or a verbal return of greeting when you walk into a room is a reasonable expectation, being greeted with physical affection is not. Think about clearly stated rules that you are willing to enforce. Perhaps your bedroom is off-limits, or everyone needs to put their own dirty dishes in the dishwasher. Finally, behave with authority, but try to refrain from being controlling. It is your house, and you have every right to rearrange the living room furniture without discussing it with your stepchildren. But think hard before changing things in your stepchild’s room or schedule without including him.
What other territory do we own? Submit your thoughts about things I’ve missed. Surely we can change a culture that wants to compare us to mothers, then defiles us when we miss the impossible mark. Heck, stepmothers practically outnumber biological mothers who aren’t helping raise someone else’s kids. Let’s figure this out!