Be the Stepmom You Already Are
Motherhood looks different for every Mom, and my introduction to motherhood was anything but traditional. I became a mother of three on November 2nd 2013 when I vowed to my husband Alan “to love you unconditionally, and to love your children unconditionally, on our adventure through life”. On that day, I went from single to married with three step-sons, and began an adventure that took me by surprise.
I grew up in a large and complicated family, and because of that experience some of the challenges that dating a man with children can bring didn’t bother me. My own parents had divorced before I was one, and both had remarried. So, I too have a step-mom, as well as a step-dad, three half-sisters and a half-brother. With this background, I thought being a stepmom would be easy for me because it was not an unknown role. I had experienced first-hand the love of a step-mom and a stepdad, and I knew I could give that love to these boys. Love is all you need, right?
Well, yes, and patience…. and time. Before Alan and I were engaged, my relationship with the boys felt easy in many ways. The boys live full time with their Mom hours away from us, so when they would visit I cancelled all other plans to prioritize getting to know them. Alan and I set up boundaries to ensure that I wasn’t taking on more than what a girlfriend should take on, and these boundaries protected me from getting too involved in the day to day of parenthood. I wasn’t yet asked to take on more than cooking dinners and planning activities like hiking or museums. I didn’t have expectations of myself or my relationship with the boys as I was “just the girlfriend”.
Then Alan and I took our relationship to the next level. We were engaged and married, and I became both a wife and a step-mom. I thought that being their stepmom officially would make things less complicated, but it only got more so. I felt that my relationship with the kids should be more serious, more official, but I couldn’t explain what I meant by that. I just felt it had to be more.
I started to place expectations on myself about what I should now take on, and on what our relationship should now look like. I started to feel that I wasn’t doing enough for them. I wasn’t sure how to support them when they weren’t physically with us. And when they were physically with us, I struggled with feeling like we were connecting. The boys had inside jokes with their Dad. There were established evening routines, favorite recipes and stories from growing up. These things were all true before we were married as well, but now that I was their step-mom, I thought I should know every detail of every part of their life, from the beginning. I thought I should, and I desperately wanted to. I wanted to feel like I belonged.
I shared my frustrations with Alan, that I worried I wasn’t giving enough, loving them enough, being enough to our boys. I felt like a complete fraud, like I wasn’t cut out for this role of stepmom. As I vented and cried with Alan through many conversations on this topic, it was easy to see that the pressure I was putting on myself wasn’t helping, and it wasn’t needed. As most Moms can relate to, we try to take on all.the.things, but cannot, at least not on our own. Alan helped me see that I could still be me, even with this title. Because in fact, even when I was just a girlfriend, I was being the stepmom these boys and this family needed. And that version of me was more comfortable and easy to be.
So, I focused on giving in a way that was natural for me. Last summer I encouraged our eldest to apply to an internship at my company. I supported our middle son in his art classes, often asking for him to send a copy of his work to us. I took our youngest to the climbing gym so he could enjoy something he loves to do. I sought ways to connect with the boys one on one, and all together as a family. When I received a promotion, I bought the whole family pastries for breakfast. I learned to play one of their video games so we could play together as a family. With each of these moments I felt closer to the boys, and I felt like I belonged.
As I parent, we all want to be seen. I wanted that stamp of approval that I was a good step-mom, and I wanted it from the boys, not from Alan. For Christmas, this year, three years after we were married, I received a mug from our eldest that reads “Best Bonus Mom Ever”. I opened the mug and burst into tears. Alan smiled and held me as he knew the significance of that gift. These boys were noticing me. They may not say “I love you too” every time, but they know I am there. And that is all I need.
I have learned the most important parent rule of all time – no parent has it all figured it out. It is just one small step, one small effort, day after day that builds into the life you want. And now I know what it means to truly live the words I spoke to Alan over three years ago - “to love you unconditionally, and to love your children unconditionally, on our adventure through life”.
Are you a step-parent? Can you relate to Becca's feeling's of acceptance and overwhelming expectations? How did you handle it? Please share in the comments below.