An Open Letter to Stepmoms

13 Oct

Dear Stepmoms,

I think it’s about time I address you as a whole. There are a lot of you in the world and while many of you are awesome, there’s a reason the “evil stepmom” stereotype exists. And it’s not just because of Cinderella.

I won’t pretend to be an expert, but I do have two stepmoms in my life, which is more than a lot of people I know. See, I have a stepmom of my own and my actual mom is a stepmom to my three stepsisters. They’re on opposite ends of the evil-good spectrum, but neither is perfect.

So, having spent the last several months semi-coaching my mom on how to be a Really Great Stepmom and also having just spent the last five days avoiding my own Terrible Mean Stepmom, I think it’s time I outline some very basic points for you all.

Keep in mind that I’ve been a stepkid for almost 10 years now; I know what I’m talking about.

It’s called a “blended family” for a reason.

If you’re planning to marry someone who already has kids, accept the reality of the situation before you walk down the aisle. What I mean to say is that the kids are always going to be part of the package deal and if you’re not ok with that, you shouldn’t be getting married to this person.

Nothing you do can ever remove them from the equation and you may as well accept this as soon as you can. The sooner you’re able to do this, the sooner everyone else in the family can relax.

You are and always will be The Adult.

If you’re old enough to be getting married – especially to someone with kids – guess what? You’re an adult! Even if you’re inheriting adult kids, you’re still an adult. Even if the adult kids struggle with welcoming you into their lives, you’re still an adult.

You know what this means? You have to act like an adult. You may not have parental authority of any kind, but that doesn’t mean you can’t demand the same respect you would demand from anyone else. It also doesn’t mean you can be disappointed when unarticulated expectations remain unmet.

Just because your new stepkid is pushing your buttons and testing your limits doesn’t mean you should become a doormat just to appease them, nor does it mean you should lash out in anger or resentment.

Demand respect. Require it – but also give it where it is deserved. Stand up for yourself – but stand up for your stepkid, too. Articulate your expectations.

Be understanding, patient, and kind. Be an adult.

“In with the new and out with the old” – It doesn’t work here.

There are two scenarios in which a stepmom is introduced: divorce and death. Both are incredibly painful for the kids. Both are abandonments of different sorts. Both draw a deep line in kids’ lives separating the Before and the After.

Respect that line, but never ignore what came before. If you’re part of the After, you’re either blurring that line or you’re making it deeper. Whichever you’re doing (and neither is more or less okay than the other), you need to recognize your role.

Lots of stepmoms would prefer that the Before didn’t exist; some of them wish it so hard that they begin to resent it. Some stepmoms want to dwell on the Before. They walk on eggshells, terrified they will overstep their invisible boundaries. Both of these stepmoms will fail if they don’t strike a balance between the Before and the After.

To stepmoms everywhere: We know it’s hard for you. It might be harder for you than it is for us, even, but I’m pretty sure that’s part of being an adult, right? You have to take responsibility for your choices – and stepkids are always a choice. You make the choice to have stepkids the second you choose to say “I do” to someone with kids.

All we ask, we stepkids of the world, is that you work with us. Being a step-anything is never easy for anyone. We get that – we need you to get it, too.

One Response to “An Open Letter to Stepmoms”

  1. Cassie January 14, 2012 at 2:23 am #

    I occasionally think that my sister and I are like hidden files on our father’s computer. We are a big bad secret that no one gets to admit too. We are the products of a memory he would like to forget. No pictures of us are allowed in his house, no mention of us on holidays or birthdays, our brother is a stranger- we did get deleted. I am sorry for our shared pain on this, but I am grateful that you were at least spared a little and got to have your very own mother.

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