on life as a stepmom...

I read an article today that really hit home for me.  It was called Protecting The Stepmother’s Mental Health by Kela Price.  (**See the end of this post for a direct link to the original article.)

I am a stepmom.  I have a wonderful, charming & loving stepson that has come to mean so much to me, and I wouldn't trade him for the world.
But I also struggle with this life as a stepmom... somedays wondering how I have even made it this far with my feet still under me.

I chose to love a man with a child.  A man with a past that will forever be a part of our today and a part of our future.  I chose this, and so I shouldn't struggle with it, right?  At least that is how I have always felt, and I'm sure other stepmothers (Oh, how I hate that word!) would agree.

We (stepmothers) are often seen as outcasts in today's society. We are seen as second-rate moms, interfering with the family unit that came before us... even though that family may have been long-dissolved before we came into the picture.  Often we are even blamed for the dissolution of the original family unit, even though most people never know the real story.

Of course no one verbalizes those opinions of us, but actions prove it everyday...

More than once, when meeting someone new in my stepson's life, I have been greeted with a too-polite smile and that look.  The look that says "OH, you're just the STEPmother?  You're not the real mom then, and therefore don't matter as much...  You're just a glorified babysitter really, so I will politely defer to you if one of his REAL parents are not around."

Unfortunately, this scenario is all to common... and it breaks my heart.  Yes, you are right.  I did not birth my stepson.  He does not have my blood flowing through his veins.  But neither would a child who is adopted...  and would you think the same of me as a parent then?

It amazes me every day how few stepmothers I know... and really how few people I know who even know a stepmom.  (Or I guess I should say - know a stepmom well enough to know what she is going through.)  In fact, I can count the stepmoms I know personally on one hand.  And probably have a few fingers left over...

How is that even possible?  How is it possible that in a country with a 50% or higher divorce rate - so few stepmothers exist?  And if we do exist, why are we not supporting each other and being supported by our loved ones?

Do we keep our 'status' secret, as we meet people at the grocery store, or at our mom's group?  Absolutely!  Because we are afraid of the judgement...  afraid of that look.

I could go on and on (and probably will another day, but I'd really like you to read an excerpt from this article.  If you'd like a true glimpse into my life... or if you love a stepmom, if you are a stepmom, or if you even just know a stepmom:

There are over 19 million people walking around depressed today, in America.  A large number of those depressed 19 million people are  mothers.  Many experts and society as a whole, acknowledge the fact that moms are the glue that holds the family together, and are often overworked and overextended. As a matter of fact, they sell t-shirts with a quote that says, “If mama ain’t happy, then nobody’s happy.”...
That being said,... what we don’t see a lot of is the same support for stepmothers. Historically, stepmothers have just been expected to accept any and everything because they chose to marry a man with children, and therefore chose to marry his kids and his ex-wife. It’s something that they shouldn’t complain about and realize that it’s not about them, but the kids who are torn apart by divorce.  
We’ve all heard this before, right stepmoms? My question is then why shouldn’t mom be expected to just suck it up? After all, she chose to have children in the first place and it’s supposed to be about the kids, right? Why does she get to complain and then receive sympathy with kids that she chose to create, but stepmom has to just suck it up with kids who are not her own?
According to Linda Nielsen, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at Wake Forest University, stepmothers feel more stress than stepfathers and are overall the most stressed member of the stepfamily. In her research she indicates that 4 factors contribute to this stress: (1) our society’s attitudes about step/mothers and motherhood; (2) the mother’s and stepmother’s personalities, attitudes and circumstances; (3) the father’s attitudes and his relationship with the mother; and (4) the stepchildren’s gender and mental health.
All of the above mentioned and more, as you can imagine, creates a significant amount of stress for the stepmother and has enormous potential to send them to a downward spiral of depression. Being expected to please everyone without being able to express how you feel is an unrealistic and totally unfair expectation to place on ANYONE! 
Stepmothers need to have their role acknowledged and supported if we are to work at decreasing the alarming rate of second divorces in America. She can’t be expected to walk on eggshells, especially in her own home, just to pacify everyone else.  It will only leave her feeling totally isolated, resentful and depressed, just like those mothers that I mentioned above. The stepmother needs support, too; support from her husband; support from her friends and family and support from society as a whole!
I realize that everyone in the stepfamily has their challenges and own crosses to bear; however, the stepmother receives less support and understanding than ANYONE in the stepfamily and that just has to change.  Everyone else is allowed to act out and freely express themselves without judgment, because society has more sympathy for them, and historically, stepmoms have been deemed as wicked. 
We sympathize with dad because he doesn’t get to see his children as often. We sympathize with the kids because they’ve just experienced the loss of their family. We sympathize with ex-wife because she is just trying to “protect” her children.  We then we dump all of those emotions, responsibility and aftermath of a divorce that she didn’t create, mind you, on the stepmother and say, “now you deal with it and you better do it all with a smile". There’s no wonder that so many stepmoms are reaching for antidepressants and anxiety medication. And we wonder why so many are just angry all the time.
Stepmothers should feel free to say NO, just as we encourage mothers to do, without guilt or fear of being labeled as wicked. It must be understood that these women feel overwhelmed as well. It must be understood that unrealistic demands should not be placed on them. It must be understood, by husbands, that they need YOU to step up and be the partner that they married. 
It must be understood that these are women with feelings, and although they may not have directly experienced the divorce with you, they often times have to deal with the aftermath, and they need some support and understanding, too! They deserve to have a voice and a right to be heard in the stepfamily.
Stepmothers, I am once again encouraging you to aim for balance in your stepfamily life. You do not have to be everything to everyone, heal everyone’s pain and/or be everyone’s punching bag in order to be a good stepmother. You shouldn’t be expected or allow yourself to sacrifice your own mental health for the sake of everyone else’s. Below are ways in which you can protect your sanity and still be a good stepmother.
  1. Learn to say NO! If it’s your husband’s weekend to have his kids, but you both know he’s going to be at work all weekend, it’s okay to express that you need a break and would like for your husband to choose another weekend. His ex-wife should understand that the primary reason for establishing visitation is so that they kids can spend time with their dad and not you. You are not bound by the visitation order, so if you need a moment, request it and then take it – WITHOUT GUILT!
  2. Create a co-parenting plan with your husband regarding household rules and consequences, which you both agree on, and then stick to it. Children shouldn’t be allowed to use the divorce as a lifelong crutch. Allowing them to avoid rules and responsibility because YOU feel guilty as a parent is not parenting and only creates more problems for the child and the stepfamily.  Co-parenting plans help avoid conflict with the kids and your husband regarding discipline, and help you and your spouse create and present a more unified front. It also helps to re-create some normalcy in their lives again.
  3. Constantly work on building and maintaining couple strength. Schedule date nights with your husband. Marriage is work and you have to work hard at remaining connected, especially in the stepfamily. During these times, make it a rule that you will not discuss ex-spouses, kids, stepkids or drama. Date night is a DRAMA FREE ZONE!
  4. Learn to let some things go. Remember that you don’t have to be involved in every single aspect of your stepchildren’s lives.  For example, it’s okay to let mom and dad attend the parent teacher conference. It really isn’t necessary for you to be there. Instead of seeing it as some sort of slap in the face because you help with homework, too, use this time to either have some alone time with your own children or get your nails done, if you don’t have any children of your own.
  5. Accept the fact that you don’t need to be perfect. You’ll be surprised at how relieved you feel when you have more realistic expectations of yourself than what is imposed on you by public opinion.
  6. Realize and accept that you WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PLEASE EVERYONE! Your primary focus should be on your immediate family. No matter what some say, you did not marry your husband, his kids AND his ex-wife, and suggesting this is only implying that it is your job to keep them ALL happy – NOT. You married your husband and you are the ones who have to build a solid team in order to raise your children and live happily ever after. If ex-wife doesn’t like it – TOUGH. There are two people in our marriage, not three or four. I’ve never seen a husband, wife and ex-wife rocking on their front porch when they are 80 years old. Ex-spouses are co-parenting partners, but they are not and shouldn’t be allowed to be participants in your marriage.
  7. Finally, if you feel you are depressed seek the help of a medical doctor and then call a stepfamily counselor to help get you back on track to getting some balance back in your life again. It’s okay to ask for help!
My mother always told me that how you start out in any relationship is often times how you’ll end up. If you allow someone to walk all over you from the very beginning then that will be their expectation of you. She has always encouraged me to set my own boundaries and expectations of myself and others. ... Setting boundaries for yourself and others is not wicked. 
As a matter of fact, it’s encouraged and expected in order for everyone to have some sort of peace of mind. And if an ex-wife or a husband has a problem with it, they are the ones who need to be examined, not you! The stepfamily can work and thrive, but the adults have to first have the same goal and be supported in their roles, even the stepmother.
(**See the original article, in it's original format, here:                     http://www.todaysmodernfamily.com/index.php/3016)

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