Making A Blended Family Work

This is the first part of a short series of articles detailing a transition from the dreaded step-mom to love-mom.

Why is jumping into the role of step-mom difficult?

Stepmother is a loaded word. Growing up, we all listened to fairy tales about the wicked stepmother. We never heard tales of a tender, loving, and fun step-mother. So who in their right mind would be excited at the prospect of getting a step-mother or of being a step-mother for that matter. When you take on the role of step-mother, you have to fight this stereotype. It doesn't matter that you have had a great relationship with the kids during the dating phase of your relationship with their father. You are about to become the dreaded “step-mother”. Take the “step” off the word and just leave “mother”. Again you have a loaded word. Your new husband has a preconceived notion of what “mother” means, based on his own mother and the mother of his children. Do you fit that definition of mother? And what about the kids. They also have a preconceived notion of “mother”. Are you anything like their mother?

Most children of divorce dream of their parents getting back together. As in the movie “Parent Trap”, they try to set up situations where their parents will “fall in love again.” Your marriage to their father has put an end to those dreams. You are the dream breaker and that starts you off at a definite disadvantage in winning their love and acceptance.

Getting married is a big adjustment on its own. Add to that a ready made family of children and a new step-mom often has a rude awakening. The time for romance is limited. Dad has to go back to earning a living and you have to assume the position of wife and mother and try to meet the expectations of a whole family. This is not always easy.

A new step-mom must learn not only what her husband's expectations are, but those of the step-kids. What does each like to eat, what are their fears, what do they excel at, what don't they like to be called, how do they like or not like to be touched, are there any allergies, health problems, special needs, the list is endless. You learned some about your husband and the kids while you were dating, but living together (even on weekends only) is very different. Being a step-mom is wearing your heart on your sleeve and growing a very thick skin at the same time. You must be vulnerable and open to the kids, giving unconditional love and expecting nothing in return (especially at first). Patience is an absolute must when dealing with the emotions, not only those of the step-kids, but yours as well.

The dream that you will all be one big, happy family is one that will most certainly take time to realize. Step-parenting is a step by step process and a good relationship between a step-mom and her step-kids doesn't happen overnight. It is something to be cultivated. Time, love and patience will go a long way in cementing the relationship. It also helps if you try to have a little fun along the way. It is important not to get lost in the role of step-mom. Remember who you were before, who your husband fell in love with. Remember your own dreams and aspirations. It is fine to sublimate these for a whie to get everyone on the right track, but you do no favors to your husband and children if you lose yourself along the way.

You will find times when you think you can't possibly love this man's children the way you love him. Give it time. They will grow on you. Love doesn't happen overnight because you want/need it to. It comes from shared experiences, good and bad. Love will come if you concentrate on having a good time! It takes a couple of years to develop the type of relationship you want. It is a slow process and you need to concentrate on baby steps and not try to force things. Step-parenting is incredibly difficult. Some situations are easier than others and you never know beforehand what curves will come your way. You must keep a cool head and evaluate often what is working and what is not. Constant communication with your husband and children about expectations and how they are being met is essential to making step-parenting successful.

To be a successful stepmother, it is helpful to know what your role in the family is. You and your husband should sit down and talk this through. What is your role in the family? How much authority/control do you have over his kids? What is the role you assume in relation to the children's mother.? What is your role in the finances of the family? Will you be contributing financially to the family? What is your role in the children's school? There are many areas that need to be outlined before you take on the responsibility of step-mothering. These are just a few. If you have a clear vision of your role in all areas of the family, life will be much easier to handle. But you must have this conversation with your husband often as your role will change as the children grow.

How does a step-mom keep from being overwhelmed?

Being a step-mom can be overwhelming. There are so many things to consider and your life will change in so many ways. The very first thing that you need to remember to keep from becoming overwhelmed is that you cannot do this job alone. You need the support of your husband and it helps to have one or two good friends to use as a sounding board.

A word of caution about using friends as a sounding board. Let them know up front that you do not need advice, you need a listening ear. If you can talk through your feelings and grievances with a good listener, you can usually see the course you need to take. You just need a sympathetic ear to hear you out. Know that this is not an easy task you are assuming. Things will not be hunky-dory from the outset. There will be trials and tribulations. The first two years are the deal maker or breaker. It takes time to meld father, step-mother and children into a cohesive family unit. You must remember that the family dynamics will grow over time.

Don't be impatient. Give your step-kids time to recover from the divorce of their parents and time to get used to having you as a “new mother”. If they are not gushing with love and attention at first, don't worry. Just continue to show them respect. If you respect their feelings, their privacy and their needs, they will eventually come around. Time is on your side.

The children will most likely be antagonistic at the beginning. If you go into the relationship expecting this and have plans to deal with it, both emotionally and intellectually, you will most likely weather the storm without too many battle scars. Expect that the children will play you against their father and their “other mother” . Call them on it. Do not let them get away with it.

A consistent battle plan adhered to by all the adults involved will stop this behavior in its tracks. You and your husband can discuss your plans for dealing with these situations. It may be a little more difficult to involve their other mother. She may or may not be willing to meet with you and discuss plans for consistency in discipline.

Another area that can be overwhelming for a step-mom is the physical task of running a household. If this is your first marriage you may not have experience in running a multi-person household. There will be laundry, cooking and cleaning, shopping for groceries, clothes, school supplies, acting as chauffeur, helping with homework, taking care of pets, and more. If you work outside the home, this can be especially overwhelming at first. You need help. Consider the age of the children, and insist on help from them based on this. Teenagers can handle their own laundry and help with the cooking and cleaning. Even small children can help by picking up toys and taking care of pets. Don't feel that you have to be “supermom” and do it all. Working together as a family can help to create the family atmosphere you want to build. Be sure to praise the children for a job well done and make them feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

One of the most frustrating things about taking over the family is that you will not receive any recognition for the amazing job you are doing. It is expected. Everyone thinks that you will just step in and take over and it will all get done. Being taken for granted is never easy, but here it is especially frustrating because you have to step out of your comfort zone and take responsibility for someone else's children, do an amazing job and keep everything on an even keel. Finances can be a source of concern with a blended family, especially if melding two families creates a large family. Here again, you need help. You and your husband should set a budget and stick to it as closely as possible. Make sure that you know what money you have to spend on household expenses, the children and on yourself. Arguments over money are one of the major problems in marriages and with step-children added to the mix, arguments can become entangled with defensiveness and a struggle to make sure “my side” gets their share. Prevent these arguments with a plan. Make sure that children old enough to understand are a party to the budget so that they know ahead of time how much they can expect to be spent on birthdays, sports, outings and such. This way they will not feel slighted and you will not have to constantly say no to them. You do not have to give them a say in forming the budget, but they should be made aware of budget constraints and they should know that their needs, if not their wants are a part of the budget.

Learning to live with step-children and a new husband all at once can be overwhelming. Know that you will make mistakes. It is unavoidable. Birth parents make mistakes too. It is not just step-parents who make them. When you make a mistake and realize it, admit it. Apologize if necessary, set it right if you can, and then move on. There is nothing to be gained by beating yourself up. We all make mistakes and we all need help in recovering from them. Let your husband and children know that you are not perfect. You are doing the best that you can in a difficult situation and you need their help. Admitting your vulnerability goes a long way toward disarming the criticism of others and getting them to do what you want. When you admit your mistakes and ask for help, others tend to want to fix it for you. Use this to your advantage.

You will naturally make sacrifices as a step-mom. But don't feel that you have to make all the sacrifices. All mothers sacrifice for their children and going from being single, and the master of your own fate (and budget), to being a step-mom will call for many sacrifices. But it is important not to sacrifice your health, your mental stability or your marriage for the children.

Make sure you take care of your physical needs, your sanity and your husband. Without these three things, you can never be an effective step-mom. You have to take the time to eat properly, spend time with your husband and your friends, and relax occasionally. If you do not do these things, you will not only be sacrificing the things you need, you will be leaving yourself open to resentment and hostility that will destroy what you are trying so hard to build, a cohesive family unit. Your children will learn from you the importance of taking care of one’s self in order to care for others. They will be better husbands and wives if they learn from you how to care for themselves first and foremost in order to care for those around them. What better skill for a mother to pass on to her children.

Relationships | Family

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