There is a whole hidden world for us step-moms. We don’t quite fit in with the bio-moms because we didn’t birth the kids and we weren’t necessarily there from the beginning. Every step-mom that I have talked to has very similar feelings and perspectives of sadness, longing, insecurities and confusion. We don’t initially fit in with the Mom’s on the sports teams (I did eventually), we don’t feel like we belong at parent/teacher interviews because we are not often recognized as the primary “educators” in the household. We don’t feel like we should be at doctor appointments because we aren’t seen as the care-takers. We don’t feel like we’re wanted at gaming events and Christmas concerts because the kids aren’t looking for us on the field or on the stage. The other thing that is apparent to me is that there are endless parenting books but, there aren’t many step-parenting books or resources.
Here I answer some questions that step-children have and may ask about this role as well as some insight for other step-parents/bio-parents wondering what this world looks and feels like. I know I would have really appreciated this in the early days.
- Have you ever thought about leaving because it got too hard?
This is a super complex question and one that you can’t just answer lightly. The easy answer is yes! Of course, I have thought about it! I came into this completely free as a bird, completely single with very little “baggage”. All of the craziness is not because of what I brought into this relationship. All of the things that made our relationship hard was because of everything my fiancé brought. There have been many times where I have thought about not wanting the chaos and drama that this role brought to my life. I have often thought my life would be so much “easier” without all the “stuff”, but I would be so unfulfilled. I don’t think that leaving would be a logical solution to the problems within this family dynamic. I have used the analogy of being with your best friend in a storm cellar hanging on for dear life as one storm after another keeps hitting and you’re left with wondering if you’re going to make it out alive. There’s nothing really wrong with he and I as a couple. It’s everything that has circled our relationship from the beginning.
- Were you actually the reason why my parents split up?
In my situation, no! My fiancé and his ex-wife split in 2013 and his ex-wife filed for divorce in August 2014 and I didn’t even meet my fiancé until September 2015. I was really clear from the get-go that I wanted to know what was going on with that split and divorce and I was even cc’d in correspondence between my fiancé and his divorce lawyer and met with her too!! I wanted that process to be transparent so that I knew what I was getting into, but also so that if I had questions I could ask someone who was looking at this situation objectively. I would strongly recommend asking your significant other to keep you in the loop about anything that makes you feel anxious or uncomfortable with. There were many rumours spread that I was “the other woman” that had I not been involved with lawyer correspondence, I do not know if I could have made it through these allegations.
- What was the scariest part about becoming a step-parent since you had no bio-kids of your own?
Everything was scary in the beginning. I was intimidated by this role because I knew that I wanted to do a good job. I was scared that the kids wouldn’t like me. I was scared that my fiancé’s ex-wife would spread lies about me (she did). I was scared that my fiancé’s ex-wife would yell at me and treat me with disrespect and anger (she did). I was scared that the kids would be told not to like me by outside sources (they were). I was scared of messing up and not being on my A-game all the time. I put a lot of pressure on myself initially to step-up and develop good relationships but, I would say that the majority of my actions and reactions were all fear based initially.
- Did you resent the fact that my Dad had kids?
Resent??…hmmm…simple answer, no! I wasn’t resentful that my fiancé had kids. I knew when I had left my ex-husband, I would probably meet someone with kids and I knew that if I did meet a Dad, they would have to be a good father. I could never and would never be able to be with someone who was a weekend warrior parent or a Facebook Dad. The fact that my fiancé was really involved and loving is what drew me in to begin with. What I can say I was resentful about was the fact that he had the opportunity to do the “family thing” with someone who wasn’t a good fit for him. I was resentful about the fact that his first wife got all the things that I was always looking for in a spouse. That was a hard pill to swallow, work through and be honest about!
- Do you think you love us (your step-kids) the way you would your bio-kid?
I don’t know if I can answer that because I don’t have bio-kids. I have talked to other step-parents about this, who have bio-kids of their own and they say that the “love” is not the same however, the duties are. They have expressed that the connection feels different. I get up every day and go to work for little people that I didn’t make, but my actions are making them into who they will become! I feed them, clothe them, educate them, play with them, listen and care for them and I love them in the way I would want my own child to be loved and cared for.
- How do you define the role between being a parent and being someone who is just with my Dad?
I love this question!!! I identify with both of these, I am a parent (as I am fulfilling the duties a bio-parent would) but, I am also the support to the bio-parent. Like I said above, I take care of the day to days as the kids need me to be there. I pick up where my fiancé isn’t and he picks up where I don’t. In those instances, I would define that as being a parent. Then, there are a few decisions that I leave up to my fiancé to deal with, but I have influence over; in those instances, I am not actively parenting rather, supporting my spouse. Disciplining, education and health would be the top of the list where I assert my opinions, but do not make decisions. My fiancé and I communicate what we each feel the kids need, what works for us and make decisions behind the scenes, but he ultimately makes the final decisions about these topics. This is also where I step out and let him and his ex-wife make the decisions. Some of the time they do not mesh with my beliefs; these are the hardest times!
- How did you allow yourself to fall so deeply for me and my brother and sister?
I think I am a warm person naturally so, falling in love was easy for me. I romanticize everything! By being vulnerable towards the kids to see who I was and how open, stable and fun I was, I allowed the kids to be comfortable with me. I knew that my fiancé wanted someone in his life that would be involved and there for his kids so, as much as I felt pressure by him (unintentionally), I knew that I had the room to show the kids who I was and open up to them. I think that the support I had from my fiancé in developing the relationship was key.
- What about this made it hard to “fall” for us?
I think I was always comparing my relationship with the established relationships that the kids had with their bio-parents. TOTALLY set myself up for failure! I wasn’t sure how to act and didn’t know if I was being too much or not enough for them. I think the biggest barrier was myself and my insecurities. It was also really hard at times to let my guard down when I knew bio-mom was struggling to see my role and placing the kids and others in uncomfortable situations because of her insecurities. As I felt the kid’s walls come down, I felt more comfortable to show them the real me!
- What was the hardest part about joining our family?
I was entering the family at a really confusing time. I think the hardest part was that everyone was feeling big emotions and had gone through a little bit of trauma just as I “joined” the family. Learning to keep my feelings hidden was really hard for me (the lady with zero issues with expressing herself). My fiancé was in the middle of a really messy divorce that lasted YEARS into our relationship that constantly put strain on our relationship. I really struggled with the kids idolizing a woman who made my life a living hell. She still remains the hardest part of my life in this situation.
- What was the easiest part about joining our family?
The relationships and the fun we would have. My fiancé and I are similar in the sense that we like to play and have a good time together. This is how all the relationships were established by spending good quality time together, just the 5 of us!
- How do you deal with issues in the house when you and your spouse aren’t on the same page?
Communication!!! I can’t think of a time where my fiancé and I weren’t on the same page about the kids or at least came to understand each other’s perspectives. He trusts me with the kids and I trust his judgements too. We talk things out when need to and I let him know when I need to have a conversation as a family. He isn’t exactly the best communicator, but he lets me take the lead when something isn’t working for me in our house. It took a long time for us to get to a place where I believed and trusted that he cared about my stance and position when it came to issues that would come up.
- What things were a surprise to you?
I was shocked about how much of a roller-coaster this actually would be and how long things take to click. As I mentioned before, I fell in love with each of the kids at different times and for different reasons. With the oldest, we had an instant relationship and I wouldn’t say it was too hard to establish trust, love and respect quickly. With the youngest boy, it was easy. He was so young (4 at the time of meeting) so, I actually don’t know if he remembers a time when I wasn’t in his life. The middle girl (9 at the time of meeting) was a longer process. She’s our quiet, processing girl. She isn’t super chatty (all the time) and she is a little guarded so, it took quite a while! Another thing that I was surprised by was in the beginning I worried that my presence didn’t matter and I wasn’t really wanted there. What I have learned is that though the kids may not be obviously looking for you in the stands or audience of their presentations and concerts, they are paying attention and notice if you’re there. It matters! They may not yell your name with flailing arms, but they know that you showed up and that you were there! Don’t take their silence or awkwardness as indifference! I was also surprised by how insecure I really was- I thought I was confident in my relationship with my fiancé, but there have been some significant events that have tested our relationship and tested my patience. There have been moments in this relationship where I feel heart-broken and disappointed that the kid’s bio-mom hasn’t come around to the idea of me. In my perfect world, we would get along enough to both be comfortable in the same room- I’m still hopeful for that, mostly for the kid’s sake!
- Is it hard to care for someone else’s kids?
Yes, it absolutely is!!!! I have my own views about how children should be cared for and nurtured. It is hard to jump into a family where rules and expectations are already established; especially when they do not fit with your own expectations and needs. Being respectful to what is already established by the bio-parents while being patient with the kids when they don’t do things that you expect them to do is a hard balance! There’s a big transition period where I spent a lot of time biting my tongue, walking away, hiding in my room, writing out a long text and deleting them and nodding my head in agreement when I couldn’t have disagreed more. I realize this isn’t healthy long-term, but I felt it was essential in the beginning for all relationships involved.
- What is the most annoying part of this role?
My constant self-reflection and loathing! It is so hard to be so hard on yourself all the time. I am my biggest critic. I expect a lot of myself and I expect a lot from my spouse to make sure that I feel ok about this relationship and role. Another annoyance is knowing that someone out there, who doesn’t even know me dislikes me! I have always struggled with people not liking me and this is next level hate! Another challenging part is not getting the recognition that I feel I deserve I should get. Bio-parents: give a shout-out to your spouse taking on this role! It is not for the faint of heart!!
- What qualities do you think a person needs to possess to stick this out?
I think the most important qualities for a future step-parent is patience, selflessness and perseverance. There are days where I want to lock myself in my room and cry and there are days where I want to pile us all into the car and go do something fun. With all the pressures that come with this role, you need thick skin and a big heart!
- At what point did you truly feel part of the kid’s lives?
I think for each of the kids I felt like I was a PART of their lives when they would share parts of their day with me. For the longest time in the beginning, the kids would start a sentence with “Dad…” and from my perspective, I felt I was being excluded. It wasn’t until they gave me my nick name (Mitchell- after finding out my nick name from my parents was Mitch and they thought it was hilarious) and when they started to text me and tell me about their day and share something that they were thinking about. I think it was when each of the kids switched from calling me their “Dad’s girlfriend” to “my Mitchell” or “my step-mom” when they finally claimed me as their own.
I realize that these responses are not a blanket answer for everyone. Each dynamic is different and comes with their own set of unique challenges. I do know however, that this role has a lot of negative connotations and this role comes with a lot of pressure from all angles. I am not a specialist or a pro-step-mom by any means, but I know I would have loved to have someone else to talk to through this and hope you, the reader, found this helpful!
I am a 33 year old Step-Mom to three kids who would describe me as a dramatic, fun-loving hopeless romantic (insert eyeroll). Transplanted from Pickering, Ontario and currently living in Calgary, Alberta. My friends would describe me as an open-book, a safe space and an ever evolving shoulder to cry on (my friend told me to say that). I work with children with special needs; a career inspired by my involvement with Willowjak. I have been thrown some pretty big curve balls in my short time here on this planet but, have faced them with a good book in hand and a cup of tea on my night stand. My hope is that what I have experienced in my life can be of use to others. Some support to prove that we are not alone; though we may feel like we are, that we are seen; though we feel invisible and that we have a voice; though we may not know we have one yet.
You can hear more about Michelle’s story when she appeared as a guest on Willowjak’s ‘Choose Your Own After’, by listening HERE.