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I know that I am not my stepson’s mother, but I constantly struggle walking that line between my head and my heart. Actions can lead to feelings. Sometimes all of the work of being the maternal figure leads me to feeling as though I am a mother to him. I want so much to think that – at least in my home – I can be that person.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
My husband was gone for a few days for work. Things have always gone smoothly for me and my stepson when we are alone together. He is a good kid who has never given me any real grief. His dad has always expected him to be respectful of me and reminds my stepson to listen to me.
I got off early from work the same Friday that my husband came home. I walked though the door, and my husband called out playfully, “Mom’s home!” We all had dinner and watched a movie together. It was after 11pm by the time the movie was over.
My stepson had been dozing during the last of the movie, and he woke when the credits were playing. He rolled over on the couch to continue to sleep. I got up to go to the kitchen, and I called out to him to go ahead and go to bed if he was going to sleep. He looked at me like I was crazy. I added that I understood if he wanted to spend time with his dad, but repeated that if he were turning over to sleep that he needed to go ahead and go to bed. Silence.
I looked over at my husband expecting support. He said nothing and looked at me like I was crazy. I immediately recognized that I was being left adrift. Feeling angry and hurt, I went to take a long hot shower.
After crying a bit in the shower, I realized that yet again I was trying to act like his mother. It is one thing to be in charge when I’m the only one home. When his father is home, I need to lay low and not attempt to parent.
It can be so confusing. Even though my husband will sometimes refer to me as “Mom”, on some level he resents if I attempt to parent in front of him – as if I am overstepping my boundaries. Even though my stepson will write sweet cards and thank me for “being the mother [he] never had”, he doesn’t actually want me to be “Mom” in our home.
He and my stepson only want my support of Dad as a parent. That’s it. This is the lesson I struggle with daily.
I might fill in as a mother in our home, but I can’t allow myself to feel as though I am Mom.
One of the hardest things for me about being a stepmother has been the lack of connection my stepson has with my family.
I never thought I would be raising a child who did not consider my family his own. I expected that any children I had would be close to my parents and siblings. My sister and I used to talk about how our kids would be over at each other’s houses all the time. My family make wonderful grandparents and aunts and uncles to my little nieces and nephews. It almost hurt to think he wouldn’t think twice about them except as some nice people. They are so important to me that it felt like a form of rejection of me.
I knew in my head that it wasn’t the case. These people were literally strangers to him. He didn’t have any history or bonds with them, and that wasn’t going to happen overnight. This also meant that he wouldn’t really have any drive or desire to see them. So I have had to learn (over and over again) that this is just the way it is. It isn’t a fault of his or mine. It is what it is. I should have that mantra tattooed on my body for the significance it has played in my life the last couple of years.
Over the last three years, he has gotten more comfortable and playful with my family when he is around them. They pick and play with him like anyone else. But he still did not seem to connect with them any more than seeing them as really nice people who give him presents. He calls them all by first name. He doesn’t ask to spend any time with them. When there are two conflicting family events, he will choose his mother’s family over mine. I understand, of course, though I still feel a twinge of grief. It is what it is.
He and I were talking in the car the other day, and the conversation somehow turned to age. I told him about my great grandparents and that they had passed just a few years before he and I met.
He turned to me and asked, “so I almost had great great grandparents?”
I forget that sometimes.
Just as I am finding my way to understanding our relationship, he is doing the same.
This past winter was a rough season for him and his relationship with his mother. She was making choices that left him feeling abandoned and unimportant in her life.
On Valentine’s Day, I found candy and a card inside my car from my stepson. Inside the card was written a bittersweet message.
Thank you for being the mother I never had. You make this family complete. Love SS
I cried at reading it. First for feeling encouraged that I was doing right by him. Second for how tragic it was for a 14-year-old to be writing such words when he has a mother alive and well and nearby.
I know that he has a mother. I know that I am not her. I know that what he truly means away from hurt and anger is to thank me for doing the things his mother can’t or won’t do for him. I know that he considers me part of his family. That is enough. It has to be enough for us both.
A few months later he resumed some visitation with his mother. And the next cards from him have reflected a healthier understanding of our relationship.
Thank you for being the best stepmom I could ask for!! Love SS
We’re going to be all right.
I think it was a nice day. I probably had a lazy morning with my husband before having lunch and working out or going on a motorcycle ride. I’m sure we snuggled on the couch and watched a movie that night.
I was two months into my journey in this family as wife and stepmother. I worked full-time as a nurse. I spent evenings and weekends with my new family. In my (now-very-precious) alone time I was reading every article I could find about step-parenting and blended families. The previous years as Dad’s girlfriend and then fiancée were good. I knew my role. Stepmother was a different beast.
When it came to Mother’s Day I was conflicted. My state of mind swung between feeling as though I should be acknowledged for all my work, sacrifices, and contributions as a custodial stepmother and feeling as though I shouldn’t be doing those things for applause – and they were not my children. I didn’t go to church or even to my own family’s lunch. (I took my mother out to lunch the next day.) What if the church didn’t recognize stepmothers – only mothers? The women in my family being celebrated would have their children with them. I wanted to avoid being put on the spot during a time when I didn’t know where my place was. I wasn’t sure how I would respond. I was afraid that I would cry no matter what the situation – celebrated or ignored. Imposter or invisible.
The articles I read about stepmothers and Mother’s Day recommended that I not let myself expect anything from the kids. I could agree with that. They would be with their real mother. Our relationships were different. I am not Mom. Loyalty ties and all that. No pressure on the kids. End of story.
I thought my husband would do something special for me. Anything. Just a few words would do. I expected it. Even though all the articles told me that I needed to tell him I wanted him to acknowledge me. I figured my sweet man wouldn’t need to be told.
The day came and went without a peep from my man about Mother’s Day.
My stepson gave me a card he made in Spanish class before he left for the weekend. My husband’s niece texted me “Happy Mother’s Day!” that evening. My stepdaughter gave me a satsuma tree later that week. When I first saw it in the house, I thought it was from my husband and thanked him as I happily looked it over. He had to tell me that it was from SD and point out a sweet letter nestled in the leaves.
A week or so later I received a gift card in the mail from my mother. I opened it at the kitchen counter, and he asked me what it was. When I told him, he walked over to me, hugged me, and apologized for not doing anything for me. And I started to tear. I told him that it was okay. I should have said something.
It was a funny thing. I had focused so much on expecting acknowledgement from my husband that the tokens I did receive were nice and even touching, but they did not fulfill that desire in the slightest. I had tried so hard to play it cool about this day that the only cues my husband had from me were those of indifference. I can’t blame my husband for following my lead.
This year will be different. Last weekend our neighbor said something to him about doing something for me for Mother’s Day. He smiled sweetly at me and said “whatever she wants.” Today he asked me what I wanted to. I’ll think of something.
And tell him.
I’m going through some serious growing pains right now.
I married a wonderful guy who is divorced with a great kid. Stepson (SS) and I have gotten along well from the beginning of our relationship. Husband and I dated for two years before marrying. I love my little family. Overall, the transition has been as smooth as one could hope. Mom lives nearby and has SS every other weekend and one night a week. We have always been friendly with each other, though our time together has mostly been in passing. Her family has been kind and gracious to me as well. I’m quite lucky in this situation.
I didn’t grow up around divorce. My parents are still married, There are only two divorces in all of my extended family, and they did not live near us. It wasn’t until college that I had any close friends who had experienced divorce. So all of my knowledge of divorce, remarriages, step-families, etc mostly comes from television, movies, books, and whatever I can attempt to logically deduce from a given situation. I had some vague ideas about what to expect. I read blogs on step-parenting and blended families and dealing with exes. I thought I knew what I was doing. I was absolutely unprepared for what it would feel like to be a second wife and step-mother.
It hit me hard on the first night of our honeymoon. We were on the last leg of our flight to Alaska. It was late. I was exhausted from the last few days. The kid in front of us wouldn’t stop screaming. I was reading The 7 Habits of High Effective People and was in the middle of a chapter about examining the things in my life that I didn’t like and determining what was in my circle of influence – meaning what was in my control to change and what was out of my control and something I had to accept.
And suddenly I was crying about everything I hated about divorce. His divorce. I hated that he had another wife. Someone he had once said all the same things to before. I hated that she was still in his life and therefore mine. I hated that I had to share him with her. I hated that I had this wonderful boy in my life who was never really going to be mine. I hated that I had to consider her in my plans. I hated that I had to count weekends to see if SS and I could go do some fun activity and inevitably found that it was on her weekend. I hated that I could love him like a mother and give everything I could while she continued to make bad choices, set bad examples, and put him in bad situations … and she still gets the honor of being mom. I hated that I can sacrifice for him and love him, and that she will get the honor and dance at his wedding. I hated that if something happened to my husband, I’m considered a “legal stranger” in court and she will get complete custody of SS. I hate that I’d have to hope that she let me see a kid I loved and cared for as my own. I hate that I’m having to live with consequences of actions and choices that I did not make and never intended to have in my life.
I could not stop crying. Poor Husband is sitting next to me worried as I’m crying quietly. He wants to know what is wrong. I’m telling him it’s okay; I just can’t talk about it here. He makes me laugh at one point because he asked, “Are you pregnant?” Later at the hotel, he is very sweet and says, “I’m your husband. You can tell me.” I let him know what was going on. He’s still a bit stunned and is saying, “But you knew!” Yes, I knew what I was going to be. I didn’t know how terrible it was going to feel, and I was grieving for what I wasn’t going to have. We talked, put it away, and enjoyed the rest of the trip.
Two months later, those pains are hitting me again.
Until now, family life has been compartmentalized. We settled back into routines. I often pick SS up from his mom. We chat amicably. I compliment her garden, deck, etc. We go our separate ways. I’m pleased with how nice things are. I’m still getting used to this being my life and putting away those other ideas, but I’m feeling better about it.
Except now Mom is showing up and hanging around when I didn’t expect her. She’s crossing those imaginary boundaries of mine. And I can’t do anything about it.
Husband’s brother lives near Mom. They share the same group of friends and neighbors. We go over to see his brother. Invariably, his neighbors and friends are around. And now Mom is, too. It is her turf and her friends. It is her son that is there with us. She didn’t really come around while we were there before. I guess I had expected that to continue.
I know in my head that it is best for SS to see us all together and getting along. I know that is what he wants. During the last get-together, he made a comment about his mom not being sure if we (husband and I) wanted her to be there. I’m glad that he made that comment in a way that showed he didn’t believe that. I do my best to always stay positive about his mom to him. I don’t let him talk badly about her to me. I have to tell him sometimes that certain things he is telling me about his mom aren’t my business. I help him come up with ideas of what to get his mom for gifts and help him pick out things in the store. If he has good news that he is excited about, I’ll suggest he call his mom to share it. I try to help him look forward to being at his mom’s for the weekend.
This last weekend probably stung me a little more because of a Spanish assignment he has been working on. He is writing a 20 sentence biography for his Spanish class. I’ve been helping him with words and conjugations. He comes up with his sentences, translates them, and then I will help with any corrections. And in his biography, I don’t exist. It is a sweet picture. It has Mom, Dad, and sister (half-sister from Mom). I know that this is his ideal world. There is no mention of divorce. There is no mention of broken familes and split households. Therefore there is no me. I get it completely, but it doesn’t make it feel any better.
Thinking about what is making me upset lets me see that ultimately it is that I’m making it all about me. I was okay with Mom existing as long as she mostly stayed out of MY life. Her being there is a harsh reality check for me and reminds me that no matter what I do and how I feel about SS, I am not his mom. I have no rights to SS. I need to keep those kind of expectations in control or they will just be a continued source of pain.
I’m having to work on being okay with Mom taking an even bigger part of my life. Because I share that life with husband and SS. And ultimately that is was is best for SS. And whatever is best for SS is best for my husband.
That is my new mantra.
It is hard work being selfless. Or at least acting like it.
*** It took a lot of cursing and tears to get to this seemingly mature way of thinking. I’m sure there will be more.
***** And Husband and I have talked about this. I don’t know that there really is anything he can do. We can’t go out of our way to avoid SS’s mom. SS has the right to want her and to spend time with her. These are bigger group events – not personal family time. If something serious was going on between Mom and I that would be one thing, but this ultimately boils down to my own insecurities, jealousies, and selfishness. It’s something I’ve got to work on. Right now it is enough for me to know that Husband knows that I’m trying.