Parenting stepchildren can feel more like a burden than a privilege at times. We have the responsibility of a parent with few parental rights. Fold the laundry. Cook dinner. Run the carpool. Despite our efforts toward mundane parenting tasks, we get little regard as a parent, or appreciation for our help.
So, how do we learn to embrace our roles as stepmothers? A few key steps can help us thrive and gain confidence with the expectations placed on us.
• Be your own person. Don’t try to replace the biological mom. Don’t compete with her, either. It’s okay to be different. When my stepdaughter was young, she thought I was weird because I didn’t know how to French braid hair. Spending a lot of time styling hair wasn’t important to me but she hurt my feelings with her comments. Her biological mom was a wonderful hairstylist and I felt inferior to her. I now recognize the importance of accepting my differences and being comfortable with who I am.
• Work harder at being a friend, rather than a parent, particularly in the beginning. Developing a relationship with your stepchild is the primary goal for a new stepparent. Find common ground that allows time together comfortably. Let the biological parent take the lead in disciplining during the relationship-building period. Moving into a parental role too soon results in anger and resentment.
• Forgive yourself when you fail. You will mess up as a stepparent. During the early years of my new marriage, I was easily irritated with the shortcomings of my stepchildren. I reacted in favor of my biological children during times of conflict and was frustrated with my lack of patience and fairness toward my stepchildren. As I sought to forgive myself for my mistakes and learn from my failures, I could pick myself up and begin again with positive strides in my stepparenting role.
• Make your marriage a priority. It’s easy to allow struggles with the kids to interfere with your marital relationship. Stay connected in tough times by taking intentional steps to work through conflict and create a united front. Recognize the challenge of blending a family and seek professional help if you reach an impasse in your relationships.
• Allow plenty of time for new relationships to develop. Continuously strive for love and acceptance of one another, but don’t expect harmony overnight. The average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate. Complex stepfamilies (when both parents bring children to the marriage) can take longer. But there are rewards on the stepmothering journey as we learn to love and be loved by our stepchildren.
After more than 17 years as a stepmother, I experience far more rewards than burdens. I can honestly say, “It’s been a privilege to take part in raising my stepchildren.” I’m thankful for the healing that has occurred in our relationships and look forward to the years ahead as our family continues to grow and mature, and I embrace my role as a stepmother.
Gayla Grace is a wife and mom to five children in her blended family. She ministers to stepfamilies through her website, www.stepparentingwithgrace.com.