Along my step-parenting journey, I have learned some intense lessons that have become my tested tools for life.
Some of these tools were already in my repertoire, but since I became a stepmom they have been completely transformed into the life lessons I will carry with me forever.
I have written this from the viewpoint of a stepmom because that’s what I know. I’m aware there are plenty of stepdads out there who also go through this journey, and I hope they can appreciate this read as well.
Here are 6 life lessons I’ve learned from my experience so far:
Diplomacy. The art of interacting with people in both a sensitive, yet effective manner.
This is probably one of the most challenging hurdles for stepmoms.
Many of us have never been in a situation as potentially contentious as step-parenting.
I say “potentially” because although the threat of total chaos is often lurking around the corner for a stepmom, it can be avoided, at times, with some diplomacy.
It could be as simple as using the words “please” or “thank you” in every conversation. It could be addressing a touchy situation in a calm and positive manner that is non-accusing. It takes practice. Lots of it.
It helps to listen – even when you don’t want to – to get a better gauge on the emotions of the person you are dealing with, whether it be a biological parent or your stepchild.
Whether you are more of a full-time stepmom or an every-other-weekend stepmom, learning to be diplomatic is a key tool for your step-parenting journey.
I have learned that many times the less said, the better. The quality of what is said matters more than just talking to be heard. Choosing the right words to use and the right time to say them is important.
Sound exhausting? Yes, it is. Being a stepparent is like having another job besides all your other jobs in life. I’ve learned diplomacy and it’s helped me. Sometimes we have lots of information we want people to hear about how we feel, but it’s not always necessary or useful.
Learning to be diplomatic, though often times cumbersome, will make your blended family life smoother in the long-term.
Humility is the ability to realize that you may not be that important, even when it seems the world is revolving around you in your own mind. Being stepmom takes courage and determination. Sometimes it can seem like there is an emotional drama every day.
That said, it can seem like the whole world is on your shoulders at times, and the temptation to wallow in self-pity over your challenges will often pop up.
Learning humility is a key element to becoming a healthy stepmom. It’s not all about you. Yes, you’re tired, yes things may be unfair but having some perspective as to the bigger picture can boost your morale immensely.
Why is being a stepmom so tiring? Because you are working extraordinarily hard to make your family life work well. It’s okay to laugh at yourself sometimes when you mess up. Even “real” moms mess up all the time, as many of us already know.
Don’t take yourself so seriously. No matter what your relationship with your stepchild, or their biological parents, feeling sorry for yourself won’t help anyone. Learn to laugh at yourself and realize you’re not perfect and never will be.
I have learned there is indeed a path of grace and class in stepmom-hood. Acting with grace in certain situations in order to do what is best for your stepchild is an invaluable tool. To step aside amidst circumstances that you wish you could control is difficult, but if you can do it with love and sincerity, it makes a big difference.
There are going to be many times in your step-parenting life when you have to relinquish decisions and control to the biological parents, and if you are a full-time stepmom who is used to being more involved, this can be a tricky maneuver.
To master the art of being a stepparent who steps in at the opportune time and then steps away when the biological parents must take the lead is a challenge, but knowing when you can solve a problem and when to leave it to others is the real lesson.
Learning grace also includes acknowledging that not everyone is going to do things the way you think they should be done. Stepmoms who have children going back and forth to and from mom’s house know this. Mom probably does things differently than you and vice versa. You can have the grace to accept this and let it go. It’s not going to change.
The point is when you realize you have to step away or accept something you can’t change, do it with grace and not anger or bitterness. Remember, you’ve done all you can, and there’s no doubt you did it to the best of your ability.
Love? How is love a lesson? Oh, it’s a lesson. If you have stepchildren, you know what I mean.
If you have your own children you know what that love feels like. It is different. It’s more comfortable.
Depending on when you became a stepmom to your stepchild or stepchildren, the love takes on different forms and can show itself at unexpected times.
If you became the stepmom to a child of a very young age, it may have been easier to cuddle with them and shower them with affection.
But past a certain age, the bond of love that hopefully grows between a stepmom and her stepchildren is tentative, unsure, and basically a complete rollercoaster.
I have learned that this stepmom/stepchild relationship is much like any relationship you have in life. It takes time and patience to build the trust between you.
It may be awkward in the beginning, and this may go on for years until you feel like the relationship is in the safe zone.
But when the recognition comes, when the appreciation comes – and I hope for most stepmoms it does – it feels extremely gratifying.
This lesson of love has a lot to do with what it feels like to nurture a child you didn’t give birth to or who came to know you when they were older.
The wave of love could come unexpectedly. It could show up in an excellent report card when your heart fills with pride, or in a school performance when you look at this child whom you have helped raise and support and feel that sense of joy and love for them.
It’s definitely a test of love to commit yourself to a stepchild. As your love grows your sense of being a protector and a teacher expands. You realize you care so deeply about what happens to this child whom you did not birth, and it’s a great milestone for a stepmother.
Without love, there is no pain. Once you love a child – yours or not – you’ve set the stage for sorrow. It’s going to come. It may come when your stepchild leaves to see their biological parent or says something that breaks your heart just a little. It may come when you try to discipline them and they rebel.
This is the standard sorrow that all parents go through. It comes with having children. Stepmoms are not exempt just because they are not a biological parent. In fact, often times, a stepmothers sorrow is overshadowed by the emotions and decisions of the biological parents.
As a stepmother, you are not immune to feeling that same sorrow when you see your stepchild in pain. Whether they have failed at something or they’re being bullied at school, it upsets you. It could even come from heartache they feel over their biological parents not being together. If you love them, it hurts you too.
It’s not overly talked about but stepmoms who are close to their stepchildren do miss them and think about them. They worry about them all the time. The lesson of sorrow really just comes with the lesson of love, because once you love a child, the natural pain associated with love will, at times, follow.
Learning to forgive is the most vital of lessons for a stepmom.
If you are a stepparent and cannot learn to forgive, then it’s going to be even more of a rocky road for you.
Forgiveness is just the ability to accept what someone has done that was either inappropriate or hurtful to you in some way and move on. This is second nature to any seasoned stepmom.
Stepchildren say mean things all the time. All children do at one point or another.
Stepparents tend to be the easy target for kids who are having a rough time with their home life or still angry that their parents are not together.
A lot of the time it’s just easier to say something nasty to stepmom or stepdad instead of venting to mom or dad.
To forgive your stepchild for their emotions or behavior is tough sometimes. Forgiving the biological mom or dad for inappropriate or careless behavior is another hard pill to swallow.
In the end, it’s imperative that the lesson of forgiveness is learned or the blended family unit will crumble.
I have learned to forgive. Maybe not fully understand or even like certain things, but I can forgive. I understand that sometimes decisions are made that may not be convenient for everyone, and I forgive the mistakes of the past. I forgive my stepchild for the moods, and the anger, and the confusion they suffer. I forgive, I learn, and I move on.
Michelle Zunter is a Canadian-turned-American living, loving, & writing in California. You can read Michelle’s lifestyle blogs about love, sex, relationships, marriage, divorce, parenting, step-parenting & much more at The Pondering Nook. You can also listen to Michelle co-hosting at The Broad’s Way Podcast discussing similar topics.