Imagine, if you will, that you work in a business where as part of the normal workflow you must work every other week at a different location. You pack up all your stuff – you might even need to put it in a large briefcase on wheels – and go to another desk in another building. Then, after a week, you pack it all back up and return where you were.
So far, so good. Actually, lots of people really do work in different locations and while it may be a nuisance, it’s workable.
In this story, however, you have different supervisors on these alternate weeks and they each have different expectations of you. Sometimes those expectations are made clear, and sometimes they seem to change all the time without notice. There’s a lot of chaos, especially at the start of each new work period. It’s hard to keep it all straight and you end up messing up a lot. You feel embarrassed when you make a mistake and often the supervisor gets angry. He or she expects you to be able to manage the constant change. It’s not fair, you think to yourself. The supervisors don’t have to change locations!
Now, you also have different tasks to accomplish in each place and a different team of co-workers. Sometimes you get along great with one team but not with the other. Sometimes your colleagues are downright mean, or even bullying. They are not people you would ever have chosen to work with if anyone had asked you. At best, they seem to compete with you for whatever recognition you need to advance in the company.
Very likely, there are nasty office politics at work. These two supervisors are constantly competing with each other for a bonus, a promotion or public approval. One or both of them can be counted on to throw you under the bus anytime something goes wrong. They each sabotage the work you do with the other’s team so that their own team can enjoy an advantage. You are made privy to trade secrets on both sides that you are not allowed to speak of even though it would help everyone get the results necessary to move the whole enterprise ahead.
Want to quit yet? Think again. This job is forever.
You feel like the whole crazy thing is somehow your own fault. If only you were more skilled, more creative, more resourceful, you could have landed a job in one of those businesses where people get to stay put in one place and just get their work done in peace. It seems like everyone else in the whole world works for a normal company like that. Nobody else’s job could possibly be as messed up as yours.
You pretend to like your work, but you feel crappy all the time. If you start to like the atmosphere at one location better than the other, you feel scared. The supervisors don’t like it when that happens, and things will only be worse for you if they find out. If you try to change the system so you can just stay in one place, you feel guilty because you know that half of your work is going undone and the rest of the other team are struggling without you.
The pressure at this job is unbelievable. If you get fired, you will never work anywhere again. There is no social safety net. It would be nothing less than total annihilation.
You try to keep calm but sometimes you just explode over nothing. Sometimes you just hate yourself and all the other workers, even though they have nothing to do with your problem. They all seem to think it’s normal to work like this. Before long, you have forgotten exactly what you are upset about.
OK, that’s the end of this story. Close your eyes for a moment and think about how this makes you feel. Go ahead, take your time.
Now, open your eyes. Look at your stepchild and tell me what you see. Did this shift your perspective just a little? I hope it goes without saying that this applies not only to children in a 50/50 custody situation but also to kids who visit on weekends or even less often.
As a stepmom, you are like the HR professional who has the unenviable job of supporting the little employee through a difficult situation. If you do your job well and gain his or her trust, the child might actually dump a lot of unhappy feelings on you because there is no other place to do that. Naturally, it hurts you when that happens because you are only trying to help. Sometimes you want to take on the task of changing the culture of the whole enterprise. It’s a terrible burden, and you can easily burn out or damage your relationship with your spouse. The best you can do is be a good listener and try to help the worker keep things straight.
Be conscious of helping the child to get the most out of his time with his/her parent, your spouse. Try to make your role one of helping them to enrich their connection. Try not to discipline except by enforcing rules that have already been laid out by his/her parent. It’s hard not to automatically or unconsciously impose your own parenting goals, so you’ll have to work on staying aware of those. When you play or do activities alone with the child, bring your spouse along in spirit by taking photos to share, by bringing something home to help make them a part of what you did together (rocks, sticks, pamphlets) or by turning craft projects into presents.
Although you feel the child’s hurt, remember to take care of yourself. You are not a punching bag, and you should alert the child if they start treating you as a stand-in for one of the bosses instead of as an ally who is trying to help. Practice self-care through mindfulness, meditation, prayer, journaling, counselling or anything else that feels recharging to the spirit. Stepparenting is really hard, often thankless work.
One day, you will get the recognition and appreciation you deserve. Maybe even a promotion.
Tracy Poizner is the mother of one and stepmom of three in Kitchener, Ontario. Somehow, she finds time to maintain a busy holistic medicine practice where she specializes in the natural treatment of behaviour problems in children. She is the moderator of a Facebook group for stepmoms called “The Spectacular Stepmom (Step Into Parenting With Confidence)”. Tracy blogs about parenting and natural wellness on her website at www.tracypoizner.com.