Did you ever think you’d experience a life where you can go from crying to laughing and vice versa all in the same minute? Just one short year ago, I sure didn’t. But that was before I became a new stepmom.
This year on Cinco de Mayo, I explained to my stepdaughter during dinner what the day commemorates for those from Mexico, and during this speech, she cried that she hated tacos while scarfing one down, then almost choked on said taco because she was laughing so hard at the dog. If I had never gotten married, I’d probably be somewhere pounding margaritas, oblivious to everything but the fact that my rim needed extra salt.
Lots of us knew we wanted to be parents someday, but I bet before we fell in love with our spouse, we never expected to snap our fingers and have an instant family and all the highs and lows that come along with it. Dealing with exes, wiping noses, dodging parenting disagreements, setting boundaries, you name it, no one prepares you for it. There’s no rule book because no two families are the same. But as I look back on the last year, I’ve learned so much that I wish I had known before I took on this important, fulfilling, challenging role.
As I reflect back on my first year as a new stepmom, I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you in the hope that it helps you in your parenting journey, whether you’ve just embarked on it or have been trekking for quite some time and just need some reminders!
Don’t sweat the small parenting differences.
The big ones, those core parenting ideals, are super duper important. You know the ones, like what holidays to celebrate, what religious environment to raise your kiddos in (if any), whether you spank or not, etc. Those foundational values and mindsets are kind of pivotal to a child’s upbringing and should probably be consistent between both you and your partner, and you two as a team and your child’s other house.
The other little stuff though? You gotta let that sh*t go, girl. Your stepchild bathes in the morning at your house, but in the evening at the other one? Who cares. Kiddo gets dessert in those packed lunches at Mama’s and has to wait for after school with you? No big deal. Those minor parenting differences might feel bad in the moment because you feel like your way is the right way, but in the long run, it just isn’t worth the fight. Your stepkids will learn those little differences for each house, and as long as they’re being treated as the priority and being built up and supported in both homes, I promise they (and you) will be just fine. Repeat after me: choose your damn battles.
It’s okay to put yourself first!
When I first began to get heavily involved in my stepdaughter’s life, after my wife and I had been dating for a while, I felt like I had to be in supporting partner and parent mode all the time. If Mia was with us, I made sure to be present. I didn’t want to let either of them down or make them think they weren’t my priority, so I’d avoid committing to anything else. I think I also felt a little bit left out if I missed a single thing.
I finally realized that no one expected all of this from me but, well, me. And that I wasn’t going to be less of a family member or have less of a bond with Mia if I wasn’t sitting by the tub for her bath or taking a turn reading stories every single night. It’s healthy and necessary for me to still do some of the things I loved before I became a stepmom, whether it’s just painting my nails and watching Netflix or going out to have a drink with a friend. Do it, and don’t feel bad about it.
There’s no rule book because no two families are the same.
Being a stepmom is HARD, and it’s ok to admit it.
Seriously. Parenting is a crap shoot, a sh*t show, a total circus. It’s okay to hate being a stepmom sometimes and love it others. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your family or regret being a parent and a spouse. Sometimes, we stepmoms feel like we have to be happy all the time. We’re not always given the room to be frustrated with things, because then it’s assumed that we wish we hadn’t decided to be a stepmom at all.
The truth is, being a stepmom is one of the hardest things a person can ever do. We fall in love with a person, and in turn, agree to love a child (or more than one child) who is not ours. We also agree to share the hearts and minds of our partner with their ex. Forever. Yep. That one ex of yours that your partner hates to hear or think about? They don’t have to! But you do, you have to share your family with that ex always, and it’s not easy or for just anyone. So, if you’re a stepmom, take a minute and pat yourself on your damn back, because you’re a rockstar.
Try not to take things personally.
This one is incredibly hard, and I still haven’t mastered it. After a whole year of being a stepmom, and almost three years of being in my stepdaughter’s life, I still get offended by things I shouldn’t. I still overanalyze, and I still get paranoid. It’s nearly impossible not to. However, one huge lesson I try to get better at mastering every day is not to take so much to heart.
When I volunteered to put my stepdaughter to bed and she would say she didn’t want me, I used to cry. Now, I remember that she doesn’t get to see her Mommy every day, and that’s it’s nothing against me even though I miss her so much when she isn’t here. And of course she misses me too, but she really misses her Mommy, and that’s totally ok!
I also used to be a total disaster every time I had to talk to or see my wife’s ex. Sometimes she treats me wonderfully, like I’m an equal and even a friend, but sometimes not so much. I used to come home and fall apart into a blubbering mess when the latter happened, wondering why she hated me when I do so much. Sometimes it still irks me, but mostly I try to remember that we’re both human beings who are allowed to be in bad moods about all sorts of things. I guarantee I don’t have a smile on my face every time I see her. The biggest takeaway here is to channel your inner Taylor Swift and shake it off.
Be flexible and start your own traditions.
Holidays in a blended family can be daunting endeavors, so say the least. Coordinating schedules, extended family, swapping houses, and all the rest with multiple houses is stressful and the source of lots of tension. The key to creating harmony during the holidays is to be flexible. If at all possible we accommodate the needs of family members coming in from out of town, regardless of what the custody schedule says. In my experience when you give a little, you get a little back too.
Regardless of the way you were used to spending Christmas, or whatever your favorite holiday maybe, you have to be open to creating new traditions with your new chosen family. Have to miss you grandma’s yearly dinner because it’s during exchange time? Start a new yearly Christmas brunch! Be open to new beginnings, and create consistency for your new unit. You’ll be happy in the end that you did.
Whether you’re a brand new stepmom, or you’ve been momming hard for a while now, what lessons have you learned? Share in the comments below!
Beth is one of three moms raising one fun, feisty little redhead. Over at the Babbling Blonde, she provides support and inspiration to women in nontraditional families, from stepmoms to LGBTQ parents. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Download her free guide of 7 strategies for becoming stepmom strong here.