Of all the blog posts I have written, this may be one of the toughest. You see, just like raising a teen, raising a stepchild is like going on a journey with no roadmap. I’ve learned many things from being a stepmom. The greatest thing that I have come to recognize is there is no “right way”.
I have been a stepmom to my beautiful daughter Emily for the last 10 years. So it was only fitting that I consult her on this journey to sharing our experience. We talked about the things that made our relationship strong, the times that were difficult, and what we had learned from each other over the years. We even talked about her friends and their relationships with their stepmoms. And as she describes, very few of them are positive, which made us both really sad.
Quite frankly I hate the word stepmom. To me, it carries a negative connotation that paints a picture of an evil mother figure who swoops in, steals the dad, and ruins everyone’s lives. Not saying that there aren’t those kind of stepmoms. In my family, we like to use the word “bonus”. To Emily, I am her bonus mom, and she is my bonus child. Our road hasn’t always been easy but we sure have learned a lot along the way. So while I can’t provide a roadmap to those of you in blended families, I can share what I have learned from being a stepmom.
I was all in
When I met my husband Ryan, I fell hard. I had found a man who was kind, compassionate, and funny. He basically embodied everything I had ever hoped for in a partner. But I knew that the incredible package also included one very precious piece of cargo. A precious little 4 year old named Emily. From the very moment that I entered into a relationship with her dad, I knew that if I was all in with Ryan, I had to be all in with Emily.
Because, as much of a part as I am in Ryan’s life, Emily occupies that space as well. I’ve always looked at Ryan as something that Emily and I both get to treasure, rather than pushing her aside so that I can have more of the space in his heart. In fact, I know that sometimes I am going to have less. And I am ok with that. Because having a husband who is wholly committed to his child has become a highlight in my love for him and not a hindrance.
I don’t compare our family to other families
Our walk as a blended family hasn’t always been easy. While I may not share the specific details of our journey, I can shed light on the fact that what works for one family doesn’t always work for other families. I used to read facebook posts from people sharing their personal experiences about being a stepparent. They would preach about how if you loved your stepchild, then you would do anything to make sure that both families got along. My heart would break when I reflected on our tough moments. I would feel like I had somehow failed if there was tension.
Over the last 10 years as a stepmom, I have learned that comparison is the thief of joy. Staring longingly at other pictures of perfection does nothing to alter your own reality, it only steals the joy from the good moments.
I think that families with multiple parents who get along splendidly and sit together at sporting events laughing and cheering along for their shared children is a beautiful thing. I don’t think anyone becomes a stepparent and thinks to themselves “gosh I can’t wait for co-parenting to be awkward and filled with tension”. But the truth of the matter is that perfect peace isn’t always an option for every family. And what’s best for the child isn’t always faking the happily cheering family at the sporting events.
Share a Common Goal
If you find yourself in this position, my best advice is to keep your eyes on one common goal, making the child the emphasis in your efforts. It is perfectly possible to raise a healthy bonus child without a close relationship with their biological parent; as long as you keep the focus on them. I know because I am doing just that.
I wish I could sit here and tell you I have been the perfect stepmom and never once let my frustration or anger get the best of me through my words. Because I haven’t. But what I have tried to do is recognize those moments and make amends for them, especially to my daughter.
I try to guide our conversations into the positive and keep personal frustrations to myself. It is certainly easier said than done at times but I know that my hurtful words will not build my relationship with my daughter, it will only slowly break it down.
Remember that I am a bonus, not a replacement
There is no greater bond than that of a mother and a child. I wish that I could bottle the feeling up and share it with people because it is the very essence of pure joy. But what I have found is that I can love my daughter with the very depths of my soul, but I will never be a replacement for her mother.
As stepparents, we are called to love these bonus kids with our whole heart, just as strongly as if they were our biological child, even if that love isn’t returned fully. And I am finally in a place where I understand that. There is a quote that reads,
“I did not give you the gift of life, life gave me the gift of you.”
While the original quote was intended for adopted children, it certainly embodies what I feel. And that is what I choose to focus on; the incredible gift that I have been given through Emily, even in the hardest of times.
She is bright and witty and makes me laugh every day. She’s the best big sister to her younger siblings who think the sun rises and sets with her. Em is quirky and unique in a way that will serve her well in life. She is the strongest and bravest girl I have ever met in my life. As stepparents, try to focus on the things about your bonus kids that you love and adore.
Find things we have in common
I will admit that as a bonus mom, I had a leg up in developing an amazing and strong relationship with my bonus daughter. Having started dating her dad when she was 4, Emily will tell you that she has no memory of me not being in her life.
Em is a beautifully well-rounded teen who is the perfect balance of a girl who goes from riding dirt bikes through the desert to spending hours on her hair and makeup. What I have tried to do over the years is to find common interests that we share, while also investing time into learning about her hobbies that may differ from my own interests.
Are dirt bikes my thing? Not really. But I love to watch the joy in her face as she describes her latest dirt bike trip. I know that in time, we will go outside and play volleyball or talk about the things we have in common. But it’s my recognition of ALL the things she loves that makes her more inclined to do the things that we both love.
Be assertive and consistent in discipline, but not extreme
If you asked Em if I was a “mean mom”, she would correct you by saying “not mean, tough”. It’s a word that I have come to earn through years of being consistent with my word. Balancing discipline with a stepchild is difficult if both sets of parents have different approaches. It can also become more difficult if you and your spouse have biological children together. Because while they may never admit it, you must be mindful that your stepchild may recognize that they are the odd man out when it comes to families bound by blood.
In our family, I have always tried to make discipline fair. I do not punish her for frustrations I may have with her biological parent because all that does it drive a wedge between us. I try to make my discipline consistent among all three of my kids and ensure that the consequences reflect the action and that I am consistent with my words.
The greatest lesson of all
Of all the things I have experienced, the greatest lesson I have learned from being a stepmom is that she is a gift. A bonus. An added extra to an amazing relationship with her dad.
I wake up every day trying to be a better mom to my three kids. Not my two kids and my stepdaughter, my three kids. I will love my bonus daughter through the good and the bad, through the highs and the lows because I believe that one day when she is grown with babies of her own, she will look back and remember that love.
To my sweet Emily,
My life truly began when I met your dad. One of my greatest joys has been found in helping to raise you. You are a bright light that shines on our family and I will forever be grateful that God gave me the greatest bonus gift of all. You.
Megan Rix is a former at-risk high school English teacher turned stay at home mama, lifestyle blogger, and entrepreneur. After leaving the classroom to focus on being a mama, she needed a place to document the life of her very strong-willed child and what she realized along the way were all the things in her life that “anchored” her. A love for food, beauty, family, and giving back to others helped shape the blog as it looks today. Follow her on Instagram @thisanchoredlife and her blog site www.thisanchoredlife.com.