A stepmother shares her experiences and advice
BY KAREN L. RANCOURT, PH.D.
A stepmother explains why she feels positive about her role:
When I met my husband, I learned he had been married before and had full custody of his four-year-old son, who was the love of his life. He was a wonderful dad and excelled in that role. His extended family consisted of his father, stepmother, two sisters, and one brother.
I had never been married or had any experience with raising children. However, I was raised by a very kind, thoughtful, and loving mother. She instilled in me the value of family and the importance of a strong moral background. I felt comfortable moving forward.
As our relationship progressed, I spent a considerable amount of quality time having open and easy-flowing conversations with my husband’s family and friends. These interactions helped me to understand the dynamics of his family. They were all very welcoming and I’m happy to say, it wasn’t long before I felt accepted.
From the beginning, my husband and I have enjoyed an open and supportive dialogue on parenting techniques. Whenever a disciplinary situation occurred, we used the “united front” approach. We tried to remain fair and consistent with expectations as we supported and learned from each other.
We did attend a few parenting classes and sought advice from a friend who is a child-rearing professional. As the saying goes, “It takes a village”.
My stepson’s biological mother had visitation rights which she exercised during the summer months and holiday time. I was very sensitive to the fact that I would be my stepson’s full-time mom. I took this role very seriously and always tried to put my stepson’s well-being first.
Fortunately, the relationship between all of us – that is, between my stepson’s biological mom and her husband and us – was always cordial, flexible, and respectful. However, we did face a couple of challenges. For example, there were few or no rules when my stepson spent summer vacations with his mom and stepdad: gifts were plentiful; the word “no” didn’t exist.
It was difficult at times for our son to transition back to a routine with a proper schedule and reasonable expectations after these visits. Patience and perseverance were the keys to our success.
I feel good about my role as a stepmother. I believe that exercising listening skills, remaining open to feedback, and keeping a positive unselfish attitude have helped me through this journey.
It is my hope that using these approaches can help other stepparents have more peaceful and satisfying relationships with their children.
Dr. Gramma Karen’s Response
I thank this stepmom for sharing her experiences. I want to call out four points she makes that has helped her feel successful in her role as a stepmother – actions that are replicable by other stepparents:
- She invested time in getting to know her husband’s family and friends. “These interactions helped me to understand the dynamics of his family.” This strategy also indicates to the extended family that the new stepmom wants to fit in, not upset the apple cart.
- She and her husband attended parenting classes and sought advice from other parenting experts. Related to this, another avenue is to approach parents who have what you consider to be great kids and ask them to share with you their parenting do’s and don’ts. Ask them what books, websites, and other resources they have found useful. Ask them in what ways their parenting practices have changed through the years.
- She and her husband cultivated a relationship with her stepson’s biological mom and her husband that “was always cordial, flexible, and respectful.” This can be difficult to pull off, especially if the divorce was contentious, but keeping in mind what is best for the children involved can help. Also, remembering that squabbling parents and stepparents can be devastating to kids can help keep things on an even keel.
- She and her husband appreciated the difficulties their son faced when transitioning from his mom’s and stepfather’s less structured environment back into his stepmom’s and father’s more structured home. “Patience and perseverance were the key to our success.”
This period of children transitioning from a less structured to a more-structured household can be particularly challenging: it can be a situation where the parents in a more-structured household run into pushback. The tendency is for a child to think having fewer rules and defined boundaries is preferable to having more.
When parents/stepparents are told by a child, “I like so-and-so better because they let me do what I want to do,” they must simply hold the line and say, “We appreciate that different people have different rules. When you’re here with us, we go by our rules.”
If the areas of discord involve health issues, such as sleep and eating, consider letting a child’s pediatrician explain why requiring a certain number of hours of sleep, or why limiting eating certain foods is the way to go. Kids can sometimes accept restrictions easier from an outside expert than they can from their parents and stepparents. Patience and perseverance indeed!
I close by sharing a comment from another reader:
When my father married my stepmother, I was 11 years old, and just horrible towards her. I would tell her that I loved my real mom and that I hated her. She would always calmly say something like, “Your mom is great, and I can see why you love her.” Or I would yell at her, “I will never call you ‘Mom.’” She would calmly say, “You can call me whatever feels right to you.”
She was always kind and patient with me, and I came to love and adore her. Over time she proved to be a better mother to me than my biological mother. I did eventually call her “Mom.” I miss her every day.
Here are two stepparent support groups that may be of interest.