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Peace, Love & Understanding

I have heard from a number of bonus/step mothers lately who are continuing to have difficulty even getting along with their spouse’s children. They feel resentful, put-upon and exhausted. They sound like a broken Rodney Dangerfield record…they get no respect.

Ladies, Walt Disney did us no favors. The idea of the wicked stepmother that he created so long ago still persists in society. Children often enter the stepfamily with these misconceptions. How do we overcome the misconceptions? How do we share with our “children” that we love and care for them? If they knew, would it make a difference in the relationship?

Some of us have the goal of merely surviving, i.e. outwit, outplay, outlast. Others attempt perfection. In reality, few of us are living authenticly and and finding joy in the bonus/step mom role. But for now, I want to speak to those who have attempted or are attempting the “perfection” model. In their heads, they are constantly under assault by their own psyche. –”I want them to like me. I want them to love me. I want to show them how great family life can be.” Friends, living under the pressure of pleasing people, albeit little people, is exhausting. Take my word for it. Perfection is unattainable.

I’ve shared with many of you that my early days of stepmotherhood were filled with exhaustion and resentment. My stepchildren had not had the privilege of a happy home and I wanted to do all that I could to create it for them. However, it’s not possible to create happiness for other people. You can try and keep trying. Happiness is a choice that must be made individually. Moreover, it’s not possible to to make people–especially children, love you, or even like you, for that matter. You cannot repair the lives of your bonus/step children. Even if you could, it may not result in feelings of love for you. Time will allow the child to see how much your spouse loves you, how happy you make him and how much more worthwhile life is in a secure and loving environment.

Now down to the nuts and bolts. Let’s be clear…as a bonus/step mother, your first priority is your marriage. You married him because you love him and want to share a life with him. Of course, it makes perfect sense that your spouse wants you to create a healthy relationship with his children. After all, they are an extension of him. To create that healthy relationship, you must start with providing a stable and secure home life. In essence, ensure that your marriage is intact. It is the best thing that you can do for your children or bonus/step children. So, let me say it again because it bears repeating….PRIORITIZE THE MARRIAGE.

Secondly, embrace the notion of respect–not love. Instant love is a myth. However, respect is a way of life. It must be practiced in all walks of life and there is no better place to teach it than at home. There’s an adage that goes something like this, “To train a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself every once in a while.” Practice what you preach. You want your bonus/step child to learn respect, show it. Respect in the home is a step that creates understanding which in turn promotes peace. Peace and harmony are a great starting point for a loving relationship. Relationship with the children? Respect. Relationship with the bio-mom? Respect. Let it be known that in your home, respect is the only way no matter the person or the situation.

Taking those initial two steps may sound easy, but in reality, life gets in the way. Emotions get in the way. But you must keep these two ideas front and center EVERY DAY. They are the basic blocks upon which you will build as you progress as a stepfamily.

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