No matter where you are in your stepmom journey, you likely still have encounters that cause you annoyance, anger or resentment. Don’t despair. You aren’t alone! But simply having stepmom triggers does not mean that your family will suffer. Identifying your triggers and learning how best to respond can save you and your family some angst in the future.
1. “You’re Not My Mom!”
Nearly every stepparent has their own war wounds suffered from hearing this phrase, some repeatedly. It’s difficult to hear. Perhaps even more difficult to know how to respond. Usually these words are said in the heat of the moment but they can be formulated well in advance to hit you just where you are the most vulnerable. It can challenge your sense of place in your family and in your home. It may even cause you to question your decision to build a family with your partner.
Don’t respond hastily. Those words are meant to draw you into an argument, to provoke a response. Instead of engaging in adversarial language, share a rational response. Your goal is to build and to strengthen relationships in the family not to respond in an anger-charged environment.
2. Changing Plans Last Minute
If you are in a home where custody is shared you may find yourself making plans, changing plans and rescheduling again. For the umpteenth time. This can cause upheaval in your own plans.
If you have kids of your own, you know that changing plans is a side effect of being a parent. Period. It doesn't matter if you are a biological parent, foster parent, stepparent…kids do not run according to our time schedule.
However, if there are additional issues with the other home related to scheduling, your husband or partner needs to get involved in setting down parameters for what is and what is not acceptable. For instance, if you schedule date nights on Wednesdays, yet a child emergency arises on a Wednesday afternoon to change those plans, be flexible. If it happens repeatedly on a Wednesday night, you need to assess if there is an issue that needs to be dealt with in the custody agreement.
3. Feeling Invisible
Coming into an already formed family can feel lonely. You are the one who doesn’t get the jokes. You are the one who doesn’t know the backstory. You are the one who is not in those home videos.
You cannot erase the past. Your husband and his children have history that you do not share. But you can discuss with your husband how this makes you feel. Then find a way to create your own family memories. Nights sitting on bleachers watching basketball games, making school Valentine’s Day cards, taking vacations as a family, etc. will allow you to make your own memories. Soon, you will be part of the equation as you become more involved in family life.
4. The TEEN Years
A discussion related to the teen years could fill many, many books! And when that teen is your stepchild that brings with it an additional assortment of issues. Thankfully, we all have been there. We were all teenagers once upon a time. (Glad that’s over!) We understand the physical changes, the hormones, the growing pains. Teens are known for testing boundaries. It’s in their DNA!
As teens work to establish their own morals and values they are constantly pushing back. Don’t take it personally. More often than not, their actions and responses are not related to you. Their egocentric personalities ensure that you are not at the top of their agenda. Fight the urge to make their attitude about you. Talk with other parents and stepparents about the teen years. In all likelihood, you will learn that whether you are a parent or stepparent, you are all experiencing the same dilemmas.
5. Money Challenges
Money. That dreaded word. Alimony, child support, health insurance costs, life insurance costs, retirement benefits. It may seem never-ending. The appeals for more, more, more may have you not only in the red but seeing red!
Blended family finances are among the most reported issues in causing conflict in the family and the marriage/partnership. Whether you pool your money or keep it separate, you will find that some things work and some things don’t. Understand your monetary situation. Prepare a tentative budget.
However, don’t allow your family finance situation to be set in stone. Be in constant communication with your spouse or partner about your monetary commitments. Kids grow up, their needs change and so do yours.
What are your triggers? No matter what causes you to feel uncomfortable, lonely, vulnerable or just plain angry, remember that you are entitled to those feelings. Stepmoms experience trials and tribulations unique to their situation because of the unparalleled circumstances in which they find themselves. Focus on the best ways to deal with those feelings. Don’t stop communicating with your partner and the kids. Keep a long-range perspective and continue working towards realistic expectations of stepfamily life.