Fairy tales and movies haven’t painted stepmothers in the best of light but there are ways to sidestep those stereotypes
*Cecelia, 32 knew that her husband was divorced and had one child, aged 8, from his previous marriage. The child’s biological mother and Cecelia’s husband decided on joint custody in order for the child to have full parental support. Cecelia met the child and tried to establish a relationship but the boy was not happy to begin a relationship with her. Now, Cecelia feels frustrated and sad because she sincerely wants to be a good stepmother to the boy.
Cecelia is one of many stepmothers who feel disconnected from their stepchildren. Cecelia wants to be a part of her stepchild’s life but she feels like an outsider. Her husband doesn’t seem to be aware of her feelings. There are many reasons as to why Cecelia and other stepmothers may feel this way. Here are some ways that can help with the stepmother-stepchild relationship.
#1: Realise reality
The most important thing is to realise that you just aren’t the child’s birth mother. This even applies to children who barely communicate or see their biological mum. Even if the child calls you ‘mum’, this doesn’t give you the same privileges and rights that their birth mother has. If your husband and his ex-wife are co-parenting the child, stay out of any issues they might have to prevent any friction between yourself and your stepchild. However, this doesn’t mean that a stepmother can’t have a meaningful, loving and beautiful relationship with her stepchild. It just needs to be known that a stepmother-stepchild relationship won’t be the same as a birth mother and child relationship.
#2: Silence is golden
It’s understandable that you’d want to complain about maybe your husband’s ex-wife, or even the stepchildren acting up but it’s best to keep it either to yourself, a very close, trusted friend or even better, a counsellor or therapist. The worst thing to do is to vent on your problems on social media where the ex-wife or stepchild may stumble upon it. A divorce is definitely not a walk in the park. It is a legal dissolution of what was supposed to be a lifelong union between two people. Your comments may add to the hurt that the family is trying to deal with.
#3: Speak to an expert
You might not think you need one but seeing a counsellor or therapist could change how you see your relationship with your stepchild. Going to see a counsellor could help make sense of your feelings and the counsellor will be able to advise you on the next step. If you’re the type to bottle up your feelings and then beat yourself up about how you think you’re a terrible stepmum, do see a counsellor. What you’re feeling may be absolutely normal and you won’t feel like you’re all alone with someone to confide in.
#4: It takes two to tango
When you’re having issues with your stepchildren or even your own children, make sure that your husband is fully aware of the situation. Talk about your marriage, your feelings, even your misgivings about being a good mother to your stepchild. If you find that both your husband and yourself are butting heads when it comes to raising the children, aim to pinpoint the cause and try to work it out. If you find that your relationship with your husband is starting to sour, see a marriage counsellor immediately. Protecting your marriage and ensuring that your relationship is strong, sets a good example for your stepchildren in the future.
#5: Whoa there!
Are you being super gung-ho about being a great mum but finding that your stepchildren are pulling away? Are you trying your best to win their affections but feeling rejected? You might need to take a step back. Be physically and emotionally available when your stepchildren need and want you to be but when it comes to the big parenting decisions, it’s best to become a behind-the-scenes supporter to your husband.
#6: Don’t compare
Comparing yourself to other stepmums will just make you miserable. Hearing other step mums say, “They think I’m their real mum!” may make you feel even worse. Everyone’s family works differently and everyone has different baggage. Changes in living conditions, fluctuations in economic circumstances and divided loyalties are among the factors that could upset a child. A stepchild may not be able to accept a new family member. Go at your own pace and try to be as present but if the child needs space, give them space.
#7: You’re not #1 anymore
Your husband remarried with the responsibility of being a parent and the child should be the priority. Respect this and do not ever ask him to choose between you and his child. Encourage them to spend quality time together. If you’re invited, do go join in but if you’re not invited, don’t take it personally.
#8: Grow thicker skin
If your stepchild misbehaves or accidentally says something to hurt your feelings, think of it as water off a duck’s back. Be patient and put yourself in their shoes. A stranger has stepped into their lives and is now married to their dad so there probably is a certain amount of resentment there. Learn to forgive and let go of the negativity that would only impede a relationship under construction. However, if the child intentionally says cruel things or tries to physically hurt you, it’s best to talk to your husband about it and let him handle the disciplining.
#9: Don’t be a doormat
Letting your stepchildren walk all over you will not make them love you more. They know that you’re desperate to be accepted by them and may try to take advantage of this desire. If you’re unsure of what to do when they request for something, there’s no shame in asking what your husband would do.
In a nutshell, it isn’t easy being a stepmother and the fairy tales we’ve all read don’t do anything to help the situation! Try your best to be the best stepmother you can be and if you feel overwhelmed, it’s perfectly alright to seek help in the form of counselling or therapy.