Q – I recently married a man who has children. I have never had kids of my own and am struggling with this new role. Even though I try really hard to be the best step parent I can be, his ex-wife criticizes everything I do. Several times I’ve turned myself inside out to get along or help out and nothing changes. I know all this is hard on the kids yet when they don’t acknowledge my efforts I usually get my feelings hurt. Sometimes I feel like even my own husband isn’t on my side. Any suggestions on how to get past feeling frustrated and upset?
A – Entering into a relationship that involves children from a previous marriage has it’s own unique challenges, especially if you’ve never had kids of your own. As a woman becoming a bonus mom ( aka step mom), expect that no matter how skilled you think you are you won’t have credibility in the parenting world until you’ve paid your dues. Often decisions will be made that greatly impact your life without your input. Your judgment will probably be called into question. At times, you may even find yourself wrestling with guilt for feeling like your life has been hijacked or struggling with occasional pangs of jealousy over having to share your husband. Rest assured you’re not alone and feeling frustrated is normal. Take it heart, over time things usually get better. While growing into a family isn’t easy, in the beginning stages there are things you can do on the front end to shorten your learning curve.
Realize you don’t have to be perfect.
Despite your best efforts you cannot be everything to everyone. As a bonus mom you may feel pressured to keep your newly formed family humming along flawlessly. Keep in mind even biological parents don’t get it right every time and neither will you. Do yourself a favor, ditch the Wonder Woman outfit and cut yourself some slack. You’ve never done this before. Expect to make mistakes. On the upside, while you’re working out the kinks you’ll probably discover some skills you never knew you had.
You don’t have to go it alone.
The value of a good support system outside of your marriage is immeasurable. While you may have a great relationship with your husband, avoid the pitfall of making him your only sounding board when you’re feeling frustrated. Whether you read books, get together for coffee with the girls, join an online chat group for bonus moms or peruse blogs that offer support, connect with other women who are parenting kids they didn’t birth.
Get on the same page.
While there can be benefits to the philosophy “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” second marriages typically endure more stressors. If you haven’t already, make time to talk with your husband about child rearing philosophies. Take it from one who has been there, in the long run it pays big dividends. Be sure to discuss issues like how you will handle holidays, managing finances, relationships with ex’s, each of your roles regarding discipline, how family decisions will be made, the possibility of new additions to the family and most importantly, how you will make time for yourselves as a couple.
Have a “no stings attached” attitude.
If you choose to do something for your bonus kids, do it without expectation or hope of acknowledgement. As you’ve already discovered, the chances of your husband’s ex nominating you for “Bonus Mom of the Year” because you drove two hours across town to take your bonus kids to a birthday party, are slim. From her point of view, she does it all the time. What’s the big deal? Likewise don’t feel crestfallen when your bonus kids don’t thank you for turning yourself inside out to be at their school play. In their minds, the fact that they wanted you there probably speaks for itself.
When it comes to parenting children you didn’t birth there are no hard and fast rules and every situation is unique. While you may not all share the same histories over time you will develop your own special quirks, traditions and shared stories.
* SIDE NOTE: By definition the word “bonus” means something that is an added benefit or an addition to what is expected. In my own family as my relationship grew and changed with my husband’s children, “step” language just didn’t work for us. We now do our best to avoid using the words like stepmom/stepchildren and instead use bonus language to describe who we are in each other’s lives.
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