When Mother’s Day approaches, we tend to remember all the wonderful things about our mothers. And so we should, mothers deserve it, after all, they’ve been there for us, they’ve taught us all we know, they’ve shared good and bad moments with us… but sometimes, it’s not the mother who has done all that. Sometimes it’s the stepmother.
Being a stepmother is an uphill battle. In fairy tales, literature and television, stepmothers are portrayed as cruel, selfish, unfair and usually insane. I mean when someone says stepmother, who doesn’t think of Cinderella’s evil stepmother or Snow White’s even more evil stepmother? But life is rarely as black and white as it is in fairy tales. The life of a stepmother (and especially a young stepmother) is definitely not so sharply defined. It’s filled with frustration, love and a kind of pain that most people don’t realize exists.
We enter into all major relationships; friendship, marriage, motherhood; with no real clue of where we are going. We carry maps we believe are true like our own parent’s relationship, what it says in the baby book, the landscape of our own childhood. These maps are approximate at best, dangerously misleading at worst. The map of step parenting is one of the worst, because it is based on a deception. The deception is that you will be the new mother.
Although you may be the one taking care of the children, the one who knows their habits and preferences, the one who tends to their every need, it does not entitle you to erase the natural parent from your step children’s life. Don’t ever try to, or even believe that you can take the place of the natural parent, that would be ridiculous. They already have a mother, and she’s not you, and no matter how deserving or undeserving the stepmother is, she will never actually BE the real mother.
It is important for the children’s sake to keep a good relationship with the natural mother (when possible of course). Even though you have a very important role in raising those children, especially if they live under your roof, the natural parent has a right to participate in the process too. I won’t go as far as to ask you to be best friends, but regular feedback about the child’s school, activities, health, etc… is a must. The natural parent must feel welcome to call the children anytime, but that doesn’t mean that they should interfere in your personal life with your spouse, striking that balance is one of the challenges.
When you accept to marry a person who has children you have to understand the responsibilities you have towards those children, as well as your limits of authority. Instead of pressuring your spouse and nagging about the ex-wife’s calls, handle them yourself and make the relationship directly with you. If you have a comment to make about the natural parent, needless to say it shouldn’t be in front of the children, it is not their fault whatever happened. No matter what, try to always be fair to the children.
Being a stepmother myself, I have to admit I am very lucky that my children don’t see me in an evil light. Yes, I mean my stepchildren, but I don’t believe in calling them that. When you marry someone, his parents become your in-laws. So why would his children be stepchildren and not in-children? My children and I managed to develop a new kind of relationship: A sort of friendship but in a family frame.
Being a step parent is the hardest thing I have ever done. And what rewards there are, are small. No one pats me on the head or says well done. . Becoming a stepmother redefined who I am, and nothing I did could resist that redefining. I suppose motherhood redefines who you are, too. But at least when you’re the natural mother, there’s that one day in the year where people remember you; when is there going to be a stepmother’s day?