I am a mom of 3 girls but our oldest, Maddix, is my stepdaughter.
I knew from a young age that I wanted to get married, have kids and be a mom. But I don’t think anyone really says “gee, I can’t wait to be a stepmom!” I became a stepparent before I became a parent, and that’s not something you necessarily anticipate as you think about marriage and parenthood in the traditional sense. I didn’t grow up in a blended family so I didn’t have any first-hand experience.
A quick little background info on how I became a stepmom :
- Russ was never married. He found out he was going to be a father his last semester in college at ASU. I could not imagine how shocking that must have been for a 22 year-old young man trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life. In July 2005, he became a dad.
- I came along when Maddix was 15 months old – just as he had been awarded joint custody of her – and we were married when she was 3. I officially became a parent the day we got married.
- Maddix was our only child for 4 years before we had Reese. She was 10 when Paige was born.
- Up until about two years ago, we were 50/50 and had her every other week. Then we started having her here more with her going to her mom’s a night or two or on weekends when her grandparents were in town. Soon we are going to switch back to one week here, one week there.
- Her mom lives about 20 minutes away and Maddix has a half-sister on that side, too. She has three little sisters!
Thanks to Cinderella, many of ours and our children’s first cultural exposure to stepparents is a super negative one. I still cringe when the girls watch Cinderella or we read the book. My heart goes out to every stepmom out there when I hear or read that story. My girls now know that that stepmom was just a mean person regardless of her title. But I do remember Maddix saying to me when she was younger “Mika, I thought all stepmoms were evil but you’re not.”
A little disturbing? Yep.
Like it or not, there’s a certain stereotype and language out there that exists for “us.”
A while ago I mentioned being a stepmom in a post and I got a lot of questions and messages from other stepmoms that asked about what my experience has been like, or what tips I had, or they just wanted to say “me too, I’m a stepparent, too.” There is strength in numbers and sometimes you just need to feel like you belong somewhere. I know I felt that way; I didn’t have any friends that were stepparents. I remember in the early years, I looked up “stepmom groups” on Meetup.com or Googled what I could to find for answers or advice on how to “do” this role correctly. All it turned up were some chat-group threads of women complaining about their husband’s ex-wives and custody and child support battles. Luckily, we didn’t have that going on.
Stepparenting has in many ways been more challenging to me than parenting my biological kids. Russ and Maddix’s mom are not stepparents themselves, so sometimes I would feel like “But you guys just don’t underSTAND!” when I felt frustrated. I learned a lot from those struggles. I won’t get into too much detail because this is a current and ongoing relationship, and I want to respect the whole other side of Maddix’s family. We are, thankfully, able to all co-parent together with Maddix’s best interests at the center.
No two parenting experience is EVER the same – whether you’re raising your biological kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, or stepkids – or all of the above. But there can certainly be shared experiences in this thing called parenting, and lessons along the way to help “do life better.” Here’s what I have learned in my 9 years as a “stepmom” – and what I’m still learning to do better every day.
Lessons I’ve Learned as a Stepmom
How to bond with someone different than you.
When Reese and Paige were born, the bond was instant the moment they were placed on my bare chest. For Maddix, I had to create and cultivate that parental bond. On the outside, Maddix looks like a perfect mix of her mom and my husband. She and I share zero physical resemblances except for brown eyes. I think children take on some of our inner traits, too. That’s something that tugs at your heartstrings when you experience a child showing some part of themselves that you see in yourself. Whether it’s an interest, personality trait, an ability, a quirk, something. You say “that’s me!” And it makes you feel so proud. When you don’t see yourself but you just see two other people in them, it can make you take a step back in terms of bonding. It did for me. I wonder if this is something that adoptive or foster parents face, but I have struggled with it for sure. What I learned is that bonding can be a natural thing that happens instantly – or it can be something that you can work towards. You might bond immediately with that baby placed on your chest after birth – or some biological parents even struggle with bonding and I know mothers who have felt guilt with that. Even with friendships – you might bond immediately with a mom-friend you meet at the gym, or it might take a while to bond with a coworker until you find some common ground or learn to know and love them for who they are. But in either case, you CAN bond and it can be full and rewarding and complete. I CHOSE to bond with the child I made a vow to be a parent to (she was part of my wedding vows.) I seek to ask about her interests, I point out the things we DO share in common (music, humor, our family.) Focusing on strengthening our shared traits and remembering the role I have been called to serve in has helped me greatly in knowing that I was placed in this role for a reason.
Let words be words.
Words can really hurt! Right? Maddix has and still does at times refer to her mom as her “REAL mom” in conversations with others. While that used to bother me, I now realize it’s just a label – and one that a 12 year-old uses to help distinguish two women in her lives in the way she knows how. She isn’t meaning it to be hurtful. Or when I’ve taken her to the hospital and they’ve told me I couldn’t sign her papers because I wasn’t her “real” mom. It made me really mad (HI, I have a sick child here!) but they’re just following legal protocol. What I learned is to think twice before taking hurtful words from anyone personally – that other person may not be using it to be hurtful. Let it roll off your back. It can save a lot of wasted energy and remove negativity. Similarly, I need to think twice about MY choice of words because they could hurt someone unintentionally. And don’t label people. That’s for organizing bins and baskets, right? 🙂
Give love endlessly – or they will look for it elsewhere.
I had a wonderful business coach, Dena Patton, and actually one of the biggest thing we worked on was my role as a stepmom. One thing I will never forget is her pointing out that I have been given a massive role as a mom of girls, regardless of how they came into my life, and that if I don’t provide all the love they need to feel secure – they will look for it elsewhere. READ: in boys, in bad relationships, in places you don’t want them looking for love. That was a wakeup call to me, and actually made me weep when she told me that. What a HUGE responsibility we have to ensure our daughters are loved beyond measure. What I learned is to enfuse these girls’ lives with love in every way I can, and give them the opportunity to know God’s love for them so that they can go out into the world as young women confident and secure.
Let it go.
The difference in raising Maddix vs. Reese and Paige is that we let her go somewhere else to be raised on a regular basis. To my Type-A personality (and really, I think all parents could relate to this regardless of your temperament) this was a great source of anxiety and frustration. I could not control what happened when she left. But Guess what? YOU CAN NEVER CONTROL EVERYTHING. Ever. The delicate balance of this co-parenting dynamic is what Russ and I have been at the center of our earlier disagreements more than anything else. But what I learned is to LET IT GO. Be the best mom you can be when she’s here, and send her off with joy and peace wishing her to have a great time over at her mom’s. This can be applied to your child’s school day (you cannot control everything that happens there) or your child’s desires and goals as they get older (nope, definitely can’t control that, either.) What you DO have control over is your response and how you handle matters as they come, and that has been a huge learning experience for me.
Want to know an irrational fear of mine? I fear of raising a Drizella and Anastasia (the “evil stepsisters”) and Maddix feeling like she’s Cinderella. When she does chores I have thought “AHHHHHH! AM I THE EVIL STEPMOM??”
But then I come to my senses and realize Maddix is my daughter, just like my younger two. She will do chores to learn personal responsibility and I will enforce rules to create safe boundaries for her as she grows. I pray for her to love living her life and pray she will endure harships in her life with grace and someday become a mother herself (if she wants to. So far, she says she feels like she wants to adopt.)
I never expected to be a stepmom. But I cannot imagine my life any other way.
Maddix : you know how to read and find my blog posts. So someday when you do find this one, know that you are so important to our family and I love you very, very much. More than you know.
And so do your crazy sisters.
“Pika” (what she used to call me when she was little)