My experience was a bit different from many smoms – we didn’t have custody, my stepdaughters were almost both teenagers when I came in to their lives, and they had had a Stepmom before me, so they were comfortable with having another woman in their life besides their mom. They liked me, I think, pretty much from the get go, so I had no trouble with the kids acting out for me. Also, their BM was accepting and kind toward me right from the start, and we can all have family dinners together and attend events together with absolutely zero animosity. Still, here are a few things I learned:
1. Don’t go overboard at the beginning trying to get the kids to like you. I was planning all kinds of activities, etc for the weekends they would come over. After a while, I just couldn’t keep it up anymore, especially when I moved into a resentful stage with the kids. It was probably confusing to them when I stopped giving so much. Better for everyone involved to take a balanced approach.
2. Don’t take any big road trips for the first while! We were silly enough to take a 2 week road trip within a few months of DH and I being together. We weren’t even officially living together yet! I have wonderful, wonderful memories of that trip, but it also contributed to some of the worst fights/memories as well. Being in a car with 3 family members while you’re still kind of the odd one out is not a good situation. Not to mention different ideas about travelling. It definitely contributed to me feeling alienated from their little family of 3.
3. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t love or even like your stepkids. I love my stepkids, but I don’t always like them. I’ve had different times when I’ve found either one very difficult to be around as they really push certain buttons for me. DH has often commented that he wished I would “say I missed the stepkids” or that I made them a bigger priority. Without meaning to, he made my guilt worse for how I quite literally prefer to have it just me and him. I finally stopped beating myself up for that when I realized that a) the stepkids aren’t mine and they might not even wind up being people I would want to associate with other than because of DH and b) bio parents are allowed to dislike their kids at times because there is no question of unconditional love. smoms are sometimes held to a different standard.
4. The “not my kid, not my problem” mantra that I heard once on the board was a saving grace. In my situation it worked because I wasn’t really attempting to parent my stepkids (they were old enough not to need it, in many ways). Did they do things that irritated me? Did their mom allow them to do things I didn’t like? Yes, absolutely. But even my DH had distanced himself from the ability to make parenting decisions to a degree – having them only every other week negated a lot of the work he tried to do. And BM was of course able to make most of the decisions anyway. Being able to give up responsibility for how the stepkids turned out was a relief to me.
5. Next time I wouldn’t go to such lengths to avoid the smom the girls had before me. I haven’t really spoken to her since DH and I got together, and now I dread running into her at things like graduations, family events, weddings, etc. She is still good friends with BM and hangs out with the girls on occasion (which I’m happy for), so now I’m finding myself spending too much time stressing about that awkward first meeting. For some smoms, this may be the same situation with the BM. Just do the meeting, smile, be civil, and get it over with. I wish I’d done that.
6. Don’t think everything is going to change when the kids are grown up. This was my naive thought. I didn’t consider things like weddings, grandchildren, college, etc. stepkids are a lifelong commitment, and aren’t going to go away when the child support stops.
7. On the topic of child support, I found that I treated it right from the start as a family expense, or a bill. I’ve never had any resentment toward paying it, and although DH and I pool our money, realistically there are months when it was paid out of my cheque (DH is self employed and his income goes up and down). This never bothered me because of my attitude toward it. This might not work for everyone, especially if you keep your finances separate, but it really worked well for me.
There are so many things that I wish I’d done differently…as a young woman (my DH is 11 years older than me) with no intention of having kids, coming into an established stepfamily was difficult and probably not the best choice for me! But as someone else said, I believe DH and I were meant to be together, so what do you do. All I can say is that, even though my path seemed easy on the outside, I still struggled (and continue to struggle) with many things. This board was a godsend for me, and I believe, helped my marriage. It gave me an outlet to vent, but also the members here gave me incredible wisdom and helped me to see how I could change my actions for the better. I send my love, support, and best wishes to all the smoms out there, especially the new ones.