I’m about to marry my BF of 2 years and so far things have been OK with me and his 2 kids (7 & 9). The more I read here and in books, people keep saying to lower my expectations or have NO expectations! I don’t like that idea at all. I’m a positive person and I want to look forward to our life together. What are some reasonable expectations for us Stepmoms? Thanks, Rose
Good question. The reply below is a copy of the essay (we call them smommentaries) I wrote about expectations awhile ago. If you want to print it out, the Smommentaries are more printer friendly. I hope this gives you some ideas so you can create expectations that will work for you. Also, please read our new “Lessons Learned” page for feedback from dozens of Stepmoms that may give you more ideas. Note: we call ourselves “SMOMS” short acronym for Stepmoms on a mission. Please register to join our Bulletin Board, pick a screen name and you can ask everyone for more insights anytime.
Hope this will help. Welcome to SMOMS.org. Sincerely, Cathryn
COPIED FROM SMOMMENTARY PAGE
EXPECTATIONS THAT CAN WORK FOR STEPMOMS ON A MISSION
Whether you’ve been a Stepmom for years or days, being aware (and wise) about your expectations is going to make your experience less emotionally chaotic and your marriage much more peaceful. Expectations are an important emotional tool used in the process of achieving a goal.
Picture this: a man with children from a previous marriage and a woman willing to love them all. They are madly in love and expect their love to get them through the tough times so they can live happily ever after. These positive expectations make them feel very good in each present moment. It’s an exciting time. It’s a time when confidence and energy levels are high. Before or when the difficulties with the stepkids or the bio-mom begin to get stressful, action oriented and energetic SMOMs unusually begin to seek out info on stepmothering. Most of us frowned at the part in any book that tells us not to expect too much in the future. If we let that in, it’s a real downer. Who wants to face each day and go into their future with a flat or pessimistic attitude? Who wants to accept that emotional turmoil is going to become a way of life? Not us! There must be another way to approach this life experience. Many of us have clung to our bright expectations because we didn’t want to give up on the dream.
What are your expectations as a SMOM? It’s helpful to take a moment to write them down. How do your expectations differ from your husband’s expectations? Have you two actually shared your expectations? Are there any unspoken expectations?
Some background on the dynamics of expectations.
At some point we create an expectation (positive or negative) and from that point forward we compare our present reality with the future we expect. Interestingly, expectations for our future have a lot more influence over the present than most people realize. When our view of the future is positive, we feel better in the present moment; even though our future hasn’t happened yet. The mere thought of a good future, creates a very real and immediate sense of happiness and well-being. When we think about a sad or scary event in the future, it makes us feel terrible immediately. That’s how powerful the future and our expectations are in our daily emotional life. Expectations are good or bad things that we imagine happening in the future but they impact our feelings right now. That’s why expecting good things feels great and expecting difficult circumstances doesn’t feel very good. Given the choice, we can understand the desire to have and hold onto good expectations. Maybe the answer isn’t in lowering our expectations but is creating wiser expectations. Let’s look at some typical expectations that many of us share. Then let’s review some new expectations.
Here are some common SMOM expectations. Anything look familiar?
1. The stepkids will get used to having two homes. They’ll soon get used to two different sets of rules and enjoy being with each parent, respecting the rules for each home.
2. The bio-mom will get over her anger/bitterness/neediness if we just give her some time. Eventually she’ll be civil to, and cooperative with us and hopefully one day we can be allies.
3. The bio-mom will follow the rules and guidelines agreed upon, will respect any differences she and her ex-husband have and will not bad-mouth her kids’ dad or Stepmom because that’s the right thing to do for her children’s emotional health.
4. One day the stepkids will realize that their bio-mom has waged a “Loyalty War” against their dad and they’ll stand up to her, realizing that they should be free (and have the right) to love both parents without being punished by either parent.
5. The stepkids will love, respect and appreciate me, their SMOM, for all I have done for them. My husband will also demonstrate his appreciation for all I do for his kids.
6. We’ll have lots of fun family parties, events, vacations and experiences together. Once the shock of the divorce or remarriage wears off everyone is going to make an effort to get along.
7. My husband is no longer influenced by his ex-wife. He will make decisions about his kids without any lingering feelings or guilt from the divorce.
8. My husband will value my input whenever he’s not able to see things objectively and he’ll appreciate my wisdom and perspective. I am number one on my husband’s priority list. Together we’ll do the best we can for his kids.
9. The bio-parents and stepparents will learn to work together as cooperating adults so they can be all be involved in the stepkids’ school activities, celebrations and other important life events.
10. My husband is going to be compassionate, patient and supportive about how his ex-wife and children impact me. He’ll take action, on my behalf, whenever I need him to and he’ll stand up for me as his wife.
Teachers, coaches, friends, members of my husband’s family and of the community will eventually come to treat me as a respected and important member of the stepkids’ parenting team.
11. If we have to go to Court, everything will work out fine. Because we’ve honored the divorce and custody agreements, have kept our word and an accurate log, have paid for professional and expert opinions and have always acted in the child’s best interest, the Court System will be fair and side with the dad when the facts and evidence supports that decision.
Chances are good that many of these expectations are on your list AND that you’re not seeing the results that you hoped for when you created them. We know how frustrating and disheartening these unfulfilled expectations can be for SMOMs.
What are some healthy, doable, controllable expectations for SMOMs?
Here are a dozen recommended expectations:
1. Make “doing your best” your number one expectation. Recognize that your best will vary under different circumstances. Mute the voice of your inner perfectionist. Turn on the faucet of kindness and expect to shower yourself regularly with huge doses of patience and compassion. 2. Expect challenges to your self-esteem and use that pressure to become stronger. You need to be able to count on yourself. Do your best in a thoughtful, respectful and fair way so you can be proud of yourself at the end of each day and in hindsight.
3. Expect your husband to stand up for you and your right to be involved in your stepkids’ lives AND be aware he may not be willing (or able) to do that all the time because of his desire to minimize conflict with his ex-wife. As you and your husband begin your life together, find out what he is (and is not) willing to do to support your involvement in his kids’ life, public and private. Talk specifics even if it’s scary or uncomfortable. Being aware of this possibility can prepare you and help reduce the shock of any unilateral decisions he makes.
4. Expect that his feelings about the divorce will impact how he treats his ex-wife and his children. Expect to stand up for yourself instead of anticipating that your husband will consistently do so. Be courageous and willing to defend your personal boundaries. Be willing to rock other people’s emotional boats by taking a stand and speaking up appropriately on your own behalf. This will reduce resentments and marital stress in the long run.
5. Expect that if the bio-mom is angry with her ex-husband that it’s going to rub off on her interactions with you. Be smart, versus naïve about how and when you interact with her. Keep a log of her actions. This may or may not be useful in court but at least it’s something you can do that is potentially helpful.
6. Expect that your husband is NOT always going to be able to understand how you’re feeling. Seek and expect to get compassion and validation from other SMOMs whenever necessary. This takes a lot of pressure off your husband, non-SMOM friends and family.
7. Expect that you’re going to have moments when you question your sanity about getting into this relationship. In these moments of hurt or anger, suspend any self-judgments and switch over to self-care strategies. Acknowledging the expectation of negative feelings will reduce some of the panic and fear that surfaces if/when those thoughts ever come to mind. These thoughts are usually an unconscious attempt to numb pain or anger. Questioning your own judgment about getting into the relationship when you’re feeling out of control, outraged and/or in deep emotional pain is a reactionary pain-numbing thought. It’s a judgment so it numbs your feelings. Again, not bad or wrong, just human. It’ll usually pass once you regroup emotionally and get the rest and loving support you need.
8. Expect that you’re going to feel out of control, angry, hurt and left out at some point in this relationship so take action right now to prepare for these feelings! Be proactive. Learn healthy ways to process your feelings and to heal from emotional wounds. Develop action plans and back-up plans for how to respond and make yourself feel better when/if bad things happen (as they inevitably will). This will make you feel ready and more empowered to act when necessary.
9. Expect that you’re going to have a positive and healthy relationship with your stepkids. Be willing to do your part, while holding onto your power, your boundaries and your right to be treated with respect. Give it 100% while remembering that you are only 50% of each adult-child relationship. And that you’re only one of three or four adults in the parental role. You can’t do these relationships entirely on your own. Yes, things would be different if the bio-mom and stepkids were willing to put as much time, effort and kindness into their relationships with you and your husband. But, sadly, if they’re not, you want to be ready with Plan B, C or D so you’re ready with something else that will work for you.
10. Expect that your stepkids are going to be emotionally shaken up, by varying degrees, by the divorce and will probably lash out at you when they’re feeling angry or feel that the SMOM has exercised her authority as the “woman of the house” or their father’s wife. SMOMs are often the ones stepkids feel they can most easily afford (or desire) to lose. As hurtful as that can be, when you expect this, you’re less likely to be caught off guard or feel as crushed when it happens. This is where not taking their actions personally is going to make a big difference in their impact on you.
11. Expect that the bio-mom’s behavior at the beginning of this relationship is highly indicative of how it is going to remain throughout your lives together. Trust that she’ll continue with the very same behavior until she consistently doesn’t. That can be hard to accept, but once you make this conscious decision you’ll be less likely to put yourself at her mercy or open your heart only to be hurt by her cruel acts. Trust your experience at the beginning and you’ll approach her from a much wiser, more protected and powerful position.
12. Expect that you and your husband have, or will get, the skills, energy and love needed to create a wonderful life together and let the form (specifics) that your life takes be flexible and fluid.
As we get wiser, we are going to be less and less impacted by “EX-ternal” forces. We’re also going to learn how to hold onto the love and joy we feel AND handle outside influences more quickly and confidently and with more grace and confidence than ever before. Why do I say this? Because our intentions are so good and strong and because we are trying to do the right thing for everyone involved.
We can have our expectations and be realistic too. How? We can do this by looking into the content of our expectations. As SMOMs we can be realistic AND optimistic, while placing a higher value (and more attention) on what we can do to stay connected to our husbands and our self-esteem as events involving our stepkids and/or bio-mom occur. We want to have expectations that make us feel good in the present and keep us feeling powerful and positive about our future. Unlike what so many books say, I don’t think it’s about raising or lowering our expectations. I think it needs to be less about the exact destination we seek and more about the process and journey we take to get there.
When we can focus less attention on the specific details of how our desired future will look and put more attention on how we’ll act and feel as we get there; we have the chance to set expectations that we can meet. This confidence makes us feel good about our future and therefore better from moment to moment. As we take control of our ability to meet our expectations, we give others less ability to destroy our dreams. This is empowering at a very deep level.