Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords and an inspiring, positive Step/Mom story

It's not often that I stumble across stepmother stories that are not only realistic but actually celebrate a step/mother's contribution to her family, so you can imagine my delight when I read this story about U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her own Southern Belles-in-Training.

You're likely familiar with Rep. Giffords from the horrific shooting she survived in January, but you maybe were not aware that she is also a childless stepmom.  Becoming a step/mom to two teenage girls is not for the faint of heart, so this factoid about Giffords only made me like her more.  Colleen Curry of ABC News explored this stepmother/stepdaughter relationship in her recent story about Giffords and her stepdaughters.

The story is heartwarming and deserves a thorough reading, but my favorite part is this mature insight from Giffords' older stepdaughter, Claudia:

"'I took Gabby for granted for so long, and I'm lucky I got a second chance to build a relationship with her,' Claudia said.  She encouraged her friends to repair relationships with their own parents and stepparents."
     -Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' Shooting Closed Gulf Between Her and Stepdaughters

Most step/mothers, like Giffords, just wanted to be an accepted and cherished member of their family.  I think especially for childless step/mothers there is a strong desire to be an important female role model for our stepchildren.  Again, this does not mean we want to replace the bio-mom or overstep our boundaries, but we do love our husbands or partners and therefore we willingly invest a lot of time and love in our relationship in his children.

No one wants to feel insignificant or unwelcome, particularly in their own home.  Why, then, is it OK for step/mothers to be the marginalized member of the family, and oftentimes despite their reduced status in their home they are still expected to give 110% of themselves to the family?  The fact is - it's not OK.  Step/mothers deserve much more respect in their families and in society than they are often given.  Unfortunately, it took Giffords' stepdaughters almost losing her to understand her value to their lives and their family.

Fortunately, as Claudia said, they have a second chance.  I hope stories like Giffords' help put a more empathetic and human face on stepmothering than the Disney tales we have grown accustomed to.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friends? Frienemies? The never-ending "How do I deal with that woman?" saga.

So, just so we're clear here, I've never had to do this dance with the younger belles' bio-mom as she was MIA way before I came along.  You know...the dance where you're not quite sure what your status is with the bio-mom of your stepkidlets.  This gets even more complicated when you're still dating and not "officially" a step/mother yet.

When I began dating my dear Ashley over 4 and a half years ago (yes, it really has been that long!), I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about the whole "other mother" scenario.  I was a stepdaughter briefly during my childhood, but this was my first time on the other side of the fence, so to speak.  I hadn't read any books yet, hadn't found any support groups, didn't have any friends who were step/mothers - I was just head over heels for this guy who happened to have 3 kids already.  Oldest belle's bio-mom and my Ashley had broken up over 10 years before I came along, so I assumed the whole custody arrangement was a well-oiled machine by the time he and I started dating.

Well, you know what they say about assuming.......

The first time I met her bio-mom (we'll call her BM for short), I don't remember there being any grand introduction or her saying...well, anything to me really.  Which would turn out to be par for the course for the years to come.  But even after that first meeting, I didn't give too much thought to her until our relationship grew serious.

I have the benefit of years of removal from the situation, general wisdom I've gathered along the way and enough  moral backbone to be able to laugh now about "the BM years" as I've dubbed them.  But there were plenty of times during those years when I was assuredly not laughing about any of it.  Now?  I pretty much just roll my eyes and giggle.  But it took a lot to get to that point of peace in my life.

Throughout the years, I've seen step/mom after step/mom pull her hair out and fret over what to do about the bio-mom (or bio-moms in some of our cases).  I find this is a monumental difference between stepmothers and stepfathers.  Men simply don't let stuff like this get to them.  And when they do, they normally just beat each other up and then get over it.  Women sit there and worry about, "Should I reach out to her?"  "Do you think I should try to be friends with her?"  and so on.

First of all, let me just say I hate the terms "co-wives" and "co-mamas."  First of all, the only "co-wives" I know of are the Sister Wives.  Great show, but not a realistic approach to getting along with the bio-mom.  I'm not sharing my husband with you; this marriage has plenty enough people in it with the two of us.  No need for you to get involved, dear bio-mom.  While I think the "co-mama" approach is a noble one, let's face it - how many bio-moms wholeheartedly embrace the "co-mama" approach?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  It's a good theory, but in practice?   Unless the stepmom is OK with being a doormat, it usually doesn't work very well.

So, back to Year 1.  I didn't want to be friends with the woman, but considering I was planning on marrying her daughter's father and I was caring for her child every other weekend, every summer and every other holiday, I felt it was a pretty reasonable expectation that we could at least be friendly and civil with each other.  I really cared for Oldest Belle and willingly spent time and money on her.  I didn't want to be her mom, but I did want to be a good, nurturing role model that she could feel comfortable around.  Oldest Belle and I also got along pretty well, so I thought it wasn't too much to hope that BM and I could get along for her sake.  Right?

Well, let's just say BM did not take too kindly toward another woman being in the picture.  She was thoroughly enjoying being Main Mama in the parenting triangle she had set up between herself, her husband and Ashley, and there was no room for one more.  There weren't many times that she was outright rude toward me (although the times she was were quite memorable); her MO was to just outright ignore me.  The attempts I did make toward being friendly were completely ignored, so finally I just shrugged my shoulders and blew it off.

I know many women think it's best for the kids to be friends with the bio-mom.  I think if you can genuinely achieve that, then that's wonderful.  Unfortunately, that tends to almost never be the case.  Many times women think if they follow along with what the bio-mom wants, such as shared family dinners (sometimes without the stepmom!) and other attempts at creating a "one big happy family," then the bio-mom will eventually accept her.  Again, this normally causes more problems than solutions.

There's nothing wrong with being civil.  By all means do I not condone snarky comments in front of the stepkids or acting like a crazy banshee toward the bio-mom.  The cold hard truth is you will have to deal with her until your stepkids are 18.  But - do not be surprised if she views you as Public Enemy #1.  This does not mean you are not a good person or a good stepparent.  I had given BM no reason to dislike me.  I perhaps didn't care for her personally, nor would she have been a person I would have chosen to associate with, but I tried to see the good in her and I always gave her the respect I felt she was due because she was Oldest Belle's mother.  I also made sure to never speak ill of her in front of Oldest Belle, and I even would correct Oldest Belle when she would begin to badmouth BM in front of me.  No disrespecting mamas in my house!

Essentially, I refused to bring myself to her level.  If she wanted to ignore me, fine - I wasn't going to force her to acknowledge me.  But, I also demanded respect for myself.  I didn't tolerate her bashing me or Ashley in my presence.  I didn't stay away from exchanges or from Oldest Belle's events because I thought it might make BM uncomfortable.  I was always very pleasant with her husband, because he was always very pleasant with me.

As stepkids grow older, they often see everyone's true colors (that's my hope at least!).  Oftentimes if the bio-mom starts out not accepting you and your very valid role in her child's life, she likely never will.  That doesn't mean you have to treat yourself like a second-class citizen.  Being the bigger person can be difficult - trust me, I would know! - but often with a bio-mom like that, she wants to see that she's getting to you.  Just don't let her.  Once I stopped caring about what BM thought of me, it transformed my view of myself as a stepparent and my relationship with Ashley for the better.

Sometimes, you can't rely on finding peace in other people - you have to create it for yourself.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New school year = New teachers to confuse

Ahh, a new school year.  It's one of the most joyous times of the year, right?  New books to read from, new subjects to explore, new friends to make.......

And new teachers to terrorize.

See, when you're a Step/Mom, it's a bit more complicated than just signing the kids up for school.  Even if you don't tell the teacher on Day 1, eventually, you have to explain.  Or look like a Teen Mom extra.  Explaining is preferable.

If it's a new school, they have to be provided with the All Important Court Order.  When you're custodial like us, this brings in a whole new level of confusion, because the school will often scratch its collective head when they see the rarity - "A Dad with custody?" they ask.  It's not that dads are incapable of being custodial parents, of course, but it's the simple fact that most courts still make Mom the Custodial/Domiciliary Parent.

So first you have to explain that yes, Dad really does have custody, and no, Mom does not have the right to call the school or come by the school.  Yes, it's in the court order.  No, it doesn't matter that she's still on the birth certificate.

Then, it needs to be clarified for the school and the teachers that while I am not technically Mom, I am called Mom, I look like a Mom, I act like a Mom, so therefore, it's just easiest to call me Mom.  After all, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet, right?  In fact, oh School and Teachers, I know way more about these little belles than bio-Mom ever could possibly comprehend.  In fact, I am probably the person you want to become friends with since I have a knack for detail and documentation when it comes to these kiddos, so really, I am the person you want to get to know.

And yes, School, you do have to honor the Power of Attorney my husband has signed on my behalf, just like the doctors' offices and religious education offices have to.

In fact, did you know that custodial stepparents even have rights under FERPA?

"Accordingly, a stepparent has rights under FERPA where the stepparent is present on a day-to-day basis with the natural parent and child and the other parent is absent from that home. In such cases, stepparents have the same rights under FERPA as do natural parents."
- Letter to Parent re: Disclosure of Education Records to Stepparents

So I truly do apologize for the confusion, Mr. Principal and Mr. Teacher.  I'm also very sorry if I tend to spout out case law and Department of Education policies in order to assure you of me and my husband's rights.  I'm just a wee bit annoying like that.  

But, look at it this way - you may have to deal with me, but I have to live it!  So take heart: you could be  a Step/Mom and be in a constant state of explanation.  :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Save ThePsychoExWife.com

Many of you may be familiar with ThePsychoExWife.com.  The blog has been a resource to many finding themselves in a custody battle with a combative and likely mentally ill ex-spouse or significant other.  While some of you, like me, may have qualms about the term used to describe PEW in public (even if it's befitting after reading their story), the judge in their custody case has dictated that not only does the website need to be taken down, but the father can no longer talk about his children at all in any "public media" unless it's "to wish them happy birthday or about a significant school event."  The entire ruling can be read here

This judge's decision is a violation of the father's First Amendment rights, and it could have a chilling effect on blogs such as mine, online support groups for divorcing dads and stepmoms, and other key resources for the equal parenting movement.  Please take some time today to visit Save ThePsychoExWife.com to find out more and learn what you can do to help.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Father's Day and the Ode to Stepfathers

Hello faithful Belles!  I apologize that I've been MIA for a while; it has been a busy few weeks at Tara.  But not to worry, I have plenty to report from the Step/Mom Twilight Zone.

You may recall in my last post how I lamented my experience of walking through the store aisles to find nary a stepmother card for Mother's Day.  So you might imagine my surprise to find myself in the card aisles a few weeks before Father's Day to find not one Father's Day card for stepfathers, but an assortment of cards.  And not just an assortment of cards but an entire popped-out subsection for stepfathers.

I almost had a fainting spell right there on aisle 16 of Wal-Mart.

Let me again reemphasize that I have no issue with people praising the virtues and hard work of stepfathers.  My own Ashley was once a stepfather, and I know he did a phenomenal job as one.  Yes, stepparents should be honored for their contributions to children's lives.

So WHY can't the same be done for stepmothers?

To make matters worse, my Facebook newsfeed read like a feminist, anti-dad rant on Father's Day.  Deadbeat dads blah blah blah, happy father's day to all the REAL daddies, blah blah blah........do you ever see any of this on Mother's Day?  I'll answer that for you....no.  On Mother's Day, it is a love fest over the beauties of motherhood, the sacred womb that bore you into this world and the never ending sacrifices these tireless women make.

Of course I'm not anti-mom.  There are many wonderful, amazing mothers who do an outstanding job as a parent.  I agree that motherhood is an extremely challenging undertaking for any woman.

But, there are many not-so-great mothers out there.  There are women who abuse drugs, who abuse their children, who walk out one day and never come back.  There are women who are so filled with hate toward their children's fathers that they do everything in their power to destroy that sacred bond between the children and their father, a scary phenomenon called parental alienation that I will go into further detail about in another post.

But you rarely, if ever, hear about these mothers on Mother's Day.  All you hear is the good.  So why do we not do the same on Father's Day?  And more importantly, is the whole praise and worship of stepfathers on Father's Day because we are truly honoring these men who sacrifice all for children who are not their own, or are we praising these stepfathers because it is a sneaky way to lift up these mother's current partners while spewing hate at these children's fathers?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's that time of year again.....Mother's Day!

What's a Step/Mom to do on a day like today?  The two simple words "Mother's Day" strikes fear in the hearts of women around the world as they anxiously wonder, "Do I count?  Will my husband/significant other honor my sacrifices to his kids today?  Will my stepkids acknowledge my existence?  Will I be reduced to a puddle of tears?"

Let me first say most stepmoms don't want to rain on the Mommy Parade on Mother's Day.  They're OK with their stepkids acknowledging their birth moms today (unless the birth mom is completely AWOL like my younger belles').  It's just in a world where you're hardly acknowledged to begin with, SOMETHING, even just a card, is nice.

My Ashley has always been good about Mother's Day.  I am thankful for that.  I can honestly say that since I became a Step/Mom, I've never gone without acknowledgement from him or the younger belles.  I would be immensely hurt if I ever did go without acknowledgement, and this is why:

Being a Step/Mom is literally one of the hardest, most thankless jobs a woman could ever encounter.  I have no biological experience to compare it to yet, but I'd wager to say it's even harder than being a birth mom.  Why?  When you give birth to a child, you have roughly 9 months to prepare.  You have the biological connection between you and that child that sustains you and keeps you from eating them alive when they tell you they hate you or they write in permanent marker all over their door.  You have the benefit of remembering when they were a cuddly baby and when they spoke their first words.

When you're a Step/Mom, it's a choice - on both sides - not a biological connection to love.  It means choosing to love a child even when they are acting every inch like their birth mom despite everything you've taught them to the contrary.  It means holding onto your tears until you're in your bubble bath when a child says "Thank you, Daddy!" ten times for presents you helped to pick out and pay for and doesn't acknowledge you until prompted.  It means biting your tongue and choosing to love a child when they look at you with spite and say, "I don't respect you!" or "You're not my stepmom!" or "You're mean!  I hate you!" - all of which I've heard before.

It's easy to feel like an Impostor Mom when you hear people say things about "real moms" or you go to Walgreen's and there's Mother's Day cards for moms, wives, aunts, grandmothers, godmothers, sisters, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law.....but not one for a stepmom.  I've been on homework duty, I've cradled a sick child, I've cooked and cleaned and wiped away tears...I deserve some kind of recognition, right?

I know so many women who sacrifice blood, sweat and tears for another woman's child or children.  They do all of this for little to no recognition.  So to you ladies, I say, Happy Mother's Day.  You deserve to hear it, even if you hear it from no one else but me today.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can parents and stepparents be friends to their kids?

I read a really insightful opinion piece on CNN.com today that made me want to stand up and cheer.  Columnist LZ Granderson talks about the....interesting way most kids dress nowadays and why parents need to be parents.

Parents, don't dress your girls like tramps

The column is blunt to be sure, but raised some very good points.  Yes, retailers are making clothes dressed more and more trashy for kids to wear, but these clothes wouldn't be selling if parents weren't buying them for their kids.  My middle belle-in-training sometimes gets mad at me because she doesn't think her clothes are "trendy" enough, but darn it, she's a kid and I refuse to dress her like anything other than a kid!

Incidentally enough, I was listening to Steve Harvey's morning show as I was driving to work today when Steve and Shirley were reading a listener's letter asking for advice about her daughter.  Steve said, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Parents need to be parents.  I tell my kids, 'I am not your friend.  We can do friendly things, we can have fun together, but I am your parent, not your friend.'"

Now, you may be asking me, "Southern Step/Mom, why are you bringing this up on your stepparenting blog?"  Well, that's an excellent question!  Just from my observations, I've noticed divorced parents do this often with their kids because they are so afraid their child is so emotionally damaged from the divorce or breakup, or because they want to be the "cool parent" that their child chooses as the winner in this war that they neglect to actually parent the kid.

Of course, intact nuclear families do this too, and there are many single parents who don't - my mom included who was very strict with me (thanks, Mom!).  But, it seems that you notice the worst in parenting skills when you're in a step situation.

This always has and always will be one of my biggest pet peeves with my oldest belle-in-training's mother.  From age 12, OB (oldest belle-in-training) would show up to exchanges in short shorts and makeup.  The hemlines grew shorter and the makeup caked on further through the years.  It got to the point where I would cringe as soon as she'd get out the car, waiting to see how much older she would look this time.  My Ashley and I were united on this front, and we would make her change and wash her face when she got to our house, but when you're noncustodial, your influence can only go so far.  You have to pray that what you are doing and showing them those 4 days out of the month might make at least a small impact on this impressionable child you are in charge of.

This is why I don't advocate stepparents being "like a friend rather than a parent" to their stepchildren.  No one should cross discipline boundaries of course, but you are still an adult.  When you live together or are married to the child's parent, you are still an adult in charge in that household.  How are you going to earn that child's respect if you treat them as you would a friend?  What kind of example are you setting?

Maybe refusing to let my 8 year old middle belle (MB) wear skin-tight jeggings like her friends wear makes me an uncool Step/Mom.  Oh well.  I'd rather be an uncool Step/Mom than a Step/Grandmom before I leave my thirties.

Gift Suggestion:  Did you know Stepmothers' Day is the Sunday after Mothers' Day every year?  Don't forget to celebrate that special woman in your life - she deserves it!  Check out this cute t-shirt to wear to honor her, or maybe get her a bottle of wine if that's more her style.  :)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Stepmoms vs. Stepdads - is it really equal?

A friend of mine whose husband is a stepfather to her daughter brought up a good point to me recently.  Some of my prior posts can be applied to stepdads, but in my mind, there is a vast difference between being a stepmother and being a stepfather.  Women who have no biological children of their own ("childless stepmoms") almost always have an even tougher mountain to climb in step-life.  Early on in my own stepparent journey, I struggled greatly with this.  I think most childless stepmoms have a harder path because "You're NOT a mother" is something society constantly reminds us of.....and sometimes it is said right to our face - by in-laws, the biological mother, and sometimes complete strangers.

My own dear Ashley, in his genuine attempt to be compassionate, once told me he could sympathize with my step-plight because he had been a stepfather twice before.  I told him it was vastly different from being a stepmother, especially a childless one.  There are different expectations, and different emotions.  Here are a few:
1.  The "Maternal Assumption" - Many people, our own significant others often included, assume that since we are women, we automatically have that "maternal instinct."  This expectation to automatically bond with our stepchildren, and to take over the "womanly" duties of the house, is just that - an expectation.  We didn't have 9 months to prepare for this baby; we didn't have the joys of bonding with our stepkids as infants. Does this mean that we won't love our stepkids, even love them as we would our own?  No, not by a long shot.  But it takes time and a tremendous amount of energy.  I went from living alone and only worrying about myself and what I wanted to do to being responsible for little people and listening to Disney Channel nonstop. It was a transition, to say the least.  Stepdads rarely have this immediate expectation for instant bonding because they're men.  Sexist?  Of course it is.  It's unfair to stepmoms too.

2.  The custodial factor - Since the family court circus is what it is in the United States, most moms have custody of their children. Therefore, most stepfathers spend more time with their stepchildren than the fathers of those children do.  It's not because the fathers don't WANT to spend time with their kids in most cases - "That's just the way the cookie crumbles," the judges say as they shrug their shoulders.  It's a lot more praise-worthy in our society to be a custodial stepparent than it is a noncustodial stepparent.  I've even noticed this disparity just in my own situation.  People generally speak positively of my role as a custodial step/Mom to the younger belles-in-training, but I can probably count on one hand the amount of times people praised my role as a noncustodial stepmom to my oldest belle-in-training, even though I invested a lot of time and energy into being a good stepmom to her as well.  I planned fun outings, I encouraged her interests, I helped her with her homework - why were not as valuable of a contribution to her wellbeing?

3.  The Mother - Let's face it; mothers are territorial.  This is not a bad thing, per se - look at Mama Bears, right?  But, it has been shown statistically that mothers are less likely to encourage their children to embrace - or at least respect - their stepmother than fathers are with stepfathers.  Even if they don't actively badmouth the stepmother, mothers will often not make it clear to their children that they don't have to choose between Mom and Stepmom - that loving one doesn't mean not loving the other.  This was - and still is - the major problem I encountered with my oldest belle-in-training's mother.  By outright pretending that I didn't exist, she sent the clear message to my oldest belle that I didn't matter, I wasn't on an equal level as her stepfather.  Furthermore, it made my oldest belle feel guilty and conflicted when she realized - surprise! - I wasn't so terrible and she liked me.

I am a firm believer that if the mom and stepmom can put aside their differences for the kids, everyone will benefit.  I always encouraged my oldest belle to respect her mom and never talked negatively about her anywhere close to earshot in front of her.  I may not have always agreed with her parenting decisions - or agreed with her on really anything - but I acknowledged that she was her mom and we both had a mutual interest at heart.  How the story could be different for all these kids if moms and stepmoms alike could learn, appreciate and practice that lesson.

Movie Suggestion - "The Blind Side"
This blockbuster hit isn't about stepmoms of course, but about children of the heart.  I was so moved by this movie, and so excited to see a woman who steps up to the plate to parent a child who isn't hers biologically celebrated and revered in this movie.  Of course, the added bonus was Sandra Bullock, who was at the time a childless stepmom to her now ex-husband's kids.  She is one of my childless stepmom heroines!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Life Post-Apocalypse

After my experiences as a sideline participant in family court, I'm thoroughly convinced nothing can more quickly make a sane person go insane like a divorce or breakup.  Think about it - most of the time, you liked this person once upon a time.  Maybe you even (gasp!) loved this person at one point?  And now, standing in a courtroom, you're like two dogs in a ring right before a fight, desperately trying not to rip each other's throats out as you thirst for victory.

The sad thing about all of it is, there is a child or children caught squarely in between the two of you in this ring of fire.  And now, instead of admitting that maybe the guy you chose to have a child with is a decent father even if you can't stand him as a partner, your one goal is to exact revenge upon him in the one place where you know it's going to really hurt - his relationship with his child.

One piece of advice I give to every friend who begins to share their story of woe with me after the breakup or divorce when there's a child involved is - think of it as a business relationship.  You both have a mutual interest at heart - your child.  You're both invested in his or her wellbeing and development.  Therefore, keep it civil.  Don't argue in front of the kid, don't use the kid as a go-between or messenger, document all communication between the two of you just as you would a business relationship.  And most importantly, get a court order.  Or even better, come to a mutual agreement, type up paperwork stating said agreement, sign it, notarize it, file it.  The end.

Some people balk when I say get a court order right away.  But too often, I've seen good intentions go south quickly when emotions get flared and Dad has no rights to speak of.  Why not make it easy on everyone and have it spelled out?  You wouldn't go into a business deal without a contract, would you?  So why would you not have a custody agreement?

I know what you're thinking.  I'm a female.  I was raised by a single mom.  Shouldn't I support single moms?  Shouldn't I, as a feminist, say it's OK if Mom's the one calling the shots?

Well, the answer is....NO.

I'll let you in on a little secret.  I'm as Southern of a belle as the day is long, but I'm also a feminist.  Women's rights rally?  Sign me up!  But I've found within the past few years, I haven't been able to support my NOW sisters like I would like to.  Why?  Because they are so critical toward fathers' rights groups and have hindered equal parenting in courtrooms across the country through their aggressive lobbying techniques.

I have a serious problem with this, because to me, it's not very feminist sounding at all.  Why do we have to tear down a father's contributions to his child's life (and I don't mean just financial contributions) just to feel our roles as mothers and women are validated?  Wasn't the whole point of the feminist movement to gain equal rights?  So why are we not proponents of equal parenting rights??

Furthermore, why do mothers have to discount their children's stepmothers' roles in order to feel good about themselves?  Should we WANT children to have many positive female role models in their lives?  Isn't it a GOOD thing for a child to have many people who care about and love them?

I've heard some horrible vitriol directed toward stepmothers by biological mothers, myself included in that number of stepmothers.  Was it warranted, truthful, or justified?  No.  Was it productive for the child?  Not at all.  If you have a problem with your child's stepmother, wouldn't the mature and responsible way to voice your displeasure be to talk directly with the stepmother, or at least your child's father?  Yes.

So why is it all logic and reason goes out the window when a child's emotional wellbeing is at stake?  One thing is for certain - it's doing no one any good.

Book Suggestion:
A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom by Jacqueline Fletcher
One of the better stepmom books I've encountered.  Some of the advice is a little misguided, and no, having your own baby is not the cure-all, but overall, a good book to start with. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Southern Step/Mom

After 4 years of being a stepparent and running the custody gamut - I'm both a custodial stepparent to two girls and a noncustodial stepparent to one girl - I've gained a unique perspective on the phenomenon of second (and third, and fourth....) families that are taking over the world as we speak.  Which made me wonder...why do we still view stepmothers as perpetually evil?  I mean, sure, I'm sassy and don't tolerate foolishness (I AM a Southern belle after all), but am I really evil?  No.  Not by a long shot.  So it's time to dispel some myths....and explain why I call myself a Step/Mom.

The label:  "Step/Mom?" you say?  Yes, I have a firm grasp on the English language; I know it's usually "stepmom" or "step-mom," but neither of those really define who I am or what my role truly is.  For my two little ones, with their bio-mom completely out of the picture (her parental rights were terminated years ago), I am Mom in every sense of the word.  Well, except for the biological part.  But when I've been the one cleaning messes and rocking sick children to sleep with no visitation, contact or financial support from the woman who brought them into the world, I think I've earned the Mom title.  But for my oldest belle, she has a mom who is still in the picture as she and my husband share joint custody, so I fully embrace my stepmotherhood in that situation.

1.  Being a stepmother means you are a homewrecker, you want to steal your stepchildren from their mother, and/or you want to keep your husband all to yourself and fantasize about casting your stepchildren out of Tara.
No, no, and no.  My husband was already a divorced dad when we met, so there was no home to be wrecked.  I can't steal my stepchildren if there's no mother to steal them from, and as for the eldest, I'm perfectly content for the "actress in a supporting role" nomination.  While I love my husband (obviously), I have to acknowledge that I did (brace yourself, stepmoms - I'm using the line we hate in the one instance where it does have validity) know he had kids when I began dating him.  Does that mean I'm superhuman and was adequately prepared for everything stepmotherhood has thrown at me?  Not by a long shot.  But, I do recognize that they were part of the deal when I chose him. 

2.  A stepmother is never a valid primary female figure in her stepchildren's lives (i.e. You can never replace Mom).
Well, yes and no.  Will my younger belles have questions about their bio-mom as they get older?  Sure.  Can I simply erase their bio-mom and say that they will never struggle with their loss?  No.  But as they say about dads, the same does (gasp!) go for moms - Any woman can give birth, but not every woman is a mother.  I may not have given birth to them, but there's no doubt that I'm their primary female figure, that I've been Mom in every way that it's counted.  I chose to love them instead of being required to by virtue of birthing them.  That's worth something, right?

Every time I hear Myth #2, I always ask Would you say the same thing to an adoptive parent?  I'd wager not.  So why is it OK to negate the positive impact a stepmother can have on a stepchild? 

Now, I'm not advocating disregarding either parent's contributions to their child, or having a child call their stepparent Mom or Dad when there's a parent in the picture, even when it's a willing parent whose attempts at parenting are being thwarted by a vengeful ex-significant other.  But, even when there are two parents around, a stepmother (or stepfather) can still be an important person to a child without taking away from that child's other parent.

3.  You don't become a stepparent until you marry your significant other.
That may be true from a legal standpoint, but it is VERY untrue in real life.  I was a step/mom loooooooong before I married my husband.  I was taking care of sick children, helping with homework, doing laundry and cheering at school plays way before our marriage solidified my bond with his children.  And with the good comes the bad...I had to learn how navigate the stepparent mine fields way before marriage too.  In fact, by the time we got married, I was already a StepSurvivor and coaching newbies to the game.  I was more comfortable in my role and was fully committed to being a stepparent by the time we got married than I would have been had I not been an active Step/Mom before our marriage.

More myths to bust to come....but in the meantime, what are some stepmom myths you'd like to see busted?