It's hard sometimes to define yourself as one thing. Like most women I know, I am a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend, and more. All of these relationships bring their own set of rules and challenges and baggage. Sometimes it's hard to juggle all the personas and all the stuff that comes with each one; asking us to switch roles maybe 10 times in a day. I have become good at morphing to fit the image of what's expected with each role, a chameleon of sorts. Let's face it, we all act differently with each of our friends, our kids, our bosses, our mothers, our husbands and somehow we manage to keep everyone more or less happy. It can definitely take its emotional toll on us, wanting just once to have nothing expected of us. But we do it, as if second nature, cause that is who we are. For me however, there is one label where the rules are fuzzy and constantly changing, leaving me to wonder “how in the world do I ever get good at this?” That is my role as a stepmother.
First, let me explain how I have tried to step-parent. As the mother of two of my own children, I decided to simply be a mom. There are rules in our house that should be followed and consequences should they be ignored. I have tried hard not to play favorites, although inevitably not everyone agrees that I have been successful on that particular endeavor. I care about all four of my boys and try always to put their needs first. However, sometimes I feel that I care more than I have the right to. After all, I have no legal rights to these boys. I am not their guardian and, god forbid, should my husband die I may never see them again. My opinion on matters relating to my stepsons is just that, an opinion. And while I’d like to think that my husband and I make decisions as a team, they are still his kids. So I am stuck in this awkward, emotionally draining place where I am expected to act like their mother (doing their laundry, making their meals, driving them to football, asking how their day was, caring and loving them) but I am given none of the rights of being a parent to them. It’s a lonely road that I don’t even think my husband gets most of the time.
Now if my struggle internally was all I had to deal with, maybe I could get better at pretending it was easy. But it is dealing with all the other “relationships” that leave me flabbergasted. First, there is the obvious relationship with my two stepsons. I am not their mother so who gives me the right to tell them what to do. Plus, I am the reason their parents aren't together anymore, right? While neither is true, it’s hard to explain the intricacies of the situation to a child, especially when you don't really get them yourself. I love my stepsons. I love them as much as my own children and sometimes I think I love them more; I would have to. With our own children there is an instant bond that goes deeper than anything I knew could exist. It’s the reason you can stare at them in wonder for hours or why, when they are first born, it’s hard to distinguish where they leave off and you begin. It’s also the reason that my older son has lived to be 8 years old. It’s called unconditional love and its one of the great mysteries of life. I will love my sons no matter what, forever. I will also always love my stepsons, but this love is more of a work in progress, a reminder I offer myself each time one of them challenges me, and a promise I make every day. What it comes down to is hard work; it takes a lot more work to love my stepsons. And I am willing to work as hard as it takes. This sentiment, however, is often lost on the children. If you think being a parent is a thankless job, try being a step-parent.
This role also leaves my relationship with their father, my husband, in a fuzzy place when it comes to his children. I love my husband. I consider him my best friend because I can be myself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and most of the time he actually likes me. I never have to pretend to be anything but me; except, that is, for when it comes to my stepsons. The gray area surrounding my thoughts on his 2 boys is murky at best and hard to navigate. This is the only time in which I am very careful to choose my words with him and even then it never comes out right. Much like the way we all take advice about our children from well meaning “outsiders,” sometimes he smiles politely and brushes me off, other times he flat out tells me to mind my own business. To me however, they are part of our family and therefore, they are my business. Do I blame him for feeling this way? Never, I get it. But I wish he would get where I am coming from too. I love those boys as if they were my own and I wish that at least he would take that into consideration even if the law doesn’t.
There is the obvious relationship with the ex-wife. I try to stay out of this one as much as possible. I am cordial in person and even try to see where she is coming from on occasion. And in turn, she smiles and pretends she doesn’t hate my guts. I am very conscience of what I say in front of the children and always make sure they respect their mother. I won’t begin to pretend that I know how she feels or what she is going through. But obviously she can put additional stress on my relationship with my stepsons and sometimes my husband. I still hope that someday we can all move past our petty differences and act like adults, especially when it’s in the best interest of the children. But it’s been over five years now so maybe that is too much to ask given the emotional depth of the whole situation.
At the end of the day, even with all of the frustrations and second-guessing that comes with being a stepmother, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love my stepsons and I love our family. They have enriched my life in ways I never planned and given my boys the bond of brotherhood that will last their lifetime. I will continue to fight for what I think is best for them, even if no one thinks my opinion matters because that is what you do for the people you love. I hope that they will grow up knowing that I love them and feeling that we have created a happy, safe place that they can call home.