Becoming a step-mom... never in my life had I fathomed turning into that evil step-mother character depicted in most fairy tales. You know, the one that turns old and ugly, is ruthless, and never knows the meaning of true love. Yet, here I am: A step-mom, a new one at that. I've only been on the job about a year and let me tell you, it has been a roller coaster. I have new found respect for women, and men who take on that additional role of step-parent in a blended family.
And here's why:
Your life will change completely. When you are a single independent individual, you long to find the right person to share it with. In my case, this person came with an additional smaller unexpected person. And at first I don't think I really knew how much this would affect my life and our relationship. I got very lucky with my two people, they're both very understanding and the smaller of the two is quite independent. So I thought this wouldn't be a huge change... wrong! Anytime there is a child involved, it will not be a typical relationship. If you go into a relationship that involves a child thinking that you will get the same alone time, the same independence to do whatever you two please, and the same attention from your partner at all times, your relationship will fail.
Couples that have their own children know that things will never be the same and they embrace it. They know (well the good ones do) that their lives will forever be about their children now, and not themselves, except of course for the occasional date night or outings which are very healthy in a relationship. When you become a step-parent, you need to have that same mentality because chances are (if you have a good one) your partner, the biological parent, already has this mentality and your relationship will struggle if you're not on the same page. Seems easy enough, right? But this was the HARDEST part for me. I started over-complicating the fact that I didn't have enough time to myself, that our relationship didn't have enough time for "us". I look back on it and realize how dramatic I was being. I did have enough alone time. My husband would give me "me time" all the time! But Ilwas overcomplicating it for myself. How could I ever ask a man to be with his daughter less?! I mean, I never worded it that way, but that's essentially what I was doing. Complaining about not enough "me" or "us" time (when we clearly had enough) pretty much meant I wanted less "her" time. And it wasn't so much that she was difficult to be around, this was MY OWN internal issue. It put a huge strain on my marriage but ultimately, once I acknowledged my issue, we found a balance. It wasn't so much about her being around so much, it was the way I perceived it because I had more than enough time for myself & with my husband. But once I changed my perception about it, I have been feeling much better. Not to say that it isn't a constant struggle within me, but I'm trying. And you can see that in my relationship with my husband and with my step child.
You will find out what your parenting skills are. If you're like me, you will turn into your mother overnight. Well, not exactly but I am like her in some ways. This can also be a battle in your relationship when your partner is, let's say, more lenient than you. Coming from the outside, it's very easy to criticize someone's parenting and it's easy to think that you could do a better job. But that's not what you were asked to do. Things will go smoother if you talk to your partner about things that may be changed, for the good of the child. It will be a battle because no one likes to hear they "can change" something about their parenting but if your partner embraces your "suggestions" and you embrace some of his, then you will reach a middle ground and no one will get frustrated.
Last but not least, the most difficult part about being in a relationship with someone with a child: the other biological parent. The constant reminder of your partner's past relationship (who wants to remember that?!). And the reason why you will always remember that this child is not (biologically) yours. This is a tough one to get by, and I don't necessarily have a horrible situation. But I think people underestimate how hard it is to be that person, coming into this relationship, where you don't have much say at all. The bottom line is this: no matter what I do or how long I've been around my step child, the biggest decisions about her life (school she attends, activities she enrolls in, etc.) will ultimately be up to the biological parents. Not to say that your partner won't back your input, but sometimes you won't agree. And there is nothing you can do about it. The most important thing is to keep respect within the two families because a child can sense when there is tension. Never put down their other parent in front of them (or at all) because they will remember that. The best thing for the child is for everyone to get along. That's easier said than done but being civil is not that hard. Sometimes.
I have learned many things throughout my lifetime. I have read tons of books and gone to a few dozen trainings on human behavior but never in my life was I prepared for this. No training in the world can teach you to be a good step parent. They can give you some great tips, like parenting classes, but it takes genuine LOVE and SELF-LESS EFFORT to make it work. Whether your partner admits it or not, they are looking for someone to co-parent with. Someone to share their frustrations and celebrations with their child. Recognize that and embrace it. Things will not go well if you resist it, with you but most importantly for the child. I will not say that it has been easy, nor that I am perfect, in fact I have to check myself ALL the time (ask my husband). But the effort is there and it does pay off. It pays off in the great relationship I have with my husband but most importantly, it pays off in my step-daughter's relationship with me. I've seen that my tutoring has been helpful when she gets better grades. That's a reward. I've seen that my guidance with her prayers has helped her pass her catechism and she can now receive her first communion. That's also a reward. Once I put in work like a parent, I will receive the same reward that a good parents get, to see your child do well.
Are you a step-parent? Grew up with one? Tell us about your experience...
-Rocio Camargo is an advocate for survivors of Domestic & Sexual Violence in Santa Cruz County California. She currently manages the Prevention Program for the only rape-crisis center & emergency shelter organization in the county. She is UC Santa Barbara alumni and a sister of Sigma Alpha Zeta Multicultural Sorority. She is a wife and step-mother of one. She also blogs on her website OpinarLatina.com & has written pieces for CalCASA, IStand and the Watsonville Patch.