Being a step parent can be extremely difficult and quite taxing on your emotions. Children do not always adapt well to a new “parent”, and this can make your life a little chaotic, but there is hope. There are many dynamics involved with being the third parent, no matter what the situation is. In this article, I will share some of my own experiences as a full time step mother. It has been a journey, and at times I have wanted to give up, but today, I am happy I didn’t.
You’re Not My Mother!
While I am fortunate enough to have step children who would never actually shout at me or utter those words, it has been written all over their faces many times over in the past three years. My husband and I gained full custody of all three of his children, two girls ages seven and eight, and a boy, aged ten, three years ago when their mother lost them to child protective services. Of course that is a whole different story, and one that I won’t go into here. In any case, prior to gaining custody of them we had them every other weekend. Those days were fine and the children seemed to be content with me, for the most part. Things changed quite a bit when they came to live under the same roof with me, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and not for the better!
Those first days, weeks, and months were so hard that I would often lock myself in my bedroom and just cry. It seemed that no matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t please them with my cooking, even though I pride myself on being a wonderful cook. I heard things like, “That’s not how my Mama makes it”, or “I don’t usually eat that”. It just seemed I was hitting my head against a brick wall with whatever I tried to do for them. This went on for the first year or so, and it seemed to be getting progressively worse. To top it off, my husband has a habit of overcompensating (spoiling) his children because he feels so bad about the cards life has dealt them. With that being said, I didn’t get a lot of support from him when disciplining them. This made things even worse. No matter what measures I would take to try and impose a set of rules on them, he would fight me tooth and nail. I cannot tell you how many times I packed my bags.
I could see how much they missed their mother, and to make matters worse she went completely missing for about nine months. This was very hard on the children and having me around as a faux mother wasn’t helping matters. They yearned for their “Mama” and my heart bled for them. After going through literally months of pain in trying to do everything I possibly could to please them with external measures, to no avail, I came to a conclusion one day while watching them play in the backyard. They needed something much more from me and it was my job to figure out what that was.
A Little Love Goes a Long Way
I began to ease up on them a little, give them a break, and understand that they are little people with a lot of big problems on their shoulders. No, they hadn’t been taught manners and yes, they were behind in school, but whose fault was that? Not theirs. Once I was able to put my pride aside and realize that more than anything else what they needed was my love, things started to get a little better. It was a slow process and there was still a lot of frustration, but I bit my tongue and held true to my promise to love them and nurture them no matter what.
Slowly but surely the girls started to come around. I started organizing girl’s night out, and we would go to see a movie or go skating together. I was trying to form bonds with them and I think they could tell. Fortunately, they are very sweet children, and as soon as I started showing them that they were important to me, they began opening up. Now this is not to say that I stopped disciplining them. Part of loving children is teaching them. However, my techniques changed and I started talking to them and helping them learn that in love, I couldn’t be reluctant to assert discipline when needed, as structure is a sure sign of love. Saying “I love you enough to want what is safe and best for you” means occasional trips to time out.
The boy was a little more difficult to reach. He is a “Mama’s boy” through and through and she can do no wrong in his eyes. At least that was his way of thinking in the beginning. He cried for her every night. Usually, I would just ask his father to go in the room and be with him because he was in pain. Then, one night I reluctantly went to him myself. I sat on the edge of his bed and just listened as he poured his little heart out to me. I spoke to him softly and stroked his hair, and explained to him that his mother loves him and misses him too but that she is just sick right now and needs a little help finding her way back to him. He slowly dried his eyes and asked me to lay down with him. That night I wound up falling asleep on his bed, holding him in my arms. I wasn’t his mother but I was going to try and offer the motherly love he so desperately needed. He was willing to receive my love and from then on things changed a lot between us.
Today, the children are ten, eleven, and thirteen. We still have our moments but overall they have come to look at me as their “mother figure”. We have gone through money problems together, drama, arguing, and everything else normal families experience, but we made it to the other side of all that. I am grateful that I made the decision to stick it out and stay, not only for them but for myself.