The Stepmom Balancing Act

There is a lot out there on what moms have to deal with in terms of conflicting ways of parenting.  Babies should be breastfed, but it’s too “gross” for innocent bystanders to handle so infants can’t eat around other people.  Kids shouldn’t play so many video games or watch so much TV, they should go outside and play in the fresh air or the sunshine, but they have to be sneaky about it because they might be kidnapped or the neighbors may call DHS.  Vaccines or not; screen time or not; organic or not; structured play or not; you get the idea.  It’s a LOT.

Motherhood is a balancing act.  We have to choose which path to take, which advice to listen to, and hope to god that we’re not screwing up our kids for the rest of their lives.  Some of us are even forced into choosing one path or the other – take, for example, a mom who can’t afford to work because the cost of daycare would be more than her paycheck.

I would argue that with all the crap that moms have to deal with, stepmoms have to deal with a little more.  Here’s what we hear:

Care about your stepkids – but not TOO much!  When I look up stepmom issues online, the most common arguments that I see from the moms of children who have stepmoms are either that the stepmom doesn’t give a rat’s butt about their kid, or that she’s stepping on toes by doing too much of the mom stuff while the mom’s not around.  As a stepmom, I get both sides of this.  It can be tough to care about a child who isn’t biologically yours (especially in the face of resistance), and it can be tough to identify those boundaries that you shouldn’t cross.

Be their mother figure – but don’t ever try to replace their mom!  Max has gotten pretty good at remembering that me and his mom are two different people, but it was something we both had to work at.  When we told him that he was going to have a baby sister, his immediate response was, “Oh.  Well, I guess my mom can take care of her too.  That would be okay,” and I let my husband correct the impression because I had to leave the room.  My husband once tsked me because Max was trying to correct – of all things – the way that I brushed my dog by saying, “My mom does it like this,” and I snapped, “Kiddo, I’m not your mom.”  While I’m not proud of snapping at him, I think it was very important that he and I both hear it.  I love him, and I’ll do everything in my power to help him succeed at life, but I’m not the woman who gave birth to him.  She is, and will continue to be, a huge part of his life.  I have to navigate the unknown waters of being a different but still huge other part.  Whatever THAT looks like.

Treat them like family, but remember always that they aren’t.  This one is touchy for both me and my husband, because we’re definitely still trying to figure out how this works.  I am Max’s stepmom; legally, I have no right whatsoever to him.  I am able to act in loco parentis (in place of the parent, in case your Latin’s rusty), which means I can do the basic things that people need to do in order to take care of children: I can feed him, take him places, establish house rules for him to follow, etc.  What I can’t do is make medical or educational decisions.  Which is very annoying to my husband, who wants to just leave all of that stuff up to me to deal with.  So I have to keep handing him forms to sign; a few months after Max has moved to our house, his doctor, dentist, and therapist are all still down in the city where his mom lives because my husband can’t find the time or the inclination to make the initial trip to a new (insert service provider here) closer to where we live and fill out the initial paperwork giving the standard parental permissions.  It is a constant reminder that, however much I love him and try to treat him like my own so that he feels like he belongs, he’s not mine.

Do any of you have experience with any of these issues (or others)?  Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

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