Few things bother me more than the stigma associated with being a stepmom. When you tell someone that you're a stepmom there is this underling assumption of turf war drama, rebelling stepchildren and high conflict custody battles.
When disclose your stepmom status, people's initial reaction isn't to ask how old the kids are, or what type of extra curricular activities they are signed up for. The response typically goes a little something like this:
"Oh how's that?"
"What's his ex wife like?"
"Do the kids like you?"
Strangers and acquaintances are just dying to hear the nitty gritty gossip of your blended family everyday. Even if there isn't any.
The thing is, people don't aggressively seek out juicy gossip from "regular parents", so why do they think it's appropriate to seek out information about a stepmom's dirty laundry?
The worst part is, when a stepmom does takes the bait, and answers these questions honestly, it only fuels the fire of the bitter resentful, evil stepmom stereotype.
The lack of support available to stepmoms is also troubling for me.
If you head to your Facebook newsfeed, it is most likely overloaded with compassionate and supportive articles about navigating your way through motherhood.
Step-motherhood support? Well that's another story.
Seriously, check out your favourite online parenting resource. Very rarely is there a section dedicated to step-motherhood or blended family life.
There is this idea that as a stepmom, because you made a choice to marry a man with kids, you "signed up for" the extra stressors that come along with it. You should just grin and bare it, because this is a choice that you made. No support necessary.
And if you get the guts to openly talk about your challenges? Well how dare you!?
Almost daily, stepmoms tell me that when they try and speak to their friends and families about the stressors that come with this undefined and complicated role, responses often include "well you knew what you signed up for when you decided to marry him".
Which in a small way I get. You knew he had kids, you knew he had an ex-wife, you knew it would be more complicated than marrying a man without kids... but no, you did NOT know what you were signing up for.
If you ask me, the idea that stepmoms should have known what was in their step-parenting pipeline is absolute CRAP.
Especially because women who struggle in all other walks of motherhood, are provided with so much compassion and support.
Here's what I mean.
When a new mother with a crying infant child, comes into the hockey arena with bags under her eyes and unwashed hair, she is instantly greeted by other supportive women. When she discloses that she hasn't been sleeping, and that the baby is up during all hours of the night, she is instantly bombarded with tips, strategies and compassionate responses. She's reminded that this just a phase and she will get through it soon.
Friends and family even offer to come over and watch the baby so the she can take a nap or get a fresh shower. She is reminded that it's important to take a break. She needs to take care of herself too.
But wait a second. Why?
Didn't this woman know what she was signing up for when she decided to have a baby? It's a well known fact that babies cry, and are up during the night? Her situation is not unique. She should have know that she would be tired... right?
Correct me if I'm wrong but, no one says to her, "well you knew what you were signing up for when you decided to have a baby dear. This comes with the territory"
Because even though this young woman had some idea of what it would be like to have a newborn baby, chances are it's way harder than she thought it was going to be. Chances are she didn't ACTUALLY know.
The point I'm trying to make is that, when it comes to all forms of parenthood, no one knows what they are signing up for until they are signed up
It's easy to look in on the outside and predict how it may be, however actually experiencing it first hand is a whole new ball game that involves foreign emotions and challenges that you didn't even know existed.
When it comes to step-motherhood, many other "players", such as your stepchildren, your own children, ex-spouses and new spouses also have foreign emotions & challenges that they didn't know would exist either.
There result? A complicated cocktail of emotions and challenges, that often lead to members (including Stepmoms) feeling overwhelmed, isolated and in desperate need of a support.
Look, this is not another angry post written by a bitter stepmom.
I personally love being a stepmom. Well, let's be honest, MOST days I love being a stepmom (wink wink)....
But all jokes aside, I do love it. I love our blended family life.
Amongst the complications and extra stressors that come with access schedules, co-parenting, and blending two families, there is a lot of joy and laughter. I am beyond grateful that I have been given the opportunity to help raise my three beautiful stepchildren. The truth is, I really lucked out in the step-kid department. They are pretty exceptional little people.
Personally, I've learned let the comments go in one ear and out the other. I've decided to thrive amongst the stigma. But I also happen to have some pretty thick skin.
Because that's not the case for all Stepmoms, I feel like we need to put a lid on the assumptions about Stepmoms and blended family life. We need to start treating all types of motherhood with the empathy and compassion that it deserves.
Most importantly, we need to stop telling stepmoms that they knew what they were signing up for, because it's just not true!