How To Be a Good Stepmom.
**Warning – Long Post**
Being a stepmom is probably the biggest thing that has ever happened to me.
I honestly didn’t think about what I was signing up for when I agreed to marry the hubby. Love had kept me quite blind. My two stepkids and I had jumped from being practically strangers to being family. So the lessons I’ve had to learn were pretty huge and happened fast.
Here are my 10 personal commandments.
The Kids Had No Choice.
The first rule to be a good stepmom is to know that the kids had no choice. They didn’t choose me. I chose them and their father. To expect the kids to be sensible and care enough to accept me and draw me into the family would be unrealistic and idealistic. Unless I married a 60 year old man and his kids are all grown up with families themselves, the kids are not going to hug me enthusiastically and say welcome to the family. This was the first thing I had to learn to accept.
Love The Kids.
This sounds straightforward and easy. But 99% of the stepmothers out there who have problems with their stepkids did not do just that. I learnt to love the kids. I love them when they are good.. I love them when they are bad.. I loved them even when I thought I couldn’t anymore.. I would love them even when they didn’t love me back. The only way to have a meaningful relationship with a kid.. any kid.. is if they know and truly believe that you love them.
Do not expect the kids to call you “Mommy”.
The only time a woman has the right to expect kids to call her Mommy is if she gave birth to them or she raised them for at least 80% of their life. What is most important is not what they call you but the relationship that you share. Focus on that. It is hard. But remember that you want the kids to always call you.. it doesn’t matter what.. as long as they always call FOR you.
Be a parent. Not a friend.
Stepmoms would always try too hard to please the stepkids. Do that for a while in the beginning. You don’t want to piss off the kids before you’ve built anything together. But once you know that they know you love them, step up and be a parent. Kids don’t need their stepmom to be a friend. They need a parent. A guardian. To teach them what’s right. And to correct them when they are wrong. Our role is a nurturing, guiding, loving one. Don’t teach your stepkids too many bad stuff just so you want them to think you’re cool.
Always always always be there for them.
Stepkids have gone through one divorce, possibly an ugly one. Someone (be it their mother or father) had once left the family. They wouldn’t be the most secure little people in the world. You’ll be lucky if they still believed in marriage. Being passed from one parent to another every year becomes a way of life for them. Sometimes, they’ll get caught in situations where no one is there for them. As a stepmom, the biggest gift you can give to your stepkids is to put them as your first priority and always be there for them. Especially when their own father or mother cannot be.
Don’t shower them with gifts. Learn to say No.
This is probably the hardest because we want to keep the kids happy so that they’ll like us and be nice to us. But no blood parent in the world would shower their kids constantly with gifts. Because they know that they’ll be spoiling the kids and paving the way for their own self destruction later. The easy way out with being a stepmom is to give the kid everything he wants. That’s not love. That’s destroying the kid. If you truly loved the kid like your own, you would raise the kid to know the value of money and instill a reward system with gifts. When I first knew our gal, I chided her constantly for spending too much money on clothes. It was stepmother suicide, but I knew I had to do it if I loved her. If I took the other way.. i.e. gave her all the money she wanted to shop.. I would be ruining her, not loving her.
Nurture their relationships with their father AND mother.
Focus on the part that is “AND mother”. This has been the toughest thing I’ve had to do as a stepmother. Putting aside my opinions or feelings, and teaching the kids to love and honour both their parents. Don’t ever try to sabotage the kids’ relationship with either parent. Any kid that grows up hating or not having a relationship with any one parent would always have a void in their heart and would grow up with regrets. If you love your stepkids, nurture their relationship with their parents and teach them not to take sides. It’s the right thing to do.
Guard and protect the kids.
Do not.. I repeat.. DO NOT do anything (stupid) that would hurt the children. Some stepmothers think they are being clever if they tell their stepkids the truth about why their parents broke up. Or they think they can be closer to their stepkids if they tell the kids stuff that makes other people look bad and they look good. Remember that the role of a stepmother is no different from a mother. Our role is to guard and protect the children. If something would hurt them, reduce them to tears, cast self doubt or make them feel vulnerable and insecure, keep the kids away from it.
Teach them good values.
Constantly keep the kids in an environment with good strong values. Kids from broken homes may have memories of their parents screaming at each other. Or may think that it’s alright to walk out of a family for another person. Or may feel that they are not important and it’s only always about what the adults want. Teach them the importance of family. Teach them the importance of being good people. Be firm when they are being disrespectful. Show them the importance of having good values. You have the right and the responsibility to do so. With a good value system, the kids will grow up to be good people who know what the priorities in life are. They will make sound decisions and live happy lives. A kid without a good value system will self destruct through selfish actions, poor prioritisation and poor attitude in life. We don’t want that.
Never lie to the kids. Even when things are tough and the truth hurts, guide the kids to be strong but never lie to them. If they came from a broken home, chances are there would have been a good amount of lies spun in their lives. The last thing they need is yet another adult who wouldn’t tell them the truth. When I don’t want to tell the truth, I evade the topic. But I never lie. And when they know that you are always honest, they’ll have someone in their lives that they can always trust.
Be patient. Wait.
People always say, “They are still young. Wait till they grow up.” It’s very true. Don’t expect good things to happen overnight. Don’t expect children to know how to swing from being a bratty kid to being a sweet endearing one. Even if they wanted to. Cut them some slack and give them time. If you’ve been a good stepmom, trust that they’ll grow up to be wonderful kids. And the day you realise how wonderful they are, and it brings tears to your eyes.. that’s the day you’ve become a good stepmom. =)
Disclaimer: I speak from my own experience and the lessons I’ve learnt. I get asked alot by fellow stepmoms about how to be a good stepmom. I am no saint and certainly no expert. I’ve made lots of mistakes and have my share of struggles. This journey is a very tough one and there is no one single formula to be a good stepmother. It’s a constant learning process. But we’ve laid our beds, so suck it up and do it right. Good luck.
[Postscript on 5 August 2011 - Comments were closed earlier, but I've opened the space up now. Please feel free to leave word.]