Anyone with children will tell you parenting is a 24/7 job that puts your patience to the test. Thought your coworker snacking on wasabi peas with their mouth open was irritating? Try having a kid who eats everything with their jaw seemingly unhinged.
And while the stress of parenting is rewarded with epic highs (the early morning snuggles, the impromptu hugs, the whole being a hero-who-can-do-anything), for stepparents, the reward of unconditional love and admiration is harder to come by. In fact, for some, it’s a downright emotional battle.
According to a national survey by IPSOS, 87 per cent of stepmoms agreed that their stepkids were just as important as their biological ones, yet just 53 per cent of the stepkids polled agreed that their stepmom was just as important as their biological mom.
While those stats are hard to swallow for parents raising little people that aren’t of their own blood, one mom hopes to change things. Sarah Paterson is the mastermind (and yes, both mom and stepmom to seven children) behind SocialStepmom.com, an online resource that connects stepparents.
Here are five things stepmoms struggle with, and how Paterson suggests to work through them.
Different parenting styles
“The challenge of balancing differing parenting styles is felt by all families, and is exacerbated when there are multiple households involved,” says Paterson. She suggests setting ground rules by having an open dialogue with your spouse. This will create an equal parenting playing field. And if you notice your partner straying from the dos and don’ts you established together, try to understand why.
“Are they feeling guilty? Trying to make everyone happy? Do they even realize they’re deviating? Understanding the root cause of the deviation is the first step to understanding if, and how, to address it,” says Paterson.
Disney cartoons made stepmoms out to be cruel. Remember Cinderella’s wicked stepmama? She was the worst. But real life stepparents just want to see their kids grow into awesome humans. “Stepmoms often care for their stepkids like any mother would, but they don’t have that mother-child bond that creates innate appreciation, so we have to work harder, and often this is missed,” says Paterson. “Fathers have an important role in helping teach their kids to be more appreciative of all people who care for them.”
According to an IPSOS survey, 85 per cent of stepmoms feel like their partner’s ex-spouse was purposefully undermining them. The family dynamic should hum like a well-trained pro sports team, not some ragtag beer league. “My advice is not to take the bait and not to participate in the tit for tat: children process the discord and this may set them up for their own relationship failures in the future,” says Paterson. Take the high road, always.
Spouses siding with children
“This happens whether it is your own children or not, so the best advice is not to take this one too personally,” says Paterson. Again, she says, it boils down to communication between your partner. “Depending on the situation, you may want to let it go.” Frozen style.
Stepmoms can carry just as much of the household weight (the lunches, the school pick-ups and drop-offs, the after-school sports, the dinners, the tuck-ins) without the same respect or “thanks, mom” acknowledgement. “Here is where you book a trip, spa, or just go read a book at a friends’ during the next ‘busy time’ and let the people in your household realize that the person they deem least important is actually the driving force to making things happen,” says Paterson. “Get noticed!”
It’s not about replacing biological mom–heck, she made that little thing in the first place. Parenting, especially as a stepmom, isn’t ever easy, but it can be easier with the right perspective and open communication.