Here’s what I think: the only opinion that matters about whether or not you are a good stepmom is the child’s. He or she is the only one who gets to weigh in on that. Not your partner, or his ex, or his parents or anybody else who wants to judge what you are doing.
Let me be clear – I like kids a lot! The focus of my work as a holistic health professional has been with children, specifically to help them with challenging behaviours. I believe that all children want to please their parents and other important people in their lives. When they don’t seem to want to do that, something is going on that needs to be healed!
But I also understand that a woman has every right to have life goals that just don’t include being a mother. And goodness knows, none of us ever set out on a quest to become a stepmom! It wasn’t on my bucket list, that’s for sure.
So, how can you avoid just feeling guilty all the time if you ended up with kids in your life via your spouse’s earlier relationship? What can you do that doesn’t make you feel like a total phony when you are with them?
From the child’s perspective, you can be a more-than-good-enough stepmom if you do two things:
1: give them more opportunity to get what they need from their dad than they would have if you weren’t around, and
2: give them the space and encouragement to love their mom while they are with you.
You see, when kids lose their family to divorce, they lose more than the chance to be with both their parents at the same time. They lose the right to love both their parents at the same time. It’s either mom or dad, all the time, and it’s just not good for the human heart to live like that.
To be a good stepmom according to the child, you have to be OK with hearing them talk about their mom and know that it’s not meant as a comparison with you. If you can just understand that it’s normal for them to miss their mom when they are with dad, you are already being a good stepmom!
When you hear them say “My mom has that same sweater” or “My mom gives makes better hot dogs”, you have to remember that they aren’t judging you. They are asking you to acknowledge that they have a mom, just as they might do if they were visiting a friend or if you were a teacher. All they need from a good stepmom is for her to say “Oh, really? Tell me more!”
The best part about being a stepmom who doesn’t like being around kids is that your instincts will lead you to give them the best thing in the world – more dad. It’s his show anyway – at least, it should be if the kids are going to get their basic emotional needs met – so just leave it to him.
Feel free to use visitation time to do some of the things you don’t do when you’re alone with your partner, like hanging out with your girlfriends, taking long walks immersed in a favourite podcast, sitting through a double feature at the art cinema or working out at the gym. He can carry on doing just what he would do if you weren’t in the picture!
Of course, you should make an effort not to telegraph your dislike, just as you do when you have a boss or co-worker you don’t care for. Schedule some time to be with them and do your best to be natural and friendly. Just make sure that it’s not longer than you can be comfortable.
If you need a little help relating to an especially difficult child, check out my free resource for tips on dealing with challenging kids: