The final few weeks leading up to my stepson’s high school graduation should have been full of joy and excitement. I have raised him from young boy to young man alongside my husband, and I relished in all of the little moments as he prepared to end this season: senior pictures, his eighteenth birthday, senior trip, and prom. Like many blended families, things got more complicated as the big day drew near…and it was my fault. You see, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that my stepson’s mom had her own story, and it didn’t have to be mine.
As stepmoms, I feel like we place the relationship with our stepkids’ mom on a pedestal – idealizing the thought of being “friends” with the other woman in our stepkids’ lives. Please don’t get me wrong: if this is your story (and you are), bless you! I believe that kids benefit greatly from both sets of parents sharing genuine affection. Unfortunately, for many (dare I say, most) stepmoms, this will never be reality…and not for a lack of trying! It’s the effort I want to address in this post; effort that can actually make life harder for our stepkids instead of helping them.
My stepkids have two different moms, and the three of us could not be more different. Our interaction over the years has ranged from heated exchanges to polite small talk, and at best, camaraderie over a specific set of circumstances we were facing with one child or the other. As a new stepmom, I dreamed about being one of those blended families, the kind that wears matching “mom” and “stepmom” shirts to the big game and celebrates the kids’ birthdays together. I can say with clarity now that it was simply not meant to be.
For my stepson’s graduation, though, I envisioned a lovely dinner with all of the extended family: his, hers, and ours. We have always instilled in both kids that family is family, and that they simply cannot be loved by too many people. I wanted my stepson to be able to celebrate for one night without having to choose between mom’s side or dad’s side, without having to sacrifice what he wanted for what the parents wanted, without having to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. And for all of my good intentions, what I wanted isn’t what my stepson needed…and that’s all that mattered.
Can we stop trying to beat our stepkid’s mom with an olive branch? A funny image, I know, but seriously: let’s stop trying to make peace on our own terms. Let her do her, and you do you. Planning a graduation dinner, and expecting my stepson’s mom to fit into my picture of one big happy family, wasn’t fair – and only made it harder on him. You and I are acutely aware of the loyalty binds our stepkids feel, and we have the opportunity to make it safe for them to forge a relationship with their mom without our interference. If you are expending significant energy on your relationship with their mom, ask yourself at what cost? Making it awkward for your stepkids, and uncomfortable for your husband? How about time, and money – have you bought gifts for the other home, only to have them returned? Reassess your relationship with your stepkids’ mom, as it really is, not how you want it to be – and invest some of that extra energy in your own marriage and family.
Your collective story is still being written, so don’t ever stop being kind, or believing the best. We can’t expect respect if we can’t also show it. You might be surprised to find that you get along better with your stepkids’ mom when you’re not trying so hard…or that your relationship is less high-conflict when there’s nothing to conflict about! God will use each of us moms in very different ways, and the sooner we get with that picture of motherhood, the sooner our kiddos will see the fruit of it.