I am not Lady Termaine
“When I grow up, I want to be a stepmom”. That’s a phrase I highly doubt any little girl has ever said. When I was young and thought about stepmothers, the first person that came to mind was the dreadful Lady Termaine from Cinderella. A selfish, heartless, cruel, and purely evil woman who preyed on Cinderella’s innocence by dehumanizing her and using her as nothing more than a mere house servant as she was expected to be at her malicious stepmother’s every beck and call. The same goes for Snow White, with a stepmother so evil she saw it better to flee into a terrifyingly enchanted forest lest she die at the hands of the huntsman her jealous stepmother sent to kill her. So, let’s be honest, stepmom’s get a bad rap. And that’s putting it lightly. While I always knew I wanted to be a mother, I don’t think the thought or desire to be a stepmom ever crossed my mind until 2021…the summer I met my husband. It has proved to be one of the most rewarding, humbling, and challenging decisions of my life.
My relationship with my husband is almost a fairytale in and of itself. Although not perfect, we made a hard situation work because of the love that quickly grew between us. With me in North Carolina and him in Louisiana, we didn’t let eight hundred and eighty-one miles (12 hours and 43 minutes to be precise) keep us away from each other. As Summer faded into Fall we somehow made a way to spend a week out of every single month apart, together. The distance was a challenge, yes, but it also taught us how to communicate. Our long talks on the phone and over facetime allowed us to quickly bare our souls, our pasts, our fears, and allowed us to love each other for exactly who we are.
As I grew to love Johnny I grew to love every piece of him, including his role as a father and including his son, now also mine. The desire to be a stepmom was no longer foreign to me. My commitment was not only to my husband, but also to his son. I knew early on I would become a mother figure in his life and this both excited and terrified me. I read book after book and I stayed up many late nights talking with my husband about the healthiest way for me to be introduced into my step son’s life and what my role would look like once I became a wife and stepmom. We took it slow and grew our bond a little bit every day. And every day as I grew to know my sweet little boy, I grew to love him more and more.
Before I moved from North Carolina to Louisiana, we took a vacation together (the three of us) so we could see how he was adjusting and if we needed to give my decision to move more time. I do not exaggerate in the slightest when I say this trip was the highlight of my life. I got to spend 5 full days, playing with and loving on the sweet child I had grown to cherish so much. We played in the crashing waves, caught hermit crabs and tiny fish along the shoreline, laughed until our bellies hurt, and played hide and seek until all of the best hiding places were used up. I knew then that the bond I had with my stepson was like no bond I had ever known. How could I love a child so completely that I had not given birth to myself? I don’t have the answer to that question, but I know how lucky I am because not every stepparent can say the same.
So, when I say that being a stepmom is one of the most challenging and humbling experiences of my life, I am not saying this because of my stepson. Thankfully, our week at the beach was just a tiny glimmer of the wonderful moments and beautiful bond we have continued to grow and I continue to cherish. The real challenge came when the reality of co-parenting hit and we realized just how difficult blending a family in high conflict circumstances can be.
In building my stepmom community, I have come to find that I am not the only one stuck in the middle of a very challenging and high conflict co-parenting situation. I see so many stepmoms talk about their struggles with bio-moms. Honestly, the majority of comments and posts I see regarding step parenting are insanely negative and I find it heart breaking. So many women who have altered the entire trajectory of their lives in order to care for and love a child they did not give birth to, are mistreated and undermined by being told they have no say in decisions that totally and completely impact every aspect of their home, schedule, relationship, time, emotions, and finances. I am so very blessed to have a spouse that values my input and respects my role as a mother in our home, but there are so many who do not experience the same.
This blog post is an attempt to validate your feelings and let you know - it is your home and your opinion does matter. First and foremost I wanted to remind you that you are not alone. Secondly, I want to mention some things about step parenting in a high conflict situation that I am learning along the way…
Although the bio-mom is a parent, she is not a parent in your home.
Now of course, there will be times your partner needs to collaborate with her in order to make important decisions regarding your stepchild, but her opinions and demands of what goes on in your home simply do not matter. Let her tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, and let it go in one ear and out of the other. As long as you can truly sit back and say that you are doing everything in the best interest of your stepchild and you are parenting in line with the boundaries and roles you and your partner have set, the rest doesn’t matter. Let her comment her opinions of tablet time, bath time, who can conduct school pick ups and drop offs and simply ignore it. As long as the child is safe, what goes on in your home is frankly not her business, and the same goes for her home and you.
The bio-mom’s cruel comments and complaints regarding you, say a lot more about her than they do about you.
You are a reminder that her marriage failed. You are a reminder of what her family could have been. It’s a difficult truth for her to accept, and if you have any empathy you can understand why. Despite this truth, it does not give her a pass to be unkind, belittle you, or make you feel small. But please understand, that this behavior likely means she feels small, insecure, and is resentful about what she could have had herself. She projects these feelings onto you in order to make herself feel powerful, in control, and to support the narrative that you and your spouse are the “bad guys”. While I will always stand behind taking up for yourself and holding others accountable, people who feel this way can be highly antagonistic and the cruel remarks and non-sensical demands can come at you non-stop. I encourage you to pick your battles and take the high road. Try your best not to take what she says personally, it is most likely not really about you anyway. When she comes at you in an antagonistic way, take a step back in order to respond rather than react. Remember, when you respond to her cruelty with kindness, gentleness, or even silence, it is like throwing water onto a flame. A fire cannot burn without fuel.
Remember you are doing this for your stepchild, not for the bio-mom.
The bottom line is, the bio-mom’s comfort and ego is not your concern or your business. Your stepchild’s safety, emotions, and well being absolutely are. A stepmom does not need to withhold their love for their stepchild in order to appease the insecurities of the bio-mom. Stand your ground. Love them HARD and love them well. It’s not about her, it’s about them.
Protect your stepchild from the negativity, conflict, and further abandonment trauma at all costs.
When you are in a high conflict co-parenting situation, your life can be all consumed by this negativity. And quite often, I am certain, this is the toxic bio-parent’s goal. The events taking place can really pull you away and prevent you from being present and engaged during your custody time. Remember that your stepchild has already been through a horribly traumatic event that often leaves them with abandonment fears and wounds. What they need most from you is your love, attention, and your presence. It can be difficult to step back and disengage from conflict, but when your stepchild is in the home it is absolutely necessary. Put your phone down or set it on “do not disturb”, set boundaries regarding when and what you will discuss with your spouse regarding what is going on, and give your stepchild the undivided attention and unconditional welcome and love they both need and deserve. Your time with them is limited and unfortunately, the conflict will still be there when they go back to the other home. Worry about it and save it for then. Spending quality time with your family is a wonderful way to disconnect from the controversary.
One of the best ways you can love your stepchild is by loving your spouse.
Your spouse’s prior marriage ended for a reason. Most likely it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Ultimately, your spouse decided that it was better for the child that they not be with the other parent. Show your stepchild what a loving marriage looks like. Let them see you shower your spouse with affection, respect, and love. Give them a good example of what they want their future marriage to look like. Help them feel secure and stable by showing them the unbreakable bond you have with their father. Show them that healthy relationships do exist so that they can set this standard and expectation for themselves in the future. You love your stepchild well when you love their father well.
One day your stepchild will be an adult, and they will know the truth.
Right now your stepchild is too young to understand or be exposed to the hate, hurt, and toxic behavior coming from the bio-mom. Right now it is your job to protect them from that pain as much as possible, but one day they will see things for what they truly are. What do you want them to see about you? Do you want them to look back and see a stepmom that added to the controversy and chaos? Or do you want them to see someone who stood strong, responded with kindness despite the cruelty and chose the high road because the love you had for them outweighed any desire for revenge? I don’t know about you, but I want my stepson to know without a doubt that every decision I made, I made because I loved him and I put him and his well-being first. He may not notice it now, but one day they will.
There is so much more I can say, and eventually I will. But the bottom line is - you have to find peace in the conflict and chaos. Not only do you need it, but your stepchild needs it in order to heal and grieve their parent’s divorce. Thankfully they have been given a wonderful gift -you! You have the power to aid in changing their perspective, healing their trauma, and you have the ability to show them what a loving and healthy household looks like. Don’t take this opportunity for granted. Change the “Lady Termaine” stepmom narrative and set the record straight. Stepmoms aren’t evil. They are women who have selflessly stepped into a role of loving, protecting, and cherishing a child they didn’t give birth to, but a child they chose.
Being a stepmom has been one of the most rewarding, humbling, and challenging decisions of my life. My boy is worth it, and I wouldn’t trade a single one of these moments for the world.