My husband and I just celebrated our wedding anniversary. Our marriage has been challenging due to his ex and her instabilities, which inevitably trickle down to us.
Nevertheless, each year we like to reflect on the past year and how our marriage has improved.
This year I had a revelation during our conversation:
Stepmoms are not most women.
Many women would have left years ago. If you are reading this I suspect you are also not like most women. Who are we? Why do we stay? Why do we feel lonely? What do we sacrifice? What do we need? What do we get?
Who are we?
We are STRONG women, with even stronger values. We love our partners, even though their past life can bring turmoil. We have their backs, and we expect the same in return. We are strong because we care for our stepkids, sometimes just like they were our own.
I thought I was weak because I stayed with my husband through the high conflict custody situation. I would ask myself why I am staying with this man when he has all this baggage with his ex and kids. Am I afraid of getting back out there? Am I afraid of another failure? Am I tired of being alone? Absolutely, YES to all of the above! But, additionally, I love him. Just because we recognize our weaknesses doesn’t mean we have to let them rule us. Recognizing our weaknesses gives us power and the ability to stay strong.
Why do we stay?
The divorce rate for second and beyond marriages is high. Yes, there are more stepfamilies than traditional families but our statistics for longevity are poor. The average first marriage lasts around 8 years but the average second marriage lasts around 6.5 years.[i] The divorce rate for second marriages when one partner has children is over 65% and the rate rises to 70% when both partners have children. If you’re in a third marriage you have a 25% success rate.[ii] So, to increase odds, we need to learn how to take care of ourselves, and our partner needs to learn how to appreciate and support us as a new wife and stepmom.
This one may be tricky. Your new partner has to acknowledge your role in their life and that of their kids. The staying power starts when you and your partner start working together. The longer this process takes to accomplish the harder it is for your relationship. This may mean setting boundaries with that high conflict ex or structured rules for the kids. If their ex doesn’t like the new boundaries your relationship brings, that’s a huge indicator they were desperately needed.
Why do we feel lonely sometimes?
We can feel totally LONELY in a room full of stepkids with our partner’s arms wrapped around us. We can feel like we don’t belong to this family that existed prior to us. It can be hard to know how to incorporate how we like to do things with already established processes. Their old activities and traditions might not be ours. How can we feel like we belong?
It’s important that we work together as a family in setting rules, incorporating old traditions with new customs. Ask your partner and stepkids to be open to your suggestions. Ask your partner to include you in conversations with the kids, activities, rulemaking, discipline, and setting new family traditions. Your input is invaluable, will bring a fresh perspective, and it shows the kids you and their father are working together to make a new life, healing from past pains and showing them the appropriate functions of a healthy family.
Additionally, your partner needs to make sure his children understand your role as their stepmom. They need to allow you the freedom to set rules and help you maintain rules. The key is structure and consistency for both the ex and kids. Remember, not many of us stay so when we do we’re special.
Recognizing our weaknesses gives us power and the ability to stay strong.linda black
What do we sacrifice?
We SACRIFICE a lot! We give our love, patience, time, money and “turn the other cheek” each day. We have started a new family with our partner and often times we have added our own children to the mix. We are challenged with balancing who gets what and who did what to whom every day. Sometimes we just want to escape but commitment makes us stick it out.
Some nights we may just want to come home, put on our pj’s, and eat ice cream. We don’t want to prepare a meal or do laundry. But, these things still need to be done. We give up our free time to raise stepkids. It can be a seemingly thankless task. The ex may challenge or criticize every move, making our task that much more difficult. We may receive very little acknowledgment from our stepkids and an occasional thank you from our partner. Often, Mother’s Day goes totally uncelebrated with us, even though we do participate in the parenting. It can sometimes feel the sacrifices are not seen or appreciated.
What do we need?
It may feel as if we NEED their ex to move 10 states away and our stepkids to listen to our advice and rules with complete understanding and follow-thru. But, it’s not just about us and our vision of a perfect world.
So in our not-so-perfect world, here is what’s needed. We would appreciate occasionally being told that what we do matters and is creating positive change for our blended family. It helps to know our relationship with our partner is a major priority in their life. We need to know what we do is recognized and appreciated by both our partner and stepkids. We don’t demand a lot, but a little acknowledgment would be grand.
What do we get?
We GET a new chance at life. We GET the opportunity to live our lives with a new partner. We GET the opportunity to raise stepkids who benefit from what we bring to the family. We GET the chance to show our kids what a realistic but happy marriage and family might look like. Knowing what a divorced family feels like can give us the extra motivation to hang in there and work on our relationship.
We are not most women. We are strong, we get lonely, we make huge sacrifices and we need our partners and stepkids to acknowledge our role. But, in this world of turmoil and disappointment where it’s easy to leave, we STAY because the rewards are much more beneficial than leaving.
[i] Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, Family Law Attorneys, Everything You Need to Know about Divorce-Facts, Statistics, and Rates.
[ii] KSL.com, Stepfamilies: The odds are against us, Kimberly Sayer-Giles