Tuesday, March 25, 2014

mind over martyr

When I became a stepmother nearly 7 years ago, I knew my life would be different. Going from no children, my own apartment and a whole world of freedom to a crowded townhouse, two children and a world of Barney and Dora the Explorer was quite a shock to the system. At first, it all came very naturally. Since Hubs and I were at the beginning of that "head over heels in love" stage, everything with the girls was a joy. Dirty dishes, laundry, picking up their toys...I didn't care. I was crazy in love and even peanut butter in the DVD player was a hilarious story to tell.

That feeling didn't last forever.

It's only natural. The more time that passes, the less you look at your stepchildren as "steps" and the more you look at them as "children". And that's a good thing. A relationship of only rainbows and unicorns is simply unsustainable. Humans annoy each other, and your stepkids are no different.

The problem arises when we, as stepmothers, tend to feel bad, or even guilty when a negative or less than perfect feeling arises about our family situation. Rather than share those feelings and explain that we're struggling, we bury our emotions deep and think that someday, this will all work itself out.

As I've said hundreds of times on this blog before, stepmothers have a it rough. We love like parents, laugh like parents, feel, cry, worry, fear...all like a real parent. But we aren't a true, real parent and we never will be. So when a situation occurs that requires us to act like a real parent, we second guess ourselves. We wonder about our rules and our boundaries. And then, we get angry that we're even having this conversation with ourselves to begin with. 

And that, my friends, is how a tried and true StepMartyr is born.

For example, it's a beautiful day out and Hubs, myself and the kids are playing outside. I know dinner needs to get on the stove, and I certainly don't want to leave all the fun to do it. So I begin to stew about it in my own head with thoughts like this:

I should just do it. Hubs is having fun with his girls. I'm just a stepmom, and he's their real father, so he needs this time more than me.

I'll just cook dinner and leave all this fun. *sigh* But man, they better recognize the sacrifice I just made for them and eat every last bit of this dinner.

I'm sure they'll thank me. Because of me, they get to play longer. Maybe Hubs will even do the dishes. I'm so amazing.

So I leave the family fun and go and cook dinner. And the more I cook, the higher the expectations get. By the time dinner's ready, if someone doesn't throw me a god damn dinner parade, I'm going to go straight upstairs and have a pity party for the rest of the night.

No no no no no no no no.

This is bad, StepMartyrs.

We are JUST AS important in the family as our husbands and our stepchildren. We are a part of the family. Stepmother's are no more obligated to exit playtime and cook a meal than Mama Ex is. Hubs is just as capable of handling chores, clean ups, dinners and laundry as we are. As are the children. The family is a unit, and all parts of that family must work together to keep the unit running smoothly. 

In order for all of this to happen, we as stepmothers must realize that we are two things:

a) not a doormat or a maid
b) not special

I realize that sounds harsh, but we simply can't have our cheesecake and eat it, too. If we wish to be treated like a real parent, we must be willing to accept that our stepkids are going to annoy us, abuse us (in a teenage way) and drive us crazy just like they would Mama Ex or Hubs. We cannot demand equal treatment and then, in the same breath, expect to be treated differently just because we're feeling sorry for ourselves on any given Wednesday.

We must learn to talk about things with our husbands and stepkids, and tell them when we're having an internal struggle. We have to speak up when things feel out of balance, and we find ourselves slipping into StepMartyr-dom.

Here's a few tips:

1) Don't make dinner just because you're a stepmom. Make dinner because your SK's just said they're dying for your homemade Chicken Noodle Soup. Celebrate that they ask for it. Arrange for them to do the dishes. You made it, they clean it. Family shares the load, yo. Oh, and tomorrow? The kids make you their famous Kraft macaroni. With extra cheese.

2) Don't help your SK's with their nightly routine just because you're a stepmom and you have to. Help them with at night because it's a great time to chat with them about their day and strengthen your bond with them. And then tell Hubs it's his turn tomorrow. Follow through on that. If you "just go ahead and do it" the next night because he doesn't volunteer, that's on you, StepMartyr.

3) Don't leave a great game of family Monopoly to make dinner just because you're a stepmom and the kids need time with their "real" parent. Screw dinner and have take-out tonight. Your family needs that time with you just as much as you do.

4) Don't let rules slide just because you're a stepmom. You and Hubs have (reasonable, I'm assuming) rules in your house, and your stepchildren must follow them. Don't fail to follow through on consequences because you're afraid of looking like a wicked stepmother. Kids would rather deal with steadfast expectations than wishy-washy guidelines. 

Bottom line? There's no need to be wicked or silently angry when you're having a difficult moment. Stepmommin' is hard. Share what you've got going on in that overly-analytical brain of yours and I promise, Hubs and your stepkids will thank you for it. 

And then you can go eat cheesecake. 

Do you ever find yourself becoming a StepMartyr? How do you stop it?


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