I have two “stepdaughters.” I use the word lightly because I’m still in denial about it.
As a woman who’s not exactly sold on the whole kid’s thing, the fact that I fell in love with a man who has not one but two kids is almost laughable.
But I did and now I’m a “stepmother.” Again, I use the word “stepmother” lightly. Actually, scratch that, I don’t use it at all because no way, no thanks.
The only way I can handle the fact that my husband has children is because they live in a different country with their mother. If we were to all live in the same country like some modern-day version of what it means to be a family, I don’t think it would work.
This is no secret to my husband. He knew how I felt about kids the night we met when he showed me photos of them 30 minutes into our conversation. We just didn’t think we’d fall in love, so there was nothing wrong with being brutally candid. But here we are.
It’s been a bit of trial and error… mostly error. We’ve been married for just over a year and it’s been a big change for me. I’m still not where I probably should be with this whole stepmom thing, even if it’s for only part of the year.
But at least I can recognize the stepmom mistakes I’ve made so far and hopefully evolve past them. (Emphasis on hopefully.)
Here are 7 stepmom mistakes I’ve made:
1. I thought I could ignore the kids.
I realize this makes me seem like some sort of devilish woman, but it’s true.
With the kids in France and us in New York City for half the year, I really thought I could turn a blind eye. Even when I’m in Paris, I’ve never had much contact with them because I really couldn’t be bothered.
However, the problem is that my husband is affected by his children — both positively and negatively — and I’m affected by him, so despite my best efforts to ignore them, it just isn’t going to happen.
Kids are loud, needy, and complicated. This is something I’m accepting by actually trying to engage with them. I figured it was easier than fighting it.
2. I tried to be their friend.
Being younger than my husband by more than a decade and now having one stepdaughter who’s almost 18, I thought I could be a friend instead of a mother-type figure.
I figured we could go out to lunch and talk about boys and sex, but then I realized a hard truth: She doesn’t want to hear about her dad’s sex life — and, of course, I don’t blame her.
It’s bad enough that I write about sex for a living and sometimes even reference my personal sex life in those articles. There’s really no sense in scaring her even more. She can get tips from someone else.
3. I tried to buy their affection.
I took advantage of the intimate knowledge that I was more financially well off than their mom and decided to make that work for me.
I invited the 17-year-old out for expensive lunches, took her shopping at Bloomingdale’s, offered to pay for play tickets, and indulged the little one in things like musical jewelry boxes and weird, pointless toys that she’d be bored with by tomorrow.
But I realized when it comes to kids and their moms, you can’t win them over with money. If someone offered me a million bucks as some sort of replacement for my mom, I’d tell them to go eff themselves.
4. I constantly compared my husband’s parenting skills to that of my own parents.
Having never been a parent of my own, the only parenting I’ve ever been privy to, aside from bits and pieces of my friends who have kids, is that of my parents. I
should also point out that despite having raised a daughter who isn’t gung-ho on the whole kid thing (although my sister is into them tenfold), my parents are perfect.
My sister and I wanted for nothing, had a strict upbringing that kept us in line, and were not raised in France which, to be honest, makes a huge difference.
I’ve learned that comparing the way my husband raises his kids to how my parents raised my sister and me is a waste of energy. I mean, we’re talking about a culture that practically invented sex or, at the very least, thinks kids as young as 12 can see R-rated movies in the theater. So, yeah, there’s that.
5. I’ve been easily angered by the fact that I have to share my husband.
I’ve never been able to share well. In fact, even as a little kid, my teachers assumed I was an only child, so having to share the man I married with his actual blood has proven to be difficult.
My husband is amazing in making time for all the ladies in his life (he has four sisters in addition to me and his two daughters), but my selfishness struggles to see it that way.
But I’m trying, like really trying, and I have to applaud myself for that… or that’s what my therapist says anyway.
6. I let their mother’s juvenile behavior infuriate me.
It’s better now, but at first, my husband’s ex was a nightmare. She went out of her way to try to ruin the wedding, refused to babysit the kids while we were on our honeymoon, stalked me on Facebook, and a whole other boatload of drama not worth mentioning.
Related Stories From YourTango:
I wasted so much energy on being angry at this woman for trying to sabotage my life, that I’d let the fury carry over into my relationship with my husband. We’d argue for hours about a woman who was years in his past and always end up at the same place.
Prone to juvenile behavior myself, every day is an exhausting measure in being mature — but I’m working on it.
7. I was totally delusional as to how hard it would be.
As I said, I thought I could ignore my husband’s kids. I now understand that I was setting myself up for failure.
You can’t ignore kids — and you certainly can’t ignore the kids of the man you married. While I’m under no legal obligation to have some stellar relationship with them, I am at least under the obligation of trying to make the best of it for the sake of the man I love.
Would it have been easier to have married a man who didn’t have kids? Hell yeah!
But that’s not how it worked out. So I’m doing my best, I’m messing up along the way, but I’m learning maybe, just maybe, how to be some sort of positive influence in their lives. (Although we shouldn’t jump to conclusions this early in the game.)
Amanda Chatel is an essayist and sexual health writer for Yourtango, Shape Magazine, Hello Giggles, Glamour, and Harper’s Bazaar. Follow her on Twitter for more.