What was I thinking?! Just before my twenty-seventh birthday, I married a man with two kids who were fourteen and eleven at the time. I had no clue what I was getting myself into.
But I guess that’s the same with anything, isn’t it? You don’t know what’s in the package until you open it.
Sadly, their mom had died. They needed me. The wonderful man God brought my way had been struggling to work a full-time job while trying to be both mom and dad to his kids.
It’s a common scenario.
I was sure that this marriage was God’s will. I wanted to help with all my heart. So, I did.
The next five years were difficult, frustrating and disappointing.
My good-intentioned aspiration to fill a gaping hole in their family with love, security, normalcy and support fell flat.
I had longed to make a home where these two children could heal from the devastating loss of their mother.
It never worked. They snubbed my affection. They rejected my input and railed against how I wanted our home to be.
They were angry at their father for diverting attention to me. They were uncooperative and secretive.
I became resentful and frustrated when they rejected me and my efforts.
Within five years, both of the kids had moved out.
The older went out on his own the minute he turned eighteen. The younger moved to her grandparents at sixteen when we couldn’t manage her anymore.
I felt defeated, frustrated, and helpless.
In retrospect, I see what I did wrong that added to the trouble in our relationship. If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.
Four Things I Would Do Differently
1. Avoid a lot of changes
Both my stepkids’ bedrooms looked like a bomb had hit and everything they owned landed on the floor. Clothes, toys, books, you name it. It was literally a foot deep all over the rooms!
The obviously didn’t know how to keep a clean room, so I was going to help them.
Trying to make them keep their rooms clean was frustrating for all of us and not at all worth it. They didn’t want to change.
I should have just shut the door so I couldn’t see it and saved a lot of aggravation.
We moved to a new home in a new town with new schools when we got married. It was to reduce my husband’s hour-long commute and to start fresh like many newlyweds do.
Looking back, it would have been better to stay put to minimize the disruption. They had lost their mom.
Uprooting them from home and school contributed to their loss and grief and possibly added to their difficult behavior.
Let the kids keep the same surroundings, schools and friends, if you can. They need continuity to feel safe.
My stepkids were used to eating a lot of frozen food, like frozen fried chicken, which I had never seen!
I came from a home with a mom who was a wonderful, Italian cook. So, of course, I wanted to serve them delicious, homemade, healthy foods and that’s what I did.
Never again did would they have frozen fried chicken.
Several years ago, my stepson’s wife told me that he won’t go near chicken and rice or bananas since he had so much of them as a teenager.
That kind of hurt but it also struck me as odd. I didn’t serve chicken and rice that much…and what is wrong with bananas?!
I think his aversion to those foods are more about his aversion to me and the changes I made as a young stepmom coming into his teenage life, than about the food.
If I had it to do over again, I would have continued to serve them what they were used to on occasion, even the dreaded, frozen fried chicken!
Letting them have some of their old favorites would have contributed to their sense of security and normalcy and it wouldn’t have hurt them to eat junk once in a while.
Time with Dad
I remember my husband taking the kids out for “dad time”, but it wasn’t very regular.
In his view, he had spent a lot of time with them after their mom died, and it was time for him to build his relationship with his new wife. We were newlyweds, after all!
I was all for him spending special alone time with them, but after a while, when they rejected me, I stopped trying so hard to encourage it.
I would do things differently now.
Keeping a strong relationship between dad and kids is vital, even if it means you get less time together as a couple.
If they have a good connection with their dad and feel he is giving them some attention, they won’t resent you as much.
2. Don’t take on too much responsibility for their world
I defaulted to the 50/50 parenting partnership model when I got married. It should have been more like 75% on him and 25% on me with my stepkids.
My husband wanted things to be better and he loved my ideas and wanted them implemented. So, that’s what happened! I took on the renovation of the family.
I was all about keeping things clean, so they had their chores. I wanted them to be healthy, so I cut out the junk food. I wanted them to be respectful, so their disrespect never got a pass.
But it would have made for a happier and more peaceful transition if they continued in the way they were running their lives, at least for a while. Even though some things made me cringe!
Why? It would have been less disruptive for the kids and I would have avoided some of the confusion and hurt I felt when they rejected my efforts.
No matter how much you want to help, take a back seat for a while. You’ll be better off.
3. Let their dad handle most issues
Even though you are now an authority figure in your stepchildren’s lives, don’t advertise it!
I worked part time when we got married, so I was the parent who was home the most. Therefore, I engaged more with the kids on a daily basis than their dad did.
I tried to handle the school issues, completion of homework and chores, and anything else that came up.
Being on the front lines made me the bad guy a lot. I got loud push-back from one of the kids and quiet, seething resentment from the other.
I could have used the 1950’s cliche, “Wait until your father gets home!” Not as a threat, but to save myself from having to manage everything that adolescents have on their plate.
Plus, I would have dodged the rejection that they threw back.
Let dad be the enforcer, they already love him and have a depth of relationship clout that you don’t.
4. Don’t expect them to love, respect or appreciate you
I assumed that if I put my heart and soul into being a wonderful stepmom, I will be loved, respected and appreciated in return. How could they not love me?!
When my stepkids were grown and with kids of their own, I had heart-to-heart talks with each of them about those turbulent first years.
I apologized for the things I did wrong and it seemed like it was all good after that. I hoped that since we talked it out we could be closer going forward.
I pictured texting, phone calls, involvement in their lives.
But that was not to be. They’re just not interested in being close and you know what? That’s okay.
I hope your stepkids love you and appreciate your crazy, hard work trying to be a positive influence in their lives.
But they might not and, sadly, that’s not something you can change very easily, or at all. Especially if you make mistakes like I did.
We do our best with what we have at the moment. When we know better, we do better.
I’m confident that God knows our intentions and still counts our good efforts. The results are up to him!
Hindsight is 20/20! I was a young woman with the best intentions, and I gave step-parenting my best shot. It didn’t turn out the way I planned, and even though it was disappointing, I’m okay with it now. I learned a lot about kids and life through that experience.
- Relationships are more important than performance.
- If you build the relationship, the respect and love will come and then they are more likely to cooperate with you when you instruct them.
- It’s okay to relax your high standards and just enjoy the journey.
- Every attempt to love, care for, nurture, guide and support your stepkids still counts. No matter the outcome.
Thanks for visiting my blog! Please share and comment. I’d love to hear from other stepparents about your trials and triumphs.