Tag Archives: stepchildren

“I thought I was the only one who didn’t love her stepchildren”

11 Jan

Not loving your stepchildren can make you feel guilty

A post that I wrote in March 2011 has been getting a lot of hits lately and stirring up all kinds of feelings. “Taboo Topics: Things that Stepmothers Don’t Want to Say Out Loud” was a three-part post based on a conversation I had with Heather Hetchler on The Stepmom Connection. The first topic was, “I fell in love with my husband, not my stepkids”.

More than a few stepmothers have had a “Thank God, I thought I was the only one” moment after reading the post and comments. And then, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are the indignant women that believe if you don’t love the kids, you should stay away from the man.

Some stepmothers love their stepchildren as much as they love their biological children. And then, there’s the rest of us experiencing a range of feelings towards our stepchildren, but not love. Yes, kids were part of the package. Yes, we knew that going in. If we didn’t already love our stepchildren, we hoped that those feelings would develop over time. And for some of us, it just hasn’t happened yet and for a few of us, it never will. But even the women who openly admit to not loving their stepchildren still treat them with kindness. We love our husbands, and the children are part of him, so we do our best by them, just as we would for any child.

Loving a man, but not his children is puzzling to us. We think to ourselves, “As a woman, shouldn’t I feel instantaneously maternal towards them?” If we don’t we think, “What the heck is wrong with me?” In a word: nothing. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s no reason to feel guilty. Give yourself time and be open to the possibility of love yet be prepared if it doesn’t happen. You can care for your stepchild his/her entire life and never really fall in love with them or have the same love as you do for your biological children. It’s totally normal. And based on the comments on the original post, it’s more common that you think.

If you’re a stepmother who grew to love her stepchildren over time, please share how your relationship with your stepchild evolved and tell us when you knew your feelings had changed.

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A Tale of Two Mommies

2 Nov

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that I think there are several different ways to make a stepfamily.  DH and I are not married, but you wouldn’t know it if we didn’t tell you.  In fact most of our friends are surprised to find out that we’re not.  Regardless of the lack of legal documentation, we consider ourselves a stepfamily.  My two oldest children enthusiastically embrace to DH as their stepdad.

Regardless of your views on homosexuality or same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian stepfamilies are also included under the umbrella of stepfamilies.  Because same-sex marriages are not recognized by most states it’s hard to get an accurate count of the number of gay and lesbian stepfamilies there are in the US, but they fall in the estimated number of families created by co-habitation.

Tina and Lisa

I recently reconnected with a friend via Facebook.  Lisa and I did cheer and theater together in high school so I was thrilled to find her. But I was even more thrilled to learn that she had found the love of her life in her partner Tina, after a very difficult marriage.

I know several lesbian couples, but Lisa and Tina are the only gay couple that I know with such a huge blended family.  When I asked Lisa if they would be willing to be interviewed, she quickly said “yes!” and I was lucky enough to pin them down for a chat before they left on a 3-week European cruise.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a stephousehold with two moms?  Read on!

How long have you been a couple?
We have been together for 4 years. In fact, we just celebrated our anniversary in Santa Barbara in September.
How many children did you each bring into the relationship?
We each brought three children to the relationship. We call it the “modern-day Brady Bunch”.  Lisa brought two girls whose ages are 19 and 17, and one boy, 12. Tina brought three girls ages 24, 19 and 14.  Lisa’s children are from her former marriage.  Tina’s two oldest children are biologically hers and her youngest is biologically her ex-partner’s. We also have 2 dogs together!

A "modern day Brady Brunch", Lisa and Tina both bring 3 children to the relationship ages 24 to 12.

 

What do your custody arrangements look like?  Do you have to do a big “kid shift” every other weekend?
With six children between the two of us, you’d think it would get confusing, but it’s really pretty simple. Tina’s two older girls are now over 18, but she was the primary custodian for both, and her ex-partner is the primary custodian for her youngest daughter.  My ex-husband is deceased, so I have full custody of my three children.

Was it easy to blend your families?
There were a few bumps in the road in the beginning. Our girls did competitive cheer together, (in fact, that’s how we met) so they were best friends first. Becoming sisters though, was a little bit of a transition.

Tina and I are friends with Tina’s ex. She’s a great person, and we all try to work together for the kids. In our experience, it’s very common in the lesbian world for ex-partners to remain friends. In fact, I think it’s even more so than in the straight world.  A couple of weeks ago we moved my 19-year old into her dorm at college and it was the three of us putting her room together.

I’ve always personally thought that there would be great advantages to having two moms in the household since traditionally women do much of the child-rearing.  What advantages and disadvantages of being raised in lesbian household?

Really and truly it’s just about two parents (either gay or straight) showing love and respect to their children and to each other. I think for us personally, we tend to just pick up when the other one needs it. We seem to know when to step in and take over for one other without even saying. We just seem to know when one of us needs the other to be stronger. Call it women’s intuition? I don’t know, but it’s wonderful.

I don’t really see that we have any real disadvantages. We joke around a lot about who got the “lesbian gene” and who didn’t when something breaks, but the truth is we both try to fix it until one of us gets it. It all works for us. Tina loves to cook and I love to clean. Tina doesn’t mind laundry and I don’t mind gardening. Tina’s good at math homework and I’m good at school projects. Tina’s great at sports and I’m great at rhinestoning everything (and I mean, everything).

Being in a stepfamily has many of the same challenges whether you’re gay or straight. Do you think there are unique challenges to lesbian stepfamilies? How do you overcome them?

The most challenging part of any stepfamily is everyone trying to find their place. Where do they belong? Where are their boundaries? Tina and I have different boundaries with each other’s kids than we do with our own. For example there are some things that only I can say to one of my girls that she just doesn’t feel is her place to say and vice versa. Each child has a different place with both of us mainly because of their ages. Tina’s oldest was grown when we got together so I don’t really have a “parent” role with her but we have a great relationship. As far as my son is concerned we co-parent him together (he’s the youngest and the only boy). Each one of the kids in-between fall into categories according to their age. It took us a while to figure out how everyone fit together and where everyone’s place was and that was probably our biggest challenge.

If you could be the spokeswomen for lesbian stepfamilies in America, what would you want the world to know?

We would want the world to know we define “normal”. We are just like any other family. We deal with the same challenges every day that most families do. One of us works outside the home, one of us stays home with the kids. We have dinner at night together and do homework together. We go to baseball, football and volleyball games and to cheer competitions. We laugh, we cry, but most of all we love all six of our kids. We both truly love each other’s as if they were our own. I think the love and respect we show each other is the best thing that we do as parents.

Some people would like to think that lesbian households are not normal.  Let me tell you, my life is so normal now compared to what it used to be. My relationship with my husband was very dysfunctional and my children were raised in a home that the whole world saw as “normal”.  That was the farthest thing from the truth. Our family is what a family should be and I thank God that my children are now a part of a loving, safe home.

“Are they all…yours?”

21 Jul

One of these things is not like the other...

Since the day we became a couple, we’ve always gotten looks when we’re out with all of our kids.  We each came to the relationship with two: I have a son (15) and a daughter (8), he has 2 daughters (9 and 7).  Two years ago we added yet another girl to the mix.  We are a motley, mostly estrogen-driven crew of seven.  Some passers-by will look at us with pity while others smile knowingly about the joys of fairly large family. If you look at the kids, it’s obvious that we’re a blended family.   

Recently, in a guest post Café Smom, a BioMom listed her expectations on just how a stepmother should behave.  One of those expectations was the following:  “I am their mother. Don’t ever try and take my place! Be there for them but know your role and never introduce them as YOUR kids!” (emphasis added)

I take issue with the last part of that statement. 

I am well aware that I did not give birth to my stepdaughters and if you didn’t know us, it would be obvious by looking at us.  To the casual observer we either have two of my daughter’s friends tagging along, I’ve adopted two children or I’m their stepmother.  They look nothing like me, nor could they pass for being mine, but if someone asks me or DH “Are they all yours?”  We will both most certainly say “Yes!” 

In my opinion, saying something like, “Well, these three are mine, but these two, well, they’re my stepchildren,” does nothing for blending the family. Suddenly I can hear the old Sesame Street song “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” playing in the background.  That’s not the way I want any of the kids to feel.  I want my stepdaughters to feel like they belong even though we only see them every other weekend and I want them to know that we are a family even though their dad and I are not legally married (see “Unmarrieds: What do you call each other?”).

Oddly enough, in the midst of writing this post, I was at Costco with my two daughters and my best friend’s three daughters who were visiting for the weekend.  An older couple came up to me and said, “I just want you to know that you have a very beautiful and very well-behaved family.”  I loved that they assumed they were all mine and replied with “Two are mine and three are my best friend’s daughters.  I’ll let their mother know what a nice compliment you gave them.”  That made me think: should I be saying that about my stepdaughters?

I’d love to hear from EOW stepmoms who have been in the trenches five years or less:  how do you introduce your stepchildren?  Do you introduce them as yours or do you point out who belongs to which parent?  Do your stepchildren mind if you introduce them as yours?    

Why I love Wednesday Martin

10 May

A few months back, I read Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin.  One phrase has stuck in my mind.  Martin calls it “the ugly, unsentimental truth of stepmothering, a truth at once liberating and brutal…”

“…many of us do not –cannot– feel maternal toward them. While we did indeed choose a man with children, it would be disingenuous (for most of us) to pretend we chose the kids.  We chose him, and they came on the side.” P 68.

That one sentence alone liberated a lot of women.  Many stepmoms have an outward struggle with their relationship with their stepchildren.  But there are so many more that have an internal struggle that they don’t articulate for fear of being judged.

Here’s a perfect example of why they don’t talk: a stepmom friend of mine asked for some support in dealing with her relationship (or lack of one) with her stepchildren on her Facebook wall. Another stepmom friend replied with, “Recently, I came to terms with the fact that I many never have a relationship with his kids.  But then I remembered, I married him not his children.”  I know for a fact that she had read “Stepmonster” and felt good about being able to say that out loud without feeling guilty. Within a few minutes a soon-to-be stepfather wrote, “That’s horrible!  My fiancé has a daughter and I love her just as much as I love her mom.  They came as a package deal.”  And therein lies the problem:  if you don’t have maternal feelings for your stepchildren, if you don’t love them like they were your own, if you know deep in your heart that you’ll never love them as much as your own kids and you’re genuine about the way you feel, you get slammed to the mat.  Not just by soon-to-be stepdads but by your in-laws, other stepmoms, other mothers, BioMoms and maybe even your own husband.

Your internal dialogue may sound like this:  How can I not love them?  Why don’t I feel maternal towards them?  I’m a mother and a woman—that’s what we do!  Am I that much of a heartless shrew? Am I completely defective as a woman?

I remember the day I told DH, “I don’t think I’m ever going to love your kids as much as I love my own.”  The eternal optimist replied, “It might take some time.”  And I came back with, “It may never happen and that’s okay too. But that doesn’t mean I won’t do my best for them.”  It felt weird to say it out loud, but it’s the truth.

This is why I love Wednesday Martin.  Her book Stepmonster puts into words what so many stepmothers cannot for fear of being thought of unmaternal and defective.  She takes a refreshingly realistic look at what it’s like to be a stepmother.  I read several things in the book that I was personally struggling with, because I felt like I was the only woman on the planet with these issues. But somehow, reading other women’s stories made it okay for me to feel the way I do.  Stepmonster made thousands of women breathe a sigh of relief as they finally felt like it was okay not to love or even like their stepchildren.  And yet, so many of us are still quiet about it. 

How about you?  Do you feel conflicted about your relationship with your stepchildren?  Do you keep it to yourself? How do you feel about stepmothers who publicly admit that they don’t like their stepkids?