Turns out, there’s no “how to be” guide, because identity is such a personal thing. But if you’re in the market for a good mentor, Dr. Nancy Peterson has a new blog called Skillful Steps rooted in her perspective as both a stepmom and a psychologist. With the understanding that there’s no clear model for success and that most research on the subject is outdated or indefinitive, her in-depth posts offer advice in the form of options and ideas to consider.
She tweets daily as well, and one of her recent tweets got me thinking: “We’ll know we’ve grown as a culture when #stepmoms are encouraged to come out of the background, drop their silence & just be who they are.”
Ever since Todd and I blended, there have been a few noisy quarters demanding to have a say in who I am as a stepmom. These voices have not been encouraging me to flourish or be fully present for Todd’s daughters. Before Todd and his daughters were in my life, I didn’t notice our cultural conversation about stepparents, but now that I’m here, everywhere I turn I see stepmoms and stepdads being squelched.
You are not a real stepparent. You are not a good stepparent. There’s another stepparent over there doing it better. You are overstepping. You are not doing enough. You are not properly looking out for the kids. You should butt out. You are doing that wrong.
If you are partnered with a man or woman with children from a previous relationship, you may have heard some of these things before. But here’s a fact: the only person who can define your identity as a stepparent is you. If you feel pushed, pulled, cajoled, nudged or otherwise manipulated, still, it’s your job to figure out how you will naturally express yourself in this role. No one else is responsible. I learned through trial and error that I have to listen and learn and tweak to find my way…and I still have more of that to do.
Lots of people–even your partner–will want a say in how you define yourself, so it requires discipline and clarity to figure out how you’ll proceed. It isn’t that you are better off tuning everyone around out. Your partner’s opinion matters, and your stepchild’s opinion matters. But at the end of the day, you have to live with yourself and be fine with how you do the things you do.
When you’re engaged with fine tuning your approach to stepparenting, the kindest, gentlest way to get broken in is to (a) stay close to friends who are excited for you to grow in this area, (b) ask for and receive emotional support from your partner and (c) go easy on yourself. Tell your inner voice to shush if it’s overly critical.
Side note: There’s a difference between your identity as a stepparent and your relationship with your stepchild. The stepparent/stepchild relationship is a dialogue, and both adult and child bring themselves to it. The healthier each person is, and the more comfortable with their identity, the better their relationship. If finding our way as stepparents is challenging at times, think of the stepchild. At their young age, they also must define themselves in relation to their stepparent. We’re working on a post about that…stay tuned!
Author Info: Sarah Kinbar is co-founder of Big Blended Family, Inc. She’s a proud mom in a blended family, and has two kids and two stepkids. She works at a flower shop and also freelances as a writer and editor.