Today’s brilliant guest blog is by Carrie Collins Fadell
What is a Stepmom to Do with All of These Expectations?
Like my stepchildren, I wasn’t a disciplinary problem in high school. Rest assured, I was a typical chore-avoiding, eye-rolling teenager at home. At school, I was rarely in trouble. In the fall of my freshman year of high school, I do vividly remember being called down to the vice principal’s office. I was called out of English class. This must be really important, I remember thinking. When I arrived in the office, the vice principal seemed very concerned and proceeded to ask me if I had any idea what traits future employers would look for in me as a potential employee. Would I be able to offer those?
The public high school I attended was located in a small Midwestern town that boasted one stoplight and didn’t even have a McDonald’s. Since my employment options at 15 were limited to babysitting or farm work, I wasn’t sure where this conversation was headed until the discussion turned towards my wardrobe. On that fateful day, I had boarded the school bus wearing a new black and white polka dot skirt, a white top with black piping on the seams, and … (wait for it) one black and one white shoe. It was clear to me that I wasn’t meeting his expectations of how a student should present herself. I was crestfallen. I had channeled my inner Madonna and failed. I had put great care and planning into an outfit that I had purchased myself. Yet there I was, the 1991 rural Michigan version of Lady GaGa to him. And I couldn’t dance or sing.
As a society, we’ve come a long way in the last 20 years on celebrating the individuality of youth. I think you would be hard-pressed anymore to find a public school principal whose morning disciplinary actions are dominated by 15-year-olds wearing shoes of different colors. If a student were to be called into the principal’s office today to discuss her shoe choice, her peers would see it as a badge of courage to be different. Mismatched shoes would be the new trend, and the next day dozens of students might even be following suit.
In some ways, I think there needs to be a similar shift for stepmothers. Being a stepmother isn’t a thing of horror. Just as in adolescence, there are gut-wrenching step-parenting moments that you would never want to relive. However, just like in your teenage years, you keep on moving, survive, and thrive. One thing that stepmothers can do is decide not to let others’ expectations define them. How society views the role in general and how your partner’s ex-wife views your role shouldn’t change you. It shouldn’t define you and your life. Too often, though, it does.
When it comes to our role as a stepmother, we have expectations, the kids have expectations, the biological mother has expectations, and our partner has his own expectations. Is it any wonder that there are times that we don’t know if we are coming or going?
What about you? Have you even given yourself the chance to decide how you want to define your role and experience as a stepmom, or did everyone else’s clamoring voices drown your inner voice out?
I often hear complaints that stepmothers get mixed messages from exes, their own partners, and the kids as to what the stepmom’s role should be. On a Tuesday, a stepmother may be on the receiving end of dirty looks from her stepchild’s biological mother for attending an elementary open house. The stepchildren might not even talk to her at the event out of fear of making Mom very angry. The stepmom’s partner might even encourage her to skip this event so that there isn’t a scene with his ex. But on Thursday, when the stepchild is sick and needs to be picked up from that exact same school and shuttled to the doctor, the stepmom becomes more than welcome to participate equally as a parent and fulfill both of those tasks. Her stepchild is probably glad to see her and bonds with her at the doctor’s office, her partner might buy her flowers on the way home from work and tell her she is a great stepmom, and the biological mother might even comment that the stepmom saved the day because no one else could rearrange their morning. Welcome to the stepmom version of the Twilight Zone.
It doesn’t make any sense, so maybe we should stop waiting for it to make sense and enjoy our lives. Just like two different colored shoes didn’t make sense – that day, I wanted to be happy in my own skin and enjoy my life. It wasn’t dangerous and it wasn’t hurting anyone; I should have held my head high and marched down the hall at school. Similarly, I would like to see stepmothers unshackle themselves from the chains that others use to hold them down and walk with their heads held high.
Whether you are at the soccer game that no one wanted you to attend or you skipped it to enjoy some peace and quiet – work it, girl. You are the stepmom and there is no one like you!
- Remember that this is your life, too. Your stepchildren will grow up and have adult lives of their own. You and your partner will be left with the life that the two of you have created. Make sure it is a good one!
- When struggling against expectations that others are placing on you breathe deep and remember that not everything has to be addressed at once. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
Carrie Collins Fadell, MPA is a college instructor and runs a media promotion company. She has been a wife and childless stepmother for six years. Catch up with her at: The Thoroughly Modern Stepmom www.modernstepmom.com