Want to know one thing that makes step-family life difficult? Like a hard to solve puzzle? It’s the constant tension that lies between what is and what you want, between expectations and realities. I don’t know about you but I can get exhausted gearing up for a family function thinking about all the emotional landmines that have to be sidestepped. Even after everyone has relaxed into “normal”, there are still moments that remind you of the complexity of your family life. (Think weddings, graduations, etc.)
A lot of that tension exists because of the gap between intention and perception. See, we judge ourselves based on our intention (what we meant). We judge others based on their behavior (what they do). Problem! Only WE know what we mean. Others know only how our actions make them feel.
In the interest of helping you extend grace to your step-kids and hear their intention, the Stepmom Sanity team has compiled a short list of what your step-kids want you to know but probably won’t tell you.
Now, my sister, let me preempt your angst. Don’t take any negative item listed below as a personal affront. The less than desirable feelings are more about your position than you. Especially when the family is just beginning its in-step journey. Some are just the result of personality conflicts and growing pains. So relax. We’re providing insight to help you win the long game.
Disclaimer: The list below is neither exhaustive nor is it specific. These are but a few commonly held feelings expressed generally by some stepchildren. Understanding these may not speak to your specific need right now but it could speak to a future need or help you help a stepmom sister.
I COMPARE YOU
Especially if I’m a moody teen. I will compare you to my bio mom in everything; cooking, the way you dress, look, talk. I will even compare your ethics. I will wonder why my dad is with you and not my mom. If you get along with my dad’s mom I will ask my dad if grandma loved my mother. I will nitpick, looking for anything in which you cannot measure up to my mother. I need to find fault with you. Because, ultimately the real fear I struggle with is whether or not my dad loves you more than he loves me.
I APPRECIATE YOU
Even though I will compare you, I do appreciate you. I like that you try. I am encouraged by your consistency. I am grateful that you care. All the little things you do for and with me have created a greater sense of stability. I will be forever grateful for that.
I RESENT YOU
Sometimes it feels like I have to go through you to get to my dad. I’m offended when I go to him for $ and he talks to you before making a decision. I hate feeling like I have to compete for his attention. Be patient with me. I won’t really understand the concept of you two being “one” until I am married myself. Even then, I may still act like a brat from time to time. I’ll need help remembering you and dad are a team who needs to work together.
I WANT TO LIKE YOU
I don’t like tension any more than you do. You are important to my dad. You love him. You make him happy. I like that. I want to get along with you. However, looming behind my “want to” is the feeling that I’m betraying my mother by liking you. Especially if my mom is happier when I don’t get along with you. It’s going to take time and maturity (on everyone’s part) for me to understand that I can enjoy you and love my mom at the same time.
I LEARN FROM YOU
The younger I am the more influence you have on who I become. I watch you. I pick up your habits, your moods, how you interact with people. I may not always listen to what you say but I see everything you do. Don’t be surprised if one day I’m calling you for advice, repeating things you’ve said to me, or doing something in the exact way you do.
YOU SCARE ME
As wonderful as you are, you remind me that dreams die. I harbored this secret longing my parents would somehow get back together. It would make life so much easier for me (remember I’m still pretty self-focused). Your presence is a constant reminder that that my world can fracture and not recover in the way in which I want it. That scares me.
I WANT YOUR AFFECTION
I repeat. I want to like you. Surprise! I want you to like me more. I take note of the easy affection between you and your bio kids. You and my dad. I want to be a part of that. No matter how prickly I get, I want to be unconditionally accepted, appreciated, loved, and celebrated by all of the parental figures in my life. You are one of them.
NOT TOO CLOSE
But don’t come too close. At least not until I give you the “go ahead” signal. But I won’t tell you when I have. I mean you’re not my mom, even though you’re like a mom but I get nervous in the moments you feel closer to me than my mom. Yet, I want you close. So, just don’t come too close, unless, that is, I say I want you closer. Just don’t get angry when I need to push you away… look, I know I’m confusing you. Heck, I confuse me!
You’ve taught me a very important lesson. Family is more than just people related by “blood”. It’s a group of people doing life together, taking care of each other, being there for each other. That’s us. I care about you. I don’t necessarily like the events that preceded you coming into my life but now that you’re here I couldn’t see my life without you. You’re the “no pressure” parent. The one it can be easy to be with. We’re forging something special, creating memories, bonding. That makes us family.
YOUR TURN: HELP A SISTER OUT!
So, sister. That’s our list. What are some “not so secret” secret feelings you have noticed your children express? How have you been able to work your way through the more negative behavior you’ve experienced?
And, if this blog has blessed you, share with other stepmoms in your circle.