The Package Deal

I define “The Package Deal” as an understanding that a woman accepts before taking on the role of stepmom or bonus mom. At times, we believe it’s enough to just love your partner and all things will just work out. However, it’s a bit more complex than that when you consider the family dynamic before you entered the picture. In the beginning of a relationship, you are enjoying the blissful aspects of your relationship such as the romantic dates, flowers, gifts, sex, daily text messages and phone calls. You are aware he is a father but depending on the visitation schedule, you may not have that much exposure to the child(ren). As a result, you can easily make a decision with limited information. I would suggest giving yourself time to see the family dynamic firsthand before making such a commitment. Because your partner has a dual role, you can’t have one without the other which is why it’s considered a package deal. If you try to divide the two, you will lose! When I started dating my future husband, he would have his son every other weekend but made it to school events, games and anything he was involved with. Every other weekend is not enough time for anyone to bond with their child(ren) and certainly not enough time for a future stepmom to catch a glimpse of what her life could be like.

As a stepchild myself, I resented the relationship or lack thereof with my stepfather no matter how bad I may have wanted it. He would make it clear that I wasn’t his daughter so we never connected on that level. I believe his rejection shaped me into the stepmother I am today because I refused to allow someone else to feel that pain. Many years later, I found myself feeling the same way because as much as I loved my stepson as if he was my own, he still wasn’t mine. Ironically, I have my stepfather to thank for showing me all the things I wouldn’t ever do with my stepson. I had so many choices early on to reject the package deal and make excuses to avoid connecting with my stepson. As I said yes to my future husband’s proposal, I was also saying “I DO promise to love you, be loyal, faithful and protect you and I DO vow to love your son and nurture him as my own.” It’s been many years since I’ve accepted the package deal and I still stand by decision to be the best stepmom/bonus I could be.

In-Laws

When you find a man you want to spend your life with, very seldom do you take into account your in-laws. After all, you are marrying him not them, right? This mindset can be helpful or hurtful especially when your husband a close relationship with his family. So when it comes to co-parenting issues and your in-laws, should they stay on neutral ground? When I say neutral ground, I am referring to inclusion of the biological mother at your man’s family event despite knowing of the existing issues? I am not referring to birthday parties or events for the child(ren) that you are co-parenting for but family cookouts. The presence of the biological mother at the events showed the family’s lack of concern for the distress she often caused for us. In my family, if a person is a known source of issues for a family member, they are not invited whatsoever. I had to learn the hard way that my husband’s family were quite different.

Inclusion and being amicable towards the biological mother took a long time to come to terms with because I never understood it nor agreed with it. For me, it was difficult to appreciate them as my in-laws when they failed to preserve our peace at a family function. At certain functions, I would alienate myself from them to avoid being the “problem.” I struggled to respect their decision, not despise the biological mom and enjoy myself at the function. Whew, that was a lot of work and exhausting! As a result, these choices, if not all, allowed me to build resentment towards my in-laws and the biological mother. How could I enjoy myself with the presence of a person that I despised? What is the bigger problem?

Some may believe that it’s okay for the biological mother to be there because she had been invited and is amicable with your in-laws. If we were co-parenting successfully, inclusion wouldn’t have been an issue for me at all. The fact that she would show up as if we were had become more disturbing than anything. Did I really expect my in-laws to ban the biological mother for the sake of my husband and I? Truthfully, yes! I would have preferred for them to wait until both sides were amicable before inviting the biological mother. I understand they made the decision based on her being my stepson’s mother. However, it created a false sense of reality for my stepson because once the event was over, we went to back to business as usual with us barely speaking to his mother. Essentially, what was this really communicating to him?

The question remains: Is it okay for the in-laws to invite the biological mother to functions knowing that there are unresolved issues? Does the answer depend on the offenses of the mother? Should it? Every family is different but by choosing to invite the biological mother, does that translate to your family member and his wife that you are not concerned about their feelings or situation? Can the actions of the in-laws be viewed as waving the white flag and choosing not to pick a side? I would love to hear another perspective on this.

The Uneven Seesaw

My stepson came to live with his father and I when he was nearly 8 years old and one month before giving birth to our first child. I thought it would be a great bonding experience because although the boys had different mothers, the idea of “half brothers” would never be an option in our house. A few months after moving in with us, my husband got promoted on his job which meant longer hours. My husband never once asked me to increase my responsibilities as a custodial stepmom but it was easy to take care of my stepson like he was my own. During this time, my stepson and I spent a lot of time together and began to strengthen our bond. However, you can call me naïve because I stepped knee deep into the role of being a martyr stepmother without a clue. I was foolish enough to not have expectations for this transition because I honestly believe that my role wouldn’t change besides helping with homework.

Six months later, I become pregnant for the 2nd time with my daughter and I just got comfortable with a routine with the boys. It didn’t bother me to help my stepson with homework, scheduling and bringing him to doctor appointments, transporting him to and from football practice, picking him up from after care, school shopping, etc until I became overwhelmed. My husband made himself available as much as possible so we would take turns with bringing him to doctor’s appointments, football practice and other things as his schedule allowed. I’m definitely blaming the hormones for the range of emotions I was experiencing because my normal routine became exhausting. Therefore, it would make sense that I began looking for our co-parent to help out a bit.

At the beginning of the school year, I remember receiving help with school clothes from my stepson’s mother then not much after that. There were missed opportunities at school to be involved in and she was unavailable to help out with homework, doctor appointments, sports, after care, etc. It was a stressful time because I was learning to be a mom to two kids at the same time. I had no experience with being fully responsible for a child yet alone two so I was looking forward to the weekends where my stepson would visit with her. Sadly, the visits were not on the regular as we hoped. Naturally, there was a lot of resentment towards her because I expected her to be more involved as his mother and needed her as a co-parent. As a result, the tension between us grew and she never did assume the responsibilities I had hoped she would.

So my mind began to wonder…Why wouldn’t she want to do the things she once did for him? Was it my fault? Was I a threat to her? Not in the physical as in bodily harm but as it relates to role and position. How can I fix this? Do I simplify my efforts to put her at ease? Or do I boldly exercise my strengths which unfortunately highlights her weakness and insecurities? How do we find a common ground? Will there always be an uneven seesaw in the relationship where one side is carrying the heavier load?

The obvious solution would be for both sides to share the load to balance the seesaw. If one side continually handles the heavier side, they enable the other side to not do their part. As I’m looking back, the adults (us) did a terrible job in communicating the transition my stepson would have to face. We never set boundaries, expectations and really thought it would naturally work out. I often vented to my husband but never directly with my stepson’s mother. I regret not doing that because it led to countless arguments, tension and anger for years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we took one responsibility at a time from our plate and placed it onto hers? As she managed that, we could add another and so forth until the seesaw was level. We understand now that both sides that are willing to manage the load together will find balance, peace and a stronger relationship but I wish I would have learned this years ago.