When I became a custodial stepmom over 8 years ago, I was foolish enough to not have expectations. My stepson came to live with us 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. I didn’t have any initial concerns because I didn’t believe that my role would change from when he visited on the weekends besides helping with homework. However, you can call it naïve because I stepped knee deep into the role of being a martyr stepmother without a clue. To be clear, my husband never once asked me to do it but it was in my nature to take care of my stepson like he was my own. It didn’t bother me to take care of homework, doctor appointments, sports, after care, school shopping, etc until I became overwhelmed.
My husband had got promoted on his job a few months after my stepson moved with us so he started working more but I still had hopes that his mother would help. When he started school that year, I remember her bringing school clothes then it was reduced to a half pack of underwear. There were opportunities at school to be involved in that she missed 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 be 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 his mother 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. Do I simplify my efforts to put her at ease? Or do I continue at my maximum capacity and wait for her to catch up? I know I am naturally an over-achiever but is she accustomed to operating at her potential? Do I boldly exercise my strengths which highlights her weakness and insecurities? Or do I reduce yourself to her level of capacity? How do we find a common ground or will there always be an uneven seesaw in the relationship where one side is carrying the heavier load? Where do I dump the extra weight I willingly packed onto my shoulders? Do I trust releasing that much weight for the other side to hit the ground hard and fall off? What would be the benefit? For the sake of feeling free and lighter when I know she can’t handle the pressure?
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 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.