Time and again I hear these words from stepmoms. It's a common theme, but one many feel ashamed to admit.
These are women who went into their new relationship fully aware there would be some challenges. After all, they were not just joining their lives with another adult but with his kids as well. In our first marriages, we start off as a couple and grow into a family, stepcouples start off as a package deal. I've heard the cruel judgments of others saying, "Well, you knew what you were signing up for." It makes me so irritated. REALLY? Does any of us know for sure what we're getting ourselves into? My husband and I have been married 29 years and we laugh about what we thought marriage would be and the struggles we've had to overcome. Neither of us anticipated having a baby with full blown colic and discovering I'm a hot mess when I'm sleep deprived for weeks at a time. He didn't expect to lose his dad at an early age. I couldn't imagine how much watching my mom suffer through 10 months of a hell-filled cancer battle would affect our marriage. I was numb, he didn't know how to help...we had to learn and grow through that together. While stepmoms may imagine what their stepfamily life will be like, they can't know for sure what they're getting into. There are no one-size-fits-all rule books for how to make a stepfamily work . Each stepcouple faces their own challenges, some are financial, some are child-centered, others are dealing with a high conflict ex. We can't predict any of it. So what can we do? First of all, be supportive. Becoming a stepfamily is hard work. Just as getting married the first time leads you to a path of discovery, so will subsequent marriages. There are so many more pieces to the puzzle for stepcouples. The discovery process is actually a step-by-step guided path the couple can work through and build together to be successful. I call it "building the family foundation" and it is actually a process all couples can do so they will co-parent well together! What is it? The family foundation is a blend of the couples ideas and their vision for their family. The formula looks like this: FAMILY FOUNDATION = VISION + VALUES + GOALS Stepparents and their significant others face tough challenges (role definition, discipline, blending their parenting styles) and by working together on their family foundation, they'll resolve so many "battle ground" conflicts. By intentionally focusing on their family foundation, parenting couples will make decisions based on their partnership instead of assumptions and expectations. What's next? Stepcouples then build their family discipline plan on the family foundation. .All family rules are based on the unique foundation that fits their family dynamics. When stepmoms and their partners work together, it strengthens their relationship, reduces stress and improves family dynamics. Dealing with guilt Stepmoms often tell me they are carry a lot of guilt for feeling the way they do. My initial response is, " A feeling isn't good or bad, it just is." Negative feelings are indicators of something that we're missing or something that has hurt us. When a stepmom says, "This isn't what I signed up for" she's telling me her initial expectations and reality are not matching up. This is the first stone in the pathway of building something better. So what can we do? Even if the beginning of the stepfamily seems smooth, it takes a good 5-7 years for a stepfamily to truly settle into what works for them. Taking the proactive approach of working together to form a plan for parenting, co-parenting, and discipline is so important. Remember, you didn't have any training on how to be a parent or a stepfamily, so you can't blame yourself for what you didn't know. Don't be afraid to ask for help! "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better." -- Maya Angelou Stepmoms, if this isn't what you expected but you want to work on improving things, now is the time to take action! (Waiting will only prolong your misery). There are things you can do as a stepcouple to help build your teamwork and understand each other more. I love helping couples find their strengths and build their partnership so they can develop their own, unique family foundation. If you are ready to make some changes, I'm here to help! Book a free 30-minute Discovery Call to share your concerns and gain insight into solutions. MORE STRATEGIES: If you'd like more parenting tips like the ones in this article, click here to sign up to join the Dare to Parent email list. You'll receive my best strategies and tips each week, along with updates on upcoming workshops and more! Pho