By Jasjit Sangha
Becoming a stepmom is a life-changing event! It can be exciting to make a long-term commitment to your partner and become a part of his children’s lives. The first year can be a flurry of activity as you try to negotiate what role to play in the blended family and ask your self important questions such as: How much interaction do the stepchildren want to have? Can I discipline them? What do I do when they talk about their mother? How come I feel so left?
Some of this angst may be heightened by South Asian cultural expectations that stepmothers assume a nurturing role and feel a sense of responsibility for the well-being and happiness of the family – even if stepchildren initially resist their intrusion into their lives.
With these 5 tips I hope that I can alleviate some of the stresses new stepmothers may experience and help make the transition into your new family and new life a smoother process!
Tip #1: Lower your expectations
When I first became a stepmom there was nothing I wanted more than easy going, accepting and caring relationships with my stepdaughters. I naively assumed that my transition to step mothering would be a fluid process in which I would assume a greater role in my stepdaughters life and they would accept that role. For most step families this is not the case. It can take a stepmother many years sometimes to really know what role she can play in her stepchildren’s lives and most importantly, what role the children will accept her playing in their lives. As research in this area shows, it can take up to 10 years (!) for a step family to really feel like a cohesive whole family unit. Lowering expectations and visualizing the transition to step mothering as a longer, extended process can help to alleviate stress.
Tip #2: Don’t be offended by comparisons to your husbands ex-wife
Part of the stress of being a new stepmother is feeling like you are being judged or compared with your husband’s previous wife and your stepchildren’s mother. This could take the form of comments whispered among relatives during a family party or more overt comparisons initiated by your stepchildren. As a new stepmother in a South Asian family you are just starting to navigate the web of relationships that are part of your husband life.
You will meet many people who are helpful and supportive and others who you may not want to invest as much time and energy with. Your stepchildren may also say things that are unintentionally (or intentionally) hurtful as they are often caught in a loyalty conflict. They don’t know how to have a meaningful relationship with you without feeling like they are betraying their own mother. These loyalty conflicts are often the biggest source of stress in stepfamilies and it can be very hurtful when these incidents happen. Try not to take them personally or blame your stepchildren.
Tip #3: Communicate openly with your partner
It is very, very, very important that you continue to have open and meaningful communication with you partner. Your relationship will evolve once you become a stepmother and it can be hard to navigate the changes. Carve out time to talk to your husband so you can decompress from any stress you may have experienced as well as listen to how he is coping with the transition to life as a stepfamily. If possible, include stepchildren in the discussion as well. The more everyone is able to feel safe and able to express him or herself, the more likely it is that tensions will be diffused and a greater feeling of connection will be nurtured.
Tip #4: Try not to interfere with disciplining children
One of the hardest aspects of step mothering is trying to discipline stepchildren who do not acknowledge your authority. It can be very frustrating and can lead to power struggles between a stepmother and stepchildren that can lead to a rift in their relationship. This rift can be further exacerbated when you feel your husband is not taking your “side” in a conflict with your stepchildren.
As a new stepmother I didn’t always agree with my husband’s approach to discipline. However, whenever I tried to step in and assert my authority it was always met with so much resistance from my stepchildren that it never resolved the issue the hand, only aggravated it further.
In your first year as a stepmother try to step back so your husband can discipline the children in a way that makes sense to him and his children, even though it may not be how you would handle the situation.
Tip #5: Reach out for support and take care of yourself
Taking time for yourself and being around people who care about, support and inspire you is vital to your success and happiness as a new stepmother! This can mean spending time with family or friends that can listen to you in a non- judgmental way or perhaps making connections with new people over a shared hobby or activity you enjoy. Something simple like going for a walk or a run with a friend can be a great way to share what is going on in your life and help you deal with the many emotions you may be feeling in your new role as a stepmother.
I personally have found that taking time to reflect through meditation, spending time in nature and writing in my journal allows me to approach my role as stepmother with more of a sense of purpose and curiosity about how the future will unfold, rather than get overwhelmed by everyday occurrences.
Let me know if you find these tips useful! I look forward to your feedback at columnists@ masalamommas.com
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