Recently I read something which caught my attention for the way in which a common feeling was described.
“I wish I was my family’s fairy godmother.”*
At first I wasn’t quite sure what this blogger meant but with further reading I felt myself nodding along in acknowledgment of a common pitfall for stepparents….
We take too much on. We own too much. We try to fix too much. We do too much.
I think as women, wives and moms we are used to managing the home. We schedule the activities, we keep things moving smoothly and we are instinctively tapped into the emotional side of our children. When we see a wheel off track or a road with some bumps, we set out to fix it. We are used to wrapping our children into our arms, comforting their boo-boos, telling them that everything will be alright and then making it so. We are happy in the role of behind the scenes manager, ensuring our husbands have the latest schedule, creating a welcoming home and being the listening ear and supporter.
When we walk into a home that has children hurting (even if they aren’t “ours”) we want to help – to step into this role of fixer that has become second mature. When we see our partner or spouse struggling, we become engaged. We are a part of their team, on their side, and we are used to playing an active role in all aspects of their life.
“They say that families are brought together to teach each other lessons in this lifetime. I still liked the idea that stepmoms were brought to the families to help them heal….It was a painful revelation when I learned that I could not fix anything. You can’t fix the divorce, the children, the ex spouse or anything.”*
This realization reminds me of moving into the Middle Stages of a stepfamily when the true reality of the situation is faced and your dreams and expectations are changed. You have to let go of the initial plan you had and regroup. I’m hesitant to even use the word plan here because it implies that all of your actions and thoughts leading up to that point were thoroughly thought through. I don’t think that is the case.
Instead, I believe the vast majority of stepparents jump into this stepparent role with extreme optimism and they go off of their intuition and follow what they are comfortable with. Sometimes this works out well, but many times it does not because your intuition and the roles you are accustom to do not translate well into a blended home. There are too many unknowns, outside forces and lingering histories at play that can catch you off guard or cause your actions to be viewed as something other than what there were. A simple word of advice to your stepchild could be seen as crossing a line, a reaching out to the ex spouse could be taken with hostile intent, or a newly created tradition could be read as a way to compete with the other home.
Coming into this realization and dealing with these types of experiences and judgments can be difficult for even the thickest skinned person. Letting go of the idea that you can help, heal or fix can be a violent shift in thinking and it may throw you for a loop. The first thing to remember is to never take it personally. Being a stepparent is not the same as being a parent or a spouse. It is a completely different role that will change with each passing year and it will depend on more circumstances then I can list.
Secondly, forgive yourself for missteps or mistakes. Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe you should have seen what a statement/action/decision would do but it is in the past. Continue to do your best each day and let go of the rest. Remember all of those endless circumstances we just talked about? A shift in even one of those can impact the response to your action. You can’t predict what you do not know.
And lastly, understand that this is normal. What you are feeling…the joys and disappointments, the good times and heartaches…are normal. They are normal in all marriages and families and can just be a bit more extreme when it’s a remarriage with children.
*Reference: The Evil Stepmother Speaks (http://theevilstepmotherspeaks.com/blog/the-family-fairy-godmother)