The first time I heard the phrase, "You knew what you were getting yourself into" I had a different view than I do now on the topic. I remember reading a forum my third semester of college while working on a paper about childhood development post parental divorce. I'd just stumbled on it accidentally while searching for peer-reviewed journals. The author of the thread spoke of her woes whilst dating a divorced man with children. And one of the first comments on the thread read something like this...
"What else did you expect? You had to know what you were getting yourself into."
And I remember vividly reading this unnecessary comment on this poor woman's thread (who was just desperately seeking advice) and thinking- Yup!
The universe must have heard me that day. And it's as if she said, "I see your judgmental attitude and I raise you one big fat dose of 'You gon' learn today.'" Fast forward a couple years and along came Michael.
Now I've heard the term on several occasions, uttered from strangers or to close friend's from their single/traditional-familied friends. I couldn't have more of a different opinion now. Because, you know- Hey, I'm a Step-Mom!
When I first started seeing Michael two years ago, I truly thought I had an idea of how things would be. I genuinely thought that I comprehended all the dynamics of blended family and the responsibilities of being a 'Step-Mom.' After all, the latter half of my childhood was spent adapting to my own parent's divorce. What more experience could I possibly need?! I definitely knew what I was getting myself into.
Except... not even close.
I didn't know I'd fall into instant motherhood.
When I met Michael, I had this big idea that I'd get to be this cool 'friend' figure to his son. And I did get to be that for a little while. But then reality set in. With a more flexible job schedule, I became the go-to. When an emergency came up, both parents called me. I started picking him up and dropping him off to school, arranging doctors appointments, and coordinating soccer schedules. I changed my work schedule to stay home with him during the summer when we saw childcare would be an issue, and even eventually left my job for a home-based position so I could provide more family support.
There wasn't any parenting plan in place yet in the beginning. Soon it became clear that our house was Ry's primary home. He was never with us less than sixty percent of the time- and even that wasn't typical. On average, we had him over seventy-five percent of the time which meant that I was the most consistent female figure in his life. I came into this with no kids of my own. I had no idea I'd become full on mom-like and I'd completely underestimated how much time and responsibility I'd have to invest. I couldn't be his friend. I had a responsibility to him. I became a bonus-mom in a way I'd never anticipated.
I didn't know It would be such a battle.
I had no idea how many fights there would be. We fought for nearly a year and a half over custody. We spent thousands of dollars in attorney's and court fees just to come to agreement on a schedule we'd suggested prior to filing. There are fights about money and parenting differences. There's jealousy, safety concerns, and MANY differences in opinions. The fights don't stop. Ever. Thankfully over time and with the help of the court system they've become fewer and further in-between. Parents fight, and I myself caught wind of several of my own parent's battles post separation, but no one could have prepared me for how involved it gets. And once you're in...you're in.
I didn't know there would be so much double standard or criticism.
I had absolutely no clue how deep the hatred for step-mothers ran. But I certainly do now. There's this double standard that runs rampant in the world when it comes to mothers vs. step-mothers. And there's ridiculous hoops we're supposed to jump through, yet fine lines we're "never to cross." If a mother is involved in her child's schooling, volunteers, brings snacks to school, or joins the PTA- she's the vision of motherhood; an incredible woman who's truly dedicated to her children. If a step-mom provides that same love, involvement, and support to her step-child- she's overstepping her boundaries. If mom say's no, disciplines, or sets rules and restrictions in her own home, she's a great mom raising accountable children. If bonus mom does the same, she's out of line. Who does she think she is? Mama's tired? She can post a humorous meme about how exhausting motherhood is, but if step-mom posts the same thing about her bonus babies- how dare she! Being a step-mom means you have to love your step-kids... but not too much. You have to treat them like your own, but don't you dare for a second think they are. I had no idea this double standard even existed until it happened to me.
Nothing can prepare you for the amount of criticism you'll face. I was amazed at how much hatred and slander surfaced about me- just because I was helping to raise someone else's child.
I heard things like:
- "She wants to be a mommy so bad it's pathetic."
- "You need to put your b!@#$ on a leash!"
- "She's f!@#$%^ crazy."
- "She needs to know her place!"
So yeah, I definitely didn't know what I was getting myself into when it came to that. Who could really? We all hear crazy stories... but we never think they'd happen to us.
I didn't know I'd have such little control.
I never imagined that being a step-mom meant so many days feeling like my life wasn't my own. And I mean that in a way thats bigger than just like, "I'm responsible for more than just myself now." I mean my whole life is full of uncertainty and theres absolutely nothing I can do about it. That custody battle? It was a year and a half of not knowing which home Ry was going to live in or if/when it would change. It was a year and a half of not knowing how much money we'd have left over at the end of each month. Michael and I can't just pick up and move somewhere with our family if we want to. We'd have to undergo another custody battle. If we want to vacation out of the states, we have to get permission. I never knew how little control I'd have over the things that so greatly effect my life, as a step-mom.
I didn't know I'd love my new son this much.
You could never have told me two-years-ago-me that I'd come to love my new son as much as I do now. I wouldn't have believed you. Of course I adored him when I met him, in that way you think all kids are cute. But now- I like really freaking love this kid. I know they say you can never love another child the way you do your own biological children, and I don't have my own children yet to compare that to- but I still don't buy it. I'd run out into oncoming traffic for him, without even thinking twice. Every action I take has him in mind and I find myself constantly thinking of ways I can make him happy, make his life better, and fulfill him. Nothing in the world could have prepped me for this kind of love.
So I guess the moral of the story is... don't be like the 2012 asshole me who thought she knew anything about what it meant to fill a step-mom's shoes. I was completely wrong and life made sure to prove that to me in the most literal way. I love my life and my family. I wouldn't trade them for anything in this world, but this role is a difficult one. No person or thing could have prepared me for the complexities of blended family life, and the harsh realities of step-motherhood.
So be nice to the step-mamas in your life, whether they're your own parents, friends, or relatives. Keep your criticisms to yourself and don't assume. No one knows until they've filled the shoes.
And step-moms- share your story often. You know, with me preferably. Teehee.