Saturday, November 5, 2011

More Questionable Advice for Stepmothers

I received more questionable advice from the step-parenting e-newsletter I signed up for. Here’s something that made me raise an eyebrow:

“If you have raised your children to eat more healthfully than your spouse has, serve both doughnuts and Grape Nuts for breakfast. If the rule in your former house was for children to help with the household chores, avoid putting your stepchildren to work scrubbing and mopping.”
Compromise is certainly an integral part of being a stepmother. But here’s the catch: when you to try and compromise too much on issues that are important to you, when you try and give up your values and try to be someone you’re not for the sake of Being a Good Stepmom for too long, you’ll only end up frustrated and unhappy.

Resentment builds and grows over time, and, in my experience at least, cognitive dissonance kicks in. Cognitive dissonance is the stressful feeling caused when a person tries to hold two opposite ideas simultaneously. It’s the reason people feel upset when they act in a manner that isn’t in keeping with how they see themselves.

Here’s what I mean: it’s easy to compromise about things you don’t care that much about. If you never used to serve doughnuts for dinner but you don’t place a high value on eating healthfully, then serving doughnuts for dinner to your stepkids won’t drive you up a wall. But if you’re like me and think that a child should never eat like that, then you’re going to end up resenting it every time. Besides that, you may even get stressed out about it, because our minds have a hard time dealing with us acting in a way that doesn’t fit with how we see ourselves.

I’m by no means saying you should rule with an iron first. It’s your family and you want to make everyone as happy and comfortable as you can. You should compromise where you can handle it—that’s what healthy families do, after all. But when it comes down to it, the house belongs to you and your partner—you are the adults and they are the children. In a certain amount of years the kids will grow up, leave the nest, and be free to eat doughnuts for dinner if they want. But until then, you and your partner are still the adults and they are still the children.

It's not your responsibility to replicate an illusion of your stepkids’ old household. You shouldn't feel required to tip-toe around doing everything the way their mom did it when she and your partner were married. Should you make an effort to understand and accommodate your stepchildren’s preferences where you can are where you feel it would not upset you? Of course! But the fact is, their parents got divorced and nothing’s going to change that. The way that things happened in your stepchildren’s old household is in the past. It may be sad, and your stepchildren are certainly upset about it, but the key principle here is that it’s not your fault that their parents got divorced. You shouldn't have to feel guilty about that, and you shouldn't have to feel pressured to act in a way that conflicts with your values because of it.

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