For example, if a change in your stepchildren’s visitation schedule means you’ll have to adjust your commute schedule or route, then you have a right to be consulted about that change. Or, if you’re constantly forced to clean up after your stepchildren’s messes, then you have a right to be involved in setting and enforcing rules which require them to pick up after themselves.
The trouble is that it’s often easier said than done.
First of all, we hesitate to insist on being involved because we’re afraid to look like mean, bossy stepmothers. Some conventional advice reinforces these fears by telling us things like:
“The children have been raised with a family pattern, and it’s not fair to them if they suddenly have to change [their lives] . . . it would be complicated for the stepchildren and this would present them with an opportunity to resent you—the reason for the change . . . The other members of your family have a previous history and their routines need to be modified to include another person. Sometimes you may feel awkward because you are the reason for all the adjustment and change.” (From 7 Steps to Bonding with Your Stepchild by Suzen J. Ziegahan)
Additionally, we’re afraid to insist on being involved because we’re nervous about upsetting our family relationships—and as I mentioned in a previous post, research has shown that women judge themselves by the success of their relationships. When we base our self worth on how well things are going with our stepchildren and husband, it can be easy to slip into a mode where we’re focusing on making our family members happy rather than considering our own needs.
I know when I first became a stepmom I felt like I was adrift in the middle of other people’s plans. I felt pressured to give up an exercise class with my co-workers in the evenings, I gave up seeing my friends on the weekends, and I canceled plans whenever the visitation schedule changed (which was often for a time). Meanwhile, my stepdaughter would scream endlessly at the top of her lungs, break things, and call me names. My friendships drifted, my anxiety skyrocketed, and I became depressed—but I was afraid to step up and change the situation because I was afraid of upsetting my husband and terrified of coming off like an evil stepmother.
It finally took me reaching the end of my rope before I realized what I know now: That no matter what our fears are, we stepmoms deserve to have ours needs met just as much as the other members of our families. We didn’t disrupt our family, as Ziegahan suggests. Things were already disrupted before we came along, and we don’t deserve to be punished for it.
Obviously I’m not advocating that we put our needs above those of our stepchildren to their detriment—just that we deserve to have an equal say in what goes on in our lives and our homes, and that we should feel comfortable and justified in asking for it.