Today I’m bringing you another ‘Real Mom’. Astrid is one of the smartest, creative and passionate people I know, she holds a PhD and works for the United Nations doing lots of impressive stuff. Astrid is also a Bajan who she lives in New York City with her musician husband and 5 children. She decided to give you 5 tips on how to be a great step mom. Take it away Astrid!
1. You are not their Mother
At first glance this might seem a little quirky, but it’s been seriously helpful for me. Owning the fact that I am, in fact, not their mother has helped me to establish clear “rules of engagement” when it comes to parenting my step children. I’ve done my best to make it clear that I am not, nor am I trying to be, a replacement for their mom. [I think] I’ve managed to establish a distinct but complementary parenting role for myself that is intended to have its own merits for authority and respect. I’m hopeful that by totally owning and operationalizing this truth, I’ve reduced the chances of it being turned against me when the children reach their teenage years.
2. Know your Role
As much as it is possible there should be agreement on the basic expectations of each parent in the children’s lives. This is important because you need clear ”focal points” for the different aspects of the parenting conundrum (clothes shopping, drop-offs, pickups, doctor visits, homework help, soccer tips, disciplinary first responder etc). This helps to reduce the chance of something important slipping through the cracks. In reality the roles may end up being a bit more fluid than this reminder suggests, but having a basic framework helps.
3. Communicate (Directly)!
Yes, I actually shout this reminder to myself when I say it! I do my best to communicate directly my thoughts, feelings and motivations to our children as appropriate. Just as I would with the children I bore, I am very open and clear with my stepchildren about my love for them, and my concern for their well being. I let them know when I do not like their attitudes or behaviors and am clear about why I don’t like them. I communicate directly my pride, amazement, disappointment…you get the point. It’s important to me that all our children see me as a feeling, caring, thinking individual and, in the case of the stepchildren, not just “dad’s wife.”
This third reminder is also important among the parents. While it is not always possible to communicate directly among the parents, I have found it absolutely essential to use all available lines of communication. This ensures that even though all parents may not always agree on a given issue, we are all at least aware of each others feelings on any issues that might arise. I think this helps us to shape the overall message that our children receive.
4. Be Fair
Being a stepparent is a constant reminder of the differences between fair, equal, and equitable, especially when some children are transient. I try to make sure that my stepdaughters always feel “at home” and “a part of” while ensuring that my own children and stepson don’t feel invaded or inconvenienced. That means five beds with clear owners [thank goodness for bunks], designated drawer space during visits, that kind of thing. I also try to foster a spirit of sharing and compromise, while ensuring that my own children’s ownership rights are respected. This usually comes down to asking each child to try to put themselves in the other’s place and decide how they would want to be treated [or would want their toy to be treated] in the situation.
This reminder also comes into play in ensuring that my efforts to avoid resentment and achieve balance among siblings does not mean that I withhold opportunities or well deserved treats from my own children. If this sounds a bit complicated that’s because it often is, but I do my best.
5. In all things use Empathy
This is my golden rule [of life], and the cornerstone of my step-parenting strategy. In addition to basing my interactions with my stepchildren on a genuine concern for their well-being – as extensions of my husband and on their individual merit – I always try to observe situations through their mother’s eyes. This is helpful in three key ways. It helps to make sure that my actions are, in fact, about being “fair” and not simply biased. This stance also helps me to see when and how appropriate compromises should be made across differing parental perspectives. In those instances where parental differences are insurmountable, taking this stance at least gets me prepared for whatever might come next.
Being a stepmom can be quite the adventure, but keeping these things in mind has certainly been helping me to get through the day-to-day. I hope that you find them helpful too.
Astrid Ellie Hurley
Committed wife, stepmother of three and mother of two, Astrid is a Bajan woman currently living and working in New York City. She spends her days doing research and outreach as a Social Affairs Officer in the United Nations. Her alter ego, Lyonesque, is an artist, poet and lyricist, who also enjoys coaching and personal training and assists her husband with his home-based recording studio and his own music career.
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