‘You’re not my mom!’ Ouch. Remember, you are not her first choice, but she wouldn’t rather have anyone else.’: Stepmom details the joys and struggles of ‘selfless’ co-parenting

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“Some thoughts for the woman starting to date a man with kids, or the current stepmom:

Hey there! First off, congrats! Seems like you’ve found a guy who has sparked your interest enough to date him! You are worthy of healthy and fulfilling love! Side note: He has a kid(s)!

Here’s an intro about making sure this person is undoubtedly someone you can see a future with. I know, sometimes it’s easy to want to date someone because of chemistry, or other factors… but does this person all around really make you excited for the future? Do you see yourself committing to him forever? If you don’t, then don’t waste your time worrying about his kids. Keep it casual and just don’t cross the boundary of meeting his kids. Schedule date nights for when he doesn’t have the kids. There is absolutely NO POINT in dating a guy with kids and meeting those kids if you don’t see a future with him.

He already has a set future – with his kids. They’re not going anywhere. YOU are the variable that may change. He doesn’t need you; they don’t need you. They have a mom, they have a dad. YOU need to KNOW this relationship with this guy will at least have hope of a future and his love for you/your love for him is enough to work through all of the co-parenting kinks.

OK, so I’m not going to lie to you. It’s 100% harder to make a relationship work when you’re dating someone with a kid. Why? Because it’s a lot of exhausting, selfless work. Because you aren’t in a ‘normal’ situation, according to social standards. Because you will always be second priority when his kid(s) are around. Because the biological mother will ALWAYS be involved in your man’s life. Because eventually, you may be doing a lot of ‘mothering’ work for his kids, with no credit. Because you will have to learn to set boundaries and not be affected by the obstacles co-parenting creates. Because someone else will always have some sort of a say in your household. Because there aren’t many resources available to help women go through the stepmother role. Because the challenges will literally never end…

Still reading? OK! You really like this guy! Congrats! So now that you know this relationship is still worth it, here are some tips I wish someone would have shared with me going into dating a guy with a kid.

Courtesy of Elisa Gonzalez

It’s about him.

Your relationship is about him. Your man. Yes, he has kids. But HE is who you are in a relationship with. Not his kids, not his ex, not his family – him. You need a strong foundation with this person to be able to participate in raising his kids with him. You need to focus on building trust, love, and support with him. Think about the future possibility of having an ‘ours’ baby with him (a baby born into a stepfamily with both stepmom/stepdad as a bio parent). What are the standards you’d want in your relationship to raise your own child? What are the things you want his current child to learn about family, love, and the culture at their dad’s house? You have power! Your power is in your relationship with HIM. Your man!

When his kid is with his ex, focus on your man! Something you probably don’t realize – men are sensitive when it comes to their kids. They probably miss their kids deeply when they’re gone. They probably wish their kids lived with them full-time. They’d sacrifice anything for their kids, and long for them when they’re away – whether they say it or not. The last thing you want to do is add more stress to the equation. What you should do is provide some positivity into those days when his kids are away. Focus on things to fulfill you both & build a happier home between just you two for when his kids are back. Trust me, kids feel this energy – positive or negative.

When you’re communicating about the things frustrating you when it comes to co-parenting and his ex (kids bio mom) – set aside specific and appropriate (limited) time. Don’t let the ex be a topic of conversation when you’re supposed to be spending quality time. Don’t nag him when he already knows what’s going on and maybe doesn’t want to deal with it at the moment. Understand to trust him in situations of conflict between both houses (ex house, your house). Remember he does have experience with his ex, you don’t. He knows his kid from a biological standpoint, you don’t. Let him lead your house when it comes to communicating about co-parenting. See how it develops and maybe eventually you can be included in those conversations. But to start off your relationship, be a supporter, not a participator.

Courtesy of Elisa Gonzalez-Lara

She didn’t pick you.

OK, this one really hit me. I read a couple articles in ‘Stepmother Magazine’ referring to this. Think about it… his kid’s mom… she didn’t pick you! She can go to 14 schools and interview teachers and make her notes about the cleanliness and teaching styles and pick her top choice…. BUT when it comes to the woman her ex dates and has around their kids… She has NO control. She didn’t pick you! Even if she tries her hardest to like you, even if you try your hardest to make her like you. Remember, she did not pick you. You are not her first choice. She doesn’t have to like you.

Her first choice would probably be no one dating her ex. This obviously varies depending on how soon the relationship between your man and her ended. This also varies based on her security as a mother and how communicative the two households are. Honestly, in my opinion, at the end of the day YOU (stepmom, future stepmom, hoping to be a stepmom), will always be the one who can easily get a finger pointed at or frustration taken out on. After all, we have to admit it must be hard for (bio mom, his ex) mom to accept her precious kid is connecting with another woman who provides motherly support. Respect her space!

I do believe there could be a relationship between stepmother and bio mother that does not have jealousy or feuds or finger pointing. BUT this requires a LOT of healing and self awareness, and selflessness from BOTH parties. And to be quite honest, bio mom doesn’t owe you s**t. And if she doesn’t feel like being nice to you – she doesn’t have to be (I know stepmom, the thought is heartbreaking. Especially when you just want what is best for her kid). Honestly, it’s a tug-of-war with this topic, and you have to be ready to deal with all of the unforeseen obstacles!

The truth is, your step kids need her. They love her, and she is a crucial part of their lives. You have to wish her well to wish your step kids well.

‘You’re not my mom!’

Ouch. Listen, it’s true. You’re not their mom. You didn’t birth them. You’re not fully responsible for them. Every situation is unique. But generally speaking, you are not and should not be expected to love your step kids as if they’re your own. Read that again. After all, you did not birth them! You don’t have the biological connection to them like their mom and dad do. It is factual. And you know what, it’s OK!

Something beautiful about the stepmom role is you’re able to see things from a non-biased standpoint. You’re not blinded by unconditional love to the point where you can’t see things that need to be addressed for the sake of the child. You get to CHOOSE how much you bond with them. This is great! This being said, you can always be a voice of reason and support for your man and his parenting when appropriate.

Courtesy of Elisa Gonzalez-Lara

Another cool thought, imagine being your step kid’s confidant when they don’t feel comfortable communicating with their parents? You can be a person of support without crossing the parent boundary. You can be an example for your step kid without having to directly be involved in every detail of their life.

The art of balance.

Ok, so let’s say you love your step kid. You consider your love for them unconditional, and embrace them as your own. I know there’s a fine line and it gets really blurry sometimes. ‘How am I supposed to not love this kid fully when they’re a mini of my partner, and they live in my house 50% of their lives?’ If you’re lucky enough to develop this kind of love for your step kid, prepare for a full heart that sometimes aches. It’s really hard watching decisions be made that you have no control over when you love your step kid as if they’re your own. But you have to remember – they’re not yours. Not fully. You can’t get down about not being a primary parent. It’s not fair to you.

One of the hardest parts of being a stepmom for me is dealing with the daily nitty gritty tasks like feeding, washing clothes, driving to school, and even the smallest things, but not getting the credit for it. Not ever having my opinion voiced. Never being the ‘real mom.’ Never getting to celebrate Mother’s Day with him – never being included in the special events or activities during holidays or school presentations. Being the ‘maybe you’re invited if there’s space’ option in those scenarios when in reality, there are times I’m the first option (if my husband is at work or not available I take full responsibility for my step child). You will always be the ‘behind the scenes’ parent, even if you’re giving it your all.

This is why I refer to the word selfless. It’s not about me. As a stepmom, you’re expected to give everything to your step kid because if not you’re like a piece of s**t or an ‘evil’ stepmom. Society sets us up to feel like we’re meant to fail anyway because we’ll never be mom. No matter how much loving we give, laundry we do, problem solving or emotional healing work we do with our step kids, we’re still just the ‘step mom.’ Totally replaceable.

I’m here to tell you, you’re irreplaceable to your step kid. If you’ve ever been around kids, you know they remember the most ridiculous things. They remember old toys they haven’t seen in years, they remember random facts about animals and movies, etc. You think they’re not gonna remember you?! Or value you?! You LOVE them. And you don’t even have to! They’re always gonna value you in their life – but you have to accept mom and dad will always come first, and that’s the way it should be.

Courtesy of Elisa Gonzalez-Lara

There will be a lot of back and forth. How much do I give, how much do I back away? Every situation is different, but you will have to learn to balance, and pivot – remember to always put your mental health first.

Let go.

There is so much beauty in the chaos of being a stepmom! Embrace it! You get an awesome kid in your life that means the world to your man (and maybe you)! You get the privilege to teach a little human about life. What’s funny – they end up teaching you as well. About yourself, about your relationship, about being a mom, about your strengths and weaknesses. They provide you with the gift of instant family, and the gift of having the light of a child in your home.

Let go! Accept that you don’t have full control. This is the route you chose – master it. Embrace the good days and brush off the bad ones. Master waving the white flag and letting things unravel the way your step kid’s mother and father decide. Let go of what you expect from yourself. Be OK when you’re having negative thoughts and feeling down about it all – give yourself time to recollect. Let your man and his kid have a solo bonding day while you take time for some self care and emotional detoxing. Let it be, and focus on yourself! It’s OK to be overwhelmed, it’s OK to learn from your mistakes. Your stepchild is going to be OK if you need time to better yourself; everyone else can wait.

There’s a lot of selfless work in being a stepmom, don’t lose yourself in it. You have your OWN world! Make sure this world is thriving and still gets occasional visits from you!!!!

I see you future stepmom, new stepmom, and past stepmom.”

Courtesy of Elisa Gonzalez-Lara

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elisa Gonzalez-Lara of ElisaFace. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Elisa here:

‘I’m not enough for my son.’ Pregnant at 19, my relationship was a toxic monster. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.’: Mom details PPD and finding love, ‘Authentic love speaks volumes’

‘WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?!’ I created a narrative of this perfect girl. We needed her!’: Mom shares ‘gender disappointment’

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