Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.
Two years ago, I married a man with two children who are now 10 and 12 respectively: one girl and one boy. The stepchildren live with us one week on, one week off. When friends ask how I’m managing, I am so appreciative. I explain that it’s…okay. The children seem to like me enough and I like them enough and, frankly, that’s enough for me.
Suddenly, I went from having no children to having preteens living with me, sharing my space, and taking over my television. My life has changed dramatically.
Truth be told, I don’t feel I need to love them and I haven’t let myself even fall in “deep like” with them either. I love their father, but I don’t understand stepmothers who profess, “Well, I love my husband so of course I love his children.” I just don’t have that bond.
I’m okay with this.
At first I did try to get to know them. This always ended up with me buying them something, because there is no handbook for stepmothers (or maybe there is, but like every snowflake is different, so is every family and every child.)
At first I did really want to get along with them. We do get along. We never argue. They don’t complain about me. We’re like roommates. But I can’t help but keep them at arm's length. I’m one of those women who think, “Of course I like children, as long as they’re not mine.” Well, my stepchildren are not mine. They will never be mine. They are old enough to know I am their husband’s wife, not their biological mother, and that’s the way I like it.
One of my friends went to family counseling with her blended family because they had issues with respect and boundaries. My friend told the family therapist she just wanted to be “the best mother she could be to them.” The therapist told her, point blank, that my friend will never be their mother, so she must stop with that expectation.
My friend had the best intentions in wanting to be the best mother she could be to them, but the truth, like the therapist said, is that she never will be their mother.
I am not an evil stepmother by any means. I will say hello, make polite talk, ask them about their friends and their day, make them dinner, drive them to friend's houses when their father can’t, and will even occasionally go out to dinner or a movie with them and my husband. Mostly when they are with us, I let them do their thing with their dad while I do my thing.
I think I keep them at arm’s length because I don’t want to be hurt in the long run or have unreasonable expectations. I don’t want them to ever hate me, nor do I want them to feel that they have to love me just because their father does.
I often think I should try harder. But I’m too scared to get so emotionally involved with children who are not mine. Of course I care about their welfare, and I will dispense advice when asked, and if they need money and their father is not around, I will give it to them. I will sign their test papers. I just want to get along with them enough. But first and foremost, I want them to continue to have this wonderful relationship with their amazing father. They seem happy and that’s good enough for me.
One of my friends married an older man who had two children. She told me that she too keeps her stepchildren at arm's length.
“I will be on a plane with them going on vacation and I’ll hear them arguing and I’ll just sit back reading my magazine and let my husband deal with it,” she told me. She doesn’t feel that way about the child she later had with her husband. She obviously shows favoritism, but she is definitely more invested in her own biological child.
She loves her child. She does not love her stepchildren.
She doesn’t dislike them, but, as she says, “It’s just not the same when it’s your own child.”
That’s most of the time how I feel. I don’t mind being around my stepchildren at all, but it’s like I’m mentally, or actually, just flipping though a magazine when they are around. I don’t feel any guilt excusing myself to go out with a friend or simply saying I’m going upstairs to read.
One of my friends, whose mother died when she was very young, has had a stepmother for more than 30 years. She tells me that she has always liked her stepmother, but that they are not super close. She has always thought of her as her “stepmother” and never her “mother,” even though she was raised by her.
I often feel guilty that I don’t try harder. But for some reason, I just can’t. I know that if I keep them at arm’s length, and they remain okay with this, then it can’t be so bad. If I get too close, I'm wary of them one day turning around and saying, “YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER!”
Maybe I’m being pro-active. I know mothers who detest their stepchildren. I don’t want to detest them. If I don’t get too close to them, they will never detest me or yell at me, nor will I detest them.
Isn’t it enough just to have a calm household? Do I need to love them? Yes, it is very difficult to be a child of divorce and then have your parent remarry and to shuffle between two homes.
But when it comes to blended families, and children who are not your own, can’t just getting along with them be “enough?”
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(photo: Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock)