Struggling to find my place in society as SM(28 Posts)
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DP and I have been together for 18 months, living together for almost a year. I have no children; he has 3 (8, 4, 2), with us every other week.
In many ways we're lucky - DSCs and I get on very well, and I do a lot of their parenting, just because I do what feels natural. We're all happy with the result. We all know I'm not their mum, but so what? When it's just the 5 of us in our home, there's no issue - we are what we are, we all love each other, and we're happy. We call ourselves a family - DSD1 in particular loves to do that.
My problem (and I do believe it's my problem, although not one I'll be able to solve alone) starts once it's not just us, our family. I'm normally reasonable and rational, but I'm becoming obsessed with the idea that other people don't see me as part of this family, that I'm something that's tacked on but not really part of it, and this idea is starting to poison everything. I don't know who I am any more. It doesn't matter to DP or my DSCs - I'm just Morien - but it matters to me. I suspect that if I had DCs of my own it would be easier (easier for me but harder for everyone else, maybe).
I think things would be easier if DP would stand up for me in public, but for that to happen he'll need to understand the problem. He's trying really hard, but he's not there. As far as he's concerned things are perfect; he says it's so obvious to him that things are great (which they are) that he can't understand why I care what other people think. I am exhausted from trying to explain that it's not so much a question of what others think, more a question of me needing to find my place in society (a society which isn't mad keen on stepmothers, as we know). DP said last night that he and DSCs give me my place in the family, why isn't that enough? And I don't know the answer - why isn't it enough?
After an incident yesterday when I got upset at a throw-away comment from the wife of DP's friend and then spent the evening in tears (I swear I don't recognise myself), DP suggested that we see a counsellor together. We agree that we have a great relationship and that we need to stop this coming between us - but I was particularly encouraged to hear him say, 'I think my main problem is that I don't fully understand what your problem is, and maybe someone neutral will help me understand.'
I'm confused because I never expected being a SM to be an easy ride - but I expected more tangible problems with my DSCs, not this intangible identity crisis which is actually nothing to do with them. I'm sure much of it is in my head but I feel that I've stopped seeing things clearly - I've no idea what's me and what's not, and I don't know any other SMs (well, there's my mum, but she was the original wicked SM so perhaps not the best example). I've been lurking on MN for a few weeks and these threads have given me a lot of comfort - I'm not alone! I would really appreciate it if any of you would take the time to share your experiences if you've been through similar things to me.
I think I need you to give examples to help me understand what you mean. What was the throwaway comment by DP's friend's wife? How is it that you think other people perceive you?
You sound as though you're really struggling internally. But you also sound as though you're doing a good job of fitting into the family set up.
On the plus side, it sounds as though your DP is very supportive, that he's suggested counselling for you both and that he wants to try to understand where you're coming from is a brilliant sign, surely?
Who is it you are worried about? Is it members of the family? What did the wife of DP's friend say? Did she know DP when he was with his ex? How are DP's parents with you? Do they accept you as part of the family?
I think I can relate to some of the feelings you speak of, I used to think that DP's parents didn't really see me as a significant member of the family and that people saw me more as just his GF rather than his partner or kid's stepmum. I also used to feel like our family would never live up to his old 'perfect' one, or at least that would be how others would perceive it.
Now we have our own baby and I don't feel like that anymore in the slightest, probably partly because I don't have any time or energy to even give it a thought, I just have to get on with things.
Your DP sounds amazing, I don't think I know any man who would suggest counselling, talking isn't something that men do well. The fact that he is being so supportive speaks volumes, he obviously loves you and really wants to work through this problem.
I would just try to not think about things too much, things are what they are, you have a wonderful DP and lovely DSC, just enjoy them an be happy.
I have a sm I guess though I was much older than your dps children. I think a lot of her and one of the reasons is that she was always polite, friendly but never claimed to be a key/important part of the family. She was just her - no special role or title. I think she handled it well. I think if the children still have their mum, then you need to think that you aren't an important part of their lives. You are dads partner and that's it - and that should be enough. You can also be a kind, positive person in the kids lives but that's sort-of it.
newgirl, I think that's a bit harsh, and possibly exactly what the OP fears.
I am a SM, and a mum. I know I am important in my DSCs' lives, and I know my DCs' step mum (with their dad) is important in their lives. Just because the OP is not the mum, doesn't mean she can't be important, or that she should just be there but never do anything.
I agree be friendly, be polite - but a SM can be more than that, she can be loving and kind, and mop up tears/sick, be a shoulder to cry on.
Maybe it all depends on the approach of the SM - yes, don't try and take over the role of mother - but it doesn't sound as if OP is doing that - but you can be more than "just there".
I think it's dads role to do the hugging, support etc in that home - of course if op is the only person there then of course support the children, but surely their parents should be first call for that? I think what my sm did that was so great was she supported my dad to be the parent rather than being the parent. I think that's a great role.
New girl I too think that's very harsh. No individual should feel "not key" or "not important" in the family in their own home. What kind of a life is that? It's very possible not to over-step whilst still being important and a key member of the household. How sad that, after your SM being so good with you, that you see her as not important in your family
Newgirl I can see where you're coming from but I think a lot depends on the children. Me n DSS aren't that close and if he was upset or hurt he'd want daddy and nobody else but DSD is very fond of me and if something is upsetting her then sometimes she'll open up to me more than she does her dad. She's very tactile and always coming cuddling and kissing me which at first used to make me feel quite uncomfortable cos I don't want to step on anyone's toes but then I realised that its what she wants and if my son wanted a cuddle with his stepmum then I would hope she'd give him one.
So I think it depends what the child wants from their relationship with their step parent.
You sound like you are doing an amazing job OP.
I get that feeling sometimes, I don't have my own dcs either but I know I am important to Dsd.
I think i am still perceived as the girlfriend despite being here for more than 3 years and maybe that will never change but I love knowing I am doing my best and that's all I can do even if its not enough for other people.
try not to dwell on what others think as only you know your family dynamic and no one knows how tough it is until they've done it.
glad to see you love your dscs so much
OP I completely understand where you're coming from. I have two wonderful DSDs and no children 'of my own'. We get on well and are very affectionate together. On top of that I feel like I contribute a lot to their lives and to our lives as a family together - financially, but other 'mothering' roles like feeding, bathing, washing clothes, helping with homework, choosing Christmas presents, and general chats about friendships, growing up etc. I also try to be very careful not to 'over-step' - there was an awkward moment a year or so ago when DSD1 (then 12) wanted me to show her how to shave her legs, and I tried to point her in the direction of her mum as I thought that might be a 'first' they would want to share together.
I'm also very aware of the marginal role society gives to stepmothers. I have been told by friends, family, etc, 'oh, you'll understand when you have kids of your own' - and yet, I would never treat my DSDs differently from my biological children, and I imagine a lot of people would judge me if I did!
So yes, I know what you mean, and I think your DH is being really supportive in suggesting you seek counselling - that is, if that's what you want for yourself. For me, I think educating my friends and family about the fact that we are a complete, if blended, unit, has been the most helpful thing. I'm not their mum, I don't try to be their mum, but I love them as if they were mine, and I take my responsibilities - and their limits - seriously.
And yes, I can see that things would be different for newgirl if she was a lot older when her SM came into her life. But it makes me sad to think that I should resign myself to being unimportant and not a key part of the family. Newgirl, did your SM contribute in ways that you didn't realise? Did she cook for you? Clean up after you? Do your washing? Buy your Christmas and birthday presents? It's a shame if she did all these things in the background, and you valued her only because she didn't have an important role in your life...
No my sm didn't do those practical things - my dad did or I did. Please don't be offended - I'm not trying to be rude - I think my sm is a friend, I have always been polite and respectful and she is the same vice versa - and I think that has been undervalued here. But I was a young teen so different perhaps with younger children. We have a good relationship so don't dismiss a different view
newgirl, I don't want to dismiss your experience, and if the situation you describe worked well for everyone involved, god bless. But I can't imagine it working well in my own family, and I would never encourage any woman to take that particular view of their role as a stepmum - or any child to take that view of their stepmum.
I do think that saying a stepmum should not view herself as a key or important role in the family is quite hurtful and actually a bit absurd. I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt as you say you do not mean to offend anyone, but the remark is pretty offensive.
Why? My sm had her own children and I had my own parents. We had and still have a good relationship precisely because she was very wise and found the right role in our lives. Im offering the view of a stepchild whereas this thread seems to have opinions from mostly from stepmums - there is more than one viewpoint.
Morien, I think I know what you mean.
DH's family are a mixed bag - some have been lovely and welcoming and treat me as DH's wife and partner without any weirdness. On the other hand, his father and father's wife have never really accepted me or DD (who is also DH's child); they were quite rude at first - after a word from DH they made more of an effort but it is clear that it is an effort and there is still the occasional awkwardness. I should add, I really don't think it is anything about me - more that they truly didn't think my DH should remarry (he was a widower).
I've also gotten the occasional well-meaning or just plain thoughtless remark...I remember accompanying DH to a party (out of town) shortly after we were engaged; an old friend of his told me that she knew DH would find "someone" as he had always so enjoyed "female company"...it made me feel she saw me as just a convenience, interchangeable with any other woman DH might have stumbled across and clung to out of desperation, IYSWIM.
There are also all the mums of my DSCs, who either pile on gushing remarks about how 'good' I am to 'take on' the DSCs, or try to mother the DSCs in a way that makes it clear that they view them as 'poor little motherless lambs'.
And finally, there are the ones (none of them stepparents and sometimes not even parents) who offer unsolicited advice on how I should be handling the raising of teenagers, in a slightly bossy and intrusive manner I know they wouldn't dare use with a 'regular' parent. I nearly threw one of those out of my kitchen last week.
I'd be lying if I said it didn't depress and upset me. I have no advice, but I hope the counselling will help. You sound like you have a good foundation, so it would be terrible to let this spoil things for you.
I've been a step kid too but don't have the same opinion as you newgirl, however my stepmum was around from me being about 4.
Again though I think the role that the stepmum plays can depend on the child and the individual circumstances. My relationship with my stepmum was different than the one my brother had with her and her role would change through our lives. At some stages she was a mother to my brother and he hardly saw my mum but then when he was older him and my stepmum hardly spoke.
No two families are the same, what works for one family may not work for another, I think that's what a lot of MN'ers seem to forget.
New girl, inherent in your definition of your sm not being important/key in the family is a declaration that she isn't part of your family, but rather that she had a separate family with her own children. You have, perhaps unknowlingly, therefore excluded her from your family unit. And I very much doubt that she never did anything practical for you. I am almost certain that she will have shopped for your food, prepared at least some family meals, washed up, etc etc. all of which has gone totally un noticed by you, as you claimed she didn't do practical things for you. I think it is really to her credit that you have a good relationship now. I wonder how much personal sacrifice she endured through the years however, to have always have felt so peripheral to your (definition of) family
Oh yes the comment that you are good to "take on" the stepkids - I remember that well (12 years ago). OP dont worry, you're feelings are natural but maybe take a step back. Like you, I dont have kids of "my own" (never wanted them" but have DSCs who I love dearly and we have a great relationship. Seriously, what other people may or may not think about you is, as someone wisely said, none of your business! What matters is how you feel about your relationship with your DSCs. If that means get counselling then do so. But honestly, you sound like you want to do all the right things. But get some perspective also in feeling your own worth as a person in your own right, not just through being a stepmum. That's how you will be a great role model. My DSC's mother completely hates me (and has done for many years now) and although I used to let it get to me, now I frankly dont care. Her viewpoint is meaningless.
Newgirl, I didn't mean to criticise you or your family. You must have been more independent and capable than my DSD at 13, who would never consider doing her own washing or cooking a meal. I agree with Poppy that all families are different. I actually think SMs tend to have good first-hand experience of that, and nobody here has really suggested otherwise. Clearly my experiences are different and I'm glad about that. It would not be 'enough' for me, to not have a key role in my own home. That's not to say I have to have the final say, or over-step. But I contribute on an equal footing to my household - financially, emotionally and practically. I am and always will be DSDs' friend, but we are family too.
Thanks to all those who have made constructive comments - it helps!
Yes, my DP is fantastically supportive, and does his best to be so even when I know he just doesn't understand. I'm very touched that the counselling idea came from him and not from me, and I agreed to it at once.
I'll come back tomorrow and try to answer some of the questions people have asked.
I think your dsc are lucky to have you.
I have often wished my family were more 'blended' but we are not. When we are all together we are 2 families of 3 and although it used to upset me now I accept that this is how it is.
For you the fact that you don't have dc yourself makes it different but your DH sounds so supportive and your dsc obviously love and value you so try not to let this cloud your otherwise happy family.
Morien There's a book written by a SM
who felt exactly the way you have described - its called Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin.
TheWombat has said it all brilliantly.
I think there's two things - how your wider family and friends treat you, and how you perceive yourself and your role as a childless woman in a motherly role.
In terms of how you perceive yourself, you're not having the freedom and opportunities that a woman without kids has, but nor have you the status that socieity affords to women who are mothers. I think you're right that this issue would probably vanish if you were to have your own kids - is that ever on the agenda? Or are you trying to get to grips with always "only" being a SM?
The other issue, of how people actually treat you, might not vanish even if you had your own kids. I have two of my own (not DP's), and still feel somewhat on the fringes of DP's wider family and freinds. I don't think my own friends really know how to relate to the DSC either. They're a big part of my life, but a totally separate one from the part I share with any of my friends. A few small things I've found that have helped a bit have been:
- sending joint Christmas/birthday cards
- looking after the DSC for bits of time when DP is out
- taking just one or two of them out with me. If your friends are used to you being single, then 3 kids all at once is hard to adjust to, but if you just took (say) the 8 year old along with you somewhere that might be a way of helping people to understand the new people in your lives.
- sending some photos from a recent holidays to my gran who is unlikely ever to meet the DSC, but now at least knows what they look like
- going along with DP to school plays and performances.
Another thing I've not done much, but think would probably help is taking the opportunity when it arrises to talk to any of the DSC's friends' mothers - so they know who I am if I answer the phone, or they want to arrange a play date.