Struggling to find my place in society as SM(28 Posts)
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 a key thing I failed to explain was we never stayed at my sm house. I think that was very much her decision and it was fine. We were older and our mum did our washing etc at that age.
As a role I think my sm saw herself as a kindly teacher - on our side but not a mum. It was a good approach for us. a different situation from many on here and I do wish all well in their unique families.
Thanks once again to you all; you've been so kind.
First of all, thanks to notadisneymum for recommending Stepmonster, which I bought right away on my kindle and have started already. So far, I could have written it myself (apart from the part about the hostile teens, thank goodness). She says she felt like a barnacle stuck on a rock, which struck a chord. I told DP that and he said if I was a barnacle, he'd help me not to fall off the rock
TheWombat, I like what you say about educating your family and friends. I think that's what would most help us, and that's what I meant in my original post about DP not standing up for me in public, but you put it much better by talking about educating - that's what I need him to do. For the most part I don't have a problem with my own family and friends (my dad was lukewarm at first, and I know he didn't like the fact that we sent birthday/Christmas cards from all of us, as suggested by purpleroses...but as soon as he met my DSCs he was fine(it took a while as we live in different countries). In fact, he & my SM are visiting this next weekend, and when they heard that DSCs wouldn't be there till Mon, they decided to prolong their stay so they can see them too - that means a lot to me)) It's on DP's side that there's a problem, which is a shame as we see much more of DP's friends and family (we live in his country, not the UK), and as it's on his side I really feel I need him to do most of the educating. I'm already weird because I'm foreign and I speak French with an accent and I don't have children (deeply suspect in this society - I have lots of childless friends, but here it's the exception), and I've already been informed by DP's sister that I do some things they find odd (I didn't ask what)...if I start trying to educate them about our family they'll just think it's another of my strange foreign ways, whilst they might just listen to DP.
The problems are largely of the types described by brdgrl (yr story about the friend who was sure he would find 'someone' made me smile - I had just the same from DP's mum) - lots of gushing about how amazing I am to 'take on' the DSCs, lots of treating them like poor little motherless lambs in front of me (this often by the same people who were doing the gushing just a moment ago), lots of interfering advice which I'm sure would never be given to a 'real' parent. I suppose I'd just like to be left to get on with it.
ladydeedy, you suggested I take a step back. I know, I know, but I had to hear it from someone else so thank you. What you say about my own worth is interesting. I have a good job, well paid, quite stressful but I enjoy it, I have never found it difficult to relate to people and am blessed with lots of wonderful friends all over the place. I can honestly say that for most of my life I've felt very comfortable with myself...and I do now, except for this question of SM identity. When I'm with DP's family & close friends I'm on quicksand. Suddenly the things I think others (my friends and colleagues) appreciate in me (I'm articulate, intelligent, sociable, etc) don't matter, nobody cares. I feel that I'm being judged on criteria that have nothing to do with me - I didn't set out to be a SM, but I'm doing my best!
purpleroses, having a DC 'of my own' is on the agenda but I'm 40 so have to accept that I may 'only' ever be a SM (and most of the time that's ok). I'd just never met anyone I wanted to have children with before.
There were lots of mentions of cuddling and affection. All 3 DSCs are very affectionate with me, but that's come from them as I let them come to me. Even now I don't cuddle them unless they initiate it, in which case I always respond. Likewise I tell them that I love them if they tell me, but I don't tell them spontaneously (although I'm battling to get DP to do just that with them, but he finds it hard).
Absolutely relate to the identity crisis type issue, I've experienced it myself. DP & I decided I was a 'significant adult' in my DSCs lives which helped me sort it out a bit. Still get niggling feelings that people think I'm silly for talking about my step children like others talk about their children - but I just push those feelings to one side these days - I'm happy with my commitment to the kids.
I think the issues can arise as being a step mum is a very hard to define role. I think parenting in general is quite like that, but there's a lot less time & space for self reflection. I posted the thoughts below on another thread but very relevant here:
I read an article in the newspaper yesterday which really made me think. It was talking about why post natal depression happens (article is here) and it said:
"A new mother has to come to terms with loss as well as gain loss of her sense of self and identity, with no choice now but to put the needs of her child before her own; loss of freedom and a great deal of her former life; loss of her more youthful, childless body; loss of control, income or the ability to earn for herself; and perhaps even the loss of friends who are childless and consequently find it hard to understand where her priorities now lie".
Apart from the changes to the body bit, that's everything a step mother goes through - except over a much longer space of time, with far less defined 'rules' and social conventions (no one ever sends you a card to say congrats on becoming a step mum!) and most likely less 'reward' as the children aren't your own. And probably too much room/perceived need for reflection..
I just found it interesting to consider what can cause stress in new mothers, and seeing that in relation to step mothers. Being a good parent requires a lot of selflessness, and being a step mother even more so, for less obvious reward.
I came to the conclusion that the more positive adults a child has in its life the better, and it's a real honour to get to be a significant adult in my DSCs lives. Take confidence in the fantastic relationship it sounds like you have with your partner & step kids! I find it hard to articulate this stuff but wish we could dissect it over a glass of wine - as much as I've got it all in a good place, would be fab to discuss it with someone going through the same thing!