Struggling to find my place in society as SM

(28 Posts)
Morien Mon 26-Nov-12 14:47:24

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.

allnewtaketwo Mon 26-Nov-12 15:14:20

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?

UC Mon 26-Nov-12 15:43:27

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?

PoppyPrincess Mon 26-Nov-12 16:06:41

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.

newgirl Mon 26-Nov-12 16:24:58

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.

UC Mon 26-Nov-12 16:50:26

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".

newgirl Mon 26-Nov-12 17:18:11

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.

allnewtaketwo Mon 26-Nov-12 18:00:20

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

PoppyPrincess Mon 26-Nov-12 18:07:19

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.

WakeyCakey Mon 26-Nov-12 18:33:32

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

TheWombat Mon 26-Nov-12 18:36:17

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...

newgirl Mon 26-Nov-12 19:49:40

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

brdgrl Mon 26-Nov-12 20:25:54

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.

newgirl Mon 26-Nov-12 20:29:44

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.

brdgrl Mon 26-Nov-12 20:39:57

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. smile

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.

PoppyPrincess Mon 26-Nov-12 21:10:06

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.

allnewtaketwo Mon 26-Nov-12 21:35:52

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

ladydeedy Mon 26-Nov-12 21:55:54

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.

ladydeedy Mon 26-Nov-12 21:56:47

allnew - beautifully put.

TheWombat Mon 26-Nov-12 22:06:08

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.

Morien Mon 26-Nov-12 22:21:22

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.

Kaluki Mon 26-Nov-12 22:32:54

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.
smile

NotaDisneyMum Tue 27-Nov-12 01:30:28

Morien There's a book written by a SM
who felt exactly the way you have described - its called Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin.

UC Tue 27-Nov-12 09:51:46

TheWombat has said it all brilliantly.

purpleroses Tue 27-Nov-12 11:25:14

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.

newgirl Tue 27-Nov-12 16:35:09

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.

Morien Tue 27-Nov-12 20:08:26

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 smile

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).

littlelamby Wed 28-Nov-12 23:42:33

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!

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