mama & stepmama
me irl

Like an ace of cards, the Fool card in the Tarot deck can either live at the beginning or the end. The card symbolizes optimism, change, personal growth and development, and the beginning of a journey. The Fool is also hanging out all daydreamy at the edge of a cliff like an idiot— a reminder that any leap of faith must be made blind.

Jumping into a stepmom role was nothing if not a leap of blind faith for me. Like a daydreamy idiot myself, I had no idea what I was getting into… and it’s a damned good thing I didn’t. Because I really love my husband. And I really love the family we’ve built. But I 100% did not really love the decade or so of emotional devastation it took to reach this place.

I’ve been in my stepdaughter’s life for a dozen years or so now, and only in the last handful or so of those has life felt peaceful. Comparatively.

Sure, we had the usual getting-to-know-you hurdles that every blended family goes through. Beyond that though, we got slammed with a bunch of drama from my husband’s super high-conflict ex: literal years spent in family court, parental alienation, supervised visitation, false implications of emotional abuse and physical neglect… you name it. And from the other side, we dealt with my bio daughter’s father, whose (mostly) absenteeism combined with his compromise allergy brought its own set of emotional landmines. Built in between these two juggernauts, our budding new family had about as much chance as a sand castle in a hurricane.

It was a mess. We were exhausted wrecks, all of us. For years and years. And yeeeeaaaarrrs.

It was really easy to make our kids’ other parents into storybook villains. Blame them for everything that was wrong with our family, tell ourselves if it weren’t for That Other Person doing XYZ then our family would…. would what? What did we think? That without them, our family would blend effortlessly?

Sure, adding high conflict made blending our family that much more difficult. But the problems we faced blending our family couldn’t all be chalked up to high-conflict opposite parents. We were also fighting against our own preconceptions.

As long as I kept trying to make real life line up with the picture I had in my head of what a family should look like or act like or how we should feel about each other, as long as I believed my role as a stepmom needed to fit some kind of particular mold, I kept feeling like I came up short. Like our entire family was a disaster, but especially me. I was the most newly introduced element, so surely any friction was my fault; surely our failure to blend meant I was the weak point. That I was failing. Mightily.

Then it clicked that, just like us blending did not land solely on my shoulders, us not blending could not be attributed to any one person’s actions (however shitty those actions were). Blending a family is a process that’s incredibly complex and touchy and we’re all flying blind and it’s messy and terrifying and lonely and chaotic and— well, it is what it is.

It didn’t matter if I was frustrated we only saw each other a few times a year; that my stepdaughter hated me; that I had apparently married the poster child of Disneyland Dads; that my daughter’s bio dad would never be as involved as I wanted him to be. These were the realities our family. I could either take us how we were, or forever feel disappointed at circumstances that I could never change. So I quit fighting, and started working on acceptance instead.

I won’t pretend that changing my own perspective was a snap. Exactly the opposite. But I can say that the day I stopped trying to force all of us to fit neatly inside some family-shaped box was the day life got a whole lot easier. For all of us. We were never gonna live up to my preconceptions. And— that was okay. Maybe more than okay. Hell, we weren’t half-bad. Likable, even.

Once I stopped playing the blame game, stopped comparing us to what (I thought) could have been or should have been, disappointment moved out of the way and made room for love. Not overnight. But love is definitely there, which is something I could not have said with confidence even just a few years ago.

In the present day, life has finally calmed the fuck down. I recovered most of my sanity, even if I’m still healing from deep wounds. We all are.

There is no one right way to stepparent; there is no one type of blended family.

Now that my bio daughter and stepdaughter have both reached the age of technical adulthood, there are occasional moments when I think I’m at the end of this journey. But really, just like the Fool, I’m always, eternally at the beginning. No matter how much I’ve learned along the way, I’m still learning.

Becoming a stepparent is a lifelong process. And the only way to get through it is to stick together. Share stories. Educate each other. Educate ourselves. Know that every single time you think “Am I the only one who…?” the answer is always, always no. You’re never “the only one who.” We all. Every one of us.

I’ve been a mama for 19 years, a stepmama for 12, and was a mod over at r/stepparents for 5. My (now defunct) personal blog was named a Best Step Mom Blog and a Top 10 Blog – Blended Family Edition while I was actively trying to NOT write too much about stepparenting, so I decided to build a little corner of the internet for blended families like ours who are hunkered down and fighting against high-conflict situations.

If that’s you, then welcome.

Feel free to email me anytime. I mean it.

<3,
Maarit.

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