My stepson came to live with his father and I when he was nearly 8 years old and one month before giving birth to our first child. I thought it would be a great bonding experience because although the boys had different mothers, the idea of “half brothers” would never be an option in our house. A few months after moving in with us, my husband got promoted on his job which meant longer hours. My husband never once asked me to increase my responsibilities as a custodial stepmom but it was easy to take care of my stepson like he was my own. During this time, my stepson and I spent a lot of time together and began to strengthen our bond. However, you can call me naïve because I stepped knee deep into the role of being a martyr stepmother without a clue. I was foolish enough to not have expectations for this transition because I honestly believe that my role wouldn’t change besides helping with homework.
Six months later, I become pregnant for the 2nd time with my daughter and I just got comfortable with a routine with the boys. It didn’t bother me to help my stepson with homework, scheduling and bringing him to doctor appointments, transporting him to and from football practice, picking him up from after care, school shopping, etc until I became overwhelmed. My husband made himself available as much as possible so we would take turns with bringing him to doctor’s appointments, football practice and other things as his schedule allowed. I’m definitely blaming the hormones for the range of emotions I was experiencing because my normal routine became exhausting. Therefore, it would make sense that I began looking for our co-parent to help out a bit.
At the beginning of the school year, I remember receiving help with school clothes from my stepson’s mother then not much after that. There were missed opportunities at school to be involved in and she was unavailable to help out with homework, doctor appointments, sports, after care, etc. It was a stressful time because I was learning to be a mom to two kids at the same time. I had no experience with being fully responsible for a child yet alone two so I was looking forward to the weekends where my stepson would visit with her. Sadly, the visits were not on the regular as we hoped. Naturally, there was a lot of resentment towards her because I expected her to be more involved as his mother and needed her as a co-parent. As a result, the tension between us grew and she never did assume the responsibilities I had hoped she would.
So my mind began to wonder…Why wouldn’t she want to do the things she once did for him? Was it my fault? Was I a threat to her? Not in the physical as in bodily harm but as it relates to role and position. How can I fix this? Do I simplify my efforts to put her at ease? Or do I boldly exercise my strengths which unfortunately highlights her weakness and insecurities? How do we find a common ground? Will there always be an uneven seesaw in the relationship where one side is carrying the heavier load?
The obvious solution would be for both sides to share the load to balance the seesaw. If one side continually handles the heavier side, they enable the other side to not do their part. As I’m looking back, the adults (us) did a terrible job in communicating the transition my stepson would have to face. We never set boundaries, expectations and really thought it would naturally work out. I often vented to my husband but never directly with my stepson’s mother. I regret not doing that because it led to countless arguments, tension and anger for years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if we took one responsibility at a time from our plate and placed it onto hers? As she managed that, we could add another and so forth until the seesaw was level. We understand now that both sides that are willing to manage the load together will find balance, peace and a stronger relationship but I wish I would have learned this years ago.