Teila spent five years as a single parent, and then she met her husband. He had four children when they married, and a year after they married, they had a son together. Now she has been a stepmom for three years.
She and her husband dated only a short time because they lived in separate towns, and had separate kids. Once they knew they wanted to get married, they did it right away. It was too hard to date over the distance. She went from her hometown where she grew up, and everything was familiar. She had been alone for five years. She had everything working and flowing. When they married, she just up and moved everything about her entire life. It was a huge adjustment.
She moved into someone else’s house, and she felt like she moved into someone else’s life. Suddenly she had five kids instead of one, as well as a husband. Everything about her life had changed.
“I cried and cried and cried—to the point that my husband said, “If you don’t want to be married you don’t have to. You don’t have to do this.” I seemed unhappy, but I wasn’t really unhappy, I was just overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to begin.” She wanted to talk to people at the bus stop, but she struggled to even find a place to start. It takes her awhile to warm up to people.
A month after they got married, she found out she was pregnant with their youngest son. Even though she felt like it was so crazy because they barely knew each other, that made her feel like she fit in. She felt like, “Okay, I’m going to do this.” The pregnancy changed her mindset.
It took a year of fighting and brawls. There was a lot of “your kid” and “my kid … your kid hit my kid…” It was like two separate families in one house. It took them a year to come together. They fought a ton before they figured it out for the most part.
One of the biggest challenges as a stepmom is dealing with being a second mom for the kids. She wants to run her house a certain way, but each household is different. Influences can bleed into her efforts and methods. It is hard sometimes to do so much “mom” work but get none of the credit. It is not that she needs the credit, but not being seen as a mom is hard when she does so many of the day to day mom duties.
The best way she has found to cope is to love the kids like they are hers, but in a hard situation when she disagrees with one of the the other primary caregivers, she acts like an aunt or grandma. That is how she views it to even it out in her head and be okay with things.
When she worked she didn’t get to stay home with sick babies, and being able to do that now is one of her favorite rewards of caregiving. While I interviewed her she held her sick baby while he slept in her arms. When she worked she felt like someone else was raising her kid. She missed out on parenting the way she wanted to, on getting loves and kisses, and on being everything to her kids.
Teila liked being a single mom. She got to do things her own way. She didn’t have to okay things with anyone. She was by herself. It was a lot of work. She says being a stepmom is equally demanding because her husband works out of town much of the time. Being a single mom was rewarding because she was mom and dad. She could do it. But she only had one kid. “Stepmom is a different world. They don’t even compare.”
She loves being married, and being able to stay home. She has the kids by herself a lot. She sometimes still feels like a single mom—which is good, because she actually knew how to do that. She likes it because she can do it her way, and establish a flow. When her husband comes home, she doesn’t want him to mess up her schedule.
She loves her stepkids. She pointed out one of the challenges of stepmothering. “Your own kids love you. They think you are the best thing that ever happened. They love you no matter what. When you are a stepmom, they love you, but it is conditional. Whenever their mom is around, she will always be their mom. No matter how much work I have done, I will never equal up to being their mom.”
She had a funny way to describe one of the rewards. “I feel like a secret santa. I feel like I do all this stuff, but but it is not well known.” She said sometimes it can feel lonely, even though she is surrounded by people all the time. However, she loves when, for example, their oldest child has her senior night tonight, and she made sure that she told them that she has two moms, not just one mom. “I don’t get those moments very often, but when I do it makes it all worth it.” The acknowledgement means a lot.
She can see that the kids need her. Their circumstance was difficult when their family changed. She has the ability to be there for them all the time. After school, even if they are going to go to their mom’s that night, they are always with her during the day. She can provide a stability and structure that was missing. She says, “I can see a difference in all of them. One son was so depressed. He would just lay in bed all the time. He does not do that anymore. I know there are benefits. I can really see them when I look for them.”
I have heard counselors say not to try to parent when you are a stepparent. But Teila disagrees. “When you are in a situation where you are “the mom” how can you not be? Ninety percent of the time I am alone with them. If neither of their parents is present, I have to parent.” She has the kids by herself more often than anyone. There is really no other option. She has to be the mom. “I have to do that. I feel like when the kids are older, it is hard for me to just come lay down the law. But honestly, the kids respect me more when I parent them. They want me to. One of them came and thanked me for what I do.”
She was lucky in her situation that she had been a stepmom before. “I already had a little bit of an idea. I did stepmom wrong the first time. This time I knew going into it that I needed to build a relationship with the kids before I parented. So when I say it took a year, it took that long before I parented at all. I made sure they knew I wasn’t just going somewhere. I wasn’t just flying in and then going to get divorced. I made sure they knew that I was stable, and that I loved them—that it wasn’t out of me being mean, but out of me caring. Every time I got mad, I made sure I explained. “I don’t want to fight, but I need you to understand this…”
“I had to explain a lot more to my stepkids than to my own children. I always took time afterward to explain my reasoning and and that in turn formed a bond. I think a lot of stepmoms want to go in and change everything right off the bat. “You can’t wear those clothes. You can’t do that.” But that doesn’t work.”
She stressed the importance of knowing your limits, when to step back, when to hold your tongue. “I don’t go in and force things, but I do say, “I don’t think that’s appropriate, or I wish you would…” I discuss issues. I don’t lay down the law unless it really needs to be done.”
She loves what she does. She loves being a mom, and loves her stepchildren and new family. She does not cry and cry any more. Everyone in the family doesn’t always see eye to eye, but they don’t brawl. She is thankful for her large family. They have reached a happy place.
Thanks for a great interview, Teila. I honor you.