How to Be a Great Bonus Mom

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You are joining the ranks of many other women when you create a blended family. You and your spouse or partner are going to raise these children together, likely in collaboration with the biological mother. Especially when you are not related to some of the children, you enter unique dynamics for defining your role and the relationships you will have as these younger people mature. As with any new undertaking, it is often best to compile and consider the collective wisdom from those who have traveled the path before you. From the courageous candor of multiple step-moms, the following nuggets of advice are offered.

Be open and flexible in defining your role. You are an addition to the original family, and the children will understandably have mixed feelings about that. You aim to be a nurturing, loving and supportive caregiver, but it is natural and normal that it will take some time to develop that kind of relationship. At times, you might be viewed as “the bonus mom,” and unfortunately, at other times you might not be seen in a positive light. Of course, you cannot replace the woman who gave birth to them, nor should you try. Your relationship, and your role within it, will be different. Embrace that and, as much as possible, remain open and flexible to the shape it takes over time.

At the same time, remember what is reasonable and within your limits. You might understandably feel the desire to be liked. However, this can also make you more vulnerable to being manipulated or unreasonably “nice” by giving gifts or bending rules. Also, during discussions, you might be the recipient of harsh and undue criticism. If the children are disrespectful, deal with it matter-of-factly. Express how you need to be respected, too. To strengthen how you relate to each other, look for opportunities in which you can enjoy shared experiences. You will get to know each other better and begin to create a history together.

While you are invested in establishing and strengthening a relationship with the children, do not lose sight of nurturing your new marriage or partnership. Clearly, you chose to be with this person and you are committed to a future together. The time to invest in that relationship is now. At times, hire a babysitter and have a date night. Be a refuge for this person, when the stresses of children, work and overall life press on you both. You are modeling the importance of nurturing a relationship for the children, and they will recall this in the future when they begin forming their own healthy, romantic relationships.

One more important relationship needs emotional investment, and this can sometimes be overlooked. Your spouse should have time with the children, special time set aside for just them. This ongoing relationship is important to protect as well, and your endorsement of it demonstrates that you are not competing with the children for your partner’s attention. You place importance upon the children being happy, and you are showing that all relationships within the family are valued.

Employ self-compassion for the mistakes you will make. No one is perfect, and on top of that, you are likely navigating your own uncharted waters. Forgive yourself for the lapses in judgment you will make. It is never helpful to repeatedly beat yourself up for what was said and done ineffectively. You might also benefit from finding a good counselor who can provide support and guidance. A counselor can assist you personally, and in general, counseling might be helpful for the whole family if and when dynamics become too stressful. The input of a neutral but invested observer can be invaluable.

Without doubt, you will have your frustrations. Be mindful of where and when you express them. It could be more harmful than helpful to fill your spouse’s ears with ongoing complaints about the children, and the kids might take your venting to heart, more than is necessary or even healthy. Find a close, trusted friend who can hear the depth of your concerns and emotions without unduly reacting. Another good option, already noted, is to find that therapist who will be a wonderful confidant.

Let’s face it. The Brady Bunch was a great television show, but it was definitely entertainment made for the viewer’s amusement and not as a guide for real life. You and your blended family will find your own way in relating to each other. Naturally, things will ebb and flow. The more you can expect this, and even embrace it, the better you will be and feel. There is great potential for all of you to come through this changed for the better. Each of you will have a greater understanding and appreciation for the complexities of relationships and how to make the most of them. HLM

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