Being a stepmom is like having a dirty little secret nobody wants to talk about.
Despite stepfamily statistics, which suggest that 42 percent of American adults have at least one step relative in their family, many people still cringe when they hear the word "stepmother." This explains why women often avoid conversations about their step status, whether on the soccer field sidelines or at neighborhood cocktail parties.
On those rare occasions when the topic is offered up for discussion, it's not uncommon for a stepmother's friends and family to offer well-meaning advice. Yet, with all due respect, unless your loved ones are stepmoms, too, they probably have no idea what they're talking about. Advice from those who lack any sort of stepfamily experience can range from contradictory to condescending.
And offering suggestions that work for first families to a stepmom is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole, because stepfamilies are arguably different from first families. First families don't need to navigate tricky situations like exes, custody arrangements, visitation schedules, child support, legal issues or loyalty binds. Stepfamilies do, so even when things are good? They're complicated!
Here are 5 boldfaced lies stepmoms hear all the time -- and ample reason to ignore each one:
Lie #1: You should love your stepchildren like they're your own.
Falling in love with someone is not a guarantee that you'll love his or her kids. Asking a woman to love a child she didn't plan for, give birth to or have much (if any) say in raising is like telling someone to pick a kid out of a crowd and instantly love them. It's an unrealistic and unfair expectation that makes lots of warm, caring women feel like failures. Relationships take time, so don't let anyone define your family's natural progression. Practice kindness and mutual respect. If love develops? Great! Consider it a bonus.
Lie #2: If you're nice to your stepkids, they'll accept you.
No matter how wonderful you are your stepkids may still reject you. For a child, accepting dad's new partner can feel like a betrayal to their mom. This is true even if their mom is out of the picture. It is especially true if she hasn't moved on and/or makes it clear that she doesn't approve of you. What's a stepmom to do when her stepkids are stuck in loyalty binds like these? Brenda Snyder, LCSW, sums it up in the August 2013 issue of StepMom Magazine: "We accept it. We don't take it personally. We embrace the role our stepchildren give us, as long as it guarantees the respect any adult deserves. We let them set the pace of our relationship." Understand that loyalty binds aren't your fault. A child can't embrace you if her hands are tied.
Lie #3: Becoming a stepmom makes you a parent.
Stepmoms don't have to think of themselves as parents. We get so tripped up by three little letters, m-o-m, that we forget it's perfectly OK to assume the role of "dad's wife." In fact, lots of kids prefer this way of thinking, especially when their mother and father are both active in their lives. Kids don't necessarily need or want a third parent. Others truly resent it. You can be a responsible adult within your own home and still let mom and dad do the heavy lifting of parenting. If a child is about to touch a hot stove, it's your responsibility to guide them away from it -- but parenting decisions about education, curfews and tattoos? Can be left to mom and dad.
Lie #4: You should always put the kids first.
Consistently putting the kids' needs above your own teaches them and your partner that your needs are less important than everyone else's. Stepfamily life requires juggling from everyone. Yes, you're an adult. But you have needs and you deserve to be happy, too. Pay attention to the warning signs: If you feel depressed, angry, burnt out or resentful, you've probably been neglecting your own needs for far too long.
Lie #5: Stepmothers are wicked.
Stepmoms go to great lengths to avoid being called wicked. The best way to dispel this lie is to stop letting a tired, old stereotype influence you. Lead by example. Don't be embarrassed to say that you're a stepmom. Don't sugar coat your status by substituting euphemisms like "bonus" and "blended" for "stepfamily." Hold your head high and show people what today's stepmom really looks like. She's smart. She's loving. She's dedicated. She does the best she can despite some extremely complicated situations. She's pretty amazing. She's you!
To learn more about stepfamily dynamics visit: StepMomMagazine.com
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