***

Why is my house quiet? Why did I wake up this morning without my three year old, Ivy, staring at me ala The Ring?

The reason for this temporary euphoria is because my 13-year old step-daughter had a sleepover last night. And when big sister has a sleepover, Ivy considers herself a plus one and doesn’t leave her side. So, I have a house with teens and toddlers all sleeping away until likely noon.

Cue birds chirping and mice singing while making me a pot of fresh coffee.

A lot of people ask me how it is to have the girls so far apart in age, and my immediate response is always, “It’s great!” And I mean that. There is nothing I would change about their age difference, because the bond they have is so tight – even with those ten years between them.

This is what our family looks like. These two girls and us. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I think one of the hardest challenges for stepmoms may be the constant need to make our families feel whole in a dynamic where our husband or partner had a life before us that included a completely different family. I know it is something I have struggled with, especially in the beginning. It is absolutely normal to feel this way. Hey, the world is changing and what a family looks like is, thankfully, changing as well to encompass all sorts of lovely combinations. However, that doesn’t mean us step moms do not have human moments where we wish we were the first and last wife. The only wife, to be frank. And we wish we shared experiences with our spouse that he did not experience before.

These feelings are perfectly acceptable and no one should be ashamed of them. For some stepmoms, it can be really difficult to get over and past this mental hump. Your husband had a life before you. A wife before you. And I get asked quite often how I deal with it. This is always my answer:

Accept it. And respect it.

Respect it?

Yep.

Let’s be clear, I’m not telling you to throw your husband and his ex an anniversary party every year or have your spouse retell the story of how they met over and over.  *Shudder*  I am saying that it helped – and helps –  me, personally, to accept what was, compartmentalize it and move forward with a healthier perspective. Their relationship didn’t work out, but it did happen. Instead of dismissing it as a failure, so that I can feel superior, I choose to view it as a stepping stone that eventually led them down a better path. And bright side: that path eventually led my husband to me.

In the public stepmom world, we witness some pretty nasty views about “the ex.”

He never loved her anyway.
He was trapped in the marriage.
He was miserable the whole time.

I know every situation is different and there are definitely high-conflict situations where ugliness is being thrown about with reckless abandon.  However, if you are particularly struggling with the fact that your husband had a wife before you, then I urge you to look at it a different way.

Stop focusing on the fact that this woman is your husband’s ex and see her as the mother of your step-child(ten). 

Although I acknowledge my husband was married once before, that relationship had nothing to do with me, so it makes no sense for me to dwell on it or deny it.

And lets think about those ugly comments, in particular, for a moment. Would you want someone dismissing your marriage – whether it failed or not?  I’m pretty sure dismissing a first marriage feels just as lousy as someone dismissing the second. Also, and most importantly, let’s pretend that your step-child(ren) heard you saying those things. Is it okay to take one giant swipe to discount an entire relationship, one that happened to bring a child/children into this world,  whether it was successful or not? Children of divorce sacrifice so much.  Why would anyone want to dissolve or dismiss what may be one of the few happy memories or ideas they have of their parents being together?

Aside from a mindset trapping you in a sea of negativity and making you look petty and bitter, this outlook will also stunt you from growth, maturity and moving on, in general.

My husband had a wife before me. My husband had a family before me. And out of their love, I received one of the greatest gifts ever: a beautiful step-daughter and a wonderful sister for Ivy.  I will not discredit their relationship or past life. And though I certainly won’t dwell on it, I also won’t shut my eyes and cover my ears and pretend it never happened. Just as I wouldn’t want anyone to dismiss my marriage or family now.

If we accept our husband’s past and stop denying that it was real and that it happened, it will bring our mind peace moving forward.  More importantly, we will be a better step-parent for it.

Empathy is huge if you are to get by in this step-parent world. You have to have it or you will struggle constantly. Let’s push down these walls of us vs. them and put ourselves in their situation as often as we can (and, hopefully, they will provide us the same courtesy). I’m not saying this will solve all of our co-parenting issues, but I do promise – this will open a floodgate of newfound understanding, compassion and common ground.

Let’s do it for them and do it for us. But most importantly, let’s do it for our very whole families.

xo,

Jen