As women, as mothers, and sometimes as stepmothers, it can feel like we’re giving, giving, giving, and putting ourselves last.
Let me tell you a story about toast.
One Sunday morning I was making myself some toast. There were a few slices of bread left in the bag (this was pre-pandemic, before everyone started making their own bread, but also I have never made my own bread… so there’s that lol), and I popped two in the toaster. My stepson came shuffling into the kitchen.
“Oh, are you making toast?”
“Can I have some?”
“With peanut butter?”
So when the warm toast popped, I put it on a plate, spread peanut butter evenly to the edges, and passed it to my stepson.
Two more slices in. My stepdaughter came bounding into the kitchen.
“Can I have some toast too?”
Pop. Spread. Deliver.
I went back to the bread bag. One single straggly piece left, with a rip at the top. The kind of bread that, when toasted, would be singed at the edges, and still spongy in the middle. I let out a sigh as my husband came into the kitchen.
“Oh, I just gave the kids my toast and now there isn’t any left”
“Oh babe, it’s only toast”…..
Sure, of course it’s only toast. It’s bread. It’s a snack. It was one of many foods we had in the house, because we were lucky to have a fridge and pantry stocked. No big deal.
But let’s look at it a different way.
Many stepmoms struggle because they take on parenting roles for their stepchildren. They give entirely of themselves to kids who are not their own.
I’m a mom too, so I’m used to kids eating my food, sometimes literally out of my hand. And that’s no big deal, because we have the bond and relationship that comes with unconditional love. Even when they are at their most irritating, I still love the little stinkers. Like many stepmoms, I don’t have that same dynamic with my stepkids. After six years in their lives, we certainly have love for each other, but it has grown over time and it’s still different to the dynamic I have with my own kids.
So no, I didn’t mind giving them the toast. They’re kids. But I had a slight feeling of irritation that it was gone and that my husband brushed it off as no big deal. And then I realized how symbolic this was of almost every encounter with my stepkids.
My husband expected me to treat them like my own kids and did not understand any frustration or discomfort I might feel in doing so.
That doesn’t make me a bad person, or a bad stepmom. It makes me normal.
I’m not saying that I should have said "no" to them, but I am saying that it was okay for me to be kind of annoyed at another incidence of putting the kids before myself. And I realized that the more I fought against those normal feelings, the more I was going to feel guilty and “wrong” – the more I was going to feel the need to put them first to fight against those normal feelings.
Instead, I’ll continue to accept the feelings. I’ll sit with them for a while. I’ll acknowledge them and move through them. I’ll show myself grace.
I suggest you do the same.