If you have ever felt that you were being judged by others on how well you were doing things as a stepmom or a mom or even as a spouse, this article is for you.
It’s not a competition.
I will admit that as a new wife I felt pressure similar to a competition.
I will admit that as a new stepmom I felt the urge to prove that I was as worthy as others who I considered more real in their roles.
I admit that as a new mom I found the pressure to be a lot.
And still I promise you that none of it is a competition.
None of it is a competition.
There is no finish line. There is no awards table. There are no trophies and no ribbons given out to those who do a good job.
There’s no official rule book or a designated judge.
This is actually a very complex topic with a lot of layers. Today in this essay I will try to only talk about the feelings of being judged like a competition.
Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the thief of Joy.”
I believe that happiness is a worthwhile goal and so I like the idea of joy. I like it a lot.
To keep it very simple when you turn to comparison this can create conflict and suffering for you.
As a stepmom if you think you do a better job of keeping the kids dressed up or feeding them more nutritious meals.
It’s possible that’s true. It’s also possible that you are the only person who cares about who does it better.
Where does your mind go when I say that?
Most people will come back to me with but they should care more. Why don’t they care more.
The answer here is the root of why this is such a painful thing to deal with. They shouldn’t care more. Sorry. They get to decide what is important to them.
This is individualism. People will make their own decisions about their own behaviors. Even newborn babies will make their own decision about when they eat and when they sleep. It is a part of being human.
The second part of this is something that I truly did not understand when I was new to being a stepmom or a mom.
Being a caregiver in the form of stepmom or mom is a lot of work.
When I was new I thought the standard of better mattered a lot.
When I was into it more I realized that getting it done was the goal.
And you know what I think if somebody wants to do a better job than me of picking out outfits or making lunches.
Today… I think I would think, thank you I accept that help. Hopefully, I would also give a compliment.
But that’s because I’m on the other side. Probably when my kids were smaller and I was in the thick of all the work and sleep deprivation I would have been more emotional.
I recently worked with a young stepmom who was getting a lot of pushback in her family over some opinions she had. She’s a dietician and she’s very confident that her ideas of what the stepkids should eat is correct.
The ex is not a dietician and has primary custody.
On the weekends the stepmom is getting a lot of resistance from the kids about the food and snacks in the house. They don’t want to eat what she buys and they are asking for their dad to buy the snacks that are at mom’s house.
This steomom also is very outspoken about what the kids are taking to school in the lunchboxes. On her own she sent a note to the stepmom with suggestions for healthier lunches for the kids.
The ex called her former husband and let him know that she didn’t appreciate this feedback. It was apparently a heated conversation.
I have been on the receiving end of getting a mom’s feedback when they are upset about something I did as a stepmom. I didn’t particularly like it.
The stepmom said to me, ”I just don’t understand why she’s so upset about this.”
And I took a deep breath. I asked her what she ate the day before. Then after that I told her it would be healthier if she ate more protein. She said, I don’t think so. Then I raised my eyebrows and I asked her if she liked it when other people told her what she needed to eat.
She stammered a bit. She started to say that she appreciated feedback on how healthy her food is but then she paused and I waited while this question bounced around in her head. She honestly didn’t probably realize that this was what she was doing. She truly does know a lot about nutrition and diet. She’s a professional and hopefully her opinions on the matter should be respected. Although in this case I did suggest that really she is not a pediatric dietician which is a specialty.
I’m not immune to the dinnertime struggle.
I share stories about my mistakes because I try to avoid giving the impression that my stepparent or parent journey was somehow perfect or without hardship. It wasn’t.
In fact, I suspect a huge amount of conflict in families is around food. Who eats, what, how much food to eat, who makes the food, who cleans up, table manners ugh … all of it.
A long long time ago when I was a new stepmom I decided that it was my job to make family dinner. Nobody told me to do this although my husband was fairly happy to secede the job to me. Cooking for a family is a skill. I didn’t have this skill but I didn’t know it. I decided to make something that my dad used to make for me. Rice-a-roni.
The kids thought it was gross.
They took a bite or two and they told me that.
I got super upset. I took it very personally. We had a huge family fight. My husband told me that I was overreacting. That made me even more angry.
Eventually, I sat down to eat my own rice-a-roni and I took a bite and realized I didn’t like it either.
Ugh. Egg in face moment.
I remembered liking it when I was younger but as an adult it wasn’t a flavor I was enjoying/
Of course, At the time I was so invested in the conflict that I didn’t admit it to anybody that I agreed with them. Like I said before, I’m not here as an example of perfection. Today I would hopefully handle this a little differently. One reason I mention that is that it really can be okay if you’re going through stuff like this now in your family.
Anyway, the bigger point here is possibly a little more subtle.
Why should one person get to decide for another?
Probably in the majority of cases they shouldn’t.
When you realize that and you truly deeply believe it then it gets easier to allow others to have their own opinions and experiences.
I think that food and mealtime is one of the biggest challenge in families of all types. A lot of fights begin here.
Years later I was trying a new recipe. It was for a family dinner and something that my mother-in-law traditionally made with great pride. By this time in our family I had become a pretty good family cook. I enjoy cooking. Often I prefer to prepare my own meals rather than eat out because I like my version better. This is my opinion.
My first attempt at this family dish turned out very badly. Not really edible. It was way overcooked.I offered it to the family anyway and they also let me know that it was terrible. Grandma’s was better. I wasn’t upset to hear it because it was true. I was bummed that the recipe had turned out poorly but I didn’t let it mean anything about me.
In fact, we all laugh about this story now. Although anytime I make a brisket I worry that it will happen again.
This self-awareness wasn’t instant for me. It was a long process.
Being a person who is a primary caretaker for me was a very emotional and vulnerable spot at times.
When you work hard at things and people around you are brutally honest that they don’t like it – it can hurt.
Truthfully, at the time of the brisket these kids were older and more aware of how to give feedback politely and kindly. That’s learned. It is something that I worked on with all of the kids. Not just me all of the adults in our family worked with the kids on that in their own ways.
When my stepkids hated on the rice-a-roni they were really pretty little. They didn’t know what it was like to make something for others and want the work to be appreciated. My husband did or should have (because he was also an adult).
I didn’t yet know that when introducing something new to a family meal it’s a good idea to make it an optional side dish to take the pressure off of its success.
I also was probably still learning that it is very important to feed young kids before they get really hungry.
Kids who are really hungry can be pretty cranky. This is a pro-level parenting tip in my opinion.
One of the things I can look back and see with my early stepparent days is that I was unaware of what was reasonable behavior for young kids. I didn’t know better. As a result, I had unreasonable expectations. Another think I couldn’t see at the time was that I was looking at some situations as a competition. I was going into stepmom situations trying to be declared as good as or better at the skill as the parents. Because of this I made myself miserable kind of a lot.
When I work with stepparents and parents who are stuck in a competition loop I think the underlying issues may sometimes be feeling supported and feeling heard.
When you feel supported I think it feels safer to try new things and make mistakes.
As a new wife and stepmom I wasn’t quite in a spot to feel supported. Yet.
The fix for this in my opinion begins with becoming aware and being open to allowing others to be themselves completely. This isn’t easy. In my opinion it starts with ourselves.
We all have our skills. We all have our talents. We each want to be appreciated for our contribution to what we bring to the family unit. Do you pick good movies or tell good jokes. Do you bake goods or are you an excellent listener?
If I had been in a space where I could be more honest with myself at the time of the rice-a-roni incident I would have admitted that I didn’t really know how to plan a family meal with my stepkids.
I didn’t want to admit that I wanted to be good at it.
I thought that other people were watching.
I cared about their opinions. I cared a lot.
I think it’s normal to hope that the people we value – value what we are doing. I think that’s normal.
What I didn’t realize when I was new was that I didn’t need to be better or the best to be valued as a wife, a stepmom or a mom. An imperfect meal is still a meal.
Years later I remember my husband’s aunt telling me about how when her kids were little she was so happy to get her kids to eat a whole pancake. It had flour and egg and maybe even a little bit of milk in it.
By that time I had more exposure to kids and how picky they can be in their eating habits. How much better a day can go if the kids actually have full bellies. You may not agree that a pancake is a good choice. That’s true for you. Where I am in my life I can see that there’s probably close to unlimited ways to feed kids. Some are for sure more nutritious than others. It’s hard to watch people put sugary sodas into baby bottles for toddlers. And yet, what you do is up to you and I am not in competition with you.
I want to leave you with this idea.
It’s not a competition. It’s a family. Each person does their own part in their own way. It’s not a perfect system. That’s a topic for another day.