Becoming a stepmother can be a whirlwind of change and transition as you adjust to being a part of an instant family. The reactions from others can either ease this process or make you feel further isolated. Sometimes I feel like stepmothers are held to greater scrutiny because there are so many negative stereotypes out there about them.
For me, being in a mixed marriage seems to further enhance people's curiosity because I am not only bringing together two families but also two cultures. As a result, I can sometimes be asked personal questions by people I don't know very well, who want some insight on what life is really like in a mixed race blended family. So, in this post I am going to share some of the crazy questions I get asked as a stepmother. I am sure other stepmothers will be able to relate -- add the questions you get asked in the comment section below!
1. How did your parents react to you becoming a stepmother and marrying someone who is not South Asian?
While this question seems harmless enough, I think people really want to know is what happens when you break away from South Asian family expectations around marriage and family. As I mention in my book, South Asian Mothers: Negotiating Culture, Family and Selfhood, South Asian cultural norms and values pertaining to family life are so strong, and such a part of our identity as South Asian women, that not conforming can have consequences.
I was very lucky, in that I did not have to choose between being a part of the South Asian community and marrying my husband. I have the best of both worlds because my parents have been supportive of my decision and welcomed my husband and stepdaughters into the family.
2. Do you get along with your stepdaughters? Do they ever tell you that you are not their mother?
What is strange about this question is that mothers are never asked if they get along with their own children. We expect mothers to be close to their children, but we don't expect that from stepmothers. However, I think the actual situation is the opposite. Stepmothers do care -- a lot! We have to try to win over the hearts of children who may be comparing us to their birth mother or resisting our intrusion into their lives.
For me, my relationships with my stepdaughters developed over time, it was a process, not a quick fix. But as I write in my book Step Mothering: A Spiritual Journey it was also very rewarding despite the obstacles we faced. Thankfully I never heard the much dreaded phase, "You are not my mother!" from them.
3. Do you get along with your stepdaughter's mother?
To me, this question is similar to asking a married woman if she gets along with her husband's last long-term girlfriend. For most women the answer may be no. But for stepmothers the situation is much more complex. Your step children's mother's presence is deeply embedded in your lives because of the influence she has on them, even though you may rarely ever interact with her yourself. It can be incredibly frustrating, so respect for each other is key to reducing any conflict. In my case, I have met my stepdaughter's mother only a few times in the past 15 years and each time was a cordial and friendly interaction.
4. Do your stepdaughters have a problem with you being South Asian?
In mixed race blended families one of the biggest challenges is bringing together different and, at times, opposing approaches to parenting. This is difficult because the primary parent has been raising their children based on the cultural values they are familiar with. When a stepmother from a different culture comes in to this situation, it can lead to a sense of upheaval as stepchildren may cling to the values they grew up and reject new cultural values being imposed on them.
In my situation, my stepdaughters did not have a problem with me being South Asian, but there were issues with how I brought certain South Asian values into the family such as: respect your elders, study hard, be obedient etc. I learned -- through much confusion and heartache -- that they were not going to easily accept my style of parenting. Rather, I was the one who was going to have to change if I was going to make life in my blended family work.
5. How did you get though the hard times you had as a stepmother? Did you ever think about leaving your marriage?
This question is interesting because it so personal and again, it is a question that we don't often ask married women who are not stepmothers. Many people have challenges in their families and they do not choose to leave the relationship. In blended families the process of adjustment can be very long, researchers estimate that is takes from 6-10 years for a blended family to feel like a cohesive family unit.
It is not something to get into for the faint of heart. I personally was fortunate to be well supported on my journey as a stepmother. I cultivated a spiritual practice that brought me strength and inspiration and I had a community of people who I could rely on. So I was able to not only get through the hard times but also search for a deeper meaning and purpose in my role as a stepmother.
To other stepmothers: What kinds of crazy questions do you get asked?
By Jasjit Sangha
This post was originally published on masalamommas.com and was republished with permission.
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