Thanks to Disney, “stepmother” has conjured up images of wicked witches and evil plots of revenge. Show host, Diane, sits down with her stepdaughter, Kelly, to be interviewed by Natalie about the ups and downs of their relationship; and, hopefully (fingers crossed) prove the evil caricature to be a myth.
Kelly Gaffney (maiden name Simmons) is risk manager in the healthcare industry in central Oregon. She is a devoted wife and mother of two boys under four and their beloved bulldog, Brutus
Diane wanted to record an episode about the dynamic relationship between step-moms and step-daughters and even interviewed a number of them. But as she finished writing her book, “My Mother Next Door,” Diane felt that she should be doing this episode with her very own stepdaughter. One of the topics in Diane's upcoming book is blended families, so she felt that it would be more authentic to share her—and her stepdaughter’s experience—while being interviewed by her biological daughter. This episode is their story of overcoming the odds and connecting as one big family.
Kelly remembers meeting Diane at some sort of family gathering. Kelly was walking back to her house from the tennis courts and saw Diane. Diane remembers thinking that Kelly was a cute, confident, and self-assured little girl.
When Kelly thinks backward, she knows she didn’t fully understand the situation. She didn’t know what to expect from the person dating her dad. She couldn’t fathom that they’d end up getting married and she’d end up with a bonus mom. She didn’t understand the dynamics of marriage at that age.
To complicate things further, as a young girl of five or six, she loved Disney movies. Step-mother’s didn’t get the best portrayal in those movies. They were “evil” and “out to get you.” When you’re young, it seems that the cards are stacked up against a successful relationship. Over time, things evolve and grow. But you never know what to expect. You learn from what you’re exposed to.
When Kelly was little with long blonde hair, she looked like Diane. People would say, “Oh it looks like you’re having a great time with your Mom,” and Kelly would say “Oh she’s not my mom, she’s my step-mom.” As a step-mom, the only reason she understood was because she had experienced it herself. She had to brush it off and simply be there for her like a real mother would be.
She knew she would never replace her biological mother and didn't want to disrespect that relationship. If you’re the parent, you’re the one that must understand where children are coming from. Kelly was just telling the truth. It was never meant to be a personal attack. Diane knew she was trying to stay true and loyal to her Mom and share her emotions in the situation as best she should.
Kelly remembers saying things like, “You’re not my mom! You can’t tell me what to do.” Whether it was going to bed, cleaning up a mess, or brushing her teeth—there was pushback. Those were the infamous words. Sometimes it is just being honest and sometimes it was just being mad about a situation she didn’t understand. Early on, Kelly’s Mom was still struggling through the hurt and healing from the divorce. Even though Moms have good intentions, it can seem like they’re poisoning the well. Their feelings can influence those of their children—whether intentional or not.
As Kelly has become a mother, she knows that a lot of her perceptions have changed. She notes that “I don’t think you fully know what it means to be a Mom until you have children of your own.” You spend every day trying to do what’s in the best interest of your kids. Until that point in life, you're highly focused on yourself. That shifts when you’re a mother and your kids’ needs go before your own. Kelly can’t imagine what it was like getting to know and learning to love children that aren’t yours. She knows that Diane chose to make decisions that were in their best interest when she didn’t have to.
Diane used to joke that she was grateful to Mary (Kelly’s Mom) for giving birth to two children so she didn’t have to. Diane emphasizes that “When you go into a relationship and a marriage and someone already has kids, you are not marrying that man—you are marrying that family. You have to make the decision then and there that you’re gonna do your best to love and include and try and always be as fair as you can to everyone.” It is tough being a step-mom. A lot of success is staying true to what you believe, having a thick skin, and hoping that the biological mother will give you a chance.
How can the biological parent help bridge the gap? How can they help foster relationships between their children and their new spouse? Listen to hear what Kelly and Diane believe is helpful.
Kelly recommends that you be open and understand that your Mom, Dad, siblings, and everyone has their own thoughts and opinions. Form your own opinion and don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations where you’re honest. Those conversations helped her get to a wonderful place with Diane. She notes that of course there will be battle-wounds and scars—but there will be healing. Allow time to grow your relationship. Don’t let fear keep you from getting to know another great person.
Diane shares that if you’re marrying someone with children, you need to think about the fact that you’re marrying the whole family. Understand that it’s not about you. Go into it with your eyes wide open and know that there will be challenges. Have respect for the relationship that came before you. Never blindside or cut out the biological parent—have respect for their relationship with their child. Know that it will be uncomfortable and be willing to work your way through it. Be honest, consistent, put the children first, and love them.
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