When I married a single father, I became a full-time step-mother - a step-mother with custody.
At the time that I became a custodial step-mother, I could only find two books on the subject. I remember one started out with the bold statement - if you're a custodial step-mother that's because there's a problem with the mother. I don't know if that's always true, it was true in our case.
My step-son's mother left him with his father when he was six. He wasn't sure if his mother said goodbye to him when she left. That bothered him for years.
What I learned as a full-time step-mother is that children coming out of an unstable and unhealthy situation need:
Love your stepchild unconditionally when you take on the role of custodial step-mother.
Don't think this is not "your" child. If you live together, this is now your child too. Know this going in to the relationship.
These children do not need to experience any more rejection.
Don't confuse the child with the child's behaviors.
A child who has not had his/her needs met will be moody, angry, out of control.
These behaviors do not reflect who the child is.
These behaviors reflect their pain.
Never put down the non-custodial mother.
Never let the child put down the non-custodial mother.
Children need to feel it's okay to love their mother, they need their mother's love even if that mother is unable to provide the nurturing and love they need.
Don't blame the non-custodial mother for all of the child's bad behaviors. It is easy to be angry and full of blame when you have an out of control child living with you. Instead of casting blame, focus on providing the most positive environment you can while the child is at home with you.
Teach your step-child the skills of independence. Teach them to cook, clean, do laundry, and save money. I feel these lessons made my son feel stronger as a person which helped him cope with his unpredictable mother and step-father.
I was advised, and I found it to be true, that when a child feels secure and loved at home, they will become emotionally detached from the unhealthy parent. It's not that they stop loving the unhealthy parent, the detachment means they stop being damaged by them. I witnessed this with my son.
Suck it up and buy a Mother's Day present for your child to give to his mother. Give up celebrating that day at home. You have the child with you so many more days than she does. She gets a day, you get days and days and days.
Don't judge her, they pick up on it. They pick up on anger too. Don't be angry at her.
Forgive her, she is probably doing the best she can do.
Find a place in your heart to love her for the life she created and the gift you have.
My wonderful son is an adult now. He's successful, independent and happy. So I think this approach to being a full-time step-mother worked - or maybe we just got lucky.
I blog at shewalksandtalks.com
More from parenting