“Family isn’t defined only by last names or by blood; it’s defined by commitment and by love” – Dave Willis
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Being a stepmom is hard.
But, it is one of the hardest things you are lucky enough to go through.
One of the hardest parts about being a stepmom is this constant feeling of being under a microscope. The feeling like what you wear, cook, say, do will be reported back. Even though you know there is nothing bad that can get reported back to their mom, it is still an awful feeling that everything will be anyway.
With our situation, my husband and I know for a fact that the kids get interrogated as soon as they get in the car and we know that in order for them to make her happy, they have to say negative things about our home and their time with us. It breaks our heart knowing that they go through that, especially when we would never do that to them.
Whenever we get them and see their huge smiles and hearing their laughs, watching them run around playing and giggling with their brothers and laughing so hard they are crying. It is times like those that are the absolute greatest! But, then the night comes where they need to go have their mom’s parenting time and it is always scary and heartbreaking because we just know that somehow, something I did will be turned negative.
If you are a stepmom and you are going through this or you have gone through this, I am so sorry. It is a horrible feeling that never really goes away. Never knowing if me hugging them will be turned ugly. Never knowing if that dinner I tried making and the kids weren’t a huge fan of will be used against me somehow or the moment I needed to say no to another piece of candy and having it turned into me being mean to the kids.
I remember one weekend – my husband was not feeling 100% so he was napping, and his daughter needed a bath (she is on the autism spectrum and cannot bathe herself completely yet) so I gave her one. I told her what to wash and had to help wash her hair. Got her dressed and we went on to color after. That night, they went home. Immediately, my husband receives a message stating how inappropriate it is for me to bathe her daughter, that I better never do it again or the police will be involved and that if he cannot give her one then she should go without being bathed…
uhm, what? Something so small and so simple turned so ugly.
- Not knowing what your role should be
Finding your role after becoming a stepmom is HARD. You don’t know if you can parent them the same as you do your own. You don’t know if you can tell them that they’ve had enough screen time. You don’t know if you can tell them to go to their room when they are not listening. You just don’t know. There isn’t a book you are handed when you get married to your partner and become a stepparent. There is no secret guide. It is just you and your partner (and their ex-spouse).
What you need to know is that your role, is not to replace their other parent.
As much as you may not like or as much as you disagree with their mother’s parenting, the kids love her. It is natural for them to and you need to encourage that. The same goes for their mother – she can hate you or disagree with you being their stepparent, but she needs to respect you and the love the kids will have for you.
What you need to know as a stepmom (and believe me I am still learning, and I need to remind myself of this every day!) is:
– It is OKAY to tell them no
– It is OKAY to take a toy away if they are being disrespectful
– It is OKAY to be the one who they don’t like all the time
– It is OKAY to play with them
– It is OKAY to want to be involved in their lives outside of the time they are with you
– It is OKAY to treat them like your own kids
– It is OKAY to step up and say that they are your kids and that you will fight for them
– It is OKAY to say you would die for them
– It is OKAY to love them!
2. How to cope with feeling “less-than”
This one is hard! The feeling of never being good enough. My husband and his ex, they had years to build that bond and love. As stepparents, you don’t get that. You try to build that with them, but it can take a long time. It will be hard but it is so worth the wait.
It can be especially hard when the relationship between the parents is complicated. No matter how old the kids are, they can feel that resentment and awkwardness. If one of the parents talks poorly about the other parent or their spouse, the kids will feel that, and they will start to think that way and that is so painful!
Try to remember that if the kids are crazy about you one day and the next time they need time to warm up, it is because of the situation they are being put in, the new dynamic they have and the things they hear. You may not get the hugs, snuggles, etc. (and believe me, it is an amazing feeling when you do! My stepdaughter was instantly snuggling me while my stepson just started snuggling me about a year ago.) but, just remember it will happen but will happen when they are ready.
**Never be a stepparent who talks poorly about their parent (either of them) and never let your partner talk poorly about their other parent either. Your children are innocent in this entire situation and they need to know they can love everyone in their lives without feeling guilty. If you and your spouse need to talk about their other parent, go into a different room or wait until they are asleep**
3. Being on the same page as your partner
This is so important but can also be hard! You and your partner NEED to talk about everything when it comes to you step parenting and them step parenting. In our home, I stepparent my husband’s two kids and he stepparents my son. It can be hard because you both are new to parenting someone else’s child(ren) and both have different expectations for your role.
In our home, we both want each other completely involved in all aspects of the kids lives. They already see each other as brothers and sister and share so much joy with each other. We choose to never make them feel like they are just “step” kids to us, we treat them equally and want them to feel loved by everyone in the house. We have never expected the kids to instantly love us as their stepparents and we have complete understanding that building a new bond takes time.
Make sure that you talk openly to your partner and ask them what they want your role to be. Ask them if they want you to attend school functions. Ask them any question you feel necessary to give you both exactly what you need. You may not like their decision, but you need to respect their wishes.
4. Not feeling like you can talk to anyone
This one can pull on your emotions big time. For me, talking to someone is hard because I feel bad for what I feel. If I feel overwhelmed at our newly large household, I feel bad. If I feel scared of not being the best stepmom all the time, I feel bad. If I am broken or feeling like I am in pieces because of the nasty things my stepchildren’s mom says to them about me, I feel bad. I feel bad and feel like I cannot talk to anyone about it.
Being scared, questioning your role, wondering how to be a stepparent is all normal. You need to find someone you can truly talk to. Find a counselor, a friend, a family member, find a pen pal. Someone you can release all of your “bad” feelings to and get reassurance.
Feeling bad at parenting is normal and will happen but parents survive those feelings because you created those kids and you know in your heart, they love you. But, feeling bad at step parenting can feel like your entire world is crumbling because that bond you are trying so hard to create is fragile and breakable. You need to find someone to talk to. Holding all your feelings in will not only impact your own life but will affect all of those around you. Your marriage, your kids (and step kids), your friends, everything.
5. Never take out the issues between your husband and his ex out on YOUR marriage
This one is difficult because your spouse is your person and is someone who tends to take the heat when you have stress going on. It is completely normal. They vowed to be there for you through the good times and the bad times, so when those bad times involves a person he chose to be in his life (even so many years ago) can make you want to be mad at him.
You need to remember that your husband was a different person than he is today. He loved his ex at one point, just like you have loved previously, but that was a long time ago and he cannot be held for the choices he made before. You need to respect and understand that they had a relationship but they don’t anymore and never will again so your husband is not to blame for the issues that are happening now.
You both need to remain strong and remain a team or else it will end up causing so much pain in your marriage. Your spouse is someone you love with your whole heart and they are that way because of all the pain they were put through and you both made each other strong and found true love together. You cannot cause stress to your marriage because of his past.
6. Dealing with the ex-spouse
This is probably the hardest to deal with, especially when the relationships all around are rocky. With our situation, the relationships are beyond rocky. (I have an order of protection for myself and my two children against my husband’s ex-wife due to her harassment and stalking, my husband has had to have an order of protection against her as well due to her physical abuse, harassment and stalking, she has contacted a bunch of people in my family through multiple fake social media accounts, and SO many more scary things.) So, believe me when I say – dealing with an ex-spouse can be the hardest part about being a stepparent.
You need to try to be able to get along, for the kids and for yourself. You need to try and be the bigger person. Do not give into the name calling, the immature comments, the fighting, etc. Be the bigger person. Show the kids that they have you to lean on and be the adult they need. Try to get along but if talking is something that simply just cannot be done (ex. dangerous for you or your children) then at least do not go down to the ex-spouse’s level.
Maybe in 10 years, you and your spouse’s ex can look back and both apologize for the pain that was put on everyone (especially your step kids) and really move on. Just try and always reach for that to be the goal. It needs to be the goal for everyone involved, especially your kids.
Being a stepmom is H A R D. Reading The Stepmoms’ Club: How to Be a Stepmom without Losing Your Money, Your Mind, and Your Marriage by Kendall Rose has helped me get through so many tough stepmom times. If you are struggling to find the balance or if you feel alone, READ this. It is written by stepmoms for stepmoms!
How does step-parenting go for you? What do you find to be the hardest? How do you make it through? Tell me in the comments!