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Brittany Lynch, RN, BScN, CSC Presents: Stepqueen by The Whole Stepfamily

A Stepmother’s Guide to Embracing the Queen She is

I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard friends and acquaintances lament about how difficult it is to be a mom. Being a mom is the absolute hardest job you could ever have, they’ll say, wiping some form of burnt sienna-hued mystery goo from their hair/shoulder/hands/wallet. God, I can’t remember what it feels like to have a good night’s rest, they’d yawn over their fourth triple no-fat-no-foam-extra-whip-extra-hot soy latte before 10 am. Don’t ever have kids, they’d caption as I’d open a picture message of a three year old’s rendition of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman on the canvas of none other than that ridiculously expensive (but oh so gorgeous) vintage velvet Restoration Hardware sofa.

Before I had a kid, I’d just smile and nod, recalling my previous night shift at work, remembering how it felt to have told a wife of over 40 years that her husband had died from a massive heart attack and that life as she knew it would never be the same. I’d pretend to be sympathetic to the wallet-covering mystery slime that so accompanies motherhood, only, as a Registered Nurse I couldn’t truly be that sorry for people who get barfed/pooped/peed on by their own offspring. I won’t elaborate. Before I had a kid, complaints from my mom-friends of being tired would elicit an (inconspicuous) eye-roll as I thought, yea, but have you ever worked fourteen 14-hour night shifts in a row?

Now that I have a kid, I can say working as a nurse and raising a human are two very similar, very demanding, very burnt sienna mystery goo-filled, coffee-fueled, unpredictable, non-stop, but highly rewarding roles. I quite honestly wouldn’t deem one more challenging than the other; different, yes, but my experience as a mother does not trump difficulties I’ve experience in my career. (I also don’t have a teenager. Return in a decade, I may have changed my mind by then.)

Sure, being a nurse is tricky. But I get paid for that. And I get free massages. Also, there’s usually cake, or donuts, or a potluck, or chocolate, or… ok. Food. There’s almost always a lot of free food. Being a mom is also tricky, but as biology and millions of years of evolution would have it, loving your own child typically tends to be a fairly unavoidable result of growing them from a cell (or two. Let’s not argue.)

There is one experience, however, that has trumped both of these for me in the difficulty department.

Stepmotherhood.

I believe myself to be quite fortunate in this department, for reasons none other than that: my marriage is rock solid (now); my 10 year old stepson doesn’t (usually) hate me (and actually more often than not, he quite likes me); and my husband’s ex-wife is a really great co-parent (I mean that!). Has it always been smooth sailing? Absolutely not, or the Stepqueen Movement would have never been formed. Have I learned a thing or two about riding the waves? You bet your bottom dollar. Spoiler alert: being a happy stepfamily does not require the stepmom to be invisible.

If you feel invisible and are looking for some workable solutions to find your voice, click here to talk to our team and find out how we can help.

We won’t be getting into the Ways that Stepmotherhood is Trickier than Motherhood in this post but one aim of the Stepqueen Movement is to empower stepmothers to embrace their role and to defy society’s negative associations of us. Read on for my favourite 3 strategies to go from Stepmom to Stepqueen. Step out of your cocoons, you beautiful butterflies!

  1. Take care of yourself first.

    Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a Wicked Stepmother who cooked food that nobody liked; did nice things for kids who constantly reminded her she wasn’t their real mom so they didn’t have to listen to her; washed at least six hundred and forty loads of those children’s laundry per week (half of which ended up back in the hamper by Sunday and she was fairly positive had never been worn); worked at a job she didn’t particularly enjoy all that much to help finance those kids’ futures and their Bio-Mom’s shoe collection; struggled on a diet that wasn’t working ’cause she was starving all day nibbling celery and counting out ten almonds three times a day so she snuck into the pantry to shovel Crispy Minis in her mouth after everyone went to bed; and pretended she was happy doing all of it because she a) did not want to upset her husband and b) was resigned to the fact that this was just the way of stepmomming.

    Whewf! Poor girl doesn’t sound so wicked! It sounds to me like she’s totally lost herself by putting the needs of others ahead of her own. Now trust me when I say this, but if you never put you first, and your stepkids never put you first, and your husband never puts you first, then eventually the wheels will come off. Pro tip: you cannot make your stepchildren or husband or any other person on this earth to treat you in any specific way that they themselves do not choose. But guess what? You can choose to do nice things for yourself. You have a responsibility to treat yourself in a way that is loving, graceful, and yes, selfish. Take that yoga class, tell the kids they can eat cereal for supper ’cause you’re not cooking, drink wine in your bathtub with your headphones in, go on a date with your husband, plan a girl’s weekend away, volunteer, take a cooking class, join a reading club, paint, dance, sing. B r e a t h e. Do whatever it is that fills up your cup, and do it often. You will find in very short order that when you reconnect with the woman you used to be, everything else will fall into place. You are not invisible. You are certainly not wicked. You are so worth it.

  2. Make your marriage rock solid.

    Ask yourself this question: Why are you a stepmom? Certainly all of our answers would be different in the events that led up to the dissolution of our husbands’ prior childbearing relationship. Some may cite divorce, or infidelity, or death, or other less than happy contributors. I’m not talking about those, however. One thing that I believe to be true in almost all of our cases is this: We are stepmothers because we fell in love with a man who, through whatever circumstance, created or was granted the rights to a young life. 

    When life and all its curveballs are thrown at you, it is so easy to forget why you fell in love. Remember the man who used to give you butterflies when he said your name. Think back to the endless hours you spent getting to know each other. Reflect upon any challenges you’ve had in your relationship, and how when you overcame them, you reached a new and even deeper level of intimacy. What were the little things that you used to do for each other when you were falling in love? Start doing those again. Put your trust in him; allow him to put his trust in you. Learn to be completely honest with him. Be his teammate, never his enemy. Be the woman he fell in love with (see point 1.) and allow him to be the man that you once knew him to be. You can revisit any issues you’re having with your stepchildren once you master the first 2 points. Until then, until you have learned to find your value and have protected your relationship, accomplishing anything else will seem insurmountable and perhaps even pointless. Which brings me to our third and final point for this post.

  3. Have a positive mindset.

    Have you ever heard Henry Ford’s quote: “Whether you think you can or can’t, either way you’re right.” Speaking from experience, I know that if you are expecting the worst when your steps come, then you will have a less than fabulous time. If you focus on how terrible their manners are, then you will have run out of fingers and toes to count the times they forgot to say please within about 8 milliseconds. If you feel, before it’s even happened, that you will be forgotten by your partner once they show up, then you will silently withdraw from any interactions you may have had, and reinforce to yourself how excluded you feel. It’s kind of like when you get a new car and everyone on earth is all of a sudden driving one just like yours. Instead of Little Suzy never says please or thank you, try to focus on the manners she does use, and then compliment her on them. Hey Little Suzy, thank you for holding the door open for me.

    It might be an effort and feel forced at first, but positive reinforcement will go a long, long way. Turn it into a game with yourself, like a backwards real-life Where’s Waldo. Your stepdaughter’s dad gave her $20 to go to the store and buy junk food? Enjoy your 5 minutes of alone time with your hubs. Your stepson has been playing video games all day Saturday? Thank him for not complaining about being bored for an entire day. The kids don’t want to eat your super-healthy-extra-paleo-gluten-free-instant-pot-not-macaroni-and-cheese? More for you. Cool. Catch my drift?

Whatever the challenges are in your stepfamily, I hope you’ve come away from this believing that there is hope, that you are amazing, and you are so enough. May your coffee be strong, and your mystery goo minimal. Godspeed, Stepqueens.


Have you taken the above steps to begin your journey to a more positive life? What has your experience been? If not, what’s holding you back? Do you have any other strategies you’ve used to create a happy stepfamily? As Stepqueens, we are committed to ending negative Stepmother associations. How have you recently risen above the Stepmonster label?

5 Responses

  1. Hello you wise, wise woman. Man, have your words ever resonated with me. I struggle with staying positive so much – for a mere four days out of the month.

    I started my journey as a stepmom so excited for our future together. Excited to bake cupcakes every other weekend and go for a million dog walks. I even got my certification in kids yoga so I could teach and do yoga with the girls! That excitement comes and goes and when it goes, it sucks. And let’s be honest, there is SO MUCH MORE to step parenting than cupcakes and dog walks!

    I get so disheartened when I (like you said) notice their table manners aren’t awesome or they didn’t put their dishes away. I feel like a maid and it’s so hard to get out of that head space sometimes.

    I do yoga regularly and take solo dog walks as much as possible but I always feel guilty for removing myself from our home just for peace of mind. I should want to be around all the time, shouldn’t I?? If I don’t want to be, does that mean I’m a terrible stepmom?

    And you know, I do feel invisible on a regular basis. I’ve said on multiple occasions that I’m sure no one would notice if I wasn’t there. I’m quite certain I am being over dramatic but it is still certainly how I feel at times when I yell out ‘dinners ready!!’ and hear crickets in return. And yes, I did slave over that homemade cauliflower and organic flour pizza crust!

    I don’t have any interaction with their mother and I wish I did (I think). I wonder if this would help or hinder our situation and relationship. I wish I knew if being around their mom and being involved more would help the kids see me as more of a figure in their life…or if their mothers feelings would have a negative impact on mine and the kids relationship. Oh woe is me (I kid, kind of).

    One thing I know, I love my partner more than anything in this world and will forever put as much effort into our family as is necessary. i love him and his children, so so much. His girls are truly lovely human beings with kind hearts. Mine and my hubby’s communication is wonderful and therefore I at least don’t feel invisible to him. I do however need to practice your steps on how to maintain happiness throughout the day.

    Thank you so much for your openness. I am so happy my partner has shown me your page. He believes I am a Stepqueen.

    Wishing you well.

    xo

    H

    1. Dearest H,

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt response. I am very truly honoured that my words have provided you with some comfort, if at the very least, it is comfort in knowing you are not alone in your internal struggles that being a Stepqueen undoubtedly awakens in all of us.

      I, too, shared your experience of initially being so excited at my opportunity to be a stepmother, only to have the reality of how I truly felt cause me extreme guilt and shame. Why couldn’t it just be as easy as cupcakes and dog walks?! I commend you for the efforts you make for your little step-princesses, even when you are left to feel like a maid, or that you’re invisible. For the record, no, it does not make you a terrible stepmom for not wanting to be around sometimes. It makes you wise, knowing your limits and what you must do for yourself to recharge or clear your head. Stepmothering comes with enough guilt; I say give yourself a break and tell yourself you’re doing a phenomenal job. Bio-parents don’t even like their own kids 100% of the time — why should we be expected to have endless patience and resources to offer them? I say this not from a place of anger, but from a place of self-love to hopefully reassure you that your feelings are totally normal. Say it with me: you are not a bad person.

      I think it’s really wonderful that you took your certification in kids’ yoga (and make cauliflower pizza crust!). It seems you make a substantial, consistent effort to have a great relationship with them and to do what’s best for them. I found that the more effort I made to be Stepmom of the Year, the less appreciated I felt; I’d then try to outdo myself, being bigger and better than before, to be met with crickets (like you said!). The cycle continued, and I felt so resentful. Once I was able to take a step back and start doing things without an expectation of how my stepson or husband would react, I felt so much better. I will be writing a post soon on Managing Expectations; I hope that you will read it and perhaps be able to take something away to apply to your own situation.

      As far as a relationship with their mother, you have every right to feel conflicted as to the best course of action to take with her. I’ve found it helpful to speak openly with my stepson about his mom. I will ask him how she is doing, how she’s liking her job, what kinds of fun things they’ve done with each other over the last week etc. It helps him to know that I respect her as his mother, and perhaps can help settle his mind that I’m not trying to take her place — I’m simply another parent who loves him, rather than a parent who loves him instead. Kids can feel very guilty if they are getting too close with you, as their loyalty lies with their Bio-Mom. It’s hard for a little brain to conceptualize why he or she feels bad for liking you, not realizing that they don’t have to choose between mother figures. I do think it’s important for kids to see Bio-Moms and Stepmoms interact; again it offers them a silent permission to accept you if they see their Bio-Mom is also accepting of you. Have you ever been present in the same room? Could you start to accompany your partner to pick them up, or answer the door when she drops them off? It seems you and your partner love and support each other wholeheartedly; perhaps have him talk to his ex-wife and see if she would be interested in having a coffee? Extend the olive branch, but again, be mindful of your expectations. You can only control your end of things, and if she is not interested in being friendly with you, then — as difficult as it may be — you know you’ve done your best to attempt to be her comrade.

      Your partner sounds to be a wonderful man. I wish you many happy years together as you navigate this journey together. I, too, am happy he has shown you my page. And I, too, believe you are a Stepqueen.

      xx

      1. Hey pal,

        Well you got that right, my partner is just the best guy ever. You and him have both now solidified the fact that I should almost stop ‘trying so hard’. If I’m doing yoga, do adults yoga and not kids yoga. So I won’t get so disheartened when they leave 10 minutes into the 45 minute practice (they also don’t have the attention span for that haha). Stop running around like a chicken with my head cut off offering fun things for everyone to do when all they want to do is watch ‘Gossip Girl’ or whatever the latest teen show is.

        I think the biggest thing I’ve taken away from my experience so far, the conversations C (hubby) and I have had and your words is – just be myself. Do my thing. Be available, open to love and a wonderful relationship from my new children but don’t force it and lower the expectation bar.

        We aren’t the Brady Bunch.

        As for his ex-wife…I’m on the fence still. I have to really weigh out my options and reasoning as to why I want to have a relationship with her. I would like to be validated as a human being and a figure in the girls’ lives. I don’t necessarily think that comes from having coffee with her. I have to figure out ‘What is my motive’. Is it to prove to my husbands ex-wife that I’m the real thing or is it to strengthen my relationship with the girls. If it’s the first reason, then I can get off my high horse and realize that it’s not all about me. I do fear meeting and conversing with the girls’ mom would cause a lot more problems than it’d solve. Let’s be honest, C and I have been together for over four years…the Band-Aid has to be ripped off soon, doesn’t it? Or does it… ugh.

        We’ve officially met once. It was a hockey game at Roger’s place. It was awkward and I was pretty silent with my only words being ‘Would you like horse radish in your caesar, love?’. And I remember her handshake almost breaking my hand…but walking the girls to the door might just be a good idea. I’ve thought about doing that quite a bit. Forcing my way slowly into their lives hahaha. It’s funny but obviously not. I picture myself hiding behind bushes at first, then behind a car, then the driveway, then I’m on the stairs…and BOOM! She’s makin me dinner and we’re chatting about the latest hair trends.

        Oy vey.

        I’ll be commenting on your last post because I think we might actually have the same brain and feelings.

        I no longer feel alone, Rebecca and I am so unbelievably grateful for this outlet I now have.

        Yay.

        1. This:

          …just be myself. Do my thing. Be available, open to love and a wonderful relationship from my new children but don’t force it and lower the expectation bar.

          So much this.

          I love your self-awareness at evaluating your motives behind wanting to form a relationship with the girls’ mother. Even if she doesn’t ever get to the place where she believes you to be “the real deal,” you are, aren’t you? I’d encourage you to really reflect on that and get honest with yourself. If you are, then who gives a rip if Bio-Mom believes you to be or not? If you are still hesitant to believe you’re cut out for the Steplife, then her accepting you isn’t going to change that either. I hope that doesn’t come across as presumptuous; I am only speaking from experience and a very real, difficult conversation I once had with myself.

          Thanks for the laugh at your vision of your stealthy infiltration to her dinner table. Dig out your Ghillie suit!

          I appreciate your discussion full of wisdom and candor. Sending positive vibes your way.
          Until next time,
          The Stepqueen

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