Lol jk (kinda)…
Stepmoms have this kind of magical superpower where they can be made to feel invisible with the snap of a finger. It really is something special. I mean, us Stepmoms can be in the middle of a sentence one minute, and in the blink of an eye, everyone else in the room is reminiscing about a Christmas they had together before we were around.
There should be some kind of a Stepmom Prep-Class you can take in advance, before you fall in love with a guy who has kids with another woman. Maybe in this class, they could teach us how to use our Cloaks of Invisibility to rob banks, or to hop undetected onto the next airplane to Hawaii. (At least then, it would be cool to be invisible.)
If you’re a Stepmom, you know I’m only half kidding. Feeling invisible is a pretty common thread among the women of the Stepmom world. It’s something I wish I knew about long before I became a Second Wife and Stepmother.
Aside from feeling invisible a lot of the time, here are 8 other things I wish I knew about being a Stepmom before I became one (with some suggestions about how to make the best of things).
It Takes Work to Prioritize Your Relationship
Biologically speaking, your partner feels obligated to meet the needs of his children before anything else on this earth. It’s kind of endearing, actually, how much he loves his kids. But as Second-Wife, it can be completely maddening to feel as though you’re always coming second to a man you choose to put first.
Divorced Dads are infamous for overindulging and undeparenting their kids. Blame the Dynamic of a Stepfamily rather than placing blame directly on your husband. By blaming the Stepfamily Dynamic, you’ll be taking the focus off your husband directly. This means that you will be setting yourself up to problem-solve (rather than to problem-create with resentments and anger).
If you have been feeling like you maybe aren’t as high on your husband’s priority list as you’d like to be, then ask yourself the following questions:
Have you been prioritizing yourself lately? Or do you rely solely on your partner to fill your cup? When was the last time you did anything just as a couple? What happens to your relationship when his kids are visiting? Do you have regularly scheduled date nights? Do you have established rituals and routines that everyone abides by, or are visitations a free-for-all?
Have you ever directly communicated with your husband about the way you feel? Remember, your husband is not a mind reader. He likely isn’t sure why he’s getting the cold-shoulder, and may misperceive your behaviour as jealousy towards his kids.
You will need to be direct, yet gentle, when you raise your concerns to him. Remember, nobody — but especially men — respond well to criticism. It is likely that he is struggling with large amounts of guilt. Come at him from a place of compassion. Remind him that you are teammates. Catch your bee with honey, not vinegar.
You Can Give, and Give, and Give, but you Can Never Replace the Biological Mother
Nor, my dear friends, should you want to.
Remember that children often feel a conflict of loyalties when they have a stepparent enter their lives. They feel that if they take a strong liking to their stepmother, that it must mean that they no longer love their biological mother.
Though this is not the case, remember that they are not wrong for feeling this way. They are entitled to their reality, as you are entitled to yours.
If you are trying to win their love by being Super-Stepmom — buying, driving, entertaining — but your efforts go unrecognized, you are likely to be heading towards burnout and resentment (if you’re not already there).
Ask yourself the reason for trying to impress your stepchildren (or your husband) by being Super Stepmom. Are you acting from a place of truly wanting to take care of your stepchildren, or do you have motives to convince others of your value?
Do you wish to be seen as better than your husband’s ex? If so, why? Even if you were, what would it accomplish to be recognized as such?
While I truly believe Stepmothers should be appreciated for all their hard work, remind yourself that it is not a competition to outdo your Stepchildren’s mother — no matter what kind of choices she makes. Take a step back, and only act in ways that you legitimately want to. Remove your expectations as to the reaction you hope your efforts will evoke in others.
You are a Stepmother to help raise your Stepchildren in addition to their biological mother, not instead of her.
It’s OK if you Don’t Immediately Love your Stepkids
There’s a myth that permeates the culture of Stepfamilies, wherein Stepparents are almost expected to immediately love their Stepchildren… or else. Unfortunately, this thinking serves nobody.
This myth stems from the bias that the only kind of acceptable family is a nuclear family, or a first family.
In a nuclear family, parents join together to have children. Parents love these children equally. Children love their parents equally (until they’re 3, or teenagers).
Because there are so many misconceptions about Stepfamilies, and society’s goal seems to be to have a Stepfamily function the same way as a nuclear family does, this myth has been created that the parental figures within the home should all love their children the same way as biological parents do.
BUT. A Stepfamily cannot and will not ever function as does a nuclear family. And that is okay.
Developing a relationship with someone takes time. When a stepparent meets a stepchild, this expectation that both parties must immediately take to each other can be very stressful for everyone involved.
Due to society’s ignorance about what a Stepfamily truly is, the Stepparent feels pressured to instantly welcome another human into his or her life. Also due to society’s ignorance about what a Stepfamily truly is, these tiny humans feel pressured to reject their Stepparents, due to Hollywood portrayals of wickedness, or due to conflicts of loyalties kids feel for their biological parents.
Instead of focusing on the end-game of loving your Stepchildren (like your own), focus instead on fostering a healthy relationship. Spend time getting to know each other. Build trust. Create memories. Do these things all without the expectation that love should follow. Let things play out organically, and cut yourself some slack.
Take time for yourself. Remember what it feels like to have fun, and to be fun. Don’t force a relationship with your Stepchildren, but provide opportunities for them to come to you if they choose. If they choose not to, remind yourself that the only person whose opinion about you matters is your own.
Your Partner Will ALWAYS Be Responsible for his Previous Life (Financially and Otherwise)
This can be a tough cookie to choke down. But remember, it will only be as hard to swallow as you make it.
As hard as it can be, when the logistics of things get you feelin’ all type of ways, try to look at things from an outside perspective.
Your partner and another woman have brought a life (or lives) into the world together. That means that they are both responsible for nurturing, teaching, and financing these lives.
If you were your partner’s ex, what would it feel like to get no support from your children’s father?
If you were your Stepchildren, what would it feel like if one of your parents decided that since they had a new life, they wanted nothing to do with you?
I was raised by a Single Mother in all senses of the word. I saw my biological father once between the time I was 10 (when he left) and the time he died when I was 25. I know firsthand how it feels as a child to be raised entirely on one income and be essentially abandoned by one of your parents.
Be proud that your partner is a good man. Focus on the fact that he is doing the right thing, and let him know you appreciate him for it. Be understanding that he feels pulled in a million different directions. It isn’t often that our partners will speak up and tell us how overwhelmed they feel with the demands of coparenting and the financial obligations that come along with it, but I promise at times, they do.
If you are struggling with having to share your income to finance his ex, then I strongly encourage you to sit down with your partner and discuss the allocation of money.
You’ll Always be Sharing Your Husband With Another Woman
This one goes hand-in-hand with the above point. Is it hard to accept? Damn straight, it sure can be. But again, it is only as hard as you make it.
Something very important you will need to remember is this: There is no such thing as ex-parents. There are only ex-partners.
Even the most secure woman can find tinges of jealousy creeping up her neck at the mention of her partner’s ex. Even the most confident Stepmom can be surprised at how territorial she becomes of her relationship and her home.
How can we move past it?
Identify what it is specifically that you are having a tough time accepting about your partner’s ex. Is it that she came first? Is it that she constantly oversteps her boundaries? Is it that she is high-conflict and causes upset in your life on a regular basis? Is it that she is given more credit as Mom than you are, even though you are the primary caretaker of her kids?
Whatever it is, give yourself the grace of recognizing this one thing: having these thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. Rather, accept this as one natural dynamic of a Stepfamily.
Your Stepchildren’s mother isn’t going anywhere. Even if she has no rights to her children, or she has deceased, children will always hold her in their hearts.
Disengaging is NOT the Answer
I’m going to go off on a bit of a rant here.
I’m part of a few Stepmom Support groups on Facebook. One common theme that comes up more often than I like to see is this concept of “Nacho” stepparenting.
What does this mean?
Some Stepmoms approach the challenges in their Stepfamilies by taking a “Nacho Kid, Nacho Problem” approach. (Read: not your kids, so just let everything about them drive you cray cray and bottle up all your anger and resentment until one day you blow up).
So, instead of working things out so that they enjoy their role as Stepmoms, they have been misguided to completely disengage from their stepchildren (and likely from their husbands), to grit their teeth and struggle until the end of visitation, to lose their voices, and to believe that this is the only way to live in a Stepfamily.
Ok, umm… no. This is probably the absolute worst trend in Stepparenting that I’ve seen since Disney started painting us all with a Wicked brush. This is the Sliced Bread of awful, awful parenting advice.
In what universe do your problems go away by ignoring them?
In what galaxy is it conducive to a happy home, or a happy marriage, or a happy life, to lock yourself in your bedroom for days on end while your partner spends time with his children and you are left to wish away their existence?
In what…. OK, I’m out of space words… BUT. This Nacho nonsense has got to end.
You have every right, as a Stepmom, to decide — as the female head of your household — how your household should be run.
Kids smearing ice cream cones into your living room furniture?
“Ah well, Nacho, I’ll just go upstairs and list 947 reasons why I hate being a Stepmom instead of teaming up with my partner and establishing some rules everyone can follow so that we live in a happy home.”
When a Stepfamily is managed like a business, with clear leaders, clear rules, clear responsibilities, clear expectations, it usually functions very well. All disengaging does — all Nachoing does — is sets you on a one-way trip to Singledom with more resentment than is healthy to be carting around with you. Nobody should have to live that way. You included.
Feel All the Feelings
Stepfamilies are complex little systems, as you are undoubtedly well aware. There will be high points. There will be low points. There will be happy tears, and sad tears, and probably some mad tears too. There will be days you wouldn’t trade your stepfamily for the world, and there will be days when you’d pay someone — anyone — to take its members off your hands.
Allow yourself the freedom of making sure you are feeling everything you need to feel. When you’re upset, don’t ignore it. Figure out what is making you feel this way, and then find a solution to solve the problem. If you don’t, you’ll just sit and stew in your uncomfortable feelings until the top pops off. Further, finding a solution to end the creation of these feelings is imperative.
When there are happy moments, make sure to embrace them. Learn to celebrate your wins — no matter how small.
It’s important, when you’re a stepparent, to ensure you’re giving the right amount of energy to the right things, and to ensure you’re not giving any energy to the wrong things. This mindset shift will be your most valuable tool as you journey forward in your stepfamily life.
You, Absolutely, Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt, NEED to Put Yourself First
Girl, you are so important. You are so valuable. The role you play within your Stepfamily is unique and beautiful.
But nothing anyone ever says or does is going to make you feel this way unless you first make yourself a priority, and unless you truly believe these things about yourself.
The demands of work, finances, ex-wives, stepkids, relationships, and responsibilities can weigh heavily on us at times. It’s easy to lose ourselves in this whirlwind called life, and then look back over the time that has passed us and wonder how we got to where we are.
I urge you, lovely Stepqueen, to place yourself at the forefront of everything you do. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself first. This will be the most important thing you do for yourself, for your relationship, and for your stepchildren.
What activities do you enjoy? Are you a reader? A writer? Do you enjoy running, or yoga, or a nice sweaty spin class? When is the last time you connected with your girlfriends? When is the last time that you went to bed early, because you really needed to catch up on some sleep?
What values are important to you? Do you practice these regularly? Is the kind of woman you idealize the same type of woman that you behave as?
What are the kinds of things you allow to define you? Do you choose to focus on your wins? Or do you constantly find your thoughts obsessing about the challenges you face?
When is the last time you said No to something that you didn’t want to do? Do you always say Yes, even when you don’t want to? If so, why? Do you spend your days trying to prove your worth and value to those around you? Or do you believe that our worth is not dependent on what others believe of us?
Finally, remember that what other people think of us is none of our business.
Learn to be your own number one. Everything else will fall into place after that.
Which of this list do you wish you’d known before you became a Stepmom? Is there anything else you wish you’d have been prepared for? What strategies have you used to overcome your Stepfamily challenges? As Stepqueens, we are committed to ending negative Stepmother associations. How have you recently risen above the Stepmonster label? Comment below with your thoughts, or click here to chat with a member of our team to find out how we can help