(Words from the heart of a stepmom’s husband)
This week, I asked my husband to share his take on our stepfamily. As the stepmom, I got pretty wrapped up in my own drama and admittedly, not once did I consider what it was like to be the stepmom’s husband.
As much as I understand & have shared my own personal and professional views about how to become a thriving stepmom, I really attempt to keep what I share based purely on either my own perspective. Other people’s stories are not mine to tell, and it is not my place to speculate why other people behave the way they do.
That said, I equally value the experiences of everyone else in our stepfamily, which is why I was (and am) so grateful that my husband was eager to contribute his perspective with you.
From my personal and professional experience as a stepmom coach, I will say this: (Tap here to follow me on Instagram if you don’t already!)
While most stepmoms think that their stepfamily challenges are caused by the actions, reactions, and inactions of other people in their stepfamily, I’ve come to know that this is untrue & thankfully, have developed the UnMindset system to help.
An overwhelming majority of stepfamily issues are caused by communication breakdowns. The root causes of what creates communication breakdowns are much deeper and need to be pulled out. Luckily, my specialty is root-pulling. But once the communication falls apart, it’s a ticking time bomb before the relationship implodes.
And I am speaking from experience when I say – if you don’t pull those roots up and you can’t have an honest conversation with your partner, then your relationship will implode.
I hope that what my husband shares here is helpful for you, and I hope that his experience will help you gain perspective into the world of The Dad of a Stepfamily.
Here’s what this stepmom’s husband wants you to know…
The Early Days
Brittany: When we first became a stepfamily, what did you think it would be like versus how it actually turned out?
Seamus: I would say that, unfortunately, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I got hit by Cupid’s Arrow and I was naive and ignorant to what would be involved. It’s kind of a deadly recipe, coming out of a broken relationship, hoping that —
My main priority was supporting [my son] through the transition.
But falling in love, not understanding the baggage that you brought from your childhood and early 20s… Basically, I didn’t know what to expect. And it was a rush. And honestly, looking back, it’s all kind of a blur.
But going back to your question, I was so naive about what a stepfamily would be like. I expected that you would be supportive to me and sympathetic. But I just felt torn. I always felt torn. Here I am, falling in love, trying to meet your needs and wants and expectations while trying to look out for the best interests of [my son]. And even though my previous marriage was over, there were and always will be ends that need to be tied up.
I didn’t know what to expect. But I sure didn’t expect it to fall apart like it did.
Brittany: How often did you feel like you had to choose between me and [your son]?
Seamus: I always felt like that. It was always a torn choice between you, between [my son] and between [my ex].
In my mind, I thought, first and foremost I’m going to take care of [my son’s] best interests. And his best interests are also tied to his mother.
I was trying to coparent respectfully. I was trying to fulfill the commitments I made to [my ex]. Commitments, like mostly financial. But I’m sure a lot of people… there are a lot of moving parts. Like, mowing her lawn. You’re just trying to keep the peace so it’s not a nightmare to deal with.
It can feel like a no-win situation, because everything you do to support commitments you’ve made to your ex — commitments that were in place before you meet the stepmom — are seemingly unsupportive to your new partner. You can’t win. Sometimes as a stepmom’s husband, it feels like you can’t win.
Brittany: How often did you feel that you got to do what you wanted to do versus just straight up scrambling to meet everyone else’s expectations of you?
Seamus: Never. Doing what I wanted to do wasn’t even a part of the equation. It was like navigating a minefield with a blindfold on. And every step you take, you lose another limb. I never did what I wanted. Ever.
Brittany: If you felt safe to do what was best for you, what would you have done differently?
Seamus: Well, at the time, I was still also mourning the death of my brother. I wasn’t in a place to heal myself. So I carried that guilt and grief of losing my brother. Then I carried the guilt and grief over ending a marriage. Of separating [my son] from his parents.
So, if I could go back knowing what I know now, what I’d say to younger Seamus?
I’d say, “Stop seeking out and searching for validation.”
I would have told me, “It’s not your fault.”
I would have told me, “Be vulnerable enough to get help. People think they’re being strong by not getting help. That they can figure it out on their own. But man. Be vulnerable enough to get help.”
It’s almost impossible to do when you’re first falling in love, but it would have been wise to understand the complexities of a stepfamily and what it would be like to be the stepmom’s husband and the stepmom.
There are two major parts to the equation in a stepfamily, in that both the dad and the stepmom need to be mature enough to seek out stepfamily education, understand the psychological complexities of a stepfamily, AND, to feel safe enough with each other to be able to communicate with each other. Let go of attachments and expectations. Every expectation you have about how your partner “should” be showing up for you. Get rid of that expectation and turn your eyes toward yourself.
There’s one thing to have expectations, and there’s another to have attachments to things that shouldn’t even be expectations. Like they’re just so unfair.
But if your partner is asking for you to hear what they’re saying, then give them a safe space to do that in. Provide that space, hold that space for the person who’s being vulnerable to feel safe in. That’s the very least and the very most that you can do.
A Stepmom’s Role
Brittany: What is your personal opinion on what a stepmom’s role is?
Seamus: Honestly, every stepfamily and every family and every person and every situation is different. But, in my opinion as a stepmom’s husband, I think that stepmoms should be as supportive as is comfortable without sacrificing herself, and without getting to a place where she feels bitter and resentful and taken advantage of.
My personal stance with our relationship: I would hope you’d be supportive in the decisions I chose to make, and if you weren’t supportive of them, that you’d be able to communicate that with me in a safe and effective manner.
One of the hardest things is to be quiet and to let the other person talk without projecting guilt and shame onto them.
Know your audience. If you’re reading this, then you most likely know your spouse well enough to know when is a good time to talk. Unless the stepmom’s husband is expecting to have a conversation about something sensitive, don’t dump it on them the second they walk through the door from work. It feels like an ambush. It’s good to have a conversation on the front end, like, “How do you want me to bring up sensitive topics to you, what’s the best way?” And then honouring that. And it goes both ways.
Personally, as a stepmom’s husband, I prefer some heads-up that we’re going to be discussing something important. Being able to communicate on the front end, like, “Hey, I want to talk to you about this specific thing that has to do with your child. Let’s set aside time to do that on this date and time.” That feels much better than feeling attacked or feeling blindsided or just shutting down completely.
It’s important to get comfortable with a process like this. It feels uncomfortable at first, because you’re scared you’ll be rejected. But if the communication stops, or the communication is damaging, or the communication breaks down, you’re in trouble.
And sometimes, if whatever the issue at hand looks like being way too emotionally charged to talk about it by yourselves, then seek out a professional who can help you navigate your boat. So they can put things in perspective.
But, back to your question, in my opinion, it is not a stepmom’s responsibility to do things like, talking to the ex… like why would you do that? Let the dad deal with it. Don’t involve yourself in things like that and then complain about the drama. You’re doing that to yourself. And I’m sure in some families, like Will Smith’s for example, in some families it works that the stepmom and the ex talk and arrange things. But I’d wager a guess that for the biggest majority, that doesn’t work. And probably absolutely not in the beginning.
Taking care of the stepkids – like, have as much of a role in that as you want. But I’m a dad and I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my son. I don’t need someone else to do that for me. Sure, it’s nice to have help, but I’m a parent. Your partner is also a parent. Your spouse is capable of taking care of their kids. So let them.
I guess I’d say, if I needed help once in a while with a pickup or a dropoff, or sometimes helping with homework, that’s one thing.
But if you swoop in and try to do everything, then you’re setting a precedent that this is your role. And then, when you have an expectation about how people should treat you because you’re doing these things, and they don’t react the way you want — you’re setting yourself up to crash and burn. If you feel resentful, it’s time to take a look at how much you’ve taken on and why.
Brittany: When was the biggest positive shift that you saw along our stepfamily journey?
Seamus: Personally, I feel that if you didn’t start taking a good, hard look at yourself and dealing with all your old shit, our relationship would have ended. It would have had to. There was only so much I could have been supportive to before I had to say, listen, this is a YOU problem.
All your unresolved traumas. Our stepfamily wasn’t the only issue. Sure, it triggered a lot of your old traumas. But it wasn’t my job or [my son’s] job or my ex’s job to make you feel safe and secure. That was your responsibility. And that’s why things got so dark with us for a while. You were searching for someone or something – anything really- to validate your existence and your importance.
If you didn’t start finding your way back to yourself and healing all your past shit, we’d have never made it.
The hugest part was your personal development. And when you started focusing on yourself, and as you say, “pulling the roots up,” then it finally gave me some breathing room to be able to focus on my own personal development.
And all of a sudden, one day, we were just both focusing on ourselves and loving ourselves and feeling whole in ourselves. Instead of feeding into each other’s negativity, we fed into each other’s growth.
Message in a Bottle
Brittany: What is one message you think that any Stepmom would benefit from hearing?
Seamus: Just one?
First and foremost – seek help to resolve any baggage that you’ve brought into the relationship that isn’t serving your current and future family. This is for stepmom and stepmom’s husband or partner. When you both roll up with your U-Haul of baggage and then throw the complexities of a stepfamily in there…
I’m sure there are a million different contributors to why stepmoms feel the ways they do about different things. But by arming themselves with the knowledge, going and getting help, even if… actually, especially if they think that their stepkids or their partner’s ex are the problem.
It’s human stubbornness to feel like, if we can’t fix something or figure something out by ourselves, then we’ve failed. But there is so much great support out there for people to grow and evolve and develop into the best versions of themselves. There are so many resources to help you reframe your thought patterns.
Ego and attachments are the two wildest beasts to tame. Educate yourself on what they are and where they exist in you, then tame them.
Read the book, The Four Agreements. And then read it again and again.
Stay out of the toxicity. It’s poison. Stop putting yourself in circumstances that are toxic because you’re trying to validate yourself. All that is, is ego.
Figure out your attachments. Figure out your stories.
And – I guess this one thing.
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