Feeling Like An Outsider
One of the most uncomfortable parts of a role as a stepparent is understanding where you belong in this family. You may wonder how this family puzzle could possibly fit one more piece, and sometimes you might feel left out of the puzzle entirely. Rest assured knowing that with time, that space for you will form. It might not always look perfect or seem big enough but each person in a blended family holds their own space, no matter how big or small.
Watching your partner and his ex parent their children together will be a little hard for some of us at times. Know that this part is not about you- it’s about the children. Know that your role likely has little to do with you, and more to do with the children being shared. As a stepmother you’ll learn that your discomfort will come at the cost of the children’s comfort.
There is no need to push and shove your way into a place with your blended family, especially at first. Things like this do take time, and there are a lot of growing pains in the process. If it’s important to you to feel a belonging, talk to your partner about what that “belonging” might look like. At the beginning, it might just mean showing up- to sports, school events, birthday parties etc. It might grow into more, but it also may not. This is all ok, as we all know, every family looks different.
You Can’t Replace Their Biological Mother
The first time my stepsons told me they loved me was nearing a year into my relationship with my husband. My heart soared, and I felt overcome with joy that these two little boys felt compelled to share that they cared about me. Then, came the slap in the face. The realization that of course the love they had for me could never be as great as the love they had for their biological mother. This might look different for some stepmothers, especially when the biological mother is absent- but even then there are moments when children want specifically the affection that comes from the person who carried them.
I attribute my stepchildren being able to find space for me in their little hearts to the mutual respect that developed between my stepsons’ biological mother and myself. Without the foundation of trust and flow of communication, I’m sure it would have been harder for my stepsons to arrive at a place where they felt comfortable telling me they loved me.
Getting to this place was not butterflies and daisies, though. There were many nights I had to comfort my stepchildren because they missed their mother, masking the pain that I was feeling because I was not enough. There have been moments, especially as time has gone on, where I’ve struggled because the relationship I have with my stepchildren is mostly built on common interests and developed love, rather than the raw and innate love that is shared between mother and child. It’s especially a hit in the heart for those of us who aren’t sure we will ever have children of our own, and perhaps this is our only shot at “mothering.”
This all ties in with understanding your role. I have found that continuing to be there for the kids selflessly, rather than be there for them to love me, makes all of the difference. It wasn’t an easy place to arrive, but loving my stepchildren (even when I don’t “like” them or when they don’t need me) is the thing that bonds us. And it’s a very special bond.
I Don’t Love The Children
More complicated than understanding how to get your children to love you, even though you will never be their mother, is learning how to love your stepkids, even though they will never be your kids. Some people struggle to like their stepchildren, much less love them.
There have been moments in my journey with learning to be a stepparent that have been very dark. Most of the time, these were moments that I felt threatened, frustrated and not confident enough to navigate the life of a stepmother. I have googled “Help I don’t like my stepkids.” I have turned to friends to complain and vent about their annoying habits. I have told my husband I’m afraid I won’t ever deeply love my stepchildren. Thankfully, I have been reassured that all stepmother’s struggle to fully love their stepchildren at times.
While it’s perfectly natural to not have undying affection for children that aren’t yours, it’s a good idea to do the work entailed to make children feel loved. I’ve had to search for childless stepmom advice. A lot of experts suggest finding common ground with your stepchildren, giving the opportunity for you to get to know one another. If the love is lost on you, approach the relationship from the “friend” angle, rather than the “parent” angle. It could alleviate the pressure of needing to feel completely bonded.
Remember to also give yourself the gift of grace. Give yourself a break for not being Mother Teresa and having the capability to love freely and without some kind of limit. These are not your biological children, so yes, it may be harder to see past some of those quirks they have. Also give your stepchildren grace. Give them the ability to still live their lives without thinking that they are disliked. Children of divorce can be angry and confused. Sometimes, they might not be on their finest behavior, and in turn this will make it harder for you to love them. Sometimes, you’ll end up with children in your life who have been parented much differently than you would have liked. Therefore, they aren’t always going to meet your standards. This. Is. All. OK. Give yourself a break for not loving them perfectly, and give them a break for not being perfect.
Trouble Disciplining The Children
There is a lot of evidence in the world of step parenting that supports leaving the disciplining of children up to the biological parents. But, what happens when your stepchildren are disrespectful or crossing boundaries right before your eyes? These situations can be tense. Your blood may boil and you may feel the need to defend yourself as an authority-type figure in the situation- but when you’re new to the picture it’s extremely difficult to know how to go about discipline in a healthy way.
Best advice? Have the conversation before it happens. It’s awkward to bring up, but talking with your partner about their method of discipline, and if or how they want to include you in that is the first obstacle. At first, you’ll likely want to take a backseat to any discipline. This doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself in a meaningful way when the children misbehave in your presence. For instance, a simple “it’s really hard to hear you speak to me that way, can you be kinder?” goes a long way. Or, perhaps you’re left with the kids alone, and they begin to act up. Try by giving a warning. “I notice you’re having a hard time listening to rules that your Dad has in our home, should we have a conversation with him about it?” If the child is extremely unruly, approach it as if you were a babysitter. De-escalate first, and if that doesn’t work, bring in reinforcements (the bio parents) to do the heavy lifting.
The children already may not “like” you. You may make it harder for them to trust or respect you if you assert yourself too soon. Discipling children is already hard, so it’s ok if disciplining your stepchildren doesn’t feel quite right. Just be sure to have an open dialogue with your partner about discipline and boundaries.
Stay Focused On Your Relationship
As with every relationship where children are present, whether they are yours or not, it’s so important to keep the foundation of your family strong by focusing on your relationship with your partner. In times of desperation, many of us go into fight or flight. This means as a stepmother in a blended family, there will often be times where you want to flee the home for peace, or fight it out with your partner. This is human, and it’s ok, but try to lean into the reasons you’re there in the first place. You love this person, and want to be with them, despite the life that has carried over in your new life together.
The breaks you may get from your stepchildren might feel like recovery days. As if you’re free of whatever tension coparenting or step parenting might bring into a home. Take this opportunity to really dive deep with one another and honor the relationship by spending quality time together. It’s so important for the children to see a united front in the home, as it provides stability. Stability brings a lot of peace, and peace will feed back into a positive relationship.
Ask For Help (Communicate)
Being a stepmom with no kids of your own, you’ll sometimes need to check out of the parenting side of things. This never means that you check out of being a partner, though. Communicate your needs, make sure your partner understands any frustrations you have, and don’t be afraid to ask what you can do better. In short, listen to and take care of one another.
If you need time with a counselor, mention that to your partner and decide if it would be best for you to schedule counselling for yourself or for both of you together. And, remember, even the blood mother gets help. Get a babysitter occasionally if you need to. The best thing might be for your husband to pick up a pizza on his way home from work, or bring home picnic food that you could all eat in the backyard.
Realize you are not alone in this struggle. There are Childless Stepmother and Stepmom Clubs. Meetup.com has groups for Childless stepmoms, childless stepmothers and probably childless stepmums as well. Women from all over are helping each other navigate these challenging relationships. Find or start a stepmom support group in your area.
Self Care Is Important
When the going gets really tough, and the best you can do is the bare minimum, remember that you are only human. Stepmother’s are often depicted as these malicious characters set out to destroy everything around them. I believe that most stepmothers are just exhausted with the circumstances of their lives.
Implement boundaries for yourself as an act of self care. You, and only you, can know when it’s too much. Get to know and understand your own cues that are telling you it’s time for a break. You are allowed to take a break. Find a support system that isn’t just your partner. Self care can sometimes look like spilling all of your pent-up emotions to your closest friends. Once you’ve aired it all out, you might gain a new perspective that allows you to continue forth as a better version of yourself.
Underneath the role of “stepmother” is just a human who is trying to figure it all out. There are many moving pieces to stepparenting and the more mentally well you are, the more equipped you’ll be to ride the waves.