Many people have outdated myths about stepfamilies and stepmoms. Many people have the mistaken belief that if you decide to enter into a relationship with someone who has children; that you are also agreeing to take on the role of your stepkid’s biological mom. Many believe that it is their “job” to become the second in command when it comes to their stepchildren. Some think it is their duty as a woman and stepmom to take over feeding, clothing, providing financial support and otherwise for their stepchildren. For some this arrangement works, but for others, it’s not so easy to melt into this family dynamic filled with myths, demands, and undefined roles.
Today many women work full-time jobs in addition to taking care of their children and families. It’s difficult for many women to work 40 plus hours per week, assist with homework, and be available for their children and partner’s needs as well as nurture their own self-care. No wonder many women are beginning to speak out about how exhausting it is trying to juggle it all.
Quite often women who date or are married to a man with children may feel pressure to “go above and beyond” when it comes to the kids in their stepfamily. Many stepmoms are in a partnership where their significant other is used to spending all their personal time with their children. Divorced or single dads often feel pressure to play the role of the Disneyland dad when their children come to visit, thus adding to the feelings of isolation and loneliness many stepmoms experiences.
Although you might be feeling like being a stepmom is one of the hardest things you have ever done and question if it’s the right choice for you; there’s a silver lining. You’ve found a partner you’re in love with who loves you in return and that’s cause for celebration. It may seem impossible to balance all the expectations but there’s a way to get off the struggle bus and thrive in your relationship and as a stepmom.
Keep reading for the reasons you’re struggling as a stepmom and what to do about it.
Staying on the struggle bus
The biggest downside of continuing to feel stressed and like you’re not doing well as a stepmom is that your relationship with your partner may begin to suffer. You’re a stepmom because of your partner, and they are the reason you want to make it work and be better at stepmomming.
You may beat yourself up for the fact that this role of stepparenting is a challenge for you. You may be the type of person who has been successful in many of her personal relationships, so being rejected by your stepkids and feeling like an outsider is foreign to you. You might continue to feel lost if you don’t take steps to create some changes.
Getting off the struggle bus
Keep in mind that even if you have children of your own, no one can prepare you for the loss of control that many stepmothers encounter. Many stepmothers feel a sense of guilt when it comes to their feelings or lack of feeling for their stepchildren, keep in mind this is all new to you. You are in a situation in which the only person who is welcoming you with open arms is your significant other. Your partner’s children probably wish that their parents were back together, your partner’s Ex hates you for no reason and your in-laws still talk about your stepkids mom as if you weren’t in the room. With all these factors why wouldn’t this feel like a struggle?
When you go through the process of dating, getting to know your partner and meeting his children for the first time you assume that things will be easy for you. In the beginning, you were optimistic about your relationship but now you’re beginning to doubt your ability to stepparent successfully. You want to feel confident and self-assured in your relationship and in your ability to stepparent your partner’s children.
5 REASONS WHY YOU’RE STRUGGLING AS A STEPMOM
Yes, it’s true you may be feeling anxious about stepmotherhood, but the key to achieving a sense of calm and connection is to create a plan of action for your family’s needs. Making these be mindset shifts can be difficult but with the right support you can calm your anxiety and feel more prepared.
Take a look at these 5 reasons why you are struggling as a stepmom and what to do about it.
Many women feel the need to be someone they are not when they enter into a relationship with someone who has children. Women who were once assertive and confident begin to second guess their feelings and their reactions to the complexities of being part of a stepfamily. Some women take on this role with ease, while many others contort themselves as to “not upset the children.” We all want children to be safe and secure, but deep down you wonder if you are an evil stepmother because sometimes you find your stepkid’s behavior particularly irksome. You’re trying hard, maybe too hard to be the perfect stepmother so that no one can accuse you of being “wicked” for the feelings you have.
Acknowledge your feelings about how terribly hard it is to parent someone else’s children. It’s okay to admit it to yourself, to journal it, to think about it and to shed a tear for the level of stress you feel for trying to measure up to their biological mom yet still being rejected. It’s okay to feel confused about why their mom seems to hate you so much. Lighten up on yourself, this is a controversial topic and many stepparents don’t have a safe space to admit how they feel in their role as stepparents. You might be thinking if I “admit how I feel” am I supposed to tell my stepkids how I feel?” Absolutely not, these are feelings I recommend keeping to yourself but I am advocating for you to sit with the feelings you have and to admit the struggles you are experiencing. You cannot move past difficulties if you refuse to acknowledge them to yourself. Practice mindfulness and try to stay in the present moment, observe your feelings in those moments without judging yourself. Just observe and silently recognize how you’re feeling its okay to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. All of your feelings are valid.
#4 You feel like an outsider
You love your significant other, and you see the excitement on their face when their kids come to visit. Before they arrive you tell yourself “this time will be different and I will feel like I belong.” But with each visit, you feel more and more pushed aside. Your partner ignores you, and it seems like he/she is embarrassed that they have moved on and are in a new relationship. The kids let you know “You’re not my mom” and “they don’t have to listen” to you or maybe your stepchildren make rude comments about your cooking, your appearance or they simply ignore you. Sometimes your partner and stepkids talk and laugh about memories when their mom was there before you came around. You try to put on a smile as a show of maturity and support, but it’s hard to stay upbeat when the “good old days” didn’t include you.
Don’t force it. It may seem counterintuitive but try not to come on too strong when your stepchildren are around. Be kind and courteous if possible. If your stepchildren are being rude and your partner says nothing, speak up for yourself in a respectful but firm manner try something like “I don’t like what you just said, that’s really rude and disrespectful, and I’m not okay with that.” Your partner may then feel the need to stand up. I know it would be nice if your partner would stand up for you when it comes to his/her kids but remember you don’t have to wait for them to make sure the kids respect you. Keep in mind that many divorced or single fathers don’t want to rock the boat when it comes to their children’s behavior. Many divorced and single fathers fear that their children will complain to the other parent they might lose visitation with their children. Many single dads and divorced dads feel like it’s more important to see their children than it is to set limits with them. Talk to your partner about the fact that they are less affectionate when their children are around. The reality is your relationship is real and its okay to show age appropriate affection in front of the kids. You deserve that acknowledgment and respect.
#3 You’re not accustomed to being around children
You’re a childless stepmom, and you are in complete shock about how loud and sticky children can be. You had no idea that they enjoyed picking boogers and eating playdough. You were under the impression that children were more laid back and more like little adults. Your, pristine home now looks like something from Animal House when your stepkids come to visit. You have no idea if it’s “normal” for kids to ask so many questions or if they are “supposed” to enjoy dirt so much. You feel confused about how and when to reprimand the kids and even if you’re allowed to correct them when they misbehave. You might even be thinking “I don’t even know if I want kids. Should I continue with this relationship if I don’t want kids?” The first time you witnessed a temper tantrum you thought you were seeing something from a scary movie. You’re feeling lost.
Hear me when I tell you this, Childless stepmom, all first-time mother’s stepparent or otherwise struggle in one way or another with their first child. Becoming part of a child’s life comes along with a lot of pressure to “get it right” and unsolicited advice to avoid “messing them up.” The reality is that biological parents aren’t perfect either. Trust me, biological mothers and fathers make their fair share of mistakes, especially first-time parents. Give yourself some time to learn how things function when interacting with your partner’s children. Take it slow and follow your partners lead when it comes to parenting. If you are feeling overwhelmed talk to your partner about needing a break and take some time for yourself.
#2 Unrealistic expectations
Most people are under the impression that stepfamilies are supposed to function similarly to the Brady Bunch or to how traditional families function. Society has it wrong when it comes to the average stepfamily. Many people apply undue pressure to themselves and to stepparents. They want things to function the same as it does in a traditional first family. In first families, the couple came together without children, got to know one another, then added children to the dynamic. It’s unfair to compare first families with stepfamilies. There is a mistaken belief that stepfamilies should function in the same manner. There is no consideration for the fact that within first families the couple was childless when they met, and each half of the couple is biologically related to the children. Many people have no knowledge of the fact that children love and accept both of their biological parents within a traditional or First family dynamic, stepparents do not receive automatic acceptance.
Be kind and patient with yourself. Yes, you might have some thoughts and feelings which cause you to feel shame regarding your role within your stepfamily dynamic; but don’t let that keep you from practicing self-compassion. You are not your thoughts. Studies show that as humans we experience between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. That’s a lot of ideas. If you are telling yourself “I’m a horrible stepmom for some of the things that pop into my mind when it comes to stepparenting and step coupling.” If you are not acting on those thoughts, you’re not a horrible person. They are just thoughts. Stepfamilies are hard to navigate and it would be tough for most people in your situation. You’re a work in progress, and it takes some time to adjust to children who are not your own. It takes a long time to adjust to the reality that your partner’s ex will be a part of your life for the duration of your relationship.
#1 Your partner and their Ex might be undermining your efforts
The hardest part of stepparenting has to be the fact that it is the only parenting role I know of where you are required to consult with others. It’s understandable why you would need to consult with your partner and their ex about parenting their children; because they’re not yours. It’s hard to be compared to “the way mom does things” and to feel like you are in competition for who is “the better mom.” The reality is that sometimes the ex-partner and your partner may feel that you are being “too strict” or not “doing it right” when it comes to their children, and reality is they have every right to say something. The problem becomes when they intervene to assist the child in avoiding consequences. Often times parents who have experienced a break up sometimes parent with a sense of guilt about setting limits and giving consequences.
Try not to be offended by their actions. In your situation, you don’t have the luxury of doing things “your way.” You have to concede to the way your partner and his or her Ex wants to raise the kids. This can be a hard pill to swallow, watching a child be raised in a way you don’t agree with. It may sound counterintuitive but if your partner is defensive or not willing to take your well-intentioned parenting advice, think about stepping back and allowing them to take on the responsibility. It’s hard to parent a child you are not permitted to correct. The act of stepping back is not out of malice or to punish your partner, it’s about practicing good self-care. Good self-care involves setting healthy boundaries within your relationship with your partner and their children.
Stepparenting is such a hard and often underappreciated role within stepfamilies. Be kind to yourself and be honest with yourself about how hard this is for you. There is no shame in the fact that this is a hard situation for everyone involved including you.
If you would like to talk to a therapist about your experience as a stepparent and need a safe space to work through your struggles, please reach out here and make an appointment for a free 15-minute consultation.