I distinctly remember the first time I was called a “bonus mom.” I was out for a Girls Day with my stepdaughter, her mom, and her little sister. Someone asked how we know each other, and my stepdaughter’s mom said, “This is my daughter’s bonus mom.”
While I’m a firm believer that “stepmom” is not a bad word, I recognize there can be a place for both “stepmom” and “bonus mom.”
My stepdaughter has two very involved parents in her life, and I act in a supplemental parent role to her. I’m a bonus, an extra, an exclusive special.
It’s fun to see the ways that I add something a little extra to my stepdaughter Krista’s life: my love of puns, my passion for traveling, the way I have taught her to laugh at her own jokes. Here are 11 tips for being a great bonus mom to your stepchildren.
#1 Be a Safe Space
Stepparenting shouldn’t be a competition between you and the kids’ other parent. Avoid bad-mouthing your partner’s ex or verbalizing judgment about their decisions, how they spent their time with their kids, or any other choices that may be misaligned with choices you’d make.
Helping your stepchildren feel welcome in your home and safe with you is one of the most critical parts of being a great bonus mom.
#2 Be Patient
Kids aren’t generally very good at verbalizing their stress, worries, or anger. They struggle to even truly understanding where these emotions are coming from in the first place, especially if they are on the younger side. As such, they may act sullen or depressed, or turn to explosive temper tantrums or mean words to release the hurt.
Recognize they’re experiencing a lot of big emotions for their little brains and bodies.
Try to be as patient as possible and also model effective coping and communication methods to them. For example, you can talk openly about some appropriate issues and encourage them to do the same. Lead with questions like “How do you feel when…” or “What do you think about…”
Please keep in mind that it is important to respect their space and moods, though. Try not to press them to communicate if they don’t feel like it!
#3 Share your Passions
One of the best ways you can act as a “bonus” in their lives is by making your unique value clear. Do you have a special hobby or skill you could share with them?
Teach your stepdaughter how to sew, start a family garden, or share your favorite show with your stepson.
My first year as a bonus mom, I purchased a few of the books from my favorite childhood series, The Boxcar Children and read them with Krista at bedtime. We bonded over the stories, and she still tells me today that those evenings spent reading together greatly contributed to her love of reading to this day.
Am I the only one of Krista’s parents who can read? Of course not, but it’s something that was special to me that I shared with her, and it meant a lot to her and helped us bond from the start.
#4 Spend Quality Time Together
Spending time with your stepkids is often the best gift you can give them. Quality time spent together (1-on-1 and as a family) is essential for developing a deeper bond.
You can do any number of fun activities with your stepkids, including:
- Going to the mall
- A trip to the zoo
- Hanging out at home watching movies or TV shows
- Doing a puzzle
- Cooking or baking together
- Playing in the park
- Taking a walk around your neighborhood
- Kicking a ball in your backyard
- Playing a fun card game
#5 Teach Them Life Skills
Kids are kids, and they need a lot of nurturing to grow into strong, confident, healthy adults. As long as you feel comfortable (and have gotten the go-ahead from your partner), step in to teach them some invaluable life skills!
Tying shoelaces, cooking a meal, tidying up, cleaning, making a fire, dealing with anger, and a multitude of other skills are perfect to teach kids. As they learn more, they will also become more and more independent and confident in their abilities. Win-win!
#6 Be Flexible
In my early stepmom days, I didn’t recognize how bonus mom was a fluid role. I found a role that felt right to me, and I was resistant to changing that role, even when my relationship with my stepdaughter and what she needed from our relationship changed. Be flexible in your role.
But also, be flexible as a family. Stepfamilies are chaotic, and there are a lot of moving parts. Be open to change and see where the tide may take you.
#7 Support your Partner
You might feel tempted to step in and take charge to help your partner. Or, maybe you want to set stricter house rules and provide more structure to the home. You absolutely get a say if it’s your home too, but support your partner instead of taking over and edging them out. It’s a key difference.
#8 Keep your Word
Keeping promises in a stepfamily is vital for trust. Keep your word with your stepkids if you promise to do something, or promise to keep something a secret or safe.
So much of their lives is already up in the air, transitioning between two homes, adjusting to new stepparents, navigating loyalty binds and expectations… ensure you’re a constant and reliable bet by keeping your word each and every time.
#9 Respect their Space
When dealing with stepkids, particularly older ones or teens, it is so important to respect their space. They need some privacy and room to grow, too.
Having someone trample on that privacy can do a lot of damage to a relationship, perhaps even making yourself an enemy. Do your best to give them some breathing room. If they truly need you, they’ll come find you.
#10 Love your Partner Well
You wouldn’t be a bonus mom if you hadn’t fallen in love with a parent. Remember that the very core of your entire family is your relationship with your partner.
Plus, you’ll be providing your stepkids with a model of what a healthy and loving relationship really looks like!
#11 Take Time for Yourself
Now that we’ve covered the basics of being a great stepmom and wife for your stepkids and partner, last but certainly not least, don’t forget to be the best you for you!
Take time out to pamper yourself, work on your goals, enjoy your hobbies, and meet up with friends and family.
It’s essential to keep a healthy stepmom/life balance to be the best bonus mom possible!
P.S. I really don’t think stepmom is a bad word…