5 Hard Truths Every Stepmom Wants Her Husband to Know
This article first appeared on stepqueen.com and has been reprinted here with permission.
It is without a doubt that I can tell you this: being a stepmom has been one of the most challenging, most confusing, and highly emotional roller coasters that I’ve ever been on in my life.
Thankfully, my husband, his ex-wife, their son (my stepson), and I have come to a place where we have a very limited amount of conflict within our family. It took some serious work and some professional help, but I can honestly say that we all love each other unconditionally.
And the mom and I, well, we don’t love each other, but we are definitely friendly. This past Mother’s Day, she even sent me a gift. How nice!
Since my darker stepmom days, I have become a Stepfamily Foundation Certified Counselor, and am so blessed to be able to help women who are in the lonely and tumultuous place that I was in only a few short years ago.Now, generally, I like to keep things on a positive note. But, as with all things in life, there are 2 sides to every coin.
As much as I love my husband, I wish that he had known these 5 things when I first became the stepmother to his son. And so for you, Stepqueen, I am writing this today, in hopes that your husband will accidentally stumble across it because it maybe didn’t get closed on the iPad you left in the bathroom *hint hint.*
5 Hard Truths Every Stepmom Wants Her Husband to Know
We NEED to be your Number One
Ask any stepmom if she has ever felt like runner-up or second place, and you will be answered with a soft-eyed, furrowed-brow, pouty-mouthed expression. It’s like the Bat Signal, but for Stepmoms. Or like that sign they make in Hunger Games where they stick their peace fingers up into the air.
Between your ex-wife and the kids you have with her, we are sometimes left in this whirlwind of no-man’s-land, wondering how our living room turned into a McDonald’s Play Place at the decibel of an AC/DC concert. And then there comes hockey practice, dance recitals, and science fairs. There are driving lessons, swim meets, and parent-teacher conferences. There are doctor’s appointments, orthodontist appointments, meetings with lawyers, and meetings with the bank.
Though each and every one of these events is meaningful and important, we didn’t ask to be signed up for them. And we especially didn’t want for them to cut into our precious time with you.
Look, I understand that a father’s time with his children can be limited. I understand that fathers want to jam-pack as many activities into their every-other weekend as possible.
What happens when the kids come and become the center of your world? Stepmom is left sitting in a corner with her bottle of wine, weeping, and nobody even takes notice.
I’m only going to say this once, but stepmom isn’t going to turn 18 and leave home. Your kids will. If you fail to nurture your present relationship, then you are failing your partner, and ultimately failing your children as you set them up to experience yet another relationship breakdown. Kids have been known to flatten strong marriages. If you fail to fix your mistakes from your first marriage, allowing your kids to dictate your every move, then no marriage past that point stands a fighting chance.
I’m not saying to avoid situations with your children in which they need you. I’m not suggesting you avoid dance recitals. But I’m just asking, husband, that you take into consideration that you are married to a woman who very much loves you.
Children are infamous time-suckers; nothing you give to them will ever be enough. (Ever.) They gobble up every second of the day, and are left to complain that they are still bored. Even though your wife loves you, she is not by default invited to or included in your activities with your children, nor does she necessarily want to be.
Before you make plans with your kids, before you agree to spend every waking second with them, just have the decency to ask your beautiful wife how she would feel about your attendance to these events. Since stepmothers are true unicorns and goddesses, you know that she will be agreeable. If she isn’t, and if she wants to spend time with you alone, then you know that you have been slacking in your duty to pay attention to her.
When you don’t put us first, it only reinforces our belief that we aren’t, and will never be, as important as your first family was. In a marriage, your partner should always take precedence over your children. This is even more important in a second (or third) marriage.
Loving You Doesn’t Mean We Love your Children
Okay, so whoever made up this myth was either a saint or a sadist. You have no idea how many stepmoms come to me, completely deflated, because they don’t actually love their stepchildren. Just because you fall in love with a man doesn’t mean you automatically have to love his children. Kids are complex, difficult, demanding little creatures. Humans are one of the only mammals who will accept the offspring of another pairing.
Husbands, you need to know this one thing: We are doing the absolute best that we can to love and accept your children. The bonds that you have with your children are biological in nature. It is in your blood to want to protect, love, and celebrate your own DNA.
We, on the other hand, have to work (sometimes really, really hard) at this bond. And no matter how much work we put in, we will absolutely never feel the same way about your kids that you do. You see a kid who throws a temper tantrum once in a while, we see a hundred red flags. You see (or don’t see) a kid who forgets to clean up after himself, we see a child who is entitled and blatantly disrespectful to the adults who provide a home for him.
You proudly see the wonderful qualities that you’ve passed on in their genetics, we see their mother’s eyes, her hair, her mannerisms.
It’s not that we don’t want to love your children. Some of us do come to a place where we do, in fact, love them. Others will never form this level of admiration. And that is okay. It shouldn’t be expected of your wife to dote on your children the way you or their mother would. It is simply not realistic.
She gives as much as, and sometimes more than, she is able to. Let me remind you that she does not get the same payoff as a parent would. Kids do not reciprocate their love to their stepmother in the ways that they do to their biological parents. As long as everyone within your home treats each other with respect and kindness, the love component should be a non-issue.
We Don’t Want to Hear About your Ex
This one is pretty self-explanatory. We just really, really don’t like hearing about her. Trust me, we know that your ex-wife can be difficult and drama-causing and make questionable parenting decisions. We don’t like it any more than you do. But we are the absolute wrong people to vent to about your previous partner and her mysterious ways.
We don’t want to give her any more attention than is absolutely necessary. We don’t want to hear that she was a terrible cook. We don’t want to hear about her parents. We don’t want to delve into all the reasons that she is an awful person. We are already reminded of her on a regular basis as tiny humans containing 50% of her DNA smush cheerios into our furniture every other weekend and boast about how wonderful their real mom is.
There is no such thing as being an ex-parent. You can only be an ex-spouse. This delineation means that your relationship with your ex should absolutely only be focused on collaboratively being competent co-parents.
Your conversations should be all business, and only kid-focused. If she needs help with her garbage disposal, she can call herself a repair man. If her cat dies, she can call her best friend. If she breaks up with her boyfriend, then you are absolutely under no circumstance to be the one to provide any emotional support to her. You made a decision when you entered into a relationship with your new partner to leave your past in the past.
Because you’ve brought children from your prior life, and because they are a part of you, then you have also brought them. Your ex is not a part of you. Keep your relationship civil and focused on the only thing that still ties you together.
Under no circumstance are you to trash-talk your ex. This is essential in front of your children. When children hear their parents talking poorly of each other, they take this to mean that since their mom is no good, that they are no good. Speaking poorly of your ex to your children is highly damaging to their already warped self-esteem that has resulted from the separation of their parents. Trash-talking your ex to your current partner is also a cause for concern and is highly unnecessary. A stepmom being faced with this dilemma should immediately stop her husband from spouting off, and firmly remind him that he needs to vent to a friend or a therapist, not to her.
It’s Not Cute When your Kids Come in our Bedroom
One stark realization I had when I became a stepmother was that children are completely ignorant to privacy and what a closed door actually means. It’s no secret that kids are hard on sex lives. This is even more so when they help themselves at will to your bedroom. Saturday morning cartoon snuggles can happen on the couch in the living room, but please for our sake, don’t invite your children into our bed. Especially if you’ve never asked us how we feel about this. In a first-family, since the parents are both related to their kids, they don’t see an issue with allowing their children in their room. In a stepfamily, this does not translate well.
Our bedrooms are our sanctuaries. They are the one room in the entire house that the kids should not be allowed free reign. Children are notorious for making messes, snooping through drawers, and taking things that don’t belong to them. For the sake of your partner, please, please don’t encourage late-night or early-morning bedroom visits from your tiny humans.
It should be established as early on as possible that the kids are not allowed inside the parents’ bedroom, especially without knocking. And if the door is closed, only knock if the house is burning down. Allow your wife the courtesy of having a place that still belongs to her. Capitalize on this privacy and spend time with your partner behind closed doors. You wouldn’t eat supper in the bathroom. Don’t bring kids into your bedroom.
We Didn’t Actually Know what we Signed up For
If I hear one more person say to one more stepmom, “you knew he had kids when you started dating him,” well… I don’t even know what I’ll do. Probably write about it. But unless you’ve ever been in a serious relationship with a man who has children, you have no idea what it’s actually like.
There are some very real differences between a stepfamily and a first family. This doesn’t mean that a stepfamily can’t function well together; it just means it can’t function the same way. Trying to make a stepfamily act like a first family is like playing chess with the rules of checkers.
What does this mean for you, dear husbands? It means that you are going to need to become up-close-and-personal and familiar with these differences in order to support your wife, your children, and yourself in your stepfamily journey. When your wife tells you that she feels left out, she isn’t lying or being selfish for your time.
When your children treat her like their maid, it really and truly upsets her. When you allow the guilt and shame of your divorce to overshadow your parenting and disciplining of your children, your wife (and kids) will notice every time.
All that we want is to live in a household where everyone respects each other and pulls their own weight. It sounds simple enough, but to act it out can be complex. Learn to listen to your dear wife when she comes to you with her concerns. Please don’t be defensive. Spend time with her alone. Nurture and prioritize your marriage. Remind yourself that children thrive with strong authority and a high level of responsibility. This is especially important after divorce, as kids will test limits and pit their two households against each other. (This is just what kids do.)
You and your wife are teammates. Partners. Lift each other up, and hold on tight. Stepmoms are stepmoms because they fell in love with a man with children. Stepmoms are stepmoms for no other reason than because of love. Keep this love at the forefront of everything you do, and you will be rewarded infinitely as you build and reinforce your life together.
We love you, dear husbands. And together, we are going to be just fine.