Stepparent is a complex role full of obstacles, learning opportunities, and rewards. If you have experience raising kids with a partner, you know how tough that can be. Now add another parent into the mix, and you can see how challenging being a stepparent is! Yes, three can definitely be a crowd!
I remember when I first became a stepmom – the nerves, the trepidation, the worries, questions, intrusive thoughts, negative self-talk, stress, and sleepless nights! It was enough to cause anyone to have a miniature meltdown.
Take it from someone who has been there, I completely relate to all of you stepparents out there, particularly those who are struggling! Let’s face it—despite the rewards, stepparenting can be so, so hard at times, even harder than actually just being a parent in some ways!
But that doesn’t mean all is lost. Here are some tips on how to improve your situation if you’re struggling as a stepparent!
#1 Set Boundaries Early & Often
When you first met your partner and they shared they had kids, you might have had some (totally justified) reservations.
One vital thing to do at the beginning of your relationship (and role as stepmom) is to set boundaries. Letting your partner know now precisely what responsibilities you are and aren’t willing to take on regarding the kids is vital going forward.
As a stepparent, you are completely allowed (and encouraged) not to take on as much as your partner and their ex! After all, care for the kids, whether financial, emotional, or physical, is, first and foremost, their responsibility!
Here are a few examples of boundaries you can set with your partner:
- Discuss changes (e.g., schedule swaps) here before confirming with the ex.
- I will not take care of my stepkids alone.
- I don’t feel comfortable with the ex coming into our home.
- I will pick my stepkids up from school, but only one/two/three days a week/month.
- I need a space of my own in our home.
- I will not maintain the home alone. All family members are expected to contribute with house chores.
- I will not talk directly to the ex; I will only interact with you.
If you are already well into your stepparenting journey and haven’t been setting and enforcing strong boundaries, it’s not too late! Boundaries are crucial to finding peace as a stepmom, and if you’re struggling, there’s no better first step to take toward finding peace and happiness as a stepmom.
#2 Start Off Slow
Technically, becoming a stepmom is a lot like becoming a mom. Except, you don’t always have a choice or get sufficient notice, and there are often two involved parents already doing the bulk of the parenting with more decision-making power than you’ll have as a stepmom!
If you have limited experience with stepmomming, parenting, kids, and dealing with blended family dynamics in general, it can be extremely tough to navigate this landscape!
Plus, even if you have relevant experience (I was born a child of divorce, have had a few different stepparents throughout the years, and even received training in childhood education and development in college), it won’t always translate. Personally, I thought I knew what I was signing up for when I became a stepmom, but I truly had no idea.
So, start off slow and take your time.
As you and your stepkids become more comfortable around each other and continue to deepen your bond and build more mutual respect, you can slowly accept more responsibilities and expand your stepparent role.
#3 Get on the Same Page with Your Partner Regarding Parenting
As frustrating as it can be, it’s so important to let your partner take the lead when it comes to parenting as a stepmom. Of course, you’re always free to give your advice (respectfully) and voice your concerns, but you’ll also need to respect your partner’s and the ex’s final decisions regarding parenting.
To avoid feeling like you’re a bystander in your own life while they make all of the decisions, discuss with your partner their expectations and beliefs regarding raising their kids, especially if you’re only just starting to take a more active role in their lives.
This conversation is critical for helping you to take back the reins and feel like an equal in your home. You’ll feel better respected in your home and more in control.
#4 Leave Interacting With the Ex to Your Partner
As a stepparent, you’re not obligated to communicate with the ex, particularly about the stepkids, their schedule, childcare, or any other responsibilities. You can leave that to your partner, especially if it’s causing issues.
You’re, of course, free to engage in any interaction with her in which you feel comfortable. But otherwise, a simple hello, passing the phone over to your partner when she calls, small talk, or waving at the custody exchange will suffice.
#5 Be Considerate to the Ex
I often remind my coaching clients that the ex didn’t get to choose you any more than you got to choose her being in your life. When possible, try to be compassionate and respectful toward the ex.
Try to put yourself in their shoes. Would you be 100% open to letting another woman (who you don’t know and haven’t chosen) parent or care for your children? If you’re being honest, you’d probably be skeptical.
If the ex is more than a tad frosty, don’t stress! In time, she’ll likely get better accustomed to you being around (or at the very least, you’ll be setting better and stronger boundaries to protect yourself from her). In the meantime, continue to be the kind, respectful, trustworthy, and friendly stepparent that you are!
#6 Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Communication is key to keeping relationships healthy and functional. If you find yourself shutting down when you’re struggling, it is time to change that habit! You need to communicate with those around you, especially your partner.
As a stepmom to your partner’s children, you need to talk to them about your worries, stresses, and concerns regarding stepparenting. You may even consider consulting with a professional therapist or coach, if necessary!
#7 Build a Solid Relationship with Your Stepkids
It can be challenging bonding with stepchildren.
At first, the stepkids may be resistant to bonding with you. It’s possible they’re facing loyalty binds and see liking their stepparent as a betrayal of their other parent. Or maybe you have different personalities and interests that don’t easily overlap.
Luckily, you’re not solely responsible for your stepkids. So, you can start off slowly by doing some fun activities with them once per week or a few times a month.
Find a good balance between family activities you can all do together and activities you feel comfortable doing 1-on-1 with your stepchildren.
Here are some fun bonding activities to try with your stepkids:
- Make pizza together from scratch
- A trip to the local pool, park, or playground
- Create an art project
- A movie night with snacks
- Play a board game
- Go for a hike
- Bake a cake or cookies
- Pretend play or dress up
- Read a book together
- Go out to eat at a restaurant
- Plant a garden
- A trip to a museum or library
#8 Up the Self-Care
As stepmoms, it’s so important to put energy back into ourselves, our lives, and our goals separate from our partners and stepkids! In fact, doing this is vital in any healthy relationship.
Prioritize time to recharge: pampering yourself, with family and friends, building your career, and enjoying your favorite hobbies!
#9 Remember, You Don’t Have to be Perfect!
No one is perfect, particularly in a role as challenging as stepparenting!
Learn from your mistakes. Forgive yourself for not always doing the right or best thing or being “perfect” at all times. Then, move along wiser and stronger – you’ve got this, stepmama!