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Am I a stepmom if I’m not married?

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When I started dating my now-husband, I was challenged in ways I never expected.

Having an ex around was a new concept to me. Having an ex around who made decisions that impacted my life was hard. Just having to constantly see her or hear about her was hard. Seeing how she made my boyfriend feel was hard. But that was just the start of it all…

On top of that, I was developing relationships with two young girls, my boyfriend’s children, whom he shared with his ex. Because of this, our relationship seemed accelerated. I almost immediately felt like he and his daughters were my family.

Later, moving in together amplified my feelings of legitimacy. I was with them every day that the girls were with him, and doing just as much parenting as he was. I felt like I had finally found my stride as a stepmom. I was in the zone, and I was crushing it.

But I wasn’t a stepmom. I was just the girlfriend of a man who had two kids.

Those around me provided seemingly excessive reminders that I was not (yet) a stepmom.

I tried extending an olive branch to the kids’ mom to explain to her how “all in” I was, but that was met with silence.

My boyfriend’s parents would ask if I was coming to school events, like the Christmas musical. I thought, “Well, duh! I am raising her, bought her outfit for it, and have been helping her practice her songs for weeks!”

My co-workers would meet my typical “mom vents” with responses like, “Just wait… you will really understand once you have your own kids!

In such a vulnerable stage of my stepmom journey, which I now refer to as the “stepmom in-training” stage, I needed validation. I needed everyone to know that I was a great stepmom, and I was here to stay. My boyfriend and I were a team, and I was a stepmom.

But still, I wasn’t a stepmom. I was just the girlfriend of a man who had two kids.

Because of this, and despite feeling like a stepmom and knowing I was fulfilling the role of a stepmom, I finally began to see myself as, “Dad’s girlfriend.”

I was pretty insecure about this harsh reality at first, but over time, I finally became satisfied happy with my title of “the girlfriend.” If you’re reading this and the reality also doesn’t sit well with you, I’m here today to help you come to terms with it sooner, rather than later.

Being “just the girlfriend” is not a bad thing, I promise!

Am I a stepmom if I’m not married?

The short answer is no, you are not technically a stepmom. (I say technically instead of legally because even married stepmoms have no legal rights to their stepchildren…)

The good news is, it’s not the end of the world! In fact, it may be a blessing in disguise. Since the honeymoon stage of being a stepmom is pretty lackluster, recognizing your title of “the girlfriend” can help you pump the brakes and give you a better chance at truly dating your partner!

So, I’m not a stepmom. Why does that matter?

As far as the impact you’re making on the child goes, it doesn’t matter. Your title does not define your ability to make an impact.

But, as far as “the rest of them” go, it does matter. Understanding that they don’t see you as a stepmom will help equip you with the tools you need to shrug off hurtful comments and stand confident in your role.

You have to be aware of their reality in order to persevere through the hard times and make it to the glory years.

Perception is reality.

Accepting that you’re “the girlfriend” will allow you to embrace the perception of others, and live a more peaceful life as a stepmom-in-training and beyond.

Remember, you may see yourself as a stepmom, but they do not. By “they,” I mean your friends, family, colleagues, your partner’s family, and his ex. To be honest, your partner and his kids may not even consider you a stepmom yet.

As much as this may sting, their perception impacts the entire family dynamic. If you try to over-legitimize yourself, you may be perceived as pushy, immature, or overbearing.

Play it cool. Regardless of what label those around you have given you, you are still able to make a life-changing impact on the child’s life.

You can’t force someone to accept you.

Once you’ve embraced that their perception is reality (to them), you’re ready to flip the switch from “trying to prove your worth” to “developing genuine self-confidence.” With this comes taking a major backseat in the co-parenting department.

Your partner’s family, the ex, and possibly even your partner’s children may not be ready to accept you. They may be kind and they may like—or even love—you, but they still may not be ready to fully accept you in this new role.

Never forget that the more serious your relationship gets, the greater a reminder everyone has that the nuclear family is truly over, and is not rekindling. No matter how toxic the relationship between the parents may have been, embracing that your grandkids (or nieces, nephews, etc.) are going to be living between two homes can be heartbreaking.

Your partner chose you, but no one else had a say in the matter.

You may think it’s more convenient to text your partner’s ex about a schedule change request, but in reality, it may lead to bigger problems and put a rift in the shared parenting dynamic. Don’t be ashamed to let your man handle his business.

Remember that it’s not personal. Even when it feels personal, it’s not. Try and empathize with the emotional stakeholders. Keep your mental energy focused on developing your already rock-solid relationship. That will have a big payoff!

Embrace your role as “the girlfriend.”

Now that you have accepted the perception of others and are working on finding validation within, it’s time to fully embrace your role and this special time in your life.

Dating should be the most fun time of your life, period. Of course, there are amazing milestones all throughout your relationship, but that “butterfly,” spontaneous feeling you get while you’re dating is unmatched.

You have already figured out that the honeymoon stage of being a stepmom is tough. If you’re involved with the co-parents to the point where it’s causing friction, try backpedaling a little. Put it in reverse and start dating again! Enjoy yourself!

I wish so badly that I would have spent more time dating my boyfriend, and less time practicing my paralegal skills neck-deep in “what to include in a custody agreement” Google searches.

Also, jumping head-first into the role of a stepmom while you’re dating causes you to put some serious blinders on regarding your relationship. You begin prioritizing the kids when you should be prioritizing your partner. If you’re being treated poorly by your partner, you tell yourself you can’t leave the relationship “because of the kids.”

You cannot ignore any red flags while you’re dating a person with kids, and getting too deep into stepmomming makes it hard to take those rose-colored glasses off.

How do I get comfortable recognizing my role as “the girlfriend?

When you’re in a serious, long-term relationship and your partner’s child is a major part of your life, it’s hard to sit back when you feel unnoticed.

I’m not writing this article to make you feel less legitimate. I’m writing it to help you simplify your life, regain some perspective, and find confidence and self-assurance on a whole new level!

The two big takeaways for you to remember on your journey are:

Being “the girlfriend” does not define the impact you are having on the child’s life.

If you, as your partner’s girlfriend, are a consistent part of the child’s life, then you can make an impact. Your official title of “the girlfriend” does not minimize the significance of the impact you can make on the child’s life.

Think about the adults in your life, other than your parents, who made a significant impact on your upbringing. I can name several, including aunts, uncles, my friends’ parents, and my boss from my high school job. Those people shaped me into who I am today.

You are shaping that child, regardless of your title. Your presence matters.

Being “the girlfriend” does not define your worth.

Maybe you’ve chosen to never marry your partner, or maybe you’re begging for a proposal. Personally, I couldn’t wait to get married. I thought getting married would give me a renewed sense of legitimacy… but it didn’t.

Getting married and becoming an “official” stepmom does not immediately make everyone around you recognize all that you do, or view you as a legitimate parent. In all parenting, parents don’t do the things they do for the recognition. They do it to provide the best they can for their children.

Now, and even after you’re married, the child is only one priority in your life. Your number one priority has to be yourself. If you aren’t taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Your worth is not defined by your title. Your worth is defined only by yourself: your actions, your mindset, and your determination.

Your partner’s family and ex may not take you seriously, but the impression you make on them daily is important and will have an impact on the future of your blended family.

Your colleagues who brush you off as you try to contribute to parenting conversations at the water cooler… Do you even need to be friends with them? Really.

You do so much, and you are such an important part of your partner’s life, as well as his children’s lives. It takes time—a lot of time—to fully get in your groove as a stepmom. Don’t rush it. You are exactly where you need to be.

You’re just “the girlfriend,” and that is awesome, so own it! Be confident in yourself. Know your worth, and know where it comes from. Enjoy this phase of your life. It flies by!

P.S. If you’re still in the very early stages of stepmomming, here are 10 tips for meeting the ex-wife for the first time.

6 thoughts on “Am I a stepmom if I’m not married?”

  1. This really hit home today. I have been struggling w so much in my heart with this lately. I do a lot for my boyfriends kids and even refer to them as “our” kids. The girlfriend phase has been hard and sometimes very emotionally overwhelming. I’m glad to have a safe haven like this to help me feel like less of a crazy person.

  2. This was exactly what I needed to read today. Lately it has become very evident that I am ‘just the girlfriend’ and not anything bigger or more important then that in our blended family dynamic. I felt sick the longer the divorce took to be finalized, thinking that we needed to be married before I felt like part of the family. After the first good day together (me, dad and daughter) and reading this after we dropped her off with mum, I feel so much better about my circumstances. Being ‘just the girlfriend’ does give me more freedom to subtly help this transitioning family. As much as it is frustrating to sit back, saying very little about the plans that are being made and will thus shape our life for the next week, month or year…. I have control over enough. Fantastic thoughts. They have certainly helped this ‘girlfriend’ feel more comfortable and confident in my role.

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