By: Beth from The Inclusive Stepmom
Outsider syndrome is one of the most common sets of emotions that plague stepmoms day in and day out. Sometimes we are forced onto the sidelines by the dynamics of our own stepfamily. Other times we’re made to feel like an outsider by society, thanks to the way it views nontraditional families and promotes the idealism of a nuclear family structure through film, television, and books. And occasionally, we’re made to feel outsiders by ourselves, through the manifestation of our own self-doubt and insecurities.
I have been faced with outsider syndrome both as a stepmom and as a queer woman in a multi-mom family. Societal norms have sent me messages that I am not as valued as a parent in the stepmother role because my family is labeled as “broken.” Societal norms have also taught me that my family is not a valid family because I am a woman with a wife.
Stepmoms are often not recognized as mothers. We do the mothering without the title and the inherent respect of being the mom. There’s an added layer of that isolation for me. As an LGBTQ stepmom, not only am I not seen as a mother, sometimes my family is not seen as a family.
When my wife and I go out to eat, we are often asked if we need separate checks. When my wife, my stepdaughter, and I go out to eat, few assume they are looking at a family. I’ve been asked if I’m an aunt or a sister.
It is society’s job to do the work to help stepfamilies feel like families, and to make stepmoms feel like real parents. It is our job as stepmoms to make those with even more nontraditional stepfamilies feel like part of this sisterhood we work so hard to create amongst ourselves.
Here are a few ways straight stepmoms can make their LGBTQ sisters feel included.
How Stepmoms Can Be More Inclusive of LGBTQ Stepfamilies
Be mindful of labels
Online stepmom communities are full of shorthand language, of labels and abbreviations, that make discussing experiences and bonding over stressors faster, easier, and more simplified. Some of the phrases include “bio mom” and “dear husband,” with abbreviations like “BM” and “DH.”
While these make conversations easier for stepmoms in mixed-gender relationships, they reject and isolate the stories of those whose family dynamics don’t match up with these labels. Those of us without a bio mom or bio kids, and wives instead of husbands, feel hesitant to share our lives when we can’t use language that’s been established for the group.
When asking questions to other stepmoms or creating and participating in online forums, try to be mindful of the exclusivity of these labels. You can either avoid using them or create others that give “nontraditional” stepmoms (whatever that means!) a way to connect and feel included.
Maybe “other parent” instead of “bio mom” or “dear wife” alongside “dear husband.” That’s assuming you’re down with the word “dear” in the first place— it makes me feel a bit like we’re still living in the 1960s!
You know what they say about assuming! When you’re talking to other stepmoms, to other parents, to your kids and stepkids, or to their friends, avoid making assumptions about what their family structure is.
Stepmoms might have wives, the wives might have male exes, and ex-wives might be with women now! There’s a whole world of options to consider.
Marriage equality was passed nationwide in 2015 in the United States, and the census estimates 1,300 new stepfamilies are formed every day. Statistically, more and more of these stepfamilies are bound to include LGBTQ parents. That’s not to mention how many LGBTQ kids are coming out on a daily basis.
Try to remember to ask questions about families instead of assuming you know the answers! You might be surprised at how open queer families are and how much we desire to talk, connect, and share our stories.
Support your LGBTQ stepmom sisters
More than anything, LGBTQ folks want to be loved and accepted for who we are. Stepmoms understand what it’s like to be outsiders, both within our families and within society.
At our core, stepmoms want to be recognized as parents, respected and appreciated for our contributions, and loved by our families and friends. LGBTQ stepmoms want the exact same thing.
We also want the support and camaraderie of our LGBTQ sisters. I have a wife. My family looks a little bit different than yours, but I struggle with the same insecurities and anxieties as you.
Some days I feel not good enough, some days I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. I feel like my heart is going to burst with love and gratitude for my stepfamily some days, and other days I want to go run and hide. I am complex, but as a stepmom, my needs and wants are often as simple and universal as yours.
As stepmoms, let’s lift one another up, hold one another accountable, and create an inclusive space for each of us to feel like we have other stepmoms in our corner who get it.
P.S. If someone tells me I’m not a “real mom” one more time…