Friend, we need to talk. I see you running on empty, I hear you voicing your stepmom needs in our stepmom support group, and I think it’s time to let you in on a very simple secret…
We already know that the stepmom expectations are contradictory and exhausting – love his kids like your own but don’t act like their mom, be involved in their lives but don’t overstep the “real” parents, treat them the same as the other kids but don’t make them follow your rules, etc.
We’re expected to perform an impressive balancing act, so it’s not surprising that in our constant, never-good-enough attempts to do so, we sometimes completely lose ourselves.
After prioritizing our marriage, supporting our partners in their co-parenting debacles, and carrying them through their phases of divorced dad (or mom) guilt, we then spend whatever time and energy we have left on balancing those spinning stepparent plates the best we can. We play fair and play it safe, lest we face criticism from the ex, disappointment from the extended family, or meltdowns from the kids.
Hey Stepmom, It’s Okay to Take Up Space.
You came into a “broken” family with instant, invisible pressure on you to dive right in and get to fixing. So you’ve been putting yourself last (if on the list at all) to keep the ship from sinking. I get it.
But it’s time to realize that you’re not a ship captain. You are the ocean. No matter what you do to hold the household ship together, it’s going to sink if your waters are not calm enough for sailing.
Metaphors aside, here’s the secret: It’s okay to take up space.
What I mean is that it’s okay for you to expect to be considered. It is okay to have needs and voice them. It is okay to have boundaries and enforce them. It’s okay for you to take yourself into consideration without feeling selfish, and it’s okay for you to expect the others in your family to consider you, too. Every creature on this earth takes up space and has needs, and you’re no exception.
Too often, it is assumed that “mom will be fine” with whatever is going on. No need to consider the space mom takes up, right? Mom just gives the rides, buys the project supplies, figures out what everyone is going to eat. Be honest – can you remember a single time as a kid that you had the thought, “well I know what I want, but what does mom need?”
Balancing Your Role as a Stepmom
Somehow, as stepmoms we expect ourselves to step up like a mom, and simultaneously take even more of a back burner than “regular” moms do. And if we don’t, we feel guilty and wrong. Why?
When you first became a family with children, step or biological, you may have needed to trade your two-door coupe for a family sedan or an SUV, something that fit the car seats or had a third row. The kids took up space, and you had to accommodate it. Do you hate the kids for taking up space? Of course not. It just made sense to adjust to meet the needs of your family.
So why are you afraid of taking up space? Why do you dread needing a seat and some legroom in the hypothetical car? I don’t know where we got the assumption that our job is to give to everyone and need nothing ourselves, but it’s unrealistic and it’s causing mass stepmom burnout right before my eyes.
Mama, you are just as much a member of your family as any other member. In case no one has ever told you: your vote counts. Stop forgetting that you have a vote or letting your spouse vote for you. You have a vote. Use it.
How to Take Up Space
The kids want to go to the zoo and you’re exhausted from the World’s Worst Work Week? Instead of complying for the sake of balancing those spinning plates, letting the resentment build up as you drive them to the zoo, choose to take up space.
Use your vote. Let their parent take them and stay home for a self-care day. Or voice your “no” vote and help your partner decide what the family is going to do for the day with everyone’s opinion taken into consideration.
Do you feel a wave of anxiety flood over you when your partner invites the kids’ mom to come over for dinner without asking you? Instead of acting like everything is fine and trying not to throw up while telling yourself “well this is what I signed up for,” choose to take up space.
Choose to voice your discomfort to your partner, letting him know that having his ex over for dinner crosses your boundaries, makes you uncomfortable, and isn’t something you’re okay with doing.
The little voice in your head may try to tell you, “You’re being selfish! It would be nice for the kids!” But the little voice in your head is a jerk who lives in the Land of Unrealistic Expectations, and it’s time to stop assuming she knows everything. She doesn’t, and she definitely doesn’t have your best interest at heart.
Listen to your needs instead. Remind yourself as often as you need to that you are allowed to take up just as much space in your home as your stepkids do. The kids don’t need you to say “how high” every time they say “jump.” Your partner doesn’t need to rely on you to be the only one carrying the family’s mental load. You don’t need to feel unappreciated, frustrated, and burned out.
No more disappearing into the background the moment the kids arrive at your house, no more becoming the awkward third (or 7th) wheel, no more playing the silent butler who slips in and out of the scene tending to everyone’s needs.
Stop making yourself a nobody in your own home. Start making yourself some space.
P.S. Remember: You’re here to support them, not save them.
21 thoughts on “Hey Stepmom, It’s Okay to Take Up Space”
I have had Pinterest since the beginning of time and have NEVER left a comment. Not even once. This article spoke to me so much I had to say thank you. I thought I was alone in this. Thank you. I just told my bf that tomorrow (his day with his daughter) that I needed a day to myself can he take her to go do something since my son was with his dad still. Now they are going to a movie and to a museum and I’m staying home and catching up on uninterrupted cleaning (something I do enjoy not just the general oh I guess I have to clean) and sleep. I would have never thought I was not the only one. It’s okay to have a voice!
Way to go, Elizabeth!!! So happy we’ve connected and that this article resonated with you 🙂
This is something I’ve tried to incorporate into our marriage and tried to talk openly with my husband about. If I want to stay home because I’m burnt out (full time step mom, full time student, part time server, trying to find an internship too) then I just plainly don’t want to spend time with the family according to him. I’m a FULL time Step-mom, and still get guilted. I’m expected to do everything a mom does but not at the same time? There’s plenty more complexities to talk about but this post is so important. I’m 5 years in and burnt out is an understatement. (Only became full time Step-mom about a year ago, 8 yr old girl) help a sister out?
Boundaries and self-care are SO important, Natalie! It’s okay to take up space. You’re doing the right thing!
oh, this article hit me right where it needed to, and at just the right time. I’m new to the FB group and your blog, and you’re really saying things that I need to hear – thank you!
So happy to hear that, Sue!! Welcome to our tribe ❤️
Everything u just said I have been through and am still dealing with!!!! I just want to say thank u very much I enjoyed the read!! I really needed to hear this today!!
So glad it was helpful, Cristy! We’ve all been there!!
really needed to read this today, very supportive.
So glad you found it helpful!
This is great advice.
Definitely hit home in so many ways! Great read and really helped me put things going on around me in perspective. Thank you.
Oh how I needed this today! Thank you. And thank you for this community. I had no idea what I was stepping into, when I married my DH. This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and most days I feel completely lost. It’s so nice to feel VALIDATED!
It is much trickier and more complex than any of us could imagine. You’re definitely not alone! So glad we could connect!
This is describing me exactly. I have put my wants and needs on the backburner since getting married and I’m completely burned out. That line about the invisible butler tending to everyones needs? Yeah, that’s me to a T. It was a huge adjustment coming from a clean, organized single life to a messy, complicated stepmom life while also dealing with a new husband and a HCBM. Your articles help me so much to have perspective on my new life because I am lost. My hobbies are gone, I barely see my friends, my attention at work is abysmal–and it all has to change.
I feel this too! I feel displaced in my own home every time it’s our week with the kids and my friend (coincidentally) said to me last night before I even read this article that it is ok and even necessary for me to “stake my claim” in the house. I am not sure how to do this. The article mentions it is important but I don’t feel equipped to even begin doing this. Covid times aren’t helping either 🙁
Hey, Colleen! COVID has uprooted so many of us. Start by brainstorming ways you don’t feel like you have an equal say or ability to take up space in your home and discuss them with your partner. You two can start addressing it from there! If you’d like a more in-depth personalized answer, we offer 1-on-1 stepmom coaching.
I can so relate to this entire post. Thank you for sharing with me. I am always dealing with the daughter who is trying to be #1 in my husband’s life. We were just at the beach this week and she would literally be right in front of him the entire time in the ocean. She wouldn’t even allow us to even be near one another. I fee like “the other woman” always when we go anywhere. He holds her hand, but when I want to hold hands he “just can’t it kills his hands.” When they are on the couch together she puts her feet on him and he rubs on her feet. If I get my feet anywhere near him he recoils and says oh god i can’t stand feet get them away from me. I am just around to provide a home, cook, clean and do laundry. atleast that is how it seems.
My heart goes out to you, friend. It’s important to voice how you’re feeling and take up space in your own home. You deserve to not feel like the other woman in your home. If you’d like help talking through how to set boundaries, I’d love to meet for 1-on-1 stepmom support coaching and guide you through this transition.
Thank you for your support. Mine are griwn up stepkids in their thirties,. There was an absence in their contact with their dad whom I am married too. The oldest daughter & dad were always in touch via email etc but Now both her & the son who has not wanted to contact with dad are back in the scene but full on!
The 3 spend hours on WhatsApp? The kids say they want where the dad left off. They want what they had, dad was very close to kids because he did not have relationship with wife but with kids.
I am not able to handle that kind of intense closeness. My husband is the sort who will indulge in what they want regardless who else is in this relationship. I cannot do this.
I have children in their thirties too but mine leave us alone, contact only when needed, they know I am here but they are not needy. His kids need to do the same. Then it will work. We are bearing 70, I don’t want to play happy family with his at this stage of my life. The oldest daughter whom I have had an issue with because the dad was in it too, I don’t trust her ONE bit. She will never let her dad & I be close. My husband has always let her control his life and that won’t change now.
What to do?? Please
This sounds like a lot to tackle in a stage when you thought your stepfamily stressors would have lessened. It’s imperative that you set boundaries to protect your peace right now. Have you considered signing up for 1-on-1 stepmom support coaching so we can talk through this together? https://stepmomming.com/stepmom-support-coaching/