I’ve heard becoming a stepmom likened to picking up the controller and pressing play on a paused video game. Learning to adapt to norms, defining your role and determining where you fit in, and building relationships are just a few of the adjustments to prepare for in this next chapter. As part of that process, you may experience outsider syndrome, when you feel like an outsider in your own family.
Sometimes it’s obvious. Your partner’s children walk into the room and ignore you. They only want to talk to their parent, not you. They only wish their parent goodnight. In extreme instances, they might act like you don’t even exist.
Sometimes it’s more subtle. It’s an inside joke you don’t know about. It’s them requesting their favorite meal, a dish you’ve never made before. You’re all three cuddled on the couch for movie night, but they’re sharing a blanket. To the naked eye, nothing is awry, but to you, it’s obvious you’re on the outside.
So, how can you overcome outsider syndrome as a stepmom?
Third Wheel Stepmom: How to Overcome Feeling Like an Outsider
I have been in your shoes, friend. There was a time when I felt like I was an outsider in my own story.
When they’d cuddle while we all watched a movie together, I’d feel like the odd man out.
When Krista would finish a big performance or softball game, she’d run to her mom and dad, not to me.
When Kevin and Krista would swap stories about things that happened in the past, I was reminded I wasn’t there for the “once upon a time” part of their story.
No matter the ages of your stepchildren and whether or not the other parent is in the picture, the same strategies still apply for overcoming outsider syndrome as a stepmom.
Spend 1-on-1 time with your stepkids.
One of the easiest ways to move past feeling like an outsider is to bond with your stepchildren. The closer of a relationship you can develop with them outside of your partner, the more comfortable things will feel in the larger group setting.
This will likely feel intimidating at first. Choose to find small pockets of time where you can provide your undivided attention to your stepchild and focus on getting to know them better, and allowing them to get to know you better.
We want this relationship to develop naturally, and small pockets of time are easier to manage for both you and your stepchild. Those small moments will add up, and eventually, you’ll find that you both feel more comfortable with each other.
Then, when the entire family is together, you’ll begin to feel more like a part of the family, and less like an outsider. You’ll now have bonds tying you to your stepchildren too, not just your partner.
Discuss your concerns with your partner.
If you find yourself consistently feeling like an outsider in your stepfamily and your partner is inadvertently adding to those feelings, explain to them what they’re doing and how it makes you feel.
Your partner will likely never understand your perspective, and you’ll never understand theirs. There’s a good chance your partner doesn’t see the things that are making you feel left out, and I’m certain it’s unintentional.
Cluing your partner into the ways they may be exacerbating your outsider syndrome can help you eliminate (or reduce) some of the isolating behavior.
Feel free to excuse yourself from awkward moments.
If you’re caught in a moment where you’re feeling left out, you’re allowed to excuse yourself.
You don’t have to continue being uncomfortable to make others feel more comfortable. It’s okay to take up space.
I don’t advise making a big deal about your departure, but you are always entitled to remove yourself from situations that cost you your peace.
We tend to be more sensitive in our stepfamilies when we are burned out and haven’t been taking care of ourselves first.
If you’re feeling like an outsider, it may be time to add more self-care to your routine. When we feel in balance internally, it helps us to have more balanced relationships externally.
Give yourself grace.
Stepmomming ain’t easy. There’s an emotional toll to process that I don’t think any of us could have imagined when we first became a stepmom.
If you are experiencing outsider syndrome, please know that so many other stepmoms are experiencing these same feelings. You are not alone in this journey. What you are going through right now is only temporary.
If you’d like to talk to someone who gets it and can provide personalized feedback for your struggles, book a complimentary 30-minute intro call, and let’s discuss if stepmom coaching would be a good fit for you!
P.S. Read my no-nonsense guide to bonding with your stepchildren and let me know if it helps!