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The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting

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I’ve fallen victim to the harsh realities of stepparenting, but I’m here to tell you I will prevail!

I don’t need you to tell me I’m not a “real mom” (whatever that means anyway). Pointing out that my stepdaughter already has a mom and suggesting that my value is diminished because I haven’t given birth don’t sit right with me.

I’m a proud stepmom. 

I’m not trying to replace my stepdaughter’s mom. I have no ulterior motives. I just have a lot of love to give my little family, and I’m thrilled with my own role as mom in my home.

The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting

Stepmothers are mothers too.

I haven’t given birth or experienced the sleepless nights or colicky fits of a newborn, but I have attended Kindergarten graduation, given a standing ovation at her first dance recital, celebrated four of her eight birthdays with her, and cheered her on as her softball dugout mom.

I have wiped away her tears, cleaned up her vomit, and taught her life lessons.

I’m not here to spread animosity. I wholeheartedly believe the people who say these things never meant to hurt me with their words. But still there are millions of people in the world that would agree I am not a mother, so I’m here to share the realities of stepparenting to all that are unfamiliar and uninformed.

A mother’s relationship is not defined by DNA, but by love instead.

Biological mothers and stepmothers are different sides of the same coin, both providing endless love and support to the child. One of the realities of stepparenting is that it is not a glorious job, but you do it because you love the child and her father. Here are seven harsh realities of stepparenting you should know before signing up for the job.

7 Harsh Realities of Stepparenting

A biological mother’s love is unconditional. A stepmother’s love is chosen.

Carrying and nurturing a baby for 9 months creates an indescribable, unparalleled bond between mother and child. Feeding a child and giving her life only strengthens that bond. There is no question that a biological mother’s love is unconditional from the very start.

A stepmother isn’t given the same opportunity. She will learn to love, care for, and supplement maternal raising when a child is older. A stepmom chooses every single day to love a man and his child when she has no natural obligation to either of them. She willingly chooses a backstage role, always second to Mom, because she loves the child so much.

A biological mother’s adoration is inherent. A stepmother’s adoration is earned.

A biological mother breeds her biggest cheerleaders. She has an entire cheering section with whom she shares DNA. My mom is one of my very best friends; we can fight and make up within the same phone call. A child will defend her mother without pause her entire life.

It takes a lot more for a stepmom to earn a similar adoration. Her stepchildren will be skeptical, they’ll want Mommy and Daddy to get back together, and they’ll try not to like her. A stepmom will accept the challenge head-on and provide as much or as little support as the child will allow. Only by respecting the child’s boundaries and pace of acceptance will a stepmother’s love and respect of her stepchildren be earned.

A biological mother is irreplaceable. A stepmother has no legal rights.

It’s so important I’ll say it again: a biological mother is irreplaceable. A stepmother’s role is never to replace a biological mother, but to supplement the relationship only. Every child needs his or her mother, and nothing can change that. 

But I can tell you from experience that the love I have for my stepdaughter is also unconditional and irreplaceable. Yet if something happened to her father tomorrow (God forbid!), I’d legally have no right to her except one weekend per month during school and one week per summertime that I’d have to share with all of Kevin’s family. And that’s only because it was already worked into their custody agreement. Not all widowed stepparents have this opportunity.

I’d go from seeing my stepdaughter nearly every single day to barely 5% of the year. My best friend, my child would become a stranger. I’d no longer know who her best friends on the playground are, what she’s learning this week at school, or the latest trends in the first grade.

A biological mother gets credit. A stepmother gets mocked as “evil.”

Muffins with Moms, Mother’s Day, and special ornaments and presents sent home for Mom from school at Christmastime. A biological mom is recognized and will receive accolades for her role. How often have you heard a mother complimented for how well her daughter performed or how brilliant her daughter is?

Granted, Cinderella and Snow White had it pretty bad in the stepmom department, but I promise you, my stepdaughter is living the good life. She has food on her plate, a big roof over her head, and more love than her little heart can handle.

I’m not a stepmom because I want to hear how awesome I am, but I certainly invest time, money, and endless energy in helping raise that brilliant little girl. Instead of hearing the compliment for how well my daughter performed, I hear jokes about and comparisons to evil stepmothers.

A biological mother receives attention. A stepmother gives attention.

The reality is that a child is going to look for her biological mother in the crowd at a soccer game long before she thinks to see if her stepmom is there cheering her on as well. A mother will receive the first hug after a choir performance and will be the first one to hear about how amazing her new book is.

On the other hand, a stepmom gets her stepdaughter’s uniform washed and helps her get ready for the soccer game. She records the entire choir performance from the audience, and she’s the one that purchased the new book. She gives her stepchild ample attention and does her best to make her feel comfortable, normal, and loved–all of the same things her biological mother does, with far less reciprocity.

A biological mother has cheerleaders. A stepmother has critics.

It is an American norm to side with the biological mother. Many custody arrangements favor the mother, and that only furthers the idea that we should support mothers. No matter the reason for the split or the mother’s past, habits, or the company she keeps, friends and family of the child’s parents will continue to support the mother and cheer her on.

Stepmothers aren’t given the benefit of the doubt, and they’re seen as causes for speculation and skepticism. A stepmother is rarely accepted from the beginning; she is quizzed on her beliefs, morals, education, experience with children, and intentions with the child’s father.

In the spirit of being protective, friends and family tear a stepmother apart while screening her. And sometimes you never pass the test and are always kept at a distance simply because you’re not related to the child, no matter how much you love her or how good of a mother you are.

A biological mother gives birth. A stepmother gives hugs, advice, and love, too.

It is a stepmother’s job to give hugs and provide maternal love when the child is at her father’s house. A stepmom packs lunches and prepares dinner, helps with homework, and plays tickle monster too, just as a biological mother does. She listens to a child’s stories from school and offers advice. Both moms instill values, teach life lessons, and assure the child feels loved and cherished.

And that is the reason I was so offended by the assertion I’m not a mother. What more could you want for your child?

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Being a stepparent is not a glorious job, but it is immensely fulfilling.

At the end of the day, being a stepparent is grueling, trying, and emotionally draining. You’ll be judged and torn apart, no matter how great of a job you’re doing. You’ll give love and support with little reciprocity or recognition. Stepparenting is hard.

The reality is, being a stepmother is a choice to love, nurture, and help a child grow.

It is not about the glory, and it is definitely not an attempt to replace the crucial role that only a biological mother can fill, but it is a supplement to that role. A biological mother and a stepmother work toward the same goal. Both want to raise brilliant, successful, beautiful children.

Each has a different, unique role. Each provides perspective and value the other can’t. Both are mothers.

So, let me ask you this…

Have you thanked your child’s stepmom lately?


P.S. The harshest reality for me was realizing the sacrifice I made and the invisible load I carry as a stepmom.

The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting
The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting
The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting
The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting
The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting
The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting
The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting

51 thoughts on “The Harsh Realities of Stepparenting”

  1. I’m both a mother and a stepmother – and I totally understand the struggles that you are going through. But, I have to gently disagree with you on Mother’s Day. I love my stepchildren immensely, but I also understand my role of unconditional love means that I don’t get to trump Mom on that one day per year, intentional or not. (This, of course, is different if the bio mom is out of the picture for any reason.) I don’t know how long you’ve been a stepmom now, but I’ve been one more than a decade and rising. Your child need to understand, no matter what role you have, that her own mother is the most important mother in her life … your child WILL recognize you, without your need to be recognized. It will happen. Letting Mom make the decision on what role you play on Mother’s Day is important. It’s also what being a new spouse, and an awesome coparent, means.

    • Hi, June! Thank you so much for stopping by!! 🙂

      I celebrated both my mom and stepmom growing up. I spent the day with my mom, but I always sent a card and made a phone call to my stepmom. (Same with Father’s Day!) While of course I don’t think a stepmother should be front-and-center on Mother’s Day, I do believe her contribution should be recognized (If nothing else, it should be recognized by her husband).

      The annecdote happened to fall on Mother’s Day. The point of the story was that she insisted I wasn’t a mother, and I am. Just as you are and other stepparents are. Not as significant of mothers, but mothers nonetheless.

      I truly appreciate you stopping by and sharing your insights as a long-time stepmom 🙂

  2. And thats exactly why I made sure I sent my step mother a card this year. She might be my dads ex-wife but she was there for me in so many moments as mom, as a woman who loved me as a child, that I can’t forget about her this weekend <3

  3. This is a great post! As both a mom and a step mom I can honestly say that I don’t love either less or more than the other. My goal for all of my children is for them to become what they want to be and to thrive in this life. I have been a step mom for six years now and it is a grueling job. It is an odd possition. It is like you said a choice. While I am much like you in loving my step son unconditionally and raising him as though he were my own I do know that not all women (and men as step dads) step up to that plate when they marry someone with children. If you love someone who has kids and plan to marry that person you must plan to marry their children as well. When you are a birth parent you have the grace period to realize that your not what or who comes first anymore as a step parent we must make that decision at the time that we make the commitment to our spouse. While it is never my intention to replace my step sons mom I do treat him and raise him as though he were my own and respectively hope to be treated like a mom from him when he is around. People also have to look at it from an adoption side too. Those who adopt a child or foster a child are no more a biological parent but they take that child in and love and care for that child as though they were their own.

    • You’re so right, Amber! It’s not about DNA, and it’s definitely about the choice. It’s hard for some people who’ve never been in a step family to understand the commitment you’re entering into when you marry a single parent.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Amber!! ❤️

  4. I never was in this situation but I agree that you absolutely are a mother. Just because you didn’t birth the child doesn’t mean you can’t be a mom. You are there for her and take care of her. Your love is all that matters.

    • Thanks for the support, Sarah! I think people disagree with the assertion that I’m a mom because they think our daughter can only have one. But she has two! I never want to replace her mom. I just want to be an extra mom ?

  5. This is beautifully and honestly written ! I love it . I’ve never really thought about all this for stepmothers and though I don’t necessarily relate to this , I have a dear friend who can. She will soon be married and become a stepmother and she does have her own daughter but blending the two families I’m sure will have its struggles. I’m going to share this with her. Thank you ! ❤️ And happy Mother’s Day !

    • Happy Mother’s Day to you too Natalie! Thanks so much for your support and for sharing our article. It’s a unique position and definitely should come with some sort of rule book 😉

  6. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Even I found what you MIL said a bit harsh and hurtful. Whether she was for you and your guys relationship, it shouldn’t limit THE REST OF HIM. Everything that is him is yours. I’m so proud of you for loving his child anyway. For giving him your best, and sharing your guy with him accordingly. You are a great person, a great stepmother nonetheless. I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day..you too should be celebrated. I wish I had a stepmom. I wish I had a mom period. Thank you for having a good heart! xoxo – Maria | https://imommy.co

  7. My dearest friend is a mother and step-mom and she has a very difficult time (step-kids are teenagers).. that’s hard enough as is. It’s tough relationship to navigate through but I’m glad there are step-moms out there like yourself that see no DNA and just love on their kiddos.

    • It’s so challenging, especially when the stepchildren are older. The stepparent role is so difficult to navigate, especially when there’s tension with the stepchildren. I’d just recommend that she keep letting them know she’s there for them when they’re ready to let her in.

  8. I am not a stepmom myself, but am so thankful for my son’s stepmom, who I am comfortable calling a friend. It’s such a relief to know that whenever my son is with his dad he has a great stepmom who loves him like her own and treats him the same. Sounds like you have a great attitude about something that a lot of people struggle so much with – happy Mother’s Day!

    • That’s such a great perspective, Jamie! Your son’s stepmom is so lucky to have such an accepting and appreciative bio mom to co-parent with!! I’m so lucky to have a great relationship with Amanda, my stepdaughter’s mom.

  9. Thank you for such an honest post. I can only imagine the pain that you felt when you were not acknowledged as a mother. Step parents have such a tough job, but it sounds like you are up to the challenge.

  10. Unfortunately or fortunately (both?) I have zero experience with stepmoms. I never had one and I’m not one. I’ve never even met one (I am a bit of a social recluse though). But regardless, I’m glad to have read this post because *sing-songy* “the more you know”

  11. I have been stepmom to two amazing people for the last 25 years. It is a unique situation since I knew them since they came into this world. I love them as deeply as my birth son, and would do absolutely anything for them. At first because I love their father, and as time went on, because I love them. They have been a sibling to my son and to watch their childlike relationship turn into an adult sibling relationship warms my heart whenever I see them together. I can identify with all the obstacles you’ve described for us stepmoms. I think I’ve felt them all. But with so much love, support, and so many expeirences together, they’ve pretty much disappeared. Some occasions still sting a little, but I deal with it and move on, knowing it doesnt mean they love me less than their birth mother, just a little differently. I’m so grateful to have these kids in my family, and when anyone asks how many kids I have I answer “three” without hesitation. DNA is not the only thing that makes me a mom. I’ve been the best one I can be to all my kids. I’m sure I’ve made mistakes, and it’s hard to accept that since in my mind I’ve given parenting %110, but parenting is always that way wether your a biological parent or not. Thanks for your article I will share with my co-parenting friends.

  12. It’s an interesting article and it provides what I think a good insight. Please allow me to express my views too. Bear with me, it’s been a long long day … and I might ramble a bit!

    There are no real parents and non-real parents in this world …. there are only parents. This is in-line with real families and patchwork families …. there are just families. Grant it, if you wish to be pedantic you can play the biological vs non-biological card. A stepmom does not go through the pregnancy and what goes on after that ….. exactly just like …. all fathers, yes even the biological ones. But a father develops slowly that magical bond after the birth, when the child is growing up and needs care and support. And so does a step-parent, adoptive parent etc.

    A child does not need a mother or a father … a child needs love, safety, protection, attention, guidance and any parent can give that. A parent’s role is to nurture. The parent … any parent is never thanked enough, in the traditional “thank you” way for the sweat and the tears and the hard work. Instead the thanks come in subtly when not expected ….. through seeing accomplishments, through very small but very important gestures; and no one needs to wait for mother’s day for these … they happen throughout the year.

    So screw the naysayers and the critics and the MILs of this world. If you wish to be a parent and have the opportunity … take it head-on. Because wanting it seriously is all it takes … spread your love and look forward …. wear your “Parent” badge with pride. Be the unsung hero and feel great.

  13. Step parenting is sometimes a lose lose situation. No matter what you do, every action may be dpubted. If there is a fight, its ofcourse ypur fsult. If you discipline the child, “why are you doing that – not your child”. If you dont, then its “ofcourse you cant be bothered – not your child”.
    But i guess the hugs and kisses and cuddles and that bond make it all okay. As children grow, they will realize it is a choice you made and will value and respect you for it. All the best momma!

    • You’re right that it can be a very difficult relationship to navigate! It’s a very delicate balance between parenting and being involved without being over-involved. I’m so lucky to have a co-parenting partner to work with (K’s mom) that not only invites me in but respects me too.

  14. This was a wonderful read. While I am not a Step- Mother, there is a wonderful one in my life. My Daughter’s. This article made me think of the past Mother’s Day’s and I realized my Daughter has never acknowledged her Step- Mom on Mother’s Day. Not because I see it in a negative way but because it never crossed my mind. Probably because my Daughter’s Father and Step Mother have 2 beautiful boys together and carry on with their own traditions. However I think now it will become a tradition that OUR Daughter makes sure to celebrate her Step Mom as well. I couldn’t have asked for a more loving one for her.

    • Tara, this is so beautiful! Your daughter’s stepmom is lucky to have a birth mom that respects her so much! I love that my words inspired you to honor her on Mother’s Day too. I really appreciate you commenting and sharing your perspective!

  15. I have been a stepmom for 8 years, and I am unable to have children of my own. This article is spot on, and heart breakingly so. My children’s mother is not part of their life, until it’s convenient for her. She has visited the children once in 2 years, and calls every 6-8 months. I am mom everyday, but when she pops up in their lives, I am nothing. It’s completely hurtful. I never get recognized for Mothers day, but must spend hours helping the kids prepare gifts for a woman who ignores them. I love my husband, and I love my kids, but there’s a lot of times that I think being a step parent sucks.

  16. This made my heart flutter. I am a stepmom and love my daughter but it gets hard when it becomes apparent that we still have to “stay in our lane”. We give them so much and worry about their well-being so much, but there is only so far we can go with parenting. Thank goodness our love can go far.

  17. I have to disagree that a biological love is unconditional. This is why social services take so many kids away every year. You choose to love any children or not. I love all our kids: his, mine, and ours. Not every kids is lucky enough to have love and support. If that love and support comes from Mom, Step-Mom, Foster Dad, Grandparent, or neighbor, does it matter?

  18. I wish my daughters had a step mum like you. My ex has a new gf who does care about our kids, but hates me (due to my ex lying about me) and makes her feelings well known to my kids.

    They are always telling me that gf hates me, thinks im a liar and a horrible parent.

    I wish i could help the gf see i am not her enemy, im willing to have her in my kids lives, and that her telling my kids these things is destroying her relationship with the kids.

    They are beginning to hate her because of the pressure and hate she puts on their tiny shoulders. ?

  19. I completely understand where you are coming from, but one thing that stood out for me from the beginning of the article is that your MIL made this comment while you were still your intended’s fiancé and you had only been living together for 6 months. Everyone has different ideas as to whom should be called stepmom or not based on whether the couple is legally married or not and it is a valid conversation with no necessarily right or wrong answers. Your MIL may have never even thought about it until that moment and voiced her speculation based on possibly “old school mentality.” Married=Stepmom. I’m glad you recognized that she had no malice in her heart when she voiced her query. I am hoping that your fiancé responded with the many motherly attributes you have so lovingly already contributed and regardless of whether you are legally considered stepmother, you definitely have already been portraying the part and truly deserve the recognition and gesture of appreciation, for that is what the holiday is designed to do.

    My situation is a bit different, because my hubby has custody and BM only sees the kids for visitation. We have had many issues with her both personally and legally as she is an alcoholic and has mental issues. I have 3 grown children and 4 grandchildren and willingly took on the role as stepmother to the oldest and mother to my 2 youngest stepchildren. We are in the process of seeking adoption for the 2 youngest now. Yet, each Mother’s Day, the children will make their BM a card with my prompting. My husband has been an amazing encourager and role model for our children and extended family, including my MIL. He prompts the kids to make their BM a card, but goes out of his way to include them in getting flowers, cards, special dinner, etc., for me. They call me, Mamma T. Their BM hates it, but seriously does nothing to try to be a good mother for them. In fact, she’s been a horrible example to the oldest and has lead her into full rebellion resulting in a drug arrest before her 18th birthday. BM vehemently states that she is their mother no matter what. I have taught them to be respectful to her, regardless. I know that they’ve told her that, yes, she’s their BM, but Mamma T is being the mother they’ve always wanted and needed. I truly wished for the children’s sake that we could work together, but she refuses. She has actually thanked me several times in the past for being such a good mother to them, even though she is passively aggressive often with petty behaviors. The most important thing is to keep in mind, not what others think or try to project, but what you are truly being for the children. I’m thinking that if your MIL realized you were hurt, she would hurt for you, as well. We all voice our thoughts at times without realizing how it might affect others. I hope for your sake and for hers that you can forgive her. A good MIL is a rare gem. Sorry if I rambled, but your article touched my heart and I felt the need to express.

    • Hi Terri! Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. Yes, of course! My MIL and I have a great relationship, and all is forgiven. I completely understand where she was coming from – exactly like you said, Married=Stepmom, and even though I knew everything I was doing that equated to being a stepmom without the 2nd ring, not everyone else could see that.

      I respect your response and always understand that there will be differences of opinions on the terminology, rules, or feelings when we’re discussing anything stepfamily 🙂

    • I am the step mom of a teenager she wasn’t when I became her step mom she was then 11 we had a great start but since she’s been going back to her mother’s it’s been hard she all of a sudden tells me she don’t like me an only tolerates me because of her dad he’s talked to her an it gets better but then goes back to her mother who kicked her out of their house I’ve never tried to take her place when she talked bad about her at first I told her not to but something has went wrong so pleas help me with this if you can I am at my wits in thank yall

  20. I am the step mom of a teenager she wasn’t when I became her step mom she was then 11 we had a great start but since she’s been going back to her mother’s it’s been hard she all of a sudden tells me she don’t like me an only tolerates me because of her dad he’s talked to her an it gets better but then goes back to her mother who kicked her out of their house I’ve never tried to take her place when she talked bad about her at first I told her not to but something has went wrong so pleas help me with this if you can I am at my wits in thank yall

  21. The step mothers are addition to a previous built family structure as you said, Kristen. I agree. But since the children are the parents children, the parents should be taking care of their own children, for example, the fathers should be stepping up to the plate to pick up their kids, make them dinners, wash up vomits, comforting upset children… The step mom should just be a good wife, instead of trying to do many “mother” things to the children. The more they try to be good “mothers” instead of good wives only, the more the biological mother will feel jealousy, threatened and upset with the ex husband for dishing his duties to another woman.

    • Stepmoms should definitely focus on being good wives first, but there’s nothing wrong with them also doing parental tasks as long as it isn’t encroaching on dad’s role.

  22. I appreciate your hard work, dedication, maturity and willingness to make it work. Wish everyone could put the kids first!!! But you are not the mom! My kid has me and the stepmom. The stepmoms choose the dads, not the kids! The kids are a package deal and you just do your best in the given situation. It is not fair to ask the kids to give the stepparents a role equal to the real parents’. Now if you’d adopt a kid, that’d be different, but you are just a spouse who got something extra in the marriage deal. And I find it disrespectful to the real parents for a kid to treat the stepparents on the same level as the real parents.

    • I completely agree I’m not the mom and that my role is entirely separate, but I respectfully disagree with your opinion that it is disrespectful for a stepchild to treat the stepparent with the same amount of respect as Mom or Dad. In our home, it works for us that my stepdaughter respects me as an equal parent but I defer to my husband (and her mom!) on the bigger parenting decisions.

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