My stepdaughter’s mom, stepdad, and baby sister just moved out after living with my husband and me for three months. Yep, you read that right. My husband’s ex-wife and I lived under the same roof for a quarter of a year.
I had to learn a few lessons the hard way, and though you probably won’t find yourself under the same roof with your husband’s ex, they’re still important lessons for any stepmom in a co-parenting relationship.
What I Learned From Being Roommates with my Stepdaughter’s Mom
The Importance of Boundaries
The concept of boundaries felt foreign to me when Amanda moved in. There are really obvious boundaries when you live in separate homes; you know that if you walk out of your bedroom and into the kitchen and see his ex making a sandwich that crosses a boundary. But when you live under the same roof, those same rules don’t apply.
When they first moved in, Amanda went as quickly as she could to unpack their belongings to ensure we wouldn’t be living with a mess. It was super thoughtful of her, but for me, it was really overwhelming. My husband and I had actually just purchased this new home and moved in ourselves less than a week before they did. She was quick to fill up wall space that I hadn’t had a chance to fill yet, and I learned the hard way that decorating this new space was a boundary of mine.
In every stepmom/mom relationship, there need to be boundaries. Those are going to vary for each relationship, but they need to be identified. Examples of common boundaries are not allowing another woman into your home, or texting about anything pertinent to your stepchildren during agreed-upon hours. Boundaries aren’t one size fit all, so set the boundaries that make sense for you.
Stepmom is #2
Another lesson I learned the hard way is that stepmom is number 2. It sounds obvious, right? Yet somehow I hadn’t learned it or accepted it or just didn’t want to see what was right in front of my eyes. I spend so much time with my stepdaughter during the week; I pick her up from school three days a week and it’s just the two of us until Dad gets home from work a couple of hours later. We share inside jokes, have daily routines, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. She’s my little sidekick.
But as soon as Mom moved in, our relationship got moved to the back burner. Mom stays at home during the day, so she was always there when we returned from school. My stepdaughter forgot our routines and instead went upstairs to see Mommy and Sister after school. She didn’t see the custody schedule and instead just chose to spend time with whomever she wanted – the way things should be for a 7 year old!
But for this grown up, the feelings of inferiority and jealousy were hard to deny. I had to come to grips with the fact that no matter how close my little one and I are, I’ll never be as special to her as her mom is. I know that we are buddies and she’s my sidekick and we can continue to be buddies without my being her first choice. At its core, stepparenting is about choosing someone else even when you know you’re not first choice. I know this, and yet it still stings a little.
Though it was a tough lesson to learn, it was critical that I face the facts.
No Matter How Good You Are, Being the 2nd Wife Sucks
I thought I had fully accepted that I was my husband’s second wife; I do believe with all of my heart that doesn’t mean second choice or second best. But having his first wife prepare his dinner for him (and the rest of us) was more than I could stomach some days. It’s not typical that a stepmom has to see her husband’s ex-wife prepare the same dishes she cooked when they were married. It made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job as his wife. It sounds petty, but I felt it very powerfully and personally.
Perhaps I’ll always have deep-rooted insecurities that only arise in extraordinary circumstances. Or maybe it’s just being put in this weird position.
I know that I’m my husband’s first choice today, and I know that it doesn’t matter who cooks dinner. And I also know that stepparenting is a complex, emotion-laden role and responsibility.
You don’t have to be roommates with your husband’s ex to implement the lessons I learned from my unique living situation. Remember to set boundaries, accept your role as #2, and allow yourself to feel the emotions that come with your unique role. When you know where you stand and embrace your role and the boundaries you need in order to flourish in your role, you are better prepared for those overwhelming days.
Have you had to learn any stepmom lessons the hard way? Let me know in the comments below.
P.S. Did you relate to any of my lessons? You should check out 7 Harsh Realities of Stepparenting: Are Stepparents “Real” Parents?