My sweet stepchild looked up at me with those big beautiful blue eyes and said, “I wish my Mommy and Daddy were still married. You and my stepdad can be like my aunt and uncle because I love you, but this way I can see Mommy and Daddy both every day.”
Divorce and shared custody are difficult for children of divorce. I know firsthand how tough it can be; my parents divorced when I was two years old.
I constantly felt pulled between two people I loved, and I experienced stress a child shouldn’t know. Unless you also grew up a child of divorce, you may not know why your stepchild feels or acts the way he does.
Based on my experience growing up with parents who shared custody and my experience as a stepmom, here’s my top list of 7 things your stepchild wants you to know.
7 Things your Stepchild Wants you to Know
Your Stepchild is not your Spy
Have you ever been guilty of the great stepchild inquisition? It begins innocently enough, “How was your time at Mommy’s?” and morphs into “Did you do your homework? How much TV did you watch? What did you have for dinner? What time did you go to bed? Did you brush your teeth?”
Then, it’s a slippery slope to, “What did Mommy do while you watched TV? Did she have any friends over? Did Mommy cook dinner or make your lunch for school? Did Mommy have you stay at GiGi and Papa’s house?”
Your stepchildren are not your spies. It is not their responsibility to relay what happens at Mommy’s house to you.
Let them be little, and allow them to experience each of their homes in peace without the stress of remembering every detail or the other side of that coin, trying not to share anything incriminating.
Don’t drag children into adult affairs.
Your Stepchild is not your Messenger
Similarly, your stepchild is not your messenger. Do not ask your stepchildren to tell Mommy to send a check for her half of the school photo package, to remind Mommy about the Parent/Teacher Conference on Tuesday at 3, or to tell her that Daddy said he doesn’t have any money to do fun things with him because he pays Mommy too much child support.
Stepkids don’t deserve to pay for their parents’ decisions, and having them act as a messenger is putting them directly in the middle of adult problems.
Find a communication method that works for you: text, co-parenting app, or monthly meeting, and stick to it. If you’re having difficulty communicating effectively, find a new method that does not require you to send messages through your stepchild.
Your Stepchild is not an Extension of his Mom
There might be some similar mannerisms or physical traits that remind you of your stepchild’s mom, but it is important you recognize he is not an extension of her.
Don’t allow your feelings for her to affect how you interact with your stepchild; he can’t help his mannerisms, his look, or his other features that remind you of his mom.
Give him a clean slate, and treat him with respect as his own person separate from his mom.
Your Stepchild is not a Scapegoat
You don’t get to use your stepdaughter or stepson as a scapegoat for your anger. I understand it’s challenging being a stepmom; you’re pushed past your breaking point and you’re exhausted.
Your stepchild’s mom pushes your buttons, and you need somewhere to release that frustration. But your stepchildren are not that place.
Do not hold your stepkids accountable for the mistakes of their parents. Transference of those frustrations from their mother to the kids isn’t fair, and it can damage your relationship with your stepchildren irreparably.
Your Stepchild is Mourning
No matter how much time has passed, your stepchild is still mourning the nuclear family and life he thought he’d have.
In the same way that we need to mourn the life we thought we’d have and the future we thought we were destined for, our stepchildren need to mourn the futures they thought they were sure to live.
Stepparents, custody schedules, two homes… None of it was part of the plan. But our stepchildren are so resilient, and they’re learning to adapt.
Sometimes it may appear they are totally in-tune with this new blended family rhythm, but sometimes they’ll falter, and we will need to extend them a little grace because they, too, are mourning the life they thought they’d have.
Your Stepchild is Confused
Especially if your stepchild was young when his parents divorced, he is having a difficult time comprehending the concept of divorce.
Children only know unconditional love, the kind of love they experience with their parents. They don’t understand the kind of love between a man and wife that is chosen.
Stepchildren have a difficult time comprehending the difference between “Daddy doesn’t love Mommy anymore” and “Daddy doesn’t love me anymore” because to a child, love is love, and there are different types.
Your stepchild is confused, and understandably hurt, by this complex emotional decision he can’t comprehend yet.
Your Stepchild Loves Both of His Parents
No matter how many faults your stepchild’s other parent has, no matter how many times she may fail your stepchild, and no matter how poor of a parent she may be by anyone’s standards, she is the child’s mother, and he loves her.
I’m not suggesting that there’s no merit to your concerns about your stepchild’s other parent’s shortcomings, but I am recommending that you exercise empathy for your stepchild.
Trust me when I say that no matter what happens, your stepchild will always seek his mom’s approval and her love.
Do not downplay her importance in your stepchild’s life, abstain from talking poorly about her in front of your stepchild, and encourage an environment where your stepchild is allowed to love both of his parents.
That’s all your stepchild really needs from you: permission to love all of his parents.
While your natural reaction may be one of frustration, anger, or hurt, try to empathize and understand your stepchild’s perspective before you give in to those feelings.
Instead of being hurt my stepchild wished her Mommy and Daddy were still together, I agreed that I too wish her parents’ marriage would have been strong enough to last a lifetime for her. I love my family, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I understand things would be so much simpler for my little one if her parents hadn’t divorced.
She’s just trying to comprehend everything going on in her little world; she doesn’t mean to hurt anyone with her innocent comment.
But maybe understanding your stepchild’s perspective doesn’t actually make things easier for you, or you still have questions. I offer 1-on-1 stepmom support coaching, and I’d love to talk through your situation with you to help you navigate your stepparenting journey with peace and happiness.
P.S. Now that you better understand your stepchild, now it’s time to bond with your stepchild.