All blended families are different, and they’re all constantly evolving.
My stepmomming philosophy has morphed in phases.
Dating/Engaged: Overly eager to help my boyfriend and to be involved. Desperate for my stepdaughters’ mom to understand that I am not trying to threaten her role (all while totally micro-managing my boyfriend’s communications with her from behind the scenes. Healthy, right?!). Anxious.
Newlywed: Dipping my toes into school pick-ups, drop-offs and meetings with teachers. Starting to form a relationship with my stepdaughters’ mom. Gaining confidence in my role and title of stepmom. Skeptical.
Married 3 years: Rarely thinking about who-has-what-title. Confidently signing my stepdaughters’ homework folder (non-legal), and also confidently sliding the waiver at the jump park to my husband to sign (legal). At peace.
A phase that I have never been through is the mindset of, “These are my husband’s kids, so they are his problem, and I’m not a parent.”
Need help crafting your stepparent philosophy now?
My Stepchildren are Not Optional
Disengaging as a stepmom is both healthy and necessary at times. In fact, disengaging at strategic times has been proven effective at strengthening marriages and stepfamilies, time and time again. It is important for families to create boundaries within their home, and in this case, disengaging can be a great thing!
But if I were to fully switch my mindset to “These are not my kids, so they are 100% the responsibility of my husband when they are with us,” it would be a dealbreaker for him. It’s a mindset that can be hurtful to both my marriage and my stepchildren.
Stepmomming gets stressful, I get it! I am constantly working to improve my mindset in all aspects of life. For example, telling myself I am “just a stepmom” can turn into negative self-talk and have a domino effect on my everyday life. Instead, telling myself “I’m a stepmom!” allows me to move forward in the position confidently. (Don’t forget, the “S-Word” is not a bad word!)
There are countless small mindset exercises like this you can do every day to improve your overall happiness, health, and well-being. If you find you’re stuck in a negative head space of “I have no impact on my stepchildren,” then I’m hoping to show you that accepting your stepchild into your life is not a burden, it’s a blessing.
When I married my husband, I married his kids.
Of course, I didn’t literally marry my stepchildren. And even if you said some sort of vows to your stepchild at your wedding, you didn’t sign the marriage certificate with him or her, either.
But I made a vow, a lifelong promise, to support my husband and everything that comes along with him. Everything that he stands for. Every part of his being.
I married him because I knew him inside and out. I was (and still am) attracted to his character, his principles, and his morals. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live, I will be there for him. That’s what I promised.
It wasn’t a surprise to me that my husband’s children have shaped him. Becoming a father changed him. It made him the man he is today, the man I fell I love with.
Part of his character is his commitment to and love for his child. Like most girls, I wanted to marry a man who would be a great father! A man who would do anything for his child.
So imagine his concern if I, his new wife, told him, “Look, babe. When I married you, I made no commitment to your kids. I did not vow to love or care for them, and I don’t feel it’s my place to do so. So, you’re on your own with parenting them. I’ll help you parent our kids when the time comes.”
Even if my husband was okay with me having this mindset, which I couldn’t imagine he would be, my marriage couldn’t be as strong as if I was able to help him raise his children with compassion and involvement.
Caring about my stepchildren is good for what’s most important: my marriage.
I don’t believe “They are his kids, so they are his problem.”
Accepting that my stepchild is a child who I bear some responsibility for does not mean that I have to run around like Super Stepmom while my husband lounges in the recliner all day. This is not the 1950’s.
I worked to develop a joint parenting mindset with my husband to determine how to parent within our home. What logistically works best for us?
For example, I drive my stepdaughters to school when they’re with us. Do I do it because I’m pretending to be their mom? Or do I drive them to take over as “primary parent” within my home? Am I driving them to prove my worth or my position as their stepmom? NO!
I drive them because their school is just a couple of miles from my work. Logistically, it makes more sense for me to drive them than for my husband to drive them.
My husband picks them up from school when they’re with us. Does he do this because they carry half of his DNA? Does he do this because I told him I won’t, since they’re his kids and therefore, his problem? Nope.
He picks them up because he is off of work at that time, and I am still working. Logistically, it is what works best for us. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?!
There are definitely times that I take a back seat as a stepmom. My husband is the one primarily communicating with my stepchildren’s mom. I don’t try to sign legal documents (since legally I cannot do this!). I don’t try to commit my stepdaughters to new activities, and I don’t initiate conversations with their teachers.
But within my home, despite the areas in which I disengage, I am a parent to my stepchildren. My influence matters, so I always work to make it a good one.
Loving my stepchildren “as my own.”
I love my stepdaughters with my whole heart. Some stepmoms don’t feel a “love” connection with their stepchildren, and that is okay! Some stepmoms just “like” their stepchildren, and others just “tolerate” their stepchildren.
Sometimes, stepmoms get caught up in their feelings (or lack thereof), and it makes them grow distant and resentful toward their stepchildren.
Never be ashamed of your feelings, or lack of feelings! I am a childless stepmom, but I can pretty much guarantee that if I were to have a baby of my own, I would feel a different set of emotions toward him or her than I do my stepdaughters. That’s totally natural!
But, even then, my stepchildren are not optional.
I know that that being an engaged stepmom who loves and cares about my stepchildren doesn’t mean that I will only ever get to do things all together as a big, blended family. My life doesn’t stop when my stepchildren go to their mom’s house. I still get to capitalize on “me time,” date nights, and time with other family members.
There is no manual on “how to be the perfect stepmom,” because she doesn’t exist. Just as there is no one right way to parent, there is no one right way to stepparent. You have to work with your partner to figure out what works best within your home.
I don’t feel any shame in stepping back as a stepmom in certain areas. In fact, it’s important to protect my mental health, as well as respect the roles of Mom and Dad. But it would put a strain on my marriage to live by the motto of “My stepchildren don’t matter to me, and I don’t matter to them.”
No matter how often you see your stepchild, you are making an impact on his life. Whether you sit down tonight with your stepchild to help him with his homework, or send him to his room until his dad comes home, you are making an impact.
Join me as I strive to make the lifelong impact I’m having on my stepdaughters a good one! Accept the challenge and embrace this beautiful family you were given for a reason.
I get it, this is heavy! Need to talk to someone who gets it?
P.S. If you’re at your wit’s end and need help disengaging in a healthy way, here’s what the exhausted stepmom needs to hear.