“Sure, Babe. Your ex and her family can live with us for a few months while they work to get their feet on the ground.”
What’s the worst that could happen? And honestly, who am I to tell my new husband of only 4 months that he can’t see his daughter everyday?
Their only other option is to live with the stepdad’s brother, and that’s not really even a viable option. First of all, we’ve never met this guy, and what if he’s bad news? Second, my stepdaughter would have to share a room with her baby sister who can’t sleep through the night. Third, it’s an hour away from her school. She’d have to wake up so early, and that wouldn’t set her up for a successful school day.
So I said “yes” because there wasn’t really another option, even if it meant I’d be uncomfortable.
Of course it made me uncomfortable! We were moving into our dream home, and my husband’s ex would be moving in alongside us? Definitely not my definition of “dream home.” (More on that living arrangement here.)
But if I voiced my opinions and my feelings, it would make things harder on my husband and stepdaughter.
I should suck it up and be uncomfortable for a few months because it would make things better for them, right?
The Societal Idea of a Stepmom
Society makes us feel like we need to give up ourselves and pour our everything into everyone around us when we become a stepmom, but that’s a big fat lie. It’s a load of crap, actually.
Here’s the truth: you do not have to be everything to everyone in your stepfamily. It is not your responsibility to rescue your partner and stepchildren.
Saving them is not in the job description. It’s just not.
Stepmomming is not supposed to be stepping in, taking over, and picking up and putting together all of the broken pieces.
It’s a supporting role, not the lead. Your partner should be taking the lead with the ex. You should be supporting him in his household, focused on loving your family and living your best life despite the added stressors of blended family life.
Supermom is a Myth.
She doesn’t exist. No mom out there has it all together: not me, not the Instagram mom, not your stepkids’ mom.
Life is all about balancing priorities, and blended family life in particular is about balancing your marriage, your family, and yourself.
Did you catch that last one? Self. It’s equally as important as the other two.
Oftentimes, stepmoms put the “step” in step up! We step up to the plate, and we’re up for any challenge this life throws at us.
We take over the scheduling for the family, we pick up the slack with the housework, and we even mend fences with the ex to allow for co-parenting.
We plan birthday parties, help with homework, and are the biggest fans in the crowd.
An Important Part
But we forget something so important. Ourselves.
We volunteer to help with everything and take care of everyone, but we forget to do the things we love. We forget our own needs.
And eventually, the newlywed bliss wears off, and we’re left growing more and more resentful. “Why doesn’t Dad step up and do more around here? If I don’t do this stuff, no one will! Man, this co-parenting stuff is hard – and she’s not even my ex!”
We turn to our friends, family, or online support groups and complain about how we do SO much with no recognition and little appreciation.
Do they even see everything we do and sacrifice for them?
Kicking the Martyr Mindset Once and For All
There’s an important question to ask yourself when you find your thoughts leading here: Did they put you in this place of self-sacrificing serving or did you volunteer for it?
Did you offer to do all pick-ups and drop-offs, to help with all of the homework assignments, to cook each of the meals, and to organize the schedule?
Are you offering to do these things because you think your partner can’t do them? If so, give him a little more credit. The sooner you recognize how truly capable he is, the happier you’ll become.
A good rule of thumb for identifying when to volunteer to help as a stepmom is to ask yourself if you’re doing something because you think you’re supposed to or because you want to. If you want to be softball dugout mom, do it! If you want to do all school pick-ups because you’re the first to hear about your stepdaughter’s day, do it! If you want to plan your stepson’s 7th birthday party, do it!
But when you stop wanting to do something and start volunteering to do things because you think you’re supposed to, that’s when you’re setting yourself up for a life of resentment.
A Harsh Reality
The reality is, you cannot both volunteer to do everything for your stepfamily and complain about all of the work. You have to choose one.
You have a choice to make: either volunteer with a helpful heart or set boundaries so you don’t have to do all of the work you’re complaining about.
If you’re simultaneously volunteering and complaining, you’re acting like a martyr and a victim and actively working against your own happiness.
That last part is pretty powerful, isn’t it? Actively working against your own happiness.
But how do I set boundaries?
If you’re sick of being the martyr for your family and ready to start setting appropriate boundaries, the best place to start is by having a frank conversation with your partner.
Choose a time when you’re both free from distraction and able to talk; the best time for this conversation is not when your partner asks you to pick the kids up from soccer practice tomorrow. Please don’t blow up at them and tell them I empowered you to set boundaries.
Instead, talk at a more convenient time when there’s not a pending task needing assigned responsibility.
And then, lay it all on the line. Tell your partner you thought you needed to do all of these things in the beginning, but you’re starting to see that it’s not a role you’re actually comfortable with. Explain that you’d feel more comfortable if they did what they could for the family first, before they asked for your help, instead of relying on you for most things.
It’s okay to tell your partner you’re starting to feel resentful or underappreciated, and you think this would make you a happier stepmom and wife.
When we are our best selves, we can show up better for everyone else, in a role that we’re comfortable with.
Once your partner hears you’ll be happier and will show up better for everyone, it’ll be an easy conversation.
Becoming a stepparent shouldn’t wear you thin and make you lose yourself. It shouldn’t make you resentful for having to make up for someone else’s mistakes or inadequacies.
You should love being a stepmom.
You deserve a life you love.
And if you aren’t sure how to build a stepfamily life you love, book a 1-on-1 stepmom support coaching session, and let’s work together to identify the role you want to play in your family, boundaries you should be setting, and a self-care routine that will prevent you from losing yourself in the role.
P.S. Are you still feeling exhausted, stepmom? Remember that it’s okay to take up space.
2 thoughts on “Kicking the Stepmom Martyr Mindset Once and For All!”
This very example has happened to me more than once. Well, not the ex-moving in but the oldest step-daughter for a summer or periods of indefinite “full-time” and I feel I cannot say no. In your case above, how could you have done it differently? I would have been compelled to say yes too, because “how else will they manage?” and “my husband will resent me for not helping his daughter.” I feel like I am losing my footing on a lot of things. (my husband is wonderful and trying to be supportive but what to do in these situations?)
“No” is a complete sentence. I would have said “I’m uncomfortable with that and think it would impact our home life.” That is a sufficient answer, and he’s welcome to offer a different type of assistance if he would like, but our partners want to protect us, and I know if I had told him no that he would have wanted to protect me. Looking back, it felt monumental that I agree, but today that season of my life feels more like a blip on the radar.