Stepparenting: it’s just like parenting except it’s a bajillion times harder, you receive a fraction of the support, and you’re not the one calling most of the shots.
When I first became a stepmom, I imagined what my role would look like: my husband and I would be co-decision makers of our home, my stepdaughter and I would immediately hit it off, her mom would recognize my good intentions and be eager to co-parent with me, and everyone would recognize the value I add to my family and appreciate it.
In reality, stepparenting was far more complicated and challenging than I imagined. I felt guilty for my feelings and how they differed from what I thought they should be, I realized I didn’t have a gut instinct or common sense to follow in this role that’s simply not intuitive, and all of that culminated in one of the most isolating, lonely experiences of my life.
Stepparenting is not natural.
Stepparenting is not a natural role. Nowhere else in nature do we see one maternal figure step up to help parent a child that already has involved parents. Shared parenting and stepparenting are manmade, and it can be extremely challenging learning how to navigate these unprecedented dynamics.
The real kicker here is that there’s a ton of pressure to feel and engage naturally in your family. Outsiders have opinions on what your role should be and how involved you should be in your stepchildren’s lives, without ever having experienced your unique struggles.
You are not failing, friend. This sh*t is just really hard.
Stepparenting is not intuitive.
To make matters even more complicated, stepparenting is not an intuitive role.
I’d like to illustrate this point with eggs.
Imagine that parenting your own children is like scrambling an egg, and stepparenting is like poaching an egg. There is certainly some overlap between the two: you need to know how to operate a stove and how to crack an egg.
But there are different tools needed for each, and the best practices and fundamental processes are different. Having grown up your entire life eating and cooking scrambled eggs (and perhaps you’ve even heard that poached eggs aren’t as tasty as their scrambled counterparts) does not equip you to one day be able to walk into the kitchen and poach an egg to perfection.
Your knowledge of parenting roles, what you’ve seen in pop culture of families and ways the mom shows up in her family, and your personal experience growing up—even as a child of divorce—are not applicable experience to one day walk into a blended family and stepmom to perfection.
Further, the actual steps you may need to take as a stepmom (like distancing yourself from stepchildren) can feel completely counterintuitive and counterproductive. But as you grow in this role, you’ll learn that with stepparenting, sometimes less is more.
Stepparenting can feel SO isolating.
Never before in my life have I felt like no one else in the world understood what I was going through, like my feelings were all wrong, and like I was completely failing at something I was so passionate about. Only stepmotherhood.
Stepmoms often feel a lot of shame and guilt for uncomfortable feelings that surface throughout their stepparenting journeys, and that shame often leads to not discussing those struggles with others.
Sometimes stepmoms do open up to loved ones (or therapists) about their struggles, but they’re met with criticism, or pushback at best. “You knew what you were signing up for,” “Suck it up,” and “Think about what the kids are going through” aren’t helpful.
Your experiences are real. Your feelings are valid. You are not a bad stepmother or a failure because you are struggling. You are not alone.
It doesn’t have to be this hard.
I distinctly remember feeling defeated in my early days of stepparenting. I felt like I was failing, and I was so ashamed. I thought my family deserved better than I could give them, and I considered walking away.
But eventually I learned how to tune out other people’s opinions of how I should be acting and feeling, and I learned how to navigate this role in a way that felt authentic to me. I became more secure and happy in my role, and I began to thrive.
I want that for you, too, stepmom. If you’ve been struggling with stepparenting, apply now and find out if stepmom support coaching can help you find peace and confidence in your stepfamily.
P.S. You might relate to these eight common stepparenting struggles.