Stepmom in Training: 20 Tips and Things I’ve Learned So Far
“Stepmoms deserve the same respect a mother would receive. They pour all of their time, energy and love into a child they didn’t even create. Stepmoms don’t do it because they have to. They do it because they want to.”-unknown
In honor of Stepmother’s Day today, May 19th, I’m writing my first blog post about being in my still fairly new stepmom role. Taking on the role of stepmom in a blended family is one of the most difficult, confusing, complicated and sometimes traumatic life transitions out there, in my opinion. It’s tricky to navigate and I oftentimes feel like I’m constantly walking on eggshells, especially for the first few years. You may often feel that you can’t ever say or do anything right… “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” isn’t a great place to be living…
You may feel like the odd one out, and it can be an incredibly lonely time where you feel sad, frustrated, misunderstood, labeled, scapegoated, and alienated. Stepmoms go through their own stages of blending / grief that involves everything from optimism, bribery, jealousy, guilt, shame, anger, and isolation. You may cycle around these stages several times before everyone finally feels (somewhat) blended together. Even several years in, you may still be trying to figure out what exactly your role is in the family. Therapists say it takes double the child’s age when you came into the picture for them to fully accept you as part of their family, although there are exceptions.
All of these emotions, stages, and dynamics can even bring up past trauma, new trauma or both for many stepmoms. Since I’ve been in this role, I have a newfound respect and appreciation for stepmothers. To succeed in this role, one needs to nurture a relentlessly positive attitude: one that is loving, compassionate, understanding, humble, forgiving, patient, and evolved. Talk about a nearly impossible challenge!Stepmoms deserve all of the love, appreciation, support, acknowledgement, admiration, respect, and kindness that stepdads and biological parents receive.. Perhaps most importantly, they deserve forgiveness for not getting everything perfectly right. Love is abundant and there is more than enough love to go around!
Stepmother’s Day: The Sunday After Mother’s Day
Stepmothers often play the role of mothers — they care for and help raise their stepchildren, provide them with time and energy, and give emotional (and sometimes financial) support. Mother’s Day is often an uncomfortable day for them, where they may not get acknowledged at all or may feel awkward for being honored. They may also feel that they do not want to get in between the biological mothers and their children on this day as well.
Stepmother’s Day honors the separate and unique relationship and bond that stepmothers have with their stepchildren. Lizzie Capuzzi, a nine-year-old from Pennsylvania who wanted to celebrate her stepmother, Joyce, created Stepmother’s Day in 2000. She decided it should be celebrated the Sunday after Mother’s Day, and Joyce and Lizzie let Senator Rick Santorum from Winchester, Virgina know about the day by sending him a letter. On July 11, 2000, Santorum spoke on the Senate floor, supporting stepparents, acknowledging the day, and that Lizzie created it. This was published in the Congressional Record.
20 Tips + Advice for New, Young or Childless Stepmoms
I’ve been in this role for the past three years and will officially take on the title of “Stepmom” next June. I compiled this list of tips and advice mostly for young, new or childless stepmoms (stepmoms without their own biological children), but these would apply to any type of stepmom.
- Clean up your music and playlists. I learned this one the hard way and accidently had some music on that had some not-so-polite words and phrases around the 16-year-old. Oops!
- Clean up your language. Nothing more needs to be said on this one. But going from no children to being around children instantly (without the gradual development and adjustment that comes from having a baby, toddler, adolescent, etc.) doesn’t give you much time to prepare.
- Never say anything negative about the biological mom (BM). Only say positive things – even if what you’re saying seems neutral or like you’re just being refreshingly honest / speaking your truth, in the most kind way possible. It never goes well and the kids will inevitably take it the wrong way. You may then be accused of badmouthing their mom. It’s best to bite your tongue as much as possible, which is even more difficult if the bio mom has her own negativity and hostility towards you. It doesn’t matter what she says about you, kill her (and the kids) with kindness.
- Stay as emotionally UNINVOLVED as possible with the kids. In the most loving way possible, at least for the first few years. I know this sounds bad, but it can save your sanity and make things go much more smoothly for everyone.. Take a step back whenever you notice yourself getting too wrapped up in the drama or the kids’ activities, choices, behaviors or even the parenting decisions. This doesn’t mean don’t love on them or hang out with them–just do so more as a friend than a parent figure.
- Be friendly with the ex-wife, if possible. Try to extend the olive branch. Schedule a time to get together for coffee (with your partner, and even hers, if that makes things more comfortable). Be careful, though, because although you’re going into this with good, peaceful intentions, that doesn’t mean she is. Brace yourself. If she refuses to be friendly and won’t give you a chance, remember it’s not about you, it’s about her and her own stuff–most likely unresolved issues with your partner / her ex-husband. Still try to be as friendly as possible when you run into her later on, even if she ignores you or tries to exclude you from the family.
- Stay as uninvolved as possible with the ex-wife. If the above fails, take a step back. Especially if she is hostile and uninterested in getting along. The only way to play with someone like this is to not play at all. If there is conflict between her and your partner, it’s their problem, not yours–even if you’re the one that’s blamed for the family drama. They had their own issues long before you came around, and you are most likely just triggering up all their stuff. Even if things go well, and you and his ex get along, still take a step back and focus more on yourself and your relationship with your partner.
- Don’t take the kids to Victoria’s Secret. No matter what. Not even to get a prank or gag gift. Don’t ask… 😉
- Don’t discipline the kids or tell them what to do. Even if your partner is a permissive parent and needs to work on his/her parenting and assertiveness, don’t get involved in disciplining. This is a separate parenting issue. Go to couples therapy if he/she (or both of you) needs help with this.
- Have FUN with the kids! Be silly and goofy. Dance and play. That’s your biggest and best job! 🙂
- GO TO INDIVIDUAL THERAPY. Work on your trauma, wounds, and triggers. They WILL come up being in a stepmom role. Look at it as a headstart with your own future children (if you plan on having any) as well, as being a parent in general is sure to bring up your old stuff. You don’t want to “wipe” that stuff all over your own children, stepchildren or spouse. Also, go to therapy to process and vent so you’re not frequently venting to your partner!
- GO TO COUPLES THERAPY. This is good to do even if you’re not a stepmom. I wish more couples would look at couples therapy as preventative, just like going to the dentist and brushing your teeth is a good idea to prevent getting cavities. Walking into a family that’s been impacted by divorce, and becoming a second (third or fourth) wife, and blending together, is inevitably going to bring up some triggers, negative communication styles and negative patterns. EFT (emotion focused therapy) is amazing to help you both identify your “Demon Dialogue” (the dance you and your partner do when conflict / stress arises), and helps you catch and remedy it. It’s the pattern that’s the enemy, not your partner.
- GO TO FAMILY THERAPY if you can! Hopefully this was in place before you came around, but more than likely, it wasn’t. Bio mom may resist going, but it’s best to have her involved, if possible. Family therapy is such an important thing to do to prevent families from falling apart and to prevent bio parent and child relationships from crumbling. When families and parent / child relationships crumble, lose trust or intimacy, it’s very likely that they will reject the new partners entering the picture. It’s emotional and traumatic enough for the kids to go through their parents’ divorce. It’s an even more sensitive issue to blend in new spouses. Therapy helps to keep open conversation flowing, process emotions, grieve the old family dynamics and keep bonds strong at a time they need to be the strongest. Family therapy also helps prevent loyalty binds, triangulation, cross-generational coalitions, and parental alienation. Find a therapist who specializes in working with blended / divorced families.
- Hire a stepmom coach to help guide you. I see this as an addition to therapy, not as an alternative. Although either one is better than nothing at all! Maybe this is a less intimidating step for you, and by all means, go for it and try it out! Also, see venting in #10 above.
- Date Night. Not with you and your partner, but with the kiddos. Help your partner create a weekly “date night” with his kiddos, without you there — if he/she hasn’t already. It’s important for them and for you. Give them their space and take your own. Do your own thing on those nights. See family, friends, practice self-care, enjoy a hobby. For example, if your partner has the children for 3 days and 2 nights during the week, maybe only hang around them 1 of the days / nights … especially in the beginning! The more space the better, in my opinion. You don’t want the kids to resent you later.
- Don’t move in too soon. I’d say AT LEAST a year or a year-and-a-half after you’ve been dating. The longer, the better. If the child(ren) have a problem with it, it’s important for their parents to talk about it with them and create an open conversation to help them process. This is where family therapy would be extremely helpful to help dad and child have this difficult conversation in order to create understanding, process the child’s feelings, and help him/her to feel more comfortable. It’s also good to figure out if loyalty binds are at play, early stages of parental alienation, or if the child is simply struggling with how bringing in a new partner changes their relationship with their father and the family dynamics. They may struggle with feelings such as jealousy, confusion, anger, sadness, and not wanting things to change. Even if the child is/was fine with mom’s new partner, it may feel different with dad, especially if this child is female. They may not feel ready for this change, or may be fearful this changes or weakens the relationship with that parent, which is completely understandable. It’s so important to talk about it with the goal of mutual understanding so it can be worked out and resolved instead of avoiding it.
- Don’t get married too soon. Just like moving in, it’s important to take things slowly in general, but even slower with children involved. I’d say to wait at least three to four years to get married. Why the hurry!? Take your time… don’t rush.. And ENJOY the dating phase and/or engagement! It also is good role modeling for the children to learn to not rush relationships, marriage, or other big life decisions.
- Self-care, self-care, self-care!!!!!! I cannot stress this enough. You MUST take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually! If you’re not on a journey towards self-love, you should hop on that train right now! It will only help you to be the best stepmom and version of you that you can be. This stepmom journey made me realize how much I was lacking in spiritual self-care–which has been my main focus the past two years, and it’s made the most amazing difference!
- Find a Stepmom support group! If you’re feeling alone, and like your well meaninged family and friends don’t, understands, you need to connect with other local stepmoms. We need a tribe of sisters to raise us up and support us, especially if we’re a new or struggling stepmom. If you can’t find one, create one! That’s what I did. Enter: The Awakened Stepmom. We have a private Facebook group, bookclub, and are starting to meet in person this month! 🙂
- Have compassion for your partner, the kid’s mom and the kids! This situation is as difficult for them as it is for you. This is time to open your heart and reach in there for all the love and compassion you can find! Loving-kindess is a great practice to start, if you don’t practice it already. Yoga and meditation have both helped me to be mindful, present, grateful and remind me to keep my heart open. How can you expect others to have compassion for you if you don’t first have it for yourself, and then for them?
- Don’t take things personally. The way people treat you and talk to you says EVERYTHING to do with them and the relationship they have with themselves, and has nothing to do with you. Relationships are like mirrors, and when someone gets triggered, again, it has everything to do with the unhealed or rejected parts of themselves that they see in you. Have gratitude, humility and forgiveness…for all the times you may need to practice these, the time is now! It will help you stay sane. Forgiveness is more for you than it is for them. I love to look at all of the challenges and lessons through a spiritual lens. Look at this role as the greatest spiritual assignment and these people as your greatest spiritual teachers or healing angels, helping you to evolve, grow, and wake up to your biggest truth: LOVE.
“I never knew how strong I was until I had to forgive someone who wasn’t sorry, and accept an apology I never received.”-unknown
Be prepared: your stepchildren may not tell you “Happy Mothers day” or “Happy Stepmothers Day,” and that’s okay. They may not even tell you “Happy Birthday,” or get you a card, present or the handwritten gift they get mom, dad, or even stepdad. Learn to shake it off and let it go! In actuality, it falls more on their parent to make sure they celebrate and honor you. So have a chat with your partner if these things are important to you, and come up with a plan together to make sure you feel special and loved.
Now I would love to hear from you.
Are you a new, young, or childless stepmom? What’s helped you the most? Do you celebrate Mothers Day with your stepchildren? What does that celebration look like? Let me know in the comments below and I look forward to connecting and going deeper with you. Sending much love, self-care, and gratitude.
P.s. You may prefer the title of “Bonus Mom” or “Second Mom” – so ask yourself what you prefer to go by.