Parenting has never been for the faint of heart. It comes with 24/7 worries and requires an endless supply of patience. There are also downright thankless parts of the job. Like dealing with temper tantrums, monitoring screen time, and stepping on Legos barefoot.
Being a stepmom can come with additional baggage, too. After all, we live in a society where the easiest scapegoat has often been stepmom.
Painting stepmoms in less than sympathetic light goes back to some of our oldest stories. Just think Cinderella or Hansel and Gretel, for starters. What would they be without an evil stepmother?
While these stories portray stepmoms in a cruel light, far fewer ones explore the real joys and difficulties of being a stepmother. Let’s take an authentic look at how difficult it is to be a stepmom as well as its hard-earned rewards.
Motherhood and Bonding
One of the hardest parts of being a stepmom? Playing a challenging game of catch-up. After all, you don’t get the same bonding time with your stepchild that a biological mother does.
This one even goes for being a stepmom to a toddler. You likely missed out on some of the hardest and most rewarding experiences early on.
Yes, the first few months after you bring home a baby are exhausting, but they also come with critical rewards. Sure, you lose improbable amounts of shuteye. You also spend a serious amount of time bonding with your baby, however. For every one of those long, sleepless nights that you endure, you learn critical things about your baby. From how to read them to what soothes them. You deal with cryfests but you get plenty of hugs and cuddles in return.
You play peek-a-boo while you nurse or bottle-feed your sweet infant. You’re there for everything from baby’s first word to baby’s first steps. Talk about an incredible bonding experience!
Through all of these challenges and joys, nature creates an unbreakable relationship between mother and child. Well, that is, unless you’re a stepmom.
Starting at a Disadvantage
Because stepmoms come into the picture later on, they don’t benefit from these early, intimate moments with their children. As a result, bonding often feels intentional or even forced.
That’s not to say your stepkids won’t like you. But “like” is something entirely different than the heartfelt bond you establish from infancy with a child.
For stepmoms, parenting doesn’t come from that deep reservoir of love and nurturing that a birth parent draws. Now, that’s not to say you, as a stepmom, don’t love your stepchildren. It is to say, however, that your experiences with them will be different.
In other words, for stepmoms, parenting comes from the head first rather than the heart. As a result, it’s different from the experience mothers so often have with their biological children. This sense of “difference” can lead to lots of second-guessing.
It can also lead to feelings of shame. After all, aren’t stepmoms supposed to love their step kids the same way they love their biological ones?
Doesn’t any perceived “differences” between how a stepmom treats biological children and stepchildren instantly equate to moral failure? Absolutely not!
That said, our society has both very low expectations for stepmoms and impossibly high standards.
Consider everything you know about your biological child or perhaps a niece or nephew that you’ve been close to since birth. Now think about how long it took you to acquire that knowledge and some of the funny and entertaining stories it involved.
You’ve got profound memories laid down with your child, niece, or nephew. You’ve also got a profound well of knowledge to draw from when they’re difficult.
Now imagine trying to describe your child’s needs and wants, preferences, hopes, and dreams in a few minutes to a new teacher or babysitter. It feels weird and oddly difficult, right?
There’s simply too much to say about that darling kiddo. Even if you did manage to relay it all to the new caretaker, you’d still just be scratching the surface. What’s more, no matter what, this teacher or babysitter would be at a distinct disadvantage compared to you.
That’s the crazy game of catch-up a stepmom has to play. They have to pick up on a child’s entire history at a later date, far removed from the funny anecdotes and precious moments that relayed this information in the first place. They have to make mental notes of favorite foods, allergies, fears, and preferred activities without any real-life milestones to anchor them. The result? The constant, nagging feeling that you’re missing significant pieces of the puzzle.
The older your stepchildren are when you come into their lives, the more pronounced this game of catch-up. What’s more, kids can develop fierce feelings of loyalty to their parents following divorce, and this can exacerbate the stepchild stepmom relationship.
Being a stepmom often comes with the challenges of co-parenting. While some stepmothers have exclusive or primary guardianship of their stepchildren, such is not typically the case. Instead, they must navigate the choppy waters of co-parenting.
Countless parenting books tell us that establishing routines are fundamental to a wonderful home life. But if you’re co-parenting, these routines only matter half the time.
After all, when your stepkids aren’t with you, you have little control (or knowledge) of what’s going on.
No matter how great your relationship is with your stepchildren’s other mom, there’s no way you’ll see eye to eye on everything. You’ll do things differently, and this is something that kids not only pick up on but often exploit.
While this isn’t a deal-breaker per se, you’ll only have half the time to set and reinforce boundaries. What’s more, you’ll have to remain conscious of the fact that the routine you’re trying to establish may not even exist in the other household.
Are you sharing parenting responsibilities with another household? Learn more about 50/50 custody arrangements and how to make them work.
Different Parenting Philosophies
Parenting philosophies can also cause friction. Perhaps you’re more of an attachment style mom while your spouse’s ex is a tiger mom. The bottom line is you’re not going to have the same approach when it comes to parenting.
Short of a situation that’s dangerous for your step kids, there’s not much you can do about these differences. If you don’t take a more relaxed parenting approach that goes with the flow, the friction of such a situation can prove infuriating.
Many moms feel as if they have to live up to expectations and standards that aren’t their own. Their stepkids may reinforce these feelings by continually comparing their two households.
The feeling that you’re not entirely in control of your life and household can be excruciating. It’s also likely not a feeling that you ever dreamed of having when you were a little girl thinking about a future family.
Stepparents navigate somewhat messy co-parenting situations at times. It can be hard to accept the fact that you have little control over what your children are learning and doing 50 percent of the time. Fortunately, there are ways to make co-parenting go more smoothly.
The Evil Stepmom Syndrome
Every mother complains about her kids and their behavior from time to time. Whether stories from the diaper trenches or the teenage playbook, moms commiserate to each other.
When a stepmom complains about a stepchild, however? That’s often considered an unspoken taboo.
Even the most benign statement of critique about a stepchild can put a woman in the “evil stepmother” category. This reality is something that many stepmothers intuitively realize, and so they never have a complaint or say a cross word.
They also never develop the type of support network that a biological mother does. This fact can make an already tricky situation feel even worse.
After all, stepmoms have a tendency to second-guess themselves. The last thing they want to do is look mean-spirited or wicked to their friends and family. So, they bottle issues up inside and feel an imperative to keep up appearances.
Always painting a rosy picture of what is a difficult situation at best comes with long-term consequences. It will leave you feeling isolated, ashamed, and exhausted.
That said, all kids can be frustrating at times, even stepchildren. It’s essential to have somebody trusted that you can talk to and receive advice from when the going gets tough.
Parents and Stepparents
For some stepmoms, they have nobody to whom they can turn. Their spouse can further exacerbate this fact.
For example, your spouse may spoil their children, an unconscious attempt to make up for post-divorce guilt.
Or, your spouse may have deep-seated resentment based on the relationship they had with their stepparent. As a result, your partner may prove just as hypercritical as friends and family when it comes to complaints.
When you can’t complain to your spouse about something going on with your children, this can lead to an even greater sense of resentment, frustration, and isolation. With no one to turn to or seek advice from, being a stepmom can feel very lonely and confusing.
Finding your place as a stepmom takes time. It also sometimes means keeping negative thoughts to yourself. Finding a trusted confidante outside of the home often proves your best option. Remember, too, that integrating a family requires patience.
The Joys of Step-Parenting
Of course, step-parenting isn’t all negative by any means. It comes with many small and big rewards. The longer I’m a stepmom, the more convinced I become that celebrating these tiny victories remains key to cultivating a happy home life.
Past the stereotypes and co-parenting challenges, there’s an abundant wealth of beautiful things associated with having stepchildren. Like suddenly being related to amazing, sweet, beautiful kids.
As your step kids mature, they’ll likely come to appreciate your role as a stepmom, too.
If you’re bringing together a blended family, it can also be rewarding to watch your children and your spouse’s children come together as siblings over time. Yes, there will be conflicts, but getting along with everyone in a blended family is possible.
What’s more, depending on your stepkids’ custody situation, you may get the best of both worlds. The chance to parent and get some much-needed downtime as adults.
This situation is not something that full-time parents get to share in. So, when the stepchildren are at their other house, it’s vital to make time for your spouse and yourself. After all, self-care is critical to maintaining the stamina you need to co-parent.
Having stepchildren also allows you to see different sides of your spouse. You’ll catch breathtaking moments of sweetness and love that you might not otherwise get to see, and these are precious moments to be cherished.
Stepparenting also allows you to relax as a parent. Because you have to be more flexible about what’s going on in your stepchild’s other home. This flexibility can put parenting struggles you may face with your biological children in perspective.
Being a Stepmom
Being a stepmom can feel like the fast-track to sainthood (with all of the requisite martyrdom).
Why is stepparenting so tough? For one, because of the crazy stereotypes about stepmoms that have been perpetuated in fairytales, cartoons, and films. In some sense, we’ve all been pre-wired to dislike stepmoms.
Not only is that unfortunate, but it can make a tough situation feel unbearable. Especially when you don’t feel like you have peers or a network of friends to turn to.
Isolation can make the stepmom role much worse, particularly when your spouse is dealing with post-divorce baggage. That said, the stepmom role also comes with amazing perks, such as suddenly being related to awesome kids.
When you set aside unrealistic expectations and take it one day at a time, you’ll find stepparenting to be one of the most blessed roles out there. Keep reading for more advice on living in a blended family.