Stepmother Advice: What I Would Have Told Me

I am a member of a stepmoms group*. I don’t know how I wound up there. But many of the women who choose to post are asking for advice on how to deal with stuff they can’t change or fix. Because they are just so frustrated and don’t think anyone else will get it. I remember knowing I should just “let it go.” And I also remember how incredibly impossible that was “just” do.

I have worked hard on many things in my life but few with the same level of focus and drive as trying to be a good stepmother. And that has always been true because I have loved my stepson with all my heart since the day I met him.  I didn’t come to love him because he was my husband’s child. I think that would have been really hard. In my case, I had a chance to fall in love with him, completely, before it was at all clear that marrying his father was even going to happen. I did then, and I do now. And he got it when he was four, and he gets it now that he is this amazing young adult. Who thank g-d, still needs his mom, his dad… and his stepmom.

I can’t respond to every infuriated stepmom that posts, and I don’t think most of them want to hear “suck it up” or “let it go” just one more time.  So I posted some advice, of my own, that I wish I could have told me way back when. When it was still visitation schedules, poisoning of the child, conflicting messages and loyalties, child support and lots and lots and lots of stress.

Because of the overwhelming response, I am adding that advice here. I hope it helps someone. Writing them out felt like giving myself a present (myself in her early thirties), and was far more “healing” than I would ever have expected.

I hope someone who needs to hear these words finds them and it makes their personal challenge a little bit easier.

1. Stop asking if being flexible/giving/generous is doing the right thing to or for BM. It’s NEVER about her. It’s always about the kid(s). And sometimes being the good one is great for them, when you bend and give in and spare them embarassment/hassle/stress. And sometimes it causes you to feel so stepped on and angry that you can’t parent them lovingly if you say yes. And that is the marker for when you should say yes and when you should say no.
2. Don’t ever expect BM [Bio-mom] to listen to you, care what you think, or do what you think is “reasonable.” You can’t control her, chances are she won’t, if she does it’s a nice surprise, but just let the expectation go and work on yourself and your marriage. Because that’s what you can control.
3. You can’t discipline your own kids in the house with stepkids there and not discipline them. The dynamic will NEVER EVER EVER work. So don’t try. Rework your understanding with your husband. Because either you have total rule in your house or you don’t. For all kids. Period. You wouldn’t let a playdate come in and run around your house with scissors. You just wouldn’t. So figure out a way to have dominion over everyone while they are there. Period.
4. Don’t expect major family-dynamics changes without a therapist/rabbi/priest/counselor. No one likes to change. Nothing someone else says is going to change that. Minor changes in YOURSELF you can make. Family dynamics? Nope.
5. Your stepkids hate that their parents are divorced. They didn’t ask for it, and it sucks for them. No matter how much you think it sucks for you, it always sucks worse for them, because they absorb your stress in addition to their own. Even if they hate their parents together and love you. LOVE YOU, they hate having divorced parents. And they will hate it for the rest of their lives and will hate it differently and anew with each stage of maturity.

And that will exhibit itself with all kinds of interesting behaviors. Even in kids that were angels in some different phase. You can’t control it. Try not to resent it. Try to empathize. Try to understand and have compassion. Because they didn’t make you choose to step into the complicated mess that is their childhood, you chose to.
6.Your husband has to back you up. That’s the deal. You put up with endless crap as a stepparent because you are wonderwomen and rock stars and love them. And they have to back you up. That’s the payback. And if they don’t think it works that way, draw a red line, find some articles on line, go to a therapist, whatever works. Or don’t marry him. Because that’s the deal. He can disagree with you behind doors and talk it out with you. But you have to be backed up or the rest of the giving giving giving just doesn’t work. That means with his parents, with BM and with the kids. And the mailman and teachers too.
One day, someday far far away, your stepkids will get it. They will. They will get who gave and gave. They will get who is crazy and who is not. They will get who is working on it. They will get who put them first. They WILL get it. One day. It might not be until they are 30 and parents, but they will. So hang in tight, love them with no expectations of return, suck it up suck it up suck it up, and this too shall pass. Your moments of crying from joy and return on investment WILL COME.


*If you feel that being a member of the FB Stepmom Group would be relevant and helpful to you, please contact me and I can send you the information. 


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