Being a stepmom is hard. If you’re wondering how to be a good stepmom and avoid being some sort of Disney villain in your step child’s mind, you’re starting from a good place. Know that you have a long road ahead of you, and it is going to be full of twists and turns.
Most stepmoms have a lot of conflicting feelings about their role. It can feel like there is no right answer, and any move you make is wrong. Some stepmoms feel trapped by a binding legal agreement that they had nothing to do with. Others just feel confused about what role they’re supposed to play in their family. If any of this resonates, I want to tell you, ‘you are not alone, you can do this, and here’s some advice to help you out.’
#1 Be A Co-Parent, Not A Second Mom
As a stepmom, it is as important to know what your role isn’t as to understand what it is. The title of stepmom is terrible in so many ways. Firstly there’s the fact that fairy stories always paint the stepmom as the bad guy. Secondly is the fact that you’re not going to be another ‘mom.’
You cannot and should not try to replace your step child’s mother. What you are is another adult who can offer love, support, and guidance. It’s undoubtedly a nurturing role, and it requires a lot of ‘mothering,’ but it’s a different role.
If both you and your stepchild are clear that you are not trying to act as their new mom, it will prevent a lot of resentment. It will also give you a distinct role in your stepchild’s life. A role that does not place you in competition with their biological mother.
#2 Don’t Try To Be A Friend
It can be tempting to try and treat your stepchild like a friend. It can seem like the quickest way to build a relationship with them. Unfortunately, the relationship you’d be creating is one that has an unclear power dynamic. If you need to be responsible for your step child’s safety and wellbeing, then you need to be able to give them directions with the expectation that they will listen. Friends don’t have that power, parents do.
#3 Be United With Your Partner
Going through a divorce is rough for everyone; Your partner, as well as the kids. This may have affected their parenting, and they may hope that you will pick up some parts of the job they don’t want to, for instance, discipline. It’s understandable, but you can’t let it happen.
Your job is to support your partner, not take over for them. You need to be clear on what your family’s rules are. You can’t have daddy’s nice rules and stepmom’s mean rules.
In the early days, the best situation is for you to be able to state the boundaries and ask your stepchild to follow them but allow your partner to lead with the consequences. This establishes that you are a team, and you support each other. It also doesn’t cast you in the role of bad guy all the time.
#4 Read the Divorce Decree and Parenting Plan
It’s not the most exciting venture in the world, but you need to know the details of the legal agreement that will shape your life for years to come. By reading the divorce decree and the parenting plan, you will know precisely what is set in stone. Anything laid out in these documents is something you have to accept as you can’t change it.
#5 Build A Relationship With Your Partner’s Ex
This is a tough one. But, if you can, try to build a relationship with your partner’s ex. Ideally, separate from your partner. The three of you are now a parenting team. It’s a lot easier to work as a team if you can all communicate clearly and openly.
If it helps, think of them as your step child’s parent, instead of your partner’s ex.
#6 Let Your Step Child Set The Pace
Every blended family is different, and every child reacts differently to having a new stepmom. You can’t force a relationship with your stepchild. All you can do is open the door. Make it clear that you want to have a positive relationship with them, but they get to set the pace.
Giving your stepchild some control over your relationship is essential. They will have experienced their parents going through a divorce, which is a significant change they had no control over. Then you joined the family – another change they couldn’t control. But, this is something they can control, so let them.
#7 Spend Alone Time With Your Step Child
Create opportunities to build a personal relationship with your stepchild. If you only spend time with your stepchild while your partner is around, you’ll never have a real relationship. You’ll just be their parent’s partner and nothing more.
A good idea is to try and find an activity or interest that you can pursue together. It should be something new. Don’t try and usurp an activity they share with either of their parents already. It’s about building something together.
#8 Expect The Honeymoon Period To End
It is really common for stepfamilies to start out really well. The kids can seem like they’re bonding well, and everything is ticking along. Then, out of nowhere, the wheels fall off, and everything is a trainwreck.
If this has happened to you then, please, be assured that it is totally normal. This honeymoon period can last weeks, months, even years. But, the crash is to be expected. It’s normal. It’s not because you’re failing.
#9 Have Empathy
As a stepmom, you are going to be in the firing line a lot. Unfortunately, you are a very tangible symbol that the parents are never going to get back together. You may not have caused the divorce, but you will be a symbol of it to your stepchild.
When your stepchild starts acting out, and they will, remember that they’ve been through a lot. They may have witnessed their family fall apart. Children are very perceptive, and they will have picked up on their parents’ conflict. That’s a lot of baggage to carry. Add to that, two different families with different rules and expectations, and it’s easy to understand why they can have a rough time.
Your partner is also going to need your empathy. They are probably carrying a lot of guilt about the situation. When they make, objectively stupid, decisions try and cut them some slack. The same goes for their ex. Divorces are hard, and coming through them unscathed is a miracle.
#10 Don’t Take It Personally
Kids lash out when they’re hurting. They are also masters at hitting you in your soft spots. As their stepmom, they always have to hand an effortless way to hurt you – ‘You’re not my real mom’ or ‘You’re not my family.’
Hearing these things can hurt. But, you need to remain calm and remember that it’s not really about you. Most of the time, there is something else going on. An issue that’s been brewing for a while. When everything gets to be too much, kids lash out, especially teenagers. You, unfortunately, are going to be an easy target.
#11 Remember That You’re In This For The Long Run
There will be rough patches. There will be times when it seems like you’ve just taken on too much, and you’re ready to be done. All stepmoms feel that way sometimes. When you’re feeling that, just remind yourself that this moment will pass. Things will get better. It’s a long road you’ve started on, you might be in a dark place right now, but that’s going to change.
You’re building a new, blended family. That’s a huge undertaking. It’s going to take time, but the end result will be worth it. If it wasn’t, you never would have started.
#12 Never Bad-Mouth Your Partner’s Ex
There are so many reasons you shouldn’t do this. No matter how frustrated you get with your partner’s ex, remember that they are an important person in all your lives. Your stepchild loves then, and your partner will have a lot of complicated feelings about them.
No matter what they do, you cannot say anything bad about them. Doing so can destroy your relationship with your stepchild permanently.
So, if there is any chance that your words could make it back to your stepchild, you need to bite your tongue.
#13 Find Someone To Talk To
This leads on from #12. You will need to talk to someone. It needs to be the right person, though. Even if you don’t feel like you need it, it can be worth considering therapy. It will give you a safe space to discuss the things you can’t say at home, and it can provide you with perspective on what you’re going through.
Another option is to build yourself a support network of people who know what you’re going through. No one will understand your experience in the same way as another stepmom. You can find support groups for stepmoms in the real world or online. Having someone to talk to will make you feel better.
#14 Plan Alone Time With Your Partner
You need to prioritize your relationship with your partner. Your marriage is going to be tested. An eye watering 70% of blended families end with a divorce. The only way you will beat the odds is by keeping your relationship with your partner a priority.
Don’t feel guilty about it. Just make time for yourselves, and make sure that navigating stepparenting doesn’t dominate your marriage.
#15 Learn To Step Back
It can be tempting as a stepmom to try and go above and beyond. Your instincts tell you that you need to do more to make things work better. But, this can be counterproductive. Sometimes you need to take a step back and let your partner take the lead.
This doesn’t mean you don’t get an opinion, or that you don’t care. It means that you’re acknowledging that you are not always the best person to deal with a situation. Sometimes you can help the most by taking on a supporting role.
#16 Be Present
A significant factor in building a relationship with a child is just showing up. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be there. So make sure that you’re there for the things that are important to them. You don’t have to be front and center for these things. In fact, you should probably let the parents fill that space. But you should be there.
There’s a great book with many tips about parenting that talks about this – The Power of Showing Up. It’s not explicitly aimed at stepmoms, but the messages in it are about parenting, which is what you’re trying to do. If you have the time, it’s worth a read.
#17 Never Play Favorites
If you have biological kids, whether they are related to your stepkids or not, you need to treat them the same. You can’t have different rules, rewards, or consequences based on biology. Building a blended family is a challenge, and kids will pick up on any hint of favoritism.
There may be reasons to treat your children differently. But, you will need to be able to explain them clearly and honestly to everyone involved. The aim is to make sure that no child feels less important than the rest.
#18 Respect Existing Traditions and Build Some New Ones
Traditions are important in families. When you bring two families together, you’re bringing together two sets of traditions. As a stepmom, you need to respect the traditions that your stepchild cares about.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce new traditions. In fact, building traditions together can help to bond your family. Just make sure it isn’t at the expense of traditions your stepchild already cherishes.
#19 Look After Yourself
I know, I know, you’ve heard it before – You can’t look after anyone else if you’re not looking after yourself. But, you’ve heard it before because it’s true.
You need to make sure that you are continuing to do things for yourself. If you drop everything you enjoy to care for your new family, you are going to end up resenting them. And they’ll know it. No-one loves a martyr.
Your partner is perfectly capable of managing without you while you socialize, exercise, or pamper yourself. You’ll be a better stepmom for it.
#20 Have Fun
Kids can bring so much joy. They are undeniably hard work but don’t let that get in the way of enjoying them. You have a new family, so make sure you spend time together having fun and celebrating your family.
Congrats On Making It To The End!
Since you’ve made it all the way to the end, I hope you found something useful. If you did, please share this article so other stepmoms can see it too. Let us know in the comments how you’re doing and share your experiences and top tips.