Merriam-Webster.com defines a stepmother as: “a woman that your father marries after his marriage to or relationship with your mother has ended.” Is it just me, or does that sound completely unflattering? There’s nothing in that definition about “mothering.” However, the website defines a mother as: “a female parent; maternal tenderness or affection.” That sounds lovely, yet depressing when you compare the two.
The older we get the more likely we are to date people who have children from previous relationships. The interesting part is that becoming a stepmother isn’t a role that’s earned, or even awarded for that matter. A woman is granted the title as soon as she marries her sweetheart.
Being a stepmother has had many rewarding and sentimental moments, but it’s also a hard position to figure out sometimes.
Here is what I’ve learned from growing up as a stepchild; and being a stepmother of five children:
1) Hold off on giving your opinion: Undermining a parent’s authority in front of his children can cause chaos in your marriage and the family. If you disagree with something, I’ve found that it’s easiest to discuss those matters in private then the topic can be approached again with his child after he’s heard your advice or opinion.
2) Keep your marriage strong: It’s imperative to keep a solid marital foundation, particularly when you’re having issues with your children or stepchildren. If you can’t reconcile a problem, seek therapy soonest. Don’t let issues pile up so high that you end up feeling resentful. Protecting your marriage will benefit the entire family.
3) Don’t argue in front of the children: I can’t reiterate this enough. When couples argue in front of their children and stepchildren it can cause kids to question the marital stability. Adult issues, no matter the topic(s), should be discussed in private. No exceptions.
4) Don’t be their ‘best friend’: This was a tough one for me. I spent years being my twin stepdaughters’ best friend, and it backfired on me. Stepchildren will freely love you if you show them the way through kindness and understanding. Moreover, being the ‘best buddy’ makes it emotionally hard on the marriage because it makes one parent (dad) seem like the ‘bad guy’ sometimes, even when that wasn’t the intention.
5) Mom holds a special place: It’s a blessing if life flows naturally with your stepchildren’s mother. But even if their biological mother has been in and out of the picture, the chances are great her kids will always welcome her back with open arms, particularly younger children. She is their birth mother, and it’s important to embrace your stepchildren’s choice in maintaining a relationship with her.
6) Don’t expect your blended family to ‘blend’: If you have stepchildren and your own children in the mix, you can expect some commotion in your household eventually. It’s impractical to presume your family will blend together as if they’ve been friends their entire lives. You’re talking about multiple personalities all living under one roof. Sometimes all your children need is a good mediator-parent to help them work out their differences.
7) Forgive yourself: As long as you’re giving your best, let it go. You can’t blame yourself if your relationship with your stepchild goes a little haywire for a while, especially if they’re teenagers. Just keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the best job you can.
8) Never trash the biological mother: It’s not a good idea to bad-mouth your stepchildren’s mother to them no matter what. Nothing good can come from this. No matter how mad or annoyed you feel, criticizing her will not improve a situation.
9) Don’t expect loyalty: It’s not only unfair but it’s unrealistic to expect your stepchildren to be loyal only to a stepparent or biological parent. They’re kids, and they should be allowed to love freely without feeling as if they’re ‘betraying’ someone.
10) Equal attention for all children: I’ve made this mistake without even realizing it. I directed my attention toward the child I felt needed me the most. My other stepchildren felt left out, and it hurt their feelings. It’s critical to show your love and attention equally to each family member as best you can.
11) Give yourself a break: If the drama gets to be too much, take a break. It’s okay to spend a day alone or with your friends, releasing all of the negativity and chaos. And then you’ll be a more rested, happier person as a result.
There is no handbook for being the perfect stepmother, and it’s a very tricky role. I’ve always been an overly lenient parent so I’ve found it best to compromise on parenting decisions when it comes to our blended family.
We learn as we ‘grow.’ I can’t fix every problem that comes through our front door, and our family is still a work in progress. But I feel the hardest days are behind us. And the bad experiences actually brought my spouse and me closer together.
This blog is also on The Huffington Post: