I would argue that being a stepmom is the hardest job on earth because it comes with far more challenges and far less support.
I’ve been a stepmom for seven years. I’ve found that even good situations are complicated and compromised by unmet expectations. Stepfamilies are structurally different than nuclear families, with children dividing time and loyalties between two very different family cultures. And without honest communication and good counsel, this could lead to further marital breakdown unless we’re willing to engage in honest dialogue to help families sort through the muck and make something meaningful out of it.
I’m ready to have this dialogue. Honesty about this issue is long overdue, especially in churches where we tend to sugarcoat things to make them something they’re not, offer advice from a nuclear family perspective, or judge people who are struggling in the blended family unit.
In the fall of 2006, I fell in love with two adorable kids before I even fell for their father. I still love them deeply. I was taken by their spunky spirits and abiding affection for their dad, whose world revolved around them. He was heartbroken on the heels of a divorce and shared joint custody of his kids. When I saw them together, I could see myself as a part of that unit, enjoying the purity of love and family togetherness that kept them afloat when their world was ripped apart. I had my sights set on a career in television when I met my husband, but spending time with his kids made me realize I wanted a family of my own even more than I wanted a career. I naively thought my husband’s remarriage to me would give us a fresh start…but there’s no such thing when your husband’s history is a part of the present in every way. That wouldn’t be fair to the kids. But it’s not fair to you as a stepmom, either.
A few months into our marriage, I realized I was treading uncharted territory and out of insecurity, I allowed people to give me awful, unsolicited advice that only served to worsen an already complicated situation.
Awful Advice #1: You must love your stepkids as your own…and if you don’t, you’re an awful person.
Do you feel shamed into silence for not loving your stepkids as your own? You’re not alone. Don’t allow people to badger you into believing you’re a bad person if you don’t. I used to beat myself up about this until I had a conversation with Laura Petherbridge, author of “The Smart Stepmom” in 2011. She said, “It’s common and completely okay to love your stepkids differently than you do your own. You need to be kind and show them love but it defies logic to love your stepkids as your own when the nature of your relationship is so different.” If you’re feeling burdened by the weight of this unmet expectation, you need to release pressure to love them as your flesh because it may never happen.
Awful Advice #2: You must treat your stepkids the same way you would your own (bio or adoptive) kids.
They say it takes a stepfamily seven years to feel like a fully integrated family unit. During those seven years, you need to be sensitive to the fact that their loyalty will always lie with their biological parent and your role in their lives won’t replace that parent. Initially, you have to defer discipline and difficult decisions in your home to their father, because their trust of you is tenuous at best. You simply haven’t earned the right to discipline the way you would “your own” kids. If you treat your stepkids the way you would “your own,” chances are they’ll resent you. You need to negotiate boundaries of mutual love and respect before you’ve earned the right to speak into their lives.
Awful Advice #3: Your stepkids came first, so your marriage should come second.
Statistics show second marriages are much more likely to end in divorce. While the factors contributing to that are many, it’s common for the stepparent to not feel like a priority in their marriage because so much of their lives are consumed by making sure their stepkids are happy at their own expense. God’s word talks about the importance of a man leaving his mother and father and cleaving to his wife so that they may be one flesh. But in a stepfamily, past dynamics come into play. That makes it all the more important to make sure you have time away from the kids to have authentic communication, that you invest in dates that don’t revolve around the kids and that your spouse is first considered when making major family decisions.
Awful Advice #4: You shouldn’t call them your “stepkids” because it makes them feel bad.
I never know how to respond when people ask how many kids I have. I feel dishonest to say I have four kids ages 15 to 3 because I didn’t birth or adopt two of those kids, they only live with me half the week, and they call another woman mom. But it gives an incomplete picture of my family to say I have two kids ages 4 and 3 because we have four kids in our family mix. So I generally say I have two stepkids and two kids of my own. I want to honestly communicate my role in the lives of all of my children and the reality is that I’m not the mom for two of them…which makes me their stepmom and makes them my stepkids. And that’s okay.
Awful Advice #5: You should ask your stepkids to call you Mom.
I taught Sunday school shortly after marrying my husband and my stepdaughter happened to be in my class. My assistant instructed my stepdaughter to “help your Mom pick up.” My stepdaughter protested, “But she’s not my Mom!” Awkward pause. Was her comment offensive? No. She was simply stating the truth. I am not her Mom, although people are quick to point out that if we really were close in nature, I’d call her my daughter and she’d call me Mom. I don’t think that’s true. And I think it would be disrespectful of the role her mom plays in her life if I pressured her to give me a title that’s not deservedly mine.
What is the most awful advice you’ve received as a stepmom?