Falling in love with the man of your dreams does not mean that you will fall in love with his children, or be besties with his ex-wife. Some do, and that’s wonderful! But for the rest of us, it can be extremely challenging. Should you discipline your stepchild? What are your parenting responsibilities? What if the kids act like they hate you? And why is his ex so crazy?
Every stepmom has a story, because even when it’s good… it’s complicated. And while each stepmom has a unique journey and family dynamic, we all have one thing in common: Being a stepmom is HARD. If being a stepmom isn’t at the top of the list of the world’s hardest jobs, just throw away the list. It’s wrong. I mean, being a mom is difficult enough as it is, but as a stepmom? Wowza. It can often feel like you carry all the responsibility of a “normal” mom, but with none of the reward. On top of that, you’ll probably have to tiptoe around most family issues, too, because you’re in such a delicate spot. You’re not “Mom,” and most days you probably won’t even feel like a parent either. It’s tough, but it just kind of goes with the territory. If you’re a new stepmom, I highly recommend subscribing to Stepmom Magazine. It was extremely helpful for our family, covers an array of topics, and can spark great conversations with your husband.
Each family dynamic is going to work differently. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation here. Some families, like ours, operate really well with a fully involved full-time stepmom. Other families work better if the stepmom practices a healthy disengagement. It’s important for you and your husband to talk these things through in the beginning, so you’re both on the same page. You’re a team, and it’s really important for the kids to see you as such. They need to see what a strong, healthy relationship looks like because we’re setting the example as to what they should expect in their future relationships. Right?
It’s hard as parents to agree on how to discipline your children. As a stepmom, though, it’s even more challenging because, again, “you’re not Mom.” What worked for us, is for my husband and I to both have a clear understanding of the household rules, how our son would be disciplined if he broke those rules, and neither of us could waiver or make exceptions to those rules unless we decided to do so together. That way, when your stepkids test you, and they will, you’re able to discipline them according to the plan that you and your husband have already laid out. And the key part of this is, that your husband backs you up. You’re a team.
As an example, in our home, our son was not allowed to scream at the top of his lungs while playing video games with his friends. (Can I just get an “amen” for how frustrating video games are?) If he yelled, we would ask him to lower his voice once. If he yelled again, he had to turn off the video games. Y’all, I can’t tell you how many times I had to tell this child not to yell, or how many times he had a meltdown when I told him to turn them off. I hated being the bad guy, but because my husband backed me up, it helped take away the sting of me being the one to make him turn off the video games. It also helped our son see us as a team, so he understood that he couldn’t just go ask Dad if I said no to something. That sounds so simple and perfect, right? Well, it wasn’t, but we tried our best.
Sometimes things get really complicated as a stepmom, for many reasons, and it’s hard for you to find your place in the family dynamic. When that happens, it might be time for healthy disengagement. This is also called “the nacho method.” Nacho kid, nacho responsibility. (I can’t say this without giggling.) There have been many moments where I simply looked at my husband and softly said, “nacho.” We’d both giggle, I’d give him a little kiss, and walk out of the room, leaving him, as the bio parent, to handle the situation at hand with his son.
I’ve been a stepmom for 10 years, and the journey has been anything but easy. My stepson, like so many other kids, has some challenges like OCD and anxiety, which definitely make things more complicated to navigate. The biggest challenge for our family, though, is my stepson’s bio mom. We’ve had a very unique, and extremely difficult situation with a high-conflict bio mom. For the sake of my son, I’ll skip the details of what our family has suffered through, but let me assure you, we could probably sell our story to Lifetime and it would make one hell of a movie. Our son is now 18, in college, and thriving. He’s healthier and happier than he’s ever been, and we couldn’t be more proud. Though my journey as a stepmom is far from over, I feel as though we are better and stronger than ever because of everything our family has endured. My stepson and I have a very special bond, and he knows without a doubt that I am his fiercest protector. I love that boy with all my heart.
For all my fellow stepmom warriors, here are some resources that have helped me through my journey as a stepmom:
- Stepmom Magazine
- VIP Stepmom
- Nacho Kids
- Radical Stepmoms Podcast
- and of course, therapy: I highly recommend counseling, with a licensed professional for the whole family. It’s worth the investment.