Motherhood

On Being a Stepmom

Stepmother illustration by Abbey Lossing

Breaking news: being a stepmother is complicated. There are moments when you feel like Carol Brady, others where you feel like the wicked Cinderella caricature, but most of them are somewhere in between the two. Sort of like, you know, every other parent in the world. Today, we asked six stepmoms to talk about what they’ve learned. Here are their honest stories…

On finding your role:

“At the beginning, I was always asking myself, ‘Who am I? What’s my role here?’ and I’d tell myself, ‘You’re not their mother, you’re you.’ You always have to remind yourself of that, but you also have find the holes. No matter what the two other parents are like, there are holes to fill. Like maybe their parents didn’t play sports when they were little, but you do. And the kids are interested in that. Or maybe the other parent doesn’t have a gross potty sense of humor, but you do! Find those holes and fill them. That establishes your relationship.” — Cara, stepmom of two kids, 12 and 10; mom to one-year-old

“Many parenting books say something along the lines of ‘Be a parent, not a friend.’ These books clearly are not written for stepparents, who have to navigate a weird, thin parenting tightrope of neither overstepping nor being too uninvolved. The reality is that Margot’s mother died and I am her only living mother figure — she needs, and deserves, something more than one parent, plus a buddy to laugh and watch TV with. I never want Margot to think that I am a replacement for her mother. I tell Margot that her mom is her mom — always has been, always will be — and that I am her Lisa — always have been, always will be. It is not a competition. There is no ‘replacing’ her. There is room for all of us in our family.” — Lisa, stepmom to Margot, 13

On expectations vs. reality:

“Stepmotherhood, honestly, is more challenging than I’d anticipated. I went into it thinking we would have an awesome blended family. My husband and I decided we would raise all the kids with the same set of rules and expectations. This quickly backfired because their mom’s household had no rules. Their mom started calling me ‘The Devil.’ I read several books, including A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom and Stepmonster, and it was helpful to hear that blended families are not always harmonious. But our current situation is not pretty or fun.” — Brooke, stepmom of two kids, 14 and 10; mom of two, ages 4 and 3

“It’s hard to feel like I’m really a parent sometimes. The past five years were a whirlwind of coming out, my first girlfriend becoming my first heartbreak, and then meeting the love of my life and mapping out an entirely new path for myself. In the span of a year, I swung from single, city-living millennial dog mom to suburban stepmother with a kindergartener and a condo. I often feel like a child playing dress-up when I pick up Chloe from school or try to make small talk with other parents.” — Sara, stepmom to Chloe, 5

On meeting stepkids for the first time:

“Don’t try too hard. If you’re meeting the kids, you’re probably in it for the long haul, so there’s plenty of time to establish a bond. The first time I met my then-boyfriend’s daughters, they were shy and didn’t say much. You can’t take that kind of thing personally because you have no idea what’s going on with them: Did they have a bad experience with his last girlfriend? Did their mom say something disparaging about you? Or are they just being moody teenagers? And remember — they’re probably just as nervous to meet you as you are to meet them. Just be friendly and open and follow their lead.” — Maria, stepmom to four kids, ages 15-21; mom to 5-year-old

“I met then-three-year-old Chloe about six months into my relationship with her mother. I know it’s eye-rollingly typical of queer lady couples, but my partner Jennie and I got serious quickly. When Jennie and her ex split up, they decided that any new partner would have to meet the other parent before meeting Chloe. Now that I’m part of a co-parenting squad, it was nice to have met Chloe’s dad first. It set the stage for working as a team.” — Sara

“My husband and his daughter first discussed her feelings about his dating again. She appreciated it. There is no need to get a child’s permission to date — a child is not in charge of your personal life! But they do have the right to have their feelings heard. I think that kids ‘get’ more than we give them credit for. No child wants to be blindsided — and no stepparent wants to be the accidental villain because mom or dad didn’t ease them into the idea well.” — Lisa

On navigating holidays:

“The kids are all over the place at the holidays, so it’s pushed us to think a little differently and say, ‘Let’s look at the calendar and figure out when we’re all together.’ So maybe Christmas is on December 16th this year! That’s when we decorate gingerbread houses and get a tree. We have our own traditions and stick with them every year and I think that’s hugely important.” — Cara

“Holidays can be hard. It is a very sentimental time, and even bad traditions matter to people — otherwise we wouldn’t all be eating turkey for Thanksgiving (but that’s a whole separate discussion). We’ve only spent a few big holidays together as a family so far. I am outnumbered a bit — there are two of them and one of me — so there will always, I feel, be Pillsbury slice-and-bake cinnamon buns on Christmas morning instead of the nice homemade ones I would want to make, but that’s okay. It gives me more room for pie.” — Lisa

On disciplining stepkids:

“We went through years of tension in our house when my stepkids would come over. I felt like they were rude houseguests, and I had to bite my tongue in order to not be perceived as disciplining the kids. This led me to stay secluded in the back part of the house with my biological toddlers.” — Brooke

“I’ve found that having your stepkids see you with ‘parental authority’ comes with time and not with telling… but with modeling.” — Cara

On overcompensating:

When I first starting hanging out with my now-husband Brodie, I was achingly conscious of the fact that Margot was a nine-year-old girl who lost her mother, and I overcompensated. For her tenth birthday, I spent days decorating a beautiful cake with sculpted sugar paste owls on top, per her request, and transporting them to another state for the party. She loved it — a birthday cake victory! At the same time, the process left me drained and stressed. Looking back, I wish that I had found a middle ground of doing something nice for Margot, while not depleting myself in the process. Actually, I think that may speak to parenting in general.” — Lisa

On disagreeing with your spouse:

“My spouse is an amazing dad, and I learn more from him about parenting the child I brought to the relationship than I do from anyone else. But there are certainly times where we disagree: mainly, when he is afraid to ‘rock the boat’ with his kids, so he’ll agree to things that affect my life without consulting me, like agreeing to let his kids have a dog without seeing how I felt about it first. (Luckily I do adore the dog, so that worked out!)” — Maria

“It might be easier to take a laissez-faire approach and let my husband do the heavy parental decision making, but I love my stepdaughter and feel very invested in her well-being, so I speak up. (I am also naturally opinionated, so not speaking up would be like asking a fish not to swim.) To his immense credit, Brodie has never once made me feel like less than an equal parent to Margot. We talk it out.” —Lisa

“My husband and I now go to a family therapist who helps us navigate having the stepkids in our house. It’s great. Instead of arguing about parenting issues at home, I write down a list and bring it to therapy.” — Brooke

On communication with the other mom or dad: 

“I have a great relationship with my stepson’s mom. We’ve done some holidays together, we go to games and concerts, and we celebrate this child together in all the ways he deserves. But when it comes to the big parenting issues — teacher conferences, how many teams he’ll play on at once, all the nuts and bolts of raising him — I bow out for one very simple reason: I’m not his mother. He has a great mom and dad who are both deeply committed. Of course, I’ll share my thoughts and concerns with my husband, but ultimately, they should do what they feel is best. I believe in keeping those boundaries because I need them on the other side. My son’s stepmom loves him, but I don’t check in with her on anything. Co-parenting with a former spouse is hard enough without having to co-parent by committee.” — Elizabeth, mom of Jason, 12, and stepmom of Cole, 14.

“I don’t have much interaction with their biological mom. She frequently trash-talks my husband and me to her kids. She tells my husband and her kids that I am the root cause of all the problems. It’s hard, I feel like I can’t win.” — Brooke

On the hardest parts: 

“The hardest part is feeling like everyone is so more experienced at parenting. I am relatively new to it, but all of Margot’s friends’ parents have been doing it for at least 13 years and seem so capable and comfortable. I still don’t know a lot of stuff that I assume most parents know — like how to talk about sex or French braid hair or be involved just the right amount with homework — so it is hard not to feel somewhat of an interloper playing catch-up.” — Lisa

“Logistics are the hardest part for me, hands down. And I’m actually lucky since my husband and I have pretty good relationships with our exes. That said, it’s insanely frustrating that we can’t ever plan a vacation or make any impromptu changes to the schedule until we clear it with two other people. Sometimes it’s totally fine, and sometimes pretty big arguments result. I don’t really see this ever becoming a non-issue. Once the boys are old enough to make their own decisions, they’ll still have to divide their time between their two families. Which leads me to the other hardest part: Just never feeling like we have enough time with them. And it’s going so, so fast.” — Elizabeth

On the sweetest parts:

“By far, the sweetest benefit of having a blended family is watching my son and stepson grow up together as brothers. They were five and six years old when I first met my husband, and they’re now almost 13 and 14. They’re together every other weekend, and those weekends are like three-day playdates. This isn’t to say that they never get on each other’s nerves because they do — just like every other set of siblings. And that’s what’s amazing about it. They are siblings.” — Elizabeth

“Every few months, Chloe and I reach new levels of intimacy. As we spend more time together, our growth as a pair shows up in these sweet, almost unmeasurable gestures. Sometimes it’s as simple as a soft lean on my shoulder when she wouldn’t have leaned before.” — Sara

“When I overheard Margot talk to a cousin about ‘my parents’ and realizing she meant me.” — Lisa

Are you a stepparent? What would you add?

P.S. On having an only child, and my motherhood mantra.

(Illustration by Abbey Lossing for Cup of Jo. Some names have been changed by request.)

  1. Sarah says...

    I’d love more posts on step-parenting, and also from a step-child’s perspective. I’m engaged and have been with my partner for almost two years. He has two sons – 12 & 16 (and a daughter who is 8, I have never met her and he hasn’t seen her in years due to strained relationship with the mother). Honestly his sons are great and have accepted me from day 1, they’ve never tried to sabotage or manipulate myself/their dad/our relationship. Until recently when anyone would ask how things were going, I’d say “great!” because I felt like I should. This isn’t to say things are bad, more like… it is HARD. We have the boys every other weekend. I’ve let our relationship develop naturally, the older son is shy and quiet and I really let things go at a slow pace with him. The younger son enjoys attention and I find it’s easier with him – he likes when I engage, make jokes, play games, etc. But in general, it is just so difficult….. I do the majority of cleaning/cooking, I wash their sheets, buy their shampoo/body wash….attempt to buy their favorite pop-tarts/cheez-its/cereal (I’ve let go of the push for them to eat healthier; as much as I want them to choose an apple instead, it just isn’t gonna happen :) ). I think about their upcoming birthdays and gifts. What should we do this weekend? Can’t go to a baseball game, T (the oldest) doesn’t enjoy those. All of this and yet, I don’t get consistent thank-you’s, or hugs, or love you’s. I don’t get random texts throughout the week or face time calls. I see them for 2 days at a time and then they leave and I get a “seeya”. My partner and I argue because when they leave, he is supposed to do a “sweep” of their rooms – did they pick up all of those soda cans, are there 8 million dirty socks on the floor, is there a pound of dried toothpaste in the sink (always YES to all 3 of these!). If I say that there are soda cans around their rooms, he gets frustrated that I have to call it out rather than just pick it up. He’s a good guy, he wants me to be happy and would do anything for me. But I don’t think he gets how hard this gig is. He sees his kids a handful of days a month, he wants to be the fun parent who is playing games with them, making jokes….not the parent enforcing rules and groundings. My point is always that they can still have FUN here and also be respectful that this is not a frat house. Dishes go in the dishwasher, trash goes in the trash can, dirty clothes in a basket. The expectation shouldn’t be that they leave the house in disarray and we will deal with it after they leave. Not only because that isn’t fair to us (me!), but also because what tone is this setting for the rest of their lives?

    All this, I guess, to say…..It’s more than I thought it’d be. It’s harder and it’s been harder for much longer than I thought it’d be. I expected a lot more progress 2 years in. I’m thankful for the blogs and the women who speak up that the perfect blended family concept is way more rare than it seems. It’s not a smooth transition for everyone. And just because I don’t have step kids who incite terror doesn’t mean there aren’t still things about this that are difficult.

    Anyways, thanks CoJ for this post. I’d love to read more on this.

    • Kadri says...

      It is like I am reading about my own life, it’s astonishing. My husband also has 2 boys from previous relationship and I feel exactly what you are feeling. They have also accepted me from the beginning and we get along great in general but it is me who has to do the cleaning, cooking, birthday party planning, seeing if they wear decent and clean clothes etc. It’s exhausting and very unrewarding work. And it is different than with your own kids because you are not the one who gets any sweet emotions from the guys and also you cannot really dicipline them hard without being the evil stepmom. I also completely feel you about the rules of the house. Me and my husband have 1 year old son ourselves and it really touches me more now because I want the rules and values to be the same for all the people in the house. But the older boys come from totally different place. And there are things I cannot touch – what they have been given and tought at home and doesn’t match with my values.

      So yes, I agree it is so hard. And I am always so sensitive when people say that as a stepmom you almost have no right to complain because you have a choice but the kids don’t. Because some of us knew it was hard and really try our best. But that doesn’t make it easier. And it doesn’t make us less deserving.

  2. Mary Clare says...

    I became a mom and a stepmom at the same time, and it’s tough! I’m currently reading Stepmonster and I would recommend it to anyone. You try so hard to be agreeable and fun and not “that” stepmom that you reach a breaking point. Currently trying to figure out how to take care of my own needs at the same time.

  3. Jill says...

    I think it’s important to not “force” a relationship with stepkids; instead, let it develop naturally, as you would with any relationship.
    I thought the girls were awesome from the start (met them about three months after dating their dad–they were 8 and 11) but I gradually fell in love with them over our time spent together. Now, fifteen years later, their dad and I are divorced, but I still have a relationship with them (they are 23 and 26) that is totally separate from their father. This brings me great joy and I think they value it dearly as well.

  4. Jess says...

    I love this post. I am in a committed relationship with my boyfriend who has a 7 year old son. We have him every weekend and I have been playing a larger role in his life and feel invested as a co-parent. I have a pretty good relationship with his mom but sometimes we don’t agree with her choices and it can cause behind the scenes tension (we never ever say anything negative about his mom out loud around him). For example, she chooses to pay for an Audi but can’t pay rent for him to have his own bedroom and either shares the bed with her or he sleeps on the couch when he boyfriend is over which I think is unfair and inappropriate for a 7 year old in second grade. My boyfriend pays generous child support but we obviously can’t control how she spends it. But like these women said you have to respect your boundaries and let the parents manage the tough conversations. All I can do is be a loving and supportive adult in this child’s life and be the best role model possible. It would be great to continue posts that feature non traditional family dynamics!

  5. Kim says...

    Reading this article and all the comments has stirred up so many thoughts and even memories/pain I had probably suppressed as a stepdaughter. My parents divorced when I was five and both remarried. I have had relatively good/neutral relationships with both stepmom and stepdad (my mom has since divorced again), but with ups and downs. It stung to read the comment about stepkids as guests – it reminded me how I was always reminded to strip the sheets off my bed after the weekends at dad’s… Even though I’m a 30 year old adult, I still feel like a bit of an outsider when I go to my dad’s house, where they now have 13 year old twins (whom I adore!). I never feel like their family plans really prioritize me – I’m just a nice add on if it happens to work out, and there are very few photos of me around the house. I mostly avoid thinking about it, but some pain definitely surfaced reading this.

    Even though I can very much feel empathy for the challenges of being a stepmother, I’ve always felt it is so unfair to children of divorce who have literally NO SAY in their parents’ choices and then have to live with and accept strangers into their lives. That being said, I love my stepmother and her family and appreciate their addition to my life. She took me to buy my first bra (which I then hid from my mom and pretended I didn’t have one so she could feel like we had that “first” experience), bought me amazing Christmas presents ;), cooked delicious meals, listened with warmth and interest to my childhood drama and we shared a deep love for our family dogs. I would be curious to hear my stepmom’s take on stepmothering, as she suffered from infertility and depression for 8+ years as I was shuttled between homes, often caring for me for days while my dad was on business trips (probably so they wouldn’t reduce custody and have to pay more child support). In those years, she’d often sequester herself to her bedroom for hours/days and disengage from me and my dad (if he was around). While my mom NEVER badmouthed my stepmom or even my dad for that matter, there were ongoing legal/financial woes between my parents, and my dad definitely viewed my mom as the money hungry ex-wife (and would put me in the middle). To my stemom’s credit, she never took sides in front of me, even on the very rare occasion when my dad tried to involve her. But they did move several states away when I was 12 years old, supposedly for my dad’s job. I think a lot of it probably had to do with the whole co-parenting situation, and to improve their marriage by putting distance from my mom… and I ended up with my dad a plane ride away, woohoo :-D I’ll end this novel here, but could be good to feature the experiences of stepkids too!

  6. Kitty says...

    I really appreciated two things about this post:

    1. That you featured queer couples in addition to straight ones. It’s so easy for people to think about a ‘stepmom’ being married to a ‘biological dad,’ but hello, it’s 2019! Thank you. Truly.

    2. That not all these anecdotes are positive. I’m not a stepmom, but from everything I’ve heard and witnessed, that s$%* is hard. Thank you for not sugar coating, and adding nuance to the discussion.

  7. Isabelle says...

    I have a stepmother and I had two step grandmothers. They all bring/brought something special into my life and added to me. It is a challenging dynamic but I adore my stepmother and am so grateful to have her in my life. For those of you who are struggling please keep at it – your stepchildren will be so glad that you did!

  8. Meg says...

    I became a stepmom to four boys two years ago. Their mom died about four years ago. Being their stepmom brings me immense happiness, but I was completely unprepared for all the pain too. And however difficult I thought it would be, it is ten times harder than that.

  9. Heather says...

    All of the advice and comments are making me feel very lucky! I have the easiest (11 year old) stepson in the world. I fill a role that both his mother and father recognize as important, and I add a sense of calm to their communication, as well. I come from a large family and although I’m not a biological parent (and don’t plan on becoming one), I have “parented” many children in my life. My stepson gets the same treatment. He receives it all like a champ and I can’t wait to see the man that he is growing up to be.

  10. K says...

    No doubt that being a stepparent is hard as hell and I’ve got mad respect for those that do it well.

    That being said, I’m feeling some comfort reading the many experiences of stepchildren that mirror my own, sad experience. Though, it’s really disheartening to hear how common it is. As a 32 year old, I honestly don’t know many people in my social circles who have experienced quite what I did growing up.

    First, I had a verbally abusive stepfather. (But that’s another story).

    The story that seems more common is the experience I had with my stepmom and her daughter growing up. We were basically just never welcomed into their home. Pictures of my stepsister (to this day and back then) filled the walls of their house. Not a single photo of my brothers or I in the house at all. When we were forced to permanently move in with them in high school–my stepmom would constantly complain about how much work three extra kids in the house created. She would put signs up around the house reminding us to “wash our hands” and “refill the toilet paper” and “only use a quarter size of shampoo in the shower.” (Definitely respect that it actually WAS a lot more work for her—but it also wasn’t our choice to move in with them and man, did it sting to hear constantly). Our stepsister was treated totally differently and never did anything wrong (in her eyes). My dad was totally spineless (as others in the comments seem to have been) and never stood up for us. My stepmom especially seemed to dislike me as I was a really shy, introverted kid (obviously traumatized from years of verbal abuse from my stepdad but that was never considered). She took my shyness as a sign that I “hated her.” Anyway, long story short (ish) she kicked me out after my Junior year of high school and my dad (feeling bad that I would have to move schools again for the 8th time during my last year of high school) paid for an apartment where I had to live on my own as a 17 year old. I actually feel lucky that he didn’t force me to move someone else but that year was by far the loneliest year of my life. The feeling of being completely discarded is still something that I resent. Going home after school to an empty apartment while my brothers, dad, and stepsister were eating dinner at their house in the same city….it was really shitty to say the least.

    After that, I didn’t speak to my stepmom or stepsister for 7 years. When I was getting married—my dad pressed me to get back into contact with her, but I had to “apologize” for all of the things I did to create the “drama.” I actually did it (which I kinda hate myself for doing as now I’m the spineless one) and we have a really, really tentative relationship, now.

    I don’t know why I’m writing such a long comment here, I guess I feel some sick comfort knowing that my experience wasn’t isolated and that a lot of people struggled with their step parents. I also have been struggling with feeling like I still let my stepmom control me (as a 32 year old woman). I’m so scared to lose contact with my dad, that I have to put up with her and literally never speak about any of the shitty things that happened to me. Ugh.

    • Amanda says...

      Sending you lots of love, K. No one should have to endure that sort of treatment.

    • Vanessa says...

      This is so painful. I wish you lots of healing.

    • I’m glad you shared this as I imagine it was difficult. Maybe it will impact somebody who can see some part of our experience in their own. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

  11. Sarah says...

    A partner bringing home a pet without talking to/asking me beforehand would be a divorce-able offense.

    • C says...

      Agreed.

  12. Ann says...

    Thank you for this post! I would love more stories about step and blended families. I am thankful for a sweet relationship with my elementary-age stepson, though it doesn’t come without challenges (drama from his mother, different rules and morals at the other house, etc.). But ultimately the relationship with my stepchild has really enriched my life, and I hope that our bond will continue to grow in the coming years. My husband and I have a baby too and it is such a joy to see a loving sibling relationship develop between the kids.

  13. Katie says...

    “I am her Lisa” — this made me tear up. That is such a sweet and perfect way of putting it.

  14. Jessica says...

    I agree that many of Brooke’s comments were troubling, but she did mention she and her husband are attending therapy. It sounds like they’re getting some help and resources, so hopefully her situation improves.

  15. Jessica says...

    I just want to say that Lisa’s experience with Margo was so sweet. That last comment (about Margo referring to her “parents,” and having that mean Lisa) made me tear up.

  16. ALI says...

    I have had such fortunate step-parent experiences.

    My Mom has been with the same person (not married) for around 17 years now since I was around 15 and my sister was 13. He is one of the most lovely men. He came in and supported my Mom, my sister and I immediately. Without tooting my own horn, I do think that key to the success of the relationship was due to the acceptance on both sides. My sister and I weren’t typical bratty teenagers and both understood that this wasn’t the life we wanted, but we better make the most of it. My step father was also so gentle with us, never actively ‘parenting’ us and leaving that to Mom and Dad but just constantly showing up and being consistent. I think it helped that he (even to this day) never moved in with my Mom but was always around. I think we love him more than his own kids do, truly!

    My Dad has had 3 engagements and 2 wives since him and Mom were divorced. Numerous more girlfriends too. My Dad is a very interesting person and I love him dearly, but he is very emotionally immature. The first two serious relationships my sister and I felt no ill will (but I would say no connection) with the step mothers. Again, I feel key to this was that we didn’t live with my Dad, just visited every second weekend. With my Dad’s previous wife, again we never lived with them (in fact were much older and lived on the opposite side of the country) but whenever they were in town they would stay with me and she was (and still is) one of my favourite people. Smart, kind, warm – she never tried to hard and had such love for her 4 biological children but also made us feel so seen, accepted and included in the blended family. She is divorced (not very amicably) from my Dad and I miss her all the time. I’m currently pregnant, something she used to always get excited about (she really wanted ‘caramel grand-babies’) and I keep getting the urge to contact her to let her know, but I’m worried about how my Dad would react. I think if I was in his shoes I wouldn’t be thrilled.

    Reading through the comments I realised how lucky I have been with step parent experiences. I think the luck is mainly attributable to:
    – My Mom (who my sister and I always thought was crazy and difficult, and who I now realised was just going through such a hard time) being so strong and supportive and always there for us. So we always had one anchor to completely rely on.
    – Having a sister to go through it all with
    – Not having to live with my step parents or step siblings; and
    – Being really lucky that we were nice, accepting kids who were fortunate enough to meet nice, accepting step parents.

    Another point for the step kids out there that I passed on to a friend having a hard time – think about what life would look like if something happened to your parent? In that situation, how grateful are you that they have a partner in life, in addition to you, to help them through. So treat that person like the asset they are as much as it is possible for you to do so.

    • Laura says...

      Contact her if you want to! Maybe your dad won’t be thrilled, but as a good parent he should value that connection you have…this is about you wanting to celebrate your pregnancy!

    • Bec says...

      I vote to contact her! My motto is to keep good people in your life where possible. I’m still close to my ex-in-laws, they are important people in my life, they also love my daughter (not their grand-daughter).

  17. Patti says...

    Mostly it’s sad to feel reduced to THAT stereotype. My heart remains broken, 36+ years in. I went into it certain our family would be different than any negative narrative I’d read. Mostly grateful for the wonderful man ( and father) I married and, despite the grief I feel every single day, I would do it all over again. He’s a spectacular person.

    Thank you for this post, despite the tears. The comments made me feel so much less alone (and to blame).

  18. Micaso says...

    It is incredibly refreshing to read such a nuanced and diverse accounts in the comments from “both sides of the fence”.
    My dad remarried shortly before my mum died (I was only ten at the time) and, sadly, my experience is one total cliché.
    My stepmother started off as being warm and approachable when she first got together with my dad but this changed within a year or two. Being a nursery school teacher with a daughter of her own (who is 4 years my senior), you would’ve thought she would have known how to just “be kind” and how to treat a young girl who was living with a terminally ill mother, but as soon as my mum had passed and I went to live with my dad and stepmother full-time, she drew the line between me and my older and my younger sister (who they had had the year before).
    What I have realised since is that she was jealous of the (already fragile) relationship I had with my dad and so made my (spineless) father choose between her and me.
    As a result, all my teenage years were spent in my bedroom on my own. The only interaction with my two sisters and stepmother was fraught with disrespect and my dad was predominantly negative and sometimes abusive towards me.
    A short blessing during this entire ordeal was when my older sister and I both moved out and our relationship healed and became a positive one for a few years until I eventually moved abroad.
    10 years ago, I made the decision to end the negativity from my father and stopped contacting him; something which he has since sadly manipulated both my sisters against me over and blamed me for. We are no longer in touch either.

    To add insult, I later discovered that my stepmother made my father purge the inheritance from my deceased mother (as I was underage at the time).
    Such a terrible cliché, I know.

    • Kelly says...

      OMG Micaso, I’m so so sorry to hear of your experience. Your account really resonated with me because one of my closest friends in uni went through almost the exact same thing you did, down to the inheritance from her late mother not being passed on to her and the stepmom manipulating her father to turn against her. When she’d go home during long breaks she’d even have to clear out her room every single time as her stepmom would invariably turn it into a rubbish-strewn store room in her absence!!! Just one deliberate power move among many to make her feel unwelcome in her own home…

      Her only consolation is that she was (is) close to her 2 younger half brothers — a miracle in itself given her stepmom’s constant efforts to turn her sons against their sister. I agree that if the father had only had more of a spine, none of it would have happened or at least it wouldn’t have been quite so bad.

      It’s a cliche because it happens, a lot more than it should unfortunately. I hope you’ve since found a new “family” or wonderful group of friends who support you and are there for you no matter what. Sending much 💗 and positive vibes your way!

    • ND says...

      Micaso, this is heartbreaking. i keep writing and deleting things, grasping for words that don’t seem to properly articulate what I am feeling. Your comment just has me so angry at how you were treated by your stepmother and your father, and I feel sad for you as a child. Hearing your story has really affected me, and I am sending good wishes and feel a sincere hope that the life you have build for yourself will sustain you and nurture you.

  19. A says...

    After reading through some of these comments I feel very lucky to have a stepmom I love and have confided in most of my life. I met her when I was 5 and she married my dad when I was 7. I have 3 half sisters and while my stepmom has parented them differently than she parented me I’m so thankful for her patience (I was not the nicest teenager) and friendship as an adult.

  20. Madeleine says...

    I am a little disappointed that Joanna allowed so many ‘crazy bio mum’ narratives in this post. It isn’t ever acceptable to trash-talk anyone in your child’s life, particularly a parent as many have said the mothers in question do. Trash-talking people on the internet as crazy and toxic isn’t that great either though. Some discussed with empathy, but the one-sided, victim mentality others used can feel exhausting. It may be true, but it also may not be an accurate representation as no one is ever the bad guy in their story. I do understand it is a very hard situation, I was in it as a child and my daughter experiences it now. Most of the hurt is probably unintentional on both sides and we are all just trying to muddle through. It becomes problematic when we just examine one side. How easy it is to label women as ‘crazy’ when they have no voice to respond.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Thank you for this point of view! There was actually just one woman in this story who had a consistently hard time with the biological mother, and we wanted to keep her perspective in because it was true to her — and of course there are other women who feel like her, too. Many of the others had great working relationships with the biological mothers and we were happy to show that, too. Thank you!

    • Hanh vu says...

      I don’t see any reference to the “crazy bio mom” in the post. This isn’t a post about being fair to all parties in the sensitive situations. This is a post about “being stepmom” from, erh, stepmoms’ perspective. It’s up to the reader to parse the line, or don’t. Regardless of the factual situation, a person’s perspective and/or feeling is true to her and is relevant to the topic of the post.

  21. Madeleine says...

    It is really heartwarming to hear how many stepmothers and stepchildren have had really fulfilling relationships, but I sadly cannot relate to many of these comments. While I can only imagine how difficult it must be to be thrust into the role of parent to children who you didn’t choose to have, my own experience of stepparents (both a stepmum and a stepdad) have been quite stressful.

    My father had an affair when my younger sister was 6 months old, which came to light a few months later and resulted in my parents splitting. He then married this woman and they quickly had three more children. Still, we were young and very open to meeting these new children, forming a relationship with her and them, and building a deeper relationship with my dad (who had always worked very long hours when he lived with us). However, my stepmum hated us visiting and eventually forbid us from staying over, meaning that we weren’t allowed to see my dad aside from a dinner every 3 or so months. We also only saw her and my half-siblings at family events hosted by my dad’s parents. That was 10 years ago and our relationship has never really healed and I rarely see her or my half-siblings. I see my dad whenever I am back in town but she moved the family to the countryside and so I cannot see them without her hosting me. I hate that I have these three siblings who I do not know, through no fault of ours.

    Meanwhile, my mum was alone for 10 years and suffered deeply. She did her best but clearly didn’t want us bonding with our stepmum as she felt excluded and lonely, which caused us a lot of tension when we returned from visits. She also did not help to re-establish visitation when my stepmum began to forbid it, which I am still sad about – we could have used her in our corner. When she did meet my future stepdad, he had two children – a son my own age and a daughter the same age as my older sister. These two have become very close to me, I consider them my family and I am very grateful that they are in my life. They are the best thing to have come out of my mum’s second marriage.
    However my stepdad has an awful temper and has caused considered strain on my relationship with my mother, as she supports him and their relationship even when he has lashed out at us (never physically though). While I don’t think he is a bad person, he makes every family occasion more stressful as we never know when he’s going to lose his temper and even my stepbrother and stepsister don’t know how to handle him in these moments. I don’t think he treats my mother nearly as well as she deserves and so I struggle to connect with him on a meaningful level, although I do try as it is important to my mother that we are civil.

    I am sad that this is how our story unrolled, because I can see such value in blended families and truly believe that 4 parents is usually better than 2! However in my case, it has been a battle to create any kind of harmony.

  22. Lee says...

    I became a stepmom almost 16 years ago to two girls ages 11 and 14. I also ended up having two daughters of my own with their dad. Marrying into that situation was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I felt blindsided by all the toxicity and dysfunction that existed between my husband, his ex-wife, his daughters and his family (who did everything to protect his girls from the fall out of their parents’ inability to work things out). I had no idea what I was in for when we got together. Growing up, I had friends whose parents were divorced but they seemed to get along well enough, or one parent was entirely absent.
    There are SO many issues for step parents. It all depends on the situation of course, is one deceased, do the parents get along, are both parents in new happy relationships?
    One of the biggest issues for me, and one that a lot of people don’t talk about, was I didn’t actually like one of my step daughters. My husband, bless him for his unconditional love for his daughter, could not fathom that someone might not feel the same way toward his kids that he did. But I didn’t. And I had nothing to look back on and think “oh this is just a phase, she’s a teenager,” it was all I knew of her. And being honest about this caused a lot of problems for my relationship with my husband.
    Their mother has never spoken a word to me, but she’s said lots of terrible things about me and their dad to the kids. It was a terrible situation.
    Having my own children now I can see how painful it was for my step daughters, but at the time I could only see how painful it was for me and I felt sort of cheated out of a first time marriage and having kids for the first time, etc.
    I never tried to be a parent to them, just didn’t seem like they needed another parent and I didn’t want to parent them – they were with us so seldom anyway . They were fiercely loyal to their mother (she never remarried and I think they felt protective of her) and I didn’t even refer to them as my step daughters but rather my husband’s kids. And the same for them, I was their dad’s wife.
    Fast forward and I’m happy to report they are very close to my two daughters and for that I am so thankful as I can see what a special relationship it is. And over the years as they have become young adults and I have become a parent, we have found a place that works for all of us.
    The one I had a harder time with, I’m now close to, and I really enjoy her company. I think our relationship is similar to an aunt and a niece more than anything else.
    I’m so happy to have come this far and even happier to refer to them as my step daughters now.

  23. LC says...

    The hardest part for me is not my relationship with my stepdaughter, but in handling the conflict and stress that her unstable mother launches into our lives with regularity. She had a mental breakdown in which she accused my partner of having sexually abused their daughter, in an attempt to gain full custody. After a lengthy court experience, my partner has been absolved and has full custody, with the mother getting a few overnights a week. The mother still has a panicked way of continually searching for signs that something is wrong with their daughter. At eight, she is a bright, loving healthy girl with nothing ‘wrong,’ but I worry her mother’s fears and compulsions will start to weigh on their daughter.

    It is so hard to have our lives turned upside down by the mother’s behavior, and to receive all the angry stress she dumps into our lives, and to keep that separate from the daughter. SO HARD. We have been appropriately honest with her (no chance of shielding this from her completely, because of the way the abuse allegations and court went down) and try to encourage their relationship, focusing on the sincere love the mother feels. But with the mother being the biggest force of trouble in our relationship, it sure is hard to hear her ideas through this child. Also, I don’t want to disrespect the mother to her child, but when the daughter say, “My mom says that men never understand women” or something, it’s hard to know how to respond. I usually go with “In my experience, ________” but it feels like there is so much toxicity to be up against.
    It’s helpful to read all these reminders to not speak negatively of the other parent, to help keep even my inner responses quiet. I try to remember to just focus on OUR home, our family, and providing her with love and perspective that can help her as she grows.

    • Millie says...

      I was the child in a very similar scenario, although it sounds like I was a little younger than your step daughter when my parents divorced. It turned out that my mother had borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by very unpredictable, emotionally explosive behaviour. The best outcome for those children are to have a positive intervening force, and it sounds like you are doing a good job of that. I love that you focus on the great love the bio mom has for the daughter, and I would suggest adding one thing: sometimes the mom doesn’t do a good job of showing it. Love shouldn’t look like that and that bright young child should know what healthy love is.

    • BG says...

      I am in a very similar situation and boy, is it the absolute pits. The serenity prayer helps. Mostly, I grieve for my husbands’ kids who I truly worry may not escape childhood without mental illness due to their crazymaking (borderline personality) mom. Heck, I may not escape! ;) We try to laugh about it but it really feels like a tragic comedy many days. Thanks for telling your story.

  24. Dee says...

    Hooray! I feel like I’ve been waiting for CoJ to address step-parenthood for years (no shade!).

    I have a step father and have had a variety of step mothers over the years. I’m also the step mom to a wonderful, dorky 8 year old boy who is the spitting image of my husband. We’ve been together for 6 years and I’ve never actually met my husbands ex- she is a very bitter and miserable person. She treated my husband horribly when they were married and only cared that he left because she realised he did so much for her. I may not like her at all (and I think it’s rather telling that my in laws don’t speak to her since the divorce), but she’s still little mans mom and she is a good parent.

    I think my experience with step parents helped me to be a better one. I know what it’s like to feel left out, to feel like a stranger in your home and I try really hard to make my step son feel like this is his house too. We’re decorating his bedroom together (he chose colours and theme), we play video games together, we watch Vines. I don’t parent, but I do make sure he follows the rules of our house. He’s at a sometimes challenging age and my husband can be reluctant to put his foot down for fear of being the mean parent. But my stepson is wonderfully like his dad- chilled beyond belief and so easy going. Not going to lie, I think this would have been infinitely harder if he was a girl. I know I was a handful!

    I understand the houseguest comment- sometimes it can be so hard! There are times when it is clear a father/son hang and my presence is not needed. I hope it gets better for you, Brooke. My stepson has started to realise his mom isn’t always fair or very nice. She calls me the evil stepmother (well for ages she refused to acknowledge I even was his stepmom), but little man has realised on his own that I’m not going anywhere and I do love him. I hope with time it gets better for you

    • Dee says...

      I meant to add that the biggest challenge I’m facing is actually with my husbands family. My stepson is 4 years older than his next two cousins and he’s often left out of many things. His aunt forgot to make a Christmas decoration for him (but made ones for the other 3), my SIL always gives stepson second hand birthday gifts and lavish presents to the other two, and no one makes an effort to come over and see him when he is with us. He’s 8 so he’s not always interested in hanging with adults, but my biggest disappointment is in those adults that don’t seem to even try with him. He’s wonderful and loving and likes teaching people maths or how to solve Rubix cubes. That his family (in particular husbands bro and his wife) tend to forget about him breaks my heart. I’ll always fight his corner and make sure he’s not left out, because I know how hard it can be

  25. M says...

    This is too often the framework we are given: bio moms and stepmoms either get along or don’t. We either undermine each other with slashing words or we collaboratively share friendship, values, routines, and holidays. I’ve found that most blended families fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, so I’m bravely sharing my story.

    My stepson’s mother and I don’t get along. We are not friends, but we are not enemies either. In fact, our goal is not to develop a friendship, but rather a work-like partnership. Our goal is industrious. Our goal is to keep the peace. Hold the line. Get. It. Done.

    We are not co-parents, we are co-partners.

    We are business partners and by trial and error and mess and madness and heartbreak and happiness, we have drafted a contract for each other. The years have taught us that we are dependent on each other and that stakes are too high for us to be hot-headed. Acting as co-workers help us to stay objective in the greatest project of all: loving and raising our son.

    Loving our son is easy, but reconciling our different approaches to raising him has been a long, hard journey. Ultimately, we follow this business strategy: divide and conquer. By focusing our emotions and energy towards our time with our son, and not on each other’s approaches, we can keep it strictly business (clothes, schedule, school) during transition times.

    So we divide and conquer when we’re apart, but when we have to go at it together (school, sports, family events) we have another business rule. The rule came about organically over the years and it is this: show up and shut up. We’ve found that the less we say, the better off we are. So we sit together and we focus on our boy, and we cheer, cheer, cheer and smile, smile, smile and wave, wave, wave. It is important to us that our son sees us happy, sees us together, and sees us cheering him on.

    So unlike the circulating divorced family narrative, we are not the uncommunicative family or the idolized friendship family either. We are just us. We have found our own way. We divide and conquer. We show up and shut up and smile. We try our best to keep our hearts focused on our son, and our heads cool for working with each other.

    Each family has to find their own way through the muck and mire. I have learned that for us, the pinnacle of co-parenting success is not necessarily getting along, it is finding a healthy way to set boundaries, to draft a contract. We are not in competition. We are the same team, in the same business. We are keeping our heads down, we are working our tails off to show him, love, to show him support, to show him that we have grit and that he has two fierce women in his life that will do whatever it takes, together, to Get. It. Done.

    • molly says...

      Your contract & commitment to your son is incredible! I loved reading what you wrote & am so happy you shared. xo

    • M says...

      Oh thank you, Molly! I just loved reading everyone else’s vulnerable stories here and they helped me so much. I felt compelled (more like guilted :) into feeling like I should do my part to share what I’ve discovered too, just in case it could help another person navigate this unique relationship. Your encouragement made my day!

    • Erin says...

      M, your comment is the best. I got a divorce last year, and while neither my ex nor I has another serious relationship yet, we have adopted a similar “business partner” system for co-parenting our two kids. We *don’t* have to be good friends, and after the stress of our marriage, with a lot of drama from him and his family, that’s a huge relief for me. But we do have to be a team for the kids, and are trying to take a businesslike approach to sorting out what they need. When I get frustrated, I have found it helpful to remind myself that I have had coworkers in the past who were actually much harder for me to accomplish business-type tasks with than my ex, and if I could cooperate with them, I can get the job done with him too. It is a huge perspective shift from the expectations and hopes I had for him as a spouse, and in certain ways it is painful that I have to continue in this “business” role with him of all people, but seeing the kids realize that we can still cooperate for their sakes helps so much. And yes, “show up and shut up” is often the right approach!

    • Michelle Bengson says...

      “When I get frustrated, I have found it helpful to remind myself that I have had coworkers in the past who were actually much harder for me to accomplish business-type tasks with than my ex, and if I could cooperate with them, I can get the job done with him too. ” Exactly! Erin, considering that your divorce was just last year and you already have a plan for how to approach future additions to your family…. you are already so far along in this journey. I’m’ impressed by you! I wish that I had your wisdom and preception at the outstart. Your family is lucky to have you and I wish you the best of luck!

    • Caroline Gaines says...

      This is challenging, yet prudent. Takes so much will, and as you say, grit. But I wish could do more of this … and less whinging. Put the good of the children first. Always.

    • Zoe says...

      No but really… are you Oprah?

      What an incredible comment. So many lessons step-parent or otherwise.

  26. Caitlin says...

    Thank you for this! As a step-parent, I struggle to feel like topics like these are discussed openly and this post and the comments great. It is an incredibly hard job to be a step-parent. Hugs to all the step-parents and step-kids out there.

  27. Denise Blust Vermillion says...

    I became a full-time stepmom when the boys’ mom went to jail. I lucked out in that they and my son and daughter became fast friends – they are thick as thieves, those four! I figured I did something right when the boys’ dad and I divorced and I kept the boys. I doubled my kid count! It’s not always easy, especially with a toxic bio parent, but we all have each other and we make a crazy, fun family.

    • Iris says...

      Wow, you’re a freakin saint. Cheers to you!

  28. SE says...

    As a stepmom I totally appreciate these. I really feel for Brooke who is having a hard time with it. We’ve had some rocky moments for sure – most notably, my stepkid was supposed to live with us for high school and then decided not to, and we had to respect that, but it broke my partner’s heart in ways that I still can’t fully understand. Stepkid is also very good with my biokid, but there will always be a bit of a distance and it’s very hard to watch that.

    For me, the big takeaway has been that all parenting is about letting go of control, and with a stepkid, there are that many more things that are out of your control, from what your partner/their kids relationship was like before you got there, to what it’s like when the kid is at their other parent’s house (I have to LOL at friends who restrict their kids’ screen time because that would be a non starter with us, given the other home situation… likewise food, bedtimes, etc).

  29. Ana says...

    I’ve been a stepmom for the past 13 years and have a 15-year-old stepson. I also have a biological 5-year-old son. I can honestly say I would never feel so comfortable being a Mom to my son if I wasn’t a Stepmom to my older kid.

    Like many said before, I never tried to occupy any heavy duty parenting (school meetings, doctor’s appointments, etc) because there is a Mom a Dad for that. But I’ve been there for every single thing in between; for every pickup; for every football match; for every beach weekend, for every afternoon in the park, for every holiday and school break. I’ve always been there for everyday life. I make myself listen and hold myself accountable, because it is too easy to become self-involved and think that things are hurtful and not fair.

    Whenever it has been hard, it is because I forgot the golden rule of step parenting: It is never about you. If you’re a step parent, you’re there to provide a healthy family environment; and to create a space in which you’re comfortable to be yourself, while allowing them to be themselves, too. It takes a lot of time and is a never-ending job. Just like parenting.

    They were already there before you came. They get priority. We are adults, able to adjust. They are not. We have a responsibility towards making theirs a happy, healthy and balanced childhood. That’s the job in our hands.

    • m says...

      Beautiful, Ana!

    • SE says...

      This is SO RIGHT: it is never about you. Thanks for that! I agree too, being a step-parent first helped me become a better bio-parent.

    • hi! I used to live by the moniker that it’s not about me, too, as a stepmom. It’s easier to do when you’re not the one with full custody. Whenever the kids are around, you defer to whatever it takes to make them happy and healthy. BUT when the oldest moved in with us more than a year ago, I had to step in more as a parent because it wasn’t fair to my partner that he do it by himself. I also realized that it IS also about me because I am part of this relationship, too. I should have a voice at this table because this is my life, too. I was feeling like I was a bit erased in all of the mix when I just deferred and deferred and deferred. I now take a more active role and I am not afraid to do the tougher things required of me as a co-parent of a 17 year old son. I’ll have the tough conversations if I need to and I don’t feel as much of a need for him to LIKE me like I used to because I take my job of preparing him to be a responsible, hardworking adult in the world very seriously. At the same time, I LOVE him to death and would do anything for him and I hope he knows that. We have definitely had more ups and downs now that we live together, but I think that is par the course. I really love this conversation, though.

      Being a stepmom wasn’t a job that I was necessarily in the market for, but I fell in love with who I fell in love with and now these kids are the absolute light of my life and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

  30. Buttons says...

    I’ll never forget that part in Clueless when Cher’s dad said, “You divorce the wife, not the children!” For some reason, as a kid, I always thought that was so beautiful. xx

  31. stepchild chiming here – the way i was raised, by my bio father and stepmother, and by extension their siblings formed the foundation of my viewpoint of parenthood. i do not have kids and i avoided dating people with kids. i always felt less-than – the one without a bio mother, the one whose father did not publicly acknowledge her existence and his relationship to her until he was forced to by his own parents because they became too old to raise her themselves. i’m loosely estranged from them and while i acknowledge that being a parent is hard, that we are all humans who make mistakes, and that my stepmother did what she could with what she had, i am better and happier without them in my life.

  32. S. says...

    The hardest part for me was the break-up. I miss my ex-boyfriend’s kid a lot. I feel like I shouldn’t- it wasn’t my daughter, after all. But I was so unprepared, first to be a “stepmother”, and then not to be anymore … It hurt almost as much as the actual break-up.

  33. L says...

    I’m a stepmum to a nine-year-old boy with autism. My husband and I also have a toddler together. It is the hardest thing I have ever, ever done. At the beginning, I found the loss of freedom the hardest. I’m kind of used to that now, but dealing with a child with special needs who isn’t your own is incredibly difficult. I try not to but I feel anxious all the time whenever I know he’s coming or in the house, his behaviour (repetitive behaviour, shouting, rudeness, roughness with the baby) has lead to me having panic attacks or simply having to go into another room, cry, and then go back into the fray. And all that without any gratitude, rarely any affection, and he hates being touched, so barely any hugs or touching. I try and I try and I try and it often feels like going back to ground zero whenever he is at ours.

    • C says...

      Amen. I’m in a similar boat, and it definitely feels like drowning.

  34. A says...

    To add another comment about “houseguests”….

    I am “just the girlfriend” to a man with three adult children who come in and out of what was the main family home. I see him really struggling with wanting to change the house in certain ways or make me feel comfortable in it but also not wanting to disturb his children. Now we’re at a point where I feel like both the kids and I feel like houseguests in this house. It’s an awful limbo and I think we all are feeling a lack of support from my (usually wonderful!) partner.

    I have to admit I was pretty excited that the kids were adults and I definitely would never be viewed as stepmom but could maybe eventually be a supportive sort of friend, but I think there’s just a lot of anger and resentment that we all feel at the moment.

    Thank you to all of the stepkids and step-parents for sharing your stories. As has been said, it’s so difficult finding honest and non-judgemental resources!

  35. I so appreciate you covering the step parenting experience. It’s such a neglected aspect of motherhood in the media. I’ve been a step mother for 12 years, and it has been an incredible experience. I absolutely consider my stepsons to be my children. I am their mother. And so is my husband’s ex-wife. She is 100% their mother. I was not a replacement for her on the weeks the boys were in our custody. She and I are not interchangeable, and we are not in competition. Our sons have me in addition to her. Every family is complicated at times, but blended families can be amazing.

  36. Andy says...

    This article also triggered something in me. There are, I’m sure, wonderful stepmoms (and stepdads) but that was not my experience. I have a step mom who is in no way a bad person, who also tries to be our friend, but treats us very differently from her “bio” children and denfitely makes me like a guest in my father’s house. Even if your stepkids are rude and entitled (which most kids are and will hopefully stop beings as adults), your only choice and saving grace is to talk to them and forgive them and reset every morning. The difference between kids behaving badly at your/their house and you behaving badly is that they’re kids and you’re a grownup. The power dynamics are simply not the same. They didn’t pick you and they’re forced into the situation, they’re bound to feel somewhat resentful and angry about it. It demands a lot of selflessness to be a parent, step or not, and not everyone is built for it and that’s okay as well. This article is very much from the point of view of stepmoms getting no respect and no recognition, and while it’s also true,
    there are plenty of stepmoms out there who resent being put in this unwanted role, feel threatened by the first wife and are very vocal about their general displeasure in front of the children.

    • Laura says...

      Yes, I completely echo this! I don’t ever refer to my father’s wife as my step-mom, because I don’t feel any “mothering” from her; their house has pictures of her kids all over and none of my brother and I, and she has trash talked my mom to us.

  37. Hailey says...

    Thank you for posting this! It is refreshing and heartwarming to hear I am not the only step parent that struggles.
    I would absolutely love to see more step parenting content.

  38. Emma says...

    I got chills when I saw this posted on CoJ – and feel so seen! I’ve been in my fiancee’s daughter’s life since she was 2 years old. When she turned 4, we moved in together.

    When we first moved in, Daddy and daughter would go downstairs after dinner for her bedtime while I did dishes. After a few weeks, she invited me to join them. Eventually she let me sing a song, and later read the book. Now she’s 7 – and Daddy hasn’t come downstairs with us in years (and does the dishes!). We’ve read dozens of books together (currently reading Charlotte’s Web for a second time), we have lava lamp rituals and snuggle contests and inside jokes galore, and as I hold her and scratch her back as she falls asleep – sometimes she whispers her secrets into my ear.

    One of the sweetest parts of our relationship would never have been possible without Dad opening up the “holes” for us to grow in. I am not her mother – and yet I still get to love and be loved by this precious child. How incredible is that?

    • Himali says...

      thats the warmth i needed today after a shitty day at work. thank you
      – himali

  39. Shayda says...

    Love love love and then love some more. Oh, and bite your tongue. Alot. As a steparent, you are a “guest” in that kids life…for a long time until you earn a more permanent spot. Getting married to their biological parent doesn’t give you any right to be anything to them. That is earned. Through love. Took me 5 years. 5 long years. But SO worth it.

  40. Sara says...

    To the steparents out there…you are very much appreciated! My stepdad, who I’d known since I was a baby, died last year. I think about him everyday and appreciate everything he did for us :)

  41. B says...

    Ahhhh, such good timing for me. Thanks, Joanna! This is why I keep coming back to your site year after year after year. Hugs to all the blended families, single parents, and kids of divorce dealing with what it means to be part of a unique family. ♥️

  42. L says...

    I rarely share this….but I thought it might be a good way to understand a step parents side. My father had an affair with my now step-mother. My mom died of suicide shortly after he told her. My stepmother never wanted children (and let us know, often). My question is this, for step parents that have chosen to be with a partner who has children, and who don’t want to have children, why do you choose to be with someone who has them? I somehow navigated my way through that mess more or less intact, and my stepmother when I’ve asked her, says she loves my father, but is this justifiable? The years of hurt and pain for all parties involved…maybe it’s better to walk away if so much pain is caused in a living situation. Or to find an alternative living situation (like the one mentioned in the comments where the family lives separately but together). I have a daughter of my own now with a wonderful man, and cannot imagine not putting her feelings and needs at the forefront of any decision we make. As parents we have a responsibility to our children.

    • Courtney says...

      L- I’m so sorry for your difficult journey and the loss of your mom. Love to you. xox

  43. Sarah says...

    Thanks for providing these helpful comments from other readers. I have been dating someone for a year, with a 9-year-old daughter and an unwelcoming ex-wife. His daughter goes through phases of liking me and not liking me, depending on her mood, if I’ve interrupted her usual routine, or her mom’s words. It’s been tricky, to say the least. Helpful to know it’s not black and white, and to navigate as I go.

  44. Kayla says...

    This is an interesting POV. My dad was always the parent growing up. Both my step mom and birth mom struggled to connect with me.

  45. Lisa says...

    This is very timely for me. I’ve been initiating conversations with my step-mum and dad over the past few months, trying to deepen our empathy with each other and heal some emotional wounds of my own. Give the little girl inside me a voice, even now that I’m 31 years old.

    When I was 13 (and my brother was 17) my dad and my new step-mum tried to create a harmonious, happy home for us to visit on the weekends. I appreciate that, but what we desperately needed was space to be angry, to be upset, to express our ickier or messier feelings and thoughts for a while. The “happy home” vibe made me feel pressured to bury all that ickiness, which festered and came out in passive aggressive ways for many years, and sometimes even now, 15 years later. There was a lot of tension and hurt on all sides. Family therapy would have helped immensely.

    • Laura says...

      yes to allowing children space to be angry. Life would’ve been easier to manage if I was allowed to have emotions that my dad and his wife tried to force away.

    • Ann says...

      “Allowing children space to be angry.” I have been thinking about this for days. It’s so comminto focus on “adjustments” and “transitions” and “boundaries” etc. – but what about when it just sucks and a kid needs to explore and express that? Thank you sharing this perspective! I’m tearing up just writing this thinking about how well meaning adults get things wrong sometimes.

  46. Hannah says...

    If you ever do an article like this with the stepkids’ experience, I volunteer myself! Haha. Definitely had mixed feelings reading this post but I particularly loved Lisa and Sara’s sentiments.

    • Maelle says...

      Yes! haha, same here, so many conflicting feelings after reading all of this and the comments. Everyone’s experience is different, mine was that i mostly didn’t really have a relationship with my stepfather, he never parented me and my brother in any way, but at the same time was never mean to us, never disciplined us and never trashtalked my dad. I never, ever identify as his child, which is why i’m a bit surprised at all the comments of step-parents refering to their step-children as their own children. It’s great that they manage to have such a relationship! Curious to hear what the bio parent would think about that though..?

  47. sonia says...

    My partner and I have lived together for 7 years now. He has two daughters (now 9 and 12) who are with him every weekend. I have no children, no desire to have my own children, and also no desire to parent someone else’s children. It has taken quite a bit of trial and error but we have managed to create our own version of a family. I see my role as supporting my partner as a father, and as a trusted, loving adult friend to his children: NOT as a ‘mom’. His daughters already have a wonderful mother – they don’t need nor want me to mother them. Finding the right balance of relationship between a step-‘parent’ and children is a process that will be unique to each situation, and should not be subject to the judgement and criticism of others.

    For those who are struggling to define their role in a partnership with children: forget about societal expectations. Find the boundaries within the relationships that work for you, expect others to respect those boundaries, and offer them the same respect.

    • Cass says...

      This is so helpful, thank you!

    • nadege says...

      Thanks for sharing your experience, as a partner to a someone who parents. It’s so important to hear and wonder about the MANY different ways people negotiate relationships, and I fully agree: find the boundaries and opportunities that work for you.

  48. Adrienne says...

    Thanks for giving space for these great experiences and comments! I have two kids (8 and 3.5) and have been dating my boyfriend (he has no bio kids) for the past 19 months. It’s SO hard to find resources about how to do this “right,” and I don’t have any friends in my position, nor does my boyfriend. He asked several months ago if I knew of any books for guys in his position, and I couldn’t find a thing! My ex and the kids and I see a family counselor once a month, and she has provided some helpful insight. I feel like we’re all going really slow, trying to be thoughtful and respectful of each other, and letting the kids take the lead in how they want our relationship to evolve. We had our first sleepover at my boyfriend’s house last weekend, per the kids’ request :) it can feel exhausting and overwhelming to navigate sometimes. But I’m so hopeful that- with love and patience- this new relationship with my partner can be a gift for my kids, and vice versa.

    • Adrienne says...

      Full disclosure- reading through these honest and realistic comments has stressed me out a bit. We’ve been talking about me & the kids moving in with my boyfriend in September, but now I’m wondering if we should wait even longer… 😐

    • Iris says...

      Adrienne: Yeah, me too…this thread is a lot darker than what I hoped for… Ha! What I’ve taken from it is that the most important thing is to be thoughtful above all else, and to clearly identify what works and what doesn’t and to move on from what doesn’t early on. From your comment it sounds like you’re being extremely mindful, taking things slow, and not putting pressure on anything or anyone. Bravo!

  49. Courtney says...

    My stepmom and I had some very difficult years, for multiple reasons. We are close now thankfully but one thing I know would have made it easier is if my father had communicated better with both of us. I spent the summers with them, and felt very much like a guest in my stepmom’s home. In fact, when I told her that one summer, she said, “You ARE a guest in my home.” I never forgot that. That said, she felt like she had to clean up after my brother and I all the time (which was unfair to her) and it’s in part because my father didn’t set clear rules as he didn’t want to be too ‘strict’ when he only had us for the summers. It’s so complicated and I can see all sides. But he didn’t take the time to really listen, talk about it as a family and try to resolve things–other than maybe one conversation per summer. I think both I and my stepmom felt he wasn’t backing us up–I don’t think he knew how to deal and instead avoided the issue. Point being: Dads–both your kids and your spouse need your support and understanding navigating these relationships. Not facing the challenges just makes things worse.

    • Alex says...

      This is really important point!

  50. Amy says...

    Thank you so much for this post and all the commmets. As a young (soon to be) stepmom, I found it hard to find resources and role models. I found the blogger Jamie Scrimgeour to be a GREAT resource.

    My fiancé has done an amazing job helping me build my relationship with his 7 year old son – taking it slow, letting me have some “wins”, encouraging outings to the park just the two of us, reminding his son how much I do for him and how much I love him. He is excited for me to share his last name and I don’t think he even knows the term “stepmom” – I just want to be his “Amy” who will play any game with him and make his toys “talk.” Sometimes he is shy when his mom is near but last weekend he gave me a huge hug after his basketball game and I had to fight back tears. I look forward to being an extra person to love him and be there for him. I hope his mom warms up to me – I figure the best way to get there is to treat her the way I would like to be treated.

  51. Lu says...

    I’ve been a stepmother for 13 years and find I am still navigating who I am/we are in relationship with my step-(now)-adults, age 26-36. I have five stepchildren and three were adopted. They are also another ethnicity. I pushed to re-establish a relationship with their birth mothers and I can honestly say it is the thing I am most proud of having done as a stepmother, even as it complicated my relationships with them. I have no birth children so they are my only children. I can honestly say I am not sure they know how much I love them. Nor do they know how much of my emotional, financial and physical energy went in to helping raise them. I have always stepped back to make space for their mothers, and have always given my husband the lead in parenting. All these years later though, I find that perhaps that deference might have created too much distance between me and them, and I mourn the possibilities I missed, out of fear, or a sense that others should come first. At the same time I am grateful, grateful, grateful for all five, and their partners, and my grandchild.

  52. Cecilia Latorre says...

    It is beautiful and hard and everyone will have opinions but in the end, you have to do what works for you and your family. My partner & I each have kids, mine were 13 & 17 and his 5 &7 when we met. I have full custody of mine and he has a week on week off arrangement with his ex. After we blended our families and moved in together, we thought it would be easy.. it wasn’t: different habits, coordinating with the schedules, logistics, traditions, discipline, etc. But there was, LOVE. IMMENSE LOVE. So after 2’yrs of living together, we decide to “live alone together” instead. We talked with the children and explained we all loved each other so much that we had to find a creative solution to making our family work.
    In December we bought side by side duplexes and he lives on his side with his girls and I live on my side with my children. We see each other daily and check in and all eat together on the weekends and celebrate all the big events together, but we are each free to develop and foster our own relationship with our kids (especially given their age differences, now 18&21 and 10 &12 respectively) and we are closer as a couple as a result. It isn’t conventional and many people questioned our decision, but we love it and we all love our version of family. DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.

    • Betsey says...

      Yes! My dad and his partner of 25 years live in a two family-she’s on the first floor and he has the top two. I always thought it was weird when I was little, but now I think it’s genius. Good for you guys!

    • Michelle Bengson says...

      This is beautiful! I’m so inspired by your creativity, your commitment, and obvious love.

  53. AR says...

    Thank you! So glad to see this discussion here!

    I’m a stepmom whose partner and stepson are both lovely humans who I’m so thankful and honored to have in my life, and step parenting is still super hard! I struggle particularly with my life being in any way directed by my partner’s ex (particularly that we can’t move to another city, although I’d like to). Also sometimes I just get irritated by the little things – like eating at 6, when I like a late dinner. Ha!

    However, things have improved steadily over the last five years. If I could start again, I’d be more patient and caring with myself as well as with my new family. Things move slowly. There will be missteps. It’s ok and normal if it takes a long time and a lot of honesty to find a rhythm together.

    I also wish I’d prioritized finding another stepparent to be honest and vulnerable with. It’s such a relief to talk to a third party without fearing judgment. I initially looked online for support, and was met with so much stepmom shaming; so many people seem to want to shove stepmoms in a secondary role, chastising them for venting or establishing boundaries or asking that their needs be heard and addressed. The stepmom the internet wanted me to be didn’t sound like a happy, healthy person, OR a beneficial member of any family. Reading all that anger towards stepmoms set me way back.

    It took me a long time, and a stepmom-friendly support system, to feel confident in my belief that a good step family, just like any family, is a safe place where everyone is caring and cared for, nobody is secondary (although everyone must eat at 6 sometimes!) and I shouldn’t feel bad for being thoughtfully honest, taking time, or standing up for my needs.

    Thanks to the authors and commenters for sharing – especially Brooke, people can be so mean when women/mothers share their imperfect reality, but I also know there are stepmoms out there who are so relieved to hear that they’re not alone in their challenges. I hear you and wish you all the best; you’re doing an amazing job working towards a situation that works for your family *and you*.

    • D says...

      Yes to this! I think the not being able to move thing makes me a bit nuts sometimes. We live in London and it’s getting increasingly more expensive even as far out as we live. The ex benefits from a ridiculous child support payment (and my husband has no interest in arguing that she’s fleecing us) and she can afford a lifestyle we can’t. She’s finally moving but it won’t be far from her terrible neighbourhood, which means we’re stuck in the expensive southwest corridor for who knows how long. I’d love to try something totally new.

  54. Joanne says...

    Thank you to all the step-children chiming in with your stories! I often wonder what it will be like when my 6-year-old stepson reflects back on our relationship in the future, and I love the idea of filling in the holes and bringing something different to the table. This was a very timely article for me, on a topic that’s SO complex and difficult. It’s nice to feel a little less alone. Thanks COJ!

  55. Sarah says...

    My parents split when I was 2, my dad raised me solo for a couple of years and then remarried when I was 6. My stepmom IS my mom. She did all of the co-parenting and heavy lifting. I saw my biological mom in the summers and every other Christmas, but we’ve never had an easy or natural feeling relationship. My parents never said anything negative about each other, but my stepmom was much more of a parental figure from day 1 for a bunch of reasons, from my birth mom’s terrible taste in men and mental health issues. My (step)mom set the rules, supported me emotionally and was always there. For those stepparents starting out, it can be an awesome, central relationship in your life. I feel like both my (step)mom and I have been on the receiving end of so many negative stereotypes, and while I brush them off, I can see it hurt my mom when people ask where my “real” mom is. My real mom is the one that shows up every day for me, it’s as simple as that. As a new (bio)parent, my family growing up has taught me to be mindful of all the forms a family can take.

    • Michelle Bengson says...

      Oh this speaks to me. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  56. Sam says...

    My parents divorced when I was an infant and remarried other people shortly thereafter. They had no children together besides me, but both fairly quickly started having kids with their new partners. Though growing up in a broken family and having four imperfect parents left me with some heavy challenges (I think I’m one of those people who will just always be in therapy…), I really adore my step-parents and my step-grandparents, who never once made me feel any kind of less-than. For example, my step-mom always saved all the fun activities for when I was visiting, she called regularly just to fill me in about their lives and ask about mine, she’d never ever dream of having a professional family photo taken without me in it. My step-dad treated me so lovingly and so much like the other kids that I’ve just always called him dad.

    My story is different from many commenters because I hardly remember my life before step-parents. But because I was in some sense an only child and routinely shipped between their houses alone, I was always very sensitive to feeling “othered.” I’m so grateful that, during a time when they must have felt unsure of and maybe dissatisfied with their roles themselves, my step-parents worked so hard to protect me from feeling like I didn’t belong. They made me feel loved and treasured, totally irrespective of the biology of the situation.

  57. Ann says...

    I’m so grateful for this topic – being a stepmom is so, so hard. I have similarly found it can make you feel like a very guarded, closed off person – afraid to do or say the wrong thing. I have been a stepmom to two awesome elementary school-aged kiddos for 4 years. They are my boo’s and we have a great relationship. I met their dad after he and his ex were divorced, in separate homes, etc., but I also have found like a previous commenter that I am regularly hostilely seen as “the other woman” or the reason for the split from people in the social and school circles who have never even had a conversation with me. (Truly, hostile interactions from other people. I’m a professional executive in my 40s and I feel like I’ve walked into Mean Girls in some kindergarten or group parent situations. It’s bizarre!!) It’s hard for friendly parents of schoolmates, too, who might totally get divorce happens but feel somehow conflicted and unsure how to navigate the split parents. So you never quite feel firm on your own two feet navigating social situations with the kids.

    My husband is amazing – a true partner who bends over backwards to keep be involved and give me a voice and I am so grateful to have met him – but even with all of the good, I have learned that adults don’t get divorced with two young children (the baby just a few months old at the time) and then suddenly learn how to have a grown up, mature, working relationship with each other. They couldn’t communicate effectively then, and now, even if genuinely wanting to do what’s best for the kids, they don’t magically have the tools to work together and divorce doesn’t fix all the baggage and history. As the stepmother, you are not supposed to be the parent and you’re not supposed to contradict a parent you don’t know and you can’t make decisions about many needs and even reading a bedtime story can be suspect if it raises an issue the other parent doesn’t want you to delve into. You’re not the parent, but when you have young kids as stepkids, you really are a parent in their eyes – they need you to be their grownup and an advocate and a guide and you are the other half of their home. They may not even remember life without you. So in my situation, we try hard to be consistent and level and let them come to their own definitions of the relationship and what they need.

    Through this process, I have learned that women lie and can be abusers, too, and that not all women are suddenly great mothers just because they gave birth. I have learned that kids can tell when people around them are lying, even when it’s trying to protect them. And I have learned that even when it’s messy and fraught, kids need a relationship with *both* of their parents – it’s really, really important.

    I have learned that kids are resilient…and also they are not. Our situation is 50/50 shared custody, with midweek switches. This is good because the little ones don’t go too long without seeing the other parent at such a tender age. But it also means for their entire remembered life so far, they have never once slept in the same bed for a week. (Can you imagine not having that sense of home?) They actually usually like having two houses, by the way, but they are getting to the age where they want somethings to be consistent across both and we’re trying to navigate that. An adult friend of a divorced home who grew up shuttling houses said the key was to make it ok for the kids to be in the moment in the house they are at and to have fun and relax there – and not to be worried or feeling guilty that they aren’t with the other parent. That doesn’t always work so well when insecurities and jealousy and anger and control are thrown into the mix. Humans are humans and emotions are most present in family dynamics, no matter how your family is structured.

    In a stepparent relationship, you also have an 18-year bond to your spouse’s ex. The custody schedule defines your ability to take vacation or even a long weekend. It defines your holidays – and may prohibit your spouse from traveling (in our case, we can never together travel to see my family for a holiday until after the kids are 18, or example). And multiple decisions made by someone else have a direct and material impact on your life without your vote. In our case, the relationship with the ex is tenuous at best. So things like attendance at school events, or parent-teacher meetings, or future graduations are a massive negotiation and after a while that gets exhausting and demoralizing.

    But there is also much wonderful – fun family times, a richer life for having this family and experiencing all the ups and downs, a chance to get to know the kids on their own terms – as their own little people (I cannot overemphasize what a different thing that is – they are not reflections of me or any hopes or dreams projected from my life, they are their own mysterious beings who I get to know as they grow) having some free weekends is a mixed thing, you miss the kids so much but you have this amazing time to develop a relationship with your spouse and do other things with your time, which many parents would thrill for.

    You have to really think about this if you’re considering this life-path and then you have to open yourself to be a phd student in love and all the ways it works.

    • Ann says...

      And I meant to also say, in all fairness, I don’t think anyone says “when I grow up, I’m going to get divorced and share the raising of my kids with a totally stranger who marries my ex-husband.” So…it’s equally as hard all around! I have deep empathy and respect for the emotional toll, bravery (you gotta stare down all your insecurities…hard), and commitment to growth making mixed families work takes.

    • Rin says...

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Ann. I’m newly divorced with three little boys under age 9 and although I’m FAR from wanting to enter the world of dating and relationships at this point, perhaps someday I will be. Your comments resonate with me. The idea of blending two families (or adding another adult to the current environment) is scary, to say the least. I hope that when that day comes (if it does), I find someone insightful and willing to be a supportive partner in the way you’ve described – someone willing to be a PhD student in love!

    • Burcu says...

      This spoke to me in all levels. Our situations are very similar. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ann says...

      Rin – it really can be wonderful. I have come to the conclusion that more family = awesome, more love = awesome, more life perspective and experience for everyone (kids, parents, extended family) = awesome. But the blended family is messy and you have to go into it with your eyes open. I didn’t want to hide the hard things given this amazing opportunity to get real! (Something I was desperately looking for before I got myself into this blessed mess in the first place.)

      I’m embarrassed that the hardest things have been around things that shouldn’t really matter in the bigger picture but somehow take up a lot of oxygen. Things like money (not only does your spouse usually not have any because all “disposable” income goes to the ex after a divorce, you can get penalized on taxes if their agreement has tax requirements, you can find yourself taken to court for your own income if the ex wants more (and even if it’s frivolous, you have to pay for a lawyer you weren’t planning on), your ex can find unexpected legal fees, psychologist fees, family mediator fees, summer camp activity fees, etc. that s/he can’t afford, and so on); loss of perceived freedom of travel (my husband is totally supportive of me taking whatever time I want/need and traveling as I would like but that’s not the same as family vacations or flexibility for spontaneous travel – I feel silly writing this now because who cares given all you gain in family life but there is a primal reaction to someone you don’t know putting hard limits on your time and life and that’s just the truth); and being “half. ” I always wanted a family, I thought I would be a bio mother. We tried (everything) and experienced everything (natural and IVF pregnancy, subsequent miscarriages, etc.) it didn’t end up working out that way. I have, after a very hard road, come to peace with that but it’s not quite what I thought my life would be. But as someone recently said here, the life you didn’t lead is not yours. I am so grateful to have my shared kiddos and love them to pieces but I am not going to lie and say it’s easy to be a fraction of a parent. I’m also not going to lie to you and say it’s easy to always have compassion for someone who never wanted you in their life or their kids’ life and lets you know it (even though you get the larger situation).

      The key is – my husband is worth it all. He’s my partner – my other – and it took us both a lot of missteps and wrong turns and life to finally find each other. I wouldn’t trade that for the world because the life twists and turns is what made us who we are today and why we are right for each other. We took the kid element extremely seriously from day one – there were other vulnerable little lives involved and we knew if we were going to be serious, we were going to be all in because it wasn’t fair to the kids otherwise.

      When I say the kids are my boo’s, I mean it. they are – we have a rocking relationship that is so special and so important (and totally different than their parental bonds). I’m in their court, I’m always fighting and advocating for them and they trust me to be a stable presence. My extended family treats them as part of the family, same as any other grandchild or niece or nephew. And my husband, their dad, has been firm on this from the start – it’s a gift to model a healthy and loving relationship and even more important when they are in a split home situation. In many ways, he works harder at it than I even do.

      So, if your life path brings you to a potential deep and meaningful relationship, I hope you’ll be open to figuring out if it’s right!!

      (Sorry for the long-ass posts! This topic is clearly striking a lot of chords and pent up emotions!!!)

  58. H says...

    Yes! I feel we, as stepmoms, are underrepresented as a group and it’s hard to find advice or support online or elsewhere that doesn’t rely on the usual “stepmonster” tropes. I feel deeply connected to my nine year-old stepdaughter and six year-old stepson; I feel very much to be their parent but not at ALL like their mom. I love spending time with them and I am so lucky to be in a happy co-parenting situation (I am so appreciative of their mom) but I am still–often–troubled by deep resentments around loss of freedom, feeling taken for granted and unappreciated, picking up socks off the kitchen floor, etc. Obviously this is punctuated by complete joy, laughs, and happiness everyday, but this is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m sure every parent feels that way! Now that my husband and I are considering having a baby of our own I’m honestly hesitant because it’s like I’ve gotten this glimpse into the future to see how difficult parenting can be and right now I’m only doing it 50% of the time! How will I ever be up the the full time task!? Furthermore, I’m not sure if I want to rock the boat of our little family by adding a third who is only mine and will certainly change the dynamic for my stepkids. Our life has. been one way for 4 years and I don’t want them to feel any less mine because I have a new baby.

    • Bee says...

      Hi. I have the exact same fears as you. I’m stepmom to a 6 year old whom I have known since age 3. My husband and I have been together for four years and his son lives with us half of the week. We have a great life style living as a family of three half the time and being alone as a couple on the other half. Not having any resources or friends to consult with and living in a country where blended families are not common at all I struggled quite a lot and now fear that a new baby could change every fine balance I neatly formed. But a great advice I was given is this – have faith in the solidity of the relationship you built and that it will endure the changes you go through as a family. This speaks for both the stepchild-stepmom relationship and the husband-wife relationship. How you navigated taking care of your stepchild with your husband will help you navigate the relationships formed with the arrival of the new baby. Your stepchild will love having a half sibling too.

  59. liz says...

    1) i really appreciate this discussion. i knew being a step parent was hard, but wow, did these comments (in the article and comment section) really add color to just how complex these relationships usually are.

    2) I’m confused and disappointed why my comment was not posted regarding Brooke’s comment on feeling like her stepchildren are ungrateful house guests. I don’t think it was mean spirited in the least, just a comment on how children process your actions/energy and thinking that’s a bad perspective to throw into a already complicated situation. perhaps my wording was off but why is that something to be censored?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you for your note, liz! i’m sure your comment is up? we don’t delete comments unless they’re clearly offensive. maybe it’s on the second page of comments, or maybe you checked back before it was pushed live? (we moderate comments every 15-20 minutes or so.) thank you!! xoxo

    • liz says...

      thanks for responding, maybe it never made it through! <3

  60. Kristen says...

    I’ve been with my boyfriend for 7 years and have known his kids since they were 7 and 9 (they are now 13 and 16). I don’t call myself ‘a stepmom’ b/c I don’t live with them. As someone who never wanted kids I couldn’t imagine living with kids that weren’t my own. I just knew my relationship with my bf wouldn’t last if we lived together. For years when he had the kids (half of every week), I would live my life on my own terms in my own place. I loved the arrangement, but my bf did not. To make him happy I started showing up once a week every week for dinner and over time this did help me feel more at ease around his kids. I am astonished by the few support networks available for step parenting, however I did find one blog that literally made me feel sane about my feelings. It made me feel less alone and that I was indeed not a bad person for having the feelings I had. Can’t tell you what a gift that was for me! Since then I have read more and come to understand that what I have with his kids, ‘comfortable civility’ is very, very normal and common. It’s also normal for it to take 10 years to reach something more than comfortable civility. Can’t tell you how much better that made me feel about where I was at in my relationship with them. I listened to the Dear Sugar podcast someone here posted, and the expert they have on will make you feel more sane and okay with your step parent feelings too I believe. She puts things in perspective and states that the blended families that are super close and tight are VERY RARE. So take heart. Now going on 7 years, I feel more light hearted around the kids and have let go about wanting our relationship to be something more. We’re kind to each other and that’s good enough for me.

    • M says...

      Yikes “I couldn’t imagine living with kids that aren’t my own.” Your comment sounds like your did or continue to negative basically the most important part of your partners life. I am guessing these kids know how you feel and I would really suggest soul searching. If this is how you feel and you are still only doing once a week dinner maybe you should re evaluate if this is the person for you. When they turn 18 they don’t suddenly vanish. Kids are a part of your boyfriends life forever and if you aren’t fully game after all these years maybe take a deep look into yourself and those kids.

    • Michelle says...

      OMG comfortable civility is such a powerful idea, thank you for sharing. I moved in with my BOYF and we have his 13 yo son every other week, but before and after every school day. I grew up with two step parents from a pretty young age and really thought I had the model down. We have avoided many many mistakes, including some mentioned here. But I confess I had to give up some romantic ideas that we would create a family like the one I grew up in. My BOYF is a great parent but in no way establishes me as a parent-figure. I’m fine with that but it does leave one a but unclear on the role.. I’m hopeful that in 10 years – or more – my stepson and I will feel closer but I am now OK with the idea that it may always just be comfortable civility.

    • Kristen says...

      I applaud the other comments that show how creative people can be at raising families together, and not necessarily within the same household. Obviously the kids will always be around, however they won’t be living at home forever. And when he has them for 3 nights every week, I am there one of those nights and sometimes more. I have read and reread countless women who feel they need to escape their step kids when it’s ‘their turn’ to have them b/c of how out of place and uncomfortable it can sometimes be, and it is a completely normal feeling. I don’t need to ‘soul search’ b/c I make the choice to spend time with myself and the things I value.

    • Iris says...

      M: No one chooses who they love. Before I met my boyfriend I honestly could not understand why people decide to have children with the threat of climate change looming over us. I thought having kids was an irresponsible waste of resources for people with egos who were too self centered to adopt. And pretty much all my friends felt the same way. Then I met my boyfriend, and what do you know, he’s a dad! I’m learning to have empathy now, to understand different perspectives, to be flexible, and I wish that for you too. Imagine loving someone so deeply, and then finding yourself trying to fit into their already established family dynamic that is 100% different from how you lived before. It’s awkward, and it’s not easy for anyone, even, I’m sure, those of us who LOVE kids and were always surrounded by them. Life is messy and you don’t get to pick how you will change or evolve. For me and lots of others comfortable civility is a great way to respect boundaries while learning little by little how to be in each other’s lives. It’s about learning, not about avoiding. If we wanted to avoid we wouldn’t be in this position at all, I assure you…

    • Caroline says...

      Just chiming in to agree that I don’t think you need to “soul search”. (I’m the stepdaughter whose post you commented on yesterday). I commend you for knowing what would and wouldn’t work for you and going from there. I have never heard the phrase “comfortable civility” before, but I think that’s so spot on. It really does take years, even in the best situations. And even though my stepmom and I are close, it doesn’t mean our entire blended family is super tight. My stepbrother is not super close to my dad, and my brother is less close to my stepmom than I am, and that’s okay. As you put it, we’re kind to each other and that’s good enough.

    • Kristen says...

      Michelle, Iris, Caroline, thank you for your input. I feel many adults, us included, think oh my girlfriend is going to love my kids and the girlfriend thinks, oh the kids are going to love me and when that doesn’t happen, we feel like failures and something is wrong with us. We went through our own disillusionment with this and came to the real truth of the matter and when we accepted it, things became easier and more light hearted. I’m less sensitive and more tolerant and as others have stated, I’m more a support for my bf as a parent. I do have influence, it just comes through him. And as also stated, I have found the holes of things I can offer and bring to the kids that they’re parents don’t and it’s fun to see how it’s impacted them positively.

    • Iris says...

      Kristen: Totally! When I was in a constant panic about how this was all going to go down before I met his kids, I read an article online (I think it was LA weekly or LA times) written by a step mom who spoke about the importance of being like a cat, rather than a dog. Be present, be patient, be calm, but most of all follow the kids’ lead and let THEM show you how they want to be interacted with. There’s nothing more awkward than someone who’s far too enthusiastic when everyone’s feeling a bit strange. So right now I’m like a cat, just lurking around, being comfortably civil, until one of them asks me to braid their hair or something, and then when they do I’ll be thrilled ha.

    • Kristen says...

      Haha Iris, I’ve been there! Sometimes I feel I’ve been too cautious around them, and while they were younger, I took a few opportunities to make offers to his daughter…would you like your toenails painted, YES! and one time, when we are at my cottage, I waited until my bf left the room and asked her if she would like a massage, another YES! (I didn’t want to be rejected in front of my bf I was that nervous!). Now she is a teenager and I expect to be rejected when making an offer, ha ha, but it’s cool, it’s where she’s at in her growth. So only you know if it feels safe to you to offer a braiding of hair, and if it does, I hope you have the courage to offer as looking back, I wish I had made a few more suggestions while she was young and willing. That’s just my two cents.

    • Iris says...

      Kristen: That’s great advice, thank you so much! I will really take it to heart.

  61. Courtney says...

    I5 years ago, I became a step-mom to 3 girls ages 7, 7 and 9. I learned all my parenting skills from these 3, and I often tell them it’s too bad they were old enough to remember all my mistakes. There were definitely some rough seasons. Parenting is hard work, and adding more parents to the mix doesn’t always help. But, it did get easier for me once I came to terms with the fact that life isn’t fair, it’s better to give more than receive, and kids only get one childhood. I found a way to change what I could when it was really important, but otherwise I just let things go. The girls are in their 20s now, and we are very close. Looking back, I’m glad I found a way to just be there for them and do what needed to be done. They really do grow up and my days of being entangled with another person (my husband’s ex) are behind me. Now I get to enjoy these amazing young ladies, and that’s made every challenge worth it. If you are in the throws of it, hang in there! There is light at the end of the tunnel!

    • Jen says...

      Beautiful perspective !

  62. AK says...

    Being a stepmom has been the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life and among the least rewarding. I met my two stepkids when they were little and was a mom figure to them for half the week, every week for years and years. I did my best, without any guidance about how to walk the tightrope. Apparently I tried too hard, that was a problem. Then I disengaged. That was a problem too. My husband didn’t understand for years. Their mom trashed me to them. I couldn’t win for losing. I can say honestly that it profoundly changed me as a person and made me very guarded. I don’t have my own kids. Today they are both grown up. I have little to no relationship with my stepdaughter and I call my stepson off and on but he never reciprocates. I don’t think anyone who has not actively been in this position can really judge. I think we have a tendency to demonize stepmoms more than stepdads as a society too. I do think sometimes you don’t know what you have signed up for until you are well in it. Things change, dynamics can be different when you’re there for keeps. I don’t think my stepkids had an easy time either, no one did. I also find it interesting that so little is expected of the biological parents in terms of the role they play in easing relationships all around. I think some of you are being way too harsh on Brooke. I remember those feelings well…. it’s also not fun as an adult being made to feel like you don’t count in your own house. Again I don’t think anyone can judge without knowing all the details. Stepmothering is a VERY lonely job.

    • Michelle says...

      Step families do have special and difficult dynamics. But you know, plenty of families fail. Parenting is hard and most people don’t really know what they are getting into or what it will do to their relationship. You are right, judging never helped a single family, step or otherwise. For others reading your story and wondering if it will be them down the road, I would strongly encourage finding a family therapist with experience. There is also an excellent book called step-coupling, which speaks to issues you raise about how biological parents need to mediate AND make sure the relationship between adults stays strong…

    • Lee says...

      AK, I just want you to know I completely understand your experience because it sounds like mine. No one can judge, because each situation is so uniquely different. I too, did not fully understand what I had gotten myself into until I was already married. It did, at times, seem as though everyone thought I was the one who had to be understanding and not put myself first, it was all about the kids. But they weren’t my kids, and when their parents were so busy fighting and taking each other to court, it seemed like they needed a reminder to think about the kids – not me!
      Just want you to know, you are not alone. Step parenting is hard.

  63. EM says...

    Brooke I feel you 100%!!!! Thank you for your honesty. And I am SO relieved to see so many people commenting that step parenting is THE HARDEST THING they’ve ever done. I agree. I love my partner’s teenage child; at the same time, he’s fully-baked, and was raised with very different values from the ones I’ve taught my own kids. I work hard to be impartial and inclusive, but the feeling compared to my bio kids is different. Can he sense it? Probably, and I hate that. I also lived with step-parents growing up, and I would NEVER want to treat anyone the way they treated me! So sometimes I also retreat into another area of the house – when i need to keep any shitty, uncharitable feelings to myself.

    My partner and I have lived together for years, and have always talked marriage – moreso recently. But I am considering backing out and getting my own place with my kids again. I truly thought it would get easier after all this time, but for me, it has not. I’m sorry if that discourages anyone else. I’m at a major crossroads with all of it, and there have been a lot of tears lately. Thanks as always CoJ <3

    • Cecilia says...

      We did just that! We recently decided to sell our house and buy two side by side attached houses. “Alone together”
      He is on his side with his girls, me on my side with my kids. It has been the best thing for each of us and our relationships with our kids and for us as a couple. It is unconventional, but it works for us. We all love each other so much, but living together is so hard. Do what you need to do!

  64. Lauren says...

    Brooke – I hope this doesn’t sound patronising but you can only do your best. This too will pass x

    • Nikki says...

      Lauren this was so sweet. I was so disappointed by some of the “holier than thou” comments in her.

      Brooke- you are in my heart today <3as a teacher to ten year olds I know how tough and cruel they can be AND I make the rules. Thinking of you xo

  65. Elizabeth says...

    I’m so happy to finally see a piece on being a stepmom. I’m very new to my stepmom role and I find that it’s very difficult to find advice, especially from parent blogs. I’m not quite a parent and don’t feel included in articles about “being a mom”, but I’m not necessarily childless either. Walking the “thin line between overparenting and underparenting” feels like the path I’m on myself, and it couldn’t explain it more perfectly. I’d love to see more articles on parenting blogs that include stepparents in the parenting conversation, especially those of us that don’t have biological kids.

    • Meg says...

      Elizabeth, I’m new to stepmotherhood too and feel very lost. I still haven’t decided if I can make it or rather I should back out and let find different life for myself. Wish you all best in your new life, I hope it will be fulfilling. It’s encouraging to read all these comments here and I’m grateful CoJ wrote about it.

    • Elizabeth says...

      Meg, I questioned it myself. If you see this response and you (or anyone else who sees this) would the ear of someone who’s going through the same situation , my email is ElizaAnneCats (at) gmail (dot) com. I’m always open to talk about my own experiences or just lend an ear :)

  66. Sasha L says...

    Wow, being a step parent sounds like a hard job. Pats on the back for all of you who are so obviously doing your very best. And my heart goes out to the folks who are badly treated by the exs. That must be unbelievably hard and painful and frustrating. Here’s to putting family ahead of ego.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a lovely comment, sasha.

  67. LC says...

    I’m neither a stepchild nor a stepmother, but the comments are providing me with useful advice in developing a warm, loving and respectful relationship with my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Perhaps that could be the subject of a future post?

    • Sasha L says...

      Yes please! And it would be great if it included advice about in laws too.

    • Louise says...

      I’m really struggling with my mother in law at the moment. She’s a nice woman, but is driving me nuts with all her ‘suggestions’ on parenting. I’m trying to swallow my frustrations but they won’t stay down 😫 Help

  68. I was 23 when I met my then partner whom had custody of 3 children 12, 9 and 7. I loved it and I still do 20 plus years on. We had 2 children of our own as well. I can’t say it was all smooth there were many bumps in the road. But I love and cherish my life. I am proud to be a mum and step mum and nana too.
    I say be yourself. Have fun. Offer supper in any way you can. Hugs and love go along way.
    V 😊

    • BG says...

      Encouraging to me! I’m in a similar family constellation and do find that hugs and personal attention make great inroads with guarded kids.

  69. Jill says...

    I have had the joy of being a stepdaughter and a stepmom. My parents were married to each other and divorced from each other twice. They tried to make it work but they were not a good marital fit. . My dad met and married my stepmother a year or so after the second divorce from my mom.

    I was ten years old and these are the things I remember …. my new stepmom was a lot younger (she was in her mid twenties) than my dad and mom and I thought she was cool. My mom never made me feel bad about liking my stepmom. She encouraged it. She would always say that my dad did well marrying my stepmom. She appreciated that she was nice to her kids and was a kind person.

    My stepmom always respected my mom’s authority and never undermined her. They eventually became friends, very good friends.

    It is now over 40 years since my dad and stepmom were married. I cannot imagine my life without my stepmom. She never tried to replace my mom.
    and became her parenting ally.

    My beloved mother died ten years ago after a brief and ugly battle with cancer. It gave her peace to know my stepmom was with us.

    Once I married my husband I knew what to do as a stepmom, be kind and do not undermine. I know this is easier said than done in particular when the split is still fraught with pain or a former spouse is toxic. We cannot control the actions of others but we can control our own actions /reactions.

    Also I love the comment about filling in the places that are not filled by the other parent(s). My love of travel is shared with my stepson. Neither his mom or dad have a wanderlust and we connect over our love of travel and exploring.

    Thank you for this topic.

  70. Margot says...

    Thank you for this post COJ! I am a step mom to a 8 year old boy. I dont have yet any kids of my own, therefore, no experience in parenting department. I also dont have any step moms in my circle. What i do have is a ton of luck as my step son is a wonderful loving kid and we ve gotten along from day 1. My bf is a great dad and he helps me ease into this role. Also, the ex wife is a very nice lady with whom i have a good relationship. There is no bad mouthing, no anger, no grudges between the 3 of us. Our common goal is to raise this kid in a happy and lovingly environment. While i know this kid will always have a mom, who isnt me, i do love and cherish the moments when he is hugging me or holding my hand. Big hug to all the step moms out there! ❤️

  71. maya says...

    At last an article/insights about step parenting. Which is truly the hardest job in the world!

  72. Ann says...

    I am a step daughter. I put my step father through the ringer! I was soooo mean to him when he was dating my Mom. The poor guy tried so hard and was super strict. I probably would not be the half-decent parent I am now without him.

    • Tracey says...

      If he’s alive, please tell him this. It’s powerful and important. Xx

  73. I love love love this — hearing these voices makes me appreciate my own family background! Would also love to read a similar piece on adoption.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      absolutely, we’ll get to work on that. thank you so much, savala.

  74. Helen says...

    This is so great. I’m wondering if something similar can be written out for foster parents or those looking into that. It’s something I’m thinking of, but see less resources and stories about. Thank you so much!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i would love to work on something like this, helen. thank you!

    • Sasha L says...

      I would love this as well. My dear friend and her wife foster two beautiful boys, and wow, what a journey. I would love to learn more and see more support for those who foster

  75. Abigail says...

    Being a stepparent can be so up and down! I’m lucky that my partner and I have two girls who are only 18 months apart, and we share joint parenting on an identical 50/50 schedule. So that makes scheduling somewhat easier, though taking them separately to their two different elementary schools makes mornings hectic. We’re very fortunate that the girls insta-bonded right away, better than we ever could have predicted. Their first introduction was just a play date at a local park, where I told my daughter that we were going to meet a new friend. My daughter does lots of park play dates with friends from her kindergarten, and I expected the girls would play in the park for two hours or so and then we’d go home separately, no big deal. The girls were having such a good time that they begged to have dinner together, so we threw together an impromptu dinner at my partner’s house. I ended up having to load my daughter into the car having a meltdown at the end of the night: “I don’t want to go home! I want to stay here and have a sleepover with my frieeennnnddddd!!!” It was heart-breakingly sweet but I was completely mortified about my child’s behavior in front of my partner. We laugh about it now, btw.

    What hasn’t been easy is dealing with my partner’s ex-wife. She has extreme mental health problems and battles addiction as well (the single key reason for the breakup of their marriage). She attempted to intimidate me by dragging me into their messy court battle, and has steadfastly refused to do anything more than the absolute minimum (oftentimes much less) in terms of shared parenting responsibilities. What I try to remember is that she’s not my enemy, and that I must never, ever, EVER let on to my stepdaughter that I don’t particularly like her mother. In fact, I try to always reinforce to my stepdaughter that every adult in her life loves her – I tell her frequently that I love her, her daddy loves her, and I know that her mommy loves her too. I do less well at venting to my partner about the frustrations that she causes. I’m sometimes guilty of dumping in, instead of dumping out, and he’s got enough trouble of his own with her, without having me dump all my own emotional burdens on his shoulders. When I’m at my best, I can maintain good emotional boundaries and let him vent without me interjecting my own emotions into the scene….but I’m imperfect at this.

    I’ve reached out several times via sincere email to my partner’s ex, and volunteered to meet with her either at a coffee house or even in a joint counseling session, but she has refused to acknowledge any of my attempts. The last email was met with a three page rant about how terrible my partner/her ex is, and closed with the instruction that I should never attempt to contact her again. I’ve let things be since then, since that’s what she wants. All communication with her falls on my partner’s shoulders, which isn’t really fair, nor is it in the best interests of our children to have this wall in place long-term, but I don’t know what else to do.

    At least on my end, we don’t have this problem. My own messy divorce has settled into a cooperative co-parenting relationship that is better than I ever expected. My ex and my partner have met several times, and we’ve even been to joint events as a blended family: our two kids, myself and my partner, my ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Yes, it’s awkward, but the lack of conflict and the way we can effectively co-parent our shared daughter is well worth it.

    (FWIW, since I’m sure someone will ask: No, my partner and I did not have an affair. We did not meet each other until after our respective marriages ended. My partner’s ex-wife dragged the separation and divorce on for over a year.)

    • Megan says...

      I appreciate you not trashing her stepdaughter’s mother to her. It must be really hard at times to keep it in, but I’m sure she struggles with her mom’s behavior, even if she doesn’t let on, and needs the space to draw her own conclusions about her mother as she grows up. Keep emphasizing the love!! You’re doing great.

  76. Nina says...

    I was a stepmom for 15 years and LOVED my stepson exactly like he was my own. Unfortunately, his dad and I recently divorced so now i’m sort of an “ex-stepmom” which is just a ridiculous sounding name …all that matters is our love and that didn’t change one bit when his dad and I could no longer make it work.

    “The problem with the world is we draw our circle of family too small”
    Cheers to every family – blended or otherwise – doing their best.

    • C says...

      You are still his stepmom! :-) I had a colleague in a similar situation and she continued to spend time with her stepdaughter and I remember she included her stepdaughter in a cousin get together with her brother’s children years after they got divorced!!

  77. Sara Yurkovich says...

    Step-parenting is HARD, and it is very easy to feel unappreciated. Recently, my step-daughter’s parents decided (without my consent) to get her a puppy, so that she has company when she travels between households. Back in my day, teenagers had to earn puppies, not receive them for demanding them…call me old fashioned. Anyway, step-daughter and her mom are off to London this week, and my husband is working a ton while they’re away, so guess who is left puppy-sitting? Look no further than step-mom. BUT, all it took to soften my hard-feelings about it was one appreciative text from biological mom: “Thank you for doing this. I know it’s extra work, and I deeply appreciate you.” Boom! Happy, appreciated step-parent here :) Bio-parents, thank your step-parents more often. It means a lot.

  78. Rachel says...

    My dad passed away and my mom remarried in the same year, when I was twelve. My younger brother and I put my stepdad through the ringer — we were rude, withdrawn, but mostly we were so sad and there was so much change. It’s only now, as an adult, that I can truly appreciate how difficult it must have been for my stepdad to take on an entirely new family, especially one in a situation as complicated as ours: a grieving, hormonal pre-teen and a special-needs 7-year-old, plus a divorced woman mourning the loss of her ex-husband. And he chose us anyway. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

    • Owl says...

      Sniffle. Beautiful.

    • Alexandra says...

      Rachel, that is so thoughtful of you to be able to look back now with love and compassion. You sound so empathetic!

  79. DW says...

    my parents divorced when I was in my early twenties and my dad remarried. because I was already grown, I never have considered my dad’s wife my stepmom – she’s just my dad’s wife. even so, it took me years to feel ok about her presence in my dad’s and my own life. not sure if there have been other posts/threads up about this, but would love to hear from more people who experienced their parents’ divorce and remarriage as an adult.

    • Kristin says...

      Yes! I just posted about this too, DW. My father recently married his 3rd wife (I am 38) and it’s been a nightmare. His second wife was bad and his third is turning out to be much the same… She loves to create drama and gossip and speak badly about my father’s sister and mother to him. So many more issues… hope your experience is better than this. x

  80. Kristin says...

    This is such a fascinating feature. I am 38, my parents divorced when I was about 12, and I’ve had two stepmothers. The first when I was 15ish and the next married my father a few months ago. I would love to read a similar post about adults with new step parents. I have so many things to say on this topic and would love to hear from people in similar situations!

    • Abby says...

      Agreed! My mom passed away when I was 20 and my dad remarried 3 years later. I do get along with my “stepmom”, but it’s still hard to develop a connection when I only see her a few times a year when I’m home for holidays. It seems like it will take a very long time to get used to because it still feels like a tiny shock every time I go to their house and see this woman who is not my mom.

  81. Emily says...

    I’m a full-time stepmother. My stepson’s biological mother moved across the country and “visits” him 2x/year (if that). His mother his very manipulative, though, and he has her on a pedestal despite the fact that she has largely abandoned him for the last five years. It’s a sad and difficult situation. Now I’m newly pregnant with my first biological child and telling him is my biggest concern: I don’t want him to ever feel left out or less than. Being his stepmother is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done.

    • Lilly says...

      Hi, Emily. I think kids are way smarter than we give them credit for. It’s a lot easier for a child to put their mother in a pedestal than it is to accept that the mother just didn’t love them that much. But please know that kids are very aware of who is there for them, and who takes care of them, and they usually give the hardest time to the people they consider their corner stone: those that love them no matter what. I am sure you are an amazing step mom, and giving him a sibling is one of the greatest gifts in the world (even when all hell breaks loose). Best wishes to you on your pregnancy and your family.

    • Olivia says...

      Lilly, what an insightful response. Kids KNOW. It’s just too painful to think your parent doesn’t love you or care for you how they should.

  82. Melissa Komadina says...

    Has anyone found resources (books, websites, etc.) on being a queer stepmom? I’m a queer stepmom-in-training, and really related to Sara’s perspective in this article. I’ve tried reading books like “Stepmonster,” but because most books are primarily focused on stepmothering in a heterosexual relationship, a lot of it doesn’t apply or feel relevant. For example, in my case, I’m dating the kids’ mom vs. potentially “competing” with their mom. Any recommendations that are less gendered and/or more inclusive would be welcome.

    • Robin says...

      After my parents divorced my mother had two marriages, each to women, and my dad married a woman. I didn’t really view any of my step mothers differently because of their sexual orientation. But if you are looking for some insights on my experience feel free to ask!

    • ls says...

      The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson features some really lovely passages on queer coparenting!

    • Sara says...

      It is so hard to find content on queer stepmotherhood. There’s a wonderful essay in the anthology Confessions of the Other Mother—which is mostly geared toward lesbian parents who make a baby together, but there is one contributor who writes beautifully about being a stepmom.

      I think we have to encourage one another to write about our experiences. There isn’t a lot of content out there, but I KNOW there are other folks out there who are queer stepparents. We just have to find each other!

  83. Amy says...

    This is what I have been looking for. I am friends with so many Moms, and have been around kids and worked with kids my whole life. So I thought going into my relationship with my fiance, who’s daughter at the time was 4, was going to be easy. Flash forward 3 years, and I can honestly say its one of the most complex and challenging things I have ever been through. There are days where I feel like the evil stepmother, and others where she is my best friend. It’s so hard to find that balance of a loving relationship, without overstepping. It’s gotten easier over time as I can recognize when I am having a harder time and take a breath to recenter myself before I get frustrated. I never expected this, but I wouldn’t ever change it. Being a stepmom doesn’t get the conversation around the struggles and joys that it needs and deserves.

  84. Meghan says...

    Being a stepmom is hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I tried too hard and I was overstepping. I disengaged and I didn’t care enough. No one tells you that sometimes it just doesn’t work out. My husband has two adult children and one refuses to speak to him; we’ve been together over a decade and I am still referred to as “that woman”. I love my husband and can’t imagine my life without him but if I had to do it all over again? I have my doubts. It’s exhausting having everything be my fault all the time. My husband was divorced when I met him and I still feel like the other woman at times. It’s just so fucking sad and hard.

    • NC says...

      Oh gosh. My heart breaks for you. I am also a stepmother and can entirely agree with you about how enormously hard, difficult and frustrating it can be. My older stepson refused to speak to me at all for about a year when he was about 17. It was so awful to feel so hated and like an outsider in my own home. While we have got through that now there were times when I too wondered whether it was all worth it. We never know the paths our lives will take and we just have to keep walking them in hope that we’ll make it through.

  85. gina amoroso says...

    As a step mom and also a step daughter, it’s really refreshing to read this today . I am beyond grateful to have had a wonderful Step-Dad, he passed last year and I think of him every single day. I also added two step children to my blended family of 4, it continues to feel like glorious chaos! I hear Brooke and it’s incredibly heartbreaking to be badmouthed by your stepchildren’s mother. Our family has this issue to deal with as well. We try to remember all the time that we have no control over what she may say or do . But we always have control over what WE say and do. In the end lean into the love you create with husband and all of your children, even on the hard days.

  86. Kate says...

    I’ve been a stepmom in various guises since I was 23 (I’m now 37). My ex-husband’s son (whom I still consider my stepson) was 6 when I met him, and my partner has 3 daughters in their 20s. Sometimes it was (is!) hard, particularly when The Other Family’s plans got in the way of ours, or when the girls treated their dad (and me) like staff. I will never forget the time when my ex said that I was not allowed to come to the parent-teacher conference because “I wasn’t his mom,” despite the fact that I was paying for half of the school fees.

    Overall, though, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. The biggest lesson learned is to really work hard to be civil with the Other Parents and keep consistency across the houses. More than once, I refuted a “but mommy lets me do that,” whine with a “really? shall we text her and check?”, which is easy when you have cordial relationships!

    As an added bonus, I’m definitely looking forward to being a step-grammy! Skip straight to the fun part!

  87. Katie says...

    I just want to give Brooke a hug.

    • Kristin says...

      Me too. Big hug from Manhattan, Brooke.

    • Courtney says...

      Me too. I am a (fairly new) stepmom, and my relationship with my stepson is difficult/ forced. I never wanted to have children and don’t have any of my own, but here I am. The ONLY thing my husband and I ever fight about is his son. Usually it revolves around discipline, or the lack thereof. But I know he is trying to be a better parent vs. friend, and it is getting better. I almost never discipline my stepson, because I don’t feel that it is my place. He is almost 8 and kind of shy, and he is only with us for half of the week. I don’t want to make the time that he is here uncomfortable for everyone, even though it is almost always uncomfortable for me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with secluding yourself from time to time. My husband and his son get that quality alone time together, and I get alone time too. Sometimes I walk the dogs, run errands, go out with friends, or just watch TV shows that only I like. It’s not hurting my stepson, he just thinks I’m doing the things that all grown ups do. I just happen to plan them strategically.

  88. Caroline says...

    I’m a stepdaughter (not a mother), and I so often feel like stepparent/ stepchild relationships are either ignored or grossly oversimplified. I met my stepmother when I was 14 years old (I’m 34 now), and while we never lived together (she and my father lived apart until after I moved away for college—she did live with my younger brother, which I know was a challenge at times), she is one of the most important people in my life. Navigating that relationship can be emotionally awkward on both sides – she has always been overly cautious to not usurp (or appear to usurp) my biological mother’s role, and I have been more standoffish with her at times than I might otherwise be because I perceive that while she loves me very much, her biological son (who is my age) will always be her #1 priority. But she has been a rock for me in difficult times (breakups, employment woes, dealing with depression), and the person I have trusted with my most personal and embarrassing questions over the years. She is the only person who can consistently talk me off an anxiety ledge (my husband calls her the “Caroline Whisperer”). She is not my mother, but also she is. I know she takes her role as a stepmother seriously, and has approached it extremely thoughtfully from the beginning. Yet her role often seems so underappreciated. Something as simple as finding an appropriate mother’s day card for her every year can be difficult, and stating that I have a close relationship with my stepmother is so frequently met with confusion or disbelief. It’s rare that I see a motherhood article exploring the complexity of these relationships (the lack of which can feel isolating), so thank you for posting this.

    • Kristen says...

      Caroline, thank you so much for writing from the experience of a step daughter. I can’t agree with you more that the role of step parenting is so under represented in our society which is crazy to me considering the percentage of blended families is so high. As a step parent who does not live with my boyfriend of 7 years and his two kids (boy 16, girl 13), your living situation is the same as ours. I too am waiting for his son to go off to college before moving potentially moving in with he and his daughter and I expect there to be hardships. As someone who never wanted kids, I have found this ‘gig’ to be so incredibly challenging. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never pushed myself on the kids and have certainly shown up more in their lives within the past year. I received my first hug from his son this past year! His daughter is pretty reserved naturally and is now hitting a bit of a teenage sullen phase. As a step daughter what would you want most from your step mother? I want her to know I’m there as a friend, however I feel she may feel liking me too much would be betraying her own mother. Any advice?

    • Caroline says...

      Kristen, congrats on your first hug! I wish I had some brilliant advice for you, but honestly I don’t. It sounds like you’re doing a great job though – I think what you’re describing (not being pushy, but showing up more and more) is what made my relationship with my stepmom a “success”. Both of my parents remarried, and both of them took very different approaches. My stepmother was introduced to us slowly, whereas my stepfather moved into our home within months of meeting my mom (with little to no discussion with me or my brother beforehand), and more or less became the center of my mom’s world. I think a large part of what helped with my stepmother is that it always felt that she respected that my dad had a relationship with his kids that existed before she was in his life, and that we were extremely important to him. She never tried to compete with us, which perhaps sounds silly, but I remember that the terrifying part of having my parents divorce and remarry was the fear of being unwanted or replaced. I don’t remember when I started seeing my stepmom as truly being a part of my family, but I’m sure it was the result of time and the compilation of hundreds of seemingly trivial events – being included in meal planning when she was over for the night; being invited to borrow shoes from her enviable collection; her having my back when I got busted coming home way too late from my boyfriend’s house at 17. I think your idea to let your boyfriend’s daughter know that you’re there for her if she needs you is good. She may not take you up on it for a while, but I’ll bet there will be times when she’ll be really grateful to have you in her life. I get the betrayal aspect – I don’t have a good relationship with my mother, and yet I still recall feeling guilty about liking my stepmother when I was a teenager. I can imagine it’s even harder for someone who is close to their mother. I think the only thing you can really do with that is be patient, and to reliably be there for her when she does turn to you. Wishing you, your boyfriend, and his kids the best of luck as you continue on this journey together!

    • Sharon says...

      What a beautiful comment. I feel she must know and feel this love that you have for her. I think many people don’t have this relationship with their own biological mother, let alone a step mother. She sounds wonderful. No one is perfect, but your description sounds like genuine love. How lucky you are to have her.

    • Sharon says...

      Kristen – I’m not a step child per say, though my mother passed away 6 years ago and my dad has a live in girlfriend. However, I wanted to say that being a parent with a teenager can be tough even for amazing moms who’ve been with their girls their whole lives. My mother and I were best friends, but we had more than a few ROUGH patches around age 14. I was horrible and said some nasty and hateful things in anger and frustration (probably for being restricted from doing something dangerous). Anyways, just stay the course and do your best to not take things personally. Mothers can give unconditional love. That is what makes them so special. This is love that is sometimes undeserved and often unappreciated in the moment. BUT it will be remembered and appreciated one day. Your love will make a difference. And things take time. The time is what builds the bond.

    • Caroline says...

      Thank you, Sharon, for reminding me of how lucky I am. :)

    • Kristen says...

      Thank you so much for taking the time to reply Caroline, much appreciated! Sounds like staying the course and being patient is what remains and is needed.

  89. KD says...

    Super helpful to hear so many stepchildren’s perspectives and also about how others manage the stress of navigating blended families. I’m stepmom to a 13 yr old with a biological 6 and 4 yr old who adore their brother. The greatest challenge for us has been navigating an extremely nasty relationship with my stepson’s mom, who was not ever an ex or even a girlfriend, and is always threatening for more child support, going back to court, or more money for this or that (we pay a ridiculous amount already imo) but is also very neglectful of her son. It can be very hard to stop the anger and frustration from her demands about logistics for his visits to not overshadow our time with him. We do our best, but man… it can really be hard to put on a happy face when you have been put through hell by his mom.

  90. Roseanne says...

    I married young and immediately got pregnant with my daughter. After five years, my husband decided he wanted a divorce and married another woman less than a year after we separated. I wanted to hate this woman because there are indications that she and my ex got together before we separated but instead became determined to make her my friend, my co-parent to my daughter. And she was and is. Her children with my ex-husband feel like my step-kids, even now. Of course, he divorced her after six years and married yet another woman. My daughter is 16 now and thinks “I’ve had two moms, I don’t need a third” and doesn’t care for my ex’s new wife. She’s not rude or disrespectful when she goes over to his house, but I know she wishes she didn’t have to at all. I hate reading “be careful with who you have children with.” My ex and I were in love and excited to spend our lives together, he changed, I couldn’t account for it. I wanted so many times to tell new wife #1, he did it to me, he’ll do it to you, run. But I would have come off petty, jealous, angry. I was for a little bit, but only for a little bit. I don’t interact with new wife #2, I imagine it is hard for her, I am sure she doesn’t understand why my daughter is not jumping at the bit to get close to her, but I also have little empathy–he has done this to two other women, why do you think he will stay with you?

    • Robin says...

      I think I was the one who commented “be careful who you have kids with” and I’m really sorry I said it now! Of course, you can never anticipate the future or know what could happen when another person is involved. I hope I didn’t cause angst, and I’ve only ever said those words to myself, not others. Of course there is no way of predicting the future and you always make the best decision you can, with the current circumstances. For me, I’ve had to think very hard about what to do about an unintended pregnancy, and growing up in a divorced family greatly factored into my thoughts. That is what I was referring to.

  91. Jodie says...

    I feel for Stepmoms and am lucky to have one of the best. My parents were divorced and Mary is my second Stepmother (the first was too young and it was not a good situation). I was 15 when she married my Dad and my Mother then died when I was 19. Mary has always stepped in where needed but never pushes or forces our relationship and I love her for that. She tirelessly worked to make my wedding beautiful and special, she is a great Grandma to my son. As we are getting older, I have been thinking lately that I should let her in more because she deserves it.

    • Kristen says...

      No one grows up saying they want to be a step parent. It’s the hardest thing and not enough is written about it. You give and give and give just like a parent does and you don’t get a whole lot in return. We are not trying to be your parents, nor do we want to be your parents. We are thrust into this situation and are trying to make it the best we can. I am pro, let her in more, on all accounts.

  92. Liz says...

    I can’t remember life with my parents together and my step mother has been around since I was 6. It seems more common when the step parent is less involved, but in my case she was incredibly involved, until I was about 16. It hurts less when someone decides not to be part of your life than for them to jump in with both feet and then jump out later. So for anyone in a step parent role, you can always dial it up but you can’t really dial it back.

  93. C Johnson says...

    As a “bonus-mom” to my “bonus-son” it is hard. But there are joys too: he confides in me and we have similar interests in the arts. He now has four siblings from my husband and I and a new baby from his mom and her partner. I met him when he had barely turned three years old and I’m thankful to have started our journey while he was so young, I’ve always been a part of his life in his perspective. Due to life being complicated though, we live farther away than we like. Which changes the dynamic. When he comes to our home it’s much less about “magically know how to be here,” and more “come join in what we are doing!” We do let him know the house rules as he is nearly ten years older than his brothers and sister. It can be a challenge to not fall into the temptation to “catch up on parenting,” as the lifestyle he lives with his mom is something we aren’t ok with. We try to focus on loving him, making the time together meaningful, and supporting him, while helping give him and the other kids opportunities to bond. Being a “bonus-parent” is not for the faint of heart, it is the opportunity to courageously love.

    • Joanne says...

      I love that! “The opportunity to courageously love.” Thank you.

      (I’m a stepmom to a 6-year-old, and often struggle to choose that opportunity on a daily basis.)

  94. ML says...

    Really appreciate this focus on step-parenting. We have a different-ish situation in that my husband – and 2 stepsons – are from another country. So the 21 year old came here a few years ago (when he was 18) and lives with us full time, moving out on his own soon. His 17 year old brother will come soon, we’re working on his visa. We also have a 5 year old daughter.

    Positives
    – easier in that they are older so I don’t need to parent as much and I get to be more of a friend/guide/support at this age
    – built in baby-sitter for our daughter, and their relationship with her is very sweet
    – they are great guys, pretty respectful and I realize I’ve gotten lucky there (or their mom who mostly raised them did a great job as well)
    – I have a good relationship w/ their mom and being in different countries gives us all space and breathing room. We actually even stay with her a bit when we go visit

    Challenges
    – pretty fully formed, good/bad habits and all by the time they move in with us
    – cultural norms are very different regarding food (they don’t eat very healthfully and we try to as a family), screen/phone time, living on their own, etc. I did live where they are from for 4 years, so understand the country/context a fair amount, but doesn’t always make it easy playing out in your own home
    – ‘all or nothing’ given the distance between mom and dad, there’s no going back and forth for weekends/every other week. They are either living with us all the time or not
    – big adjustment relationship wise for full grown teenage boy/man moving in, but after some big bumps we navigated the first one coming and are better prepared for the second

    100% agree, step parenting is up/down, good/bad, and requires a lot of careful thought and continual navigation. Think it doesn’t get as much respect/attention as parenting a child you gave birth to/chose through adoption, and it should. Shout out to these women who shared their stories and all the other step parents out there navigating it!

  95. Ryann says...

    It’s strange because I don’t think anyone thinks they will grow up and become a step parent. I was 30 when my 4 year old and I became engaged to my future spouse and his 10 year old it and itjust felt like the next step. When we merged households a lot of issues surfaced that weren’t apparent when we were just spending a lot of extra time together. I found myself having to teach a 10 year old to not jump on furniture, remember to flush the toilet, not talk back, and play gently with toys. I have become the baton carrier to teach good habits to an impressionable 4 year hold that imitates a 10 year old raised by a single dad with awful habits. Some days are frustrating, some days I’m biased, some days I even wish my bonus son would disappear a bit when he is difficult and talks back, although I’d never admit it. But then there are periods where the boys get along for a solid hour and just crawl all over each other or make up a Bank robber game. They both get to have a brother and exit that lonely life of an only child. In those moment life feels more full, and worth it.

  96. Sam says...

    I just wanna say that I really feel for Brooke, and you all should just give her a break. She’s seeing a therapist with her husband, so they’re making an effort to make things better. Having your stepkids mom trash you isn’t fun either. Brooke, from someone who’s dating a man with a kid whose mom is pretty complicated to say the least, you’re doing your best. Sending you a hug♥️

    • AnnAnn says...

      I wholeheartedly second this!! My husband and I attempted the “same rules for all kids” and let me tell you, co-parenting only works if BOTH houses have the same rules and expectations regarding behavior and discipline. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and enforcing rules in your own home as the step-parent feels like a taboo. So there she is, trying to implement rules on her own 2 kids, but feels like she has no power to “parent” her step kids! And while I can see how people are upset about the “house guest” comment and kids should never feel like they’re guests in their own home, that’s just it: they’re NOT house guests and should ACT and BEHAVE accordingly, with respect and following the rules of the house they’re in. Just because “mommy [or daddy] doesn’t make us do chores in the other house” doesn’t mean Brooke and her husband should cater to these children. So I took Brooke’s comment to mean that it wasn’t she who was treating the kids as “houseguests” but the kids were treating their house like a B&B or hotel and didn’t feel like following rules or being respectful of Brooke and her biokids. Also, don’t get me started on an Ex who likes trash-talking the new spouse. Brooke, you’re doing great! And only YOU know how it feels to be in your position. Stepparenting is tough and you can’t prepare for it. From one step mama to another – cheers!

    • C says...

      This. Brooke doesn’t want to feel like a stranger in her own home either. As a step mom, on weekends we have our stepdaughter, I often feel unmoored and unwelcome in my own home (and I’m a homebody, so it makes me particularly anxious and unsettled). It’s nothing that my stepdaughter, or her dad, or I do wrong or do intentionally, it’s just so so so so hard to find any sort of rhythm and balance and control in this situation. For everyone, not just the step mom.

  97. Paula says...

    holly smokes. These are some real real stories, including the very eye opening comments. I never knew, or thought too much about step parenting. I wish you all strength.

  98. talia says...

    This triggered so much anxiety for me. I am a stepmom who was treated deplorably by my stepchildren. All I can say is, it was the hardest (aka – most miserable) experience of my life.

    • Jane says...

      So sorry you had to go through that!

  99. Robin says...

    As a teenager I had a rotating crew of stepmoms. My dad married a very wealthy woman and went from a working class pot-smoker to a wealthy straight-edged man overnight. I didn’t like his new materialistic lifestyle, and I hated his judgement when I would go to parties.

    My mom married two women since divorcing my dad. My favourite step-mom was my mom’s second wife, she accepted me as a teenager and left me alone. I hated the others.

    I have learned some things from this experience – not to get married (which I am now after a lot of angst), think very carefully about who I have kids with, do everything I can to avoid divorce, and if I get divorced, not to date anyone while I have kids at home. The one good thing is I now have a stockpile of discarded gold wedding rings that I can either sell or make into something better.

  100. Steph says...

    This is everything: “There is room for all of us in our family.” In any and all family situations.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i loved that line so much, too.

    • AS says...

      Once when he was 3 years old, my stepson, said (worried and sadly) to his dad that he loves me but he loves his mom too. Thankfully dad reassured him that it is okay to love more than one person. After sitting quietly for a while he suddenly chirped “Pappa, I am lucky I have two mammas to love!”

      I cried so hard that day when my husband told me about it.

  101. Claire says...

    This is a very interesting and relevant topic. I know the Dear Sugar podcast had a couple of terrific episodes on step-parenting, from multiple perspectives, in case anyone is interested in more discussion.

  102. Rachel says...

    As a child of divorce, if I could give one piece advice to people divorcing or to new step parents it would be to stop speaking ill of the other parent in front of your kids. Feel free to be frustrated with the decision(s) the other family makes all you want – but talking about it in front of the kid makes life so hard for the child. Children should not be forced to (nor can they) empathize with your point of view, they cannot agree with you (without feeling like they betrayed their other parent), and it makes kids feel like they are inherently doing something wrong by simply being around the other parent/following their rules. This was the biggest issue I had with my stepmother – her bashing/criticizing my mother’s rules and decisions made me not respect her opinion or authority and made our relationship really difficult. It really must be SO hard as a stepparent – but really stop doing it.

    • Olivia says...

      I so, so, so agree. I have so much resentment towards my mother for saying such awful things about my dad. He’s just a quiet guy who has a hard time expressing himself, and it did NOT help that any fight they got into about money (he was behind on child support, but likely because he simply didn’t have it with the effects of the divorce) she would tell me about – I always knew the ways she saw my father fall short in caring for me. It affected my relationship with him (and my own self worth) for many years. When I finally brought it up with her, she said “well, I wanted you to know who was really supporting you/there for you (again, $). I was like…HELLO, kids aren’t stupid. I could tell you were the custodial parent. I just needed to know my dad LOVED ME. Now, my dad and I have a special relationship, and for complicated reasons I do not have one with my mother. She similarly had an extremely poor sense of what was appropriate with her boyfriends being around my brother and I through the years.

      I also have a former friend who posts disparaging things about her ex all over Facebook all the time (drug use, deadbeat dad, all the ways he fails the kids). We were already growing apart, but had we not, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain a friendship with her because of this behavior. The internet is forever and all her kids will glean from that is “dad doesn’t love us enough.”

      Anyway, off my soapbox.

    • Robin says...

      Agreed 100000%! My parents constantly fight through us, even as adults, and it’s just cruel, especially when we were children. It makes your own decisions very difficult. The day they told us they were divorcing, they asked us 3 kids to decide who we wanted to live with. It was an awful decision to have to make. No matter what we decided we would absolutely crush the feelings of one parent, and fuel the ongoing war between our parents.

    • Liz says...

      This is so true. Even for one parent bitching about the other. I know this post is about stepparents, but i just had to say this.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!! so, so important! it’s so hard for the child to hear negative things about their parents.

    • Elizabeth Mae says...

      This is called Parental Alienation. There are so many great books about it out there. The most prominent author I’ve found is psychologist Dr Amy Baker. The reprocussions on a child’s mental health is huge, suffering from a range of things including anxiety, and depression as a result of having grown up in that toxic environment.

    • L. says...

      For Brooke’s situation, and others : I find the book “Co-parenting with a toxic ex” by Amy Baker and Paul Fine super helpful. The advice is focused on positive things you can do to foster a good relationship with your child and to protect your child (to the extent of what you can control – you can’t control your ex’s behaviour).

    • Lisa says...

      This. I just wanted to hug Brooke and tell her that when one parent speaks ill of the other, it only reflects poorly on the former. Kids aren’t blind; they’ll form their own opinions based on their experiences in each household. I love my father, but I wish he would have realized as I was growing up that badmouthing anyone in my mother’s family wasn’t going to do him any favors, lower my opinion of them, or raise my opinion of him.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, lisa!!! i agree so much. in my experience, if my mom was criticized, i only loved her more and wanted to defend her.

  103. Kelly says...

    I met my stepmother when I was
    just a little over two years old, so I have no recollection of how it went down, but for me, the introduction to a new partner has to be the most daunting thing to consider. It definitely is deserving of thoughtful planning… maybe someone will find this useful: When I introduced my then 3 1/2-year-old daughter to my now husband, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. We had been dating a little over nine months and I knew it was serious, but I was unsure how to make the big meeting natural for both of them. I decided that rather than taking her to meet a random guy/potential stepfather, and putting them both on the spot to interact, we would instead be going to meet a cat, his cat. On the first three occasions, we just went to his house to meet and play with a cat. It was never about him. She loved it. And she spoke to him as the cat’s owner and not as mommy’s new friend. After the 3rd visit, she told me she liked the cat & the cat’s friend a lot and suggested I ask him if we could have the cat since there was no mommy there to take care of it. ;) That was 11 years ago and we’ve all been together ever since.

    • Katie says...

      This is really great. I wrote down thread about how I couldn’t bring another parent figure into my kid’s lives, but if I had to, I really like this method. It gives you a chance to check out the dynamic without any expectations. I think it also shows the potential stepfather that your kids are the priority, while still giving him some consideration.
      I imagine it wouldn’t work for a much older child, but I really like this method.

    • Grainne says...

      This is so thoughtful and lovely! What a wonderful idea. Kudos mama!

  104. Hope says...

    Damn, someone needs to pour Brooke a drink

    • Kara says...

      No kidding! A strong one 💜

    • Sydnie says...

      Second this

  105. Esther says...

    Something I don’t see enough of is people talking about what an absolute joy it is to be a step-parent, or whatever it might be called when you don’t live with your partner and they have a kid, as my situation is. I know I’m lucky — my partner’s kid and I hit it off easily & we genuinely enjoy spending time together. I have lots of nieces and nephews, grew up babysitting all the neighborhood kids, worked as a nanny when I was young. So I’m used to kids, which I’m sure helps in some ways…but also in other ways it’s totally not the same thing. The love I have for my bf’s kid is unlike any relationship I’ve had with any other kid. In a weird way I’m also lucky because I had a cruel, jealous, and controlling step-mother growing up, whose behavior provided clear lines of what not to do (though also thinking back on the things she did as I find myself in her situation, I can’t believe she thought those choices of hers were remotely good ideas. But anyway.)

    How I feel about my role is it’s my job to reinforce that their parents are awesome, love them unconditionally, etc. (Like when appropriate, not random out of the blue ranting on this subject.) Every single time my bf’s kid brings up their other life, their other home, I want them to feel they can talk about their whole life to us. I want them to know I appreciate and respect their mom. There is no jealousy or awkwardness if they want to talk about anything along those lines. It’s their life! They have a right to talk about it if they want. It’s my job to be more than a friend, definitely in the family circle but not exactly a parent, though of course I still do my share of disciplining. (It also means I can crack up when they do something naughty but hilarious.) It’s my job to communicate clearly with my partner about our dynamics w his kid. It’s also my job to let the kid make the calls on how our relationship goes (kid & me relationship I mean). We all just have to put in the work and time, show up, love each other and try respect each other’s space and previous relationships.

    I don’t have kids, which I know also simplifies this dynamic. Partly because I haven’t had children, and began to accept I wouldn’t ever have any, discovering and growing into my relationship with my boyfriend’s kid has felt like a big surprise gift from the universe. One I’m constantly grateful for. I didn’t expect that it could go so well, honestly. The fact that we don’t live together is certainly a factor that helps things be easier, I’m sure. Bottom line: it’s way more work and mess (like we had a butt-worm epidemic at the school this year?? so gross don’t google it + like seriously, it’s life, there are THINGS), for sure. But it’s mostly way more love.

  106. S says...

    Brooke! Your situation sounds like it could be going smoother and I’m sorry for that. I’m glad you are in therapy with your husband and I hope its helping because it’s a difficult world to navigate. I am about a happy adult with a family of my own now , and from divorced parents where my father remarried. My stepmom has two girls of her own, all adults now of course and we all get along much better than back in the teen years which I think is unavoidable. However, I couldn’t help but cringe reading your comments where you referred to your step children as “house guests” and having the step kids in “your house”. PLEASE think about this. This is their FATHER & siblings living there, this should be considered their 2nd HOME, they should never feel like guests!! And as a 10 and 14 year old I guarentee they do based on your words & feelings towards them. I was the teen in that situation & my mom was just as bad at bad talking my dad (though growing up I’ve come to realize a lot what she said was true- but I don’t condone doing that to your kids at all). That combined with going to a house where we were very aware our step mom rather we didnt (she didn’t have to say it) made for very sad times. I’m not trying to be judgemental I just hope you can think of things a little differently. Imagine if you separated from your husband and he remarried & your biological children had to deal with watching their daddy go live somewhere else to be a dad with another family. And to feel like a guest at their house. I know its really tough but maybe this can give you a peek at what could go on in their young minds. I know what you are going through is just as tough. Now that I’m an adult I can see how it was hard for my own stepmom and we’re actually great friends (after years of really horrible family fights believe it or not) . I can sense your pain and besides that, you have 2 young babies who need your love & attention too. So I really hope it gets better for you! Sorry for the ramble this one just hit such a nerve. Maybe there are ways to change things before it’s too late. If not, have hope you might come out on the other side understanding each other a little better!

  107. nadege says...

    My son’s stepmother is a really important person in his life and in mine. She has been in his life over 5 years now and she has only enriched it. In the first year as I was adjusting to the idea that my toddler suddenly had a stepmom, and the terror that came with knowing I would have no say in who this person was, someone told me “It can only be a good thing for more people to love your child.” This thought became the anchor that got me through those first months of adjusting, and today is just a truth I feel incredibly privileged to enjoy.

    • ML says...

      I really appreciate this comment about the stepmom from the mom’s side. Your take is very healthy and refreshing, more love can never be a bad thing and I admire that. I’m sure it made things easier/smoother for the stepmom – and your child!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that thought, nadege. really beautiful. i’ve thought that about babysitters, aunts, friends, etc., too. your son is so lucky to have you.

  108. Maureen says...

    When my husband and I married, his kids had not spoken to him in several years. My husband had rules but the kids, teenagers at the time, had free rein when they were with their mother (smoking pot in the house, having boyfriends sleep over, etc.)…it was a very nasty divorce and Mom’s house was much more fun. His kids are now 25 & 27…his daughter (who now has a daughter of her own) still has no contact. Every year we hang up Christmas ornaments his kids made…and their school pictures hang in our office. My husband’s philosophy is that the door is always open but there must be mutual respect and trust. Of course, while I don’t feel very “step-mother-ish” I will always wish the best for those two, since I love their father very much. Sadly, my husband’s kids are missing out on not only me (!!), but the kind and loving man their father is. Life is just too short for so much anger and hate.

  109. Queen with a Plain Face says...

    Disappointed to see the harsh criticism of Brooke right out of the gate. The first thing I felt when I read Brooke’s story was a huge sigh of relief. Reading about someone struggling, making mistakes and sharing a life that isn’t either 100% perfect or innocent victim in one of the few problems that have been stamped socially acceptable for women to talk about is beautiful and refreshing. Fellow readers, please notice the “houseguest” comment is in the past tense and is something she is clearly working through consciously. Sounds like a complex and moving story I would love to hear more about. Best wishes to you Brooke and kudos for your self-reflection.

    • Anu says...

      I agree with this. Brooke is sharing her feelings honestly. Agree with those that said she said it “feels like they’re houseguests” not that they are houseguests. Big difference. Beyond that, I think it’s not fair to expect every stepparenting situation to be completely rosy. Situations and people are complex and coming down hard on someone who is genuinely sharing what she’s going through just means that people will choose not to share honestly next time. None of us has the whole picture.

  110. Kristina says...

    Ebbs and flows! There are such ebbs and flows. From a recovering “overstepper” who is learning to take a step back from the tweens/teens I’ve known and stepmommed for the last decade. This time is a big ebb for me, but I know it will help the kids and their relationships with their parents to flow much better. It will all work out in the end. Finding stepmom friends- also helps hugely.

  111. Jen M. says...

    I’ve been a stepparent for 3 years officially and 2 more unofficially. I’m really lucky in that I have two of the best stepkids in the world, my husband and I have a solid relationship and are partners in every sense of the word, and we have a good relationship with the kids’ mom with the kids being put first on all sides. That said, step-parenting can be HARD because parenting is hard and you have all these additional dynamics thrown into it. Plus, while my husband and his ex-wife grew into their roles with the kids, I only have a few years of experience. When I became a stepmom, the best thing my friends did was introduce me to other awesome stepmoms who just got that complication without me having to explain the jumble of thoughts and emotions passing through my head and heart.

  112. Katie says...

    I grew up with step parents. They both have their faults, but they’re not bad people and I love them both very much. That being said, I don’t think I would bring anyone into my children’s lives if something happened to my husband. We both know how we want to raise our children, and I would never put myself in a position to let someone else have a say.

    I keep looking at that last sentence trying to find a nicer way to write it or justify it, and I just can’t. I’m not a control freak, but kids are people and I can’t see how I could comfortably accommodate another adult and change nothing for the kids.

    • Katie says...

      Just wanted to say, this is only in regards to me. I applaud all the parents and stepparents out there that are able to step up and be there for the kids, regardless of the difficulties.

    • Jas says...

      I literally feel the same way…I know for sure that I would never live with anyone else should something happened to my husband. I don’t think I would even seriously date anyone. Even if I would, I would never live with that person until my kids live with me. We would live apart and date. I feel as though it has also to do with personality, I am an introvert mostly and I enjoy time without a partner as much as being with a partner. My divorced friends with kids are currently getting into new relationships, planning moving in together with their new partners and I just cannot imagine that for myself. I do not judge them at all and I wholeheartedly support them in their wishes and doings, but I just feel strongly that I would never do it.

  113. Lizzie says...

    I have several older half-siblings from our dad’s first marriage, and now my mom–their stepmom–is their only living parental figure. My mom’s relationship with my older siblings hasn’t always been easy, but she’s been a steady and supportive presence for them even when they were pulling pranks and lashing out as teenagers. A few years ago I noticed that my siblings would always introduce her to others by saying “this is my mom.” Not stepmom, but mom. For some reason hearing that always fills me with pride. She can’t replace the mother they lost, but she’s earned a mother’s place in their hearts.

  114. A says...

    Oh. What a life. My now-husband I met when our boys (2 days apart) started playing at the playground when they were almost two. We have another daughter and another child on the way and our big, messy, family is chaotic and complicated, and EXPENSIVE but it does get easier (and then harder and then easier again). I try to live by the rules of never bad-mouthing the other parent, stay neutral, and just LOVE LOVE LOVE all the time. It’s literally the hardest thing I have and will ever do in my life. Especially when the other parent is hurting their own child because they are selfish and bitter. And did I mention how expensive it all is? :)

    • Kadri says...

      Amen to that! :)

  115. Molly says...

    Thank you for this post! I’m a young step-mom and it’s wonderful to read these stories.

  116. Callie says...

    I’m not a stepmom–but I am married to someone who has (a mostly wonderful) one–who his father married a few years after his mother passed away.

    Just wanted to say to Lisa that Margot is so very lucky to have you–and that it is so very very healthy (and also I imagine at times hard ) to leave space for Margot’s mom in the relationship. Not trying to replace or erase her mom is a gift that you are giving her that will manifest itself for years and years past when she grows up and becomes an adult and will help her navigate her own adult relationships (including her eventual adult relationship with you) one day. I wish more people could be as giving.

  117. CB says...

    This comment really bothered me… “We went through years of tension in our house when my stepkids would come over. I felt like they were rude, ungrateful houseguests, and I had to bite my tongue in order to not be perceived as disciplining the kids. This led me to stay secluded in the back part of the house with my biological toddlers.” — Brooke

    The children might be rude or ungrateful, I don’t know. But they’re not houseguests and they shouldn’t be expected to act like it. They’re children in one of their home environments. Children don’t have to feel grateful in the way that houseguests do, and they shouldn’t be expected to act like houseguests. If they’re at home, the way they should be with a parent, then are messy and sometimes cranky and rarely grateful, because parenting isn’t a job you get a lot of gratitude for.

    My husband is a child of divorced parents, and his step-mother always acted like her biological children were her REAL children, and like he was the houseguest. In adulthood his relationship with her is nonexistent, and his relationship with his father isn’t great either. He still carries a lot of hurt from not feeling like he was fully loved and accepted in that home. Being expected to be a houseguest instead of a child at home did lasting damage to him emotionally, and it hurt his relationships with those people permanently.

    • ND says...

      Just echoing this sentiment: Stepkids are not house guests in their own homes. They should not be expected to act like house guests. These burden of falling short of these expectations is damaging.

    • CB says...

      I should add, that my husband has a terrific father-son relationship with his step-father, a man who is certainly not a perfect parent (no one is) but who made the decision from Day 1 that he would accept and love my husband has his child. Similarly, my husband has a genuine brother relationship with his half-brother on that side, and no relationship at all with his half-siblings (his father’s “real” children).

      I realize step-parenting is insanely hard and it’s such a tightrope. But it bothers me so much to see someone act like their biological children are their real children, and their step children aren’t. It also sends a message that somehow having a biological tie is what counts, which is also disturbing to me as someone who grew up in a “blended” family of both biological and adopted children. Clearly I have all the feelings about todays post…

    • C says...

      Completely agree @CB! Similarly to your husband, I grew up between two houses and my step-mother expected constant gratitude for being allowed in her home, while her daughter was held to an entirely different standard. I’m in my 30’s and I barely have a relationship with either of them. To this day I don’t feel comfortable visiting, and when asked what it was like being there I say it’s similar to leave no trace camping. I hope the speaker of that quote takes a really hard look at how she treats children who were thrown into their parents relationship chaos through no fault of their own.

    • K says...

      Well said. I lived out the same situation as a child and have little to no relationship with My dad or his wife.

    • Amy says...

      Thank you for sharing this! I grew up with divorced parents, and I often hear adults say things like “kids are tough” or “kids are resilient” — usually to justify a choice that they KNOW will be less than ideal (at best) for their children. But children are vulnerable and in a formative time of life, and we don’t just bounce back from troubled times during our childhood. It has a lasting effect on us as adults.

    • Julia says...

      CB, I’m so so sorry about your husband’s pain. But, being a stepmom myself, I can attest that there is a very big difference between acting like a houseguest and being treated as one. I hope that you and your family will at some point be able to heal some of the wounds!

    • Emmi says...

      Thank you.

    • Stephanie says...

      I agree. I do appreciate that this article included the voice of someone who’s having a really rough go of the step-parenting journey, because I think that’s common. But my heart broke for those kids who are being treated like “house guests” in their own home! Brooke’s attitude really rubbed me the wrong way.

    • Cece says...

      As someone who grew up with step-parents on both sides from an early age, I wholeheartedly agree. I had two stepmothers – one when I was tiny, who wouldn’t have anything to do with me at all. The other was great with me until the age of around 11, when she became increasingly hostile and critical towards me to the point where I dreaded visiting. Was my behaviour perfect? I’m sure it wasn’t, although it certainly wasn’t awful. But did I deserve to feel like an unwanted guest in what should have been my second home? No. I still think back to the way they never decorated or set aside one of their 3 guest rooms for me – I had to move out whenever more important visitors turned up.

      I haven’t spoken to either my father or her since I was a teenager – if people don’t treat you as family how are you supposed to feel as if you are?

    • Shannon says...

      I see where you are coming from but unless you are living this, it’s a very rocky road. Stepkids should of course be welcome but especially if they’re living primarily with primarily another parent, it makes it very difficult. Wednesday Martin does a brilliant job writing about this in Stepmonster. The kids don’t rule the house. They shouldn’t feel like a guest, but they also need to respect the rules of the house and the people living in the house. (Respect is #1 for all, in my opinion)

    • Kerry says...

      Totally agree with you. That comment bothered me, as well. Several of Brooke’s comments did, to be honest. Hopefully through the family therapy she mentioned, everyone will learn healthy perspectives with all the children in mind. You got this, sister! Keep growing and finding the patience you need.

      Having said that, this entire post came at the exact right time — my boyfriend and I had our five sons (ages 15-6) together for an overnight this weekend and the boys brought up many questions and conversations about … The Future. Leave it to the kids to get right to the good stuff.

    • Cate says...

      That comment bothered me too, that part you mentioned and “staying secluded with her biological children.” They’re definitely not house guests and staying secluded with biological children just shows uninterest/dislike? of the step kids

    • Em says...

      It sounds like it stirred up some very real personal memories. But I think it’s unfair to criticize someone when you don’t have the whole picture. I took it to mean that it FEELS like they’re houseguests because she doesn’t feel as though she has authority to speak up as the primary parent. Maybe she hates that it feels like they’re houseguests and wants them to feel more at home? We don’t know because we weren’t given more information. Like another person above said, each circumstance is different and the road is rocky. Maybe we shouldn’t be pointing fingers when we are limited to hear just a few sentences from each of these stepparents.

    • Ramona says...

      That line stood out to me, as well. I can see where the stepmom is coming from, and of course we don’t know what kinds of egregious things these kids were doing, but if their dad is there then it’s their home, too. Not all families have the same style of living, and I think deciding you are right and imposing your way on everyone else as a stepmom is not a recipe for success. I say this as the wife of a man whose stepmom’s takeover of holidays and family interactions (all from a well-intentioned desire to make things nice by her standards, but totally alien to the traditions and lifestyle of my husband’s family of origin) has basically ended his relationship with his father.

    • Evelyn says...

      I didn’t read Brooke to be saying that the kids were houseguests or that they should act like them. I read Brooke’s comment as an expression of grief over the tension in her home—which felt like that between a host and ungrateful houseguests—that she retreated from because it was painful situation that she did not feel empowered to improve.

    • Karen says...

      I second EM on the “it FEELS like” observation. We don’t know nor see the full picture. I grew up with some pretty awful/disrespectful cousins raised by their biological parents that were the same age group as Brook’s step-children. My aunts/uncles had full authority and their children didn’t care to listen to them so imagine how a step parent (non primary parent) could feel so overwhelmed. My heart aches for Brook. She, as any human would naturally do, seeks safety with her biological children. I just hope that her intention isn’t to TREAT her step children like house guests.

    • Susana says...

      I honestly think that this was not her entire answer, it feels like it was cut off . Also, it is valid for her to say how she felt about it, but we are not getting the entire picture of how she acts all the time based on this specific comment. I agree it also made me pause and think about this, and also in the other comments the relationship with the biological mom seems that she is constantly putting down this woman. again, we don’t get the full picture out of a blurb (i feel like maybe it could have been a dedicated extended post for each step mom rather than this format, cause it really does them all a disservice imo)

    • Hannah says...

      I agree CB, and to the commentors who are saying cut Brooke some slack- I can’t because each of her quotes throughout this post contains some really judgemental and negative comments about either the step kids/her relationship with them or about their mom! I don’t think it’s unfair to be critical.

    • Kadri says...

      Being a step mother myself I see where Brooke is coming from. Personally I have given 110% to make my husbands kids feel like it is their home too. But it has taken me down so I have been in theraphy and still fall into a very dark place every now and then. It is not so much about the kids as we get along great. The problems are that the relationship between my husband and their mom is horrible and she has no respect for our family and our traditions and that makes it hard to involve the boys really like a true family. I really also feel not respected and that my efforts are worthless (and I really really have been doing my best here). You can say that parenting is overall a job that doesn’t give back much but I disagree. Of course my own son also doesn’t say thank me every time I give him dinner but you get it back in other ways. You can see the effect you have on him. How he trusts you and how he grows. And of course these sweet kisses and hugs. With step kids visiting only every other weekend if even then it is very hard to have this. Especially as I described when they will not participate the family events as well and have been given very different values at home and I do not see any influence in them from our family sadly.
      Also theraphists say that you should not treat your step kids like you are their mother rather then being their grown up friend because they already have a mother. Treating them with equal terms with biological kids is another thing. So I feel very concerned about the pressure that has been put on step mothers that they should make no difference between their biological or step kids because there is a difference. And it is okay to not have the same kind of love for them. It doesn’t mean I don’t care deeply about my step sons and I will always have the same rules for my son and for them. I will also always do my best to support them. But my experince is this that I have tried way too hard and being very very close for a full break down. So I wish the step moms giving their best would be allowed to at least feel unapprechiated sometimes and not hit back with “you had a choice”. Because it’s not like we want to leave.

      Sorry for such a late comment, this topic has been in my head for a long time and keeps me up at nights.

  118. Jennifer says...

    I salute stepparents. I grew up with a stepmom I still can’t stand, and it’s one reason I refuse to date people with children. It’s just not for me.

    I’m sorry Brooke has such a difficult time with her stepchildren, but if she’s seeing them as “houseguests” rather than integral parts of the family, that may be part of her issue…

    • Hannah says...

      exactly Jennifer…I thought that quote was very concerning. Kids should feel like they belong and are part of both of their parents’ households. I felt really sad for those kids when I read that quote.

  119. Nina says...

    So interesting to see the stepparent perspective. Both my parents have been married 3 times. While both my parents aren’t the best parents, their spouses were far worse. My stepfather is a very nice man, and I keep in touch with him even though my mother divorced him after almost 30 years of marriage as a stepfather he just said whatever she did was wonderful and great and never ever stood up for us. NOW he will say she was abusive but it was demoralizing to have zero adults be there for you. My dad’s wife (they are still married) was a selfish, self-centered, rude person who said when she married my dad “your girls need a mother and it’s not going to be me.” I had lived with him, not my mother, but after they got married, there was no room for me in her 3,000 sq ft house (It took her literally 9 years of marriage before she gave me a DRAWER to put some clothes when I went over and you would think she cut off a limb and gave it to me) or at their 8 bedroom beach house. My dad often posts whiny “none of my children talk to me” posts on facebook, I just ignore them. One of the reasons, as a single parent, I avoid dating. I just don’t want to deal with someone trying to parent my son or me having to figure it out – it’s much easier to just do it alone (his father isn’t in the picture).

  120. Iris says...

    I just met my boyfriends kids for the first time a few weeks ago. Last night I slept over, and as someone with no kids I’m not used to anyone sneaking in the bed. At midnight, I wake up startled to see the door opening. Creep creep creep. And a shadow….I SCREAM! In my mind I’m about to die!! Then I realize this home invader is really small…turns out it’s his daughter. I was MORTIFIED. She was so out of it she didn’t seem to mind me losing my shit, but o.m.g. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover :( Amateur hour indeed.

  121. K says...

    Thank you for this feature – although my stepdaughter and I have always had a good relationship, people often don’t realise I have tried really hard and made conscious decisions on how I act or when to step in or step out for it to be that way.

    • Kristina says...

      Learning that right now! ‘step in/step out’ I love that!

    • Amy says...

      I love the step-in step -out thing too! It’s so needed to realize when to not say anything or just let things happen.

  122. Deb says...

    …And when your step-daughter is diagnosed as being on the spectrum at 12 after fighting with her in-denial mother for years and years to get her tested. Including mediation, lots of attorneys fees and threats of worse. I did not sign up for this but it is part of my life and I have to deal with it on a daily basis. We have a 9 year old together who the step-daughter despises. It’s really fun. This is reality.

    • Betsy says...

      Deb, why so defensive? I don’t think any of these women said being a step parent is easy. I think they are just sharing experiences that have helped along the way. They all seem to be incredibly caring and wise women. I’m sure they will be the first to tell you it isn’t an easy road. I commend them for doing what is right for the children.

      As a step child myself, none of the adults in my life ever thought about what was right for the kids. They just wanted to be the “right” parent. Caused years of stress for all the kids involved. So kudos to them!

    • J says...

      You didn’t sign up for it? Your situation sounds really hard and I hope it gets better for everyone, but if you marry someone with a child, you really have no idea what you are signing up for. As a step-child, I can’t stand to hear step-parents talk as if they didn’t choose their situation. Kids have no choice but to grow up with a stranger and feel like an unwelcome guest in their own home. A lot of people considering marriage with a parent don’t seem to understand how awful and miserable that can be.

    • A says...

      I couldn’t agree more with J’s comment. It may be true that “you can’t help who you fall in love with” but you can choose whether to pursue or continue a relationship with someone, whereas the children really have no choice in the matter. Their lives are changed forever already (by divorce) and then step-parents factor in and it often creates a tense, uncomfortable and painful circumstance that children have to bear the burden of. I’m sure that being a step-parent is very hard and tricky to navigate. At the same time, it’s very disrespectful to say “I did not sign up for this” when there are literal people (children, who aren’t being considered ) who actually didn’t sign up for this. Not to mention that children are the only ones in the situation who have to try to navigate all the delicate intricacies from the limited perspective/experience of a child, without all the tools we learn in adulthood and without the safety net of two parents who love and respect each other.