How to be a Good Stepmom...Despite Being Surrounded by Chaos
Being a stepmother is generally painted as the stuff fairy tales are made of – either you get your happily ever after, or are placed in the evil stepmother category. But real life is not a fairy tale, and what you get depends a lot on what you put in. With failure rates for second marriages even higher than first marriages, one may think that marrying a man with kids is too risky – like playing Russian roulette with divorce. So if you’re in a relationship with a man who has kids, and running for the hills isn’t an option, what can you do to ensure marital success? What’s the secret that marks the difference between blended families that do well versus those that fail? How can you be a successful stepmom – ‘the glue that holds the family together forever’?
After observing many successful – and not so successful stepmoms in the past year, I have summarized my informal observations on what it takes to be successful at the stepmom role. Whether you’re dating a man with kids, or are a seasoned stepmom, this article will give you perspective on the ups and downs of stepmom life, and what I believe it takes to succeed.
A quick disclaimer before we unpack this topic any further:
A blended family won’t work if you’re the only one putting in the effort.
If your partner doesn’t want you to spend time with his kids, doesn’t intend on bringing the two families together, or simply doesn’t want to ‘rock the boat’ of his children’s ‘ordinary life’ – there’s not much you can do to make your blended family work. It really is a team effort, and if there is no team, nothing you alone do will be sustainable in the long term. By team, I mean you and your partner. If you have that solid, healthy relationship as a base to grow your family on, it can work despite other chaos that may happen with the bio mom, stepchildren or others. When you have a strong partnership as a base, there are many things you CAN do to influence your stepfamily’s chance of success. You can start by being a good stepmom.
What is a “good” stepmom, anyways?
Despite popular cultural beliefs that mothering means being completely selfless and martyr-like, being a good stepmom isn’t about self-sacrificing and losing ones’ self. In fact – that’s probably a recipe for resentment and failure. Being a stepmother is not about putting yourself last in the hierarchy of the family. In fact, it’s not about a hierarchy at all. On the contrary, successful stepmoms value themselves and know their worth. They know that they have an opportunity to model a healthy relationship for their children and take their rightful place by their partner’s side. Not in a competitive or threatening way, but in a loving and natural way.
After talking to many successful stepmoms, including mentors, coaches and bloggers, I realized that they all seem to have one key thing in common that helps them achieve that “good” stepmom status. The shocking thing is that the circumstances don’t matter as much as how one reacts to them. It doesn’t matter if you are childless by choice, infertile, have biological children of your own, have the kids part time or full time, or get along with the biological mother or not – there’s a common trait that I’ve witnessed among stepmoms who succeed at their role. That trait is that they’ve learned to be fulfilled personally despite, and in many cases thanks to, their circumstances.
Successful stepmoms are self-actualizing women.
They may not be there yet, but they are on the journey to self-actualization and it feels good. Self-actualized women know their worth and work to reach their full potential in life. They have a vision and know what they want in life, are clear on their values and boundaries, and connected to their intuition and inner wisdom. What that looks like varies greatly, as each woman’s desires and aspirations are unique. A woman can be self-actualized despite the circumstances of her blended family. For one woman, being a stay at home mom means being self-actualized. For another, it is being a successful entrepreneur. For the next, it is being a yogi. We each have our own path to follow, and when we follow that path it feels good. We feel aligned with our purpose, and resonate at a high frequency – and that frequency is contagious. We become an inspiration and light for others, including those in our blended family. It may not happen immediately, but over time things fall into place because we allow them to.
Stepmother – what’s in a name?
Being a stepmom doesn’t define you, nor does it need to. Most stepmoms don’t go shouting from the rooftops that they are a stepmom – and that’s likely because it isn’t part of their core identity, it’s only an addition to who they are. Successful stepmoms understand that. It is an extension of your being, another reflection of your part and place in the world – but it is not your whole life. Successful stepmoms don’t obsess about being a stepmom. They don’t let the drama that comes from that situation become all-consuming in their life – they learn to let those things go. It’s not easy to let go. And letting go doesn’t mean you give-up, put up with abusive behaviour or are a push-over. Quite the contrary – it means being the ‘smart’ one, picking your battles wisely, and not engaging in petty arguments that are beneath you. It means asking yourself, “how important is this?”, over and over again.
Blending isn’t realistic.
Setting up realistic expectations is important in a stepfamily. Don’t expect your family unit to ever really “blend”. The term blended family sets up false expectations of what this non-conventional (but increasingly common) family unit “should” be. There are thousands of divorced moms and dads, and many more who were never married in the first place, all trying to make this blended family thing work. Each and everyone does so in their own unique way. There is no one right way to do it, so don’t get hung up on doing it right. Instead, focus on doing what’s right for you and your family. You don’t need to prove anything or explain your dynamic to anyone – although there are often many critics watching and judging on the sidelines, and sometimes they are those closest to us. To succeed as a stepmom you need to stop caring about what other people think, and do what feels right for you. How your family works will depend on many factors including the way of being of the biological mother and the step kids. Speaking of the biological mother – there’s another truth you must learn to accept.
Accepting what is – you are not their mom.
As a stepmom, you can never replace their mother. She is the one who gave birth to the children, and that creates a special bond that should always be honored. Bio mom could be a dead-beat drug addict who lives on the street – but she’s still their mom. You are a compliment and an addition to your stepkids’ life, but you can never replace their mom. You may do many of the same things that a mother does, but you are not their mom. I may get flack for saying this – but if you don’t have a biological child of your own, you can accept this fact but will likely never understand it fully, and that’s okay. I thought I loved my stepkids like my own… until I had my own. That doesn’t mean you love them less, it’s just different. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t their “real mom” if bio mom is no longer in the picture. There are different types of mothering, step-mothering, and it’s all okay. We shouldn’t get hung up over judgments and labels.
It’s not about time – but quality time.
Whatever your custody arrangement is, having an influence over your stepkids is not about spending time, rather spending quality time. The kids can spend most of their time with their biological mother, but if those short moments spent with your family has more quality time, bonding, honesty, and deep transformative moments, that can have a marked impact on the children’s development. Children learn by example and not so much by what is told to them. In the long run, it doesn’t matter as much if bio mom bad-mouthed you to the kids, told them lies, or vice-versa, they will learn by observation and figure out who is in the right, eventually. And that may happen sooner rather than later – kids are often more clever and observant than we give them credit for. As such, it’s important for a stepmom to be a good role model of a happy, emotionally-stable, purpose-driven woman who loves and respects her partner, honors her own needs, and is unapologetic for being there.
Step-parenting as a journey towards personal growth.
The good news is that if your partner is the right person for you, step-parenting can be both the most challenging and rewarding thing you’ll ever do for yourself. Yes, for yourself. Step-parenting can open a door to personal discovery and growth if you’re willing to step up and do the inner work required to succeed. This means taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, and many times asking yourself ‘does that really matter?’ Step-parenting often means you learn to tell the difference between what you can and can’t control. It also means you learn to take the high road when things are out of your control. It’s about accepting what is, letting go, and happily moving forward with life. This learned skill translates to every aspect of your interpersonal life.
I know first-hand that at times, it may seem like the circumstances are too much and your blended family is doomed for failure. Even when things are going good, our minds may fill up with worry about what could go wrong. The good news is that you have a lot more power to control your circumstances than you may think. A common problem I see stepmoms commit repeatedly is focusing that power into changing things on the outside. The truth is – it’s when we focus on changing ourselves and finding our own inner peace that our families find peace too. We can focus on what we are grateful for in our situation, and be willing to take an honest inventory of the things we don’t like.
The truth is – you must be willing to drop your ego and look at your role in the drama, and your reactions to the people and situations around you. If you are dead-set on blaming your circumstances or the people around you for your problems, you are likely doomed to live out those same problems over and over again.
Instead, you can act from an empowered place and take ownership and responsibility for your part in the situation. That means checking your own beliefs and reactions and working to transform those reactions from fear to love. It’s about consciously choosing to come from a loving rather than fearful and egotistical place. It’s simple but not easy in practice. Maybe we are carrying past hurts and fears with us into our current relationships. We may be worried that our family will fail, our partner will leave us, that the stepkids will never accept us, or many other common fears that come up. So, We can live from this place of fear and act from it, or we can work to change those fears around and believe that our families will succeed. The choice in what we believe is ours – we don’t need to be controlled by our past, or main-stream media’s programming. We can free ourselves of this – but we need to be willing to look at it and acknowledge it first – and that’s not a task for the faint of heart.
What will you do to ensure the success of your family?
Many stepmoms dream of their happily-ever-after, but when it comes to achieving it, they wait around for their prince charming to make it all happen for them. When that doesn’t happen, we often become resentful and take on a life-form more akin to the evil stepmother character. The deeper truth is that we have so much power and control over our lives and our situations if we choose to change the only thing we have real power to change in our lives – ourselves.
We can become the positive, grateful, empowered, self-actualized woman we were meant to be, and live a life beyond our wildest dreams as a stepmom – but it’s up to each one of us to take inspired actions to make that happen. So tune-in and ask yourself, what inspired actions can you take today in order to be one step closer to becoming that self-actualized woman?
You can sit around hopelessly as most princesses do in fairy tales, waiting to be saved. Or you can take life by the horns and save yourself. The choice is yours, now go get your happy ending.
ANNA DE ACOSTA is a life coach and intuitive on a mission to guide stepmoms be the change they want to see in their families. She helps them overcome limiting beliefs through her Mindful Stepmom meditation album and at AnnaDeAcosta.com. An adult child of alcoholism and divorce, Anna views challenges as opportunities for growth and healing. Both a full-time stepmom and mom, she lives in Peru with the love of her life and their four children.