Pursuit of Happiness What is My Role As a Stepmom

Stepmoms need a clearly defined role to fully understand what to expect from others.  By defining what YOU want your role to be, you are setting your family up for success.  You should decide how much of a role you want to play in different areas (ie. Sports activities, parent / teacher meetings, birthday parties, discipline, etc) of your blended family life.

Here are some exercises you can do to assist you in defining your role:

  • Write out what you think your role as a Stepmom is in your Stepchild’s life.
  • Ask your husband/spouse to provide what he thinks your role as a Stepmom is in the Stepchild’s life. (NOTE: Don’t share your definition with him until after he has provided his)

Does your definition of the role of Stepmom align with your partner’s?  If not, you will need to work together by having a discussion on how you can align your expectations of the role.  It's important that you and your spouse decide together the best way for you to be involved as a stepparent.

Experts agree that what is most important is that you establish a relationship with your stepchildren that is mutually satisfying. Here are some suggestions for doing just that: (Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.)

Give yourself and your stepchildren time to get to know one another. Relationships develop slowly, so allow lots of time for bonds to form. Spend time getting to know each stepchild one-on-one without competition from biological parent-child relationships. It's natural for stepchildren to resist this at first. During that one-on-one time, do things that you both enjoy.

Hold realistic expectations for yourself. Resist the myth of instant love. Don't expect that you will automatically love your stepchildren or that they will love you. If love develops, super! But aim for mutual respect. You may fall victim to rejection and displaced hostility from your stepchildren. Thus, you may occasionally feel as if your stepchildren don't like you, which may make you hesitant and uncomfortable. Try assuming an "as if" position, where you act toward your stepchildren as if they really cared for you. Try not to take their displaced reactions too personally. Remember that you come into the family after the children are likely to have experienced many losses. It will take time for stepchildren to warm up to someone new.

Don't expect stepchildren to call you "Dad" or "Mom." Instead, let the children decide on what to call you. Some children choose to call their stepparent "Father Bill" or "Mother Julie" or some other term that is comfortable for them. However, most children, except those who were very young when the stepparent entered the family, call their stepparent by their first name.

Share skills and interests you have that might interest your stepchildren. These abilities and aptitudes will distinguish you from the other parents and reduce the likelihood that you will be viewed as competing with the biological parents. For example, in my family my stepfather taught us tennis and entered us in tournaments. We played and watched a lot of tennis together. He was also a master woodworker.

Leave the disciplining role to the biological parent, and support the parent in this and other areas behind the scenes. As respectful relationships form, the time may come that you can successfully share this role with your spouse. It is quite appropriate that the biological parent allow the stepparent to participate in decisions and activities surrounding discipline as the stepparent-stepchildren relationships develop. If you and your spouse have difficulty coming to an agreement on discipline and parenting, take a parenting class together. Forge an approach that fits your family's needs.

Stepparents have little or no legal responsibility for their stepchildren. The biological parent is wise to give you legal permission to act when necessary, especially in the case of an emergency.

Show interest in and involve yourself in a nonintrusive way in stepchildren's activities, interests, and accomplishments. Attend concerts, praise specific achievements, and do other things that show you care and are proud of your stepchildren. Be involved in school, religious, sports, and other activities with the family.

Look for ways to send messages to stepchildren that you trust them. For instance, allowing teens to borrow your car for a date might be a nice way to build a connection. And the favor will probably not be forgotten.

Don't play favorites. You will almost certainly have closer, stronger feelings for your own children than your stepchildren. But if you want to build connections with your stepchildren, you must separate your actions from your feelings. Treat your stepchildren with the same respect and consideration you show your own children, even though real caring has not yet developed.

Don't attempt to replace or compete with the absent parent and never badmouth him or her. As one stepfather put it, "If stepparents try to set themselves up as equal parents, they set themselves up for failure."

Find groups supportive of stepfamilies. Communities may have an ongoing stepfamily support group, or one could be organized. Support groups bring people together who share similar concerns to encourage and learn from one another.

Get more educated. The National Stepfamily Resource Center (www.stepfamilies.info) is a great resource and link to lots of helpful advice for successful stepparenting.