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Subverting Stepmother


Not wicked. Not the replacement.

by Malorie

Subverting Stepmother | A Practical Wedding

My parents fought a lot when I was a child—mostly loudly and often in the same room as my sister and me—and although I was usually able to brush it off, occasionally my mind would wander to what our lives would be like if they were to get divorced. I would definitely choose to live with my mother, I would think to myself. And I certainly wouldn’t want my father to remarry. I would hate to have a stepmother.

Some fifteen years later, I’m mere months away from marrying a man with a child from a previous marriage.

My relationship with T was intense and urgent from the beginning, so we moved in together quickly, which effectively enrolled me in a crash course on parenting. I have learnt a lot since then: how to be loving, yet firm; how to be attentive without hovering; how to get dressed in the morning with a pair of five-year-old arms locked around my waist.

I was exceptionally lucky, in that I found almost effortless acceptance with T’s beautiful, cheeky little girl. At the beginning, I thought this would be the difficult part: forming a relationship with a child who I assumed would be confused and defensive. I presumed she would automatically dislike me, so I approached the situation cautiously and tried not to force myself on her. So far, we haven’t really had many problems. I’m not one of her natural parents, and I didn’t come into her life until she was four, so my relationship with her isn’t the same as what she has with her mother and father. She calls me by my first name, often with a “my” in front. She’s old enough to have a basic understanding of the situation, and knows that I’m not the mother that gave birth to her, but that I do play a similar role when she’s at our house. Our bond is strong, which makes me feel proud and humbled and incredibly lucky.

Quite unexpectedly, the place I have most struggled to find acceptance, or even tolerance, is within our community and society on the whole.

Everyone is familiar with the wicked stepmother trope. The first time I ever used the term, A, who was four at the time, told me that I couldn’t possibly be her stepmother, because I’m not wicked. My view of divorce and subsequent remarriage has changed significantly since I was a little girl listening to my parents fight. Rather naively, I assumed that this was symptomatic of wider social change around the issue. I thought everyone saw stepparenting as normal and valid. But the first (and only) time I took A to a birthday party, I was shunned by all the other parents. I get odd looks at her school. I can understand this to a certain extent. These people know A’s mother, who isn’t my biggest fan, primarily because she feels like I am trying to replace her. This is a feeling that most other mothers can relate to, so I seem to be resented on principal.

I was more shocked by the reactions I got from people who didn’t have a clear reason to have a bias. Work colleagues have told me that parenting her “isn’t the same” as parenting my own child would be. My own mother, who loves A, has told me that I “need” to have at least two children and that A “doesn’t count”.

I feel like I am constantly having to define and justify my role in her upbringing. I feed her, I bathe her, I read to her, I teach her things. I spend upwards of twenty minutes braiding her hair each morning. I recently explained the basics of human reproduction to her after she asked me how babies are made. I love her more than I thought I ever could, and I make sure she knows that every single day. But still, I’m told that I’m not a parent. That even though I dedicate time and energy to raising her to be functional adult, I’m meaningless. That my very existence in her life is an affront to her biological mother.

I have tried very hard persuade people that I’m not attempting to take over as A’s mother, but short of ignoring her or being mean to her, I don’t think there is any way to avoid that assumption. The reality—for us, at least—is that there is room for more than two parents in a child’s life. A effectively has four adults invested in raising her, and she considers herself lucky. I will never replace her mother, and that’s great because I don’t want to. I want to love her and care for her and watch her graduate high school and university and maybe get married someday. I will be whatever she needs me to be for as long as she’ll have me, because the only permission I need is hers.

Malorie

Malorie was born and raised in the dusty Australian outback, but the call of green things and actual seasons was too strong. She now resides in Canberra, Australia with her intended, his lovely progeny, and a (mostly) friendly feline.

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  • http://www.therewm.com/ Rachel W. Miller

    “My own mother, who loves A, has told me that I ‘need’ to have at least two children and that A ‘doesn’t count’.” Yeah….my stepgrandmother once told me that she was excited her youngest biological daughter was pregnant because she would finally get to have “real” grandchildren. (And aside from me, she had actually two biological grandchildren already, though they were born out of wedlock, the first when her oldest daughter was still in high school, I believe.) I have never viewed her our our relationship the same way. That attitude is really awful and I hope your mom comes to her senses.

    • Eh

      My BIL has two “step-daughters” (in quotations because they are not biologically or legally his daughters but he is their father). My MIL was very excited that my BIL and his wife also have a daughter together. She loves the other two but the genetic relation part has a huge pull for her. Since my BIL and his wife have three girls my MIL is now pressuring us to have children because she really wants a grandson.

      My step-mom had one grand-son before she started dating my dad. Her grandson was only about a year at the time so he has only ever known my dad as his grandfather. One of the things that my step-mom has stressed is that all of the grand-kids (there are now ten) are equal and it doesn’t matter if the grand-child was from one of my step-siblings or one of my siblings they are all both of their grandchildren (my dad used to refer to the grand-children from my step-siblings as my step-mom’s grand-children – that was before they were married when there was only three or four grand kids and they were all from my step-siblings).

      • laddibugg

        I’m in a similar situation as your BIL. My partner’s daughter isn’t legally or biologically his, but he’s the only father she knows, and she calls him Daddy. I consider her his child, and therefore I”d consider myself her stepmom when we get married.

        BUT

        Right now my parents don’t consider her a grand kid in the fullest sense, and I don’t know if they ever will—and I’m fine with that. You can’t force relationships onto other people just because they are what makes sense to you. That being said, my folks are very accommodating-my dad’s even asked about her going with us on a future trip (gotta clear it with her mom first…)

        • Eh

          Now that my BIL has a biological daughter I think how his parents veiw the other two is actually worse. They include them, but they clearly favour their bio-granddaughter. When she was little they could get away with saying that were treating her differently because she was a baby (my MIL didn’t know the other two when they were babies) but now she’s 2 years old and they still favour her (my husband’s grandmother only has a picture of my BIL’s biological daughter in her house – to some extent that is also because my BIL and his wife haven’t given her pictures of the other two). This situation is bad in general due to issues between my in-laws and my BIL’s wife.

          • laddibugg

            I should have added that *I* am a step grand–My grandfather married his second wife well before I was born, but after his kids were grown. I see now how my grandmother favored her bio grands more–but that’s mostly with legal and inheritance issues. They are older than I, plus I lived about 12 hours away.

            Also, my parents just met my future step daughter about a year ago, and she just turned 9. (I’ve known her since she was about 3, though me and her dad didn’t start dating until about 3 yrs ago). So they don’t have history, which I think is a huge part of how you can feel about someone. It’s not a ‘bio’ thing at all as I have a cousin who’s adopted and they make no distinction with her kids..

          • Eh

            I hope when your parents get to know her more that they treat her like their own grandchild.
            My inlaws have known my BIL’s older two daughters for six years, since they were 2 and 7. The kids spend a lot of time with my inlaws (read: they babysit a lot). Over that time they have made the history but adding in the biological grandchild changed that whole dynamic. I’m pretty sure if we adopted my inlaws would would be heart broken and treat our kids differently.

          • Eh

            I don’t want to defend my inlaws behaviour towards their step-grandchildren but they are small town people with very conservative and traditional views. In MIL and FIL’s generation and the two generations before that there was only one divorce (that I can think of) and no remarriages. In our generation there has already been a divorce, and a few people are either dating or married to people with children from previous relationships (very common in the town they live in since the teen pregnancy is really high).

            On the other hand in my family one of my great-grandmothers was married to three men (widowed three times) and another great-grandmother was married twice (and she was divorced which was a rarity for the time), and both of my grandfathers remarried after their wives died, and two of my four aunts/uncles are divorced and one is remarried (and another was separated but they are back together) plus my mother passing away and my father remarrying. In my generation there has already been two divorces (and one of my cousins is married to a man with a child from a previous relationship and a step-cousin has four kids with three different men). So I’m a bit more used to mishmash families and “family” not being solely defined by genetics. I’ve grown up with stories about how my great-grandfathers raised their step-children as their own, and I’ve been a step-granddaughter my whole life (one step-grandmother was nice, the other was not so nice).

            All of this seems normal to me but is complicated and confusing for my inlaws (they have half jokingly requested a diagram to outline how everyone is related).

          • Jessica

            The step-grand thing is something I am all too familiar with. Both of my mom’s parents have been married multiple times (I think 3 times each). Because this started when my mom was a teenager and she got really hurt when divorces happened (her parents, then mom and step-dad she really cared for; then dad and step-mom who she didn’t care for but was close with her step-sisters), we don’t have a great relationship with my current step-grandmother– and step-grandma (who is 4 years older than my mom) hates it. It’s a complicated relationship. My grandma’s late husband’s family is also hurt by my family’s reluctance to continue the relationship that was not very strong when step-grandpa was alive.

  • lady brett

    “The reality—for us, at least—is that there is room for more than two parents in a child’s life.”

    yes!!! (also, it’s interesting how persistent all of the negative reactions you mentioned are, because that reality is true for such a vast swath of families. it is pretty much normal at this point.)

  • SM

    I was so happy to see this post. As a stepmom, I soak up any writing I can find from stepparents, especially from young stepmoms in similar positions to mine.

    It’s hard. Really, really hard. I see being a stepparent as a short-term struggle that is very rewarding on the long term. There’s a lot of judgment, assumptions, and misplaced ire directed at stepmoms. There is still no defined role for us, yet a great deal of assumptions and vague and ambiguous expectations.

    You’re doing an incredible job. I admire you. You’re doing it right. I don’t say that from a vantage point of experience because I’m still very new at this and still learning (will always be learning). But I can tell that you are coming to this with an open and loving heart and that is the best possible thing you can do. I realize it may be impossible, but try to ignore the judgment and remember that you are a good stepmom.

    I’ve been writing about my experience, too (http://myyoungyears.com/2014/03/28/questions-or-answers/). There’s a lot of capital-H Honesty in that blog, some of which I am not particularly proud of, but it’s there and it’s emotional and it’s real (at least the parts about being a stepmom).

  • Kat Robertson

    This made me so happy today. I love my step-parents and step-siblings and half-siblings, and it bothers me when people try to make the distinction between who is and isn’t “real”. Family is family, and blood relation is a crappy way to determine who should be important to a person. I don’t value my stepmom less than my mom because she didn’t physically birth me, like I don’t love my sister less than my brothers because she is “half”. I see love as an infinite resource – it’s not like spending it on more people means there is less to go around.

    • JDrives

      “I see love as an infinite resource – it’s not like spending it on more people means there is less to go around.”
      YES!

  • Winny the Elephant

    As someone who has one awful stepparent and one wonderful stepparent, I think the opinion that is most important is A’s opinion. It is really hard to have stepparents but she’s lucked out and got a good one. She will love you as a parent even if society doesn’t understand that. And you know what? Fu*k society.

  • Winny the Elephant

    Also, in French, the word for stepmother is “belle mère” which directly translated means beautiful mother and interestingly, the same term is used for mother in law and step mother. I like to think the French language portrays stepparents in a more positive light

    • Eh

      I work and live in a bilingual (French/English) community and I have noticed that the lack of distinction between MIL and step-mother in French is confusing – especially when people are talking to people like me who have both.

      My step-mother is wonderful and I find it weird to call her my step-mother because of the negative connotations in English. I would prefer a more positive title for her. I also find saying “my father’s wife” is too much of a mouthful (and it also leads to questions or assumptions). I have started referring to my dad and step-mom as “my parents” when in general conversation (my mom passed away when I was a teenager). That’s also a bit weird to me since my step-mom never did “parent” me – however, in my adult life she has been very supportive.

      • Winny the Elephant

        Ha! I never thought of it as confusing because I don’t really have a relationship with my MIL so whenever I use the word, I’m talking about my stepmother but that’s a good point. I too also just say “parents” when referring to either couple, its just easier even though my stepfather and I have a very poor relationship that could hardly be considered a parent-child relationship… but that’s a whole other discussion.

      • kcaudad

        I also had my birth mother die when I was a young teenager. I refer to my ‘step-mother’ by her first name usually. If I’m talking about my father and her, I refer to them as ‘my parents’. But, now my dad decided he doesn’t like the term, and wants me to call her ‘mom’. That’s probably not going to happen, though! Fun times.

        • Eh

          You get to define that relationship not your father.
          In person (and to people who know her) I call my step-mom by her first name but in conversation when people that don’t know her or how she’s related to me I called her my step-mom. I don’t think my step-mom would be comfortable with me calling her “mom”. She was barely comfortable with having a role at our wedding (it was a really small role and she was honoured we asked but she would have been just as happy to not do anything).

        • TeaforTwo

          Because you’re reading and commenting on this website, I am assuming that you’re an adult now, so I find that very strange. (Adulthood being a strange time to take on a new parent…) Regardless of your age, Eh is right that it’s your relationship to define, not his.

          My mother died when I was 19 and my father remarried when I was in my midtwenties. I call her by her first name, and refer to her as “my father’s wife.” That’s what our relationship is – she is in my life because she married my dad. She’s never acted in a parental role in my life.

          Do what feels comfortable to you – there’s no need to pretend a relationship is something it isn’t to make other people happy.

      • Kat Robertson

        I use “my parents” when I talk about both of them, too. I use stepmom for clarity’s sake when people don’t know us well, but Fiancé and I refer to her mostly as “my Lori” because it feels more accurate to the relationship without the stepmom connotations.

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

        I also have found the lack of clarity for belle-mère confusing.

  • Laura C

    So much this. There’s a boy I grew up with (I mean, he’s a man now); his parents and my parents were housemates in grad school, he was born 8 months after me, our families vacationed together through my childhood. His parents divorced and his father remarried a little while later, and we were friends with all of them. His father and stepmother had a son, and ultimately divorced.

    He ADORES his ex-stepmother to this day. I mean, there’ve been times he had something huge going on in his life and she was the first parent figure he went to.with it. Last Thanksgiving, he, his half-brother, and all of their parents did dinner together. And when his ex-stepmother was on her way to his wedding a couple years ago, the man next to her on the plane asked what she was traveling for and she told him and he was basically like “your former stepson? are you really welcome there?” Yes. Yes, she was. She and his father may have been divorced for…well over a decade, anyway, but she is still his family.

    • Kelsey

      This makes me think of Clueless: “You divorce wives, not children”

      • Laura C

        I thought of that, too.

      • Caroline

        This! My mom and step-dad are going through some very tough times, and she’s been clear that even if they seperate, she doesn’t expect my and my partner’s relationship with my step-dad to end, and he won’t put pressure on us to do so. I didn’t really realize the importance of that moment in Clueless until recently.

        Also, when my uncle divorced, my mom made the decision that one divorces spouses, not aunts and uncles, so we to this day call aunt’s and uncle’s ex’s aunt-so-and-so and uncle so-and-so. (Only the ones we had a relationship with, not the ones from divorced before we were born). We don’t see them a lot, but when we do (cousin’s graduations, when we went to the same school as their kids, etc) the point wa that they were still in some nebulous way, relatives, if now very distant ones.

        • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

          My ex’s family made that decision about me and decided to keep me, despite my ex. :) So from someone on the receiving end….I will say that kindness and love like your family showed to your aunt is SO SO appreciated….

      • Victwa

        Um, this would be lovely, except that the law REALLY does not view it that way. No matter how lovely my relationship with my stepkids is (and it’s pretty solid), if their father was hit by a bus tomorrow, I would have the opportunity to see them ONLY because they have a half-sister now and I could get sibling visitation. If we didn’t have their sister, their mother would be under absolutely no obligation to support our relationship. If something awful happened like their father and I getting a divorce, same thing. If he decided to stop me from connecting to them, there’s nothing I could do. That is a great sentiment, and I actually did say to my now husband when we BARELY started dating that I couldn’t really imagine getting serious with him unless he was will to support a relationship with the kids and me if something happened between us (if the kids wanted to still see me) because I couldn’t handle losing three relationships at once. He cried and then said, yes, he would do that, but I am really quite clear that if things went dramatically south, any legal tie I have to my stepkids is through my daughter, not at all from the years of care from both sides that have gone into our relationship.

    • C

      When a particular family friend (D) is not at our house for holidays, he spends them with his now-deceased stepfather’s widow’s family. D’s mom married T when D was in high school. When D’s mom died, T married someone else. When T died, D maintained a relationship with T’s second wife and her family. I hadn’t really thought about it being unusual until now (then again, my family is full of adoptions and divorces and people who still get along so my perspective is probably skewed).

  • Jules

    “DOESN’T COUNT?!”

    As an adopted child, this…just…yeah. Also, she was 4 when you came into her life! It isn’t as if you married a man with grown children, in which case I can KIND of see the concept of not counting, although the phrasing is still horrid.

    This was a superb article and a point of view I’ve never known before. Thank you.

    • Jennie

      Yes, my father remarried AFTER I got married. I DO NOT consider her my mother, she didn’t have any role in my upbringing. If you live in a house and have some amount of responsibility for a child, you count as a person raising that child.

    • Moe

      Isn’t that horrifying?! My father-in-law raised my husband’s brother from the time he was an infant. When he would visit his relatives they shunned this poor little boy and said he wasn’t one of them. So my FIL stopped going over there. If his son wasn’t welcome then neither was he. What is wrong with people?! Family is relationship, not genetics.

    • Jenna

      I’m SO with you on the “doesn’t count” thing. All types of parents count!!!

      But if I may offer a gentle suggestion….. We adoptees are often referred to as children long into adulthood–both by society and the government–and perpetuating the notion that we are not ‘real’ adults helps to support those who would deny us equal rights/protection under the law, minimize or marginalize our experiences, and tell our stories for us. You, of course(!), get to choose your own terminology when sharing your story and identifying yourself, but please consider using different words. I describe myself as a person who *was* adopted (because it was an event that occurred in the past), an adoptee, and, at times when I really want to hammer the point home (I am a bit of an activist), an ADULT adoptee.

      That said: no judgment, whatever you choose. It’s more important to me that other adoptees feel supported in their choices than that everyone use my preferred terminology. :)

      • Jules

        You know, I’ve never even thought about that before. I also just realized that’s probably the ONLY time I’ve used the word “child” other than when I was one. My subconscious reasoning for using “child” in this particular case was to distinguish that I was RAISED by my adoptive parents and think of them as MY parents, and to draw a parallel between adopted [child implied?] and stepchild. Kinda like how I imagined that if A feels that Malorie is a parent, well, that damned well makes her one, and no one said you only get two.

        I normally use the term “adoptee” or “adopted” when referring to myself.

        I meant nothing by it, but I’m glad to hear other preferred terms in order to be more aware. :-)

    • Lily

      Prologue – so it turns out I wrote a complete novel here, and I realize now after writing that I have a negative reaction with these messages likening stepkids with your own kids as I feel it’s playing into those other cultural expectations of stepmoms that they be “instant [loving] moms”. Stepmoms can’t win! wicked if you don’t love them like your own, and trying to replace their mom if you do!

      So, while I agree the phrasing sounds harsh, as a future/stepmom (been living with the dad + kids for 3 years, but we are not married yet) who is active on stepmom forums and has read pretty much all the literature out there (start with Stepmonster if anyone is looking for recs) what I see is that for most step-parents, inheriting a stepkid who came along with a relationship you wanted is not at all the same as having a child you chose to have. I envy those stepparents who say “I love them like my own children.” I certainly don’t feel that my stepkids “count” as my own kids. Yes I do work in parenting them, yes I love them, but certainly not to the degree I would parent or love my own children. The fact is, while we all get along very well, I didn’t choose to have them, I chose to be with their dad, and they came with him.

      I’m not saying the parenting doesn’t count, or the love, but I can totally empathize with a grandparent thinking “this kid who happens to be the daughter/son of the person my child chose to marry” is not the same as a child of your child, whether birthed or adopted. And it goes both ways – my stepkids like my mom, a lot, but they already have two grandmas and they don’t feel the connection with her that way either.

      That being said, I find the shunning that goes on at the birthday parties and the odd looks at school pretty tiresome. Yes I’m not their real mother. So what?! That doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about what it’s like to have a kid! I could kvetch at parties with the best of ‘em if given a chance!

      I could go on for days about the challenges of being a stepmom! It’s so hard, for so many reasons, on so many levels. In your standard nuclear family, parents get to learn together about how they want to raise their children together. But I’ve shown up to live with kids who haven’t been raised at all the way I would have raised kids. So how much do I get to change? And now we need to figure out what my role is, how much of a say I get, how much responsibility I take on, and how we find a position that works for all of us. The finances are more complicated (e.g. he can’t leave all his money to me, what if I die before adjusting my will, his kids would be left out completely! that’s not fair) and the ex-factor (rarely a pleasure, and certainly not in my case)

      I’m a little off topic by now I guess! Anyway, he’s the love of my life, and I don’t say that lightly, but I honestly can’t recommend getting with a man with children, unless they are already grown.

      • Jules

        So…this is sort of whole point, though: you don’t feel that your stepkids count as your own, nor love them to the degree that you would love your own children. That’s understandable, and that’s your particular relationship with them.

        From the article, there seem to be reciprocal feelings and I’m inferring that Malorie wants others to accept her role and quit telling her she’s not a parent because they’re not related by blood. THAT right there is what should make it “count” and be just as valid as Malorie and A want it to be, conventional labels be damned.

        Honestly, my sensitivity to phrasing comes from years of people asking about my “real mom” (while I get what they are referring to, wtf is not “real” about my adoptive mom, exactly?), despite her having chosen to adopt me and my loving her as my own mother.

        • Lily

          Yes, I get that, and I’m not trying to take anything away from Malorie’s very fortunate experience. I totally support her being a valid second mom / third parent and I support her fighting the good fight to let it be known that it counts, and she feels the same as if it were her daughter. I’m just trying to say that coworkers and parents and friends and family not viewing her as a a real parent isn’t necessarily an insult to the work she does and love she feels for A., but more a reflection of the reality of the role of [most? certainly many!] stepparents.

          additional ruminations:

          As a society, we are starting to see more and more blended families, so we need to make room for a whole span of experiences and roles. Situations like this make me think we should allow for a legal declaration of a “real mom stepmom”, like allow adoption and just let kids have more than 2 legal parents. Having a hard time articulating this, but it reminds me of this: if you see a hetero couple that lives together but isn’t married, you don’t know if they are just boyfriend and girlfriend, or if they are partners who are just as committed as any married partners, but for whatever reason haven’t chosen to get married. Couples can use words to describe themselves that make it clear, but today we don’t have a distinction between second mom type stepmoms like Malorie, and so-not-their-mom stepmoms like me. The law and society’s view seem to change in lockstep, not sure which drives the other, but the law today still draws a huge distinction between a step mom and a “real mom”. Assuming Australian law is like the USA, if Malorie and T. break up, she won’t have any legal right to see A. She can’t make medical decisions for A. She may need written permission to do things like pick her up from school or travel with her. Real moms don’t have those constraints, real moms are moms forever, not tied to the child only through their current relationship.

          Sorry I write too much!!

  • M

    This really resonated with me. Being a young stepmother (or a stepmother in general) is HARD. There is so much judgement-on my husband for not being with his child’s mother, on me for “replacing” my stepson’s mother. We are lucky in that my stepson is wonderful and caring, and our friends and my family has been so welcoming to him.

    But all that doesn’t make it easy. I too have had the looks from parents at birthday parties, when they realize who I am. I walk the fine line between being an authority figure in his life, and respecting the fact that I am not his biological mother, nor do I want to replace her. I also have had comments from coworkers that he “doesn’t count” as my child. Adding to the complexity is that my husband and I recently had a baby. So we are navigating taking care of an infant while treasuring our time with my stepson and beings sure he knows that he is just as important as he was before. And I’m sure that these issues will continue to get more complex as the kids grow up.

    I knew what I was getting into (as much as I could) when I married my husband. His son is now an integral part of my family. And I think our family is better because he’s a part of it.

    • Eh

      When my BIL started dating his wife she had two kids and he was judged for dating the type of woman who would have two kids with two different men (scandle – both out of wedlock and one as teenager). Some people in the family still aren’t over it. As his “step-daughters” bio-fathers aren’t in their lives (the older one sometimes see/talks to her bio-father but the other has never met her bio-father) he is their “father” and he does take on all of that role.

      • Anon for this

        My FH had a child out of wedlock when he was a teenager, which was about 9 years before we met. He has never been in the child’s life because *reasons*, but has always paid child support. I have only confided this with one of my friends, and worry how my FH would be judged by my friends and family if they found out…. not just for having a child so young, but for what could be conceived as adandoning him. (The real situation is far more complex than that, and has caused my FH a lot of sadness).
        Although I think it’s highly unlikely that I will ever meet his son, I do occasionally wonder what would happen if he contacted us. I don’t think this really puts me in the step-mother category, but I do wonder how I would relate to him, and I think the wicked step-mother trope doesn’t help this. Of course, I am never going to know until it happens (if it happens).

        In response to some of the above comments about adoption, I have three adopted cousins who are all absolutely incredible. It is fairly obvious that they are not biologically related to the rest of my family (they are asian, the rest of us are of irish decent), but they most certainly “count” as much as anyone else. Indeed, I know that at least my mother and I looked forward to meeting them just as much as we looked forward to meeting my newest biological cousin (which was a lot!).
        The experience of having adopted cousins has really made me, and more recently my FH, consider adopting children of our own. However, in a messed up way, sometimes the knowledge that he has a biological child out there in the world makes me want biological children.

        I’ve probably gone a little off topic here with all my own issues, but I really appreciate APW and Malorie giving me a chance to think more about this difficult issue. Malorie, your relationship with A sounds really special. Good luck!

  • Class of 1980

    My great grandmother was brought up by a stepmother who raised her and her siblings AS HER OWN because their natural mother had died … often the case in those days.

    Because she lovingly raised them AS HER OWN, she has been honored in our family by having each of her names passed down to my grandmother and my mother. It’s a legacy of love.

    My great grandmother also brought up two children from her husband’s first marriage whose mother had died, in addition to seven of her own. So there are two stepmothers in two generations that made the family stronger.

    I think the wicked stepmother trope persists because maternal death happened so often historically that there were bound to be plenty of bad stepmothers. Inheritance issues probably contributed to selfish feelings. But there were also plenty of stepmothers who blessed the families that were lucky enough to have them.

    • http://werewritingabook.com/ Breck

      “I think the wicked stepmother trope persists because maternal death happened so often historically that there were bound to be plenty of bad stepmothers. Inheritance issues probably contributed to selfish feelings.”

      This seems like a logical reason for where the wicked stepmother trope originated, but why it *persists* today, especially in contrast to people’s general perceptions of stepfathers, feels much more insidious to me.

      • Nicole Cherae

        Yes! I was just thinking this. Where are all the wicked stepfathers? If a man steps in it seems like he’s the good guy helping to raise someone else’s children. The dominant narrative of the stepmother is very negative.

      • Class of 1980

        As much as I have positive stepmother examples in my maternal line, I don’t feel the same about my father’s second wife.

        Dad and his wife have not created a will because they can’t agree on the terms. My father probably wants to leave something to his children and his wife thinks everything should go to her. She has said as much.

        We have no problem with dad leaving everything to her, as long as his assets don’t get passed onto her family when she dies, thus converting our family money into her family’s money. Unfortunately, we believe that is exactly what she intends.

        (The joke’s on her because without a will in their state, a second wife only gets 50% if the deceased has living children.)

        That said, I think there are plenty of modern-day negative stepfather tropes … especially violently or sexually abusive stepfathers. Personally, I’m more wary of the damage stepfathers can do than stepmothers, though my stepfather is fantastic.

        It may be that the stepmother trope persists because there were far more stepmothers than stepfathers in the past … and the memory has remained in the culture long past it being true.

    • Jules

      Possibly contributing is the fact that one of the most popular princess stories OF ALL TIME has the main plotline of evil and abusive stepfamily, which Cinderella only escapes by magic and a Prince’s conviction to marry someone with whom he’d only spent one evening. What? I mean, I think I was like four when I heard Cinderella for the first time, and therefore quite impressionable.

      Fairy tales have their place, but when I think about it, Cinderella is one effed up “romance”.

  • Katarina

    I love seeing people post about this thoughtfully and meaningfully. As a kid who had a truly “wicked stepmother” (read: abusive and awful), It warms my heart to see people accepting stepchildren as their children and truly loving and caring about them. Good for you!

  • Lauren

    I think that the very root of the problem is that for some reason some people have problems when other people do things differently/have different opinions than them. Some people take things so personally, as if your decision to be a loving mother figure to A somehow puts mothers with biological children in a bad light. It’s an insecurity thing – a serious problem these women are facing. While it makes you feel bad, just think about the personal demons these women are facing that are causing them to be bitter and judgmental about you. Yikes. You’re still in a better place than them. Now go pour some lovin’ on little A.

  • z

    Frankly, this comes across as a little naive. I’m glad your soon-to-be stepdaughter likes you, and that your relationship is going so well. But step-parenting can get pretty hard and pretty complicated, even if everyone is trying their best to get along and put the kids first. If his ex seems wary, maybe it’s because she has her mind on all the complexities that come with adding another adult to the family. It’s not necessarily about taking over or being replaced, it’s about the fact that for better or for worse, your choices will profoundly affect her daughter, and her own life too.

    I have a stepmother of my own, and she’s pretty great. Everyone gets along, and I really appreciate her taking care of my dad. But it still adds a lot of complexity. It caused all kinds of totally legitimate financial and parenting disagreements, not because anyone was behaving badly but just because these things are hard. Knowing how challenging it can be even under the best of circumstances, I understand why people are skeptical about step-parenting. Even when everyone’s doing their best, it can be really, really hard.

    It’s easy to say there’s enough love to go around, but the same is not always true of time and money. The choices of any one adult will affect the child, future children, and the other three adults in ways that can be very difficult and unpredictable. For example, if you want to have more children with your new husband, how will that affect and parenting time arrangement with his ex-wife? What if you want to move away from where you live now, does that mean your stepdaughter sees less of her father, or her mother? What if his ex-wife’s new husband wants to quit his job and start a business, will you and your fiance have to pay more child support? What if co-parenting a teenager gets really, really complicated and you have a fundamental disagreement about how to parent?

    Bottom line: have you thought about what it will be like to be personally and economically linked to these people for the long haul? Your own choices will be constrained in ways that can be difficult to predict, and that your choices may affect them in very serious ways that they may not like. Of course, this doesn’t mean that stepmothers are bad, or that you shouldn’t marry your fiance. But loving the child does not make these problems disappear, and it’s best to go in with your eyes open.

    For these reasons, I would be extremely wary of a step-mother in my child’s life. I would certainly endeavor to get along, but I would really struggle if I felt like she was marrying my ex-husband without a realistic understanding of what it’s like to be in a step-family. I hope that’s not you.

    • ItsyBit

      I have to disagree about this piece seeming naive. Of course things may be difficult; divorce is difficult. While I can’t speak for the OP, I didn’t read this as ignoring the problems that do or may exist, but more pointing out a larger cultural attitude of people not seeing step-parenting as “real” or ever good. The potential issues you listed are certainly valid. Honestly I ran into a lot of these with my divorced parents long before either of them was in another committed relationship, so to me personally, I don’t see adding in a step-parent as conflating the issue by a whole lot. (In my life, my now-stepmother has been a force in bringing my parents closer together than they were before. Everyone’s story is different.) Going in with eyes open is vital for sure, but I don’t think we should assume that the OP hasn’t thought of these things because she chose not to address them here.

    • Nicole Cherae

      I didn’t see this post as naive either. I agree that that the author and
      anyone in this situation should go into with their eyes open, but sometimes you really don’t know how you’re going to react until you’re in that situation. As someone in a similar situation, there are a lot of unexpected feelings that have come up. It can be a difficult situation for sure with many potential complications. While love doesn’t solve everything, I certainly could not put up with some of the situations I’ve encountered if I didn’t love my fiance and bonus baby (as I call her) as much as I do.

      • Beth R

        Bonus baby, I love it. My friend has two step-kids and calls herself their “bonus mom.” :)

    • SM

      Yes. You’ve brought up issues that MUST be heavily considered before becoming a stepparent. All of it is true. As a stepmom, I can say that the reality of it is harder than even this implies, and there are things that come up that there’s no way you could ever prepare for in advance. Loving the kid is a good start, but unfortunately, it’s only a start.

      That said, I would like to point out something else about this comment (which for the record I wholeheartedly endorse until the last paragraph). Look at what an unfair position the hypothetical stepmom is put in before she even starts. She has to prove herself above and beyond any other partner or mother, just because she loves a man with a child (and probably the child too). I don’t blame you for being wary – it can be a real mess. But this mindset seems to describe the general feeling out there about stepmoms (particularly from moms) …and how could anyone ever be a good stepmom coming into this sort of setup? We are damned before we even come on the scene. We are starting a marriage and family, which is incredibly difficult to begin with, at a disadvantage and with strikes against us (not just from moms, but often from the world in general).

      Many people will stay far far away from dating people with children because of these issues. It takes an emotionally strong person with an open heart and an open mind to be involved with someone with children, let alone marry that person and become a parent to that child. So when someone does step up to that role, I wish everyone involved would be a little more generous with her.

      • KEA1

        A-FREAKING-MEN.

    • Jess

      It absolutely takes a village to raise a child. My stepmother has been an extremely positive force in my life, as have many other adults that were a part of my childhood. The cumulative knowledge of many makes for a more well-rounded child.
      If you chose to have a child with that man, perhaps you can trust that he wants good influences around your child.

      “[Being] extremely wary of a step-mother in [your] child’s life” strikes me as jealous and controlling. Yes, life circumstances change, and there is a certain amount of rolling with the punches. Yes, when you got divorced you signed up for a life which can be influenced by adults outside your personal sphere of influence–it could just as well be your ex-husband’s parents getting ill and requiring him to move away as the stepmother making it happen. You have no control over your ex-husband or his life choices, and him marrying is not going to somehow make it worse.

      Focusing solely on the negative potentials of a stepmother rather than the blessing of another woman’s life experience and perspective for your child is, frankly, a mistake. It WILL negatively impact your relationship with your child as he or she grows to adulthood and watches you get constantly bent out of shape about there being another parental figure in his or her life.

      • z

        FYI, I’m not actually divorced, which is why I phrased it as a hypothetical.

        But I think it’s very reasonable to be cautious when a stranger wants to enter the family, even a stranger chosen by a family member. I’m not jealous or controlling (thanks for the name-calling), but I do my due diligence on preschools and babysitters. Being a step-parent is a really big deal. That person will spend hours and hours caring for my child, be responsible for her safety, and influence her profoundly, and will influence my life as well. Being wary is just common sense. I wouldn’t expect anything different if I were remarrying, or if I were planning to marry into a family. I wouldn’t expect to walk in and co-parent someone’s child without first building a relationship and earning their trust. The sad truth is, not everyone who is divorced trusts their ex– often with good reason. Not everyone who is divorced thinks their ex is a good parent, is trustworthy and responsible, or has the best interests of their child at heart.

        And adding another person could definitely make it worse, it adds more uncertainty and more logistics and more hassle, potentially more kids, another extended family, more differences of opinion and reasons to move and things to spend money on, more feeeeeeelings. I really don’t know why you assert that it wouldn’t make it worse. Sometimes step-parents change things for the better, sometimes for the worse, but they definitely change things. This thread is full of both of those narratives.

        I totally agree that this loss of control is the choice divorced people make when they got divorced. I have a stepmother too and I understand that it can be a good thing– I’m not focused solely on the negatives. But even when it is good, it is difficult and complicated. I’m a realist, and I think it shouldn’t be taboo to talk about the impact.

        • Jess

          I didn’t call you jealous or controlling; I called the sentiment jealous and controlling–just as I’m sure you didn’t call the original author naive, but rather her sentiment naive.

          When you choose to have a child with someone, you are choosing to trust them to choose the people around your child, divorced or not. If you can’t handle the idea that you personally will not be able to hand-select the people that your child interacts with, don’t have a child with another person. Beyond that, your child is going to interact with people you haven’t personally vetted–teachers, other parents, adults who marry into your family, extended or otherwise–and most will add to your child’s life in some way. Is it really better to try to avoid new people in your child’s life because it may add “differences of opinion”?

          “And adding another person could definitely make it worse, it adds more uncertainty and more logistics and more hassle”
          Or it could make it better. Another responsible, trusted adult that loves and cares for your child will certainly make it easier. It won’t make it worse because either you trust your ex to make good choices in the people he brings around your child, or you don’t. If your ex is going to MARRY someone who has a negative influence, how lax must he be in the people he is willing to bring around your child every day? The problem exists before and outside of remarriage.

          “Potentially more kids” could be siblings that have an incredible bond with your child. “Another extended family” is a whole host of love and different perspectives that can enrich your child’s life. Absolutely there is an “impact;” I just think it’s one to look forward to–or at the very least, one to approach with positivity.

          You call the original author’s perspective “naive.” I call yours controlling and fearful. I think that A will have a better life for having her stepmother in it, regardless of whether A’s mother likes her stepmother or not.

          • z

            I already acknowledged several times that it could be a good thing. You’re not really adding anything to what I’ve said.

            I’m just trying to point out to you that a step-parent could be a bad or difficult thing, and that it shouldn’t be a taboo to realistically acknowledge all of those possibilities. It is reasonable to be cautious when a new person is joining a family. I’m not saying people shouldn’t re-marry, not at all. Just that it’s reasonable for a parent to be cautious, and for a new step-parent to have realistic expectations and earn their parenting role, rather than feeling entitled to co-parent another person’s child just because they are marrying a parent. Unfortunately, some people’s exes do not make good choices about who the children are exposed to– it doesn’t help anyone to pretend that away.

            A step-parent is a much bigger deal than almost any other adult relationship, and it’s not that I can’t “handle” it (again, harsh), but that I am wary because I know the stakes are high. Disagreements among my parents and step-parents were very difficult for my entire family, even though there were positive aspects as well.

          • z

            And I’ve gotten distracted from my original point, which is: it’s not just about the parenting. A step-family relationship means that all the adults are interconnected. Their choices will affect one another. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe for better, maybe for worse: the point is, it could be a big deal in a lot of ways. An incoming step-parent is asking for a role in everyone’s life, not just the child’s. And I think the OP will have more success if she considers this. It’s not just a matter of being a good step-parent, or of liking one another, or about feeling replaced. It’s about entering into a long-term interconnected relationship with the other adults. It has the potential to change everyone’s life, not just the child’s, for good or for ill. So I think it makes perfect sense to be wary.

            If it’s “controlling” to be cautious about something that could profoundly impact my child’s life and my own as well, then I’m very comfortable with that label.

  • JDrives

    I refer to both of my sets of remarried parents as “my parents.” It’s awesome to have not just two, but four awesome role models in my life, and it doesn’t feel right to put them into tiers of importance based on blood relationship. Including my stepmom and stepdad in the “parents” category doesn’t threaten or diminish my relationship with my dad and mom in any way. Kudos to you, Malorie, for being what seems to me like an excellent influence and source of love for that little girl!

  • Violet

    “I’ll be whatever she needs me to be for as long as she’ll have me, because the only permission I need is hers.” Yes. Yes, yes. My parents’ divorce already placed so many burdens on me, the last thing I need is someone telling me how I should feel and think about a parent’s spouse. This one thing gets to be my decision. My father re-married after I’d left for college. She’s a nice woman, and she makes my father a better version of himself. Subsequently, her presence makes my life easier. But I would be perfectly fine without her. She’s not any kind of a “mother” to me. She’s my dad’s wife.
    Giving the kids (or adults, ahem) the choice to define this relationship when so much of what happened around them was not up to them is, to me, the fair way to go about it.

    • z

      I totally agree– I really do appreciate having my stepmom around, otherwise I would be the first responder for all of my dad’s medical and other life problems. But that doesn’t make her a mother to me. I didn’t even meet her until I was 20. Even the best divorce is a real hassle for adult children, and having your arm twisted about step-parent titles is overkill.

      But back to the original post– Guess who else has no say in this? T’s ex-wife. The original poster is choosing to be a part of this family, but T’s ex-wife has no choice about this change. Just like T had no choice about whether his ex-wife re-married– I’m not saying there’s anything wrong about this, it’s just the fact of the matter, you have no say in who your ex-spouse marries. Such is the long shadow of divorce.

      I imagine that it’s really, really hard to share parenting and grant a lot of influence over your child, and a lot of impact on your own life, to someone you didn’t choose, someone you barely even know! If I ever become a stepmom, I’d like to think I could earn a place in the family– but I certainly wouldn’t just walk in expecting everyone to like me and welcome my new role in their lives. Realistically, it might not be a positive change in their lives, and I have to accept that.

      • Violet

        While my parents divorced when I was a pre-teen, I remember hoping they wouldn’t re-marry (because it’s so complicated!). It worked out fine in the sense that there are no “problems,” per se, but more people naturally means more complications. (People are complicated creatures!) I guess it could mean more love too, but frankly, I didn’t want any more parental-type love. I’m good with my two parents. *shrug*

        From this piece, it sounds like OP went into her role one step at a time in terms of an emotional relationship with A. This reminds me of askmoxie and the difference between the mom-jobs and mom-relationship (http://askmoxie.org/blog/2012/09/free-but-not-cheap.html). Stepparents of children do the parenting jobs (otherwise, as OP states, they’d be neglectful), but the relationship part is the child’s choice. She left that part up to A. I really, really admire OP for seeing that distinction.

        • z

          Exactly– I’ve already got more relatives than I have time for! (And what a blessing that is– if I had lost a parent, or lose one in the future I might feel differently). Even the best step-parent is another schedule to coordinate, another set of preferences and feelings to consider, another set of extended family obligations… It’s hard enough to spend an adequate amount of time with just my actual parents, and step-parents make it more difficult. I can’t keep up with the complexity that step-parents add, and right now the benefits aren’t worth the cost in terms of my time and effort. Maybe when I don’t have toddlers it will seem easier.

          I know I benefit a lot from my stepmom taking care of my dad. Before he married, I felt that my mom, in leaving him, had abandoned me to struggle with a caregiving role that was rightfully hers. But truth is, if I could trade my stepmom, stepbrother, and entire extended stepfamily for a happy, intact nuclear family, I would do it in an instant.

      • Nicole Cherae

        I agree with this last point, though I’ll add that it works both ways: the author didn’t get to choose A’s mother. When you’re a stepparent you also have to deal with your spouse’s ex and that adds another component that can be difficult and hurtful.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    Ugh! Your mom saying A doesn’t count is like saying adopted children don’t count as “real” children. Saying you don’t count as her parent is like saying adopted parents aren’t real parents. It’s just wrong.

    All kinds of parenting can get hard and complicated, not just step-parenting. I think you are off to an awesome start.

    • Crayfish Kate

      I had this same thought too. So, so hurtful.

      I loved this piece, and I think you’ll be fantastic in whatever role A wants and/or needs you to be. :-D

  • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

    Hugs & High-fives for good parenting!

    This reminds me of my cousin . . . who I guess isn’t technically my cousin. WHATEVER! My uncle married my cousin’s mother when she was only 4 and to this day I sometimes have to struggle to remember her “real” last name. She’s been a part of our family for so long, there’s no question that she’s part of our family. This I think is most definitely a credit to my aunt. She allowed my uncle to be a full parent in her child’s life – and it seems as though T is doing the same! In the words of Dori, just keep swimming!

    • Caroline

      I too, have an uncle who did a beautiful job of this. He remarried when his kids were about 8 and 6, and I’m sure they’ve had their internal struggles, but their step-mom and their mom are both active and loving parents in their lives.

  • Nicole Cherae

    This was a welcome read. I’ve been in my stepchild’s life since she was born (long story there). It’s been hard to deal with stepparent and ex issues. I’ve had to deal with L’s mother feeling like I was replacing her or that somehow our roles are the same in L’s mind. When there are family events on his side, I often end up feeling like “just” the girlfriend, “just” the fiance. How can I compete with the mother of his child? I truly want to support L’s relationship with her father and her mother. I don’t expect us to be bestfriends, but a respectful relationship would be a nice start. It’s a lot of conflicted feelings. This stuff is hard.

  • 39bride

    I’m sorry that others’ ideas caused you pain, but so glad you got to this point: “I want to love her and care for her and watch her graduate high school and university and maybe get married someday. I will be whatever she needs me to be for as long as she’ll have me, because the only permission I need is hers.”

    Yes, yes and yes!

    After months of up-and-down, yes-no-maybe agony, two young relatives officially became household members last week, on an expected permanent basis. However, I have been blissfully oblivious to how others might want to label/define my position (except for the juvenile’s lawyer whom I’d bet money thinks I view them as “my last chance to have kids, omg!!” Not! That dream died years ago, and I’m not so insane as to think that two preteens added to an 18-month marriage is a recipe for success).

    I’m sure I’m going to encounter some of the ridiculous assumptions you have met, but I think I’ll just quote your above lines in response. Because it’s about our nieces, not about us or what anyone else thinks we’re supposed to be. We’re just two people who love them and are so glad to be in a position to be a good thing in their lives, and that sounds a lot like you and your step-daughter.

    Oh, and for you expectant parents out there: I’m pretty sure that all those newlywed “I’m doing this wrong and what if it’s always like this and every little thing is an indicator of long-term marital health and we’re setting foundational habits for the future and I’m a horrible wife and I don’t know if I can do all of this and ZOMG!!” insecurity makes a return in parent mode when a child enters the picture. I suspect you just gotta ride it out the same way you did when you were newlyweds. It also helps if only one of you freaks out at a time, haha!

    • 39bride

      (I should clarify that the children’s parents are alive, so there are definitely role questions involved, which is why I related to this post).

    • lady brett

      “It also helps if only one of you freaks out at a time, haha!”
      ha! *that* is immensely helpful!

    • Claire

      I’m a fellow aunt serving in a parental role with my two young nieces, but definitely not trying to replace their mother. High fives to you for being willing to take on this journey and expand your family in a way that is non-traditional but can also be immensely rewarding. I’m so glad to hear of other people taking on the loving and caring of nieces and nephews.

  • Rachel

    I’m a child of multiple divorces. My parents when I was five, my father and step-mom when I was seventeen, and my mom and step-dad split for a few years when I was 21 because of infidelity on his part (they’re back together now). I don’t necessarily agree that with the poster below that this article is “naive,” but do agree wholeheartedly with the idea that step-parenting – and being parented by stepparents – is incredibly, incredibly complicated and difficult. By nature step parents have to take a back seat to the decisions made by the two biological parents, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the decisions. And that can play out in a myriad of passive-aggressive/aggressive ways (we are, after all, all human). My mother by all means was a wonderfully loving mother, but the role of stepmother wasn’t one she carried out very well – particularly during the turbulent teenage years. I can also say that the clueless quote isn’t necessarily realistic. A divorce involving stepparents is particularly painful because of the likelihood that you probably won’t maintain those relationships over the long term – especially when they involve children. However, they aren’t often treated as a “real” divorce in terms of the type of support offered children/teens when it happens. All I’m saying I guess is it’s important to tread lightly on the hearts of children, and stuff that seems rosy when your stepkids are young has a tendency to rear its head once they hit 13. My step mom had been in my life since I was six, and things definitely got messy once I hit teenager hood.

  • Anon

    I am neither a stepchild nor a stepparent, but have read the original post and conversation in the comments today with great interest. Thank you to everyone for contributing to a topic that I imagine must be difficult for many to speak about.

  • Victwa

    I totally want to write a long response because wow, is there a dearth of stepmom posts out there, but frankly, the comments continue to make me really wary of saying anything publicly about all this. Basically, big interweb high-five to the author. Step-parenting is hard, hard, hard, hard, hard… even when it’s not remotely as hard as it could be. Thank you for being a stepmom voice even through the hailstorms of judgment that exist the moment you mention that you’re a stepmother. Because when you praise someone for being a “good” stepmother, that’s honestly just continuing the judgment. There are lots of ways of being a stepmother, just as there are lots of ways of being a mother. Everyone needs to find their own path (and support in finding their own path, even when it doesn’t look like what everyone else thinks it should look like) and lots of hugs and love to you on your journey.

    • SM

      Please write a long response! I need to hear other stepmom stories. You are so right that even in the best of circumstances, it’s intensely difficult. And most circumstances are not the best.

      I commented earlier and praised the OP for being a “good” stepmom, but I see your point now. You’re right about that and I will be more careful in the future. I think my impulse was to sooth the OP in some way because I know how hard it can be, how the self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy creep in…and I wanted to just say “there, there. you are good. everything will be ok.” But of course that only goes so far and it does imply that there is a good way and a bad way of being a stepmom.

      I wish we could all keep this conversation going. There are so few of us I feel I can identify with, but there must be more out there.

      • Victwa

        Well, I probably won’t write a long response here, but I’m really serious about getting started writing a book. So somehow we should stay in touch. I think there are two (well, probably more, but I’m really aware of two at the moment) factors that make having this conversation difficult. The first is that the minute you open your mouth about being a stepmom, everyone floods you with advice about whether you should do this or that or see your stepkids as your kids or not (but you should clearly love them unconditionally and act like you’re their parent… except when they don’t want you to be… and then don’t discipline them except when you really do need to step in–then you should, but make sure the bioparent is the primary disciplinarian…). And so much of it is based on someone else’s personal experience which is clearly valuable, but it’s not my experience. I think there are many arenas where women are getting better about not judging each other and I think APW tries to foster that, but this is one where it’s a big hot button for a lot of people and everyone has their ideas about what someone’s stepmom should be doing, even when it’s not their experience.

        Second, so much of what makes each stepmom’s experience unique and often really affects the way she feels in a situation is tied up in other peoples’ stories. I feel quite strongly that I don’t want my stepkids (or my daughter) to ever feel that they or their mother are portrayed on the internet in a way that tells too much of their story without their permission. For example, we don’t co-parent. We have a very low-conflict parallel parenting situation going on after multiple unsuccessful attempts at co-parenting. To explain why these were unsuccessful attempts would tell more of my stepkids’ experience than I think is right or fair to be telling on the internet, but I can tell you clearly that my husband’s ex is not part of my family, as was suggested in a comment below. I am quite sure that someone will jump all over that comment and tell me that well, I married my husband so now she’s part of my family but no– other people do not, in fact, get to define my life. My stepkids have two families (this is how my stepson describes it) and while yes, I will be connected to their mother financially for quite some time and through concern and care for the kids forever, this does not mean I have to view her as part of my family. What makes it hard is that it feels like when someone makes what could be viewed as a “negative” statement, it gets jumped on, but if I gave the long explanation of how I ended up at this perspective, it would tell too much of people that didn’t ask to be talked about on the internet. It’s tough. High-five of stepmotherhood through the interwebs.

        • Violet

          “no– other people do not, in fact, get to define my life.” I whole-heartedly agree. My MIL kept trying to say that my dad’s wife is my step-mother. I patiently explained that I get to decide who is in a mother role for me, and while I think she’s a nice person, she’s not my mother (or step-mother, etc.).
          Eeeesh, with the judgment from people! Thanks for your perspective.

        • Lily

          I agree with you completely that the ex is not part of our family, at all. We don’t co-parent either, we have two different families. I semi-joke that the two families are like the US and Russia, we can come together (over email, or phone, and only my partner talking to his ex, never, ever me) when necessary for the greater good, but underneath the civility we’d probably love to blow the other household off the map if we could do it without repercussions.

          Also would love to hear more of your stories – there is such a dearth of them out there! I’m on some stepparent forums, but they mostly seem to be filled with venting about drug addicted biomoms or children with 666 tattooed on their skulls. I mostly go to read them when I am feeling frustrated and then I see how bad I *could* have it and feel 100x better!

  • Aubry

    Thank you all for an interesting discussion! I hadn’t really thought about the reactions other people may have to my relationship with F once Craig and I are married. She will be 12 when we are married, and lives with her mom a province away, so we have only met a few times. She is a super awesome person, and we have discussed her maybe coming to live with us, or at least come for a summer or extended stay. I don’t know if I will ever be in a fully parental role, with the distance unlikely to shorten soon and her age, but I will do my best.

    The one thing I am sure about is that my family will accept her wholeheartedly. We run the gamut of divorces, widows, mixed families at all ages of children, and even non-biological kids taken in as family by a turn of events. None of the blood matters, we are all family.

  • Abbie

    This article kills me. I have a stepdad who came into my life when I was 4. I’ve had more than 2 parents for as long as I can remember. For the sake of privacy I won’t say the name i call my stepdad, but the term stepdad has been used more times in this comment than it has in years. I have a special name for him, “papaXXX”, the X part being his (short, 1 syllable) last name. He’s always been my papaxxx, and i found the term stepdad to be offensive. He IS a parent. Also, he and my mom had another baby when I was 6. I don’t have any “full” siblings, so my “half” sister is….my SISTER! If she was adopted, people would accept that she was my sister, but because we have different dads, even though we grew up in the same house, suddenly, she’s not my sister? She’s only half of a sister? It’s not OK with me!

    If you’re at all interested, I would HIGHLY suggest coming up with a cute nickname for her to call you, even if it seems weird. It helps carve out a space for you. I think it really helped me feel like my stepdad had a title. If she calls you “my Malorie” maybe you could shorten that somehow into one word? Just an idea!

    Regardless- From the perspective of the daughter with 3 parents- I love all of them for their own strengths and I am BEYOND lucky to have had so many parents to love me! Good for you, and congrats!

  • tiffany

    As a step-mom, I think there are a lot of negative conotations associated with the word step-anything. Having a step-mom when I was growing up, the step-monster idea proved true for me. Now that I am a step-mom of two girls aged 9 and 12, I try very hard not to fall into the step-monster role. It is very frustrating when you mention the step-anything to any one today as you immediately get a very negative reaction. If you refer to your kids as step-kids, you’re suddenly a bad person because you are implying that you don’t love or care for them as your own; you mention that you are step-mom, suddenly you’re an evil person or more popularly a monster. If you take credit for the kids in any way, you are suddenly trying to become their mom and take over her role, it becomes quite a tricky web. With my step-daughters, I don’t push them to think of me in any particular way. I don’t ask them to call me mom, they usually just call me by my first name, and I let them determine what role they want me to play. That’s not to say that I don’t act as a parental figure, more that I let them define what they call me and how they describe my role in their lives to others. For me, it was important for them to know that I am always there for them and that I am still a parent, but that I recognize that I am not their biological mom, nor am I trying to replace her in any way. I want them to know that they can always talk to me, even if they may not be comfortable talking to their mom, that I love them and want the absolute best for them.
    I think when people try to define or belittle the step relationship, it is neither fair, nor does it give validity to the relationship that the step-child and step-parent have. A step-relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that it is any less important a relationship than any other relationship, it’s just different in that it’s not based on blood so much as ties of love. When we choose a partner with children, we are choosing those children as well to be in our lives. We are choosing to have a hand in their raising, their lives, their futures. We are choosing and accepting the responsibility of helping to raise them into functional adults.

  • KristenB

    Cheers Malorie. I became a stepmom to 3 fantastic boys last year. The absolute hardest part has been confronting that assumption – that I’m trying to take the place of their mom. And, like you said, it has grounds for being there since much of what I do for this is “mother-like” but I’m their Krissy, not their mom, and that’s an amazing thing!! Your daughter’s acceptance of your role in her life is all you need be concerned with, along with your partners.

  • Carolyn Wanatee

    While the idea of a step parent might seem threatening, it isn’t for everyone. I’ve honestly just known so many people who had step parents that played such a large role in there lives. So maybe my son will always call his dad’s girlfriend by her first name, or maybe he’ll call her mom in the future. That’s for them to decide. I have no problems holding open the door for my son to receive more love. Family is fluid and dynamic, it doesn’t have to be one mom, one dad, two and a half kids. It’s being surrounded by people you love, who love you, who are there to be your safety net.

    • Victwa

      Oh thank you for this. I just internet fell in love with you.

  • lovemychildren

    I dealt with these same issues. My stepdaughter is an adult now and her father and I have been divorced for sometime. She is as much my child as she is bioparents child. My stepdaughter and I have a wonderful relationship to this day! I found a saying that i put on our fridge when her bio mom said i couldnt love her like my own. I have no idea who the author is but it helped her to understand that even if i didnt birth her i still loved her as if i did. “Born of my heart, Our bloodline is spirit, You are my heart-daughter.” I still have the original that I wrote in crayon,in a box of her momentos.
    We went through a rough patch when she was a teen, and she accused me of loving her half-sister more. My response to her was…the only difference in how much I love you and your half-sister is that I have loved you longer. She got it and hasnt ever tried to compare again.
    My point is that you will never convince others of how you feel, and you dont have to. She’s the only one that will know exactly how much you love her. And that’s all that matters!

  • Kaity

    Thanks so much for writing. It’s always so nice to be reminded that I am not the only person in the world trying to manage ‘the step-parent thing’.

  • Kristen

    Malorie, high-five to you for your post. It is so great to finally see other women navigating the same things as me. I often feel like I’m the only person in the world parenting two tiny humans, planning a wedding, and working all while fending off hateful remarks from an ex-wife. It helps so much to read a post like this and to see so much feedback from other women!