What Learning to Be a Step-Mother Has Taught Me about Parenting and Love

bridesmaids and flower girl standing at wedding

The first thing we knew about our wedding planning was that we definitely had a flower girl.

She’s seven years old. She loves chapter books, ballet, and swimming. She’s bright, funny, and articulate, and she has her own sense of style, favoring brightly patterned tights and twirling skirts. She is my future stepdaughter, which means I’m a future stepmother. Which means… well, it means that my baby family is going to have to become a grown-up, fully-functional one in a hurry.

There was never much doubt in my mind that I wanted to be with my partner, B. I loved him from very early on. As our relationship marched forward, I became increasingly certain that I wanted to be with him for the long haul.

But a ready-made family had never figured into my vision of the future. I wasn’t afraid enough of the concept to run away right off the bat, but I worried. I stayed up at night worrying about whether I could handle being a stepparent and all that I imagined that it entailed—and if I knew that I couldn’t, whether I had any business being with the man I loved. I wailed, I gnashed my teeth, and I sobbed in my car in parking lots across town because I was just so terrified that I might be morally obligated to walk away from him if I knew that I couldn’t handle eventual stepparenthood. Even ages before we were talking marriage, I knew it was an issue I had to deal with.

The logistics of dating a single dad were doable. His daughter was two when I met her, after B. and I had dated a few months and said “I love you” to each other. There were bedtimes to observe, custody schedules to juggle (he has her every other day) and occasional toddler tantrums to wait out. As a then-27-year-old who had never changed a diaper or rocked a baby in her life, I was perfectly happy with the fact that he never asked me to be a parent to her. Just hanging out together now and then was fine by me.

Besides, she had a mom already, who was doing a fine job of being a mom.

The things that so often bother the partners of single parents—the tough scheduling, the feeling of somehow coming second to a child—those things didn’t bother me. I never saw myself as in competition with her, because…well, because she was a child and I was a partner and those things are very different. What wasn’t fine, for me, was that I was basically terrified of a small, blonde moppet of a human being. My natural reticence around children was amplified by the fact that I believed getting too close to her was emotionally dangerous for both of us. What if my relationship with B. didn’t work out? What if I turned out to be attached to her more than him? What if… well, what if I ended up loving her? Scary stuff. I know women are supposed to be all “Yay! Children!” but I’m just not. The scariest thing I could think of would be to develop a close relationship with my boyfriend’s daughter.

Things were also complicated by the fact that, still a bit shaken from the end of his first marriage, B. wasn’t sure when or if he wanted to jump back into matrimony again. As long as our future was indefinite, my future with his daughter was also indefinite.

So for ages I tried to be supportive, and friendly, and nice, but not too lovey-dovey. Aside from becoming “too attached” I didn’t know her mother or how she might react to “Dad’s girlfriend” being all parent-like to her kid. Or even all aunt-like. (It’s pertinent to point out here that I come from a family of lawyers, many of whom have built careers out of dealing with nasty custody disputes centering around the new partner of one parent or the other. Not knowing B.’s ex-spouse, I had no idea if she was the litigious type. As it turns out, she’s a perfectly sensible human being.) So, with no guidebook in front of me, I tried to be nice but chill. Admittedly, I was probably somewhat warmer with other kids with whom I came into contact than I was with her, because I didn’t feel like showing affection toward them was such a danger zone.

B. and I talked, our relationship moved forward, and it all came to a head when B. and I found ourselves in counseling shortly before getting engaged. (Doesn’t every little girl picture going to a relationship counselor as the lead-up to her engagement? No?) He said that he wished I could be more like a parent to his daughter. I was brought up short because… well, because she already had two parents. He had said that himself, many times. What could she need me for? Besides, I had read all the stepmom books, which emphasized that the more you tried to win a kid over, the more they would push you away.

After many long heart-to-hearts, he said that if we were going to get married, he wanted us to be a family. Although I didn’t necessarily go on our first date seeking an insta-family, I acknowledged that it would be impossible for us to have a healthy marriage unless that relationship was also part of a functional family. He also buttered me up, telling me that as a strong, intelligent, independent-minded woman with wide interests, I could be a good influence on her, and he suggested that I could induce her to like some of the things I like (DIY, history, non-fiction reading).

So, just as B. made a commitment to me by getting engaged to be married, I am making a commitment to him, and to his daughter, and to the concept of family. The steps have been slow and halting, as I try to bridge the gap from “Dad’s girlfriend” to “stepmom.” I have no stepparenting role models in my own family, so I’m figuring this out as I go. I’m working out what it means to be a sort of parent, but not a mother or a father. I’m still feeling my way blindly, to be perfectly honest.

I decided to start with cookies. We baked cookies together one night and had fun sneaking bits of cookie dough to nom. Another night we played Guess Who. When I come over for dinner now, we all eat at the table together. Last night I taught her how to finish the edges on a woven potholder. We went to the movies as a trio this weekend. One DIY project and board game at a time, we’re coming together.

She knows that we’re all moving in together, and she knows that her daddy and I will get married after that. When he told her that we would be getting married, her first concern was whether she would be the flower girl (of course she will be). Then she asked, “So will A. be my stepmom?”

Yes, I will be. And however we plan this wedding, I promise that she can be a flower girl. And I promise that I’ll keep trying day after day to be a good stepmom. Because this is a commitment to a marriage, but also to a family.

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  • Ceebee

    As long as you keep trying, you will keep winning.

    • Ummm, no.

      I’m going to be making myself unpopular here, but endless “trying” by a stepmother is a highway to a mental health crisis. In a stepfamily where things aren’t going well, endless, persistent trying is highly unlikely to have a good outcome, because contrary to stereotypes the stepmother is the *least* powerful person in the family system.

      • Kyley

        I think ceebee is trying to be supportive of the OP, who sounds like she’s trying in all the right ways.

        • Ceebee

          Yup, trying in the right ways. And she really is :D

          I also agree with Breeze’s perspective on some things, that sometimes in the process of trying, what needs to be found out is also what to let go, and what to let pass, and what to try less/not at all about.

          • Victwa

            I think what Breeze is saying is also really important for stepmothers to hear, because there IS a lot of pressure to “just keep trying, eventually you’ll win them over!” which sends the message that if things aren’t good with your stepkids, then it’s because of something YOU did, because if you just keep trying, then eventually you’ll get there. And sometimes there are circumstances that affect your relationship with the kids that are not in your control, where no matter how much you try, it doesn’t change those things. Props to the original poster, clearly.

  • PA

    Wow. As someone who has not, actually, encountered a similar situation, I nonetheless found that your descriptiosn of your early struggles really resonated.

    • PA

      (Way to submit before I was done typing, phone!)

      After hearing your descriptions of your soon-to-be-stepdaughter and the family dynamic, I think your caution comes with a big dose of love, and that she also loves you. I’m betting you’ll make an incredible stepmom!

      And I wholeheartedly agree that *these* are the types of stories we should be telling.

  • Anya

    I am a woman like yourelf: youngish, first-time bride without children of my own jumping into an insta-family with both feet! Thanks for sharing your story. Well said!

  • I’m a young stepmom too with an instant family and it’s brilliant and terrifying. I’m SO HAPPY this post went up. there are a lot of mommy blogs, and there are a lot of stepmonster blogs full of drama, but it’s hard to find a reasonable people angle on the story. THANK YOU.

    My partner has two sons and they are at our house almost exactly half time. I met the little dudes when they were five and nine, and it was so super scary. not only had I decided to partner up with an amazing man and was nervous about OUR FUTURE, but then on top of that I had to make an instant family? yikes!

    One of the things I was most terrified of was leaving those awesome boys after we had built a relationship together. I didn’t want to screw anything up! It meant a lot to met that my partner said I wasn’t invited to meet them until we were together for at least 6 months. By that time, happily, we were sure about making a future together and we just had to get the kids used to the idea slowly while planning our move-in together. Plus it gave us a chance to build our relationship without worrying about two little people and what THEY thought.

  • carrie

    Very brave indeed. I just wanted to speak up as a stepdaughter – my stepdad and my mom got married when I was 7. We had some moments during my teenage years because…well, I was a teenager. I would have had the same moments with my dad if we lived in the same house. I got married last year when I was 34 and I walked down the aisle with my father and my stepfather. He’s another dad, and I feel so lucky that I get to have two. He embraced his new family, supported me, and helped shape who I am. I like myself, most days. :-)

    Best of luck. You guys sound like you’re doing great so far.

    • S

      I have a very similar story! My stepdad (first marriage) and my mom got married when I was 8 after dating for 4-5 years, and I totally took it all in stride. Then when I hit 13, not only did I have standard teenage stuff, I had a “you’re not my real dad anyway” reaction, which was incredibly hurtful to him, and obviously I didn’t see what I was doing basically until I was in college. But he never stopped trying, we got through that and he is so important to my life and really shaped how I grew up… especially since my biological father has been out of the picture (in a different country, and has his own issues).

      Moral of the story: just as with biological parents, there will be good times and hard times, and similar and different issue, and just be loving and determined the same way. Sounds like you’re already in a good place.

  • Like you, I never imagined having an insta-family. I actually never planned to have children at all. But then I met my fiancé, who had a six year old (now 9). It was shocking, and I definitely wasn’t sure how to act, how emotionally attached to get, all of that. Your experience definitely resonated with me.
    As time went on, we grew closer, but there was always a distance there, because I wasn’t mom, and I wasn’t stepmom, so what was I? Then, last summer, she came to stay with us for three weeks (she lives out of state). I was off for the summer while my then-boyfriend was working, so I was going to be mostly responsible for her. And I was TERRIFIED. What was I going to do with her all day, every day?
    That was really a turning point for us, and I think the important thing was that we forged our own relationship, not just a relationship that involved her father. When she left, she called me every day for two weeks. She called her father too, but I got my own separate phone calls and emails.
    Fast forward a few months, and she and her dad proposed to me together. So now, I’m still not a mom, and I’m not yet a stepmom, she’s my fianci-daughter (her idea!).
    On another note–not to plug another blog on here, but Offbeat Mama does some great stuff with step-parenting. You should check it out!

    • sarahrose

      “She and her dad proposed to me together.”

      Love this!

    • A.

      B. and I were already engaged when he told his daughter, but they went together to pick up my engagement ring, and she presented the box to me. I felt like that was our first real act as a family. <3

      • Yup, I totally get that. :) It’s so great that she could be a part of your engagement, too.

    • Maddie

      I remember proposing to my mom. Still love my step-dad for letting me do that.

    • Aqua

      That is a lovely story, thanks for sharing! And good luck to all the insta-mums here.

  • I come from a family where divorce and remarriage is common. Both of my divorced parents remarried when I was young, and those marriages have so far gone the distance. I have one piece of advice for the stepmothers and stepfathers who are reading this:

    Three parents are better than two parents and Dad’s Wife.

    My two step-parents approached their relationship with me very differently. My stepdad treated me like I was truly his own; he set rules, tucked me into bed. I call him Dad. My stepmom, on the other hand, did not want to step on Mom’s toes. She was nervous with me, afraid to connect completely. I call her by her first name, and I hate that. Despite the fact that I know she loves me, I spent much of my childhood trying to figure out why she did not want to be my mother. Unlike my mom and stepdad, I actually feared they’d have a baby together. At the time, I wasn’t sure my stepmom had enough love to go around.

    In my experience, children whose parents divorce young have a very fluid notion of what “family” means. I have four parents. Even if one of those marriages dissolved, I would still have four parents. If they remarried, I would simply add more parents to the roster. Most of my friends in similar situations feel the same.

    (A caveat: this seems to be much more difficult if the divorce happens later, in junior high or high school. My parents divorced when I was small. I do not remember them together. That makes a big difference.)

    Anyway, that’s my two-cents. You’re that kid’s mother or father. Commit to that. I can’t tell you how much it means to the child to know that you literally love them as your own.

    • DKR

      “Three parents are better than two parents and Dad’s Wife.”
      Thank you for this, Jennifer. I appreciate your perspective; as a soon-to-be stepmom (to a 13 year old girl) I don’t want to step on her mom’s toes (or appear to be trying to replace her) or come between her parents. I didn’t think of the flipside of that, that I could appear distant. Thank you for sharing your story – you’ve given me much to think on!

      • Susan

        I have no experience to speak upon, but if she’s 13, definitely consider speaking with her about what she wants for a relationship, and keep the conversation going to make sure that it’s working for both of you :) Good luck!

        • Bella

          Definitely talk to her!!

          My father remarried when I was 15, to the mistress who broke up my parents marriage. I first met the woman when I was 13, although they had been together for a while before that. She has always been my Dad’s Wife, and NOT my stepmother, a distinction which I still feel compelled to point out to people! She’s not a bad person, and we get along pretty well most of the time. However, it took years for her to treat me with any respect and she didn’t try to forge any kind of caring relationship with me. It’s only in the last 5 or 6 years that she’s tried harder to get along and respect me. I can look back now and see how insecure she was in her position – unsure about what to do, how to act, not naturally maternal, and ‘the other woman’ who caused a divorce.

          It was never going to be easy, and you’re obviously in a much better position than we were cause there’s no cheating involved! But still, it would have helped a lot if my dad and his wife had just sat down and talked things over with me. Put together some guidelines on both sides, and open lines of communication early. I don’t think she ever would have graduated from Dad’s Wife to stepmother (she’s only 6 years older than my sister… there are a lot of issues in my family!), but we could have had a much better relationship early on.

    • Bears fan

      As a former step-child, I completely agree. It’s not awkward for the kid unless the adults make it awkward — the kids, especially the younger ones, tend to go with the flow and appreciate love/attention from any parental figure.

      • Maddie


      • T

        I completely second this and the original comment. My parents (step-dad and mom) married when I was 7 after dating for about 5 years.

        The only panic I ever felt about the situation was after the wedding, when I wondered if I should start calling him dad. Did he want me to? Did he not want me to? Would it make him uncomfortable? I felt really awkward about it only because I didn’t know what they/he desired or expected. I pretty much would have accepted any role he wanted to take, I think. I ended up asking him and he said something along the lines of “if you want to call me that then of course!” We probably had many family discussions about the marriage and coming changes that I don’t remember now – this is the memory that sticks out to me. Needing to know how he perceived our relationship shift, needing to know that he embraced the transition. Calling him dad clarified that it was okay for me to think of him as a full fledged addition to my parent squad.

        And, he’s always been 100% my dad. Even in our rough teenage years (and things certainly got rough – they divorced when I was in high school) I never pulled the “you aren’t my real dad,” to myself or to him, because I knew who he was to me. But, from conversations w/ my mom, I know that sometimes HE struggled with that anxiety/insecurity about my perception of him. I wish he never did!

        Be confident about your relationship with her. Given that she’s young, accustomed to separate households, and accepting of you, she will likely view you (come to view you) equally as another parent if you let her know that there isn’t an uncomfortable invisible ‘I’m not your real family’ line drawn somewhere. Shyness about boundaries can be misinterpreted by the little one – fully own the important family role that you’re occupying and it will develop as genuinely as any parent-child relationship. I have had no “official” (legal/blood) ties to my dad since I was 16, but he still helped to put me through school and I still email every week/visit every holiday. Don’t worry too much about stepping on Mom’s toes (just be sensible and respectful-agree with the post below about establishing united parenting fronts if possible) or about your stepdaughter disliking you (again, as long as you’re being a sensible and respectful person!). Part of what makes my relationship w/ my dad authentic is the blood, sweat and tears — no pussyfooting around the “I can’t stand you but I love you” times! Surviving conflict can be an essential trust-builder in the stepchild-parent relationship.

    • Lturtle

      I totally agree! As a step-parent your cannot replace a bio-parent, but you can add to the family. You can build a different relationship with your step-children that is just as strong and meaningful. It won’t take away from relationships the kid already has with their other parents.
      As a former step child myself my advice to step-parents is this; even if it’s hard and uncomfortable, talk to the bio parents about how you will all raise this child together. Present a united front, try to be consistent about boundaries and expectations across all parents/households. This will make a huge difference.

    • Maddie

      It’s amazing reading your comment. I could have written this. word. for. word.

  • Moz

    I’m really grateful for this story and it *is* something new-ish for APW. More of this please.

    I wish you all the best with your family.

  • DKR

    A., this resonates with me too-I’m also a first-time bride, youngish, no kids (only furbabies) and going to be a stepmom. My fiance has a beautiful 12-year-old daughter (she turns 13 before the wedding). Due to a whole host of factors, I haven’t met her yet (but will soon), and had some of those same conversations with her dad-I don’t know how to be a stepmom! We had good conversations, and now I’m mostly excited about it. I do have a good stepmom role model, fortunately-my mom, who is stepmom to my older brother (my dad’s son from his first marriage). My brother was two when my mom met him thirty-odd years ago, and I found it helpful to talk with her, too.

  • Granola

    What a cute story. Cookies are definitely on the road to a little girl’s heart. It sounds like you and your fiance and your almost-stepdaughter are on the right track! Good luck!

  • Alia

    Wow, this post could almost have been written about me, down to me and my spouse having the same initials even! My husband’s daughter is 8, and she’s a wonderful little girl. She lives with her mother, though, and while I’ve met her and spent time with her on several occasions, I haven’t had to be a full-time parent to her yet. However, there may come a time when she comes to live with her dad and me, at which point, I would get an insta-family, just a little delayed from the wedding date. And yeah, it is kind of scary! This post is really helpful, and I’m sure something I will look back on if and when my stepdaughter comes to live with us.

  • anonymous

    Lovely. I am a child of an insta-mom, when my dad (who had full custody of me and 2 brothers) remarried when I was 7. My stepmom (we call her ‘mom’) came in a similar situation and took on the challenge. It hasn’t always been easy. Horrible things my brothers and I did and said – which we would have done and said to our biological mom if she were disciplining us day-to-day – were, I’m sure, amplified by doubts caused by the fact that that she wasn’t our biological mom. The same thing happened the other way around, the things she said and did were sometimes complicated by assumptions surrounding her stepmom vs biological mom status. It’s just an added layer of complexity.

    At my wedding this summer there will be 2 Mothers of the Bride. They are both super-important to me, and I love them both, but our relationships are different. They are different people, we have different common ground, and different experiences with one another. I go to them for different things but they are both amazing.

    Best of luck navigating it but congrats on seeing it as just another way life doesn’t follow a cookie-cutter plan!

  • Kamille

    I’m about to have an insta-family of my own. What you wrote here really touches me. You making cookies with your soon-to-be stepdaughter, reminds me of making pancakes with my soon-to-be stepson. Man…being an instant stepmother scares me more than any other aspect of getting married right now.

  • MC

    Another insta-mom here! I fell in love with a man who has two daughters, one 4 going on 5, and one 2 going on 3. You can imagine some of the anxiety I felt around stepping into a situation with such young kids involved. But my fiance said something to me that has stuck to this day, we shouldn’t turn our backs on love because it doesn’t come in the package we expect it to. I’m not saying there aren’t days of sheer panic, when I wonder how it will all pan out – especially since I am hoping to have a child or two of my own someday – but I have been so sweetly surprised by how the heart expands and makes room for anyone to come in. I’m blessed to know my fiance’s daughters, and I hope I can be yet another role model for them to follow as they grow.

  • I am navigating this as well. My partner has a 7 year old daughter, whose mother is terrified about any other woman “mothering” her child. It is even in their divorce agreement (although not really enforceable) that no one other than her bio parents can ever attend a parent/teacher conference.
    I would love to hear more from adults whose parents divorced when they were children. I had absolutely no prior personal experience with divorce/remarriage.
    A. you wrote that you read several stepmother books – do you have any recommendations?

    • A.

      Hi, post author here! Honestly I don’t have any solid reading recommendations. Most of the books I read were pretty doom and gloom – and basically just brought up a sense of panic in me. If anyone else in the thread does have good recs, though, I’d love to hear them too.

      • I think we should form a cabal of stepparent bloggers! I’m sure *one* of us has got a book in there somewhere.

        • I have often wanted to blog about my step experiences and difficulties, but I haven’t out of respect for the privacy of my fiance and his kids. It’s such a delicate subject. How would you other stepmoms deal with this?

          • Victwa

            I really want to write a book that would have been more helpful to me than a lot of the ones out there. While I love “Stepmonster,” I think that it described experiences (and, like you said, reinforced that I’m not crazy for feeling how I feel lots of times), but didn’t provide as much of the “so how do I get to be a human being with my own feelings and a full participant in my own family while being respectful of the bonds/experiences that already exist?”

            I really like this blog: http://ahealthystepmother.wordpress.com/

            She has managed to protect the privacy of her family while writing about stuff that I (and lots of other stepmoms I know) have felt before, and seems like she’s trying to figure out how to do things in a manner that honors everyone’s (including hers!) feelings.

          • I’m just getting started in this myself, and for me, what works so far is keeping it positive and leaving the kids mom out of it. they have an amicable divorce and we see each other frequently in the routine kids-lives stuff. (I am exceptionally lucky with my step-mothering.) I also ask my partner to proof/approve some of what I write, because I am really sensitive to how HE wants his kids portrayed on the internet.

            I also try to be clear with my expectations of involvement with the little dudes. For example, even though the kids are on my insurance I’m pretty sure I’m not ever going to be the one that makes drs appts or takes them to it. so I don’t sweat that stuff. at least, not in a public forum. ;)

    • Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin. Read it. As the imminent stepmother to three teenagers, I have had quite a different experience to this post and some of these comments, but this book made me finally feel like I wasn’t going insane or overreacting like a crazy lady. I gave a copy to my fiance to read since he couldn’t relate to what was going on for me emotionally at all until he heard an outside perspective via this book.

      • trish


    • Maddie

      I don’t know that this is scientifically proven, but as someone whose parents were many times divorced and re-married, sometimes I think one of the best things you can do as step-parent is to work on your relationship with your partner’s ex. I can always sense tension between my parents from a mile away.

      You and the child will develop your own bond that is very much about the two of you and what you need from each other (my step-dad is NOTHING like my father, but I consider them both my dads. They are my yin and yang), but it can be a longer road, and possibly even have a greater impact on the kid, if you and your partner and your partner’s ex have mutual trust that you are all acting on behalf of the child.

      One of the single best moments in my adult life was watching my dad and my stepdad grill burgers together at my wedding rehearsal. It was a moment many years in the making for them, but it meant the world to me.

      Oh and for what it’s worth, the adult figures who spent the most time trying to limit the scope of these new relationships (like my aunt who always likes to remind me that “you can only have one father”) always made me feel like there was some sort of agenda that was being pushed at me.

      But my step-mom and my step-dad who just stepped in and acted with love, I was more than willing to let them build a relationship with me because it never felt like it had any motivation behind it besides making me feel loved.

      Kids are smart. They will figure out who has their back.

      • T

        Yes! Down to the dad-defending aunt. I could always sense tensions and hated feeling manipulated/obligated/guilty when it came to loving my people.

      • K

        How can you work on a relationship with someone who does nothing but threaten you? I try not to burst into tears every time she calls me a homewrecking whore, but sometimes it’s just too much. I hope that at best, maybe, someday, we can be civil. I simply make no contact with her at all, ever, at this point.

        • big hugs for you, K. that is so hard.

          • Victwa

            I agree with KarinaJean– I am so sorry you are having this experience.

  • Jessica

    This is a lovely post and a great story. Congratulations and good luck to you, it sounds like your new step-daughter is gaining a thoughtful, loving addition to her life.

  • Wow.

    Thank you for being so honest and smart.

    I wish my dad’s-ex-girlfriend had read this and not had done the things she did to a then-10-year-old-me.

    I would love to send this to her anonymously.

    Good luck. I know you’ll be great.

  • Jess

    Something else to consider is how your family will treat your stepdaughter. As I prepare for my own wedding, I recognize the difference in the way my step-parent’s families treated me. My step-mom early on decided to be another “mom”, while we weren’t always the closest she was always at band concerts, girl scouts, etc. Also, her family made no distinction between me and the other kids in the family so on that side I’m just lucky enough to have a whole other set of aunts, uncles, cousins, and granparents. On the other hand, my step-father’s family has made it clear multiple times that I’m not part of their family. I don’t know that there is a “right” way, but I’ve always enjoyed having the extra family members…

    • sarahrose

      My grandmother married a man who had had two previous marriages, and one of his earlier wives had also been married once before that (if you can follow that) — all in all she gained seven step-children, some of whom were only fifteen years younger than her (so my grandfather’s oldest grandchildren were about the same age as his youngest daughter, my aunt). She wasn’t a “mom” to them, obviously, but she was the kind of person who opened her arms and embraced all these people as family, even when my grandfather died after they had been married just about a decade. Now two generations later, I still consider the grandchildren of my grandfather’s first wife’s first marriage to be family, even though they aren’t really related to me in any conventional way.

      Complicated family genealogy aside, family is what you make of it. I think Jess is right in emphasizing the importance of not just individually opening yourself to stepchildren, but more broadly too.

      Great post!

  • Like you, I never imagined having an -insta-family. I actually never wanted to have children at all. But, when I met my husband he had 2 teenagers. I was okay being a “step-parent” because I actually have the best step-parents a person could ever want. I was sure that I would be just as great to my husbands children as my step-parents were to me. But, sad to say, this has not been the case. There is always a distance there. There is no emotional bond between us and it breaks my heart. I know they are teenagers (current age 17 & 16) and that these are tough enough years for them, but I just wish things were different. The lack of “family” feelings while they are at our house has caused many issues between my husband and I. I can only hope that as they get older they will realize how emotionally “in this” I am and how badly I want them to feel the same way.

    • Amy Jo,

      Having teenage children around can be hard enough on its own, even more so when you are trying to create a family. I obviously don’t know you or your stepsons, but I do work with teenagers and families of teenagers. Many biological parents who have been with their children for their whole lives report a lack of family feeling when their kids are teenagers. So, some of this may just be normal adolescence stuff.

    • Caroline

      Amy Jo,
      I’m sorry it’s so hard for your family right now. I gained a step-father as a teenager (actually, I was 19 and out of the house by a month when my mom married him), and it was tough. I was absolutely awful to him and my mom at first. By the time they got married, I was adjusting, and now, I am so grateful to have him as a part of my life. I wouldn’t say we are incredibly close, but he’s another parent, even though I never lived with him and I was out of the house by the time he married my mom and moved in. We go out to lunch sometimes, especially him, my partner and I (actually, I think I have lunch with him a little more often than I see my mom or my dad), and he is great for advice, and a calmer parental voice than either of my parents. He’s actually become something of a parent figure for my partner also. I’m so glad I have him in my life, but it wasn’t until I grew up a bit, got out of the teen years, and also got more used to having a step-dad and realized that he was awesome and great to have around that I really enjoyed having him around or was nice to him.

      Which is all to say, hang in there, keep trying to be there for your step-sons, and hopefully in a few years as they mellow out and grow up, they may come to appreciate you more.

      • Gracie

        Thank you so much for sharing your story, Caroline. I needed to hear it. I am soon to be the stepmom of a 16-year-old who is currently refusing to communicate with or see her father (and is supported by her mother in this). So far my efforts have been on supporting my fiance as he deals with this, but I will soon officially be stepmom even if I’m not seeing her, and that’s a lot to wrap my head around. If I’ve learned anything from these posts, it’s that no two paths come out the same, which has helped me let go a lot of “shoulds,” doubts, and potential guilt over my decisions. Your story just gives me hope that maybe somewhere down this rocky path, there will be healing.

        • Caroline

          I hope your family finds that peace and healing Gracie. I’m glad I could help to let go of shoulds.

  • SaratogaJen

    Excellent post. My dad is a step-father to my sister, and without him being willing to step up to the plate, there would not be me. So, thank you.

    Also, my sister having a step-parent prepared her for falling in love with a man who had two children – the example my father set for her helped two more young lives. Its a great chain reaction to start!

  • Sharon

    Sounds like you will have a better relationship with your stepdaughter than I had with my stepmother. When Mom divorced Dad when I was 10, Dad was convinced that Mom was crazy and so he felt that he had to go find a “Second Mother” for me and my 4 year old brother. When he asked me if he had permission to marry her, I said no. Of course my opinion meant squat.

    My stepmother did not further endear herself to me when she would betray things I told her in confidence to my father. Or, if she had originally agreed with me on something but my father didn’t, she’d switch and take his side. Don’t even get me started on her rules about doing the dishes, although I have to mention that the craziest one was that she’d throw out any dish that the dog licked.

    For the record, my Mom is actually possibly the most sane and down-to-earth woman I have ever met, and we have a pretty good relationship most of the time.

    • Caroline

      I’m sorry to hear that. Definitely one of the things my step-dad did to endear me was to sometimes take my side against my mom. It wasn’t always, or automatically, but if she was being unfair or irrational, or I was in the right, he would take my side. In the period right before and after their wedding, this seemed like it happened a lot. It made me feel like he was my ally, which helped our relationship a ton. I know if I asked him for advice but to keep it confidant from my mom, he would. And he helps… mellow out certain strong and sometimes difficult traits of my mom’s. Being your step-child’s ally, keeping their confidences if/when they entrust you with them, and stepping in on their side if you feel they are in the right, even against your spouse will go a long way towards a good step-parent/step-child relationship.

  • I just spent part of the weekend getting to know a friend’s new husband. She also married into insta-family and now has a teenage stepchild. We didn’t have much time to catch up one on one so I’m still wondering how the relationship is growing but as she’s my age, I imagine there was definitely a mental adjustment going into that. In any case, I’m just chiming in to say, there are more of you out there!

  • Victwa

    You’re not alone! You’re not alone!

    As someone who is engaged to a man with 2 children (13 and 6) with a baby on the way, my life right now is all about figuring out what “family” means (um, and then trying to help everyone else work it out, too)– and it is a tough road, I know!

    One thing I am quite certain of is that everyone’s stepfamily story is different, probably because there are so many different scenarios (how much custody? what’s the kids’ relationship like with their mom? with their dad? what’s the parents’ relationship with each other now? cordial? bitter? contentious? how old are/were the kids when you showed up?) that all affect, um, EVERYTHING. However, last week the therapist (yup, got that going on over here, too) said that while I am clearly not the kids’ mother, I AM a parent in the household, and that my fiancé and I needed to be clear with each other and with the kids that we were co-parenting, because we were running the ship together.

    I actually want to write a different book on all this someday, because I don’t really think a lot of the stepmother books out there help with the transition from person-who-is-dating-dad to adult-who-is-not-my-mom-but-who-is-running-the-household-with-my-dad-and-who-is-a-member-of-the-family-with-a-clearly-defined-role. I do recommend “Stepmonster” by Wednesday Martin. It’s kind of depressing, but I think it gave some good understandings about all the forces that can affect a stepmother and her relationship with her husband and the rest of the family.

    Hang in there– it’s definitely a different kettle of fish than the “traditional” route, but I am very certain that my fiancé would not be the man I want to spend the rest of my life with if he had not been a father first.

  • Stephanie

    This is why I love APW. Thank you for sharing.

  • Amy

    Meg, thank you so much for this story. So often, step-parenting is presented as impossibly hard and draining and full of conflict. But so many of us have had a different experience… there are paths that, while never perfect, can be filled with love and discovery and peaceful co-existence.

    THANK YOU for giving voice to those of us who fell in love with a wonderful person and, as a result, became a parent. And it turned out great.

  • Truly a lovely, honest, and moving post. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Misty

    What a neat post. I’ve been dating a man for 3 years who has 3 kids. I’ve never really thought I would have kids, and I’m guilty of what others have said on here – feeling like his kids have a mom, so I don’t want to step on her toes, but really being clueless as to what my role in their lives “should” be. It’s hard – and I also find myself keeping that wall up and trying to not become too attached. It’s come up between us before as well. It’s a struggle…but really, as a 35-year-old woman, there’s not too many men out there who DON’T already have kids, so you just try to figure it all out and do the best you can.

  • katieprue

    This is a very conflicting topic for me, so I will try to tread lightly and be diplomatic.

    On the positive side, I absolutely adore my stepmom and she has made my life so much better in ways that I don’t have time or space to list here. She is also a perfect partner for my dad and they are pretty much the best/only role model I have for what a healthy marriage looks like. I wish that we’d been closer in the past, but I was an excessively snarly young teenager. I do love the fact, though, that she gave me, my dad, and my mom the space and respect to do this upbringing thing. (Disclaimer: mom and dad were always pretty civil.)

    So, on the flipside, I’ve seen my sister go through some pretty nasty stuff with her daughter and their custody situation. I want to caution, maybe go easy on the “insta-mom” and “I am a parent, too!” attitudes. Being involved and a parent (a, not THE) is very important! These kidlets are really lucky to have lots of people loving on them. Folks also definitely have the right to set rules and run their households how they see fit. However, unless there is some extenuating circumstance that renders one of the primary parents incapable of parenting, I don’t think it’s really appropriate for dad’s new wife to be mommy. When the kids are lucky enough to have a mother, a good one, a step-mom should be icing on the cake and not trying to BE cake and force her way into the pan (oh for the love of metaphors, that’s all I have). Boundaries will obviously be wildly different from family to family, but I just wanted to say that it can be really hurtful to mom (or dad) to have step-mom (or step-dad) come in and demand parental rights.

    • besidethepoint

      I think this is part of what’s so difficult to navigate for new step-parents–where is the line between being involved and taking a parenting role that is too invasive? Of all the challenging adjustments we all went through when I moved in with my fiance and his 8-year-old son, the biggest surprise to me was the ways in which the boy needed and wanted me to act like a parent. I went into it with a super-sensitive hands-off approach, but it became clear this child needed me to set limits, provide comfort and reassurance, help him solve problems, etc. Basically, parent. Way more than I expected. For him, knowing I’m able and willing to do those things makes him feel safe.

      In our case, it has a lot to do with his age, and just the kind of child he is. In another situation, this dynamic might be all wrong. Next year, this dynamic might be all wrong. What’s hard is that, with the child’s ever changing ages and stages, step-parenting success is a moving target.

      So I know many grown stepchildren bristle at the notion of step-parents trying to be too “parental”, and I respect that. It’s part of what used to keep me up many nights, especially early on, mulling over the many ways I was doing this all wrong! I just think it’s unfortunate that step-parents (especially those of us without kids of our own) feel so alienated from conversations the “real” parents are able to have about raising children.

      • Maddie

        YES, this. I think sometimes it’s very hard to separate what the parents want and need for this new relationship dynamic, and what’s best for the child.

        When my step-dad came onto the scene, my dad and his family were up in arms about it. And when I started calling my step-dad “Dad,” oh forget it. They were livid. It came from a place of hurt and fear, of course, but all I saw was that they were upset with someone who treated me kindly and fairly.

        And as the child, I always benefited from the ways that my step-dad treated me as his own kid (especially when he and my mom had children of their own. Thanks to the relationship I had with my step-dad, my siblings never felt like they weren’t mine and that was HUGE for me).

        Alternately, all the ways that my dad and my aunt have made me feel guilty for having the relationship I have with my step-dad has really alienated them from me. More so than just having my step-dad around would have ever done.

    • I think that’s a good point generally, but I haven’t really seen anyone on here claim to be a “mother” to their step-child. Quite the contrary, I think this was a really thoughtful post and a thoughtful discussion in the comments on how to have a positive relationship with a stepchild without stepping on toes or trying to replace mom. I haven’t heard anything about anyone demanding parental rights.
      I acknowledge that I might be over-reacting here since this is also personal for me (as I said earlier in the comments, I’m about to become a stepmom). But I also think that it is the common cultural narrative that a stepmom who wants to have a close relationship with their stepchild is butting in and taking over, and that hurts those of us who are trying to do it right.

      • katieprue

        Ooh, you caught me! I did get swept up in the comments a bit and derailed from the post.

        • :) No worries! I think that’s easy to do when this blog deals with difficult topics. One of the reasons why I love it here is the tendency to touch on really personal things.

          • katieprue

            Oh so easy to do! Especially when your eyes tend to bold a few words here and there for you and make those brain alarms start going off. Language is so powerful and I think that’s important to remember here AND away from the keyboard when we are navigating these situations in real life.

    • Victwa

      I think of it as very similar to foster parenting/teaching (both of which I have done before stepparenting)– I am not the childrens’ mother, but I am an adult who has a large amount of responsibility for the well-being of two children who are with us 50% of the time, in a household that I am one of two heads of. The therapist’s comment came out of a comment where my fiancé said, “well, V. is a member of the family” and she said, actually, it’s more than that, and it helps everyone (kids AND adults) to be clear about my role being more than just an amorphous “member” of the family. I think that there is actually WAY more out there cautioning people (especially stepmothers) to step back and not tread on anyone’s toes, enough that I have been feeling like I’m not sure what my role actually IS.

      This is the hardest thing I have ever done. Bar none.

      • besidethepoint

        Yes, totally. The ambiguity around roles and authority–huge and very difficult. Along with establishing boundaries with the bio-mom, this was enormously stressful for about the first 2 1/2 years.

        Well said.

  • AMBI

    A., I just want to say that it sounds like you are a very thoughtful, considerate, and responsible person – it sounds like you were really looking out for your soon-to-be stepdaughter’s well-being from the very begining.

    Also, I have never been in this situation, but I think that if, God forbid, I am ever in the position of dealing with a potential step-mother to my children (as in, I have kids, and then get a divorce), I hope that she is like you. I imagine that your willingness to do whatever is right for the family as a whole (even your husband’s ex) will not go unnoticed or unappreciated by her.

    • A.

      Thankfully my fiance has a very cordial relationship with his ex, and I get along with her. The three of us even co-hosted a birthday party for the wee lass this winter! I think you nailed it – it’s about doing what’s best for the family that you are creating, even when you’re trying to figure out what is going to be best.

  • Maddie

    I want to give A. a huge round of applause for writing this. I know that entering into step-parenthood is not easy. I was lucky to grow up with step-parent figures who, like you, were very aware of the role they were taking on, and who were careful to do what was best for me.

    Every step of the way, having more parents has benefited me. When I was an angsty teenager and couldn’t stand being around my mom, my step-mother reminded me why I loved her. When my dad’s family was being territorial about his role at my wedding, my step-dad remained neutral and told me to do what was best for me (which obviously made it a lot easier for me to involve him in the proceedings.)*

    Nearly twenty years later, I am so lucky to have all the best parts of my parental figures: my mom’s humor, my dad’s generosity, my step-dad’s patience, and my step-mom’s grace. I literally wouldn’t be half the person I am today without all of them.

    Interestingly, my mom ended up getting divorced from my step-dad and remarrying again. My step-dad is still my dad, and my mom’s new husband is a wonderful addition to the collection of adults in my life that love me.

    *On many occasions, I’ve been known to say that my step-parents saved me during times when my biological parents were being particularly crazy. Without them, I don’t know how I would have coped.

    • Victwa

      I agree. Yay for A.!

      Also, thank you for YOUR comment. There is an abundance of (I’m sure well-meaning) advice (when it’s nice– it can also come in the form of harsh criticism) on all the things you MUST do RIGHT as a step-parent, or you will permanently scar your stepchildren/family that you love and are trying really hard to do the right thing by. It really, really matters to hear from people who have actually appreciated the role their step-parents played in their lives. When you’re knee-deep in it, it’s tough to remember that doing the best you can for yourself, your partner, your stepchildren CAN, actually, one day, be enough.

      • besidethepoint

        Yes, yes and yes. Also, when are you writing this book you mentioned in an earlier comment? I want to write it with you! (I’m not kidding; it needs to be written)

        • Victwa

          Well, I have to finish a dissertation at the moment (and stop commenting on APW!) and then there’s the whole birth thing, but I’m hoping to get started during maternity leave? I say this somewhat in jest, because I think I have some idea that maternity leave will offer much more time than it actually will, and maybe I’ll just be trying to breast feed and make it through the day without weeping openly from exhaustion. However, I’m serious too– how can I send you an email?

          • besidethepoint

            Awesome. I”ll see what I can do to forward my email to you through APW…

            I’m neither gestating nor dissertating (yikes!), so I’m a little more flexible. Let’s see what we can do…

    • Caroline

      “On many occasions, I’ve been known to say that my step-parents saved me during times when my biological parents were being particularly crazy. Without them, I don’t know how I would have coped.”
      An exactly is not enough here. That’s really the foundation (has grown from there) of my positive relationship with my step-dad was that he stepped in when mom is being crazy. As a teenager, when both teens and moms (dads too but my step-dad and dad didn’t really see much of each other at this point) are both going crazy, this was super helpful. So much seriously, big time, this made our relationship.

    • Amy

      That’s the great thing for me about being a stepmom… I get to do lots of the fun stuff and very little of the heavy lifting.

      My husband’s ex and I are VERY different, so it often happens that things she doesn’t love to do (school clothes, super girly stuff, hosting 13 pre-teen boys for birthdays) come my way…. and since I’m not THE MOM it’s often easier and more fun for all of us. We were both overjoyed when I got the call to handle Prom dress shopping. :)

      We all win: I get to hang with the kids in a parental way but still have fun and fill a need for our family that feels natural and appropriate. And they know that they can come to me for things and their Mom welcomes the input. If everyone keeps in touch about things and is motivated to get along, it can work pretty well.

  • Peggy

    Meg, I cried tears of joy over this post. Thank you SO much for finally bringing step-parenting dialogue into APW!! I’m a stepmom-to-be myself, also younger than FH with no kids of my own, and I vividly remember an APW Atlanta meetup where I was lamenting the lack of discussion on this topic. I finally feel like I’m not the only one around here who is going through this! Thank you, and thank you A. for being brave enough to take the first step. I hope there are many more posts like this one….maybe I’ll even write one of my own :)

  • Everyone tells you how hard parenting is. Step-parenting is even harder. You have all of the responsibility, but none of the authority. Even when you’re lucky enough to be in a situation like I am, there is still that line that keeps moving around, whether it’s implicitly stated or just in our heads.

    For our blended family, mom and dad each get the little one half the week, and there was never much more than a friend relationship between them except for a half-remembered night long ago that involved some…inebriation. Therefore, there is no jealousy, no old wounds, no one trying to get anyone back – it’s just that now they’re legally friends for life.

    More than anything, I try to be a teacher for the little one (her French pronunciation is better than mine, and she knows how to spell Pink Floyd!). All three of us work together very hard to make sure the tiny and adorable master manipulator cannot get away with anything, no playing us off each other, and all kid-related house rules and developmental things we’re working on (manners, not listening when people talk, eat OVER your plate, etc.) are followed through, no matter which house she is at. I’ll let you know how we did when she gets to be a teenager. Jeebus help us all.

    Good luck with your new family! The fact that you took it as slow as you did is a sign that you’re going to do just fine. Congratulations!

  • ElfPuddle

    Thank you for this!

    I met my fiance’s kids when they were 7 and 9. They are now 12 and 14. I’m almost 40, and this will be my only marriage. They are my oldest, and mayhap only, kids. It’s rough. It’s joyful. It is ever so much harder than I thought and more wonderful than I imagined.
    And we aren’t even married yet.

    I’m jealous, A, that you and Flower Girl get to spend so much time together; the fiance & I see the kids on average 30 hours once a month.
    I’m jealous that her first mom is a healthy part of her life; the other parents and grandparents of our kids are certifiably crazy.

    And I’m very proud to be a soon-to-be-step-mom like you. Yay! for us!

    You sound like you’re on the way to having a wonderful family. May it always feel blessed, even when it’s hard

  • Signe

    Bravo, A.! Your stepdaughter is fortunate to have such a thoughtful and wise stepmother.

    I’m another stepmom without kids! It is such a relief to know that there are other women in the APW sisterhood who share this experience. My stepsons are a joy, but I went from a decidedly single-in-the-city life to literally having a white picket fence in the burbs. It has been a monumental change, and my life is quite different from my friends’ lives.

    I would love to see this discussion continued here. How about a Reclaiming Wife post about this?

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  • tirzahrene

    I got to be a stepmom to five kids for ten years. I was lucky and they gave me a fair chance, and I’m still in touch with them even though my marriage didn’t work out.

    Here’s what I would offer:
    * What counts is not getting it right all the time. What counts is that you get up every time you fall down, and you try again.
    * Don’t be afraid to apologize when you screw up. You don’t lose face; they respect you because you’re honest.
    * Tell them the truth, even if the truth is that you’re not going to answer what they’re asking.
    * Pick your battles. You’ll need your leverage for the really big things when they’re teenagers, and if you’ve used it up on chores and things, you won’t have it when it really counts.
    * Look for the positive and comment on it. Talk about every good thing they do, to their face and behind their backs. Make good memories together and talk about them.
    * You’re on the same side, even when it doesn’t feel like it, even when they don’t realize it. Remember that.
    * It’ll be okay.

  • Cassandra

    As a parent building a family with my fiance and my daughter, it’s really interesting to read about this from the other side of the coin. We have no other bio parent in the picture, so his ability to fill in a traditional ‘dad’ space in our family has been fairly free and clear, but it’s been a really interesting adjustment for all of us. My daughter has learned to adjust to having two parents – two rule-setters, two voices, two people to turn to when she wants comfort/playtime/laughs -, he’s of course learned to be a dad (and from a distance too, now that he’s living elsewhere for school), and I’ve had to learn to share parenting when I never had before. The insta-family is a lot of effort and understanding on all sides, I think.

    It sounds as if you’ve stepped into place with your new family in just the way it needed to happen – when everyone was sure and ready to begin the new adventure together.

    And working your way toward what it means to be a parent is what parenting is all about, whether by biology or through love – I believe it’s a learned process for every parent, and we all feel our way blindly through it sometimes.

  • Elizabeth

    Truly dynamic writing, I hope we see more from this author.

  • Hmmm. As a now fairly seasoned stepmother to three boys (13, 11 and 9) there are a couple of things that might prove helpful.
    First, assuming that you can trust yourself not to turn into Snow White’s stepmother (and they are a rare breed), try to worry less about the kids than about your marriage and yourself. Stepmothers can suffer a lot – we bear the brunt of lots, even most, of the stepfamily stresses – so you need to focus on strengthening your marriage and caring for your own mental, physical and emotional health. The kids will be fine, and if they’re not, it’s unlikely to be anything to do with you, or anything you can fix. Focus on what it in your control, and try not to let your self-worth get tangled up with what your stepdaughter seems to think of you or the situation.
    Dads wanting stepmothers to be more motherly or love their kids like family should set off alarm bells. Except in rare circumstances (very young step kids, super supportive exes who are unusually unthreatened by the stepmother) we generally CAN’T love step kids like a parent. Could your partner somehow start loving your nieces or nephews, or your friends’ kids like his own on demand? This tends to present a trap for stepmothers – sometimes it signals a dad who wants us to take on a lot of the heavy lifting of parenthood, or take over discipline so he can be the eternal permissive good guy, or miraculously and unrealistically make up to the child for his divorce by replacing the original nuclear family. Sometimes dads don’t even understand their own motivations. Maybe this isn’t the case in your family, but be careful.
    There is so much ahead for you, as for any woman commencing stepparenthood. It’s like the movie Parenthood, sometimes it’s a merry-go-round, sometimes it’s a roller coaster. I hope it goes well. And that you care for yourself in the many rides ahead.

  • Kate

    I’m a young step mom to be too! http://offbeatmama.com/2011/05/young-woman-as-step-mom

    And we play Guess Who! :)

    But seriously, it is terrifying sometimes. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do, and it always, always makes me happy to read about other women who are in similar situations. Because sometimes it is really lonely, and really hard, to be out there in a world where people don’t talk about these things. This post makes me love APW even more than I already did (if that is even possible)!!

  • Lindsay Daviau

    You’re definitely not alone! My path to the alter was nearly identical to yours. I never wanted kids, and my boyfriend already had two, who lived with him half the time. I spent hours sobbing because I thought we wouldn’t be able to be together for the long haul because I was never interested in having a family. But I started hanging out with him and the kids anyway (they were 4 and 8 at the time). It took a little more than a year of experimenting to find my role (too much parent-like? not enough parent-like?), but eventually it clicked and we fell into a groove that made everybody happy. It’s all worked out so much better than I ever could have imagined. Admittedly I got very lucky with two step-kids who are inherently amazing people and very easy to love. But they protest daily that they love me more than I love them, and I can tell they look up to me. I never expected that. It’s an incredible and wonderful side effect of being a step-mom.

    We’ve been married now for about 6 months, and I couldn’t be happier.

  • Jessica

    I didn’t even realize I needed to hear all these amazing and articulate comments until I came across these well written and heartfelt piece!
    My fiancée and I will share his 2 girls, ages 13 and 18. (I am 34 and we won’t be having any more children.) The girls have 2 parents that adore and love them. Even if they are no longer together. My fiancée stated that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we could make this work, when he saw his daughter interacting with my parents (who are still together as are his) and he saw that the girls would be 100% accepted and loved.
    I am so thankful for all of you choosing to share your experiences, I, like many of you, don’t want to “mess” up the girl’s relationships with either of their parents, I don’t want to over-step at all, I want to be a good influence and for them to know that I am here no matter what that means. It’s difficult to know what my role in their lives will be going forward. As it stands right now, I am just “Jess” and that’s okay.

  • I agree with all of the lovely comments before me: you are very brave and I wish you and your family the very best! I hope we get to see some pictures of the flower girl! Honestly, just be yourself, and be open and communicative, and I don’t see how you can go wrong :)

    If I’ve learned anything, it’s that everyone’s story is different. I think APW does an excellent job of showcasing that. In my case, my mother and father divorced about one month before my fourth birthday. She had found someone new, and they got married and moved to New Mexico, while my dad and I stayed in Maryland. He remarred several years later, and whenever I refer to “my parents,” everyone in my life knows I’m talking about my dad and stepmom.

    There’s a bit of baggage involved, mostly because my mother is a bit manipulative (though I’m not sure she’s conscious of this) but we have a friendly, if not familial, relationship.

    I always refer to her husband as her husband, not my stepdad. As a kid and teen, I saw them for a good chunk of the summer, and then one or two holidays a year. He’s a nice guy, don’t get me wrong, but neither of them raised me. My dad and stepmom did.

    My stepmom and I have a complicated relationship. I was kind of a bratty kid, though it never even occurred to me to pull the, “You’re not my real mom!” thing. As far as I was concerned, she was. I don’t know how I adopted that mindset. Maybe it’s just because I was so young when the divorce happened. I do not call her Mom, I call her by her first name. My dad had a very short fuse, and the three of us battled a lot during the early years because of it. It got better as I got older, and my family evolved (my dad, for instance, learned to accept that just because my stepmom and I were having a spat did not mean we hated each other and learned to stay out of it). The best of times was probably high school and college; in college, I developed an incredible relationship with my dad, and I saw how happy my stepmom made him, and how much she cared for him (he was in and out of the hospital for heart problems on average once a year for most of my life) and she was always, always there for him. So I became less combative, and when she voiced opinions I didn’t like, or picked a battle with me, I truly evaluated how important it was to me to fight it. And I got used to letting things slide, because it made my life easier, and my dad’s life better.

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve realized that my stepmom is disappointed and *I think* embarrassed by the way I live my life. I moved in with a boy with whom I was not engaged, I got tattoos that she “knows” I will live to regret, I listen to her opinions and advice (often unsolicited) and she takes offense when I disagree. She doesn’t understand that *her* way is not the only way, or the necessarily the right way, for me. She has two daughters from her previous marriage, who are older than me by 13 and 18 years, and both of them sort of give in to her whenever she gives her unsolicited advice, and I think it’s a huge point of contention that I don’t. And it’s not to spite her, truly. It’s just…I mean…I’ve never been as happy as I have been in the past year, so I’ve got to be doing something right, you know?

    I do know that one of the things she wishes she did differently was to not change everything at once. That is to say, as soon as she entered our lives, and moved into our home, the entire house was basically in some state of serious renovation and redecoration for several years. I have no idea how this affected me as a kid, but I know she wishes she had delayed the change, and not done everything at once, that she had eased me into the transition of the familiar to unfamiliar. She was also very good about letting me decide what relationship I wanted with her, in that she told me that I *could* call her Mom if I wanted to, but that I certainly could also call her by her first name, and reiterated that she was not trying to replace my mom in my life.

    And actually, to that point, my mom was always the “friend” figure. My stepmom was always the disciplinarian (this is more due to the fact that my mom was not equipped to be a mother-figure than through any fault of my stepmom’s) and that was a huge issue growing up.