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A Step-mom’s Advice: Defining Your Role

Blended families are not uncommon.

Although there’s debate about the actual divorce rate, and the  statistic of 50% that generally gets quoted may be overstated, I think we can still agree it’s not unusual. Being a step-mom, or step-parent, comes with its own struggles and rewards just as being a parent. Not only is it you and your spouse but you have a whole “extended” family that will be a part of your life. They might not be there for Christmases, but their decisions affect you and your decisions affect them.  Figuring out your role in this new situation can be difficult.

step mom

Being a step-mom can be this struggle of finding out how you fit in, what is your role and how to handle situations.

You are an adult figure but you’re not their parent. You don’t want to be absentee but you don’t want to cross boundaries. I don’t think there’s any right way to handle the situation but here are a few ways I’ve handled being the step-mom and trying to define my place in this new family dynamic.

I respect boundaries between me and my husband’s ex-wife. I don’t get involved in disagreements. If my husband and his ex are disagreeing about something, I may give him my opinion or talk through it with him, but I never get directly involved.  There’s not a lot of tension between us because our interactions have always been pleasant.  It also helps that neither does her new husband. I’m sure there are times he thinks we are being unreasonable but he has never personally confronted my husband.  I think this has helped our relationships.

I remember I am not his mom. Someone once asked me if my step-son called me mom. I thought this was an odd question. Why would he?  He has a mom. She is a great mom. I don’t need to be another mom. I hope he relies on me as someone who loves and cares for him but I would never do something to try to compete with the relationship he has with his mother.

I stay out of the big parenting decisions. Obviously my husband and I discuss issues that directly affect me or our household but when it comes to the big parenting decisions I try to let he and his ex make the decisions.  I also let him be the one to discipline his son in our house. If it was something small that needs immediate reaction, like when he was little telling him to not do something dangerous, then I will say something but otherwise, I let it be handled by the parents.

I respect that my husband and his son need time for father-son bonding. I think this is true even with your own kids, but since his son only sees him 50%of the time I know how important it is for them to have moments alone.

It was also important my step-son and I have time to bond too. Before he was old enough to join in on Sunday morning golfing with the guys, there was a summer the two of us would go to breakfast while my husband was golfing.  It was great time for he and I to chat and spend some time together.   I also have always tried to be supportive of any of his extracurricular activities.

I show happiness and support for things happening with his mom’s side of the family. We never wanted him to feel like he was leading two separate lives that can’t be shared with each other.  We are supportive and I hope we create an environment where he can be happy for things on both sides no matter where he is.  He should never feel guilty or like he has to hide something from us.

I try to forgive myself for making mistakes. I was a step-mom before I had any children of my own. I had no experience and suddenly I had a four-year-old in my life.  A four-year-old who was not my child yet I was going to be a big part of his life.  I was bound to make mistakes and not handle every situation perfectly. Now that I have a daughter of my own I know even when parenting your own child it can sometimes be a game of trial and error.  We make mistakes, we learn from them and try to grow.

There’s no cookie cutter way to handle these situations. Everyone’s situation is a bit unique. A certain blend of personalities and life events that mold the way everyone interacts.

These tips have worked for me but I’m not under the illusion they will work for everyone.  Our situation is just that- our situation.  I am a step-mom to just one child.  For a long time it was just the three of us.  I didn’t have kids of my own prior to our marriage to add to the mix.  There are emotions that might carry over from the previous relationships that are different than what we may have experienced.  Kids have different personalities and may handle the divorce differently.

We hear this phrase all the time but I really feel taking it day-by-day can be important in these situations.

The beginning may be more emotional and a harder time.  I knew there needed to be time for everyone to heal from the divorce and adapt to the new situation.  I tried not to force my role as the step-mom and let it progress naturally.  We found with time, patience and effort things got easier and easier.  Everyone is trying to handle it the best way they know how. Mistakes are bound to be made on both sides and I think what has really helped all of us is to be able to move on and not let those ruin moving forward.  If we hold onto grudges, we don’t allow ourselves to grow and have a good relationship.

What tips would you add?

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