I am a seasoned stepmom of four. When I came into my stepkids’ lives, the youngest was four and the oldest was 14. I was very young and naive, had a lot to learn about being a parent, and was clueless about the challenges ahead. Fast-forward through a marriage, four more kids and almost 20 years of ups and downs, and I can now say that I am a part of a big, happy, blended family — ex included. I have learned a lot, and I have advice for my fellow stepmoms that you may not want to hear, but you definitely need to know.
I am not going to sugarcoat it: Being a stepmom is not an easy position to be in. It can be extremely challenging and feel very isolating. You are stepping into a situation where you are most likely the outsider. It often means you have to let go of any preconceived ideas about what you expected your family to look like. It sometimes means his kids’ needs are prioritized over yours, and from time to time you are stuck having to be the bigger person. But at the end of the day, being a stepmom is a choice, and your choices can make it easier or harder on you.
When you married your husband, his ex came as part of the package. I know you probably don’t want to hear that, but you are a family now … all of you. It may be a very dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless, and you are tied together through blood and law. Your husband has children with another woman and she will forever be in the picture. The more you fight this fact, the bigger your problems will become. The sooner you can come to terms with it, the faster things will smooth over for all involved.
But you can’t force it. Relationships develop over time. You are stepping into a web of relationships that already exist and are probably a little strained. Trust and rapport have to be built with not only your husband’s ex, but also with your stepkids. And that is not something that will happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot of patience, time, and acceptance on everyone’s part, and it may not happen the way you want it to or when you want it to happen.
One thing you have to remember is that everyone involved has a perspective, and your husband’s version is not the full story. I know from experience it’s easy to place the blame on his ex, but you have to be willing to see that they both played a part in the demise of their relationship. And dare I say practice a little empathy and try to understand where she is coming from, even if she is making your life a living hell. Because two wrongs — or maybe three or four wrongs in your case — won’t make anything right.
No matter what is going wrong, always try to prioritize the kids. When the needs of the kids are put first, it makes it much easier to operate from a place of love and respect rather than spite or anger. The kids are stuck in a situation created by the adults in their lives. They have been through enough and deserve to have adults that are prioritizing their needs over relationship drama.
So try your best not to be petty or disrespectful and leave the kids out of any drama. Not every blended family has drama, but if you do, don’t speak badly about your husband’s ex in front of your stepkids. That is their mother, and speaking badly about her makes them feel like they have to pick sides — and most of the time, that will not play in your favor. Like the saying goes, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Practicing grace with your husband, his children, and his ex can help broaden your perspective. Your husband is having to navigate keeping you happy and feeling reassured as his wife while keeping problems with his ex at a minimum. Your stepkids may be struggling with liking you but feeling loyalty towards their mom. And his ex may be having her own struggles with being a single mom or navigating challenges with her spouse or partner.
With all that can be happening, communication is key. You have to try your hardest to talk to each other … stepmom, mom, dad and any other adults involved. I know this is much easier said than done. Everyone’s situation is different, and some are far worse than others, but try your best to keep the lines of communication open. Just a quick conversation can mitigate a lot of problems, even if you have to play the role of the mitigator. But please don’t leave it to the kids to pass messages back and forth.
Don’t let outside factors dictate how you decide to function as a family. You don’t have to go with the stereotypical beliefs of co-parenting or being in a blended family. Do what works for your family. Stepmom, mom, dad and any other adults involved can work together to build relationships and create whatever works for everyone involved.
If taking vacations together and spending the holidays together works for everyone … do it. If you need to create clear boundaries when it comes to pick ups and drop offs and the type of communication everyone agrees to … do that.
And be open to things changing. A lot can happen over time. You just might end up liking your husband’s ex. I can honestly say I like my husband’s ex wife. With as many kids as we have in our blended family, we have spent a significant amount of time together, and we have become each other’s biggest allies in this crazy journey of co-parenting in a blended family.
So to all you stepmoms: I know it’s hard, and sometimes it feels like an impossible situation. And granted, some situations are impossible. But take it from a seasoned stepmom … for the most part, with a little time, a lot of sacrifices and maybe a few tears, it is possible to not only survive co-parenting as a stepmom, but maybe even find your groove and thrive.