In that moment, I knew I couldn’t say anything to make him understand. I could verbalize my emotions until I was blue in the face, but he just wasn’t going to make sense of my words. Exhausting myself trying to explain why I was struggling as a stepmom and needed my husband’s help was only hurting me. Of course he cared that I was upset, but he didn’t understand, and he certainly couldn’t empathize.
I love my husband. I love him more than I thought was possible. A quick glance in those gorgeous eyes or the slightest smile relieves me of stress and makes my heart skip a beat. He is my rock, my cheerleader, and my forever.
But some days he just doesn’t get it. He can’t comprehend what stepmom life is all about. He doesn’t understand what life looks like from my perspective or why sometimes I really struggle. And I’m not alone. I posed the question “What do you wish your husband knew or understood from your perspective?” to a group of stepmoms, and the response was astounding, boasting 15 common themes. Though we all lead different lives in different places with different co-parenting dynamics, much of stepmom life carries the same notes. The themes are not mutually exclusive — nor are they all true for all stepmothers, but they are something husbands should be mindful of.
Here are 15 things a stepmom wishes her husband knew:
1. I had no idea what I was signing up for.
I knew I was marrying a man who had a child, but I had no idea that would come with the indescribable pain of custody battles, the complex relationship with your ex-wife, and the intensified scrutiny of your family. Honestly, it’s a really good thing I didn’t know then what I know now. It’s so much more than packing lunches, playdates, and family dinners.
2. The love I have for my birth children is different than the love I have for my stepchildren.
The love I have for all of my children (birth or step) is equal, but different. Though I’d take a bullet for any of my children, I find I’m more guarded with my stepchildren. They choose to love me and can choose to revoke that love at any time. With my own children, I don’t have to guard my heart. I can be completely vulnerable with them because I’m their mother, and no one can tell them otherwise.
3. Some days I need a break, and that’s okay.
Mom life is exhausting, and sometimes I need to step away. I need me time, pamper/relaxation time, and time with my girlfriends. My whole identity can’t be as a stepmom, so those days when I feel I’m really losing myself, I am going to have to step away for a little while, and I need that to be all right.
4. I can’t be the only parent. You have to enforce rules too.
It’s really not fair when you expect me to be the only one to enforce rules, especially with my stepchildren. I need you to understand that I will always be fighting an uphill battle with your children since I’m not their mom, and they’re always going to respect you more than they respect me (even if just slightly more). There’s a natural allegiance to you, and your enforcement of rules is critical to maintaining order in our house.
5. Your prior life controls my current life.
Our pasts aren’t the same. Anyone I dated before you is no longer in the picture. Your ex is very much in the picture. In fact, I can’t choose to move away from here because we are required to stay close to your daughter’s mom. I can’t pack my family up and go on vacation this weekend since our schedule is dependent on your custody agreement. I’m not complaining; I’ve learned to adjust. But I do need you to see how your prior life is controlling my life today.
6. I need your help.
There are many things I do around the house to keep our home running smoothly, and honestly, you probably don’t even notice half of them. Understand that I may make it look easy, but I could always use your help. We both work really hard, and I understand when you’re home, you want to relax. But I enjoy relaxation too
7. Some days I need a little extra love.
This stepmom gig is a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but that doesn’t change my reality. Some days are going to be more difficult than others. Occasionally I’m going to need a little more patience, understanding, and love.
8. Honestly, it is your fault.
I don’t mean to sound unfair or petty, but you are the sole reason these additional complexities exist in our relationship. I wasn’t married before you. I don’t have a connection to another person who can influence our lives the way your child’s mom can. You were married before me, and that relationship makes life for our family more complex (e.g., custody schedules, support payments). As a result, I do expect you to help me through some of my challenges since they were yours to begin with.
9. The entire world puts a ton of pressure on me.
You may not see it, but there’s a double standard put on stepmoms. We are held to an extremely high standard, and the second we screw up, someone is on our case. The world looks for flaws in us more than they do biological parents.
10. Sometimes I think about what my life could have been like.
I love you, and I love your children. But if we’re being honest, sometimes I wonder what my life would have looked like if I hadn’t married a man with children from a previous marriage. Surely, my life would be simpler, less stressful, perhaps easier.
11. When you don’t follow up or procrastinate communicating with your children’s mother, it makes it look like we don’t care.
The reason I nag you about following up with your children’s mother is because we need to look as invested and involved as we feel. However, when you procrastinate calling her or asking for details about events, it looks like an afterthought instead of something we’re deeply interested in. You don’t want anyone to ever question how much we love your children, and more intentional communication could help alleviate those concerns.
12. It really hurts to not feel like part of your family.
Your family isn’t as easily accepting of me as they were of your first wife. They’re guarded of you and your children, and that’s understandable! I’m sure it’s not through any fault of yours or mine, and I don’t believe they’re intentionally mean. And yet, it hurts to not be accepted, to not feel part of the family.
13. I gave up a lot to live this life with you.
Prior to our relationship, I was involved in so many activities for me. I was able to go to the gym everyday, dance classes, vacations, etc. Now I’m attending softball practice, preparing dinner, and helping with homework. I willingly chose this life, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. But I am asking that you be aware of what I have given up and supportive of those times when I choose to pursue my passions.
14. Boundaries matter.
It’s really important to me that we set and stick to boundaries with both your ex-wife and your parents. Our life is really complex and complicated, and boundaries will help simplify that for us a little bit. We’re still trying to figure this blended family thing out in our own home. Once that’s figured out, we can better communicate beyond those boundaries.
15. I’m sorry, but you’re always going to be in the middle.
I know it doesn’t seem fair to you, but you’re always going to be in the middle. Your children’s mother is no longer married to you, and you are remarried. You will always be in the middle of your ex-wife and your wife. As mentioned earlier, your child will always respect you just a little bit more than me; you will always be in the middle of your child and me to some extent. Even if you weren’t married before me, you’d still be in the middle of your family and me, just as I’m in the middle of my family and you.
One more thing…
I had no idea how madly, deeply I would fall in love with you and your daughter. Being your wife and her stepmother is the most rewarding experience of my life. I wouldn’t change where I’m at for the world; there’s truly nowhere else I’d rather be.
But if I could be in this same place with a husband who understands my perspective a little better, my quality of life and peace of mind would be exponentially better.
Think about it, will ya?
Related: In Praise Of Middle Ground Parenting