On Being a Stepmom – Lessons Passed Down

on being a stepmum
Erin Careless
Erin Careless

A few weeks ago I attended a silent auction fundraiser with two lovely ladies who also happen to be stepmoms (yes, we ARE everywhere). Conversation moved easily from work to travel to husbands to how much we spend on our hair.

Toward the end of the evening, after we had lost all of our bids, not won the 50/50 (this is why I don’t play the lottery), and had a couple of glasses of wine, the talk moved to steplife.

Interestingly, the three of us represented a kind of “time scale of stepmothering”:

Stepmom 1: in relationship 1.5 years; stepkids ages 7-9
Stepmom 2: in relationship 5 years; stepkids ages 13-20
Stepmom 3: in relationship 12 years; stepkids ages 20-28

As Stepmom 1, I saw this as a great opportunity to get a glimpse of what life looks like down the road. It was like meeting with a psychic who can’t actually tell you concrete details of your future. So… it was like meeting with a psychic!

Just kidding… if you’re a psychic please email me. Maybe you can help me with this 50/50 lotto thing.

Anyway, we shared some stories and experiences, commiserating on issues around money, parenting, expectations, and of course, the bio mom. It was fascinating to see how stepfamily situations change as children grow up, to see how dynamics and perspectives shift. I know what you’re thinking, every situation is different and the life of another stepmom in no way reflects what is in store for me and my family. You’re right. But I still found such value in hearing their stories.

A couple of things I learned:

Lesson #1. As time passes, stepmoms may maintain a level of distance with their stepkids.

Both Stepmom 2 and Stepmom 3 are intelligent, busy, independent women that I look up to in many ways. In my mind, I had imagined growing closer to my stepkids over time. After all, any relationship grows through stages of familiarity – why should this be any different?

What I heard from my table companions that evening is that despite years spent with their partners, their relationships with their stepkids did not necessarily become stronger or tighter; rather, they came to develop a mutual respect and acceptance of one another. While they supported their partners in parenting and were a part of family holidays, dinners, and celebrations, Stepmoms 2 and 3 ultimately focused on their marriage and let the dads do the dad-work.

Lesson #2. When all is said and done, it doesn’t get any easier.

I know, I know, this sounds very negative and pessimistic. I can see your heads all hanging in mutual resignation. But not so fast! I think this is actually a good thing. Allow me to explain…

stepmotherhoodThere are a lot of challenges and complexities when you form a stepfamily (duh, right?), and for me, I always focused on the future… “Oh things will be easier down the road”… “The longer I’m in the kids’ lives, the closer we’ll get”… “The co-parenting issues won’t bother me as much when we’ve been together for years”…

When, until, after, then, tomorrow, next year, a few years, teenagers, college, later, later, later, later, later…

To be honest, the notion that it doesn’t really get easier gave me a sense of relief. Now I could stop waiting for that magical time when things were suddenly easier, better, predictable, stress-free. I could accept that this life, steplife, is tough, and that’s okay. You’re not failing if you get frustrated, you’re not failing if you cry, you’re not failing if you need to take a weekend away to recharge. You’re not failing if you’re not a “bonus mom” to your stepkids.

(As a side note, I think that term is crap. It makes me think of that slightly larger bottle of shampoo in the drug store that promises 20% more than your regular sized bottle. I don’t see myself as adding more of what their mom gives them. I can hold a separate place in their lives, and love them and support them, but I’m not an extra mom. I’m just regular ol’ me, and I like to think I bring something new and different to their lives. You may not agree, and that’s totally okay. Whatever term, title, name, works for you – embrace it! No matter what, your stepkids are lucky to have such an amazing person in their lives) J

Anyhoo, back to the discussion at hand. Where was I? Oh right, the lessons I learned. You can stop waiting for the pieces to fall into place. You can stop putting pressure on the future and on your family, because there will always be negotiations to make, boundaries pushed and implemented, highs and lows, tears and laughter.

My relationship with my two stepkids has without doubt grown in strength, trust, and affection. So I don’t think Lesson #1 will be true for me. As I write this, nine year-old O is playing a game on the iPad, smooshed up against me on my kind sized bed. He periodically breaks my concentration by saying, “Look at this! Look at the bad guy! Watch me build a castle!”, and I couldn’t ask for a better interruption.

So there’s no telling what the situation will look like in five, ten, twenty years. Well, there’s no telling what’s in store tomorrow, let alone years from now! I guess we try to make each day a good one for the people we love, and stop focusing so much on what’s to come. Sounds simple, because it really is.

And honestly, if that means taking three hours to write this instead of one, because I’m also being taught how to play Minecraft, bring it on. Lesson learned.


Erin is a PhD Candidate in Adult Education at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

A certified Stepfamily Coach, Erin has started her own business, Steplife – Stepmom Coaching and Support.

Erin and her fiancée Matt will marry later this year, and share their home with Matt’s two little ones – 8 year-old Oliver and 6 year-old Waverleigh .

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