I could feel the tears welling behind my eyes. I distracted myself by unloading toilet paper in the bathroom cabinet. I sensed my husband, Guy, was trying to make eye contact with me, but I just couldn’t or the dam would burst.
He sat down and patted his leg, an invitation for me to come sit. So, I did. Here it comes, I thought.
As soon as I sat, two tears rolled silently down my cheek.
“Is life hard today? You’ve been quiet all afternoon,” he said. I nodded. “What’s hard?”
“Being a stepmom,” I replied, wishing that it weren’t true.
“Tell me how.”
“I don’t know what’s worth sharing and what I should just get over,” I said.
“Tell me,” he repeated gently.
It took courage for me to let the words pass through my lips. I didn’t want to hurt him with something I would say.
Finally, I mustered the truth.
“Sometimes I feel like an outsider in my own home,” I said as the tears fell harder.
I have run marathons and half marathons. I’ve taught classrooms full of squirrely children. I’ve buried my mom and my oldest son. I’ve weathered the storm of an unwanted divorce. I’ve moved from a city in one state to a small town in another.
But nothing has challenged me as much as being a stepmom for one single reason – nothing has required more sacrifice coupled with less control.
His daughters were 8 and 11 when I married their dad, and they are two of the most incredible people on the planet! At the time, I lived alone with a dog and cat, so stepping into their home as a stepmom meant tremendous change for my daily life.
In my conversations with my husband, he openly admits that he does not know what my experience is like since I did not bring children into our marriage. He tells me that he wants to know, and I imagine there are other husbands who might want to know what it’s like for their wives.
So, here are 10 things to remember as you support your wife as stepmom:
- The fact that you want to know what it’s like for her is the biggest gift. When my husband invites me to share what is hard, it removes much of the weight. I no longer feel that I have to carry it alone. His questions, as a way of gaining understanding, make us partners and debunk the lie that I need to hide my emotions and protect myself. It shows me how much he cares about me.
- She wants to be good stepmom. Fairy tales, like Cinderella, depict step-mothers as evil and unloving. But the step-moms I know are the exact opposite of that. The stepmoms I know are kind, sacrificial, and loving probably because they are kind, sacrificial, and loving people to begin with. This is a new role to me. I didn’t know how to be a stepmom to them, but I am learning, because I want to be a great one, as do the step-moms I encounter.
- Your love for your biological children is an innate feeling; hers is an action by choice. My love for all of my children is equal but different. I’ve borne two sons myself, and there is an inherent love for the child whom you carried, who shares your DNA. Loving everyone else on the planet is a choice. I am aware that I am not as naturally patient or generous toward people who did not grow in my womb or vice versa. But I want to love my step-kids deeply, and we are growing in love for one another. But I know that they don’t love me the same inherent way they love their dad and their mom. I know these relationships will take time to grow, and I appreciate it when my husband points out the ways he sees me love the kids and the ways he sees them love me back.
- She needs your patience as you listen to her disappointments. I had no idea what I was actually signing up for when I said yes to being a stepmom, because it’s so much more than making extra food at dinner and going to their sporting events. I think Mike Jantzen worded it perfectly when he said, “She is always settling for less than she hoped for. You may have been a great catch, but what tagged along shattered some of her dreams. No woman dreams of sharing finances between two households, or of always having another woman’s schedule and decisions affect her life. Her romantic ideals did not include having dates with you interrupted by text messages from your ex.” These instances, and countless others, are daily reminders that this is not the life we dreamt about, and sometimes we need to express it, be understood, and then we can move on.
- One-on-one time with you is a necessity. Most couples get a few years, at least, of just the two of them. You did not get that. “I do” meant “I do their spelling words with them starting now.” She is happy to help. But she married you for YOU. A regular date night will do wonders for the connection, trust, and fun in your relationship. Get it on the calendar and guard it. Put your phones down and only respond to emergency texts that need to be dealt with immediately. Two hours away is enough to recharge for a week.
- She needs a place of her own. When the kids are at our place, their stuff finds its way to every room in the house. I was not prepared for the take-over that happens when they walk in the door, and she may not be used to the chaos that comes with kids either. But even a seasoned mom needs a place to catch her breath. Maybe it’s a room, maybe it’s a chair in a corner of your bedroom. Just make sure there’s a door. Retreating for a little while produces energy she’ll need later.
- She needs you to notice her efforts. All parents need affirmation, but for stepmoms, it’s even more important. She may not receive the hugs and “I love you”s that Dad receives, despite doing as much for them as he does. Model the “Thanks for making dinner for us” and encourage the kids to say a simple “thank you” when she does something special for them. Then, when you have a moment just the two of you, point out the ways she’s sacrificed or the things you admire about her parenting. You will be her most important cheerleader, and your praise will make a huge difference.
- It’s really hard having another woman influence her home. This was perhaps the most shocking part for me at first. The kids’ mom has not been inside our house since I’ve been living in it, yet, her presence is everywhere. I hear the kids talking to her on the phone every night. Her decisions affect our schedule – like when the kids will be at our house or not, what activities they do, how we spend our money, etc. She’s not cruel about it; I just wasn’t prepared to not be the sole woman who runs my home, and it is really hard for me. I (and even our infant son) sometimes take a backseat to what she decides for the sake of her kids, and that is something I have to constantly surrender. Again, she’s not being mean, and I think she’s a great mom. And yet, her decisions affect us. When I dreamt of being a mother, this was not how I pictured my family’s home would be.
- She wants to be a decision maker. When there are decisions to be made, the results will impact me and affect our home, so I want my husband to include me on the decisions as much as possible. When I talk with moms of nuclear families, they are the decision makers for almost everything – dinners, schedules, activities— and get to run their family life how they want with the partnership of their husband. My husband and his kids were used to making decisions without me for years, so it was a shift for all of us. The kids will get to run their own home and make all the decisions when they’re adults someday. Today, they are kids, and we are the adults. I appreciate when my husband pulls me aside and asks for my input before asking the kids. It’s another (huge) gesture that makes me feel that we’re a team.
- She wants to build a “we”. Despite all of these difficulties and challenges, I would still choose him. His eyes still make my heart race and his smile makes me giddy. I love watching him as a dad, and I grow more madly in love with him every day. I think we make the best team, and there’s no one I’d rather wrangle all this craziness with than him.
So, there on my husband’s leg, I told him all the ways I feel like an outsider in my own home (as listed above).
“Dad, Daaad?” a child yelled as she came around the corner.
“Hold on, Honey,” he said. “I’ll be there in a second.” But she kept coming until she saw my back to her, and I didn’t turn around. “I’ll be right there,” he said again.
“Oh,” she replied when she saw me wiping tears. She walked away quietly.
I continued to cry, and my husband continued to listen, acknowledging my feelings and difficulties. When I had said all I needed to say, he said, “Well, I can’t pretend that I know how you feel, but I will listen…and cry with you.”
I looked up and into his eyes for the first time since the conversation started. I saw his tears.
And that was really all I needed.
Because, husbands, what it really boils down to is a step-mom just needs to know she’s not alone.
She has you.
Molly Huffman – http://www.mollyhuffman.com
10 thoughts on “10 Ways to Support Your Wife as Stepmom”
First of all, like me you married the most wonderful man! It warms my heart to know that. I became a stepmom too but one child was grown and didn’t want to get to know me for two years. Now we are good friends as adult women often are. The other was a teenager mostly at his mother’s house. Still, when he came to be with us on weekends and vacations, I could feel everything change. So I have a little bit of a sense of what you’re living with. The love is there but it is different. This post ought go viral!
This could not be any more spot on. Becoming a stepmom is something you just can’t prepare for. There are so many unexpected things that happen.
We’ve been doing this for almost 11 years and it is still hard some days. I still get really frustrated some days, but it gets sooooo much easier with the passing of time.
In our situation, Aiden’s mom has learned over time that I am trustworthy and reliable. This has helped a ton because she can ask me for help.
I will pray your situation continues to grow and get easier.
Love to you sister,
I’m not sure how I didn’t see this until now, but thank you for your comments. I hope the same thing can be said of me by the girls’ mom someday, too. It can be over-wheleming to think that 11 years from now, it will still have hard parts, but I know we just focus on one day at a time!
Cheering you on, friend, and remembering we’re not alone!
Thank you for this post. You are so articulate and I so much appreciate that. I am not sure how this popped up on my fb page today but I really needed it as my step daughter and my sons play in the adjacent room. My husband had to be away and so we are here without him. It is a stressful situation here in my own home.
I always feel like I should not complain because I chose my husband with his daughter when we got married but really nothing could have prepared me for all the things you just mentioned.
Thank you for helping me to feel okay that I don’t okay about this stuff sometimes.
I am so, so grateful these words came at a helpful time for you. I can remember reading something similar a couple years ago, and I realized my feelings were normal! I am so with you — I hesitate to say anything hard about being a step-mom since I CHOSE my husband, and I knew he came with two kids. But you’re right, nothing prepares you for what it will be like in the trenches day after day.
I have seen good fruit come of my sacrifices.
Keep being honest. The more I share, the more other step-moms are saying, “me, too!” We are not alone in this good and hard work, and I’m cheering you on!
Your article has found its way to me today and I feel really thankful!
Thank you so much for sharing your life’s experiences about being a stepmom. It is so helpful and liberating for me, reading exactly what’s going on inside myself, through your words. It is helping me to feel compassion towards all the reactions I can sometimes have in relationship with my partner and his 2 sons.
It has been 2 years since I started this wonderful (and sometimes really challenging) journey with my partner. The boys were 4 and 6 years old when I met them for the first time (I was 35 without any kids of my own). It was love at first sight and I knew deeply in my heart, that I would love them as much as a woman without children can love. ❤️
But things are not always running smooth and fun. Some days, I think I can simply not make it and be the stepmom and life partner I wish I would be.
I like to remind myself that it will never be perfect. It will always be a work in progress. It’s a never ending call for growth and love and sweetness and truth. It’s a marathon of acceptance for one another. A true master class on open communication from the heart. It’s the most challenging and best thing that has ever happened to me; teaching me how to be a better person for myself and for the people I love. Yes. One step at the time. It’s not all done yet. And it’s alright. ☺️
I can’t wait to read and talk about this beautiful article with my partner. I hope it will help him understand me better. And help us continue to learn and grow together on that journey of stepparenting.
Thank you again Molly. Blessings to you and your family.
I hope this notifies you that I replied, because I SO want to connect with you. Your feelings are just so incredibly normal. SO many step-moms I’ve talked to feel this way. Each year, things seem to get a little better as I communicate and learn humility. I’m cheering you on, Veronique! Feel free to email me if you need encouragement via the “contact” link if you need more encouragement. 🙂
I am a father who recently married my wife who is 37 with no kids. I have a 9yr old son and 10yr old daughter. My wife sent me this article to help me understand her feelings. Her main problem is number 8. I support my wife and incorporate her in all my decisions. I can not control my ex wife’s way of life or schedule. I get my kids every weekend and the schedule is significantly different at each house. I feel there has to be some compassion for the kids as they are kids. My current wife isolates herself from us when they are here. It hurts my heart as I can’t take sides between my kids and my current wife. I am wondering what are some things you do to work with your husband and step kids to build a family relationship. No matter how I try to get my wife to engage with my kids she refuses and tells me I can’t understand because I am not a step mother. My kids are alienated and my heart aches as each week passes with no progress to blending our family together.
Just to be clear I love my wife with every fiber of my being as I also love my kids with all my being and I am just looking for help in things I can do to help my family become a family.
I can absolutely tell you love your wife AND your kids! Gosh, so much of this sounds familiar. The thing that stuck out to me the most in your comment was that you recently married your wife. Every new stepmom I’ve talked to lately has mentioned the pure SHOCK that washed over her once she realized how much harder the role can be than she ever thought. It takes time and grace to learn to navigate all the “new” and I would say there can be a lot of grief at the beginning for a woman. She can absolutely love her husband and also feel so out of control of what this new life is. Let me say this: I am not a counselor, but I think that finding a counselor will be huge! Perhaps sometimes the two of you go together and perhaps sometimes she goes alone. Support by other stepmoms can help, too. I love the instagram account @stepmom_magazine. They write articles that are great for both spouses to read! There are even articles about “the ex-wife” which could be helpful in your situation. Another author I’d recommend is Ron L. Deal. He has books titled “The Smart Stepfamily” and “The Smart Stepfamily Marriage” which can give you both a lot of encouragement and tools. You’re a good man, Trevor, to take action as you try to help your family blend. If you want to talk further, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email via the “Contact” button on my website!