“The first months, heck even years, as a stepmom are a learning curve. If you’re anything like me, you want to dive right in and be the best you can for your step kids and for your husband. That’s great, and it’s important to do that — in certain areas. I’ve created three ‘buckets’ of stepmomming: Step Up. Step Back. Step Over. No matter what the issue I’m facing is, I always come back to this little guide and choose which one to practice.
In general, being a stepmom requires you to step up. You need to be there for your step kids. You need to create a non-threatening environment for them. Remember, you’re the newest addition to the equation—they were here first.
Make them feel welcome in their home. They need to feel like they are still a part of it all, even if they don’t live with you full time. Make sure they have their own space, a place to go when they want to be alone. Maybe that means their own bedroom, but even when that’s not possible, give them a dedicated space where they can go when they don’t want to be disturbed. Involve them in the day to day of your household. It’s important they feel like an active member of the family when they’re with you — not just a guest passing through.
Support their endeavors — be it sports, music, art, etc. If you’re in a high conflict situation and you don’t attend certain events, you can still do this from the sidelines. Have your husband FaceTime you from their soccer game and share pictures. Send them a text and wish them good luck on that math test or in their school play. They need to know you are behind them just as much as their bio parents.
Be interested in their lives. Ask questions, show concern for their difficulties, cheer them up when they’re down. Listen to them. I remember when L first shared with me about a boy she liked. I was honored she felt comfortable enough to share that with me, insignificant as it may seem. If I hadn’t worked to make sure she knew I cared what was going on in her life, she may not have opened up to me. Think of the bigger picture. If she has that comfortable sharing space now, she will hopefully feel comfortable sharing more difficult things with me as she gets older.
Be a parent. It’s OKAY to discipline your stepkids or have rules in your home they don’t have at their mom’s. This can be tough if you don’t have any ‘ours’ kids in your house. Now that we have the boys, the girls know my discipline is consistent across the board and not just some harsh rules I put on them because they are stepkids. It’s important you and your husband are on the same page here. Make sure he backs you up and also gives you the autonomy to make decisions in his absence. Joe has been so great about this from day one, and it has had a huge impact on the level of respect the girls have for me.
There’s a scene in the movie Stepmom (shocking I know) when Julia Roberts (stepmom) and Susan Sarandon (bio mom) are at the daughter’s soccer game and the son is playing at the playground. They show him fall off the top of the playground and get hurt. Both women run for it to help him, and he’s crying in pain but is looking at his bio mom saying, ‘Mommy, it hurts…’ and Julia Roberts sort of stops in her tracks in angst, watching his mom comfort him.
Before I was a stepmom, I loved the movie and never thought twice about this scene. About a year ago, I watched it again with L and my mother in law. I burst into the tears during that scene and immediately excused myself to get more popcorn. It really hit me hard. Why? Because it was a perfect example of stepping back even when it’s SO hard.
I love the girls as if they are my own. I care deeply for their wellbeing and never want to see them in pain, but it stings when they do get hurt or sick and their mom is their first refuge. Truly, I think it’s one of the hardest parts of being a stepmom. Treat them like they’re your own but remember they’re not. When E broke her arm, she wasn’t with us. I remember Joe texted me a photo of her sitting in the doctor’s office getting her pink cast on with her mom. I wanted to race there and give her a giant hug. My heart hurt for her, but I couldn’t express it the way I wanted to.
For me, I have always wanted to be a mom. And before I had kids of my own with Joe, it was really hard for me to step back. Why couldn’t I be the one to offer to make Valentine’s cookies for the class party? Shouldn’t I be sitting in the parent-teacher conference? I have to remember their mom is their mom. And she gets first dibs on that stuff. If one of the girls explicitly asks me to step up in these circumstances, then of course I do, but otherwise, I think it’s best to step back.
I used to feel so uncomfortable at awards ceremonies or school concerts, constantly thinking ahead to the conclusion. Would L come give me a hug or would that be weird for her in front of her mom? What about when everyone wants to take pictures? How will it work? Will I take a picture of the three of them first, and then what? Ask their mom to take a picture of us? Or am I just not in the photos? Like I wasn’t even here? The mental battles were exhausting. I finally let it all out to Joe when I was pregnant and hormonal on the way to a band concert a few years ago. It felt good to admit the discomfort, and it also made him more aware of me in these situations. Now, we have a system of how these things work. Not just for my comfort, but for the comfort of all parties involved. It has allowed me to step back confidently, without feeling like I’m being pushed into the background. And don’t worry, I still get my family photos.
Ah, the step over has been really tough for me. But when you learn how and when to use it, it’s incredibly liberating. Little things that used to cause conflict in your home will come and go without strife. What does step over mean? In the words of my dear friend Elsa… ‘Let it GO!’
Every day in blended family life, things are bound to pop up that we are better off stepping over. The biggest and most important one is any resentment towards bio moms. If you can learn to let this go or at least not let it eat away at you, then you and your stepkids will benefit. If you’re holding onto negative feelings or negative encounters with your husband’s ex, that energy is going to trickle down into how you treat the kids. There’s just no way to avoid it. If you can let go of it, it will naturally separate the kids from their mom.
Step over the past. Clearly there are things in the past we aren’t proud of. Past conflicts are a given — that’s how we ended up in this blended life, isn’t it? Don’t dwell on it! This is not just for you, but for your husband and the kids. Whatever crazy or screwed up thing went down 10 years ago doesn’t matter anymore.
When it comes to present-day conflict with exes, step over those too. I used to want to be a part of it all because it made me feel like I had control. Guess what? I didn’t. I would give my two cents on Joe’s response to a text or an e-mail, we’d start engaging in unproductive conversations and in the end, Joe and I would end up fighting about a conflict that wasn’t between us to begin with! Talk about a vicious cycle.
Another one I’ve learned to step over are issues over clothing and belongings. Once your stepkids get to a certain age, there has to be a level of understanding about what belongs where. I used to get all worked up if L left her winter boots we bought her or her new shirt at her mom’s. Not because I was mad she brought it there, but because it made me look unprepared when I had to send her to school without proper footwear or a warm enough coat.
I realized it was a selfish way to approach it and so I shifted the responsibility over to her. At the end of the day, I don’t want them to feel like they have ‘Mom’s house’ stuff and ‘Dad’s house’ stuff, especially if they’ve proven to me they can care for these things. If they want to bring their iPad back and forth, so be it but then it’s on them if they can’t Tiktok all afternoon because they left it at Mom’s.
As stepmoms, we have to learn to step over the little inconveniences. Maybe it’s not stepping over all the time, but just stepping to the side — bending, being flexible. Blended family life will always require that. If you want to stay sane, anyway.
As you navigate your way through stepparenting, even in the most amicable situations, there will always be discomfort. There will always be conflicts. Take them at face value, and ask yourself, how do I want to step?
What are some of the things you step up to? Step back from? Step over?”
Disclaimer: This is what works for me in my situation. Stepmom styles are like fingerprints, we are all different and we all have different nuances to our experience. But my hope in sharing mine is that it may guide some hard decisions for you or bring you comfort in those isolating moments.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nina Turcsanyi, 31, of Connecticiut. You can follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more beautiful stories about blended families here:
‘My ex-husband married my best friend,’ she tells everyone. We’ve given ‘Sister Wives’ a whole new meaning.’: Wife and ex-wife become best friends after years of fighting, successfully co-parent blended family
‘Did she want another woman in her life? I waited to meet my stepdaughter for the very first time. My heart pounded as she stepped in the car.’ Woman explains there’s ‘nothing natural about a blended family’
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