‘You knew he had a child. What did you expect?’ It was an emotional battlefield.’: Stepmom urges others ‘I promise it’s so worth it’

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“Becoming a stepmom has been an incredible journey. One filled with overwhelming joy, connection, and healing but also fear, sadness, isolation, and frustration. There have been times I have never felt more unseen and unappreciated but also moments that have shown me my importance to this world and my family. I’ve learned to be vulnerable, how to better communicate — and by this I mean not just speak up for myself but also to listen. I’ve learned greater empathy and patience and learned to pay attention to my unhealed wounds.

Let me take you back to the beginning. I grew up as a child of divorce. I was 4 years old when my parents separated and have zero memories of them living under the same roof. My mother went on to be with her longtime partner and I remained living with my dad. My mother had two more children, which left me living in two very different dynamics. In one home it was quiet, just my dad and me. We did a lot together such as traveling the world, camping, and generally just hanging out doing the things we each loved. My mom’s home offered a different dynamic; with two other children in the home, plus a stepparent, I learned to compete for attention from my mom. I also had to learn how to fit into this family that functioned very differently than the home I shared with my dad. A family that had routines and particular ways of doing things I wasn’t always used to.

Tattooed woman in white shirt
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

I didn’t necessarily prefer one over the other; they were just different atmospheres, and I was continually adjusting as I went back and forth. My relationship with my stepdad has always been a good one. Aside from my teenage years, we have had a relatively close relationship when it comes to that of a stepchild-stepparent. He never made me feel any different than my siblings, his children, and always treated me with kindness. His family has always been welcoming too. In fact, I view them to be just as much my family as I do my own blood relatives.

Fast forward to early 2010. I was a recently separated, single parent not at all looking for a relationship. I ended up reconnecting with an old friend who was also recently separated and happened to have a daughter the same age as mine. While not interested in a relationship, I agreed to go on a date and as much as I tried to tell myself not to, things just felt right and before I knew it we were dating. After about 7 months of dating, commuting back and forth to see each other, a lot of thought, and many discussions with family, we decided to move in together. It made the most sense for me to move in with him, even despite knowing his home was the one he bought with his ex-wife and lived in with her and their daughter.

Stepdaughters in field
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

I didn’t feel a whole lot of emotion over it during the months leading up to my move, so I hadn’t anticipated feeling much different once I lived there permanently. There were little things (…okay, big things) that bothered me (yes, one being the master bedroom) but I thought I could ‘get over it.’ Well, the moving truck arrived and so did all of my emotions. It wasn’t long until every inch of this home made me cringe. I couldn’t even enjoy sipping a coffee on the front porch without thoughts of my (now) husband sitting on the same porch with his ex-wife.

Every handle I touched, every doorknob I turned I couldn’t escape the intrusive thoughts and memories of his past. It took a lot of conversation before we began making changes for our home to finally feel like it was mine too. Between lack of time and money, it was a while before we got around to renovating, painting, and purchasing new decor together. Between time and making changes, this home has felt more and more like mine and as the years have passed, I can’t imagine being anywhere else now because this is where our memories are, this is where we have raised our family.

Family photos in field
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

On top of the emotional battlefield, I entered when it came to processing and working through how I felt about my new surroundings, I also began to face challenges as a stepparent and partner and quickly began to feel isolated from those around me. It felt like people just couldn’t understand exactly what I was going through. This was no fault of their own. After all, not everyone is a stepparent or second wife and most haven’t faced the same challenges in their lives and relationships. My complaints and frustrations were often met with, ‘It’s his problem so don’t worry about it.’ ‘You knew he had a child so what did you expect?’ You need to move on and stop dwelling on the past, you knew this wouldn’t be easy.’

Stepmom with stepdaughters
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

While those are all very true statements, they’re not very helpful for a person facing the challenges I was and didn’t give me the answers or guidance I was looking for. Navigating my role in my stepdaughter’s life was my first hurdle. I knew I didn’t want to come across as over-the-top and trying too hard, but I also didn’t want to appear I didn’t care. Finding that balance was just that, a balancing act, which I’ve now learned is most of what stepparenting is. Being a mother myself it was difficult not to take on all of the parenting roles and responsibilities in our home — not because I thought I was better, but because it was my instinct to mother our children. I was cautious not to step on my husband’s toes when it came to parenting but also wanted to ensure my stepdaughter’s mother knew I wasn’t trying to replace her. This got to be increasingly difficult as our children got older, and relationships formed and grew.

Wedding photos with stepdaughters
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

As I began to care more and more it became difficult for me to take a backseat when it came to parenting my stepdaughter. When something was going on in her life and I had an opinion about it, I felt like I had to be heard, and it became a problem for me when I wasn’t. It wasn’t until I began asking myself a series of questions I was able to learn when it was my place to step in, to have my voice heard, or when I needed to take a step back. My stepdaughter has two capable parents — they don’t always need (or want) my opinion. I know many won’t agree, and I know firsthand this is a tough pill to swallow especially when you’re still desperately trying to make your stepfamily function like a first family. But for me, my happiness and peace have been dependent on learning when to step back.

Before long, not only was I managing my emotions around stepparenting, but I also began to feel insecurities creep in. While we were still deeply in love, I was happy and content, and my husband made me feel appreciated, wanted, and loved the ‘newness’ of our relationship was gone — we were sitting right in the thick of reality. I began to feel very uneasy about my husband’s interactions with his ex, especially since he wasn’t the one to end his marriage. In the back of my mind, I had begun to question whether or not this; our relationship, me, our family, was what he truly wanted.

Wedding photos at barn with umbrella and wedding dress
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

I found myself always wondering and looking for clues that would tell me he thought this was all a mistake. I was constantly questioning what they spoke about during drop-off or pick-up, and if a text came through, I needed to know exactly what it said. This not only took a toll on my mental health but on my relationship as well. My husband was not doing or saying anything wrong or out of line, so my constant need for every detail became wearing on him, and in his words, felt like I didn’t trust him. I also found myself feeling drained from my continuous need for control over every aspect of our lives, which includes interactions.

Another unexpected challenge that hit me head-on was grief. This was something I hadn’t planned for and to be honest, really caught me off guard. I found myself grieving the life I would never have; the nuclear family, a wedding that hadn’t already happened, a first child. While I loved my husband and what we had, I was secretly wishing life could have been different. With these thoughts came tremendous guilt — after all, nobody was talking about this stuff so I felt like I must be the only person on the planet thinking and feeling these things.

Sidebar: what a relief it was when I found a community of people who understood me, stepparenting and being a second wife. They helped me to understand I wasn’t oversensitive, dramatic, or ungrateful for what I had, but rather a normal human being with normal emotions.

Woman with stepdaughters
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

I suppose these feelings of grief really began shortly after we got engaged. While I was over the moon with excitement, I couldn’t help but think about the fact my husband had already done this before. It wasn’t new to him and in my eyes, that made me feel like it wasn’t special to him. When we started to plan our wedding, I felt grief, but also unexpected anger as I planned colors, flowers, and song choices around what had already been done. This wasn’t the last time I would be faced with these feelings.

When we got pregnant with our son, better known as the ‘ours’ baby in the stepfamily world, I found myself frustrated at having to ask about name suggestions. I didn’t want to choose a name he and his ex were going to use. I also grieved our experience. Despite both of us already going through it, I often felt to my husband ours wasn’t special. This had absolutely nothing to do with him because he was doing nothing at all to make me think or feel this, it was all of my own thoughts racing in my head. In part, due to my healing I hadn’t yet done. Allowing myself to feel these feelings, communicate them and acknowledge them were pillars to overcoming the sadness I felt.

Blended family siblings
CG Photography

It wasn’t until I began to do my own (healing) work I learned my problems never really had to do with what my husband’s ex was saying, doing (or not doing), or if there was a disagreement about something with his daughter. It had less to do with me wanting life to be different. My happiness was about me needing to make changes and being honest with what was really going on.

Family photo at rock formation
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

My problems had a lot to do with me lacking confidence in myself, not willing to recognize and heal wounds from my past; relationships and childhood kept me stuck for a very long time. Learning to do my inner work, be vulnerable in communicating these things to my husband, finding a community of people that understand the struggles I face as a stepparent and those we face as a stepfamily, and learning to aim my focus on what I can control rather than all the things I can’t, understanding our journey as a stepfamily might be different but it is still meaningful, special and filled with love have led to feeling more at peace within myself.

Family photo riding horses
Courtesy of Amelia Lane

I encourage anyone who is struggling in their role as a stepparent to start having some honest conversations with themselves. Start digging deep to figure out what’s really going on under all of those feelings. Have difficult conversations with your partner because they are the important ones that will bring you closer together and closer to happiness. Last, don’t be pushy with the growth of your stepfamily. Remember it takes time to grow a healthy family unit and depending on your situation, that could be quick or take many years. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate these unknown waters. While it can be treacherous at times, I promise you it is so worth it.”

Blended family photo
Amanda Kopcic Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amelia Lane from London, Ontario, CA. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their website. 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.

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‘My stepdaughter took a shirt from my hands. ‘This is how my mom does it.’ It felt like a harsh slap back to reality.’: Stepmom shares journey blending families, ‘I love them all equally’

‘I’d relax into thinking, ‘I’m finally a mom.’ We’d have a bad day, and I’d sob at my demotion back to ‘just a stepmom.’: Stepmom shares journey, ‘I’m done with the word JUST’

‘She’s just my stepmom.’ I wasn’t on the daycare list. To this day, I’m left off emails because I’m not a ‘primary’ parent.’: Woman navigates blended family life, ‘I’m more than JUST a stepmom’

‘I’m not cut out for this.’ The world crashed down on me, one backward diaper at a time.’: Woman gives candid account of stepmom journey, ‘It takes time to find your place’

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