Stepmothering — a Thankless Job?

Being a stepmother is perhaps the most difficult job in the stepfamily. No, not perhaps…it definitely is. It’s hard to love kids that are someone else’s. As one of our stepchildren’s parents we want what is best for them and we worry about them, but, we are not “allowed” to have any say in what they do and we sometimes do not get to help shape the adult they will be. As a stepmother we sit back and have to quietly watch these children that we care about be raised, sometimes with two completely different parenting styles. Of course we have our opinions, thoughts, ideas, or advice that we want to offer to our stepchildren’s mother, but, we hold our tongues. We cook for these children, we care for these children when they are sick (if they are at our house), we drive them around, we pay for things, and we bond with them (or try to). We do most, if not all, the things their biological mother does, and we get no thank you. We get no recognition for being a “good mom”. What do we get? We get attitude. We get “you’re not my Mom”. We get anger and resentment that we married their father. We get heartache. We get the urge to pull our hair out 24/7. We get an earful from their mother when we make the smallest mistake. We get to hear “the short story” when there is a conflict with “our” children. We get children with their guards up because they too just went through a divorce (in some cases). We get no thank you.

So, you may be asking yourself at this point, why do we do this then? Well, we do it because we love their father. We do it because whether we like it or not we love those children. Everything these kids have ever seen has told them that their stepmother has to be “The Wicked Stepmother”. They have been fed this stuff since they were toddlers. Every Disney movie has an Evil Stepmother: Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel. And we, the stepmothers, have to show them that this is not the case. But, we need the help of their fathers. According to , “If the father of the children remains passive when his child or children act with resentment or hostility towards her, that’s when being a stepmom can result in her association with the myth of the evil stepmother becoming “hard-wired”. That’s when the kids feel justified in their opinion of the stepmother, since his not backing her up is taken as tacit approval of (or agreement with) their behavior.” The father must step in and let them know that their stepmother is to be treated with respect and make sure that they know she is a parent in his home.

However, we as the stepmother can put ourselves in the situation where we are not thanked if we allow ourselves to be a doormat. Many stepmothers’ believe that they should put their own needs below those of her stepchildren, which is true to a point. The children are what is important in the situation. I have said more than once to my fellow stepmothers that “it’s all about the kids”. We truly do need to have their best interest at heart, but, that does not mean that we need to deny ourselves happiness, or any sort of break. Living life this way will only cause you to form resentment towards your stepchildren.

My advice? Find a happy medium between the “evil stepmother” and the “doormat stepmother”. Find a way that everyone is happy, most of the time. We as stepmothers need to realize that not everyone will be happy all the time. We may feel as though we get no thank you, like their mother and father is getting all the love and thank you’s. But, you know what our thank you’s are? When those kids hug you out of nowhere, when they accidentally call you “mom” and don’t correct themselves, when someone in the grocery store calls you their “mom” and they don’t correct them, the call on Mother’s Day that means they recognize you as a mom. The thank you is in the small things. It’s in the little things that warm your heart. It’s those moments when things are really good with your stepchildren. My fellow stepmothers, don’t get discouraged, this journey is a hard one, and there will be hurt and pain. But, when we sift through all that, there is love.

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