10 Secrets Stepmothers Keep

Let’s face it. By definition, stepmother relationships are complicated—not only for the stepmother, but for her partner, too: Never entered lightly, never entered without thought for already present responsibilities, never meeting childhood fairytale hopes of perfect, unencumbered romance.

While things might be slowly changing, a stepmother often feels pressure, real or imagined, to keep some feelings to herself. She might be embarrassed by the depth of emotions that seem petty to those not in her situation or she is afraid of confrontations that could follow point-blank statements about things that aren’t changeable. She knows that some of her thoughts are meant to be shared only with her girlfriends, some only with her confessor and some shouldn’t be voiced at all.

Still, there are a few things she wishes you just … knew; the innermost thoughts that, if voiced, might be hard for you to hear, that make her vulnerable and that are just plain embarrassing. No two women are alike, and this goes for stepmothers, too.

This list is in no way comprehensive, nor will every point hit home with every stepmom. If you’re a re-partnered dad, try asking the love in your life to highlight the points that are in her voice. Ask her if there are things that she wishes you knew that didn’t make the list. Then listen. Chances are she has been carrying these thoughts around for a long time. She doesn’t need you to fix it. She just needs you to hear her.

1. I MARRIED YOU IN SPITE OF YOUR KIDS, NOT BECAUSE OF THEM. I never once fantasized about riding into the sunset with my prince charming … followed by a string of ponies. I was always the princess in my fairy tale, never the evil stepmother. I was excited about being your wife even though I knew I’d have to figure out how to be part of the family you created before you knew me, and I married you because no matter how many people told me how crazy I was or how saintly I must be, I believed I could foil the stereotype. And I knew our love could withstand anything that our life thrust upon us. I still believe that.

2. I DON’T KNOW IF I’D MARRY YOU ALL OVER AGAIN. It’s a hypothetical question, and I wish you’d quit asking me. The fact is, I had no idea how hard this would be. And while I love you and have no plan to leave you or retract my commitment, there are days I wonder what the heck I was thinking. That’s not every day or even most days. But if I tell my best friend not to date the guy she just met because of the package deal he represents, you shouldn’t take it personally. You should just empathize with the fact that nobody can possibly be prepared for the quagmire of emotions stepfamily life brings.

3. I AM JEALOUS OF YOUR EX-WIFE. There. I said it. You loved her first. She has memories of you and the kids that I will never share. I compare myself to her and sometimes unfavorably so. I love when she looks like crap. I hate when the kids compare my lasagna to hers or inform me that their mom cleans the bathroom floors with a different brand of cleaner. I’m not their mother and I don’t want to be, but it’s hard to be my own person with her shadow in my home.

4. WHEN YOU STAND UP TO HER, IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE CHOOSING ME. Please do it more often. I know we fight about this all the time. I understand that you’re just trying to keep the peace. But you knew when you married me that I am a powerful woman, and her presence in our life is the only thing I cannot address in my own way, with my own words and with my own power. That really stinks. I know I can get a little—or a lot—controlling about how you deal with her, but please try to understand how powerless I feel to affect my own life when it comes to her.

5. I DON’T LIKE WHEN THE KIDS DISRESPECT YOU, AND I DON’T LIKE WHEN YOU GIVE IN TO YOUR EX BECAUSE YOU THINK IT’S BETTER TO KEEP THE PEACE. I love your strength and masculinity, and I would like to see it in all parts of your life. I know you feel guilty about everything that went down with the kids, but allowing them to break reasonable rules because you don’t want to be the bad guy is bad for us and bad for them.

6. THEY’RE NOT MY KIDS. I know they’re the light of your life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I didn’t have the opportunity to fall in love with them when they were babies like you did. That’s why you can still love them even when they’re acting up, and I struggle more by seeing only what’s in front of me, which sometimes, you must admit, is less than their best selves. I go to their sporting events to be with you and to work toward forming this family we’ve made. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t love watching them play as much as you do, and guilt is only a short step away from resentment and starting to feel like I have to go. So, when I want to skip a school function to eat dinner with my girlfriends, kiss me goodbye without making me feel like I’m a horrible person.

7. I’M NOT THEIR MOTHER. A lot of what I do, I do to please you. I think the kids and I would find our own way eventually, but you’re used to the mom in the family taking on a certain role, and you’ve thrust me into it. Maybe I thought I could do it, or maybe I thought it was the only role open to me. But I’m learning that there might be better ways for me to fit into this family, and I’d like your support in figuring that out. I think there might be a way for me to be an awesome stepmother, but in order for me to do that, we have to stop trying to make me the mom.

8. SOMETIMES I FEEL INVISIBLE. Like a really, truly look-through-me ghostly presence. When the kids come into the room and don’t acknowledge my presence or when the family starts telling stories about all the great times that occurred before I came into your life or that time your mom gave your ex a great big hug at your son’s graduation, I feel like I cease to exist. It would help a lot if you made it a point to favor me with that special look or reach for my hand so I feel like I matter.

9. EVERY SINGLE THING I DO FOR YOUR KIDS IS A FAVOR TO YOU. I know this is different than in a traditional two-parent family, but the fact is that your kids are your responsibility. I want to share in every aspect of your life, so I’m willing to help, but I’d really like it if you would thank me and show appreciation for what I do. I understand the kids are used to getting their needs met and won’t be overly appreciative of what I do for them, but I need you to be.

10. DESPITE ALL THESE THINGS, I AM WITH YOU BECAUSE I WANT TO BE. Every day, I recommit myself to our life despite our challenges. This is exactly where I want to be. I know I act crazy sometimes and that my eruptions are difficult for you to take. You are caught in the middle and all you want is for me to be happy and for the kids to accept us as a family. While I may avoid articulating the things on this list, I want you to pay most attention to this last one. We didn’t know how hard it was going to be to form this family, but I’m in it for the long haul, and I still think we can beat the odds. I married you because I love you and I want to build a life where we live happily ever after.

And that is all.

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43 thoughts on “10 Secrets Stepmothers Keep”

  1. This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me and IT SAYS IT ALL! I’m going to ask my husband to read it. It’s exactly what I wish he could understand.

    Marrying a man with children, even in the best conditions, is so hard…and I would never in a million years recommend it to anyone, but it’s what I chose and I’m doing the best I can. I know he is too, but there are healthier ways for BOTH of us to deal with things and I appreciate this magazine for the tools it provides!

    Thanks so much!!

  2. This article is spot on with what emotions I go through all the time…I don’t have any children of my own yet and I always felt guilty about how I feel sometimes or I don’t know how I am “supposed” to feel about some things. It was so relieving to know I am not evil and other stepmoms go through this as well. I am so glad I came across it. I just sent it to my husband to read….I don’t think it is possible for them to know what we really go through but the article definitely sheds some light on the issue!

    I definitely do not regret marrying my husband but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone either…it’s definitely not how I thought I would ever start a family and I had no idea how hard it would be. My husband is great, he does thank me for all I do and he does understand when I just need a break, but I have still feel guilty at times. I am so glad I happened to come upon this article and I am definitely going to start reading this magazine! Thank you!!

  3. I really wish I could get my husband to read this and really retain it. Everyone, including spouses, always say “you knew what you were getting into”. But no, you really really don’t. You think, “I can handle this. I’ll just do things /this/ way.” but that’s never good enough for kids, or ex wives, or whatever.

    You end up wanting to hide yourself away and just not have to deal with it. And the part about her shadow being in your home all the time… it’s so true. Do you know how much it hurts to wake up, every morning, to be told, “you’re not my mommy”? You just want to scream in their faces and say “I KNOW I’M NOT, I NEVER SAID I WAS, YOU DON’T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE MY BABIES WERE SUPPOSED TO LOOK, BUT I’M HERE NOW AND I’M TRYING TO LOVE YOU ANYWAYS”! But you can’t say that, because that’s horrible, so you just keep screaming it in your head over and over and over.

    Everything’s not peachy. Everything’s not hunky dory. And it’s hard to keep pretending that it is while nobody else will acknowledge that you’re tearing apart inside.

  4. Interesting to read this 6 years into our marriage. True, not all apply to everyone. I also see that there are some things that applied earlier on that are less (intensely) true than some that are more true now. Thankful hubby has always been patient and appreciative of my role and the challenges.

    1. The article put into words what I could not. Thank you. I agree not all is accurate but it’s pretty close. I too am lucky to have a husband who is supportive and understanding. I find however that comes when I am also appreciative of his position. He does all he can to make me happy and make our marriage work. He researches step family issues and does his best to address them. Even still this article put into words what I feel and wish that I could express to help him to understand me especially when I am the one who is unreasonable.

  5. I think many of us stepmoms are going to want to show this to our husbands. So many of your points hit the nail on the head. Especially no. 4. I never understood why it felt so horrible when the ex gets her way, and partly destroys her children’s lives in an attempt to destroy our marriage, but now I think I know why.
    Thank you for a great article, I will definitely be sharing this with my readers.

      1. Oh my ! How beautifully you put this thing. I feel so much guilt sometimes. I also regret not trying harder to keep my my first marriage together.
        He asks me constantly if I’ll marry him and while I say yes to him, in my heart I think if I knew then what I knew now I’d never gone out with him the first time.
        Wow just wow.

  6. I feel as though this article was pulled directly from my own thoughts! Every.Single.Point. Just wish he could see things through my eyes from time to time.

  7. My fiance asked if I had written this article 🙂 It is so spot on to everything I feel. I am glad I was able to share it with him, to shed more light on our situation and how I feel.

  8. Great article. When I hear anyone is dating or considering marrying someone with living children from a previous relationship, I advise them to run the other way as fast as they can. Unless you don’t mind never being #1. From my experience it’s been the most painful and empty time in my life. Hubby #1 had a 5 yr old who lived with us. She was a holy terror that robbed ever bit of joy from our marriage that ended in divorce. Guess who wanted to live with me when she was 18, the holy terror. She did for a short time, then I told her mom and dad they needed to be financially responsible for her and all hell broke loose. Later I married someone with adult kids. We’re still married but his kids have caused more hurt and pain to me and my kids than I would have ever anticipated. I am sticking in there, but hope for a day of happiness. His adult kids are worried I might get something they could inherit someday. Crazy. We rent a home because his kids didn’t want me moving to the home they grew up in. At first he said we’d rent so they could get used to the idea of me being in his life, but now 15 years have gone by and we still rent and one of his married kids lives in his house so we can’t. It’s like my husband is afraid to do anything with or for me in fear of what his kids will think. Hubby has bought himself several brand new vehicles thru the years while I drive the car I had before our marriage. So it’s really hard, painful and disappointing when you feel like you are wasting time and life on someone who won’t share life with me. I have lots of love to give a family who wants an awesome grandma someday. (His kids won’t let me be gma) to their kids. Oh well, their loss.

    1. Wow i so get it too my b/friend of 8 yrs has adult children who were evil to my children just cause they were mine. His 25 yr old held my 6 yr old in a headlock forcing dog food in her mouth after many other numerous mean acts.i finally told her dad w/guilty dad syndrom about his daughter w/mini wife syndrom & he had her back & many more situations some even worse. I came in knowing it would be hard but wasntprepared for evil.l dont know what was worse her continual games or him reassuring her she cant do wrong. She also has 2 adult brothers & theyve let me know if anything happens to their dad they’d boot me out in a heartbeat. He has their back on that too. Huh no wonder weve been like roomates for the past 3 yrs.

    2. It’s been the most painful and empty time in my life too. I feel like I’ve lost 9 precious years of my life. I absolutely despise when my husband says “you knew what you were getting yourself into.” I advise anyone getting involved with someone with kids not to do it. Like you said…RUN THE OTHER DIRECTION!!!

  9. Glad to know your feelings are validated by this article, in response, what is your spouse supposed to tell you or do with your professed buyer’s remorse to make things better? We love you, you are the bright spot in all of our lives, but living with you and the constant chaos isn’t all we thought it would be either and we really are trying to do our best to balance our relationships with both you and the kids, while also minimizing the role of our ex. We get more than you think, but as the article points out, we are in the middle…a very vulnerable place to be trying to not lose you while trying to still be the dad these babies knew before you came into our lives. We feel like failures all the way around…in our first marriage however they ended, in our parenting relationship with our kids, and in the relationship we share. We’re all ad-libbing here trying to make the most of the life we have, not wishing for a life that will never be.

    1. Thanks for your insight! For me, just a few specific “thank you for…” help me feel validated. I also would like to know what would help you (the husbands) feel supported and loved when we are trying to disengage from the Mom role?

  10. I am not a stepmom yet and, after more than a year of dating, find myself pushin pause on our relationship. I long for a scenario like those I read about because they seem to be far less complicated than the one I’m in. Recovering alcoholic, narcissistic ex, children that have severe behavior issues, food allergies, think they are adults (result of the alcoholic mother) even though they haven’t hit double digits yet. He has them five days every week. My partner is patient and has worked hard to make changes to the way he raises his daughters and handles his ex but I feel constantly overwhelmed and under appreciated. His avoidance of everything has put me in awful and painful positions more often than I care to remember but he’s making progress in being more open with me. He and I have a great relationship and I love him with all my heart – I can’t imagine my life without him. I can’t change the life he had before me and do love his girls because they are his children. They love me. I’d love advice on how to know when you’re ready to commit to taking it all on because right now, dating for the next 10 years sounds pretty good. (BTW my son is grown and a successful, thriving adult whom I’m very close to – so I’ve been there and done that, extremely well).

    1. Run
      If you question being ready you aren’t. It’s only going to get harder.
      I wish I could have told my much younger self to walk away when I knew that’s what needed to happen.

  11. This was what I needed to read. With my step kids and in laws coming to stay during spring break in a couple week I am starting to feel nervous and my husband bless him just cant understand why. It happens every winter break, spring break and summer. I am going to show him this and maybe he’ll understand a little why.

  12. Its to hurtful when your the only one willing to wait for the growing pains to stop & the dad refuses to at the least say you dont have to agree with her but for me you have to respect our desisions. If he doesnt show you respect in doing that early on he wont likely ever.

    1. This is so true. I hate when he disrespects me in front of his daughter. She will never show me any respect as long as he says negative things to me in front of her about the decisions I make for what I think is right. It’s only my opinion and he doesn’t have to agree with me but he shouldn’t make comments like how stupid he thinks my opinion is, that I’m making a big deal out of nothing, or that I blow everything out of proportion in front of her. Now she just thinks that it is acceptable for her to say the same things to me, after all, her dad says it to me, so why can’t she. Little do they fail to want to accept, that she has created a lot of her own & our problems because she continually lies about a lot of things and has done so since she was young. It’s just a lot easier to be her friend than to be her parent.

      1. I encountered a similar situation with my husband and his children but was able to rectify it. You need to tell him how you feel about him criticizing you in front of his children. Criticism should never be done by either partner in front of them. It is a matter of respect. There is no love without respect. Finally getting these things cleared up in my marriage. Now that I am getting older I demand respect and this was something I didn’t do when I was younger. Just got tired of being walked all over. Hope this helps.

  13. This is painful and perfect at the same time. Glad to find other here who are living this – if anyone knows of a private Facebook group we can all meet on, wouldn’t that be so nice? Please share if you know of one.

    1. Hi Sandra,
      Thanks for posting. We’re glad you found us. Our subscribers have access to a private, monitored support group forum. You’ll find the details here: https://www.stepmommag.com/support-group-forum/ There are many stepmom support groups on Facebook, but please keep in mind that nothing you post on Facebook is 100% private and posts can be used as evidence in family court. If you’re not already a member, come check us out!

  14. Oh my!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS!!! It was almost as if you were taking my feelings and thoughts out of my head and formed bullets!! It’s amazing!!! What’s even more touching is scrolling down to write you this comment just to find out that there are SOOOO many woman like me that are FEELING THE SAME WAY!!! Honestly, I thought I was the only one! I was so afraid to say anything to anyone else besides my fiancé because I thought I would be looked at (even more) as the evil step mother!! This is great!!! I love this so much! I’m going to show this to my fiancé AS SOON AS HE STEPS IN THE HOUSE!! I’m not the only one lol

  15. Absolutely agree with everything said on this, sent this to my partner today. This is how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks although it comes and goes all the time. Lets hope he reads this and understands my feelings

  16. Wow this really hit home… I sit here at work with tears streaming down my face. This is my life right now as we speak. So much of this article are things that are going on right now in our blended but separate families. I feel that whatever I do is and will never be enough in his kids eyes, who are teenagers. Thank you for posting this. I need to subscribe as I know that I will need the support!

  17. It is very odd to realize this, because….i don’t come close to having these thoughts or feelings. My vows were for my step children as well as my husband….if you marry a man despite his children, that’s not right. I AM my kid’s Mamma Bear. They know it and Love Me for it. This breaks my heart that so many feel this way.

    1. I love your comment and I agree. This list feels to me more like a list of things I think about when I’m having a bad day, not something I feel day in and day out. I also appreciate the comment from the dad further up. Dads have a very challenging balancing act too, and the last thing that’s going to be helpful for them to hear is that we’ve have second thoughts about marrying them.

      I’m not under any delusion that this life is easy, it’s a lot more complicated than any of us signed up for! The problem with divorce and second marriages is that no one gets what they want. Stepmoms, dads, and kids are all settling for something other than the nice little nuclear family unit. No one is going to be 100% happy. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy family though. And guess what? If it wasn’t this, it would be something else. Even if you did have the perfect biological family, 2.5 kids and the dog and the white picket fence … something would go sideways sooner or later. Maybe one of your children would have behavioral issues or become seriously ill, maybe your spouse would be a workaholic, maybe you would have to move across the country and leave all your friends and family behind. There are no perfect families (regardless of what Instagram may tell us), because there are no perfect people.

      In my world, I’m in the mom role with my SS every other week. My DH supports that and encourages me. And most of the time, I’m actually very happy in that role. I genuinely care about the little guy. He’s isn’t mine biologically, but we’ve formed a close bond and I enjoy talking to him and watching him grow. There are definitely days when I feel like I’m clawing at the walls and need a break, and then I have to say something and ask for space. FDH is understanding when this happens and can tell when I’m starting to max out. Like Andrea, I had two sets of vows for our wedding. One in which I promised to be a loving and faithful wife, and one in which I promised to be a loving and faithful mom / stepmom.

      To everyone embarking on this journey or considering it … no, you don’t need to run screaming in the other direction! Assess the situation and keep your eyes open. Talk to people you trust. Have coffee with an actual stepparent. Some stepfamily dynamics are insane amounts of drama. Others are more amicable and workable. Recognize that it won’t be easy, there are additional challenges to face. But if this man is someone you love deeply and someone who respects, loves, and cares for you … then know that you can overcome the odds. Don’t be afraid to dive in, or to fall in love with little people who aren’t your own. Motherhood isn’t all about biology. Sometimes it’s about being a friend, a mentor, a listening ear, an influencer, a teacher. Embrace that role when you can and request space and time when you can’t. Know that you are uniquely positioned to be a place of strength and safety for your DH and your stepkids. Know that you will fail sometimes. Forgive and move on.

      This life isn’t perfect, but it’s beautiful in it’s own way. And I’m so grateful for it.

  18. This! It literally brought tears to my eyes! We are going through a very rough time with my fiance’s ex (mean, controlling and textbook narcissist). Sometimes I feel so helpless in my own home, despite how amazing and understanding my partner is. The time and energy he must spend to pacify her constantly takes away from my time and needs. It’s great to know I’m not alone!

  19. This is most of the feelings I have felt. I want to share this with my husband and then again I’m not sure how he would take it. I could see him taking things too personally and actually being upset with some of this truth, but I wish he could understand where I’m coming from. This magazine has been a great when I’ve felt alone and like I’m the crazy one!

  20. Opps, We’re suppose to keep these thoughts a secret? The cat is out of the bag. In the heat of anger, I have exploded these thoughts out loud.

  21. I don’t agree with #3, but I’m not naturally a jealous person. Why would I be jealous when I have the man I want and a beautiful family of my own?

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