Damned if you Do, Damned if you Don’t: Life as a Stepmother

I’m a mother. I have four kids. Those seemingly innocent words are the start of the double-edged sword of life as a stepmom. To be politically correct, I have given birth to two kids, and my husband’s first marriage has blessed me with two more. If I just call them my kids, some get upset and feel I’m crossing a line. If I call them my stepkids, I might also be accused of not loving them enough. I live life searching for the right words, trying to please those around me.

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That’s the life of a stepmother. It’s always a double-edged sword.

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If I give the two older children in my life all I can: my love, my attention, and everything I can offer a child, I’m overstepping some unseen boundary. The children of course don’t care. Children love attention, affection, and someone to spend time with them as they grow. I’m spending the three hours on the science fair project. I’m reading a bedtime story to them at night. But somehow the adults around us are looking on and judging me. I’m trying too hard. Some even say I’m trying to take their mom’s place. As I feel the glares from “real moms” as I walk the school halls, my stepdaughter hears from friends, “why did you bring her and not your “real mom” to Mother-Daughter night?” as if I’m trying to creep in Velveteen Rabbit style and pretend I’m “real.”

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If I pull away, deciding the scrutiny is too much, then I’m on the other side of the sword. I’m a terrible person. I’ve become the evil stepmother who doesn’t love unconditionally; and what kind of woman would I be if I didn’t love children unconditionally? If their mother is combative and I decide to take a back seat, the whispers begin about how dreadful I am not to give those children my all. After all, when they are at my house I am the mother figure.

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To be a stepmother is to constantly be teetering between the sides of this double-edged sword; never able to please, and always at fault. All along I’ve been set up to fail. Whoever heard anyone say, “I just love that stepmom.” People think it’s simple: you love a child. But no, it’s far from that. Adults have made it far more complicated for the stepmothers of this world. Maybe at some point I will find the delicate balance between loving too much and pulling away for self-preservation. Until then I live a life where I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

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14 Comments

  • Wow! How true these words are! I too was a step-mom and got the same thing. Then when my husband and I got divorced, I was accused of ripping the child apart. I “took away her sister”, my own daughter from a previous marriage. You are absolutely right, there is no winning as a stepmom. Just keep doing what you feel is right and to heck with what others think, it is what matters to the children, not everyone else.

  • Sarah, thanks for sharing this struggle. People are absolutely ridiculous about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them. All I can say is, just do you. I know that’s easier said than done, but no matter what we do, someone is going to have an issue with it. Be a good person, people will call you fake. Be a bad person, people will call you evil. Be you and a third of people will like it, a third will dislike it and a third won’t care at all. At the end of the day, all we can do is be kind and loving and let everyone around us interpret that however they want.

  • Oh boy, that brought some flashbacks for me. Being a stepparent in itself can be difficult. But I honestly believe, being a stepmom is that much harder. Women are very critical of other women, especially if they are caring for their children. I feel your pain. Hang in there Super Stepmom!

  • Beautiful post! Those of us that haven’t walked that line really don’t understand all the nuances. All I can say, is that it sounds like you are putting the kids first and that’s a good thing.

  • Insightful and well said. Being a step-parent is like walking a tight rope as not only do adults judge you, so do the kids – no matter what you do. It’s a special family where it all runs smoothly. My step-son calls me his ‘other mother’; I call him my ‘son’. To this day, he sees nothing wrong with having two mothers.

  • This was excellent! And I really appreciate how it made me think, too. I don’t think I’ve ever been one of “those” people, but now I will remember more readily not to be careless with my words towards step-mothers. I would never intentionally say anything to hurt, but I can totally see myself asking a question that I don’t even realize is offensive.

  • Such a powerful post. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that you give them all your all and the kids don’t notice. That’s what’s really important. Your relationship with your kids. It’s too hard to please everyone else. It’s about you and your family first.

  • this is so true I have step children been with my husband for 6 years also had his kids in my life for 6 years full time, and I have been told you are not there mother I am , and Im like well you gave birth to them but you dont take care of them they are with me and there father 24 7 and now after 6 years she has came back wanting to be a part of there life but its my fault they dont want to go see her because I have brain washed her children even though im the one who has been with them to school, social events, planned there birthday parties, took to doc appts and been there with them while sick etc. so go figure but I love my step kids its the adults in there lives that make everything the way it is

  • I would just like to say how sorry I am to see “stepmothers” go through this. I am not a step-mom however I am the mother to 2 beautiful children who have a soon to be step-mother whom was at one time my husbands mistress until he left me for her. I tried very hard to let my anger towards her go for the best interest in my children. I knew she was unfortunately going to be a permanent figure in my children’s lives and mine so I bent over backwords to befriend her. As long as she loved and cared for my children when they were with their father that was all that mattered to me until she showed her true intentions. She has spent more time trying to alienate me from my children and turn them against me then she has caring for them or trying to build a relationship with me. She has crossed the line of being a step-mother to actually trying to rid me from their lives and take over as their mother. I know this because I have spent the last year in the middle of a nasty custody battle and divorce, listening to hundreds of voice recordings they made of them interrogating the kids about what I do or do not do with them or to them. Also my child is old enough to tell me things that have been said and done. I’m telling my story only for women everywhere to understand both sides of the fence and to realize nobody matters except for the children. As adults we need to except the other parental figures and understand it’s not easy for either side. As long as you love the children and care for them it doesn’t matter the title you posess. Mother, step-mother, father, stepfather, be an adult and understand it’s not about how much or how little you do, or spend, or how often you are at school functions etc… It’s about love, compassion, understanding, and exceptance for the children. Not the adults. In a situation like my own I have no respect for their step-mother and I probably never will but, my children will never know my personal feelings towards her and if I have it my way one day we will be to celebrate birthdays and holiday together as a family and be able to coparent. Why?? Because my children desreve to live in a loving and excepting environment no matter what the other person feels or says about the other. Please know as a step-mother you are equally as important as the mother so long as you feel the mother is the same

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