You’re here, step’rent, so it’s safe to assume that you’re a proactive person. You seek out support and strategies. Presumably, you practice some of the suggested strategies. You set boundaries, you practice self-care, and you extend grace to yourself (as best you can). Yet, it’s also safe to assume that you struggle. Because we all struggle. Because this is hard. Like, really hard.
I’ve come to identify three types of stepparent struggles. Quite scientifically, I’ve categorized them as: sometimes struggle, sudden struggle, and surprise struggle. Let’s examine each more closely…
Sometimes Struggle is the most common and just a part of your stepparent existence. It’s part of human experience, really (hence the popularity of the phrase “the struggle is real”), so although it may bump you temporarily off-course, it’s nothing to get too bothered about. Sometimes Struggle is the easiest to acknowledge because we all sometimes struggle. As stepparents, the cause may be a little different, but we find our way through with a little help from our partner, a friend, and/or a little faith.
How to cope with Sometimes Struggle:
- Take a walk or bath or other moments for yourself.
- Remind yourself that you’re not alone by reading an article or two.
- May I suggest stepparentmagazine.com?
- Scream into a pillow, take a few deep breaths, and then resume your day.
Sudden Struggle is also common, but experienced less often than Sometimes Struggle and is identified by the sudden feeling that accompanies the struggle. It’s usually caused by triggers you completely forgot about until they suddenly trigger you again. Such triggers look different for each stepparent, but may include a stepchild calling out for your spouse but not for you (e.g. “Dad, look at this!” or “Dad, you wanna play ping pong?”) or feeling like the only one who notices (or cares) about the trail of toys/clothes/dirt your stepchild leaves in his wake.
How to cope with Sudden Struggle:
- Try any/all of the coping strategies suggested for dealing with Sometimes Struggle.
- Talk to your partner.
- Seriously, talk to your partner.
- Suggested opening line: I am struggling. (This works brilliantly for both parties.)
- Make an appointment with a therapist versed in stepparent dynamics.
Surprise Struggle is the most deceiving, especially if you think of surprises as a good thing because Surprise Struggle is anything but. It’s the worst. It comes as (surprise!) a surprise exactly when you’re feeling really good about everything. Healthy boundaries have been set, you’ve had some great conversations with your stepchild recently, and you feel like you just might be nailin’ this whole stepparenting thing. Then, BAM! Surprise Struggle. In our house, it begins with my husband asking, “Can I talk to you about something?” Translation: the you-know-what has been hittin’ the fan as of late and we need to talk. The worst part about the Surprise Struggle (aside from the fact that it’s nothing like a surprise party) is that it affirms our worst fears about being a stepparent. We realize that there’s always a heck of a lot more going on in and around our world than we know. Because we’ve established healthy boundaries, we’ve shielded ourselves from some of the ugly, terrible behind-the-stepfamily-scenes drama. (Seriously, does no good deed go unpunished?) Worse still, we’re forced to face the fact that there’s very little we can do to make it better, much less fix it.
How to cope with Surprise Struggle:
- Try any/all of the coping strategies suggested for dealing with Sometimes Struggle and Sudden Struggle.
- Remain calm. Keep in mind that, likely, this drama has been going on while you were completely unaware and, yet, you’re all still here to talk about it. So talk about it. Try to figure out how to manage.
- Lose it in the most productive way possible. Scrub every surface of your house using elbow grease fueled by your anger. Go for a run…a long run…even if you’re not a runner. Sign up for that kickboxing class you’ve always thought about taking. Put a punching bag on your birthday wish list.
- Remember that, just because the struggle has recently hit your radar, it doesn’t mean any sort of action needs to be taken immediately. Allow cooler heads to prevail (perhaps after you lose it in the most productive way possible).
- Remember your resources. There are plenty out there! Personally, I’ve found the course, “Dealing with the Ex,” offered by Jenna Korf at stepmomhelp.com, extremely helpful.
- Seek out a couple’s counselor (separate from your own counselor) to help you navigate the tricky terrain of making marriage work in a stepfamily.
Regardless of the type of struggle you’re dealing with, keep in mind that (a) everyone struggles (don’t let anyone fool you!), (b) there are ways through, and (c) you are not alone.
Sending more love and strength out into the stepparenting universe! 🧡
Amy Menzel is a high school English teacher who lives and works in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She’s also a writer, a coach, a wife, and a stepmother, and strives to be better in each role every day. She’s an avid reader and an avid runner and aspires to be a more avid blogger. She blogs at Recalculating: a life.