The decision to be part of someone’s life on a long-term basis is a monumental one. If the person you love has children, then making sure this decision is the right one for everyone involved is imperative.
Here are 5 essential questions you need to ask yourself before jumping off into stepmother-hood:
1. Can I handle failure?
This may sound harsh, but it’s really just about accepting reality.
Every mother out there feels like a failure sometimes, whether they actually are or not. The same goes for being a stepmother – except it can be amplified, because stepmoms tend to take setbacks very personally, especially when first starting out.
In the beginning, when you’re just starting to get to know your stepchild or stepchildren, you won’t have any past experience to gauge their behavior with, so you may feel as if nothing is going your way.
Accepting the reality that there are going to be times when things don’t go your way is a part of life and a major part of step-parenting.
It means that you’re going to have to work with the fact that there will be occasions when you’re just at a loss for a solution.
This is okay. All parents deal with it and you will too.
The point of this question is to prepare yourself to let go of the desire for perfection, or anything remotely close. It’s not going to happen, even if you’re the most amazingly capable person in the world.
Realistically, you shouldn’t set yourself up with any kind of expectation of what you think life as a stepmom is going to be. Whether you’re potentially going to be a full-time stepmom or a part-time stepmom, be cautious with your expectations. Dynamics change often with children as they grow and you’ll need to be flexible.
Your feelings about your identity as a stepmom may change from day to day, and your emotions will be caught off guard at inconvenient times. Every situation is different, of course, but the bottom line is to be prepared for just about anything.
2. What are my jealousy triggers?
This is one of the most important questions you need to ask yourself. The journey of a stepmother, generally, is a journey of love. It’s a challenging, ambitious, and sometimes painful love.
Whether you become a stepmother to a child who is 3 or to a child who is 10, they’re going to be a major part of your life.
Your stepchildren will ask a lot of you, take a lot from you, and you will get to know them pretty well over time.
You’ll wash their underwear, feed them, and do all the things parents do for their children. But – you may not get that “parent credit”.
You’ll need to have some idea about what your “jealousy triggers” are. Being left out? Competition from another woman? Your partner’s attention? These are all situations you’ll be dealing with as a stepmom.
You may find yourself getting quite attached to your stepchildren after a time, falling in love with their smiles and personalities.
If your stepchildren don’t return your love in a way that satisfies you or that’s not up to your expectations (let go of those!), you may be easier prey to feelings of insecurity and jealousy.
A stepmom’s greatest sacrifice is letting go of her ego. Caring for a stepchild even when you may get no credit for doing so, is the ultimate test of character.
Checking your ego at the stepmom door can take years of practice and experience.
Granted, there are stepmom/stepchild relationships that never quite take off, but for the most part, stepmoms and stepdads begin to see their stepchildren as an extension of themselves as the years go by.
Depending on how much time you spend with your stepchild or stepchildren, you may feel those pangs of jealousy creeping up on you. There may be times when you feel like your relationship with your stepchild/stepchildren couldn’t get any better, and then mom shows up, and you feel like chopped liver.
It may also be hard to see your partner with the biological mother at special events involving your stepchild or stepchildren, but this is a situation that’s going to be about as permanent as they come. Ask yourself how well you deal with having to stand in the background at times because there will be times when it’s necessary and realistic.
Get in tune with what sets you off the most emotion-wise, accept it, and find a way to live peacefully with those emotions so that you can function within your family.
3. How strong is my relationship with my partner?
You and your partner are the reason all of this is happening. You fell in love, you want to be together, and your partner has a child or children from a previous relationship.
If you think you need a strong partnership with a person before you have children together, then get ready for the adventure of raising stepchildren.
Becoming a stepmother is a promise. A promise to love more than just the person you fell in love with. You’ll be caring for the person or people whom your partner loves the most in the entire world.
Your stepchild or stepchildren will take time away from you, and time away from you and your partner together. It’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of bickering, irritation and miscommunication.
In other words, be ready for some “relationship trial by fire”.
Not only do you have to deal with the mother of your stepchildren and the potential tension that brings, but you and your partner will both need to be on relatively the same page as far as boundaries, discipline, and scheduling.
Every day brings with it more complexities, changes, and emotions that can disrupt whatever routine you potentially set in place.
It’s already a struggle many times for parents to agree on how they both want to raise their children. As the stepmother of your partner’s children, you’ll have to compromise both with your partner’s ideas of how things should work, as well as the biological mother and her side of the family.
There’s always going to be someone left out of a decision-making process somewhere along the line. Perhaps not intentionally, but it happens.
This is where the old faithful solution of communication comes into play. If there’s no productive communication, then there’s bound to be more resentment and misunderstandings on the horizon.
Bottom line: You’re either in this with your partner, or you’re not. Being only half-in when dealing with children is not a great ground to start on. It’s best to be sure of your decision – for better or for worse – period.
4. Do I Have A Life Besides This?
It sounds odd, but this is an essential question to ask.
Every woman, mother, and stepmother needs to have something in her life that makes it her own. This must be something that has nothing to do with the children or a relationship.
This could be a hobby, exercise, career, friends, or simply anything that no one else can touch. In other words – an escape that makes you feel satisfied.
If you don’t have your own life – your own purpose – outside of your family life, you will soon be eaten alive by all of the day-to-day chores and frustrations of parenting stepchildren.
Having something to fall back on on those days where you feel completely drained and frustrated, is really the best kind of therapy.
More importantly, keeping your sense of identity will come in use later on in situations where your stepchild or stepchildren gravitate towards their biological parents more than they do to you.
In this way, you’ll always have something to lean on to distract you from any feelings of resentment that may come up.
In the realm of a stepmother, whether you’re doing some, half, or the majority of the care-taking, resentment will be a frequent visitor. This doesn’t mean you’re going to be miserable and unhappy, it just means that you’ll need to make sure you have other elements in your life that give you solace and relief from tough times.
One of the main differences between a biological mother and a stepmother is familiarity. While a mother knows her child’s expressions, habits, and moods like the back of her hand, a stepmother has to learn these things. It may take many years to do so.
Being a stepmom is a very exhausting process in its own right. Having a way to relieve stress for yourself is a must.
The healthier the stepmom, the better the entire family is. Like the old saying about “mama” being happy – “If step-mama ain’t happy, no one is happy”.
5. Am I Ready For Negativity, Comments, & Questions?
As with anything you do in life, becoming a stepmother is riddled with complexities, decisions, and other people’s opinions.
You’re going to need to be ready for the comments and questions other people make in your presence whether you like it or not. Some comments will be negative, and some will be supportive, depending on a person’s experiences or agenda.
People are curious creatures, some more tactful than others. People will ask you if you’re the “real mom,” who has custody, who makes child support payments, or how you and the biological mother get along.
Most people will assume that you and the biological mother don’t get along. But contrary to popular belief, many stepmoms and moms get along just fine.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that you will have good relations with the biological mother of your stepchildren, but it’s not impossible. It takes communication, patience, and empathy to build a functioning relationship with a biological parent – from both sides.
There are Facebook pages, online magazines, and a mass of quotes all over the internet devoted to stepmoms and moms who don’t get along. The idea of raising someone else’s children seems to play out well in the arena of internet negativity.
Try not to get sucked into that negativity, because when you have a bad day, you’re going to be tempted to reach out to any kind of comfort you can – including unnecessary drama.
Try subscribing to a more productive, positive support systems such as close friends, books, or an encouraging, uplifting internet group or online magazine.
People will always have something to say about your life. The best you can do is be sure of your decisions, confident in your abilities, and firm with your boundaries. Becoming a stepmom is not just something to try on for size.
Being a stepmom is a lifelong journey that affects many people besides yourself. The role of being a stepmom will change you forever, and it will change the life of your stepchild or stepchildren – hopefully for the better.
Michelle Zunter is a writer, podcaster, artist, mom, stepmom & wife. She writes about & discusses love, sex, marriage, divorce, parenting, step-parenting & much more. She’s the owner/blogger at The Pondering Nook, co-host at The Broad’s Way Podcast & persistently curious about life. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.