Stepmoms, is it time for you step back?

Photo credit: Idea go

Many stepmoms enter into their new family, and before they know it — without warning — find themselves providing transportation for the kiddies, cooking for the family after a long day of work, making sure homework gets done, dealing with their husband’s ex, and doing many other energy-draining tasks.

Unfortunately, when they come up for air, they find they’re all alone.

Left to defend themselves against Mama Tiger, left to take on parental responsibilities that aren’t really theirs, and sometimes even left to act as a mediator between the two households.

And in the end, they’re left wondering, “Where is my husband? I do for everyone, but when I need some help, why is there no one around?”

If you’re one of those women, I ask you:  is this the life you envisioned for yourself when you met your husband?

I doubt it.

You see, stepmoms have a tendency to want to fix everything. This usually includes an attempt at cleaning up messes that aren’t theirs. That could be anything from baggage between their husband and his ex, to trying to provide what they think the kids need, but aren’t getting from their parents.

This inevitably leaves the stepmom feeling spent, frustrated, resentful and powerless.

When asked how they ended up like this, a common answer among stepmoms is “Because no one else will do it, so I have to.”

Perhaps your husband would rather avoid conflict than address uncomfortable issues.  Maybe he’s a people pleaser, trying to keep the peace at all costs.

Maybe he’s just tired.

The thing is, his behavior, that avoidance may work for him, but it’s not going to work for you or your relationship. Your marriage will suffer. It probably already has.

Because when you’re working tirelessly for HIS kids, only for them to disrespect you yet again (or at least, that’s what it can feel like) — and you look to your husband for support and he’s nowhere to be found, the resentment is hard to hide. It will cause a rift, which if left unchecked, may cause irreparable damage.

Luckily, the solution is in your hands. You hold the power!

Here’s the thing.

Why would your husband step up, when you’re already doing everything for him?

People are always going to do what’s easiest for them, and if you’re taking care of all the stuff that is really his to do, he’s going to let you.

Anyone in their right mind would.

By taking on his responsibilities as a father and ex-husband, you’re showing him it’s OK for him stand down, to disappear. You’re basically saying, “It’s OK dear, I got this.”

You’re enabling his behavior.

Which means you also have the power to stop enabling the behavior, by stepping back and letting your husband handle the stuff that is his to handle.

This has been said over and over again in the stepmom world, yet women still find one reason or another not to do it.

If you need a break from shuttling the kids back and forth, then take it. (Replace “shuttling the kids” with any activity that causes you stress.) It’s the parent’s responsibility to find alternative methods of transportation.

If your husband’s ex-wife finds you an easy target for her anger against him, set YOUR boundaries and let him know what you need from him.  It’s his responsibility to be protecting you from his baggage. He should be acting as your safety net, keeping out the bad stuff.

Joel Schwartzberg said something that I whole-heartedly agree with: “Every husband should have an opt-out clause for his wife.

Meaning, at any time, a stepmom should be able to say “No honey, I’m not able to do x,y and z for you or the kids today.” And the husband should be okay with that.

Being a stepmom should not mean being a door mat. If you find yourself uncomfortable, unable to laugh, constantly frustrated, stressed to the bone, wondering what you got yourself into, you’re probably doing too much.

I’m passionate about this stuff because I live it, but luckily, I’m on the other end of the spectrum.

My husband absolutely supports me and steps up when he needs to. He IS my knight in shining armor. He’s my safety net. If he weren’t, I never would have agreed to marry him, because the situation would be intolerable.

And I refuse to be okay with that.

What are you saying “okay” to that you don’t want to?

I know it’s scary, and I know you might think you’re doing a disservice to the kids if you step back, because maybe he WON’T get the kids to practice on time, or maybe they WILL miss a homework assignment because you weren’t there to remind them to do it. Or maybe you can’t bear the thought of them being caught in the middle of their parents’ battle.

But eventually, when he sees you’re not going to rescue him, he WILL step up.

And that lesson is far more valuable than any cost the family will pay for you stepping back.

Look at this way: By setting this boundary, you’re helping him to grow.

You may find this hard to believe, but it’s not your job to make life easier for everyone else, especially when doing so makes life more difficult for you.

And if by chance he never steps up, then ask yourself if this is the life you want for yourself? Is this the type of man you want to spend your life with? And what IS your quality of life, if you can’t remember what it’s like to feel free because you’re so busy dealing with  crap that isn’t yours?

I’m not saying it’s easy to do. For some, it will be extremely difficult and unnatural. But can you imagine anything being harder than what you’re doing right now?

And if in the end, you decide you WILL continue to sacrifice your own sanity for the sake of someone else’s children and choices, then that is your choice.

And the blame cannot be placed anywhere else.

Many stepmoms before you have chosen to step back and have been deeply rewarded with a more fulfilling life. Even their husbands will testify that being forced to step-up gave them a sense of “showing  up” in their children’s lives.

I always say, “Start with baby steps.”

What’s one responsibility you’ve taken on that isn’t yours? Begin with that. Have a conversation with your husband. Explain to him that you need a break from it.

You deserve it.

And everyone will benefit.

© 2011 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. I swear — we need an official dance for the Stepmom Stepback.

    I read this and was shouting AMEN!!!! to you and to my computer. Great post Jenna. Absolutely fantastic and so spot on!

    I know for myself, when I started to step back, I saw things so much more clearly and I discovered ME again. My husband would tell you that we all survived my reawakening and that we’ve had a stronger marriage because of it.

    So Kudos to you for writing this!

  2. Thanks, Erin! Yep, I thought it was time to say it :). I know it’s scary for these women, but it’s like a secret weapon they have and don’t even know it! They often feel powerless, but really the power is in their hands :).

  3. I wrote a blog post about the stepmom stepback a year ago (http://www.erinexperiment.com/2010/02/learning-art-of-stepmom-stepback.html) and have tried to help many stepmoms realize it’s ‘okay’ to step back. In fact, it will save your sanity!

  4. Yes! It’s an excellent post. I just think it needs to be said over and over, especially because every day there are new stepmoms who have never heard this stuff :).

  5. Paulie Crone says:

    My husband HATES dealing with his ex-wife, and sometimes she’ll talk to me and sometimes she won’t. NOTHING gets resolved………NOTHING! There is NO communication between the two homes, any unity and no-co-parenting. And now that my step son is in his junior year of high school and college hunting, preparation and assistance on keeping him focused is in high need, there has never, since the time I’ve been involved, been more of a need for communication. I get SO frustrated, and yes I want to fix everything but at the same time I’m on the verge of throwing in the towel. If he doesn’t make it to the college of his choice, if he doesn’t get the guidance he needs to stay focused, not my issue to deal with, it’s the parents. But I personally have a hard time with throwing in the towel because he’s child in need of the tools for success. AURGH!!!!

  6. Jennifer says:

    Erin, you know I’ve linked to your post many a time, right?! And I agree with Jenna, we need to keep up the chorus….

  7. Stacy Nixon says:

    I am a step-mom and a bio-mom. I have a great relationship with my daughter’s step-mom however, my stepson’s mother hates my guts!! I have tried to help her out and do my husband’s job but a few months ago, I gave up. My situation sounds similar to Pauline’s in that there is never any communication. We are never invited to attend school functions and are always being blamed for the child’s “problems.” When it is our parenting time, she calls and interrupts until the child wants to go back home. It has been a complete nightmare!! I have thrown in the towel too, after all he’s not even my son. :(

  8. Hey ladies, I don’t look at it as “giving up” or “throwing in the towel”. Both of those have the tone of defeat. This is about getting your own sanity back so you CAN be there for your husbands while he deals with the crap that is his to deal with. We’re no good to our families if we’re miserable.

    Stacy, as far as her calling and interrupting, what kind of boundaries are placed so she doesn’t do that? If your husband has asked her to stop and she refuses, can you just not answer? Turn off the ringer? Sometimes we have to creative with these things :).

  9. Paulie Crone says:

    I WON’T give up, just needed to vent! A child is never worth giving up on. I will continue to try strengthening the lines of communication. Communication is the key to success!

  10. Ahh yes, venting, always welcome here ;) I’m more curious to know what is your husband doing to strengthen the lines of communication? Remember, if you’re on the verge of insanity, it’s not your fight.

  11. Paulie Crone says:

    My husband is wonderful! Is very appreciative of everything I do for my stepson and he communicates this to me constantly however when it comes to communicating with the ex he does very little. He just does not want to deal with her at all. He will reply to her text messages with one or two word replies. “ok”, “that’s fine”, “got it” and that is about the extent of the communication between them. They do not talk on the phone or even email each other. With that there are many things that fall through the crack or do not get resolution, clarity or unity.

  12. That’s great, Paulie! It really makes all the difference in the world to have your husband verbally acknowledge all that you do :)

  13. Stacy Nixon says:

    Jenna ~

    The problem is that the step-child has his own cell phone that she calls and texts him (constantly). We are not allowed to touch his phone and he says that he doesnt have to listen to us and put the phone down. Yet the mother will tell us to our faces how she only wants him to be a part of the family. She is so contradictory and two-faced that it is hard to tell when she is being sincere and telling the truth. We have almost decided to give up and wait for the child to “realize” what is really going on. We are considered the “enemy” and I was even told to “not try to rear him while he’s here.” Straight from the horse’s mouth. (no pun intended!) There’s so much more going on with his grades and health and he’s on several medications that she decides when he gets them. It is an absolute nightmare. I don’t want to take it to court because I think it will harm the child more. Should we just back off and wait to see what happens?

  14. Hi Stacey, so wait, are you telling me that the child is the one calling the shots in your house? I’m taking this parenting class for “strong-willed” children. And what we learned is that we can’t control our children, but we can control their things! That means the child’s father can absolutely take away the child’s cell phone. And anything else that is under your roof. How does your husband react to this child’s defiance?
    Clearly, the moms words and actions are contradictory, so you can kind of come to expect that, right? You can’t control what she says or does. But you and your husband can absolutely control what goes on in your household. In fact, that’s really the only thing you CAN control. I know it’s MUCH easier said than done, but it can be done.

  15. Hello Ladies…I came in search of some balance. Unlike some of the other step-moms, I do have a good relationship with my boyfriends ex-wife and we, as a couple, have good communication with her and her husband. He is great at acknowledging that I am a positive influence for their girls and often thanks me for doing everything I do for them. However, now that we live together, I find that my style of dealing with things is different than his and I guess you could say I’m more matter of fact. He definitely does his part and makes sure they don’t disrespect me. I guess my issue is that I don’t want to be looked at as the “evil step-parent” because I do discipline when I have to and I do not stand back and let them walk all over me. I’m trying to find that balance…is there one? ha..I’m sure you noticed that I said he’s my boyfriend, but we do live together, we have been together for 2 years and the girls have referred to me as step-mom. Anyhow, thank you for writing this post :)

  16. Hi Ana, I love hearing stories like yours! Your boyfriend supports you and you both have a good relationship with the mom. Sounds like a recipe for success! I do understand your concern about seeming like the “evil stepmom”, since you discipline the children, but you can definitely find that balance. I don’t know how old your stepchildren are, but it sounds like they accept your discipline when you offer it? I think as long as you recognize there is a need to compromise and you don’t constantly come down on the kids for everything, and when you DO discipline them it’s in a respectful way and not in a nasty way, they won’t see you as evil. You sound like a pretty balanced woman, so I highly doubt you’re being unreasonable in your discipline. Also, it helps to have lots of “fun” moments with the kids too, bonding moments. So make sure you create those as well :)

  17. Thank you! It’s nice to feel reassured. The girls are 8 and almost 5. They do accept the discipline for the most part, but when they don’t he is always there to support me and makes sure they know that. I do feel like I’m constantly coming down on them for stuff & then I have to remind myself that they are kids. As easy as its been to love them & have a relationship with them, it is still an adjustment for me since I don’t have kids of my own. So, thank u again for the reassurance! :)

  18. Wow, amen, and wow again. What an awesome post! Thank you.

  19. Hi, thsi is great site when needed to vent or just get advise. I’m also a step and bio mom. I have been a stepmom for 8yrs. I don’t know where to draw the line. I can talk to ex more then my husband. The bio mom has now starting to put a guilt trip on me. My husband work and I have been home for 5yrs due to my Ramsey Hunt II. The biomom knows all about the illness. Knowing this and being home she calls me to take stepchild to pratices. Well I felt I needed to draw the line when I sad I couldn’t commit to the days she needed me. She sent a message saying what is she suppose to do then??? She said I have to work too. I can’t just leave work every other day to take her. Sooooo…..I felt like she cross the line that one I say no she blows up. I told my husband that I’m not here to make her life easy at their house hold when she is with her mom. But if she is at our home in husbands care then it is my duty to help as much as I can. When do you draw the line??? I feel like what would she do if I did work?? What if I have a bad day with illness and couldn’t make it to stepchild? I do feel like a door mat. The thing is I do feel bad not doing it. I’m I a bad stepmom for not helping her biomom out with her? What do you think???

  20. Hi Tonya, I’d say that it’s not your job to be a child-care provider for mom. It sounds like you help out when you can and that’s very generous of you, but it’s certainly not required. As you said, mom is responsible for child care when she has her child. It sounds like maybe mom has come to expect you to step up anytime she needs you. Setting a simply boundary by letting her know you’re no available every time she needs something is absolutely reasonable. You can say something like “I won’t be available to help you as often as I used to.” If you prefer to have advanced notice when she needs you, you can request that of her. You can also offer to help her find alternative solutions, if that makes you feel better, but you have no obligation to. She’ll push back, as you’ve already experienced, but she’s an adult and she’ll find her way, eventually.

  21. I love love love your post! I have been a step mom for 4 years to an intolerable child. In the beginning I tried to be super step-mom because my husband has full custody of his son but then I realized it was allowing him to take a back seat. Not to mention the stepson was constantly lying to DH about everything playing “victim” So after much resistance from DH I stopped everything. my new motto is “your kid, your problem”

  22. I have a question. I have been a member of varied stepmom groups for years. While I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment here, I notice a lot of SM’s become SAHM’s. They too have brought children into the marriage. I also find these type SM’s being frustrated but are more than happy to have their new spouse support them….their children from another union and maybe a child or 2 in between them AND want to back away from doing ANY duties for the mans children. I tend to think these marriages are the ones who are most rocky due to not setting clear boundaries of roles within the household. If you are going to play “mom” with his money for your kids, it might look….well, a little biased if you don’t want to help lil’ Suzie with her homework or Lil’ Johnny get home from ball practice even if they are being difficult. He’s dealing and paying for your kids….it’s the least you can do.

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