10 Parenting Tips Every Stepmom Must Know


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Flickr photo by midiman

Being a stepmom and finding your role in your stepchild's life can be tough.

To make it a smidge easier, Rachelle Katz, EdD, LMFT, author of the book The Happy Stepmother: Stay Sane, Empower Yourself, and Thrive in Your New Family, is here with us today to share 10 Parenting Tips Every Stepmom Must Know.

10 Parenting Tips Every Stepmom Must Know

Being a stepmother can be one of the most challenging roles in society, and one that often receives little support, understanding, and appreciation from others. In my book, The Happy Stepmother, I share 10 steps to thrive despite the frustrations that come with stepmotherhood, but here are 10 tips you can try right now to become a happier stepmother today:   

  1. Enjoy time with your stepchildren: Stepchildren should be assets, rather than liabilities, in your life. To have good relationships with them, you need to spend quality time with them and interact in meaningful, pleasurable ways. Since quality relationships are built from one-on-one interactions, spend private time with each of your stepchildren. Find common interests and activities, such as a hobby or a sport, to do with them. It's easier to develop a caring, loving, and friendly relationship with your stepchildren when you don’t have the burden of parental responsibilities and can simply enjoy your time together instead.  
  2. Allow your partner to actively take care of his children: If you want to have a good relationship with your stepchildren and your partner, don’t automatically become the primary housekeeper. Of course, you may do some tasks for your stepchildren, just as you would for other family members, but you'll become resentful if you feel you must fulfill all maternal duties for them -- especially if you don’t feel appreciated for what you do. You aren’t shirking stepmother duties if you don’t cook, clean, and do their laundry. Those are your partner’s jobs, even if you're staying home to care for your own biological children. In most cases, stepmothers should operate more as a babysitters or aunts than as parents. This will leave you more time for activities that provide you with the most meaning and pleasure.   
  3. Allow your partner to discipline his children: Remarried fathers need to step up to the plate when it comes to teaching their children appropriate behavior. Most mental health experts agree that it's your partner’s responsibility to discipline his children; if you discipline them, your stepchildren may resent you. Many stepmothers complain that their partners are too lax about providing structure and boundaries for their children after a divorce. When stepchildren misbehave, first focus your attention on your partner rather than the children. Let him know, gently and calmly, that you feel he needs to assert his authority in order to help his children grow and develop and feel secure and protected. If he isn’t capable of being a strong parent, then your life, his life, and your stepchildren’s lives will suffer.
  4. Establish house rules: In order to ensure mutual respect in the stepfamily, it's essential for you and your partner to develop a set of rules that everyone in the family must abide by. If your stepchildren are old enough, they can even participate in setting up these rules. Often, parents are amused to find that their children establish stricter punishments for breaking a rule than the adults would've done! When everyone in the family knows the house rules, you and your partner can back each other up when a transgression occurs. Working together as a team is important for you as a couple and teaches children that they can't “divide and conquer.”  
  5. Have a weekly date night with your husband: To be content as a stepmother and survive the stresses of stepfamily life, your relationship with your partner must be the most important priority in your life and his (right after your own well-being, which should always come first). Having fun together strengthens your relationship and makes it easier to get over the crises when they occur.  
  6. Accept that your feelings for your stepchildren and the feelings that your stepchildren have for you are “good enough”: Oftentimes, stepmothers feel pressured that they must love their stepchildren and expect their stepchildren to reciprocate that love in return. Love is an emotion that can’t be forced. If you love your stepchildren, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t, that’s also acceptable, as long as you provide kindness, compassion, and respect to them. No more and no less should be expected of you. When you remove expectations that you must love your stepchildren, it'll be easier just to be nice to them -- and in a genuine way. This can lead, eventually, to love.  
  7. Model good behavior: Our first challenge as stepmothers is to accept and welcome our stepchildren by being warm, kind, and respectful. The integration of a stepfamily begins with you and your partner. As mature, responsible adults, you have the job of laying the groundwork for the new family. You're the front-runner for modeling respect and compassion.  
  8. Don’t take it personally: Most of us as stepmothers try our hardest to be kind, considerate, and loving to our stepchildren. If our efforts are rebuffed, we naturally feel extremely hurt. Stepchildren may reject your attention and warmth for various reasons. Perhaps they feel that since they already have two parents, they don’t want a third one in their lives. They may be afraid their mothers will be hurt if they become close to you. They may not trust that your relationship with their father will last and don't want to experience loss again. Or they simply may not share your interests or temperament, and find it hard to relate to you. Any of these obstacles can take a long time to overcome, and the situation might not change at all despite your best efforts. Whatever the case, you need to accept things as they are for your own emotional welfare and not take stepchildren’s rejection of you as a personal attack.  
  9. Create your own holiday traditions: Holidays can be particularly painful for stepmothers who may be excluded from special occasions, such as weddings or Christmas, even after years of marriage to their partners. Other stepmothers can feel like outsiders at holiday gatherings. If you experience feelings of dread prior to certain family events, start your own traditions. Have an annual Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Easter gathering. You'll have more control when you host your own holiday celebrations.  
  10. Take charge of your own happiness: As a stepmother, it's of paramount importance for you to take care of your own emotional needs first, before everyone and everything else in your life. When you commit to making your emotional welfare the number one priority in your life, you'll be giving yourself the best shot at happiness. Attaining happiness requires hard work and a willingness to expend energy creating a meaningful life. We do this by focusing on what we want and then taking action to get it. Take charge! 

Stay tuned for a chance to win Rachelle's book, coming soon on The Stir!

About the author: Rachelle Katz is the author of The Happy Stepmother, recently published by Harlequin Nonfiction. She's a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City and a stepmother coach.


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peasn... peasntatersmom

Being a stepmother is very difficult.  Thanks for this article.

madfoot madfoot

yeah, we have "fake thanksgiving" and "fake christmas" because we never get holidays with the kids -- rather than feeling bad about it, we turned into a joke. when the kids are older, they can ask their mom themselves why we were never allowed to have them for any holiday.

tazdvl tazdvl

Being a stepmother is hard, especially if the birth mother doesn't want anyone....including the birth father....in the childs life. I do think a stepmother should be able to discipline if the birth father isn't home, it isn't fair to the other kid(s) that did the same thing and are being disciplined and the step child gets to wait until her/his dad gets home to be disciplined.

Carey... Carey2006

I think this is VERY IMPORTANT.....Allow your partner to discipline his children!

Golfy... Golfygirl

These are great pieces of advice. I'd add just one more thing...As a stepmom, your next several years will be governed by the courts and the visitation schedule your spouse has with his kids. It can completely screw up some prior goals and plans you had with your spouse unless you choose to see the possibilities. You can choose to rebel against this calendar (and be miserable), or live with it and make it a win-win for you in some way. It's healthier to choose to see what benefits are in this schedule for you instead of thinking of what you are having to give up or sacrifice. The only thing you can control is your response/reaction. The day will come fast when the kids are grown and you will have all the time in the world to make plans, enjoy holidays, etc.

Been there and lived through it for 13 years. It's much easier now that the kids are grown, and holidays are a breeze. Sometimes we are even out of town for Christmas. If the kids can visit us, they know they are welcome any time, but if they can't come, I choose to see it as them just having crazy schedules. We don't bend over backwards to accomodate their schedules...we do what works for us. If we miss a holiday or birthday together, it's really no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Keep smilin'

Alish... Alisha132

Great social skills include good manners. Good manners include proper words. I don't think parenting tips are only applicable on step mother or step father I feel every parents should be follow it.

nonmember avatar Amanda

I feel the tip about discipline should be on a case by case. I've been a stepmom since my stepdaughter was 10 months old. She is now 2 and I am definitely allowed to discipline her. To me it would be crazy not to. Of course my husband and I have talked about it and made sure we agree on our methods. When our 2 month old daughter gets older she will face the same consequences her sister did for misbehaving.

Misty Dawn VanMeter

being a stepmother is very hard. my husband has a 1 year old and then we have a 6 month old together but we have been togeher for 2 years. she was pregnant when we got together but I stood beside him and loves his son as my own but the other mother seems to think I wanna play mommy to him and hates me for it and she decided she wanted to keep him from us we haven't seen him since he was 7 months old. all because she hates the fact that the fact that im in his life. I sure hope that within the years it gets better. because I love that little boy like my son and I would never do anything to hurt him but she seems to think different. anyone else have this issue?

nonmember avatar Erica

After 13 years together, and nine years of marriage, my husband told me to stay in a stepmoms place. My stepson

is 13 years old and I have been around him since he was born. I have never disciplined him, but I take care of him just as I take care of the three children my husband and I have together. I'm really bothered by this comment from my husband and I don't know what to do. Any advice?

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