Mom Monday: An Honest Stepmother

I am a mother and I have four beautiful children. Reading that first sentence you wouldn’t know that I am a stepmother, that only two of my children are “mine.”  As a mother, I believe I have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. As a stepmother, I KNOW I have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in over my head. Having had ZERO experience with children, school age kids were a bit much. When my husband and I first met, his children were already three and six years old. Taking a running start at and a dive into parenthood is much different than testing the waters and learning along the way.

Each family situation is different, so allow me to explain mine. Aiden and Christiana are my two stepchildren; we have shared custody and see them about four days a week. When I was introduced to them, they addressed me by my name. We have never asked them to call me by anything else. I feel asking them to call me “Mom” would just make problems worse, much worse. When I say “problems,” I’m not talking about sibling rivalry or a problem child; I am talking about problems that only a stepparent will understand.

Deep down, I have two fears as a stepmother, (1) that they will blame me for destroying their family and taking their daddy away and (2) that, since Aiden and Christiana address me by my name, my other two children will as well. This may sound completely ridiculous to you, but I worry about this everyday. To make matters worse, the first has already happened, twice. As is expected with any big change, children react, whether it be acting out or going through a quiet phase. They all need to express how it affects them. My stepson Aiden went though a quiet phase after his parents’ divorce, and he still hasn’t quite gotten out of it. He prefers to play by himself and would honestly rather read than do most other activities. Christiana, on the other hand, is the most emotional little girl I have ever had the privilege to meet. The sweetest little girl turns into the child parents whisper about in grocery stores: “My kid will never act like that.”

My darling stepdaughter and I had never had any issues until my firstborn. That’s when the jealousy started. I spent the entire summer taking them to the water park, going to museums and playgrounds, and when my daughter was born that following October, it didn’t matter. “You never do anything fun with us anymore, you’re not fun anymore” and “when do we go back to momma’s? I’m bored.” Shortly after this drama, I found a pen and paper in Christiana’s’ bedroom, since little miss wall artist isn’t allowed to have pens in her room, I asked her to come in and tell me what she colored on. She immediately burst into tears. I was expecting pajamas or her mattress, but she actually wrote on paper. “Heidi is dumb, I hate her so much, I wish she didn’t live here and mommy and daddy lived together, I want her to go away…” You get the picture. I took the note, kindly and calmly asked her to play in her room for a little while, and walked to my room crying my eyes out as I closed the door behind me.

Here is where I tell you how to address a situation like this and how to make everything better, only I haven’t figured it out yet.  I know this because it happened again. About a month ago, Christiana got into trouble again and she wasn’t allowed to play with her friends that day. Shortly after, she had forgotten and when her friend came and knocked on the door, I reminder her that she wasn’t allowed to play. This ended up being the biggest tantrum in the history of tantrums and it ended with more than one person crying. Being reminded that you aren’t their mother, you are just the woman who married their father is difficult. Being screamed at and told you make a child feel left out and as if you don’t want her in your family is even harder. I understand that she is a child and take her age into consideration, but its hard when someone is deliberately saying hateful things. I again kindly asked her to stay downstairs and calm down, walked upstairs and started crying in my bedroom.

It makes it a little easier if your spouse is willing to help fix the issue, but when you feel like you’re the issue, its hard not to walk away. I honestly would not still be married to my husband if we didn’t have children. I love him, I love his children, I love our family. But it takes all of my will power to hold back tears and control my emotions and not pack up and run away.

Part of our issue is that there is no consistent parenting. I have become the “punisher,” as my husband has so kindly labeled me, because we have rules at our house. We have tried talking to his ex-wife about parenting and finding a middle ground for punishment, but have failed many times. Both families agreed that we will no longer use physical contact as a form of punishment (however, this only became an issue after I was wrongfully accused of beating one of the kids), so we haven’t spanked in over two years. We have privileges in our house: television, video games, friends, playing outside, crafts, and toys. If rules are not followed, then the children start losing those privileges. This has been much more effective in the long run and it works three-fourths of the time they are at our house. Their mother made the grand statement, “I will be the cool fun mom and my children will actually WANT to come to my house, so I’m not punishing them.” So every Friday, when they return to our house, we spend our time in transition phase from no rules and no chores, to a household that runs in a some-what-functional way.

There are, however, a few things I have learned that help make life manageable and enjoyable. Take it or leave it–I am not perfect–but if these help me stay and be a mother to FOUR children, then I hope it can help someone else. Pick your battles, control your emotions, compromise, and organize. I honestly feel that these can be used with any children, not just stepchildren, but it’s what I learned from being married into a family.

  • Pick you battles: You do not need to punish a child for EVERY LITTLE THING! They are just kids and need to make mistakes and learn on their own. So when my kids don’t take turns or share, I don’t punish them and I try not to interfere. Most of the time, they can figure things out on their own. A few times it has ended with someone crying and someone even getting hurt and THAT is when I investigate, get all sides of the story, and find a solution.
  • Control your emotions: When my stepdaughter said all those hateful things, she wasn’t controlling her emotions. She was upset and that’s just what came out. You want nothing less than to have that to happen to you, and you accidentally say something in the heat of the moment. Example “Because of you, we are getting a divorce.” You need to calm down before something like that happens, and, if you are a pro-spanking family, you want to control your anger so you don’t hit your kid when it isn’t necessary or harder than expected. This is what time-out is for. Not for just for children,  but for parents as well. Take a few minutes to collect yourself and address the situation.
  • Compromise: You and your partner need to work together. If he has rules and you have rules, the children can get confused. I realize you may be the stay-at-home parent so you make and enforce all the rules, but if your spouse doesn’t know about, agree to, or understand YOUR rules, it’s inconsistent. Remember that they are THEIR children as well and do have a say in parenting. (This is where I struggle the most)
  • Organize: I strongly suggest you set aside some time for each child so they all feel special and loved. Keep each month organized and planned so you have time for everyone. This will also cut a lot of stress in your life, making it easier to control your emotions.

I cannot promise that being a stepparent will get easier, but here’s hoping. My children are only nine, seven, two, and three months old. There are still many ups and downs to come, but we will try our hardest to continue to be a family. I am anything but perfect, all I can do is my best. I love my children, MY children, all four of them.


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About the author

Xza Louise Higgins is the founder of MommyCon, creator of The Mommy Dialogues, and punk rock mom to two year old Atticus in the great city of Chicago, IL. She is incredibly passionate about birth options, human rights, and promoting gentle parenting practices.

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  1. Risa -  August 27, 2012 - 9:46 am

    I love this so much. Even though I am not a step parent my husband is and we had to coparent with another individual. We have rules and punishments and that other parent does not. It’s incredibly frustrating. If and when my daughter decides she needs to unload on my husband about “not being her dad” and all that jazz (I am very thankful it hasn’t happened quite yet) I feel like it would be my job to correct it and deal with it. I admire your love and dedication to your family. One day those kids will be so thankful that they had a stepmother who cared for them and helped to raise them.

  2. Korrie Y -  August 27, 2012 - 9:57 am

    Thank you so much for writing this! My OH has 3 beautiful daughter and we have an 9month old boy together we are not married but we have talked about it. We have his daughters every other weekend, they are 11,8, and 6. I struggle with the fact that I am 22 years old and can potentially be a mom of 4 kids 3 of which aren’t mine. I want another child on day but I’m constantly reminded that we would have 5 kids and the problems would only get worse. His youngest and and I have a different relationship than the two oldest she blames me for her parents not being married, even though they were divorced for 2 years before we met. It seems that every weekend everyone is here we tend to fight more and the stress level in our house goes up. I am the punisher also their father doesn’t get involved until I get frustrated(It drives me crazy). I don’t want to be the evil stepmom. I love his girls and they love me but it’s a task I never expected to take on at such a young age.It is honestly one of the things keeping me from marrying him.

  3. Maria -  August 27, 2012 - 10:25 am

    I love this post so much!! I am also a stepmother to 2 amazing children, and have 2 of my own. Our journey has been easier than most, I feel, and for that I am VERY thankful. I just wanted to give some advice about the issue of your children calling you by name. My stepkids called me mama when they were babies. When they became toddlers, their mom ask that they call me by name. That was fine until I had my first son and he started calling me by name before he said mama. So we went back to the big kids calling me mama until their mom took issue with it again. I let her know that I didn’t ask them to call me mom because I was trying to “take her place”. It was just to teach my baby what to call me. So the rule at our house is they can call me by name if they are talking *to* me, but if they are talking *about* me to their little brothers, they call me mama. Being a stepparent is one of the scariest and hardest jobs, but it is also very rewarding.
    My 5 yr old stepson-“Maria, our mom is the best mom and you’re the best stepmom. I love both my moms.”

  4. Lara -  August 27, 2012 - 2:07 pm

    I think step-parenting is THE hardest role to play. My stepsons are 9 and 7 and my daughter is 7 months. Until recently, they were with us 50% of the time. Now they are with us full time. As hard and emotionally exhausting as it has been, if I got to go back to the beginning, i would still choose this life. It’s complicated, but it can be beautiful and inspiring.

  5. Jaimie Fisher -  August 27, 2012 - 7:20 pm

    What a great post. I’m a stepmom to a 8 year old boy. We all got along fine until our first daughter turned one. My stepson is used to being the center of everyones attention and everything revolving around him. Which was fine until we started our family. Now he is unable to function in our family. We have big issues with attention and sharing, whether that’s toys or dads attention. We also have a tense environment every time he’s here and he has just started saying he doesn’t want to come here any more. Breaks my heart but I can’t imagine having a family that revolves around one person.

  6. Akira -  August 28, 2012 - 2:23 pm

    Omg. This is an amazingly honestly and appreciated post.

  7. Ashley C -  August 29, 2012 - 3:20 pm

    Thank you for this post. I recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, my first child but my fiancées fourth. I have 3 step children that live out of state and I feel a little bad to say I’m thankful for that. They are 11, 10, and 9 two girls and a boy with whom I HAD an amazing relationship until my baby was born. I feel like they resent me and my home turns into total chaos the second their Dad turns around. I love them but I often worry what it will be like as my baby girl gets older, especially seeing the way his youngest daughter behaved when she stayed with me for a week.

  8. Aimee -  November 26, 2012 - 1:15 pm

    I love this. I am a step mother to a wonderful little six year old boy. I have known him his whole life (his father and I have been friends for 12 years now) and I have been his “step mother” for almost three years. I am very involved with him, we have shared custody as well. Wednesday, Thursday and every other Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But I am in a similar position, we now have a 13 month old son together and his big brother ADORES him. But here’s the thing, his mom is very lax. She has a 7 month old son with an unknown man (this really threw the six year old through a loop) and this child was born addicted to opiates. Much to our dismay, the state did not remove either child from her and we have been fighting for sole custody with no success. Needless to say, after spending 5 days with his mom, coming back to our house is usually rough. While he tells us “I don’t have rules at mommy’s house”, he also acknowledges that we spend a lot of one on one time with him doing “fun stuff”. Like any child, he CRAVES attention that he does not get at his mom’s house. He is spoiled with toys, snacks and no bedtimes over there, but he recognizes that at our house, we are strict but we have family night every Sunday, we color, we build dog houses and bird houses and do arts and crafts and go yard sale-ing and walking and play in his tree fort that he and his dad built. But I often find myself in the “punisher” role as well. His dad feels bad for what he is going through with his mom and doesn’t want to discipline him too much, but I feel he needs to be kept in-line (we don’t feel physical discipline is necessary) but we do a lot of rewarding. He gets allowance (more than I would care to give a 6 year old), he gets “TV Time” before bed and special treats on the weekend when he’s done well in school. Being a Stepmommy is NOT fun and only gets more complicated when you add more children in the mix, but I wouldn’t change my relationship with him for the world. I’m scared for the day when he holds “you’re not my mom” against me, but until then, I will just enjoy him and us for what we are. 🙂

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