The Evil Step-Mother

She is everywhere.

The evil step-mother in Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel (technically not a step-mother, but acts as one). Who else? I’m sure I’m leaving a few big ones off the list. Step-mothers have an awful, awful reputation and are often the scape goat of blame for many blended family issues.

Yesterday in the car Lily and I were on a much anticipated trip to Target. Just the two of us. Almost before we were out of the driveway a week’s worth of thoughts poured out of her head. The day before I had lost my temper when she and Benjamin and I went to DSW hunting for children’s shoes. After finding out they don’t have any there we had to leave the store empty handed and the two of them were both grumbling and whining about “not getting anything.” As a step-mother who is borderline spoiling all of them with gifts and clothes I should have taken a deep breath and blamed myself for their behavior but instead I said, “You two are acting like spoiled brats.”

I try to never do this. But it happens. We have three kids. We have a lot on our plates and every once in a while, one of us loses it. And today it was my turn. I calmed myself in the car and then explained what I meant.

“You are wonderful, beautiful people. You are. But what I saw in there, wasn’t you. I don’t know who those kids were and I can’t believe you were acting like that. So, we’re going home. No Build-A-Bear, no Lego store adventure. Home.”

The car ride home was silent and Lily was devastated. Not because we couldn’t go to the stores, because she really isn’t a spoiled brat. She’s not. She’s one of the kindest, sweetest little girls I have ever met. She was upset because I had lost my temper at her.

Now here we were in the car alone, sans Benjamin. Treasuring our alone time when she gets it, Lily dove right into conversation, spilling her thoughts to me one after the other.

She started with a thought a friend of hers had. The girl is also the child of separated parents and had described her own life as “horrible”. When she told Lily her life was horrible as well because her parents were divorced, Lily disagreed. She was relaying the entire conversation to me.

“I told her, ‘no, my life isn’t horrible at all, it’s actually pretty happy’ and then she said, ‘but it must be horrible because mine is’ and then I said, ‘no, it just isn’t',”

“You’re right, Lily. You are a happy. And you have to remember that each of us has a different experience with different things. So, while she thinks her parents separating ruined her life, you don’t. That’s probably because you have a wonderful father and a wonderful mother who want to make you happy. And you didn’t get an evil step-mother.”

“Well, you are evil sometimes.”

Seth and I have a policy of letting the kids air their feelings, whatever they may be. And we’ve heard them all. Believe me. Benjamin once told me he wanted Cohen to live in a house in the back yard and Lily once said Benjamin was the root of all of her sadness. So, this–this was nothing.

“Just because I get mad every once in a while doesn’t make me evil.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

“Listen, I’m going to get mad and you’re going to get mad, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less. It just happens because we’re a family and families fight.”

While researching books about step-motherhood on Amazon for our blended family resource page I stumbled across the most frightening batch of comments. I mean, absolutely frightening. Take this one as an example,

“Since many won’t read this review in its entity, I must get this out right now…If you are contemplating marriage to a man with children then let me share a secret that no one shared with me… There isn’t anything fun about a step family, and to elaborate, there is nothing fun about being a stepmom. I thought that step-motherhood was a mission I could undertake and I thought my gain was going to be far greater than my loss. I assure you… I was wrong!! No one warned me AT ALL of what I was facing and I am straight up pissed off about that. Being a step-mother makes for a difficult, lonely life and it doesn’t ever feel like a real family. So I hate to sound bitter here, but the fact is, I am bitter. Save yourself the heartache. This is not what marriage (or family) was intended to be. Read this book and take heed! If you are not moved to seriously reevaluate your decision to marry this man, then you are a hopeless optimist. You will, throughout your marriage, be able to relate to damn near every sentence in this book.”

See? Terrifying? I read this and immediately went into a mental tailspin. Upon further exploration, I was able to determine that this woman did not have children prior to marrying her husband, had little support in parenting from him and he had older pre-teen and teenaged daughters.

There were more positive comments, such as this one:

“My personal take-away message from this book was that, as stepparents and stepchildren, we are, to each other, non-essential personnel and must strive to form our bonds based upon civility and mutual respect (picking up after oneself doesn’t hurt either!). We don’t have to a have a perfect relationship or one that mimics the biological parent-child relationship. Rather, the stepparent-stepchild relationship can take many forms, ranging from a close, warm, family-like interaction to an arms-length but cordial experience, depending upon each individual. Most importantly, a stepmom owes it to herself to carefully evaluate what she can and cannot give her stepchildren in order to preserve her family and avoid burn-out.”

I am incredibly lucky in that Seth and I have a few things working in our favor: 

1. Seth and I both put our relationship first. He doesn’t take sides with the kids and we discuss all disciplinary decisions or family communication issues with each other. We also listen to each other without reacting defensively. This is critical and from many of the comments on Amazon is appeared the step-mothers did not have support from their husbands. I can’t even imagine having a husband who bows down to the kids demands out of guilt for re-marrying or one who can’t communicate about these issues, because they are huge issues. 

2. We understand that we can’t expect the other to love our children as much or in the same way as we love our own. It’s just not possible and I think anyone who expects a significant other to miraculously wake up feeling this way about step-children is digging their own relationship grave. It’s unrealistic.

3. The children were young when we met. Cohen was five and Lily was six. I can’t imagine marrying a man with teenagers.

So far, for me, the biggest challenges of being a step-mother are:

- Adjusting to the sudden presence of three children, not just one.
- Dividing my time between all three, they do crave and demand my attention in their own way
- Handling the fact that Benjamin and I are outnumbered by Seth, Lily and Cohen. I am very sensitive to Benjamin’s experience as well and may overreact when I think Lily or Cohen are picking on him or at him.

I would love your thoughts on this, as I am a total newbie at step-motherhood. What do you think about those Amazon comments? Read more of them here.

26 Responses to The Evil Step-Mother
  1. Deanna G Reply

    Well, it seems we both left single motherhood for blended familyhood. :) we have my two kids half time, we have his son full time, and I am five months pregnant with ours. It has been a wild journey. It was huge for us to realize we can’t expect to love the others child like our own.

    • alaina Reply

      Yes… that’s been something we have come to realize ourselves. I think it happened when I caught myself expecting him to love Benjamin like his own and for calling him out for treating them differently, but then I realized a) that was too much to ask and b) that I was doing the same. It doesn’t mean we don’t love the kids to death, we do – but it’s just different. I wonder how the new baby may change things – does that make you nervous? excited?

  2. Joni Reply

    Wow, my first time responding to one of your posts….and I have been reading your blog for over 3 years. Here goes:
    I am engaged to a man with 2 sons ages 9 and 11. I have an 11 year old son, a 9 year old daughter and a 6 year old son. That’s 5 children!!!
    We have been living together for over 2 years and it has not been easy at times. Currently we are not seeing his children much due to his ex-wife being a control freak and not allowing us visitations. Its in the court process and the family assessment is completed, well in our favor.
    Anyway, what we have noticed is that for sure, we do not love each others kids as we love our own. You are right, it is not possible. The children try to play us against each other, and when that happens whatever they are trying to achieve is denied, plus they will lose video game privilages or whatever else they hold dear. Sometimes they get away with it because we don’t know they played the other parent first. Me and my man have great communication, so we uncover it perhaps later in the day. At which point the child is grounded for such behaviour.
    At one time we had a complete meltdown because I felt I had a situation under control with my children, and he overstepped my domain (so to speak). It got ugly, and he stepped out for the rest of the day and did some research into councelling for blended families. Which we went to for a few months to learn how to handle situations such as those.
    I truly believe that if the man and woman stand united and make it very known that you are 1 team, that we love each other and are not going anywhere. The children soon learn who is the boss. (Not in a bossy sense, but in a guidance and strength kinda way).
    In our family we have amazing success. The work was really hard the first year or 2, and it is getting much easier. I realize that too will change once his kids are around more. Every day is a new day to learn. The loyalty needs to be there and the commitment.
    It’s so hard sometimes. But because we both have children, we understand. I don’t know how it would work if either one did not have previous children.

    • alaina Reply

      Joni,

      Well! It’s about time. Thank you for finally commenting. ; ) I’m with you, I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if one of us didn’t have kids. I guess I lived through that with John (my ex) and in the end it just didn’t work out. Thanks again for commenting.

  3. Annie Reply

    Ugh. Comments are a scary thing sometimes.
    We are blending, and it’s a lot to handle. I think the expectation for step-parents to automatically love your kid as much as you do is the biggest red flag for failure. It’s hard work, and it’s hard to step back and let that relationship form. As a couple, and as parents, you have to try really hard to be on the same page, and sometimes you’re not. And that’s OK, as long as you keep talking. My son has autism and is 10 (acting “tweenie” already), and the bf has a 27 y.o. daughter who is apparently having a hard time with our relationship (we’ve been dating almost 3 years, long distance, and I’ve never met her). I’m not even going to pretend to be a step-mom to her, but it would be nice to meet her.

    We always come back to our relationship as a couple. We love each other too much to let anything tear us apart. We are stronger together, and have grown stronger because of this hard work of blending.

    • alaina Reply

      I love this, Annie. Thank you so much for sharing. Being on the same page is critical.

  4. Made Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing these types of experiences! I am dating a man with 3 girls- 10, 12 and 16. I have an 11 year old girl. Needless to say, at time it can be overwhelming. They seek out my attention as a female figure in their life but can turn around next minute and totally disrespect me
    after I feel like I have done so much. As well, I feel like when I’m with them, mine gets lost in shuffle and it’s been an experience for her going from center of attention to one of four.

    Needless to say, I like your realistic approach to it and I do think most importantly the couple has to try to be on same page and communicate!! And be realistic that it takes time.

    • alaina Reply

      Glad I’m not alone! It’s very hard going from one to three, can’t imagine what you are experiencing with three teens/pre-teens. Hang in there!

  5. Step-Aunt Reply

    I’m not a step-parent per-say as my boyfriend hasn’t been allowed to see his almost 14 year old son in 9 years but my sister has been a step-mother for 5 years and a bio-mom for 4 and I see her struggles on a daily basis.
    My advice for anyone with step-kids is communication. Not only with your partner but with the child’s other parent (mother/father whichever the case may be). I see my step-nephew struggling with his feelings of not being wanted or belonging whenever I get a chance to see him and it is devastating. He is such an amazing kid and so smart but because his mother and my sister cannot stand each other, he feels like he has to pick one over the other. And as a result, his relationships with his baby sister, his step-mother, father, and his extended family are very strained. Through no fault of his own, it’s just so hard for him to come from his mom’s house where there aren’t really rules to my sister’s house where there are rules and chores for both kids.
    The kids have to come first above anything else in my opinion and all parents, step and bio, should be involved in the complete raising up of said kids.

  6. JJ Reply

    Alaina,
    You and Seth are both very courageous. I was a step mother for 5 years (4 of them without my own child) and they were by far the hardest years of any relationship I have ever had. While I was madly in love with my spouse, I had these dark feelings of (yes its ugly) being jealous of his daughter. Not always feeling like I belonged and not knowing how to relate to her. I felt very much like that post mentioned. Not truly included and at the end of the day the blending was the source of many of our issues.
    No one seems to talk about how hard blending is. And maybe its because some of it isnt pretty and we all want to pretend that its wonderful. Its amazing their aren’t more books on it considering the divorce rate and the number of families that are blended must be higher than the number that are not!
    The other problem was I didn’t have anyone in my social circle who was blended – so how do you openly bring up these awful feelings with out the judgment of others? I actually think you cant understand it – till you have done it.

    Im no longer with my ex and I presently have a boyfriend without kids and the truth is that Im thrilled that I dont have the blending to deal with on his side. I have a ton of compassion for what he is going through since I have done it. Yet the catch 22 is that sometimes he doesn’t understand how complicated things are when you are a single parent because until you become a parent no one can give you that feeling of what its like to have your heart walk around outside of your body.

    I think its great that you put each other first and that you have a new blog about it – because I know I personally was lost and felt helpless for many years around our blending.

    Wishing you and Seth all the best with your blending.

    • Claudia Reply

      Hi JJ I write you cause I am am contemplating having a divorce. I’ve been with my husband almost 4 years and 2 married. He has two kids 7 &10 and I don’t have kids. As you, there are no blended families in my circle and it’s been a tough road. I like his kids, we get along ok, his daughter loves to spend time with me but I still feel that this is so hard. Almost all the issues we have as a couple are due to his kids. There are many times where I feel really lonely. I knew what I was doing when I married but I thought that things will get better with time. Some they have but it is me who still cannot adapt to this lifestyle. I just wanted to share this and now how you take the courage of taking this decision, if what I am feelling is not selfish.
      Thanks, CC

  7. Kim Reply

    I think Step-Aunt makes an excellent point, that is relevant in many blended situations–that co-parents (this is the verbiage my state uses, “co-parenting” instead of “visitation”) and step-parents need to communicate. However, boy oh boy is this tricky terrain! More than three years after filing for divorce, I can’t even speak to my kids’ dad or get him to return an email…I’m not sure how I can expect a man who wants a permanent role in their lives to do it! (Similar to what your situation sounds like, I have have the children the bulk of the year)
    It’s sad to think that wonderful children can get caught in the middle of this nasty adult stuff.

    The bottom line, all around, is communication. My bf and I talk regularly, since we began dating, about what we expect from our children, how we handle things, what we say to them. I think these are important discussions to have, even before kids meet significant others, so that adults can be sure they are on the same page about child-rearing or determine where we may need to have a meeting of minds. Also, it’s important for each of us to have a picture of what life for the kids is like when they are with the other parent so we know what adjustments they are making when they return home (like chores at one house vs. none at the other). And children need to hear that they are loved and valued and that adult issues are for adults and they do not need to pick sides, because everyone loves them and is is their right to love all the adults in their life!

    That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth from someone in the veeeeery early stages. We just introduced the kids about three weeks ago. We are in the halcyon days, so I’ll be checking back often to read up on everyone’s experience!

  8. Grace Reply

    I’m a new stepmom and am working hard at finding my footing in loving this man, loving his children, loving MY children, and the blending of rules as we figure out this life together. I’ve had a few of what I like to call “Come to Jesus” talks with the kids, both sets, about expectations and what is considered appropriate. His kids are learning to watch less tv, chew with their mouths closed, pick up after themselves and be respectful of adults. My kids are learning things as well, and while it’s going SO much better than I expected, it’s WORK.

    There are a few added dimensions with hostile exes on both sides, but our goal is to provide a stable, happy, crazy-but-filled-with-love home life that ALL of the children will enjoy spending time at. Half of the crew is naturally pessimistic, which can be such a beating. We try to gently reframe their statements and hope it starts to sink in…that belief that it’s OKAY to be happy. It’s OKAY for things to not be perfect in order to find that happiness. And most of all, that we are all okay, even them.

    Hugs to every stepparent out there!

    • alaina Reply

      Wow! Amazing philosophy, keep that positive attitude firmly in place and let nothing shake it.

  9. LK Reply

    Being a parent is hard.

    Being a step-parent is even harder. It seems like a constant egg shell walking.

    I wish you well.

  10. Shannon Reply

    I’m a stepmother to a ten, almost eleven year old boy. I have been living with him full-time for 6 years. (We have full-custody of my stepson). I have a “just-turned 13″ year old daughter. For us, it has worked. And it is always a compromise. Sometimes when the kids pick at each other, I will get annoyed….but then I realize, “Hey, biological siblings would do EXACTLY the same thing!”. And often worse…I remember chasing my brother around the house with a plunger to his face. It’s very difficult for sure…but I love his father enough to work on it always. Second of all, I love that our children are growing up in a solid, family-type structure. Both kids are thriving and happy. Children grow so fast. I’m here to make sure they have a childhood, a support system…and love.

  11. Mrs. C Reply

    I am a brand new step-mom, to an 11 year-old girl and a 7 year-old boy. HOLY MOSES, I had no idea what I was getting into. I adore kids, I’ve always been able to find connections with kids from all walks and while my relationship with my husband’s kids is certainly coming along….I was in NO WAY prepared for all of the internal struggles I have faced. I’ve always been a secure, confident woman. Suddenly, I feel a constant barrage of comparisons coming from all directions (he was married for 11 years to the kids’ mother). The kids’ mom wasn’t comfortable with the kids coming to our wedding and I felt like I could never celebrate our engagement or our wedding because I was constantly walking on eggshells so as to not offend her or their sensitivities. NOW, she’s engaged and you would think the world was going to stop in order to facilitate every single one of her wishes and dreams….and I get to hear all about it. Beyond that, my toughest time comes in the fear that my husband and I may not be able to have kids. He is a cancer survivor and the various chemo treatments took a toll on his body. I would be devastated if I couldn’t share that experience with him and I know that I would feel so resentful that he was able to have children with his ex. I’ve never been in a situation where the ex has such a presence in my relationship….and she always will…and she’s not nice at all. Ugh. I should be celebrating newlywed bliss. Instead, I feel like I’m a square being shoved into a family circle with all these built-in dynamics that have nothing to do with me. Where did my life go? It’s reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one though, thanks for this blog. I needed you today.

  12. Tiffany Schiemann Reply

    I want to thank you! I am in a relationship with a man. I have a daughter from a previous marriage and we have a son together and a daughter on the way. It’s become difficult, it’s become a hard issue as far as parenting is concerned.
    I think this statement changed my life: 2. We understand that we can’t expect the other to love our children as much or in the same way as we love our own. It’s just not possible and I think anyone who expects a significant other to miraculously wake up feeling this way about step-children is digging their own relationship grave. It’s unrealistic.

    This is something I DO expect, and therefore I do create some tension in my own mind when I don’t see it happening, which is unfair to everyone involved. I give my daughter unrealistic ideas of who he is to her, and I give him unrealistic expectations from me that he simply can’t fulfill. Thank you again.

  13. Sea K. Reply

    I’m neither a mother nor a stepmother, but as a rank amateur, it sounds to me like you handled the DSW situation better than you’re giving yourself credit for–you didn’t tell them that they WERE spoiled brats, but they were ACTING LIKE spoiled brats–and then went on to stress that they were not acting like themselves, thus reinforcing the idea that they are not themselves spoiled brats. I think that’s a small but important distinction.

  14. DISAGREE Reply

    I couldnt disagree with you guys more on the fact that you cant love your step children as your own. I have four of them 20 months, 3yrs, 6 yrs and 7yrs. Me and him have been together for 2 years and i have completely raised the youngest two. although we have split custody with their mother i love those kids as if they were my own and i am 4 months pregnant with ours right now and i cant imagine it any different. i have had the baby since he was born and the 3yr old since she was a year old. i do everything i possibly can for them and having this baby is just as exciting as when i was taking care of my fiances newborn. its n different adopting. the only thing making you think of your step child from your own is your own mind. push that aside because a childs love is unconditional. they just love you they dont always know why or can explain but they do whether you were their real or step mom.as far as im conserned these children are mine and no one can tell me different

  15. GreenInOC Reply

    Late to the party here but …

    I think (hope), that one day each step-parent will love the other’s biological children as their own. I don’t see it as any different from adopting a child. Adopted parents love their children as deeply as biological parents do.

    My father would always advise parents dealing with kids that weren’t “theirs”: “You don’t need anything from them, all you have to do is love them. That’s it.”

    My siblings and I were from 3 different types of relationships. We would get asked who was “half” and who was “step”, etc… He would respond, “huh?”. If the person didn’t get it, he would say, “Trust me, their full brothers and sisters, you should hear them fight!”

    He would rail against people making those distinctions and he would constantly remind us that “You are NOT half or step anything. You are brothers and sisters. Now, quit fighting!!”

    • seth Reply

      Ha! Love it. In that case, these three are siblings, through and through! They fight, play, and love each other like I do my 4 siblings.

    • alaina Reply

      This is awesome! Agree with this completely and we will start telling then this. I think in time, we will feel as if they are our own, but it is still so fresh. And I do love them an indescribably, but it does feel different still.

  16. secondtononewife Reply

    Seven years in to our blended family and it is still hard some days. My husband has had a far easier time becoming dad to my three custodial sons than I have had with his one son who is with us EOW. I think a key is how the ex acts. If she ‘lets’ the child love the step parent, that is crucial. My step son still feels bad when he is with me and not his mom. I can’t fight that or fix it. I just have come to the conclusion I will go with the flow, treat him like my own, but don’t expect the same in return. It ain’t easy, but it is worth it. :)

    • Kate5md Reply

      Thank you for posting this. I have been dating a great man with three kids for two years. I have five kids of my own. Where as I have full custody and their bio dad rarely sees them, my boyfriend shares custody half time. His x has not been very off and on supportive. Their kids love them both but the teen daughters are extremely loyal to eir mom. I think I would feel the same, there is something about girl that needs their mom. How did you adjust your thinking to deal with it? We are not living together and have no plans to do so. We cannot even seem to understand how to make that part work.

  17. phyllis Reply

    I feel its not easy on both parties( the bio mom and the stepmom) and especially not for the kids, we all just learn how to accept it. I had six kids with a man and now he is married to another woman. She is nice to my kids but i have yet to meet her and my kids and I dont like the situation we just accept it. I really would suggest a woman or man know what type of situation their are getting themselves in before they marry someone with children because they are taking on alot of responsibilities and issues.

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