Stepmothers: The Other Side of the Story

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Parenting is hard, but being a stepmother comes with an extra set of challenges. In fact, being a stepmother can easily be one of the hardest things most stepmothers have done in their lives.

We asked several individuals to share their experiences and struggles as part of a blended family.

“I always reassure the children how loved and important they are to the family,” Bonny

When Bonny married her husband, they each had children from their previous marriages – Bonny had a 3-year-old son, and her husband had 2 children aged 5 and 3. They also have a child together.

“I think the best thing about being a stepmum is being able to be there for my stepchildren in a way that their mum and dad can’t be. I consistently tell them that they can always come to me for things that they might not want to talk to their mum or dad about.”

“I never, ever speak negatively about their mum, no matter how frustrated I have been.” Photo credit: istock

After 8 years of being a stepmother, she is happy to share her advice on being a happy and loving stepmother. “I never, ever speak negatively about their mum, no matter how frustrated I have been. I always reassure the children about how loved they are and how important they are to our family. A stepmother should also avoid getting too emotionally involved in the conflict between their mum and dad, as this can complicate matters. It is also important to talk to other stepparents: don’t be afraid to open up about things. It can be comforting to know that other stepparents experience the same challenges.”

“It takes a lot of patience and empathy,” Aishah*

Aishah was devastated when her mum died. When her father remarried and subsequently started a new family with his wife, she was outraged and felt excluded by his ‘new family’.

“There were many struggles and petty squabbles through the years. My stepmum and my mum are so different, in their parenting style and values.

As a stepmum, you don’t immediately get the benefit of the unconditional love a birth mum enjoys. If my mum and I disagreed, I was more likely to make amends with her than if the same disagreement happened between my stepmum and I.  It took us years of patience and empathy, to embrace our differences and celebrate our similarities. I love her fiercely now, and I can now confidently say she loves me just as much.”

“Pursue peace, not justice,” Izary

Izary and his ex-wife separated when their son was 2. They remained best friends and went on to marry other people. Both his wife and ex-wife get along very well, and his blended family is one of the many examples of what a modern-day Brady Bunch can look like.

TV’s most popular blended family – The Brady Bunch. Photo credit: Getty Images

“It is crucial for the stepmother to build a healthy co-parenting relationship with the husband and his ex-wife. You can achieve this if you pursue peace, not justice,” says Izary.

“She needs to remember that her stepchild already has a mother. Her role is not to replace the birth mother, but she can start by being a ‘buddy’ and building the trust from there. It is also important to set clear rules on that relationship: the stepmother is the adult, and both parties must be mutually respectful at all times.”

“Their father and I agree to always present a united front with the kids,” Natasha*

Natasha met her husband when his children (from his previous relationship) were 3 and 5. “In the beginning, it was super easy – I would play with them and that was as far as my role would go. When we made a home and had a child together, that’s when the true ‘step-parenting‘ struggles started,” says Natasha.

“The best thing my husband did to support my role as a stepmum was to change. We each had a different upbringing and parenting style. He struggled to co-parent with the children’s mother, and he resorted to just giving in to the children in a bid to make them happy. I had a stricter upbringing and wanted to parent the way I was raised. Now, when we are in front of the kids, we always agree with each other’s decisions. Anything that we disagree on gets resolved when the kids are not present.

I don’t have the best relationship with their mother. I try to not step on her toes and respect they are her kids first, but we just have very different ideas on what is important for her kids. My husband and I now know that we need to pick our battles when it comes to co-parenting. We don’t have any control over her parenting style or how she reacts to us. But we have the power to make our home a happy one.”

“Unfortunately I can’t really say yet what is the best thing about being a stepmum!”,  Jeslyn*

Jeslyn married her husband 8 years ago and have 2 children together. When they met, he had 2 children aged 4 and 2 years old from a previous marriage. Their mother initially refused to allow the stepchildren to meet Jeslyn, but has since allowed them to spend some weekends and school holidays with Jeslyn and her husband.

“Being a mum is difficult, being a stepmum is even more challenging.” Photo credit: istock

“I don’t know if I have done well in my role as a stepmum or even a parent in general. I try my best but often doubt myself and sometimes feel like a failure! It takes a lot of patience, tolerance and acceptance to raise a blended family. My stepchildren and I are slowly learning to accept one another, but I still cannot say for sure if they genuinely like me,” Jeslyn admits ruefully.

“I still struggle with my role as a stepmum. Being a mum is difficult, but being a stepmum is even more challenging. It doesn’t help either that their mum dislikes me, or that my husband and I are not on the same page with regards to upbringing. He gives in to their every whim: I think this is driven by guilt for separating from their mother. Meanwhile, I get saddled with the ‘bad parent’ title for setting rules and boundaries.”

“When co-parenting, be patient, empathetic and respectful with each other,” Fara

Fara and her husband each have 5 children from their previous relationships. Raising a blended family of 10 children is no mean feat: but Fara attributes the harmony of her blended family to honesty and a good relationship with her stepchildren’s mother.

“I think it is absolutely crucial to establish a great relationship with your partner’s ex-wife in order to co-parent. I count myself lucky to have that – some days we can sit and chat for hours just sharing our stories and exchange ideas on how best to help ease the children into our blended family. My husband and I were completely honest from the beginning about our expectations of each other as partners and parents. It’s also important for stepmums to be kind to themselves and manage their self-expectations. Last but not least, be patient, empathetic and respectful to every single member of the family.”

“Communication and mutual support between a stepmum and her husband are the foundation for a blended family,” AiTeng Ong

We asked AiTeng Ong, Founder of Geranium Coaching and a member of Malaysian Marriage and Family Therapy Association, to share with us some advice for stepmums raising a blended family.

“Communication and mutual support between a stepmum and her husband are the foundation for a blended family. They must agree on the same parenting style so they can present a united front to the children,” says AiTeng.

AiTeng advises stepmothers to understand herself and make peace with their role as a stepmother. They shouldn’t allow society’s stereotypical perception of the ‘evil stepmother’ to subconsciously influence her thoughts and actions. She shouldn’t overcompensate for her own insecurities by giving in to the children, in the hopes of gaining their approval or love.

As for the biggest mistakes a stepmother should avoid, AiTeng lists 3 things: refusing to confide her feelings to a friend or counselor, persistently comparing herself to the birth mother and trying too hard to fix every family problem.

Communication and mutual support are the foundation for a blended family. Photo credit: istock

Raising and growing up in a blended family can be both complicated and fulfilling. The important thing to remember is that, just as it is in ‘regular‘ families, most issues can be solved through honesty, open communication, patience and love.

*Names have been changed in the interest of protecting the individual’s privacy.
First published on September 17, 2020.

Alena is a coffee-guzzling mother of two living in Queensland, Australia. Formerly working in sales and marketing, she is now a stay-at-home mum trying to balance living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle with her love for travel, good food and online shopping.