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What Is the Role of the Stepparent?

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Stepbomb: I often debate what my role in my stepdaughters' lives should be. And that is why I write this post. I'm looking for and value your insight and welcome your opinions -- even the ones that are especially hard to hear.

mother and daughters

Since becoming a stepmother, I feel as if I've been on an emotional roller coaster. As I put it in the first post I ever wrote, it's like a bomb has gone off. Since I'm a stepdaughter myself, I thought I had an idea of what was in store. I felt I had a perspective that could help the children and help facilitate a healthy relationship with their mother. But I realize now that nothing could have prepared me for this.

I write about my interactions with my husband's ex, and your feedback, often, is that I'm overstepping my bounds -- which of course is a worry of mine, and something I do not want to do. It makes me wonder if I'm supposed to be more of a wallflower in most situations. There are many nights that the girls are here and we all sleep under the same roof. Things come up; questions are asked. As their stepmother, am I to remain a bystander in their lives? Watching, but not weighing in? Listening, but not offering? Is that my role? I married their father and am now called a stepparent, but am I essentially nothing more than his wife?

Despite what it may seem in the posts I've written, I really have tried to do my best. My goal has always been to be another person who loved these girls. But now when they ask for help with their homework or come to me with a question, I find myself second-guessing my instincts. Wondering if it's my place to quiz them on their vocabulary or to give them my two cents about the kid who has been mean to them at school.

What is the role of the stepparent? It's a big question, but one I'm weighing seriously. I know I've made mistakes; I'm not perfect. And the girls' mother has made mistakes, too -- because, of course, she's not perfect either. But her idea of my role and my idea of my role need to get in line, so we can coexist peacefully. 

I guess the bigger question is, how do we get there?

next: Celeb Kids Dress Like Adults. Why?
23 comments so far | Post a comment now
N September 29, 2010, 5:51 PM

being a step is a delicate situation, i’ll give you example of how its can be done wrong.
1) one of my gf’s parents divorced when she was young and a stepmom came into her life when she was a preteen. Well this SM decided she liked top buy clothes with her SD, now it may not seem like a problem but this SM’s idea of what clothes were appropriate for SD age were belly shirts and mini skirts and obviously as a 12/13 those are the clothes my friend wanted,. however as an adult my friend sees her mom was right and those clothes were not good for her age at all. The point is as a SM what you deem appropriate for your SD’s ages may not be in the mothers eyes, and this applies with all things you want to buy SDs (makeup,bras,etc) and all things you want to take them to do. So if you ever want to take the girls to a pg13 movie run it by both parents first.

2) Is big talks/events for girls. DON’T even think of going shopping for prom with them, that is mom/daughter event. Don’t have the birds/bees talk with them, the bio parents need to physically get together for this event before hand in order to discuss how they will sit together and explain the the girls

3) Don’t give your SDs things the mom already said NO to, this relates to example one

4) if a SD comes to you about something like her mom is just being mean by not letting her see certain friends, DON’T help SD see these friends behind her mom’s back, the SD is probably not telling you the whole truth as to why mom has forbidden a certain thing. Any time a child comes to you after going to the other parents it is to divide you and get what they want

I hope this helps a little

StepKidMyself September 29, 2010, 6:27 PM

Ditto on everything N said.

Yes, I think watching but not weighing in and listening but not offering is a great start.

Even something as seemingly simple as helping them with vocabulary is time NOT spent with their father.

Time shopping alone with them for big or little things like bras and prom dresses and wedding dresses is time NOT spent with their father.

I think the role of a stepmother is to indeed be a wife and allow their father to be their father. To be the person making the effort and doing the parenting and being in control.

Babysnaps September 29, 2010, 7:18 PM

Mom’s idea of your role has been pretty clear, I think. She wants you to step way back and let the father parent.

You get there by stepping way back and letting the father parent.

Stepmum September 29, 2010, 11:48 PM

Stepbomb, you are CRAZY asking this forum for advice. You’ll just get slapped down again and again because there are so many insecure, defensive moms who think a separated mom should be in charge of her children even when they are with their dad.

Nothing you describe is overstepping the “bounds”, which I might add are generally best defined by your husband when the kids are your house, not by the ex. Ask yourself - does she let him dictate the rules in her house, beyond input on major decisions? So with the bra issue, for instance, if dad feels that your SD needs a bra, there is no reason why he couldn’t go shopping with you both (fair enough that he might prefer to have another woman present) and buy SD some bras that she could wear on his parenting time. Dad’s opinion in such matters is not necessarily secondary to mom’s parenting p commandments.

The women who criticise you for doing spelling words with the kids instead of their dad are ignoring that families are a TEAM effort - sometimes it is doubtless a better deployment of resources for you to do those things. Not to mention that building you relationship with the kids is also important. If you weren’t in the picture, the kids would presumably be in childcare after school. Would that be preferable even now, just to prevent mom’s ego being bruised by your involvement?

As a stepparent, it is important to have agreed approaches with your partner, and to be confident interacting with the kids. Questioning yourself and letting angry onlookers critique your actions undermines that confidence. You are an important person to your stepkids, whether you and DH conceptualise your role as aunt, mentor, friend or “other mother” (not easy and nor recommended, but it works in some families!)

You matter in your family, you are important, not just a wallpaper-coloured drudge desperately trying not to step on mommy’s delicate toes. Your opinion may not be primary, but it is part of the mix - inevitably with younger kids, you are something of a parent.

I think you should stop canvassing insecure haters and find your “inner stepmom”.

Stepmum September 30, 2010, 2:32 AM

By the way, I should add that by “haters”, I am not referring to the posters previous to me - I may not agree with them but at least they were civilised in their comments.

Having read some of your other posts and the comments, though, its clear that there are a lot of people who enjoy slamming stepmoms irrespective of what they say or do.

There is no rulebook for being a stepmom, no right or wrong way. That’s what makes it so hard! You and your husband need to work out what you think is genuinely best for your family and for the kids in your household.

True co-parenting where both parents agree on each issue and are consistent is extremely rare, and based on what your husband’s ex has already done, it’s unlikely to be possible for your situation, so you and your husband need to decide how you want to do things.

Sometimes you might want to seek the ex’s input, but giving her a veto over every little thing that upsets her is just babysitting, not parenting.

(And trust me, if she’s feeling as insecure as it sounds, Every Little Thing will totally drive her wild, however tiny. Do you wanting to be SMSing her to check whether it’s ok to give the kids choc mint ice cream for the first time ever? After all, that might be a really special ice cream flavour to her!!!!)

Minimising conflict with the ex is good where reasonably possible, but not at the cost of buckling at the knees on your husband’s and your agreed central parenting values.

Anonymous September 30, 2010, 6:06 AM

N and Babysnaps 100% right

WifeNumberThree September 30, 2010, 8:53 AM

I don’t think the mother sounds insecure at all. Nor do I think all of the previous posters on the other pages sound bitter and insecure themselves.

I do think that people who offer advice like that above, to just steamroll over mom’s wishes and do whatever the heck you want just because you want to do it and it’s your right, are suggesting you bring more drama and chaos into your lives.

If the mom wants you to fade into the wallpaper and have the dad step up to the plate, then try that. See what happens when he is in charge of all communication with mom, doing all homework, answering big questions, disciplining and shopping and being the parent he (not you) originally signed up to be with mom.

This whole, “There’s no right or wrong way to stepparent,, just do what you want!” is bad advice. That is what you have been doing, and it hasn’t worked out or you wouldn’t have posted all these blogs.

emily September 30, 2010, 10:34 AM

If you are the trusted adult that a child wishes to discuss sex, dating, or anything else with, why should you not be able to be there for them? If your child didnt feel comfortable talking to her mother but went to a teacher, or pastor, would you all be flying off the handle about “overstepping boundaries”? I doubt it. Sounds like you are never going to please this women. But, what does she matter. It is the kids that matter, your called a step ‘MOM’ for a reason. People need to get over the idea that b/c you are a child’s biological mother that you know best and everything has to be approved through you and done your way. Get fxing real. Often its an aunt, or a good friends mom or neighbor etc. that A child grows to trust and cojme to with their problems and ask for advice.If this girls mom really did know best she would have her daughter coming to her, not to her stepmom. Sounds to me like stepmom must be a down to earth, kind and patient person that this child can really trust and open up to, and that is a wonderful thing. When she wants to try drugs, or get on birthcontrol because she’s having sex or what not, and she trusts you as the adult she wants to come to seeking help and advice, who would say no, go ask your mom,. If the kid thought that was a viable option, she would have done so. You don’t want children to grow up thinking of you as dads new wife. Your a FAMILY. When these kids become adults and look back do you want them to think, “she loved dad, but it always seemed like we were a burden, like we weren’t her problem” and remember, kids see things differently. It may really upset a child who trusts and confides in you, for you to halt your advice. And as far as helping with homework….my god, help away! All kids need all the help they can get. The more people on their team the better they will be. Follow your heart, when it aches to help or step in, by all means…go for it!

REALMOM September 30, 2010, 10:43 AM

Stepbomb, falling back is a great idea. I think that if biomom is still alive and a good parent, stepmoms role is minimal. I do think that in your other post you were overstepping your boundaries. I do think that you shouldn’t be involved in every little thing that the kids do. You can still love them and care for them. If mom is uncomfortable then you should just stay away from the situation. No matter how unreasonable you may think she’s being.

ApplesToOranges September 30, 2010, 11:40 AM

If my child went to talk to a pastor or aunt about sex, and that pastor or aunt offered a warm shoulder and told my kid how unreasonable and uncool I was, and how they’d help them do whatever they want behind my back, yes. I’d fly off the handle. Mom is justified is asking stepbomb to step back.

Bec September 30, 2010, 12:50 PM

As a stepdaughter, I’m so saddened to see all these mothers who would prefer that their children were ignored by a family member. It’s appalling that there are so many readers who think only biological connections matter (for women, because they’re all pretty okay with involved stepdads). But perhaps the most disgusting sentiment I read here is that everyone should disregard this girl’s feelings in deference to her mother’s. As a person who was once a teenage girl, and a pre-teen before that, I think there is a lot of egotism being expressed here and I am really wondering if your own kids are such dirty little liars who couldn’t possibly be feeling insecure about their changing bodies, even if they told you they were. Repeatedly.

No, really, why have so many readers expressed that both Stepbomb AND the daughters are scheming and manipulative? And that Dad is totally lazy and uninvolved?

Anonymous September 30, 2010, 1:58 PM

I think the correct role of a stepmother varies from family to family. You’re lucky enough to have stepchildren who like you and a husband who wants you to be involved. You’re unlucky to have an ex who doesn’t want you to be involved with her kids. You can’t ignore her feelings as other posters say because that will just put the kids in a bad situation.
However, that doesn’t mean you should become a complete wallflower. Yes, you have overstepped your boundaries at times, but you have to be able to interact with the kids in a good way when they’re in your home. I’m not sure where the balance is. If the girls are asking for help with homework because they are used to dad being too busy, you should talk to him, but otherwise, why not help them? Talk and listen to them, just watch out about issues where they want you to side against mom and if anything big comes up, talk to their parents.
I think the biggest doozy that you’re going to get soon is when the girls talk to you about their feelings about the conflicts between their parents. You might want to prepare some possible answers that are compassionate without criticizing their parents.
In response to the comments: She’s not their biomom, she’s their mother, the person who raised them for the first 10+ years of their life without a stepmother.

Stepkid September 30, 2010, 2:39 PM

If dad is soooooo busy that he can’t help with homework or vocabulary drills, then when exactly is he parenting?

Wouldn’t it be better for these girls to be with their mother rather than ignored by their dad?

If stepmom is picking up the slack because dad just isn’t there emotionally or time-wise, no wonder mom is angry.

Anonymous October 1, 2010, 8:29 AM


Anonymous October 1, 2010, 8:52 AM


Kimberly October 2, 2010, 3:11 PM

I’m new to your site, so won’t presume to know the whole story. My immediate response to your question is to open a dialog with the bio mom about how you are feeling. My daughter’s former stepmom bought them everything they wanted including makeup at 11- then told them- you can have this IF your mom says yes. That really set me up. She bought them their first high heels (at 12) and informed one of my daughters that there was no Santa. I wanted to have heart to hearts with this woman,to figure out what was happening with her, but our relationship manly was her email bashing me about my assumed immaturity and insecurities. My experience is that when we call people names, it is usually a mirror of ourselves.
Good luck, I think it is a good sign that you are wanting to understand another perspective. I think you should relax and love yourself, maintain your good intentions, and everything will work out.

realstepmom October 7, 2010, 10:20 AM

Give each other the benifit of the doubt. Each household is going to have a different way of doing things, and as long as the two are not drastically different, each can be respected. When you find yourself questioning your stepkids mother’s intentions, try to give her the benefit of the doubt. Does she love her children? Do you? Does she try to do what’s best for them? Do you? You might try taking the first step to talk, even if it’s about something silly. I know I always feel better after I talk to my stepkids’ mom. It sometimes feels like we are on opposing teams, but after talking to her I realize we are not. We both have a common goal: to raise great kids. I realize this has been difficult for you Stepbomb. Keep trying. I hope your will gradually be able to gain each other’s trust.

Anonymous November 14, 2010, 8:21 PM

I came to this page looking for advice and all I found myself doing was taking sides between all the replies and I think I might have the answer I want.
I am a NEW step mom. I had a step mom. I never had any children of my own because I never wanted any. My man’s 16 year old daughter got into a fight (one of many that came to blows) with her mom, and she is now living with us.
She is a spoiled, manipulative little girl in a 16 year olds body. She is living in my house, disrupting my calm home. I will not sit by and watch her mess it up. I will ask her to clean it up as I would any roommate I ever had. But I will not be there to dish out punishment if she stays out past curfew, etc.
I agree with all the replies that say you are now family. If the father is going to expect you to help be responsible for her, you have got to have some say in her parenting. And that’s all there is to it.

nondramamama March 6, 2011, 9:02 PM

Act like the BioMom doesnt exsist…ask your husband what he wants.

WHEN IT IS HIS TIME IT IS HIS TIME..why care what she thinks. Its up to the dad to make disions and agree or disagree with the BioMom.

I think everyone is way to up tight parenting wise about stupid stuff (like is sponge bob teaching my kid to be violent?!?!?!) and they dont care about things that are important like (having a 2yr old play in the snow all day when he just when to the doctor 2 days before becouse he has a throat and ear infection for the hundreth time!!!!)

I think if everyone would just calm down and do what feels right everyone would be better off!!

hartcrareecorty March 10, 2011, 8:46 PM

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