There is no shortage of controversy and judgement surrounding stepmothers. According to Winning Stepfamilies, with 60% of marriages in the US ending in divorce, 65% of them result in remarriage with children, creating a blended family. Chances are, you know or will encounter a stepmother in your circle of friends. While you’ll probably give them advice or make comments that you think are well-meaning, sometimes you might say things that can be hurtful or counterproductive.
Blended families are a constant wheel in motion, navigating the best they can in a complicated situation. And at the center of most blended families is a stepmother who, in our society, has been painted as an evil, wrong-doing, uncaring person. This is simply untrue and most stepmothers are just women doing the best they can with the responsibilities they’ve been given. Should you run into a stepmother or befriend one, understand that every family is different and that she is dealing with her own battles that require love and support. Try to think carefully about your words and reference this list of 9 Things You Should Never Say to a Stepmom to gain a new perspective on just what she may be going through.
1. You knew what you were getting into when you married him.
When a stepmother is confiding in a friend about their life raising a blended family, they need a safe place. You wouldn’t express the same sentiment to a mother with a newborn or to someone managing their teenagers. In life, no one truly knows what they’ve signed up for. Just because a woman has chosen to marry a man with children, it does’t mean she should be punished, as this sentiment clearly conveys.
2. This (situation/event) doesn’t concern you.
Stepmothers are a huge part in their stepchild’s life. Whether it’s socially accepted or not, they’re in the trenches raising their children right alongside bio-mom. Simply because she is a stepmother does not mean that her stepchild’s well-being, discipline, life decisions, etc. do not concern her. In fact, they concern her a great deal as she is invested in the child(ren) too. Don’t dismiss her hard work and responsibility to the child.
3. Shouldn’t his/her mother be doing that?
In a blended family one bio-parent is absent at any given time, whether it be no dad at mom’s house or no mom at dad’s house. A stepmother takes on the parenting role when their stepchild is in her care. Yes, this includes potty training, kinder graduation, teaching them how to drive, prom, and more. The more supportive an adult can be in a child’s life, the better. Stepmothers are mothers. So yes, they should be doing that.
4. Well, at least you aren’t his/her real mother.
If a stepchild is misbehaving or being hurtful, it may seem like you’re being helpful by distancing the stepmother from their stepchild with a comment like this. But the truth is, a stepmother often feels a deep connection to her stepchild and when the child is hurting, so is she. It can ripple through the family whether they’re bio-related or not. Stepmothers are just as invested in their stepchildren as a real mother. This comment implies she shouldn’t be and that can be damaging in a family unit, blended or not.
5. You have no right to discipline him/her, you’re not the real parent.
This is a major source of debate in the blended family community, but the fact of the matter is when a child is in your home, under your care, as a parental figure, boundaries and rules need to be followed, whether you’re a stepparent or just babysitting a friend’s child. If a stepchild feels he/she doesn’t have to obey their stepmother, it’s a breeding ground for disrespect and disarray. Stepmothers are raising their stepchildren. This includes disciplinary action.
6. Can’t you just change weekends (to attend an event or free up time in your schedule)?
In a blended family, time with their child is important. Because a child’s time is split between two homes, when the child is with their stepmother and father, this time is precious. You wouldn’t ask your friend in a traditional family to send their child away for a weekend. Stepmothers value their time with their stepchildren and use it to create a familial bond.
7. Just be really nice and your stepkids will love you.
This touches on similar reasoning as number five. Kids don’t always like their parents. It’s a given that there will be conflict with your child. The same goes for stepmothers. This doesn’t mean she should keep a happy face on at all times. She needs to be involved in discipline, working through conflict, and helping to find a resolution. If a stepmother were to keep a nice attitude on all the time, she wouldn’t be able to validate her stepchild’s emotions. It’s okay to not be liked all the time. No parent is.
8. At least you don’t have to pay for (fill in the blank).
Most stepmothers are paying for (fill in the blank). Child support, often a given in a blended family, is given to bio-mom to help care for her child; even in cases where the child has 50/50 custody with dad. Yes, stepmothers are paying and investing in their stepchild’s life, with schooling, sports, food, and much more. This is never something you should assume to know about a stepmother, and where money is involved, it may be best to just hold your tongue.
9. Those poor kids come from a broken home. It’s just tragic.
It’s a little heart wrenching for sure. But children growing up in a blended family shouldn’t be made to feel less than because of it. Blended families can be quite the contrary and be a united front for their children. Catastrophizing their situation does no one any favors and in fact, can make them feel isolated. Try not to insult a stepmother with a comment like this. Chances are it will make her feel as if her family isn’t enough. And blended families are more than enough and produce happy children.
Stepmoms have a stigma attached to their title and with it comes lots of assumptions, judgments, and misunderstandings. Whether you’re a well-meaning friend who doesn’t understand why she puts so much effort into the relationship or a relative that thinks she needs to butt out of things, one thing is for sure: she shouldn’t be villianized. Next time you chat with a stepmom, give her a pat on the back. Chances are she is getting more than her fair share of criticism and not nearly enough support.
Photo Credits: Holly Sosa