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Reflections as a step-parent for 18 years

Stepmummingfun's picture

Hi all,

I have read many of your posts and find myself aligning and feeling compassionate toward your stories and sighing, eye rolling, experiencing frustration and sadness as I read.

I wanted to share my experiences and write some things down for you, but also for my own healing. I hope some of these observations and suggestions help you.

I have bio children and adult step-children. I met my DH post his separation (and his kids were obviously young). It was kind of a typical situation where ex wife did not want her DH, but she didn't want anyone else to have him either. I came on the scene without children and without the understanding of what it was like to be a parent. I did however want to include his children as part of my family. It was my hope that because I am not a nasty person, they would naturally like me as I was not to blame for their parents separation.

So, I was somewhat naive, too trusting and really didn't have a clue about how attachments between parents and children played out and continue to play out regardless of age and stage. The types of phrases I would hear from others were "but you knew he had kids", "oh they will grow up and get families of their own", "just ignore their behaviour, they will grow out of it", "of course your husband has to take his kids side, they are his kids and you are his wife.. they come first" etc etc etc.

So, here is what I want to say.

1. Step-parenting is an extremely challenging gig.

2. Step-children (particularly step-daughters) do not grow out of it - there is a constant unconscious attachment driver at play - to be number one, or the most special to their step-parent (no matter what age).

3. You are an intruder in their family unit.

4. They are more likely to tolerate you if you know your 'place'.

5. They will continue to let you know your place in very subtle ways - to the point where you might start questioning if it's you or your imagination or being overly sensitivite. But, they are really just subtle reminders.

6. Your partner will most likely feel conflicted about time and priority - and that will be ongoing.

This is what I wish I knew before I took on the role.

1. Being a biological parent and meeting a new partner, and the bio parent introducing them to your children is alot harder than they will realise.

2. That for much of the time you need to champion your own cause, know that you have every right to have your voice heard and every right to exist in your new family. It is typically you that needs to stand up for you. 

3. That you can respond towards them from a position of your values, which does not mean you compromise your integrity, or be sidelined and bullied.

4. That regardless of their blame, you owe them nothing except being courteous, respectful and when can, kind, and leaving any of their blame or 'splitting' where it belongs - which is not a part of your life. 

5. You are allowed to say "I did my best, but I am not a part of your (step childs) narrative. Your narrative does not belong in my world."

6. You are allowed to put boundaries around your relationships with the step-children. Your partner CHOSE to accept a new partner in his/her life. As part of that choice comes responsibility to acknowledge your place in their life, and not bow down to the pressures of the unconcious drivers acted out by his/her children.

7. Yes, your partner has a responsibility to parent, love and be their for his/her children, but NOT at your expense and putting you in a substandard position. You are not someone's symbol for blame. Your partner needs to own you as a couple, where you make decisions together and live in an environment where you are both kind and respectful to his/her children and the bio parent can love the children in a different way to you. 

8. You are allowed to claim your relationship which is prioritised, which does sit at the top of the food chain - AND, have the kids treat you respectfully and kindly - as you would to them. It would be unhealthy for anyone couple to have the kids running the show and letting the step-parent know that they are in charge. That is not looking after yourself and your well-being.

9. Acknowledge to yourself (if appropriate) that they are not your kids. You were INVITED into your relationship with your partner, and you deserve to be treated with respect and as a priority.


Stepmom2020's picture

My favorite was number 7 and 9. Not at your expense, and you were invited to this gig. Thank you, well written.


JRI's picture

As another mature SM, I know every word is golden.  Thanks.

Merry's picture

Well said.

I am kind to DH's kids, and for the most part they are to me as well. But I stopped "trying" to make sure they liked me long ago. I don't need their approval for anything, nor do they need mine.

It's taken a long time to navigate this step relationship. Once I stopped trying so damn hard, and DH learned how to honor our marriage 100% of the time, things got a lot easier.

Missingme's picture


CLove's picture


Very well expressed. It is a very challenging role and there are many layers of unexpected complexities.

I see this ALL the time "I know the kids will always come first", and always jump on that and state "no they do NOT".

MissTexas's picture


No! It does NOT GET EASIER and the "GIRLS" NEVER GROW OUT OF IT! What a sad, horrible truth!

You are the SM "Joan of Arc."

Thanks again for taking the time to put this together and share it with those of us who are still "in it to win it."

Jake's picture

        My dear Stepmumingfun I could not agree with you more.

I am a bio kid free man with 4 adult stepchildren. My DW has put me first in our relationship always.

       I spent a lifetime of loving and caring for my 4 adult step children.

I have a somewhat mutual respectful relationship with them all.

I tried to build a beloved step-father bond with the youngest two.

But that was just my dream. My stepchilden never treated me anything  more than their mothers husband.

       So I have now stopped pursuing my dream to be a beloved step father. lol

I am simply now their Mother's husband. 

        To qoute someone Free at last ! Free at last thank God Iam Free at Last.

I salute you. Warm Regards Jake


NikkiLE's picture

This was a wonderful post. You made me feel so understood and offered sound advice and explanations for the reality of blended families. I agree so much that the girls will never grow out of this kind of behavior and that you are an intruder in the family. And that they will always let you know that, so matter how slight or subtle it is. 

I have stopped wanting to try any longer and have pulled back considerably, even though I know my situation is probably much better than most. But I have ones that just don't really acknowledge our existence and make subtle little comments, maybe sometimes just careless rather than intentional, to remind me that I'm not really a part of that family. 

My husband's response is mainly, this will take time. My response is now, okay, fine. They can have all the time they need. It's just not going to be MY time any longer. I have children of my own who care about me a whole lot more and I have other family members that I've been trying to spend more time with, who while I don't have a huge amount in common with, I don't feel as excluded from. 

Thanks again,



Stepmummingfun's picture

Hi all,

I just wanted to say thank you for the feedback and the affirmations relating to your similar experiences. 

Jake, it was also so lovely to get a male perspective/experience. It was so interesting to know that your kind heart, without any underlying motive, wanted to embrace your wife's children with the intention of adding to their enriched experiences. You, my dear Jake need a massive bear hug and gratitude expressed. 

Stepmom2020, JRI, WickedStepmo, Wilmelm - thank you for reading and acknowledging. It is so helpful to know that you identified or the messages potentially resonated with you. Smile

Merry, Clove, MissTexas - thank you - it seems such a common thread - when step-parents know longer put themselves in the firing line but instead disengage - it appears to be more empowering. 

Nikkile - I am so pleased that from reading the post it potentially helped you feel 'seen'. The 'it will take time' was a phrase I heard alot. I used to believe it - that kindness, acceptance, maturity would prevail. Now I think that while things can settle into a pattern and it can be a little more tolerable/comfortable, I now think, generally speaking, that more often than not total acceptance does not occur and unconscious drivers work in the background. I would have saved myself a whole lot of heartache if I had known this 18 years ago. If a step-parent really accepts that the kids (and the ex) are going to have some difficulty (particularly depending on the age of meeting the kids - but even then I don't think there is true acceptance) in accepting you fully into their family unit then you can feel more peaceful and separate out their narrative and preferences from you as a person andn your goals and needs. It may help not to waste as much energy, but instead build the family unit as you want it - and it is up to them to join in with your processes. They can have their own running alongside, but not as a priority or replacement. 

I really didn't get this at the beginning (or middle....!) and wasted so much energy on things that I was never going to change. Now, with this realisation - I am more able to accept things for what they are and not get caught up in it. 

Thanks people. Love hearing your experiences. Smile

Jake's picture

You my dear are a gem. With age come wisdom, we hope. You are a true sage.

 Thanks so much for the kind words.

With covid entering its 9 month, I find I am mentally  tired all the time. 

I have now just started the healing process. I let go emotionally from my wifes kids.

I feel so free for first time in forever.

Thanks again for the kind words and encouragement it means the world to me.

Warmenst of regards, stay safe Jake

Missingme's picture

2 and true.  Also, I read early on not to try so hard-that it doesn't work and I'm glad I didn't.  They do respect me although they will never accept me into their Disney world where mom and fad are together.  I don't know if I'll make it to 18 years, but I'm sure gonna try.  I have a feeling the true test will be when grands come along.  This site has been a godsend!  

Jojo4124's picture

You are a great writer!! Thank you so much for this! You are a blessing!!

Stepfor27yrs's picture

I’m 54 yrs old now. I got together with my H when I was 27. I did not have kids of my own for various reasons and now I kinda wish I had one of my own. It’s a long story so won’t start at the beginning but I have a ss38 and a sd35. Everything you stated about a daughter and being seen as an intruder is true. My most recent pain is from the wedding we just attended. I knew she would want the standard photo with her mom and my husband which I can understand but what came a little later in the introductions was just rude snd I feel hurt. I bought a beautiful dress and spent more money on this dress than I ever would have but I thought it’s fir her wedding. Anyway, the call for introductions was made so people gathered outside the farmhouse venue. They intruded the grooms parents and they walked in. Next they had my husbands ex and my H go in together and she grabbed his arm and then the photographer took multiple photos. I was left standing outside with the ex’s husband and neither of us were intrudused at all. Those people didn’t know who I was. They knew her husband bc there were a lot of his family there. I felt bad for him bc he had been in her life for 30 yrs. he was the one who cheated with the ss35 mom and broke up theur family. I had nothing to do with it. I came in 3 yrs later. Also, another hurtful part was later in the evening his ex just grabbed my H fir a slow dance. He didn’t want to but didn’t want to make a seen. She did the same thing at his sons wedding. These dances were not even required by either step kid. At one point a song that his kids, my H and myself went to a concert and had a good time at came on and so they gathered in s circle to dance. His ex came into the circle and had her hand around her so s waist and was caressing my husbands hand. I took a video of the whole thing. I asked my H why he let her do that and he said he didnt even know She was doing that. I played the video for him and he said that creeps him out. I’m not jealous but it just makes me upset bc I feel she wants a connection with him and it’s been 30 flipping years. Now his sons has 2 daughter so there is the whole biological grandparent thing that I overheard his ex saying to him. My mind won’t let any of it go. I’ve been reading so many of these posts and now I want to disengage for my own well being. My H feels very bad about it all but I don’t blame him bc he is very supportive and always has been. I’m just not cut out for future pain. We both gave to much invested and retirement is upon us. Covid is still here so we can’t go on a warm vacation just us for now. So do you agree that his daughter and her mom planned to leave me and her husband out to show us it’s my wedding and you 2 are not my real family?

Stepmom2020's picture

I was encouraged to include the SD in our wedding, she was four. I look back 33 years later and realize there is not just one picture of my DH and I. I should have seen the future. It's hard to let the pain go, but Stepfor 27, you need to learn to disengage.


Stepmom2020's picture

I was encouraged to include the SD in our wedding, she was four. I look back 33 years later and realize there is not just one picture of my DH and I. I should have seen the future. It's hard to let the pain go, but Stepfor 27, you need to learn to disengage.


Missingme's picture

I'm sorry to say it, but your husband failed you and I believe he knew exactly what he was doing.  Reading this makes me sad for you as it was so unkind and wrong of them all.  I believe I would divorce just over this.  And now that grands are coming along.  The wedding was a short preview of what's to come.  All the best to you in this hurtful situation.  (((Hugs)))

Wilhelm's picture

That is terrible. I recently attended a grandaughters wedding. The photographer started to place people and put me well away from my husband. BM, his first wife, quickly put the photographer in his place saying I belonged beside DH as I was his current wife.

Stepmummingfun's picture

Hi Stepfor27years!

Apologies for not seeing this sooner. I have only logged back on to the site and noticed your post. 

I can only imagine how difficult, painful and displacing that would have felt for you and your husband's ex's partner. Please don't buy into any discussion where someone might say things like - but they are her/his parents and naturally just want their parents involved. 

Of course when parents divorce children are not part of that decision. They essentially have decisions made for them (and typically don't like). It is helpful for parents/step-parents to recognise this dilemma and have empathy and understanding. BUT - that also means that although stepparents can have empathy and respond in a kind manner it does not mean others can treat you in a dismissive and disrespectful manner. The two things (your empathy and how you are treated) are entirely separate. 

Within a family there typically is a system that operates in the background (without people realising). For that system to stay healthy people have to adjust when life events happen - such as divorce and repartnering. Those who don't adjust remain stuck and demonstrate this 'stuckness' in maladjusted ways. Those maladjusted behaviours are nothing to do with the person they may be targeting. 

So - in response to your question - and what this all means. Did they plan to leave you and her husband out? Without knowing alot more about things I am going to say - probably not - not consciously anyway. Did they set out to hurt you intentionally - probably not. What they may have been doing is trying so hard to meet their own needs - which likely were 'they are my mum and dad... this is my fairytale wedding... and I need them to be exclusively part of it as part of my dream.. and this is how I am going to do that.' Mum may have had those wishes operating as well.

Where it may have helped is for both parents and you and your husbands ex's husband to recognise this need - but where you stay visible and respected. There were so many ways that could have happened that provided the daughter with her needs and you with yours. The other issue is that your husband may feel powerless with his ex. This is likely to be as a result of their old pattern of interacting. So - it would be helpful for you to both have that knowledge and look at how things could be done differently next time. Who knows - your husband could have got caught up with believing he had not provided his daughter with the nuclear family - and felt guilty - so didn't want to cause a scene against a powerful ex wife. 

So - sorry for the ramble - I think your concerns and responses need to stay with your husband - and keep the others away from causing any rift. It may be helpful for you to discuss how you felt and ask/tell your husband what you need to happen when things like this crop up. He can explain how far he can go and what he can do. It maybe helpful for you to notice that your mind is getting caught up in their story. Bring yourself back to the present moment and act in your family's best interests amd according to who you are and what you want to get out of the present and how you want to be. 

I hope this is helpful for you and you manage to get this post! :) 

Missingme's picture

Her husband can't be that naive.  To let the ex grab him twice and then a dance?  No, he wanted to.    He was a total disrespectful douche.

Stepmummingfun's picture

yes - likely to have been aware - but there are key drivers operating in the background - so having that knowledge and understanding can be so helpful to ensure those same patterns don't continue. 

Stepmummingfun's picture

Wanted to add - if he chooses not to be aware and do it differently next time then it's not ok and you don't deserve to be disrespected! Smile

Rags's picture

Thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom.

Another take on what you have shared is the SPBOR.

Step-parent Bill of Rights

1-I will be part of the decision-making process in my marriage and family at all times.

2-People outside the immediate family - including ex-wives or husbands, in-laws and adult children - cannot make plans that affect my life without my consent.

3-I will not be responsible for the welfare of children for whom I can set no limits.

4-I must be consulted about which children will live with us, when they can visit and how long they will stay.

5-I will not be solely responsible for housework; chores will be distributed fairly.

6-I will be consulted regarding all family financial matters.

7-Others may not violate my private space at home, nor take or use my possessions without my permission.

8-I will never be treated as an "outsider" in my own home.

9-My husband or wife and stepchildren must treat me with respect.

10-Our marriage is our first priority, and we will address all issues together.

CLove's picture

AND the step parent bill of rights. After only 6 years in I feel like a veteran, but you are the true verteran! Thanks for being here for us!

Its definitely a learning process because it took me a long time to finally get to a comfortable place. And Im still faltering here and there...

Stepmummingfun's picture

Being a step-parent is fraught on so many levels. It is how you are percieved (particularly the step-mother). Step-parents are fighting invisible battles that they feel but don't know the parameters of. Self-care and treating yourself kindly is sooooo important and not letting anyone undermine or devalue you. There is often an implied expectation which you can get lost in - it is a matter of holding on to your sense of self and stepping away from other people's agendas. Hang in there! :)  

step-out's picture

I know there's a whole topic about this, but I'd like to hear from your experience how do you really disengage? I recently posted about SD25 whom I haven't physically been around or spoken to since our latest "episode" - I am positive I cannot be around her and fake be nice. You really spoke the truth about stepdaughters. Unfortunately, SS24 is on "her side" so I'm at a major disadvantage when I have to be around them together or separately. I should add that I have no kids and no family here to support me.