When I entered stepmotherhood last year, I had no clue what to expect. Contrary, it seemed everyone I shared the news with did. They withheld no shortage of expectations for me, along with questions, opinions, and concern, though some provided premature acceptance and commendations—I thank those few who did.
It wasn’t as if I needed anyone else’s feelings to murk mine. I was already awash with skepticism of my own, especially around my partner and our relationship. What issues would we face that were impossible to foresee or course correct in advance? Would this lead the last four years of growth together down a catastrophic path?
It’s been nearly a year since I asked myself those questions, and since then I’ve been flawed by how many women I’ve met who are committed to blended families of their own.
Let me preface. I don’t have any children. And up to now I’ve never had the desire to, though I’ve been told countless times this will inevitably change. (At 31 years old, I continue to hold my breath.)
Our situation is also unique. My partner was born in Venezuela, and after getting his US Green Card, filed for his daughter immediately thereafter.
We also have the means and schedules to embrace our new family dynamic, brought upon us after this long immigration process. So, with more than four years to build our life together before she arrived, the notion of welcoming a nine-year-old stepdaughter emigrating to the US and into my home was almost ideal.
I knew it wouldn’t be rosy all of the time—you just read my doubts—but I took it as an opportunity to experience life, and my partner, in a new way.
In this spirit, I want to share what I’ve learned and how I coped to help you either relate to or prepare for your stepmothering journey:
1. The child is always a priority, but your partner needs to make you one too.
Anyone committing to a blended family should be prepared to reprioritize their world. But when a child is not your own, it can be easy for your partner to fall into the child’s needs and lose sight of yours. When this happens, it’s okay.
You will no longer be the center of the relationship and that’s expected. But what should also be expected is making time for one another.
For us, we carved time for a weekly coffee date after school drop-off. Each week we’d find a new local coffee shop to visit. It was a special way to connect with one another, despite our more hectic schedule, and I relied on it for comfort during those busy times.
2. You will get jealous. Redirect it.
Now that you’re not the top priority, nor the only priority, it’s very easy to feel overlooked. In those moments, try to remember why you fell in love with your partner.
I imagine some of those reasons are expressed within their parenting style—for instance, their empathy and attention to others’ needs. Focusing on this will help you redirect any insecurity and potentially help foster a deeper love of your partner.
3. Encourage each other to clearly communicate your feelings without fear of hurting the other.
There will be unexpected disagreements you can never prepare for, like how your partner approaches homework or how you prepare dinner. It’s important to tackle these nuances from a place of curiosity, not aggression. Assume you’re both trying your best and show that respect when navigating your new parenting roles.
And be honest. There’s no time to sugarcoat how we feel while there are so many moving pieces in the household. Be direct, listen, and when you come to an understanding, move on.
4. Establish trust with your stepchild before administering discipline, chores, or homework.
You are not their mother, nor will you ever be. Most children meet a new guardian with suspicion, even if not immediately obvious.
As much as you want to show off your parenting skills, take the time you both need to establish a connection first. Learn about your stepchild’s habits and interests to foster a positive home environment before directing them what to do.
Once we found our footing, I discovered demonstrating the behavior I wanted my stepdaughter to model to be more effective, opposed to voicing a lesson, which she was unlikely to listen to anyhow.
5. You will also get irritated. Cut it off at the onset.
It’s not so easy to model the right behavior all the time. Kids can be irritating, rude, and fussy. But the moment you catch yourself spiraling to an emotionally elevated place, notice it and stop it.
Practice helps with this one too. Don’t beat yourself up the first time you explode, but do exercise nipping the explosion in the bud each time you’re tested. Learn to take a beat, grapple with your emotions, then have a calm discussion with your stepchild.
I know, very kumbaya, but if there’s one thing you’ll hopefully get out of this experience, it’s the power of self-control and patience. Even if it takes many, many, many (did I say many?) attempts.
6. Don’t let your partner and your stepchild gang up on you. Ever.
Jokes should not be at your expense, especially in the beginning when things are precarious.
Your partner, on the other hand, so long as it’s not malicious, is absolutely fair game.
7. Evaluate if this is for you.
Stepmotherhood is a huge change and impossible to understand until you’re in it. Take a deep look at your situation and truly evaluate if it’s right for you.
I experienced trying situations that had me asking, is this something I want? With many conversations, self-reflection, and time, I determined I do. Very much so. But it’s completely acceptable and necessary to ask yourself that tough question. In the end, if the situation is not right for you, I can’t imagine it’s best for anyone else either.
8. Be proud of yourself, regardless of the outcome.
You opened yourself up to a new life and dived into an adventure many people wouldn’t be able to. No matter what, you’ll learn so much about yourself and grow in ways you couldn’t have predicted.
9. Have fun! The inherent youthfulness of a curious child is a beautiful thing.
I know I mention a lot of fears and concerns here, but the truth is that living with my stepdaughter has been transformative! I get a glimpse into the world from a child’s vantage point. I’ve rediscovered parts of my own childhood I only recalled through her experiences. I’ve begun looking at the world with more acceptance too. Small things just don’t bother me as much, because if you can get through a kid’s temper tantrum, then Bryan in Accounting’s attitude isn’t so bad.
So, there you have it—some of the lessons I’ve learned as I reflect on my past year.
While the same rules never apply across the family board, I do hope other new mothers in blended families have the same resources and confidantes to reap the most of their situation as I did.
I’m not certified in any of this. I’m just a 30-something-year-old woman who one day was helping raise a nine-year-old full-time. But if it helps to know, I’ve relished the roller coaster ride so far. I’m enjoying a new maturity high and better steering some of the challenging lows.
Most importantly, I’ve built lasting memories with her that I’ll always cherish. Like when she hit a triple during her first softball game. Or when I taught her to float at the community pool. And I’ll never forget when she wanted a picture with a 19th century clarinet at the Met after we encouraged her to join the school band.
I don’t so much cherish the times when, if her looks could kill, I’d be dead. But I value how much we’ve grown from them.
So, while she’s with her mom for a short time—immigration woes and travel arrangements—I look forward to when I see her again in a few short months. A little older and a little molded. I hope she runs to jump on me, holding on for minutes like she did when I returned from a trip to Berlin last year. And I hope she still asks if we can wear matching hairstyles and outfits.
Most of all, I hope others enjoy their ride and make their own precious memories. Stepmotherhood is a unique, but not an isolating, journey.