Every stepmom needs her spouse to be her partner in order to succeed. That partnership looks different for every couple, but there are some common threads that should weave together every blended family relationship.
I’ve written before about how hard it was to transition into stepmotherhood. And how alone it can feel. And how so few people understand what it’s like to be a stepmom.
But your spouse is right there in the trenches with you. They’re your partner, your teammate, your biggest cheerleader. At least they should be. If they aren’t, talk to them. Ask them for what you need.
Remember, you’re a stepmom because you fell in love with a person who has kids. They love you and they love the kids. They have every incentive to make it work. Sometimes they just needs to hear what you need from them.
Here are six things that every stepmom needs from her spouse:
Okay, I could list as number 1 through 10, right? And most of the things on this list count as support in one way or another. But I’m talking about your spouse using a few targeted ways to support you.
What does this look like?
…With The Kids
There are lots of ways your spouse can support your relationship with his children. They can talk about you when you’re not around. Not to relate everything back to you, but just to keep you as part of the discussion.
They should back you up if you need to discipline the kids or ask them to do something. They should not undermine your authority in front of them. If they disagree with your parenting approach or don’t support an action you’re taking, they should raise it with you when the kids are not in earshot.
The kids need to see you two operating as a unit and on the same page about major decisions. If the kids think their parent doesn’t support what you’re asking them to do or the way you’re enforcing the rules, they won’t want to cooperate with you.
…With The Ex
This should go without saying, but I’m saying it. Your partner needs to always have your back where their ex is concerned. Maybe you have a great relationship with her and if so, that’s awesome. Kudos to you!
But if it’s tenuous and awkward at best, or hostile at worst, your spouse needs to back you up. They should never tolerate her calling you names or speaking ill of you to the kids. Or ignoring you in front of them.
They should always stick up for you and reinforce that you are part of their life. And that you aren’t going anywhere, so everyone needs to get along for the sake of the kids.
This one isn’t always simple. If the relationship with the ex is high conflict, their words may not be enough to calm the situation. But whatever things look like, you need to know they will always stick up for you.
…With Their Family And Friends
I have been super lucky where my husband’s family and friends have been concerned. His family accepted me with open arms immediately, and his friends saw from the start how happy he was and also welcomed me into their world.
It is certainly not like that for everyone. Many times families remain close to the ex or are skeptical about a new wife’s motives. Or guarded about getting close to her.
These dynamics can be tricky. Just try not to take it too personally. There was an entire (and probably complex) dynamic before you came along and you may not have all the facts or be aware of all of the landmines.
The first time I realized that some of my husband’s family and friends were still in touch with his ex, my stomach sank. Theirs had been a fairly ugly, high conflict divorce. He had been so destroyed by the whole thing, why in the world would they stay in touch with her? Did they not like me? Were they not happy he had put himself back together and found love?
But once I took a beat to think about it, I realized it wasn’t me. His ex had been in their lives for a really long time. And the fact is, she will always be the mother of his children. And because of that history, people might want to keep in touch with her.
So I quickly let that stomach sinking turn into a deep breath and I accepted that in the same way she’s always going to be in our lives, she would always have at least a small presence with his family.
Most times, your spouse’s family and friends staying in touch with the ex is not a reflection of their feelings about you. But there are situations where they may have been very close to the ex. They may feel disloyal giving you a chance. Again, it’s probably not personal or intended to hurt your feelings.
In those situations, your spouse should stick up for you. They should ask them to open their hearts to you, at a minimum, but if they are rude or intentionally nasty, your partner needs to have your back.
Also, remember that as hard as stopmomming is, your spouse has a balancing act with his kids and his family, too. They should try not to look for slights where there are few or none. And they shouldn’t feel like they’ve always got to be on the offensive when it concerns you and their family and friends.
2. Kind Words
Sometimes you just need to feel understood and supported. And it just takes a few words from your spouse to do it. I wrote a piece a while back about things that stepmoms need to hear that addresses this in more detail.
Your partner probably hates seeing you upset, especially if it’s been their kids or ex that has caused the issue. They may not know exactly what to say or how to comfort you. And they probably feel a little guilty that their family dynamic is causing you pain.
Talk to them about it and give them some suggestions.
If I’ve been upset, I start to cheer almost immediately when my husband asks how he can support me. For real. To know that he’s there for me and wants to help? That is everything.
Here are a few other easy suggestions:
“Thanks for all that you do.”
“I know it’s not always easy for you.”
“You’re doing a great job.”
“I’m here for you and we’re in this together.”
Or, how about just, “I love you.”
3. Active Listening
Sometimes you just need to vent. You need someone to hear you. You don’t even always need them to respond, sometimes you just need to get whatever it is off your chest.
This can be a Mars – Venus problem. Men are fixers. They can have a hard time understanding the concept of just listening because they want to help you solve the problem.
Women are talkers. We want to talk it out. Look at all sides of a problem. Vent. And maybe talk some more. That can drive our men crazy, I know. So you should ask your spouse if he can get into listening mode. Set the expectation for what it is you need out of the conversation so he knows you’re not looking for him to fix something.
I have had to remind my husband several times that I’m not always looking for a solution. Sometimes I want to just talk about it. That I appreciate that he wants to fix whatever is going on, but that sometimes it’s not that easy and I just need to express myself and then move on.
Just because we get thrown into the deep end of the pool doesn’t mean we automatically know how to swim. Get my drift?
There is a ton expected of stepmoms – immediately. We don’t get a grace period after the wedding. Or time to settle in. We’re thrown into the thick of things whether we like it or not. And expected to just handle it.
I’d like to think we do for the most part. But it sure can be overwhelming.
So, partners, I’m talking to you here. Please remember that your woman is doing her very best. You’ve had a long time before she came along to learn how to parent.
She’s learning how to do this ad hoc for kids that she didn’t give birth to. And maybe hasn’t even known that long. She isn’t going to be perfect. She’s not going to be able to balance it all, all the time.
Her relationship with the kids will take time. It may ultimately not be the great stepparenting relationship either of you had hoped it would be. But she’s trying her best. Be patient with her and let her know you appreciate all that she has taken on.
5. One On One Time
The upside of having some sort of split custody is that, unless you have other children, you have some automatic opportunities for one on one time with your spouse. When the kids are at their mom’s house, take the opportunity to reconnect. To enjoy each other. To rediscover.
If you have kids full time, you’ll have to make more of an effort for time together, just the two of you. But it’s well worth it. Your spouse is your partner and best friend – but you never want that to be all that they are to you.
If you forget why you fell in love with them and took all this on, then the burden could become miserable. Blended family life is complicated. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily responsibilities of balancing all these dynamics.
But it’s crucial that you put yourselves as a couple first. And on the regular.
Whether it’s fixing a nice dinner at home or going out, make sure you take one on one time. And I mean one on one time in which you do NOT talk about the kids or the ex. Where you’re just enjoying each other.
6. Alone Time
Girl. You need some time for YOU. Like every week. Even if it isn’t a huge chunk, you need to take some time to take care of yourself. Self-care should not be optional.
I am an only child and I had lived alone for about ten years before I met my husband. So the noise, movement, and general chaos that comes along with a husband and four children was totally new to me. I love and cherish it, I truly do. But there are times that I need some time just for me.
And that, friend, is okay. You are totally allowed to take some time for yourself. Whether it’s to go on a walk, take a bath, read outside, go shopping – whatever your alone time looks like, if you need it, take it.
Your spouse may not understand at first, or their feelings might be hurt if they thinks it’s that you don’t want them around. Talk to them about it. Make sure they understand that it’s not that you’re trying to escape from them or from the kids. It’s more so you can recharge and then be your best self for them and for the kids.
Communication is the key to all of this.
You may have noticed a common thread throughout all six of these tools. Communication. It’s the most important thing in any relationship – but especially the relationships that make up a blended family.
It’s too easy to put off that hard talk or to feel like with all that’s going on in your complicated family, your concerns wouldn’t be a priority. I’m going to stop you right there. Talk to your spouse. You two fell in love and got married for a reason. They love you. And they no doubt wants you to be happy.
I’d love to hear what your biggest support has looked like from your partner. Or what it is you wish you were getting?