Do you ever feel like you just don’t fit in to your stepfamily? Like your dream of actually blending together as a family unit will just never happen? What you’re feeling has a name. It’s called outsider syndrome. I’d never heard of it when I became a stepmom, but when I heard the term defined I realized it was exactly how I had felt.
What Is Stepmom Outsider Syndrome?
When one of the stepkids directs a question at your partner without looking at or acknowledging you . . . When the whole family reminisces over a trip or experience that happened before you were on the scene . . . How does that make you feel? A little left out, perhaps?
Stepmom Outsider Syndrome is, in short, when you feel like you don’t belong. Like you’re on the outside looking in – with your own family.
Here’s my tough love: You are an outsider.
The hard truth is that you weren’t a part of the first family unit and you never will be. You fell in love with someone who has children. There are all kinds of experiences they’ve shared that you weren’t around for.
You probably weren’t there for the kids’ first steps. Or the first time they threw a tantrum. Or as they dealt with their parents’ divorce.
But here’s the thing: THAT’S ALL OKAY.
It’s true, as stepmoms we weren’t there when the first family unit was formed or many of the things that happened within it. And know that the feelings you’re having are totally normal. Common, in fact, for stepmoms.
You won’t always feel like you’re on the outside. But forming a blended family unit does take time. So here are some ways you can start feeling more included right now.
5 Ways To Feel More Like You Fit In
1. Communicate With Your Partner.
And when I say communicate, I mean good communication. Productive communication.
So what does that mean? For starters, let your spouse know that you’re feeling a little left out. Your partner’s support is vital to addressing stepmom outsider syndrome.
If you’re having issues with the kids purposefully leaving you out of things, your spouse probably can’t force the kids to like you. But they can insist the children treat you with respect.
Your spouse can also verbalize appreciation for you in front of the kids, and work with you to create new family memories and experiences that will help you bond and move towards feeling like a family unit.
2. Be Patient.
It takes an average of seven years for a blended family to feel “fully formed.” That’s right. Seven years.
And a big part of that time will be spent establishing strong bonds with your stepchildren. And that bonding takes time. So be patient.
Let the kids set the pace of your relationship. The harder you push for it, the harder they’ll likely resist. Let the relationships evolve naturally and just remember that this can take years.
And most times, if you feel left out as a result of the kids’ actions, know that whatever they’re doing probably isn’t on purpose. For example, if they’re always bringing up past “first family” experiences, encourage them to talk about those experiences with you. Ask questions about them. Even if you don’t feel totally comfortable.
If they know you’re interested, the conversation may evolve to one where they explain the memory or experience to you. It’s a subtle difference, but it will demonstrate that they’re including you in the conversation.
A few years ago, we took two of my stepkids to Paris, and while there, we visited the church where my husband married their mom. And it was my idea. Did I feel like an outsider there? You betcha. But I knew they’d want to see it and that it would be meaningful to them.
They explored the sanctuary and asked Craig questions about the wedding. They didn’t know how uncomfortable I was. And that was totally okay. Because we formed our own memory in the church that day and ultimately the trip helped us bond as a family unit.
3. Encourage Basic Courtesy In Your House
Do you have house rules or have you and your partner discussed expectations around manners and respect with the kids? If not, now might be a good time to do that.
If you can set the expectation that all members of the family are to be treated with respect, then it will help ensure the kids are treating you with respect. Which will go a long way towards helping you feel more at home in your family.
Remember – your partner should be the primary disciplinarian AND they should be the ones to talk to the kids about rules. You can decide together if it makes sense for you to be a part of the discussion – that all depends on family dynamics. Just make sure they are the ones to convey the rules.
4. Find some kid-free zones and escape for a recharge
If you’re really feeling left out and out of sorts, focus less on the kids and spend time enjoying your own life, your marriage, and your friends.
This goes to self-care, friend. You need it whether or not you’re feeling left out in your own family. But if you are feeling like an outsider, you need it even more. Do things with your friends. Make time to go see family. Or go get a pedicure. Or take a walk – whatever it is that relaxes you or gets you into a better head space.
Taking this time for yourself will also help you achieve better balance overall. After all, how many of us dove into stepmotherhood head first and then realized we were neglecting ourselves, our friends, or our families?
5. Be yourself. Love yourself. And your family.
Don’t go changing just to feel like you fit in. Who did your partner fall in love with? You. Warts and all. So keep being that amazing person both with your partner and with their kids.
Don’t feel like you have to be a certain way or act a certain way to fit in. It’s more important that you be yourself.
So what if they have memories that you weren’t around for? Encourage them to enjoy their memories while you make new ones together. Then when they talk about “the good ol’ days” you can relax and know you have your own good times to remember.
Stepmom outsider syndrome is real. And it can be tough to navigate. But you can do it. And I’m here to help.