If you have a friend or family member who married a man with kids, it may not have occurred to you that there are things you should never say to stepmoms.
It certainly hadn’t occurred to me until I became a stepmom. There are, of course, all kinds of supportive things that you can do for and express to the stepmoms in your life.
But for now, let’s talk about the things that you should NEVER say to stepmoms.
As stepmoms, we are expected to handle everything with grace – including the sting of nasty comments.
And we try. We really do. But it can be hard when someone we love and rely on makes a truly boneheaded remark.
Especially when we know the speaker has the best of intentions and just doesn’t really understand the meaning behind her words.
So for all of you who know stepmoms, I’ve compiled a list of ten things you should NEVER (EVER) say to the stepmom in your life.
And one that you absolutely should.
1. You Knew What You Were Getting Into. What Did You Expect?
This one makes me crazy.
Do stepmoms know they’re getting a man with kids? Absolutely.
But beyond that, they most likely had no clue. Did they expect all the crazy that can come with being a stepmom? The loneliness, the conflict, the difficulty bonding with kids, or dealing with the ex. The lack of control over your own life, or the coparenting challenges?
No, there is no way anyone could expect all the dynamics that come along with stepparenting.
It doesn’t make it any less worth doing. At least for me, the good has always outweighed the bad. But there is no way I could have known what it was going to be like when I got married.
Instead, try saying something like, “This sounds more complicated than you thought it would be. I’m here for you.”
2. It Must Be Hard For Their Mom.
One of my stepsons has special needs and during a health episode that required hospitalization, a really close friend of mine said offhand, “wow, this must all be so hard for his mom.”
Um, just no. Girl, your friend is the stepmom, not the mom. It doesn’t mean you can’t sympathize with what the whole family is going through, or even what the biological mom is feeling.
But first, please recognize your friend, the stepmom. This child is her family, too. She will go through a roller coaster of emotions when her stepchildren are having a tough time. Her challenges may be very different than a biological mother’s, but it doesn’t mean they are any less real. Or any less serious.
And she needs to be able to lean on her loyal friends and family.
Instead, try something like, “Wow, what a difficult situation. Can I do anything for you or your family?”
3. You Got An Instant-Family!
This is a common one for people to say to stepmoms. And it’s usually meant with kindness and said with excitement. But it’s not super helpful for your stepmom friend or loved one.
Yes, she sure did get an instant family. But that doesn’t mean it’s an instantly happy family. You may not know that stepfamilies take an average of seven years to fully bond as their own family unit.
And during that time, an instant family can mean instant challenges adjusting, bonding, and dealing with conflict. Among other ups and downs.
It isn’t all bad. Not by any means. And most stepmoms love the heck out of their instant families. I sure do.
But it is much more than meets the eye. And it would be great for friends and family of stepmoms to acknowledge that.
Instead, try something a little more understanding, like, “Instant family, huh? Must be a lot of fun, but also challenging.”
4. It’s Your Fault Things Aren’t Working.
Yes, people actually say this.
I usually love hearing from my readers, but I recently received a comment I found astounding: “What a joke. If stepfamily doesn’t work, it’s stepmom’s fault. It’s 2020, not 1950.”
It totally caught me off guard. Not because it was negative. Everyone’s got a right to her own opinion and not everyone has to be interested in what I say or am offering.
But it was the blanket statement that if the stepfamily doesn’t work, it’s the stepmom’s fault. Wowzer. Talk about reinforcing negative stereotypes.
She’s right on one count. It is 2020, not 1950. Stepmoms nowadays, just like biological moms and all women, really, have more control over their lives. They are empowered to establish boundaries, to take a step back when they need to, and to stand up for themselves.
And they’re not required to suffer in silence. To put themselves last, or to accept being second fiddle in their partners’ eyes.
The family existed and was broken before any stepmom came along. It’s not a stepmom’s duty to put it back together. And she shouldn’t be made to feel unnecessary blame or responsibility.
What is her duty is to offer the best of herself and be there for her husband and stepchildren. To set up her own family structure and safe environment, and work hard to make it function.
And no matter what anyone thinks of her, she is almost surely doing her all to make it work.
Instead, try something simple, like, “I know being a stepmom must be really hard.”
5. They’re Not Your Kids.
First of all – duh.
Stepmoms know they did not give birth to their stepchildren. They are well aware that they likely wouldn’t even know the kids were it not for the men they fell in love with.
This is a well-intentioned statement but can feel dismissive to stepmoms. When we’ve had problems with our kids, I’ve heard on more than one occasion, “Well, at least they’re not your kids.”
Except they are. Did I give birth to them? No. But I love them. I care for and about them. And for me (and many other childless stepmoms), they’re the only kids I’ll have. I didn’t give birth to them, but they are my family.
Trust me when I tell you that stepmoms understand they’re not the biological parent. And that there are certain decisions and situations that can and should only be handled by said biological parents. Most stepmoms also understand that they don’t need to be front and center in the parenting role.
But when there is shared custody and the children are living in a stepmom’s house, she’ll likely be involved in coparenting. And when she’s in the thick of it, those kids sure feel very real to her.
Instead, say something like, “I admire you jumping right into what must be a difficult dynamic sometimes.”
6. Just Let Your Partner Handle It. Why Do You Need To Be Involved?
This is an extension of “they’re not your kids.”
It’s also usually well-intentioned. But the implication is still that because you didn’t give birth to them, that you don’t have an interest in keeping them safe, healthy, and happy.
Or that you shouldn’t be involved in coparenting.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most stepmoms care deeply about what happens to the kids and how they’re developing. And want to be involved.
That involvement looks different in every family and at every stage of stepparenting. But trust that the stepmom in your life is doing her best to figure out the right level of involvement.
Whether her role is super active, like attending school functions and sporting event, or more of a supportive spouse counseling her partner, she’s probably going to be involved in things that affect the kids.
No matter how involved she is, she’s probably navigating the tricky position of wanting to be all-in, but not wanting to overstep.
Instead, try something like, “Gosh this is a lot for you to take on. Do you want to talk about it?”
7. You’d Understand If You Had Your Own Kids.
This one kills me.
I am a stepmom without biological kids, so my response usually involves some effort to water down the snarky comeback I so want to give. And it usually ends up a more polite version of, “well, biological kids weren’t in the cards for me, so I guess I can’t understand.”
This is another one that is usually well-intentioned. It sometimes also sounds like, “if you’ve given birth, you’d understand.”
Yes, stepmoms who then go on to have their own biological kids often change their perspective on any number of issues.
But to say a stepmom can’t understand because she hasn’t had her own children is just plain condescending.
Are there certain things childless stepmoms haven’t been through? Sure. Childless stepmoms haven’t experienced childbirth. They don’t have the cellular connection to children that biological parents do.
But it doesn’t mean they don’t form close connections with their stepchildren. And it doesn’t mean they can’t empathize about other issues around biological motherhood. And it discounts any possible heartbreak they might be experiencing over not being able to bear their own children.
Instead, try something like, “It must have been quite a transition from single to married with children. You are my heroine!”
8. At Least You Get A Break.
Yes, this is a true statement. Unless your husband has full custody of your stepchildren, you’ll get a “break” during the times they go back to their mom’s house.
And yes, this can be nice at times. Especially if there’s been a lot of conflict going on.
There have definitely been days when my husband and I have looked at each other when the kids left and exhaled with relief.
But stepmoms and their husbands also miss having the kids around when they aren’t there. I know our house feels quiet and a little lonely when it’s just me and Craig. It’s always weird to go from seeing them all day, every day, to not knowing how their day is going or what they’re doing.
And I often have to remind myself that before his divorce, he never got a “break” from his kids. And it’s still hard for him to see them just half the time.
I should also mention that just because stepmoms have the kids less than full time, doesn’t mean their job is magically easier. Stepmoms deal with a whole host of dynamics that aren’t present in traditional marriages or parenting.
I’m not saying I don’t value the alone time with my husband that comes along with the “breaks.” I do. And sometimes I don’t know how I’d cope without them. But it’s just not that simple.
Instead say something like, “I know you must miss the kids when they’re at their mom’s house. But maybe you can make some plans to enjoy some alone time?”
9. You’re Not A Real Mom.
Okay, just don’t go there on this one. I can promise you it will not go well.
But truly, this one really stings. It’s not always said verbally, sometimes it’s heavily implied or hidden in other statements, like “you’ll understand when you have your own kids,” or “only when you’ve given birth to a child can you understand this emotion.”
I’ve got news. Stepmoms may not be biological moms, but they are 100% real moms. And then some. They’ve got grit, strength, and so, so much love to give.
And they deal with complicated dynamics and challenges that no biological mom does.
No, of course, I’m not saying stepmoms are somehow more “moms” than biological moms. I’m just saying that they should also be considered a mom. Call them “bonus moms” or “stepmoms” or “stepmamas.” Whatever they go by, they are absolutely a parent.
Instead, say something like, “You are doing a great job parenting. Keep it up!”
10. It Would Be Easier If They Were With You Full Time.
Often times friends or family will say this if there’s a real high conflict situation. They’re usually well-intentioned when they say it. They respect your parenting and are trying to compliment you and your partner.
But . . . it would absolutely not be easier if you just had the kids full time. Because that would mean they didn’t have any kind of relationship with their biological mom. And as tough as things may be with her, kids need their parents.
And I guarantee that if their biological mom were to magically disappear, there would be a whole host of resulting issues, abandonment and otherwise, that your stepkids would have to deal with. Doesn’t sound like that’s in their best interest.
The best and easiest situation is of course for the kids to have a low (or no) conflict biological mom who can effectively coparent in a way that shows the kids they have two households who love and cherish them.
That is a lovely scenario but is probably not the reality for most blended families. But it almost never means the kids would be better off with mom out of the picture.
Kids need both parents. And in the case where parents split up and marry others, kids need to know they have two homes where they are loved and wanted.
Instead, try something like, “I’m sorry things are tough right now. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you figure it all out.”
What You SHOULD Absolutely Say
So now that you know what not to say, what should you say?
I’ve given you a few suggestions so far.
And I don’t want you to think you need to walk on eggshells around the stepmom in your life. Far from it.
But what she really wants, more than anything else, is to know she’s supported.
And that she’s not alone. She might not know a ton of other stepmoms she can relate to. She might not have a lot of people she can talk to. Whatever you say or do, make sure she knows you’re there for her.
The stepmom in your life will most likely be understanding if you say something unintended, but what she’ll appreciate in most cases is a simple, “How are things going? You’ve taken on quite a role. Want to talk about it?”
She might say she’s fine. But she’ll forever appreciate knowing you have opened your heart to help her with her unique needs.
And if she does open up and you can listen and truly empathize with her? That’s pure gold.
I hope this helps you interact with the stepmoms in your life. And stepmoms, have you gotten any other crazy comments from friends or family? Comment below, I’d love to help you come up with a good response.