If there's one thing all stepparents can agree on, it's that we had no idea what we were signing up for. Throughout this incredible journey, I've learned countless stepmom lessons and gained a ton of perspective.
No matter if it was learned through personal (excruciating) experience or through the power of perspective shared by a stepmom sister, I'm grateful for each of these stepmom lessons.
The Most Valuable Stepmom Lessons I've Learned
Let your partner take the lead.
When a stepmom jumps into her role, she usually steps up to take the lead. She wants to save her husband, organize the family, and prove herself. But, generally speaking, it's not wise for the stepmom to step up and take the lead in the family or the co-parenting dynamic.
Your partner should take the lead with parenting (especially discipline), rule setting, and communication with your stepchildren's mom.
Control is usually not an option.
You need to be conscious of your circle of control and recognize that you have no bearing over what happens at Mom's house. You can't control when bedtime is, how much screen time is appropriate, or determine how healthy the meals are that your stepchildren will be served at Mom's house.
It's out of your control, and it's not worth your peace of mind worrying or stressing about it. (This is such a hard lesson for stepmoms to learn, but once you grasp it, you'll feel like a whole new person!)
Pick your battles.
Before you start a fight, make sure it's worth it. Whether with your stepchildren, your in-laws, or your co-parents, make sure that the battles you're choosing are truly worth the potential drama.
You don't want to be the stepmom who complains about everything her stepchildren do, and you definitely don't want to be the co-parent who shook things up so much that the dynamic is no longer cordial.
If something is truly wrong, address it. If it's not, let it go. It's important to focus on what really matters, and what you have control over.
Your marriage is the foundation.
Honestly, when I first became a stepmom, I didn't know I could come first. I thought my husband would always prioritize his daughter because she came into his life first. But the longer we spent together, the more clearly I understood the kids don't come first in a blended family.
You can't ignore your marriage; it is the solid rock on which the rest of your family is built. Go on date night, hold hands, and write love notes to one another.
Your stepchildren already have a perfect example of a failed relationship; it's important for you to show them what a healthy relationship looks like.
Present is more important than perfect.
Are you struggling to put together the Pinterest-perfect birthday party? Or to cook the healthiest, most handmade and original meals each night? Or to compete (and win, obviously) against your husband's ex?
Stop it. Right now.
Take a breath and enjoy the present. Your family doesn't need perfect; they need you.
You're not a replacement for their mom.
I often caught myself thinking in the beginning that I felt like I was living my husband's ex's life. I was tucking her daughter into bed on our nights, I was sharing laughs and making memories with her once-husband and her daughter.
I thought I was her replacement and needed to be just like she was. I worked tirelessly to compete against this idea I had of her, but one day, it hit me that being my husband's second wife doesn't mean I need to be the second iteration of his first.
It simply means I came second consequentially, and that's it. I developed a greater understanding of the stepmom role and truly embraced the place I get to fill in my stepdaughter's life, a place completely separate from her mom's.
That aha moment is easily one of the most important stepmom lessons I've learned.
Self-confidence is the key to your happiness.
The moment you recognize the invaluable role you play in the blended family dynamic, your entire perspective shifts.
Instead of clinging to resentments and insecurities, you are able to more fully enjoy your loved ones. You become more confident in yourself, and you're able to fully experience and enjoy your family.
Self-care is critically important.
This was a tough one for me! I thought I needed to be all things to all people, and I was put last on the priority list every single time, and it was exhausting.
But one day, my stepmom friend gave it to me straight. She told me I'm not showing up best for my family because I'm not re-energizing and resetting myself first.
Expressing my needs and taking time for just me to relax, to go out with my girlfriends, or to indulge in a guilty pleasure, isn't selfish. It's actually critical for my family.
It's okay to take up space.
Another valuable stepmom lesson I learned from a friend is that it's okay to take up space.
Let your opinions be heard, voice your boundaries, and take. up. space. And while we're at it, stop feeling guilty for taking up space. You're just as much a part of your family as your stepchild, so stop feeling guilty for letting your voice be heard.
Love the kids more than you hate the ex.
When divorce with children occurs, it's common for emotions to run high.
One parent hurt the other with the divorce (usually), and it's hard to separate that anger from the marriage and subsequent divorce, from the new situation you find yourself in co-parenting and raising your child in two homes.
It's just as important for the new stepparent (as it is for the biological parent) in this situation to love the children more than they hate the ex.
Don't let your resentment, disgust, or judgment keep you from putting the children first in your co-parenting priorities. Don't use the child as a pawn, a messenger, or a confidant. It will only end badly.
Stepmom is a fluid role.
I truly had no clue what I was getting into when I started dating a man with kids. When I realized there was no one single or "right" way to stepparent, my mind was blown.
I eventually began to feel comfortable in a fluid role in my family where sometimes I'm really involved and some days I'm far more disengaged.
Allowing flexibility in my role has helped me maintain my sanity and helped keep the peace in our family; it helps me to avoid crossing my husband's or stepdaughter's boundaries.
Be water, not gasoline.
I've been guilty of fueling the fire and encouraging my husband in negative thoughts, comments, and actions.
But instead of fueling the fire, I need to be like water and work to diffuse the negativity. Adding to the situation isn't helping anyone. It may make you feel better for a moment, but the consequences are far worse.
I'm stronger than I knew.
Finally, I never knew my true strength before I became a stepmom.
I am far more resilient, fearless, generous, and loving than I ever knew I was capable of. And so are you, friend.
It takes a courageous heart and a strong will to stepparent, but you'll exceed even your own expectations of what you're capable of.
I have learned countless stepmom lessons, and these are just a few of the most valuable. I'm confident I'll continue to learn and grow throughout this stepmom journey, and I'm grateful for the opportunity for additional perspective and strength.