10 Ways to Support Your Wife as a Stepmom

Written by Mike Jantzen


supportstepmomI just asked my wife how long she has been a stepmom. She knew almost down to the second:
“Four years, four months and four days.” She’s done a lot in her life: run half marathons, earned a master’s degree, even changed the oil on fifty trucks a day for a summer job, but nothing has challenged her as much as being a stepmother to my two boys who come every weekend.

She has risen to the challenge remarkably, but it’s been a journey. Sometimes she has felt alone and misunderstood. To stand by her, I’ve had to figure out what she really needs from me. Having a blended family is still incredibly hard, but our teamwork and communication has gotten a whole lot stronger.


Further reading: My wife’s story of fighting her way out of resentment.

Here are 10 things to remember as you support your wife as a stepmom:

1. She needs time to grow in unconditional love. This kind of love is twice as hard for her. It doesn’t flow naturally in her veins for your kids. You are able to forgive and have patience with them much more easily because they’re your flesh and blood. Don’t expect her to be a bubbling, joyful, loving stepmother all the time. Give love time to grow.

2. She needs you to listen patiently to her disappointments. She is always settling for less than she hoped for. You may have been a great catch, but what tagged along shattered some of her dreams. No woman dreams of sharing finances between two households, or of always having another woman’s schedule and decisions affect her life. Her romantic ideals did not include having dates with you interrupted with text messages from your ex.

3. She needs you to be her cheerleader, not her critic. The “evil stepmother” is the exception, not the norm. Most stepmoms work really hard at their role; they want this messy thing called the blended family to actually work. Your wife is probably already working on trying to improve. She might even feel like a failure. If you have to bring up a recurring problem, do it over a romantic dinner and first tell her how amazing she is.

4. She and the kids need time to work out their relationship themselves. Men like to fix things, but when it comes to blended family relationships, this can really backfire. Well-intentioned suggestions are easily taken as implied criticism and can make a stepmother feel bad about herself. It can also feel pushy to her and the kids. At the root of such suggestions is often frustration and impatience. This isn’t something you can fix quickly.

5. She needs your back up. Stepmoms don’t gain respect the instant they form a new family unit. Respect is usually earned over the long haul. If she corrects the kids or says ‘no’ to their latest request, tell them, “You heard what your stepmom said!” If you disagree, tell her privately and gently. If the kids act defiantly toward her, make sure they know you are just as much a part of the decision. Form a united front and don’t budge.

6. She needs you to notice her efforts. It’s always a good idea to show appreciation to your partner, but when she’s a stepmom, it’s even more vital. She may not receive hugs and kisses or “I love yous” from the kids too often. Model appreciation: “Thank you for cooking this amazing dinner for us!” Remind your kids to say “thank you” as well. When you’re alone together, layer on the praise and be specific. “You sure work hard at putting those lunches together for school.” “Thank you for being so patient when this place becomes a zoo each weekend.”

7. She needs you to listen without taking things personally. I’m sure you’ve been there—your partner is upset and telling you all about it, but then you suddenly get defensive; your pride takes a hit because you’ve begun to take it personally. You feel like she’s asking for a life that you can’t provide. When this happens, remember: she’s not attacking you. She just needs to express and process her frustrations with blended family dynamics. Keep your skin thick but your heart soft.

8. She needs you to respect her view of the situation. Your take on the situation is incomplete. The way you see things has been shaped by your past experiences with your former spouse. You also have an array of emotions that effect how you communicate with your ex. Your partner can offer fresh perspective and valuable wisdom as you navigate decisions as a team or try to solve conflicts with your former spouse. She’ll feel validated when you seek her advice.

9. She needs a place to call her own. Kids have a way of taking over a house. Every room becomes a playground, and it can feel like they only have two volumes: loud and louder. We all need space to stay sane, but as a stepmom, your wife needs it even more. She may not be used to the chaos, so carve out a space that’s just for her—a room that’s off limits to the kids or buy her a new reading chair for your bedroom. Then she’ll have more energy to offer the family.

10. She needs you all to herself more than once in a while. With the divorce rate for second marriages even higher than for first marriages, it is crucial that you carve out time to be together: book a night away; keep a regular date night; take a trip occasionally. Make sure to schedule it or it won’t happen. When you get away, just focus on each other; don’t talk about the mess. Only respond to emergency calls or texts. Protect your time together so you can stay together and beat the odds.

As you work at remembering and prioritizing your wife’s needs, she will feel respected, understood and cared for. She will become even more motivated to become the very best stepmother she can. Your marriage will become a source of strength and joy as you face even the toughest challenges in your blended family, and your kids will have a greater sense of security as they witness what a healthy marriage looks like.

devo-interact-icon-42x421Take Today’s Next Steps:

Are you feeling lost in your blended family? Talk to a mentor. It’s confidential and free.

How my wife fights against resentment.

My story of feeling like a failure at marriage again.

Blended Family: Caring for the Wounded.

118 Responses to “10 Ways to Support Your Wife as a Stepmom”

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Hi Sj,
    I’m glad you found this article! :-) And I think you are on the right track….pray, pray, pray!! Only God can change your husband’s mind about having children of your own….since he was excited about your pregnancy have you considered that he is perhaps also grieving the loss of that child and is afraid to try again? Sometimes men aren’t always in touch with their emotions and he might not even realize that this is impacting his thinking….just a thought to explore at some point.

    In the meantime, continue to concentrate on your marriage and don’t nag…God can and does change the minds of men ;-)

  • Sj says:

    This is a great article; I found it on accident. I have been with my Husband for 13 years; married for 4 years out of that time. I am a StepMum of His Children since they were 7 and 5. Theyre grown now and we have a great relationship because My Husband, puts God first and me right there next. We’ve had that family dynamic forever now and Im thankful; He does all these things that are displayed in this article. I guess what I wonder sometimes; when we have talked about us having children; there is a resounding No. Now, I do understand why. Our age difference is 13 years and Im the younger. I also get he says he’s selfish as he wants us together and nothing between us. You know. Just us and our time. And I love that about us. :) And we are really happy. I came to a point where; after 20 years of no menst. cycle and no ovulation (problems when I was younger); I was restored and so I thought that having children with him was possible. So after coming to a point to where I need to understand that maybe its not possible to do that; I got pregnant and he was happy and we were adjusting to the surprise. Then 3 months ago, I miscarried at 17wks. So its devastating. Anyways; What bothers Me is when we talk about it and sometimes I would bring up maybe we can try; and then he responds with the line, “My Kids are your kids too”. That maybe true; in a way but its not.
    I cant get him to understand that its not that Im not insensitive to them and that he’s more than enough for me and we are truly complete and all that. I just thought that maybe it would be wonderful for us to have our own family line. I could maybe give something of myself now that Im all better and fixed and all that. But I dont know. I dont want to upset our thing, however I do want to respect his stance on no children. Its like Im fighting two things. And I refuse to be miserable in our marriage in the long term. I feel stuck. But for the moment I will continue to pray on it; and work through it. Thoughts?

  • M. Jantzen says:

    Hi Catherine, I’m sorry to say it, but this article and the one here: http://issuesiface.com/family are all that I’ve written on the subject of having a blended family. My wife’s perspective is here: http://powertochange.com/family/stepmom-resentment/ as well as her personal blog: http://www.stephaniejantzen.ca/ (but you’ve probably already checked that out). It does get easier; we learned our biggest and hardest lessons in the first few tumultuous years. For one-on-one support and encouragement, I’d suggest connecting with one of the free and confidential mentors this site (charity) offers.

    All the best as you stick in there!

    M. Jantzen

  • Catherine Finnegan says:

    Please tell me you have written literature? I’m a step mum and finding it quite difficult

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Erudia, Have you talked to your husband about that? Has he heard those things from his daughter? I would think that this would be good for both of you to work on together so that his daughter knows that you are a united couple, both able to be trusted with difficult conversations like this. As you know, young people going through emotional and physical changes of adolescence can be prone to different kinds of misunderstandings and emotional swings. You can be a big help in those times by not getting offended but remaining a safe, consistent place of love, truth and acceptance. Working together with your husband will be a great way to be that for her,

  • Erudia says:

    I been with my husband for 5 years now.We only be married for 3 years.I love his daughter like If she was my own.when I’m out with her,other always think. She is my mine.since the day ,she turn 12 and having her period.her mother asn,t been letting her around my house. I didn,t make anything of that.untill I listen to a voicemail from his ex telling him how his daughter don,t want to be around me. She say when his father is not around. I treat her like a slave.Im to straight. I have always treat her the same.even if my husband around.people always mention how of a great relationship we have.I guess thing not going as great I thought it was. Help.

  • Erudia says:

    I been with husband for 5 years now.We only be married for 3 years.I love his daughter like If she was my own.when I’m out with her,other always think. She is my mine.since the day ,she turn 12 and having her period.her mother asn,t been letting her around my house. I didn,t make anything of that.untill I listen to voicemail from his ex telling him how his daughter don,t want to be around me because of me. She say when his father is not around. I treat her like a slave.Im to straight. I have always treat her the same.even if my husband around.people always mention how of a great relationship we have.I guess thing not going as great I thought it was. Help.

  • Alfred says:

    Hi Sherri, Reading and re-reading your story, and praying to God for good advice, I must say that you are neither “inconsiderate nor selfish”. You seem to be going through MORE “trying times” than your husband is! He’s not only using you but is also ruining your financial stability. No wonder he had to live with his mom. (I’m wondering whether your children’s father would be able to pay you child support.) I think you should be very careful not to let your husband take any more of your money; Just tell him you have no more!!!
    As for his children’s mother wanting to pick up the children on short notice, I suggest you may sometimes interfere with that by taking them out just then, so they are not home when she comes to get them. Also, you may have to put your foot down to “spend some mom/dad time with only your kids”, and equal time with only “his kids”. It will be a good move towards fairness for both sides. Of course his X will balk at that, but she must learn to co-operate.
    I hope you remember that God knows exactly where you stand. Was the Bible read in your home before all this? Is it being read now? Family worship as well as daily personal quiet-time before the Lord is very important! God is able to see you through.
    I also suggest that you talk to a mentor. You can choose that option at the top of this page.
    Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you for being available 24-7 to hear our prayers, and our cries for justice. Today I ask that you comfort Sherri, and give her wisdom to deal with a situation that only You have answers for. I also pray her husband’s X will experience something to help her understand Sherri’s side of the picture. Instead of aggravating each other, may there be love among family members. That can come only from You, Lord. Thank you for helping Sherri to take a step in the right direction. We pray in the name of Jesus, our intercessor. Amen.

  • Sherri says:

    I love reading this. My husband and I are going through some trying times. When my husband and I first started dating he lived at home with his mom because he could not financially afford to live on his own due to child support. He had his 2 children every other weekend and on Wednesday evenings. And,I had and still have my 2 children living with me at all times because their father does not pay child support and is not present in my kids life. As time went by, our relationship became serious and we decided that he should move in with me. We continued to have the kids every other weekend etc. On weekends when I only had my children I would make arrangements for my mom to have them so we could spend a day or weekend together. As time went by, my stepkids were with us every weekend and 2 weeks on and off during the summer. My husband would pick them up on Friday evenings and she would pick them up Sunday early afternoon. She would let us know ahead of time she would let him know. This new arrangement was never discussed with me. Now, his ex will let him know on Friday that she is keeping the kids, Then, on the summers during our 2 weeks if she wants to pick them up for a day to do something she does and we then pick them back up. And, on Sundays when she is supposed to pick them up she will let him know that sunday that she may be picking them up late because she has a social event she is attending. My husband is okay with her doing this. He told me they have a good relationship with eachother and that he is flexible. I voiced my concerns that I am not okay with someone telling me at the last minute on keeping the kids and I am not okay with her picking them up on a day of the week that we are supposed to have them. I can not understand why she can not notify us ahead of time like on a Sunday-Tuesday that she wants to keep the kids or why cant she make plans with them on the summer the 2 weeks that are hers. He tells me that I am inconsiderate and selfish. I don’t feel like I am being either. I feel that my schedule has to work around hers. My husband response is if we want to do something on the weekend he can let her know in advance and we can do something. So why do we have to let her know in advance and her not do the same???? My husband then throws it in my face that I have my kids all the time and he doesn’t so he wants his kids anytime and everytime he can get them. I understand that he loves his kids and wants them all the time. We then get into an argument if I take a weekend off during the 2 weeks in summer we don’t have his kids because I want to spend some mom/dad time with only my kids. He states that I am again being selfish. My kids don’t get one on one time with me when stepkids are there every weekend during the school year nor can I plan to spend one on one time with them because she decides and lets us know that she is keeping the kids the day of drop off. I hate that my kids have to work around his ex’s schedule or shall I say time to be determined type of schedule. I am at a loss with this ongoing battle.

    What also has put a strain in our marriage is that my husband is horrible at finances. While living together before we got married he had poor credit so I signed a truck in my name for him. a couple of times he was behind in payment due to buying birthday gifts and/or Christmas gifts for his kids he could not afford. I bailed him out and paid the car note. Only to have the car repossessed a couple of months late/a week prior to our wedding from non payment. There went my credit. Hence, I paid for the entire wedding he only paid for his rental tux. which was not agreed upon when we planned the wedding. Now, earlier this year he had another SUV repossessed. Not to mention, these past 2 years 12,000.00 and 14,000.00 was taken from the IRS due to him owing back taxes and student loans he owed prior to us getting married (debt he accrued while with his ex wife. Most of that money was gained from my job (claiming 0 on taxes, tax credit for my 2 kids, and having extra taken out, the house I own and the house I rent). He claims 5-6 and wonder why he owed money to the IRS in the past. I am at a loss when it comes to his finances. He does not understand that if he does not have the money to buy the new x box for his son or daughter he does not have the money. The past 2 years have been rough financially, and I find myself getting more and more into debt bailing him out. While he continues to buy his kids things he can not afford.

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  • Michelle Humpfry says:

    All of this feedback is extremely helpful. Myself and my boyfriend have a great relationship until we bring up his parenting skills and what his mother’s expectations are for me as a stepmother. I personally do not have children and feel extremely judged when it comes to what “motherly” role I should take on. In my opinion my role is to make sure the kids are safe and be respectful when they come around. I will even take them to do activity when they come for the weekend. I don’t feel this extreme bond and it hurts him that I don’t love his children. One day the girl (who was about 11 at the time (I met her at 7) told me she love me when we were dropping her off to her moms. I felt totally uncomfortable and I answered with a okay see you soon. I didn’t know what to say but I did not feel it in my heart to say it. I just don’t know if I am equipped to take on a stepmother roll being that I do not have children. I feel like I am having to make several lifestyle adjustments and I feel judged by his mother by not making his children feel loved. I don’t know if this can be fixed.

  • Davina says:

    So I’ve been with my boyfriend for two and a half years and he’s got a 5 year old son. We get on okay we just put up with each other really to keep my boyfriend happy. I’m 21 and I’ve just brought a house with him. But a part of me is now thinking I shouldn’t have done because I don’t know if I can do this hole step mum thing. I went to a family wedding back in Feb and the child’s mum came up a lot in conversation which upset me, surely his family should know not to talk about her in front of me? So how do I stop comments like that from upsetting me? Cause I love my boyfriend very much and I don’t want to leave him.
    And another thing I don’t know why but whenever his son is here I feel left out and like I shouldn’t be hanging around with them in my own home cause I’m not apart of there family, it’s nothing they have done cause they always ask me to sit with them but I always say no and sit alone upset stairs and I never want to take part in anything that they do publicly cause it upsets me when people say I’m his mum. I just can control my emotions and I just don’t know what to do, please some one help me!

  • Lexie says:

    Hello, my name is Lexie and I’m recently engaged to my fiancé. He has a 4 year old son that I get along with very well. I’ve been in the boy’s life for a year now. What I’m having trouble with is learning to cope with the fact that I’m not his mother. We get along so well as a family but the real mom is very much still in the picture, at every family event that involves his side of the family and even lives a 1/2 mile from our home. The kids mom is a wonderful mother!! But she is very controlling of my life. She resents that I’m in the picture at all, I’m still not allowed to take pictures with the child, I’m not allowed to be alone with the child, and if the child has nightmares I’m not allowed to sleep with him, and I’m not allowed to pick him up from preschool even if I’m the only one available. I don’t want to wait until the alter before I’m allowed to fully be in this child’s life that I already love. What’s the best advice on how to have patience with this?

  • Elkay says:

    Ingrid, I am sorry your situation has worked out this way and it sounds like you have made a final decision to break it off. Since you are not married, there is no lasting commitment between the two of you and you are free to leave. It seems like you have learned a tough lesson in all this so if you would like to have some support during this time, mentors are freely available to come alongside you. Just hit the “Talk to a Mentor button on this page, briefly describe your circumstances and someone will contact you in confidence by email.

  • M. Jantzen says:

    Hi Ingrid, does your partner go by the federal child support tables: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/child-enfant/fcsg-lfpae/2011/index.html The government made this to simplify arguments and court cases about child support. Both parties are to simply find their number on the graph and that’s the deal. If she is trying to get more than this, then he can go back to court and use the tables to state his case. Judges go by the tables in most cases. Take care.

  • Ingrid says:

    After 8 years, I’m ready to quit. I’m a stepmom in Holland, with my partner a former Dutch marine with two lovely girls. His ex is incredibly controlling and calculating, for example using the schedule which she develops unilaterally (and to be as inconvenient to us as possible). From 8 + 10 years of age, we have had the girls every week-end from Friday to Monday and 50% of all vacations.

    My Fiancee paid child support normal for our community. But then his ex and her boyfriend moved to the most expensive village of holland, and joined the cutlure where kids have smartphones at 12, they had cleaning ladies, homework supervisors, and regular gourmet dinners. For all of this, my very simple ex-marine seemed to go along with the idea of 50% responsibility, which he could only do with additional funding support from me. His ex decided she didn’t want to talk with me, which was a power move – she knows I’m harder to manipulate. She has lied to us to create a ‘maximum drama’ approach with him to get as much attention for herself as possible and also demands that no criticism is allowed of her, while the rest of us are given regular feedback of how we have failed to meet her expectations in many small ways (I get mine via SMS or broken telephone through my partner). Basic point: This degree of controlling, attention- seeking, and entitlement without any attempt at cooperation or 2-way respect is unsustainable. She obviously likes screwing up our vacations, and will actively block if i try to take my fiancee away for time alone, having invented ‘crises’ to call us all to her living room and listen to her problems. If she’s not a borderline personality, she’s close. My Partner is scared of what she will do to the kids if we don’t go along (she threatens to kidnap them, abandon them, tell them untrue things etc) which has now evolved into a situation where the girls are starting to treat him the same way.

    Maybe later, the girls will wake up the fact that their Mom’s behaviour is mildly pathological, and not motivated to protect them. But she can be so charming, and I hold little hope. Last year I watched the girls show up a week after my partner was returned from life-saving cancer surgery, and both of them without shame explained that they handn’t brought anything for Father’s Day. It’s really feeling like I’m helping to raise assholes!

    This culminated when the ex successfully sued for additional child support (we were already voluntarily paying double, with my help) to 4x the original agreed amount. I know that this is largely to do with the fact that his ex and her boyfriend are very underwater on the mortgage of the house that they bought just before the financial crisis hit. Hey are also trying to bill for cleaning ladies, homework supervisors, separate exam prep classes, and gourmet dinners.

    My guy is newly recovered from cancer, just had his oil sector job shut down for 8 months, and is an honest, forthright person. The judge found that he should get a 2nd job (at 57) and pay 3x the support he was already voluntarily paying.

    I’m out. This is clearly not going to improve, the girls have never seemed in any way appreciative of the trips I paid for them to visit Canada and Norway; and if their Mom is unhappy, I know that they will be emotionally and verbally abused if they show loyalty to their Dad. They don’t want to visit his boring village and their ‘poor’ Dad, when they can stay in their rich village with their friends. (They are now 16 and 18).

    I need out. I do not plan to be part of this messed up situation where one incredibly emotional and controlling person feels she has the right to make all major decisions and criticise everyone else while being exempted from criticism herself (there’s rather a lot, actually, I could come up with).

    I’ve informed my partner that I am no longer in his family, and while I love him, he should plan to manage his realtionships with his daughters without me. Someday, if they become people who are capable of thinking of him, or anyone else, or anything other than shopping, I might want to have a role, but I honestly doubt it.

    My solution at the point is to move to another country, and build a home free from drama bombs, the uber-controlling ex, and the manipulation and deception that was her modus operandus.

    For my own mental health (I literally suffer from anxiety and obsessive thoughts trying to protect my fiancee from her)I have unliterally decided to move. I’ve told my partner he is welcome to join me, but I am afraid of what his happen when his daughters hear he is leaving. There will be drama, it will be big (pregnancy scare, illness, suicide attempt?) to use to make him feel guilty for abandoning them – even though they’ve made no attempt to see him or respond to his messages in 9 months.

    Any advice? I’m so tired and sad and feel like I’m giving up on the girls — they will never know their fathers’ side of the story, what he had to put up with, what he sacrificed. Their Mom worked 4 days a week, lived in a million euro house, had cleaning ladies, homework supervisors and exam prep classes, and sent them away as much as possible. I don’t like or respect her, and the fact that she early refused to have any contact with me is a blessing, although my parter cannot handle her – she speaks circles around him, he’s a marine not a lawyer.

    Thanks for listening, any thoughts?

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Danielle,
    Thanks for sharing your story with us. Your boyfriend definitely was put in a difficult situation when he had to choose between you and his children. At this point he has made that choice, so may I suggest that perhaps your best course of action is to move our and find a place for you and your girls, and then get yourself into rehab and get cleaned up both for yourself and your two girls. As long as you are still using, you cannot be the mother you need to be, and that comes first, before any other relationship.

    Once you have cleaned up, then you can deal with your relationship with your boyfriend. You were only living together, not married, although people often feel that is the same, in my observation the commitment isn’t the same. When you are just living together, it is easier to just split when the going gets rough. However when you are married you have made a covenant commitment before God and man and so you work through those tough times in a different way.

    If you would like to have an online mentor to email privately who would walk alongside of you on this journey, just click on the link above, or here, http://powertochange.com/experience/talk-to-a-mentor/
    Doris

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    Laura,
    You are in a tough situation indeed, complicated by your PCOS. May I just make an observation? I think that you are confusing some of the grief over your PCOS and inability to have a child with your feelings about your husband’s child…if you look back at what you wrote… “I feel like the worst person in the world. But how do I sacrifice my feelings and try not to resent this little boy because I cannot have a child of my own?”…you are grieving the death of your dream of being a mother and having children with your husband. Many other women have dealt with this as they deal with infertility and it is difficult.

    Ending your marriage is NOT the answer! Your husband loves YOU and wants to stay in his relationship with you. Instead, look for a support group or perhaps a professional counselor to help you deal with your grief over the loss of this dream. Only then will you be able to accept your husband child and accept him as part of your family. Then you will see that it is a blessing because he does have a child that you too can love and accept.

    If you would like to have an online mentor to email privately who would walk alongside of you on this journey, just click on the link above, or here, http://powertochange.com/experience/talk-to-a-mentor/

    Your situation isn’t hopeless Laura, but work on the grieving process first and then walk through the acceptance of your husband’s child.

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