Mama & Step-Mama,  Uncategorized

Oh, The Places You’ll Go in Step-Parenting.

I wrote a post a few months ago about step-parenting, which was subsequently wiped out (purposely) with the blog-revamp, because I’ve struggled with my words ever since.  Though I stand by 99% of what I expressed, because I was basing my opinion solely on my particular circumstances (which mostly covered the respect I felt was due to bio-moms), I still feel discomfort and unease when writing in detail about anything step-parent related.

As open as I am with small details about step-parenting and the (somewhat unusual) harmony that Brian and I have co-parenting with my step-daughter’s mom, I tend to steer away from any negative aspect of step-parenting in general. This is not because I want to portray our lives as this perfectly blended magical co-parenting unicorn (it’s not), but because I worry that full disclosure may be deemed as complaining or airing unnecessary details.


The last few weeks, in particular, I have found myself searching online for support – for validation that I am not horrible or selfish in step-parenting.  I’ve been looking in vein for some blog post that tells me my bursts of sadness, frustration and/or inner anger are ok.  That I’m normal. That I’m not a monster.

Or a step-monster.

I have written that my step-daughter is the sole person on this earth who teaches me to love unselfishly every day – and that is true.  But that doesn’t mean I have mastered the art.  There are plenty of selfish moments that play out in my head.  But as a step-parent, you learn pretty quickly that since you have entered this venture willingly, you don’t get to play the victim card.  And from the moment you decide this is for real and you are sticking around, you scramble to download the cliff notes of parenting.

The cliff-notes.

Because, unless you already have children, you don’t know nothing ’bout no parenting.

Sure, you can wing it.  And you can be that “cool” new person to enter their lives. Maybe the fun new friend (though that role doesn’t last long, trust me). You can participate in all the parenting duties – usually with the term “light” added on (discipline-light…nurture-light).

You, my friend, are basically the Diet Soda of this family of fountain drinks.

And it’s when you fully read this parenting-by-cliff-notes manual, you learn that you should be loving and unselfish. You should put the child’s feelings and welfare before your own. You should be there for them. That is the definition of parenting.

But… you’re not really a parent yet.  You’ve only just dived into this – and though you’ve read the outline and made notes – you’re not feeling everything it’s telling you to feel.

Why aren’t you feeling everything it’s telling you to feel?!

But then, there are so many good days.  And those days outnumber the bad by 10 to 1.  So you forget the bad days and the feelings that you feel – which were not in the cliff-notes-to parenting, so they must not be ok.  You shove them deep down and you don’t let them show their sad, angry little faces.

You keep chugging along.

And things are 90% good!

People marvel at how well you are doing.  You are such a great step-mom!  And you start to believe it. And you feel good!

And then a dark day happens. And you feel selfish and angry.

You miss your family who is two states away.  You have moved here to be with your husband and his daughter.  You can’t see your family every week or every month – or even every holiday, because your holidays are not only split with your husband’s family – but the days (or sometimes hours) you have arranged to spend with your step-child as well.

But those holidays come and go – and you get over it.  You are grateful for FaceTime and Facebook!  Your life is wonderful and you make new strides every day, every week, every year.

And then you have a baby.  A new baby!

And you watch your step-daughter embrace that new baby so graciously and unselfishly – and you love her even more than you did before!  You learn from her grace and her genuine love and kindness.  And you fill with such a sense of pride and admiration for her – and are so grateful her and her new sister have each other.


You get sad again.

Your mom can’t be there to help you be a mom, because she is hours away in another state. And you are stuck here. Your baby, now a toddler, doesn’t get to spend time with the children of your siblings – or get to see your parents, her grandparents, as much as you envisioned she always would.

This is not how you planned it.

But then:

You watch these sisters – your daughter and step-daughter – love each other so deeply, that you learn from them.

You are always learning from them.

And so you keep going and you are thriving. And you take extra care to make sure they both feel equally loved. And you come up with ways on your own to make sure neither is missing out.

And then you hear a complaint that things aren’t fair.

And you are shattered. Because you have tried so hard. And none of it matters.

And then you get angry.

And you don’t want to try at all anymore.

But then, you see them.

Those sisters. Their love.

They are playing and laughing and hugging and hiding and seeking and chasing.  They make hilarious videos together. They are two peas in a pod and you can’t imagine a world where they wouldn’t have been sisters. And your heart is so full and happy.

Until, again.

When it’s not.

It’s angry. And selfish. Again.

You want to take trips with your toddler. You want to leave town spontaneously!  These are the years you can do it!  Before she starts school and she has a schedule and activities and obligations. Even at such a young age, you want her to travel and get used to different people and different cultures.

But you can’t. Because your step-daughter has obligations. And you can’t take one on a trip without the other. It wouldn’t be fair.

And so then you get angry that your toddler is somehow missing out. You have irrational, angry thoughts that your child is now sacrificing, too.

And you find yourself crying a lot more lately. And then you get angry at yourself for crying – and you scold yourself for being so selfish when there are so many worse things in life.

You chose this.  You have no right to complain.

But, here’s the thing..

You DO. You DO have a right.

You have a right to every one of your feelings, as a step-parent.

You can be told a a thousand different times by a thousand different people what a wonderful step-mom you are.  And you can still feel sad and angry and like a giant, fat failure.

Because, you are HUMAN.

You do not sign a waiver to FEELINGS when you become a step-parent. 

You get to feel everything. And you are not horrible for feeling it. You are human.

You are human. You are human. You are human.

I am telling you that you are not alone.  And maybe I’m telling you that, because I want someone to tell me that.

We are not alone.

This is not an easy gig. This is a f*cking hard gig.  And we will feel every emotion under the sun. And it’s ok. I’m telling you it’s ok, because for the first time: I’m telling myself it’s ok.

Feeling desperation, frustration, anger, selfishness, anxiety – and then feeling shame for feeling all of those feelings – is what I feel.  Often.  But I am still here. And I refuse to push these emotions down anymore – while putting on red lipstick and baking a cake and pretending it’s all a glittery rainbow of hippy love over here.

It’s not.  Not all of the time.

It’s an imperfectly perfect beautiful mess.

And, after eight years, we are still learning as we go.

And feeling as we go.

Besides, it’s when we stop learning and feeling – that the walls come caving in, right?





ps – I would like to note that despite what I wrote, I will still wear red lipstick and bake cakes. But that’s only because I love red lipstick and baking cakes. 



  • Tammy Fonk

    Although, I’m not a step-parent, I can relate to the selfish feelings that come with being a divorced parent with no active father in an agreed parenting plan. Meaning, how do I get time to date and do something for myself when I have two children to tend to 100% of the time. I feel mad, sad and frustrated, like you, when you have something else in mind. Then I remember it was my choice to leave and the guilt takes over.
    Similarly to you and I’m sure other divorced moms, I search for an explanation to justify my feelings…only to learn this on my shoulders (Along with God’s grace) to manage…..I own my feelings. No one, including myself, can take those feelings away or discredit them. I take ownership. How I handle them, in front of my children, aka not complaining in front of them, or knocking their father, is all part of my ownership responsibility and burden. So I move on…. Thinking about the beautiful quality time I have with them, that frankly their father misses out on. Yes it’s sort of spiteful but it’s only in my own head, that I bathe in my parenting advantages over him. But the bonding, the good and bad times that only I get to share it makes it all manageable. I then somehow convert sad and mad to priviledged and blessed. My perspective changes and I move forward and think and act in a positive manner. so nurture and own those feelings, they are all yours!
    Thanks for the continued posts!

    • Jen

      Tammy! I am so sorry that you are doing this all on your own! You have every right to feel frustrated and angry for these circumstances, and don’t deny yourself any of your feelings! I absolutely love what you said about converting sadness and madness to privilege and blessed. That is such a wonderful way to flip the negative feelings into positive. Thank you so much for writing! It’s amazing what we all go through without anyone knowing, isn’t it? Purging feelings sets us free, I truly believe that. xo

  • Hopeful Stepmamma

    Wow. I don’t even know what to say but THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I feel all of these things. There is no Step-Mom support group in my area. Thank goodness for Instagram and the other Step-Moms I’ve found on there. This road is hard. Very hard. I’ve been made to feel like I’m crazy or bipolar because of the highs and lows of it. It’s frustrating. My husband has not been the most supportive, but he is getting better. His family barged right in all of the time. Right after we got married his mom jumped off the deep end and did an amazing job as portraying me as a terrible person becsuse BM never stood up for herself whereas I do and continue to go so. Luckily, BM and I get along….for the most part. Everything is pretty amicable between the 4 of us, but it still is hard. Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking signing up for all of this. I love my husband dearly, but I refuse to be steam rolled by my 2 step children and in-laws. Thank you for the reassurance that, in deed, I am NOT crazy!!

  • Jen

    Thank you so much – and I’m glad we found each other! 🙂 It is a hard road – and tricky and complicated and fun and terrible and wonderful. And I think it definitely takes a lot of time for spouses to fully understand how complicated this can be for us. I’m so glad you and the BM get along – that’s a huge thing! And keep holding your own – you got this and you aren’t alone!

  • Nicole

    Oh. My. THANK YOU! For this! As tears of possible relief, or possibly understanding run down my face. I am happy to hear as a step-mama ( also a now a new mama to my own toddler daughter)I am NOT alone. I don’t know you but if you were standing in front of me I would hug you ( and invite you for wine!) I am thankful to know I am NOT monster and that my feelings are normal. The trying to surpress these feelings that arise at times can be a lonely existence and even though as you spot on said 90% is amazing, it’s that 10% you dare not speak or utter to anyone or you turn into the evil stepmother that Disney stories are based around.
    Thank you for sharing! I needed to read this article and hear from one Mama/Step-Mama to another!
    Much love to you and yours!❤️
    Thank You • thank you • ThAnK yOu

    • Jen

      Hi Nicole! Thank you for your comment. Know that you are definitely not alone – and step-parenting can often be isolating and lonely, your feelings are real and okay. Not many people want to talk about the tough times, because they feel “evil” if everything isn’t butterflies and rainbows. That’s just not how this gig works – or any parenting role. Unfortunately, step-parents are often expected to be silent in their sadness. Just know that you aren’t alone – or evil. We’re all human and we learn as we go. xo

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