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By Mary Kelly-Williams, M.A.

When you year the word "step-mother", what immediately comes to mind?  Be honest... even if you're a stepmother.

Evil, wicked, manipulative, selfish...destroyer of children...just a few descriptions that come to my mind.

Mythology has not been kind to stepmothers and this underlying belief is alive and well in the 21st century.

Stepfathers are better off.  The day they say "I do", they don't turn immediately into green scary monsters.

However,  many stepmothers and stepfathers have learned the hard way, that the word "parent" should not be a part of step-parenting.

step parenting

Thus the oxymoron.

Studies show that children resent parenting attempts by their parent's new spouse, even when one of their parents is deceased.

Like many, I learned the hard way when I married my husband over 7 years ago.  He came with a 5-year-old daughter who was not thrilled with the prospect of having to share her father.

I didn't take it personally.  I came from a home with parents who loved one another and shared close to 40 years of marital happiness before one of them passed away.

It's hard for me to imagine the type of resiliency it takes to go from one home to another, adjust to new stepsiblings, different rules, and seeing your dad with another woman.  And all at the tender age of 5.

It's taken a long time for my stepdaughter to accept me, and I don't blame her.  She lives primarily with her mother, and has been witness to a parent struggling from time to time running a household without a partner.

Coming to terms with the notion that I had to take the "parent" out of stepparent has been humbling.  I thought I would make a great stepparent.  After all, I was a family therapist and the mother of four great kids.  

I was constantly giving my husband advice...well, the truth be...I was constantly in his face shoving my opinions and "expertise" his way trying to be helpful.  Besides, between my professional and personal experience, I knew I was RIGHT.


One weekend when my stepdaughter was visiting, I offered what I believed to be helpful advice (and it really was).  An hour after she returned home to her mother, my husband got THE phone call.  I had shamed her daughter.  The ex-wife was mad at me and then my husband was mad at me.

I thought to myself, "OK, I get it.  I finally get it."  I knew there was nothing shameful about my advice, but I was being put on notice that when something went wrong, I was going to be the first one blamed.

bq. It's when I decided to let go of my end of the rope.   I needed to respect that I am not the mother, this is not my child and there are two active parents involved in her upbringing, whether I agree with all of their decisions or not.

Things became a lot smoother after I decided to drop my opinions and my ego, and just let things be.  After all, I didn't marry my husband so I could be mother to his child.  

Sure-fire formula for stepparents:

1.Don't parent.
2.Value your stepchild.
3.Don't try to be their friend.
4.Do try to see them, hear them, and be an adult they can come to value and respect.
5.Always model an environment of kindness and respect with personal boundaries.


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