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25 Rules for Being a GOOD StepMom

by Shadra Bruce

I am very lucky to have been involved in the raising of five wonderful children, two of whom are my birth children (an 11-year old son and an 8-year old daughter) and three that I inherited by marrying their father, who retained custody of the children after divorcing their mother. I’ve learned some things on this journey that seem important to share with anyone who is a step mom or is planning to marry into a stepmother role:

1. In the children’s eyes, you are the final and most obvious symbol of their dashed hopes that their parents might someday work things out, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while for them to warm up to you.

2. There cannot be two sets of rules – daddy rules and wicked stepmother rules – you and your spouse should communicate regularly and have a united set of family rules that everyone lives by.

3. Do not try to compete with them-your husband loves you, but he loves them too. Don’t put your spouse in the middle of every tangle.

4. If you cannot open your heart to his children, do not marry him.

5. They are kids, you are the adult – they are supposed to make things difficult, and you are supposed to rise above it.

6. Children need consistency to build trust. Provide it with an open heart and mind.

7. The kids do not go away just because you said I do. They were there before you started dating, and they will always be a part of your life and his.

8. It is ok to demand time for just you and your husband-no kids, whether they are his, hers, or yours.

9. It is normal to feel a little insecure at times about where you stand-sometimes you are the outsider and they’ve had special memories without you, but it’s a sign of a healthy relationship when you can communicate those insecurities to your spouse and he understands and can help make you feel more a part of things (Dave shared old family videos with me so that I knew that the kids were like when they were little).

10. You have the right to be treated with respect, and your spouse should demand it of his children (he can’t make them love you, call you mom, or forge a friendship, but he can demand that they behave properly).

11. Be nice to the ex-wife. Period.

12. Never, ever, ever say anything disparaging about the children’s mother if there is even a remote possibility they will hear it-from you or anyone else.

13. If you and the new spouse have children, don’t forget that no matter how you feel about your step kids, your children will love them because they are siblings and will not want them treated poorly or differently.

14. Grin and bear shared holidays and birthdays-all the kids deserve to be with their families.

15. They don’t have to call you “mom” to have a parent-child relationship with you. It’s not the word that is important!

16. Be flexible. Realize that your husband has to balance many roles, and he needs your support and love, not criticism and manipulation.

17. Never, ever discuss child support, custody issues, or legal issues in front of the kids.

18. Give the kids time to get to know you BEFORE you get married-and give yourself time to get to know them.

19. Don’t berate your spouse in front his children. (This actually applies to your biological children equally as well).

20. Be prepared for tumultuous times-the children may try to test you, push you, find your boundaries. Be firm, pick your battles wisely, and remember that they ARE kids who are trying to find they’re way through an awkward situation they never asked for.

21. Biology does not make her a better mother than you, but children will only learn that over time, and only if you let them.

22. Children only want to please. If you just care and love and pay attention, they will respond and fill your heart.

23. If something does go wrong, don’t bury it-talk about it, with your spouse, with the kids. You’re a family, regardless of biology, so act like one.

24. Divorce is a life-altering moment for most children, and there will be issues of insecurity and fear that arise. Be there if they want to talk, reassure them that ALL of their parents love them, and help them work through their feelings.

25. Biology is only one way to be a mom. Tucking a kid into bed every night, being there for every success and failure along the way, holding their hair out of the way when they throw up-those things count, too whether or not you gave birth.

I have been raising my stepchildren for over half their lives now, and other than making the distinction for the sake of this article, I do not ever refer to them as “steps.” They’re just my kids, just as much as my birth children, and I’m grateful to have them in my life.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

29 Responses to 25 Rules for Being a GOOD StepMom

  1. Claudette Chenevert Reply

    April 6, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Shadra. Loved your post about what stepmoms and any parent for that matter need to to in order to create a peaceful and harmonious home. I’m sharing this with others because you shared many great points.
    Looking forward to reading more of your posts.
    Claudette Chenevert
    AKA The Stepmom Coach

  2. Maggie Reply

    July 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Thank you so much for your post…I needed that. Our family has been going through a rough spot. I am the “stepmom” but last year both of my husband’s children called a family meeting (our son is 8 and our daughter just turned 8) and told us they really wanted to call me “mom”. I was so honored and my husband and I sat at the kitchen table and cried. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life…my husband and I will be married 3 years in August. We have joint custody. I have 2 older daughters (one is married with a daughter) and the other is engaged. Up until they initiated a family meeting both children called me by my first name and that was fine with me…whatever made them the most comfortable. When I married my husband, I told him that I didn’t like the term stepkids or stepmother only because society has put such a negative spin on those 2 words so I would refer to all of our children as our children…he completely agreed. I have read many blogs and find so many different opinions that make me think and some opinions that have concerned me but I remember they are just that “opinions” OR what has worked for other blended families. So many of your points we practice in our home and it was nice to see that another woman believes the way I/we do. However, the exwife does not like me. I did try in the beginning. In my first marriage there was an exwife as well and I helped raise her son…she and I became family over the years and to this day our families still share holidays when our schedules allow so this experience has been different for me. I really tried in the beginning but have come to the conclusion that this experience and journey will be much different. I am working on getting rid of my resentment because it is only stealing my joy and has caused conflict in my marriage on occassion because I try to understand something that no one can and it is a waste of energy to try. My husband is helping me with this and he has been awesome. Our 8 yr old daughter has been struggling lately and expressing how hard it is to have 2 families and how she wishes we could all live in one house and see each other all of the time. My heart breaks for her and we make sure there is a constant line of open communication. I do wish there was a better relationship between us and their mother and her fiance’ but for now that is not possible. I am very blessed to have the family that I do and I will continue to be nice to the BioMom even though sometimes it is a struggle…love love love the 25 rules…all “other moms” (my exhusband’s exwife gave me that title…lol!) should practice these. I too am going to share with others and make sure my husband sees them as well. It was an encouragement to see we are living several of those rules. I cannot tell what a difference seeing those today made for me!!!! I’ll be looking for more posts!

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      July 21, 2011 at 6:46 am


      I’m so glad this was able to help you. It is a pretty amazing thing to have a stepchild call you “mom.” We never asked it of our kids, but the boys did almost right away. Kira is now 21, and only in the last year started calling me mom. She also wants me to legally adopt her. It’s been quite the journey since she was 6.

      I, too, tried my best to get along with bio mom, even though I spent many hours frustrated, angry, upset, or confused by her choices (she has not had a very active role in the kids’ lives; even though she was granted 50/50 custody when they were 5, she gave it up after one week).

      I am glad to have connected with you and really appreciate knowing as well that there are other stepmoms out there like me!!


  3. Michelle Reply

    October 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Shadra – thank you for these 2 tips. They really are great, and I wish I had read them 13 years ago when I first became a stepmom.

    I made a LOT of mistakes! I’m just grateful that my husband is patient and my girls have great, big loving hearts.

    To anyone who may be struggling, just know that time and love do heal. Trust your heart, admit your mistakes, and keep loving those in your circle to the best of your ability.

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      October 31, 2011 at 6:10 am


      Thanks so much for your kind comments. I believe becoming a stepmom is one of the most difficult roles women play. A supportive spouse is crucial, as well as a LOT of patience and a big heart.

  4. Merry Reply

    May 27, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Great post! Too often I’ve seen parents talking smack about the other parent. I’ve always been opposed to this. Do people not understand that, no matter what, the other parent is part of the kids biology and in essence, disparaging the other parent, is disparaging the child?

    Well said. Love your tips and kudos to you for putting this out there.

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  6. Melissa Reply

    June 18, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I have had the pleasure to parent a wonderful little boy that I met when he was three he is now 19 years old and expecting his first child. I was a rough road however I have always referred to myself as “your wicked step-mother”. He respects me for the guidance that I have given him over the years and I love him as much as I love his half-sibs my little guys.

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      June 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm


      My step son is now 25 and the twins (one son, one daughter) are now 22. It has been the most fulfilling and amazing journey. I’m so glad you can look back and see the good in the experience (we all know being the wicked step mother is a tough job!!) and that you were able to form a relationship with him – my ‘step’kids and I are very close – I can’t imagine life without them!

  7. Jess Reply

    July 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Im so happy things are falling into place with ya’ll but I have a step daughter and a son and my other daughters and nothing seems to go right its always something coming up with us. I feel like Im going crazy

  8. Erina Reply

    July 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I know you probably wont get this or even read it at all, but I just want to say is what you said is this article is truly amazing!!!! I may not have kids of my own, but I am playing a HUGE part in my boyfriend/fiancée’s kids life soon and they’re only 2 and 1, so reading this I’m ready to be a stepmother to those kids and I already love them as if they were my own already! Thanks for the rules and coaching!!!! :)

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      July 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm


      Thank you so much! I feel like it can be the best experience in the world…as long as all of the adults involved remember to keep the kids in mind!

  9. Melanie Reply

    May 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you soooooooo much! I recently joined a site to talk about things going on and instead of getting support I got Told I’m not allowed to call her my daughter and that all I’m doing is causing problems. All because I said that I am also her mother and that I do everything for her. I was called young and niave also told that I will never be her mom and I shouldn’t be so egotistical. I didn’t realise that loving a child and giving her everything was being so awefull!

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      May 8, 2013 at 6:26 pm

      Being a stepmom is tough, but you are in the role of a mom to the child. It’s not the name that matters! Hang in there and don’t spend time with negative people who want to knock you down for your efforts. There are very supportive and wonderful stepmoms out there who are willing to talk to you and hear you without criticizing. Everyone’s situation is different…you can only do the best you can with the situation. :) I’m here if you need to chat. Shadra at MomsGetReal dot com.

  10. Pingback: Stepparenting – Resources to Help You | MomsGetReal

  11. Josh Reply

    July 13, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I like how my step mum did all this wrong and basically made me depressed for 3 years of the entire time i was with her.

    she would just ruin everything. whenever she would go out with her friends for a night those nights were the best.

    but now that shes gone i dont think ive been happier. My dad seems happier, my REAL mum is happier and im definatley happier, and ive been getting better grades at school.

    If i had to change anything it would be that she left erlier

    she still tries to text me every now and again but i just ignore her. Whenever i see the text is from her my smile just drops and i just feel rage inside me. so i delete her messages.

    She did kick us out of the house, wont let dad see their daughter and kept all our pets after dad and her divorced but whatever. even though the house is a downgrade i feel happy.

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      July 18, 2013 at 10:07 am


      It breaks my heart to hear your stepmom made things so difficult for you. I can only encourage you to let go of your rage, be happy that she is gone, and focus on your relationship with your real mom and dad. Stepparents need to realize what kind of an impact they have on the kids whose lives they touch, and I appreciate you sharing your experience. Best of luck to you!!


  12. nandipha Reply

    December 16, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Hi,,I’m a 23 year old grl dating a 32 year old guy wth 2 boys 8 and 9,,never meet them thou and this is so difficult for me I’ve never been in this situation,I always tell my boyfriend since ilove him imyt as well love his kids itried my best,,!t the most annoying this is when he or the mothers kol him about the kids thou nothing much cz he will put the phone one loud or show me their sms bt its stl ht me,,*nd idnt wanna loose my bf,if there we’re no stop mom feels lyk it would’ve been better

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      December 19, 2013 at 9:15 am

      Hi Nandipha,

      I would really encourage you to move slowly. There are tons of warning signs here that are of concern:
      1. You have not even met the kids. How long have you been dating? How serious is it?
      2. You can’t approach it with the attitude of “I love him, so I might as well love the kids” – you’re already setting yourself up for failure, especially if you don’t know why that approach is wrong
      3. If it already bothers you that he is still connected to the children’s mom, it’s really a problem. That connection will not go away – and neither will the kids.

      I hope everything works out for you, but I truly hope you take it slowly. Take time to get to know the kids, communicate with your boyfriend, and do not tread on their hearts. It may be a sign that you have not yet met the kids that your boyfriend is proceeding with caution as well. Respect that.

  13. Lisa Reply

    February 7, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    I have found the perfect solution to being a stepmom and that is to realize that my step daughter is not my kid and I am not responsible for her in any which way. To me I treat her the same way as I do my friend’s children. I respect her and will be nice and keep her out of harms way but I do not love her like I love my own children who will always take priority in my life over anyone else’s children. I personally cannot understand people who say they love their stepchild as much as their own kids. If I was the biological child of that person I would feel hurt. I can maybe understand if you raised the stepchild and the other parent is not around then it’s almost like you adopted the child and that is a bit different. In my case my stepdaughter comes to visit her dad on the weekends. When she is here I do not really get involved in anything. She is here to spend time with her dad and I do not see any reason for me to try to play “mommy” with her. She already has a mom. Her dad cooks for her, washes her hair and does everything a parent should do for their child. That is his job and not mine. I do treat her well just like I would treat any visitor to my home.

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      February 8, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      I just think there’s room in my heart for everyone, whether I gave birth to them or not, but it seems like you’ve reached this point of not caring because of challenges in the relationship. I’m sorry they weren’t resolved more positively.


  14. Suzanne Reply

    February 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    This was my 2nd run as a stepmom — 3 girls. The eldest had nothing to do with me at all (tolerated) me at best. The middle girl was resentful and the the youngest girl adopted me — I shared myself and everything I had for 6 years (11 to 17). My husband and I tried to make her feel loved and supported — but — this past year — she became manipulative, evasive, disrespectful and dismissive. We tried to be understanding and supportive and all we received was stonewalling and dishonesty. The break was when after so much hurt my husband told her that he felt it was time she spent time with her mother and that her behavior was intolerable. I travel for work and was not home when this happened — but I texted her to and after that text conversation I felt her closing the door on us. She’s not responded to any messages and essentially stated that if it wasn’t urgent or you were family – don’t contact her. That cut deepest of all because I had thought we were close. I never tried to take her mother’s place and did everything I could to make her feel loved and supported….. but I supported my husband’s decision and so like a death in the family we are trying to pick up the pieces and continue. The door is always open to all three girls (27, 21, and 17) — I am not certain what has happened to receive this kind of disrespect — but must carry on know that I did all in my power to instill an environment of love, support and respect — we just didn’t receive anything back — that is the saddest feeling of all.

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      February 11, 2014 at 8:20 am


      One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t always have anything at all to do with whether or not the child is a stepchild. She’s 17. Whether biological or not, 17 year olds believe they are invincible and know everything and don’t need anyone’s support to survive. 17 year olds can be manipulative, evasive, disrespectful and dismissive without it having anything at all to do with the fact that she has a stepmom. It may not have anything at all to do with you being a stepmom, and once you take away that filter (and the way it forces you to personalize everything to how it impacts you or how much you’ve given as a stepmom) and simply see that this is part of being a mom, it takes away some of the complexity. I’ve seen this happen between biological daughters and mothers as often or more as with stepmoms and stepdaughters. I know it’s small comfort to know that it’s not because of the step relationship, and I love that your heart (and your door) are open to these girls. You can only do the best you can, but a relationship takes two. Give her time to grow up a little and realize what is really important.

  15. Lisa Reply

    February 14, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Hi Shadra,

    Thanks for your reply. Although I respect your opinion, I think you are mistaken when you say that I do not care because the truth is that because I care is why I have the relationship I do with my step daughter. I care enough to understand that she does not need another mother because she already has one. Out of respect for her and her mom, I do not try to act as her mom. Just because I choose to act more like a family friend than a mom, does not mean that I don’t care about her. Just because I do not love my friends children doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. This is he same case with my stepdaughter.
    The time she does come to visit she spends it with her dad and not me because I care enough to let her and her father bond without me in the picture. She comes to see him and that’s exactly who she needs to spend her time with. I also respect and love my own children enough to not ever say that I love someone else as much as I love them. The love I feel for my own children is so special that I could not feel that for any other child (Maybe if I adopted it would be different, but then that child would become my child as well).
    I think that as a society, we have this idea that as a stepparent you need to immediately fall in love with your step children just because you fall in love with their parent. This is not always the case nor does it make you an evil person just because you do not love your step child. I think the bottom line is that it is perfectly OK not to love your step children but always treat them with respect just like you would treat any person.

    By the way, I really enjoyed your article. :-)


    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      February 18, 2014 at 9:42 am


      We definitely have different perspectives on this! That’s ok, though, because every stepparenting experience is different. I was very lucky that my husband had primary custody of his kids, that their bio mom chose not to have an active role — I was able to be much closer to them because of that. While I definitely agree with you that you don’t immediately fall in love with the stepkids because you fall in love with their parent, I do think that it is up to the adult in the relationship to foster the healthiest relationship possible, and I’m not sure how that can happen if you simply choose not to be involved. I can’t fathom not falling in love with the kids of my love…but respect for each other is not the worst place you could be!!

      Thanks for your kind words about the article — the book version will be out this year!


  16. marlene Reply

    June 9, 2014 at 5:00 am


    I just got married to a man who has custody to her daughter. I thought it wont bother me in anyway that he still keep in touch with the mum, but recent turn out of events prompted me to be sensitive. I was out of work, and my in-laws discussed about how much the mum was making and this really hurts me.


    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      June 9, 2014 at 8:47 am


      I am sorry you had a bad experience, but giving advice that everyone should avoid this kind of relationship just because you had a bad experience is not very fair — I married a man who had custody of his three kids, and 15 years later we’re still thriving. Stepparenting is hard work and a huge commitment, but it can also be worthwhile, and your situation will not be what every woman experiences.

  17. BreeBree Reply

    December 4, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Hello Shadra! :)

    Thank you for sharing this information – I couldn’t agree more with you on EVERY single one of the ‘rules’. :)

    However, I am greatly seeking some advice that is more direct in the sense of your personal situation, please (with only a few minor adjustments to help in my, somewhat similar, situation).

    I have never been married before, so the ‘title’ situation has not been an issue…..till now….

    Let me back track, briefly, to give some understanding to that statement, please.
    1. I was once in a four year long, ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ relationship, where we lived together. He had three amazing little (stair-stepped) boys. We ALL took to each other so easily and I fell in love with the four of them almost at the same time. I had met his children right away….and already knew the ex-wife (aka – the children’s mama) from social gatherings prior to dating this man. She was not happy about the divorce….therefore, not happy with me and him dating….nor, of course, me helping care for their children. :( That hurt my soul where I never knew it could hurt….and tried HARD to not allow her negative remarks, looks, and actions affect me and this relationship….but it finally took its toll on us all and the relationship eventually met its demise…..very sadly. Took me several years to finally let go of my ‘almost ready-made family’ and we all finally stopped staying in touch…. and i still think about them from time to time, and just smile big to hear, through some grapevine, that they are well and happy…probably always will…. And I mean, we only had them every other weekend, a month in the summer, and flip-flopped for the major holidays (when the ex-wife was being cooperative, anyway)….but I have always wanted children and a loving, happy, close-knit family of my own…..and this was my first semi-taste of that….and even though we wanted them all the time, lol, she wouldn’t allow it (and i respected that…but didn’t like it…lol)….BUT, we just made the most of EVERY little time we had together…
    2. I later on became engaged to an old ‘high school – puppy love’ boyfriend and his WHOLE family was small but SO VERY CLOSE and they took me right in. This guy had a niece and a nephew that were almost always glued to his hip…lol. Well, they were little darlings and the little girl ended up glued to my hip, but not the teenage boy…lol…though he never made me feel like he didn’t love me, or like me. we had our good ‘close’ moments here and there. Ok, so their mother, my soon to be sister-in-law, became ill and was not able to care for her children…and wouldn’t be able to for quite a while…and so we took them in. Not a single issue was present, concerning the children, their mother, or caring for them….we just got bogged down in financial stress when his father, who lived with us in hospice care before we took on full time with the kids….and that caused our relationship to fail….
    –while in that engagement, i was told that it was very unlikely for me to have children of my own (which broke my heart, yet allowed me to embrace being able to have temporary custody of those angels)–

    Now…back to the present, and to the situation I referred to earlier: I am now in a VERY SPECIAL relationship with a man I’ve known for 10+ years. Though we just started ‘dating’, or getting very close and learning more about each others lives, earlier this year. Which is, of course, when I got to meet his two little rays of sunshine. :) The girl is about to turn 6, and the boy just turned 4. Thank The Lord above….again, instant acceptance, happiness, respect, and love from them. And this man….sigh….this man is so wonderful to me…. I don’t think I could be happier with anyone else, honestly. My concern here, though, is that he has had full custody of them since they were babies….the boy being only a few months old. Their mother left them all then….and has had no contact, or attempts of contact to their knowledge….told their grandmother that he could have them…she didn’t want any of them…. I MEAN NO DISRESPECT TO ANYONE WHEN SAYING THIS; BUT I JUST CANNOT UNDERSTAND HOW SOMEONE COULD GIVE BIRTH AND BE SO BLESSED, AND JUST NOT WANT THEM AND WALK AWAY…..I SHALL NEVER JUDGE(guess she had some reason why, i have no clue), BUT IT PUZZLES ME SO…..I DON’T THINK I HAVE THE MENTAL ABILITY TO EVER COMPREHEND THAT… Anyhow, so the ex-wife is not present to create the challenge here…..but it’s the fact that they HAVEN’T had ‘MAMA’ almost their whole little life….and THAT i’m not used to dealing with…. they already come to me like i’m ‘mama’ in some circumstances….and their dad even makes comments to me, like ‘let’s go mama’, you hungry mama?’ and so forth and so on…you get the jest, i’m sure…lol.. It makes me happy and feel so loved in some ways, but then scares the mess out of me in other ways, and cause i know that their daddy has also been mama, so to speak, for a lonnnng time….i don’t know if there’s boundaries of any sort to not venture over, in this situation. and i don’t want to just jump right on in along with them and seem overly confident about it….cause i know for a fact that i have no clue how to be a full time mother, mom, mama, or even step-mom…. This just recently kind of kicked in….so no, i haven’t had an in-depth discussion about my concerns with him, or them, yet….but even still, some very specific advice would SO GREATLY be appreciated……if possible.

    Thank you! :)

    • Shadra Bruce Reply

      February 6, 2015 at 1:22 pm

      I wanted to thank you so much for your wonderful comments and the awesome stories you shared about your experiences. You have a huge heart!! I know you are just what those kids need. You know how I know? My three stepkids had the same thing happen…their mom just STOPPED wanting to be their mom.

      The twins were 5 and their brother was 8, and she gave up her custody. Just gave it up. My husband was a single dad, providing both mom & dad duty for two years before I came along. My boys also took to me right away and called me mom. My “step”daughter took longer to call me mom, but we have always had that relationship.

      It does remove many of the complications, but there will be other challenges – like the sense of abandonment they may feel as they grow up.

      I’d love to keep a conversation going with you and again, I am soooo sorry for not catching your post sooner!!

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