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.

Rewards of Being a StepMom

Have you ever had someone discount your role in your children’s life because they’ve just discovered that you are “only” a stepparent?  How did that make you feel?  Having people discount your contribution to the family simply because you did not give birth to the child is a very painful experience.  Raising children, whether you carry them for nine months or marry into their family, is a difficult process that requires commitment, sacrifice, and dedication.

Unfortunately, becoming defensive or trying to list all of the things you do for your stepchildren can backfire and make you seem like the ultimate martyr.  I have hope for all of you stepparents out there, though, who are feeling disregarded and under-appreciated.

I know you’ve been there for your stepkids.  You’ve attended their soccer games, gone to their choir performances, quietly cheered for their every success.  I know you’ve been shoved to the side when bio mom or dad suddenly slips back in to take that moment of glory and you’ve been left on the sidelines.  I know you’ve been there for all of the little moments, too – the canceled dates because your stepchild had the flu, the alone time you sacrificed with your spouse because he or she was feeling guilty about not spending enough time with his or her kids.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy..


Building Self-Esteem in Our Stepdaughters

Building self-esteem is not typically a topic gets a lot of attention on a parenting site, but I’ve discovered, through my own experience with my children and through reading emails and having conversations with other stepmoms, that self-esteem, particularly building self-esteem in our stepdaughters, is something we should be talking about more.

Young girls are already bombarded with ridiculous images of beauty in the media, and already have some of the most unreasonable expectations of themselves.  When you add to those pressures the chaos of fighting and divorcing parents, the adjustments of new living arrangements and a new stepmother in the picture, competing for attention with Dad, your stepdaughter’s self-esteem will dwindle even further.

The best thing you can do as a step mom, regardless of your relationship with your stepdaughter and regardless of the other influences she may have in her life (friends, her biological mother, or others) is to make sure you are not part of the destruction of her self-esteem.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy..


Changing Perspective: From the Bio Mom’s Point of View

I’m a stepmom and have been a stepparenting and blended family specialist for so long that I tend to talk about and think about everything from a stepmom’s perspective.  I suppose that’s only natural; I write what I know, what I experience.  However, having seen what my sister goes through with her children’s stepmother, along with a recent extended email conversation I had with a biological mom about stepparenting and her struggles with sharing her children with the new stepmom,  I realized that I was perhaps limiting my viewpoint too much.

Imagine giving birth to a child or children and experiencing those joyous days of building a family.  If you’re a mom in any capacity, you’ll understand that once a child enters your heart (through birth, adoption, marriage, or any other way) something inside you is changed forever. You can’t go a minute without thinking of the child, you worry over everything, you spend more time focused on the child than on yourself, and you don’t even notice the sacrifice.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy..


Stepparenting Doesn’t End When the Kids Turn 18

When I first began dating my husband and things were getting serious, I started doing the math. He had a 10-year old son and 6-year old twins, so I had about 12 years of stepparenting ahead of me. I was wondering to myself whether or not I could handle it. I hadn’t ever been a parent, let alone a stepparent. I’d even only been an aunt for about two months at the time. Even the word “stepmom” seemed elusive, frightening, and somewhat negative (thanks, Disney!).

Over time, with a love and partnership that seemed to grow exponentially, I stopped worrying about how long I would be a stepmom, and just enjoyed my new husband and new family. It’s a good thing that I stopped counting, though…I was awfully naïve to think that my parenting duties (with stepchildren or bio kids) would stop just because the kids turned 18.

My stepkids are now 25 and 21. Our 25-year old is in the Army.  It wasn’t until he was 18, enlisted in the Army, and got orders to go to Iraq that I realized just how very little of the parenting in stepparenting ends at 18. I worried more about him during that long 18 months than ever before; I cried like a baby when he managed to get a transport home for Christmas in the middle of his tour in Iraq.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.


Becoming a StepMom

I was not the greatest “mom” to step into the role of mother – when I inherited my step kids, I was 26 years old.  I had been used to being single, to being able to go wherever I wanted – whenever I wanted to go.  I had never been “tied down” by children or forced to find a babysitter to do anything. I had never even spent much time around children to understand how they worked.

My oldest step son, now 23, probably got the worst deal in the beginning with me as a step mom.  He was the oldest; he remembered his mom being in his life; he probably resented me more as the invader of his home and hopes.  He was also the child with whom I tended to struggle the most – with not knowing what I was doing, with not knowing what to do with a 10 year old boy – and he probably worried about how life would be with me in it.

That first year we were all together was probably roughest for him – and me.  I was trying to figure out my place among these four people whose family I’d joined, and I had a huge learning curve on the whole parenting thing.  This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.




Disrespectful Stepchildren

by Shadra Bruce

There are certain parts of step parenting that do not come into the light as often as they probably should.  While most blended families have struggles or issues – and some blended families have more than their share of additional stresses – it’s not often that people talk about what happens when step mom or step dad is being mistreated or manipulated.  You may find it very difficult to tell the man or woman you love that his or her child is causing you pain or has a part of their personality that is sometimes only visible to you.  While I always, through my articles and in my life, advocate giving the step child the benefit of the doubt, what I may not be stating clearly enough (and therefore will do so now) is that no matter what the child has experienced at the hands of divorce, you, as the step parent, deserve to be treated with respect.

I have been lucky, for the most part, in my step parenting experience;my step kids have been respectful and have allowed me a large role in their lives.  I have seen, however, both within my own family and within other blended families, the divisiveness that occurs when a step child manipulates a situation.

Parents believe the best about their children – how else would we learn to tolerate the terrible twos, the even-worse threes, and the challenges of raising teenagers?  We see the best in our kids, and we give them the benefit of the doubt.  We sometimes even go so far as to make excuses for them or their behavior.  We do it out of love.

There are times, though, when a step child discovers a way to make life miserable for the step parent.  This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.