Stepmoms, your feelings matter too

Stepmom feelings matterHave you ever had a difficult situation with your stepchild and thought to yourself “Well, I shouldn’t really complain. It’s harder on my partner because it’s his child, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut”? Like somehow you weren’t allowed to be upset because you’re not the mom or dad? If so, you’re not alone.

When there’s a serious situation going on with a child – mental or physical illness, addiction, serious behavioral issues, etc… – stepparents’ feelings are often invalidated or ignored because they’re “just” the stepmom – or dad’s girlfriend.

Sometimes this is truly how others are treating us, sometimes it’s just our perception of how others feel about us and other times it’s our own self-imposed “rule” we didn’t even realize we had.

It’s Not a Competition

There seems to be a belief that because you’re not the biological parent, you can’t possibly be suffering as much as they are, therefore you should just keep your chin up and mouth shut.

I believe in most cases this isn’t an intentional diss by others. In fact, it can be quite subtle. It can be in the way that an extended family member might ask you how your partner is holding up, or states “it must be so hard for him,” but doesn’t ask how you’re doing with it. Not acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, it’s been difficult for you too.

And sometimes it’s our own beliefs that prevent us from acknowledging our pain. Our internal dialogue telling us to be strong and supportive, that now is not the time for us to acknowledge or process our feelings. And then before we know it, the crisis is over and we’re moving on to the next.

Honoring your experience

Just because someone else’s pain seems to be more intense or they are biologically closer to the person having/causing the issues, it doesn’t mean your experience doesn’t matter. Maybe their suffering is for their child, and yours may be a combination of pain for what their child is experiencing, but also for the effect it’s having on your life; the intrusion, the upheaval every time he has an episode.

You may not even realize you’ve been holding it in, until one day someone sits down with you, looks you in the eye and says “Wow, that’s got to be incredibly difficult for you. How are you holding up?” And then it hits you, “Um… yeah, actually, it’s been horrible.” And you realize no one has ever said that to you before.

Your experiences and emotions are real. And they deserve to be acknowledged and processed in a healthy way. Even if your partner is too busy with his own pain to be there with you in yours, at the very least take some time alone for this. Or find a good friend (or community) who understands and can be there for you as you express your resentments, anger, pain, hatred, etc… without invalidating you by stating that the parent’s pain must be worse.

Sharing your experience with your partner

Although he may not have the bandwidth to handle it while in crisis mode, when the dust settles, have a conversation with your partner and let him know that you just need him to listen to your experience of the situation and how it affects you. Because it does. If there’s something he can do to make it better for you, ask him for that. If not, tell him you just want him to listen. Remember, his default thinking is probably “how can I fix this?” So if there’s no fixing to be done, let him know that.

For example, “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you and I’m happy to talk about that. But right now I’d like you to listen to how I experienced the situation – what it was like for me. I understand you may not want to do anything differently and that you’re doing the best you can – but I at least need you to have this information.”

If you don’t take the time to really work through your emotions and process your pain, you’re basically invalidating your importance and you run the risk of repressing powerful emotions that need to be released. And we all know those repressed emotions like to surface at the most inopportune times. A dirty dish at a holiday dinner ends up eliciting a reaction that’s really the result of all the crises you’ve endured in the past few years.

How to Honor and Move Through Emotions

There are many ways to acknowledge your feelings and experiences. Below are a couple of ways I’ve found that work really well for most people.

  1. Journal. Write down all your thoughts about the situation. Write down everything, even the thoughts you’d be too ashamed to speak. If you’re worried about someone finding your journal, burn it afterwards. What’s important is to let out what’s been festering inside of you. And of course be gentle with yourself. No judgments here. There’s no good or bad, just honest thoughts and feelings.
  2. Notice your emotions. Are you angry? Sad? Frustrated? Resentful? All of the above? Let the emotions flow. If you need to hit a pillow, do so. If you need to cry until you have no more tears left, do it. Those are healthy expressions of healthy emotions. Then bring your awareness to your body and notice how and where these emotions show up. Maybe a pit in your stomach, a headache, a backache, an aching in your chest, a lump in your throat. Then gently place one hand on that spot and take a breath. Imagine you’re breathing into the tension where your emotions are sitting. Do this until you feel the lump/ache start to dissipate. You can do this for as long as you wish.

What’s important here isn’t that others are validating your feelings (since we can never control that), but that you are validating and honoring them.

It’s great to be a supportive partner, but you must find the balance between supporting others and supporting yourself. Regardless of what any outsider thinks, you ARE affected by the actions of everyone else in your family. And your experience deserves to be acknowledged and tended to with love.

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

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Stepmoms, there is nothing wrong with you

Stepmom feeling normalThis is a short blog post with one purpose, to let you know that you’re OK. That you’re normal and there’s nothing wrong with you. Whatever it is you’re thinking or feeling about your experience as a woman dating or married to a man with kids, it’s not unusual. 

A little perspective 

A common theme among my stepmom clients and the stepmoms I connect with in the Facebook community is that they think there’s something wrong with them because they’re challenged by their situation.

They think they should be able to handle this easily, but the truth is that many have started experiencing anxiety and depression and their stress has manifested in physical ailments. They also feel an overwhelming sense of shame in regards to their thoughts and feelings about their situation and their inability to deal with it effortlessly.

The vicious cycle

Due to the shame, these things aren’t often talked about openly, which causes more shame because everyone thinks they’re the only ones struggling. They feel  isolated, assuming they’re the exception to the rule and that everyone else is handling it easily. But the truth is if there are stepmoms out there who are breezing through it, they’re the exceptions.

I guarantee you, if you’ve thought it or felt it, regardless of how “awful” you think it is, so have thousands of other stepmoms before you, including me!

It’s easy to make yourself wrong for your struggles, but you’re not wrong. You’re just experiencing what most normal, healthy individuals experience when they’re in a situation as inherently difficult as a stepfamily.

Asking for help

That doesn’t mean things can’t be better for you, of course. But first you have to come out of the proverbial closet. Reaching out for help isn’t for the weak, it’s for those who are strong enough to say “Right now I can’t do this on my own and if I want things to change, I need to change something.”

One of the reasons I love my job so much is because I get to give stepmoms hope and show them that, at the very least, when they improve themselves they improve their experience of the situation.

Connecting with the masses

This is a simple exercise you can do any time you’re feeling down on yourself for feeling down.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself connecting with all the thousands of stepmoms around the world who are also struggling. Then imagine opening your heart and sending them love and compassion for everything they’re going through. Then send yourself the same love and compassion for your experience.

The bottom line is you’re not alone and you’re not unique in the struggles you face or your thoughts and feelings about those struggles. You are completely normal (and fabulous!), just like every other stepmom in the world.

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

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The Power of an Apology

ex-wife apologyI will never again say never. Wait. What? Nevermind.

Something unexpected and beautiful has happened that felt surreal for a while, but now that I’ve had time to process it I’m ready to share.

After about 5 years of conflict and 1.5 years of basically no contact, I recently received an apology from my husband’s ex-wife. It contained no justifications, no excuses, no blame, nothing but a pure, sincere apology and a request for forgiveness for every “angry word and hurtful message” she ever sent to me.

“Stunned” doesn’t begin to describe what I felt at that moment. Shock, relief, gratitude, dumbfounded… that was some of it.

And a surprising feeling of being freed from a burden that I didn’t know I was carrying. It felt like a ton of bricks had just been removed from my heart. Only I didn’t know they were there, until they were gone.

I thought I had done a good job of forgiving her without an apology, but I couldn’t have known how differently I would feel after actually receiving one.

The thing about an apology is it’s an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. With that gift in hand (and I DO see it as a gift) I immediately softened, lowered my guard and was able to look back at our situation with a new perspective, with more compassion and a clearer picture of how difficult things were – for everyone – at that time. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.

For those of you who don’t know anything about my experiences, you can get a glimpse here.

With every change (even positive change) we experience a loss

After the initial feeling of shock and elation started to wear off, a feeling of uneasiness crept in. It took me a while to realize what it was: a feeling of loss – which really confused me. I should be feeling nothing but happiness, right? Then I finally figured out exactly what I felt I was losing: the certainty I had about her. The predictability of her behavior and who she was in our relationship. With certainty, I had put her in this box of being “high-conflict” and being incapable of ever changing.

But with that apology, all of the things I thought I knew about her and our situation flew out the window. It left me feeling very confused. After all, I had written a book about how to deal with the conflict. I work with stepmoms on a daily basis to help them cope with such situations. Does this invalidate all my past work?

Do circumstances matter?

I have no idea what prompted the apology. Why now? I can make assumptions all day long, but in the end it’s none of my business and it doesn’t really matter.

I do, however, believe circumstances must have played a part. I’ve always believed at any given time we’re all doing our best. All of us are different people in different situations at different phases in our lives.

So if everything aligns just so to create the perfect storm, our best might be a 3. But when circumstances change for us, we have the opportunity for our best to be a 10.


As I’ve said, I may never know what brought upon this change. But I do know for sure that for my husband and I, not communicating with his ex for over a year was extremely helpful. It forced an interruption in an unhealthy pattern and gave us all a chance to reset.  Perhaps needs that were getting met through the conflict were forced to get met elsewhere.


Not because of the apology itself, but because of the space the apology created within me, I’ve been able to use everything I’ve learned (professionally and personally) since then to explore the ways in which certain things could have been handled differently. How my husband and I could have approached situations in a different way that might have led to more collaboration and peace instead of more conflict.

We couldn’t have known that then – but when you know better you do better, right? So I’m grateful to be able to use my knew insights to help other stepfamilies who are having their own difficulties.

So what’s the moral of the story?

It’s a funny thing, the timing of this apology. I had just completed a new coach training where they teach that we should elevate everyone. And although I love that in theory and it really resonated with me, I felt conflicted about it because of my experiences. And then I received the apology. It was like the Universe’s way of saying “Told ya so!”

Now that I’ve had some time to sit with it, I’ve gained some clarity on the things I was unsure of:

  • The past hasn’t changed.
  • Everything I’ve written on the subject still stands.
  • Thousands of women (and men) are stuck in high-conflict situations and the work I do with them and the tools I teach are still not only valid, but crucial for finding inner peace when faced with conflict.

But now there’s also… hope? And the belief that seeing the conflict as separate from the person could really serve us.

There’s also a knowing that anything is possible.

The past remains, but now our future will surely be different. And words can’t express how thankful I am for that.

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Stepmoms: stuck on the outside

Stepmom stuck outsiderHave you ever answered the phone and your stepchild says “Is my dad there?” instead of “Hi (insert your name here), how are you? Is my dad there?” Or maybe every single time the child asks a question or tells a story he only directs it to dad, as if you’re invisible. My personal favorite is when my husband and I were on the sofa and from the kitchen my stepson hollers “Dad! Want anything?”

Chances are, as a stepmom you experience this on a pretty regular basis, especially if your stepkids were older when you met them. If you don’t understand the why behind it it be can pretty painful. After all, who the hell ignores someone sitting RIGHT THERE?!

Why do I feel like such an outsider?

Patricia Papernow, PhD says that in nuclear families it’s normal for the kids to alternate who they prefer to go to for answers and comfort – sometimes mom, sometimes dad. The parent who the child prefers at that time is called the “Insider.” But in stepfamilies, it’s always the parent (at least initially) and not the stepparent, so she refers to this dynamic as the Stuck Insider (parent)/Stuck Outsider (stepparent).

Because the family of origin doesn’t include you, kids don’t have the instinct to say your name first or go to you for answers or comfort, or, in some cases, even say hello when they call. And being a stepchild, I can vouch for this. I did it all of the time, without ever noticing, until I became a stepmom and realized, “Oh crap! I never addressed my stepmom!”

It’s important you understand that it’s not about being malicious or purposefully rude to you. And it’s not about anything you’ve done (unless you really did so something awful), it’s more about instincts and the nature and dynamic of the stepfamily.

I’m not making excuses for bad behavior, and in fact I wouldn’t even call this bad behavior. A child can address only their dad and not be disrespectful to you. I’m not referring to eye-rolling or ignoring you when you speak to them or blatant disrespect. Those things need to be addressed in a conversation about manners, but not directing questions to you or not instinctively coming to you first is not something that needs to be addressed directly with the child.

What can I do?

  • Tell your partner to leave… for a few minutes: You might have seen the research that on average it takes 4-7 years for a stepfamily to feel and function like a family. That can be a LONG time to feel ignored. What you can do is create opportunities for you to be the Insider.

One of the best ways to do this is to get some alone time with your stepchild. Because as long as their parent is around and available, you’re stuck on the outside. But as soon as they leave, guess who moves up in rank?! You move to the inside, at least until dad comes back.These moments don’t have to be long, even a few minutes of connection will serve to increase your bond as time goes on. These moments should be fun, shoulder to shoulder activities where there’s very little pressure to interact directly, but you do interact somewhat.

Having a conversation about how school is going might be fine, but what would be better is to do something together that you both enjoy. For example, baking. Since you’re actually doing something, there’s not the pressure of sitting across from each other, making eye contact and being forced to come up with things to talk about. Instead you’re focused on the task at hand. The interactions are about the baking. If small talk naturally creeps in, great.

  • Don’t lose your identity: One of the fastest ways to lose your self-esteem and feel like crap is to give up everything you enjoy. Stepmoms often change their entire routine for their new family, thinking that it will somehow serve them. But that often backfires. Your new family cannot replace your oldest friends and the activities that nourish your spirit. So keeping doing the things that make you YOU.

Don’t lose hope

One of the biggest mistakes stepmoms make is thinking that how things are now is how they’ll always be. Because your family will take years to integrate, and because kids grow up and people and circumstances change, you can’t know what your future holds. I know plenty of stepmoms, myself included, who have arrived at the place where the kids finally call out our names first or come to us for support or questions.

And take comfort in that the little everyday interactions you have with your stepchild will likely serve to grow you closer as a family. But it takes years, so relax, take a breath and enjoy the ride.

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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The one step that will ensure kids respect their stepparent

respect stepmomWhen a parent re-partners after divorce, it can be really difficult for the kids. Not only is it a reminder that their parents aren’t getting back together, but it creates a shift in the post-divorce dynamic of the family, often leaving the children feeling displaced.

Elevating the stepparent

Because of the difficulties the kids may have, parents often ignore one of the most crucial steps to re-partnering: elevating their partner to head of household, alongside of them. When a parent elevates the stepparent, he’s making it clear to everyone, including the kids and the ex, that his partner is an important part of his family.

When the stepparent isn’t elevated, a very blurry line is created, and the kids may take this “non action” as a green light to ignore her or be disrespectful, because …

  • “dad didn’t correct us so it must be OK”
  • “dad hasn’t said anything about things changing”
  • “dad does it”
  • “dad doesn’t think she’s important enough to stand up for, so I’m going to act out every bit of anger, hurt and resentment I feel – onto her”

A shift in family hierarchy

In many divorced families, the hierarchy of the family has changed. What began in the nuclear family with the parents at the top and the children under them has shifted to the kids alongside one or both parents; elevated to equal status of the parent.

When this happens the kids behave like the parent’s peer (or spouse); taking care of the house, meals, and having equal say in the decisions of the household. Some parents also inappropriately share details about their personal lives or court status. This often places the kids in a position that they’re not emotionally prepared for. It also makes it extremely difficult for them to move back down to “kid status” when the parent re-partners. They’ll likely feel rejected, replaced and resentful towards their stepparent.

How it’s done

The kids take their cues from their parents, so when dad takes responsibility for setting the tone in the house, he tells his kids things like:

  • “Yes, I know it’s difficult and strange. But I love you very much and she’s not replacing you. And as my partner, she and I will make certain decisions together. I expect everyone in this house to be respectful of each other.”
  • “I love my wife/girlfriend, she’s important to me and she’s not going anywhere. Being disrespectful to her won’t be tolerated.”
  • “When you disrespect her, you disrespect me.”
  • “If I’m not home and she asks you to do something I want you to listen to her.”

Dads: The children will be OK

When kids know what to expect, they thrive. When things are predictable, they feel safe. So although they may push back initially, as long as you’re consistent in your message (and consequences for being disrespectful), they’ll eventually come around.

It’s also important to remain loving, so when it’s explained to the kids that your partner is now the female head of household and will be making decisions alongside of you, be open to hearing what the kids have to say. Listen empathetically, understanding that it can be a difficult change for them – but do not back down. You want them to know that you’re door is always open for communication, but not for a bashing session of your partner.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T – Find out what it means to me

Before having this conversation, the couple should discuss what “respect” looks like to them. Does it mean saying hello when you walk in the room? Does it mean using a kind tone of voice? Does it mean making eye contact? You decide. Just make sure you’re clear on this so you can pass it on to the kids. And yes, respect is a two-way street.

Relationship fail or success

A stepmom who doesn’t feel respected by her stepchildren, doesn’t feel respected by her husband. She expects him to do something about it, not just sit by and let it happen. She needs to know her partner has her back. She needs to know he loves her and respects their relationship enough to ensure she’s treated adequately by his kids. When she doesn’t feel this, she’ll likely consider leaving the relationship.

If a parent isn’t ready to elevate their partner, then they aren’t ready to re-partner.

But when a dad ensures this respect by his kids, he will have a blissfully happy stepmom on his hands. She’ll want to do just about anything for him – and his kids! She’ll feel like her relationship (and husband) is the best thing in the world.

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Why Aren’t I Comfortable Around My Stepchild?

Stepmom CertaintyHave you struggled with not feeling 100% comfortable around your stepchild? I’m not talking about when you first meet and things are awkward, I’m talking about years after you’ve met, even if you really like or love your stepchild, when they’re in the house you can’t fully relax?

I’ve written previously about many possible reasons: lack of reciprocity, general difficulties of being a stepparent, you’re an introvert, etc… But here’s another possible reason. Let me explain something first.

The Six Human Needs

In Robbins-Madanes training we learn that there are 6 universal human needs – and every action, belief or feeling is an attempt to meet one or more of those needs. The 6 human needs are:

  • Certainty – comfort, knowing, structure, safety, avoidance of pain, pleasure
  • Uncertainty/Variety – stimulus, adventure, excitement
  • Love and connection – feeling connected to others or being loved and loving
  • Significance – feeling important, unique, worthy of love
  • Growth – intellectually, emotionally and mentally developing, learning
  • Contribution – contributing beyond yourself

You can try to meet these needs in positive ways, such as building a business, donating to charity or meditating or in negative ways such as causing drama, having an addiction, overeating, overspending, etc…

Most people usually value two of the needs more than the others. As you can imagine, someone whose top need is Certainty will live a very different life than someone whose top need is Uncertainty/Variety.

Take a moment here to think about which are your top two needs.

Your Top Needs Determine Your Experience

Now, back to your stepchild. Let’s say for example that your top two needs are Certainty (safety, structure and comfort), and Love/Connection. If Certainty is more valued than Love/Connection – even by a hair, you’ll find it very difficult to give Love/Connection until your Certainty need is met. Herein lies the problem.

Because for many stepmoms living with a stepchild is anything but certain and comfortable. We watch what we say, how we dress, what we do. Maybe the kids don’t clean up after themselves, adding to your uncomfortableness in your home. Maybe the schedule is flexible and you never know when they might drop in. Maybe they’re difficult and you never know how they’re going to behave.

So as long as Certainty is valued most, and since stepfamily life is always Uncertain, your actions won’t convey Love or Connection, because usually we have to have our top need met before the others can be met.

When Love is More Important Than Comfort

But if you decide to put Love first- or if by nature you’re a lover but have unknowingly been putting Certainty first, suddenly the game changes. And I’d guess, from all the women I’ve met and worked with through the years, that love IS actually most important to you.

When Love is first, your heart is open. And when your heart is open you want to give. You want to say “yes” more often. You want to be more kind and loving. To be clear, this doesn’t require you to love your stepchild, it just means your actions are coming from a place of love – from an open heart. And you’ll find that loving or giving – without expecting anything in return – will actually fill you up.

And then you know what happens? Something very paradoxical. You won’t need the clean and/or the quiet house to be comfy, because that’s no longer your number one priority. Suddenly, you’re comfortable around your stepchild anyways! Because you’re meeting your most valued need of Love and Connection by giving it.

Here’s an Example – Shifting Priorities

Here’s an example of how this might play out. Let’s say your teenage stepchild wants to have a sleepover. His friends are good kids, but of course bring an added element of “uncertainty” (uncomfortableness) to the house: think noise and messes. So when you’re valuing Certainty more than Love (especially if Uncertainty/Variety is VERY low on your list), your initial instinctual reaction will often be to say “no” to the sleepovers, because sleepovers definitely DO NOT meet your Certainty need. But you might every once in a while begrudgingly say “yes”  – because you’re not a total jerk.

But when Love is first, your default is “yes” because your heart is open, you want to give and you want your stepchild to be happy. You’re also not thinking about meeting your need for comfort because Love is more important to you. You may say “no” once in a while if you’re extremely tired or had a bad few days, but the “no” will be coming from a different place and will have a different energy behind it.

Evaluate Your Needs

If you feel consistently resistant to new people and experiences or if you’re often on edge because you’re watching everything your stepchild does – or even anticipating his next move, you’re likely trying to meet one of your needs – which isn’t Love and Connection. Which need is it?

The thing to remember about love is that it’s not about getting, it’s about giving. If you focus on that first, you’ll find the resentment, uncomfortableness and annoyance sort of just… disappear.

Now think about what your top two needs are. How have they determined the course of your life? What would change in your life if one of them changed? What effect would that have on your relationships? On your happiness?

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Stepparenting and the Expectation of Unconditional Love


I’ve seen some really unhelpful and damaging advice given by parenting “experts” instructing stepparents to simply “Love the kids as your own, unconditionally.”

The advice, or rather, instruction, that you should love a child as your own is bad enough, but the addition of “unconditional” is just preposterous.  If most stepparents were actually capable of unconditionally loving a child who isn’t theirs, don’t you think they would? Life would be SO much easier with unconditional love!

Unfortunately, for most stepparents that’s just not possible.  (Yes, there are a few stepparents who claim to love their stepchildren unconditionally – and that’s GREAT for them and their stepchildren. Obviously this article isn’t for them – it’s for the other 99%.)

To expect someone to have the ability to love another’s child unconditionally, whom they’ve just met, and may or may not even like, is unrealistic.

Have you ever tried to love someone who is disrespectful to you? Who ignores you? Who your personality totally clashes with? Who lies about you? Who tries to push you away? Who wishes you didn’t exist? Good luck with that.

Even with a child you actually like and get along with, love can take years to grow, especially if the child is older. Unconditional love is something usually reserved for the parents who created the child.

There are certain exceptions, such as adoption, but I believe that’s because the whole purpose is to have the child as your own – as opposed to stepparenting where the purpose is marriage and the partner happens to have a child- who often already has two active parents.

I guess the real problem with this advice is the word “should.” It insinuates that if you don’t or can’t, you’re doing something wrong and bad. “Should” makes it seem like it’s the “right” thing to do, therefore if you don’t unconditionally love your stepchild, you’re wrong. Which is total BS.

Many stepparents who are told they should love their partner’s child unconditionally feel like failures when reality sets in and it doesn’t happen. This expectation also puts undue pressure on the child. The child doesn’t love you unconditionally either – how can they? They’re still getting to know you. They didn’t choose you and you didn’t choose them – you chose their parent.

So to all you stepparents who feel like failures because you don’t love your stepchild, never mind unconditionally, I’m here to let you off the hook. I’m here to tell you that it’s nearly impossible to do so and that you can still have a fulfilling, amazingly close, wonderful relationship with your stepchild – with or without the love.

Without the unrealistic expectation of having to love another’s child unconditionally, you’re allowed to be yourself. It takes the pressure off of everyone and gives the relationship space to evolve naturally over a matter of years. Remember, stepfamilies start to feel like family in terms of years, not months.

So forget the expectation of (unconditional) love. Instead, go for like. Go for respect. Go for compassion and understanding. Go for having fun and enjoying them. Go for finding things in common and cultivating a positive relationship with them. After all, positive relationships are created by everyday, little interactions and acts of kindness. Love, if it happens, is just the icing on the cake. Nice, but certainly not necessary.

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Guest Post: What Stepkids Wish You Knew

StepkidsIt’s not easy being a stepkid.  I know – it’s not easy being a stepmom or stepdad, either. But as much is often written for and about stepparents, an integral part of fast-growing blended families isn’t always truly addressed – the kids themselves.

As an only child but with nine step and half-brothers and sisters – who grew up in four blended families, with four different “father” figures – I’ve had a front-row seat to stepfamily scenarios.  I don’t know if anyone really realizes how powerless a stepkid can feel.  That’s what led me to create the first-ever stepkid anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House?, published by Motivational Press this past October.

It’s an incredibly odd experience for a kid (or for parents, too, probably!) to think “Hey, Who’s In My House?” Stepkids across the country answered my call for submissions. They had a LOT to say!  Some were hurt, some were happy. Some felt torn, displaced or ashamed. Some felt alone and some felt grateful. Some felt hopeful, and some felt helpless. Brave enough to share their vastly different stories, most, surprisingly, had these three things in common.

Little Things Mean a Lot

A new bed, a moved bed, or no bed because new furniture has been ordered. New foods, different foods, spaghetti sauce that’s different than mom makes. Fake vs. real Christmas tree traditions challenged. New rules about television before bedtime. Homework areas that become the hub of other people’s clutter. It’s not easy. And things will change when a blended family begins, adjusts and grows. But parents can acknowledge the little things and maybe go the extra mile to make sure some of a stepkid’s favorite things remain unchanged.

Stepfamilies Are a Strong Part of Their Identities –For Better or Worse

“I believe I am more open-minded since my mother’s remarriage,” writes 20 year-old Meghan Shenefeld, Hey, Who’s In My House contributor.  “I have learned to live with people who think differently than I do and accept things I cannot change.” Even in an abusive situation with her stepfather, contributor Hollie Gremaldi-Flores, decades later, recognizes her difficult days living in a blended family as a teen made her part of who she is today (which, by the way, is a strong stepmom to others!).

They’re Stronger

Contributor Rochelle Amour, age 27, is slowly orbiting back toward her mother after years struggling to grow up in a tumultuous blended family situation, with a trying stepfather and a feeling she belonged “nowhere.”  She hasn’t seen her real father in six years.  “Looking back, I have many feelings of anger, sadness and fear,” Amour reveals.  “But I do not have any regrets.  My childhood was lonely, but I was resourceful.  It was harsh, but I was strong.  It was overwhelming, but I matured early.  In the isolation that defined my childhood, I got to know the most important person in my life very well and early on:  myself.  I finally get to write a story of a hero that does exist – my childhood self.”

I hope the insight stepkids share will make an impact on blended families everywhere, so perhaps stepparents and parents can make some happy memories, and stepkids can know they are not alone.

Guest Post by Erin Mantz, Editor and Contributor, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out (Motivational Press October 2015)

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A Stepmom’s Guide to Being a Supportive Partner

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It is easy to be a loving, supportive and kind partner when you are comfortable with how things are going. It’s easy to feel safe and secure when your partner is making parenting decisions that are in alignment with your values. But how supportive are you when he makes a decision with which you don’t agree?

Do you become difficult? Distant? Judgmental? Controlling? Do you feel the need to convince him he is wrong? If so, you are being what I refer to as a fair-weather partner. And it could ruin your relationship.

Why does this happen?

Most of us parent according to our values, and when our values are violated it can trigger a life-threatening feeling in us, causing us to react without thinking. When we feel like our survival is at stake, we try to convince our partner (through any means possible) that he is wrong. It can be a pretty ugly scene.

The problem with this is that your partner has his own values and is attempting to honor them. He has his own reasons for the decisions he’s making—reasons you may never understand. And if you repeatedly challenge him about his decisions, he will feel betrayed.

When a man feels betrayed, he becomes much less interested in meeting his partner’s needs.

What does your partner need?

If you want your relationship to last, your partner needs to know you are on his team even when his team appears to be losing. That’s called LOYALTY.

When you believe in him, even if he hasn’t given you much of a reason to, he often will start to become the winning guy he sees reflected in your eyes. He will trust you. And when he trusts you, he will repay you by making your relationship a priority.

He will be compelled to give you what you need. And he will come to know you as his constant champion—unlike his ex (who berates him when things don’t go her way) or the kids (who get angry when they are not getting what they want) or even his parents (who repeatedly give their unsolicited opinions). As the wife who stands by his side, helping him up when he falls, you will earn his trust and become his haven.

What do you need in return?

You need to make sure you are taking care of your well-being amidst the many things
in your stepfamily over which you don’t have control. If a decision is being made that affects your time or energy, then your partner should definitely be discussing it with you and coming up with a solution that works for both of you.

If he chooses not to include you, then you need to create boundaries in order to protect your time and energy.

For example, if he and his ex decide (without asking for your input) that your stepchild should attend a new school and they expect you to be the one shuttling him back and forth and that doesn’t work for you, you need to let him know you won’t be available and he will need to find other means.

If he makes a decision that indirectly impacts you, like allowing his child to have unlimited screen time which causes meltdowns at bedtime, you can protect yourself by letting him be fully responsible for bedtime rituals or bowing out of attempts to soothe the child. You can be supportive while creating boundaries. I’ve outlined four ways to begin doing that below.

Let him be the father

It doesn’t matter if you have read all the best parenting books or have already successfully raised your own child. If you push your own agenda onto your partner, he will believe that you don’t think he’s a capable parent.

What you can do is ask your partner if he would like help brainstorming possible solutions to whatever problem he is facing. If he agrees, let him know what has worked for you or what you have learned by educating yourself. But if he doesn’t ask for you help, or if he chooses to go a different route, that’s your cue to let it go.

Give up the need to be right

Looking at decisions in terms of right and wrong will set you up for conflict and disap- pointment. Instead, every time you catch yourself judging your partner’s parenting as wrong, try to reframe it and tell yourself he’s just doing it differently.

Remember that just because your partner does not do things the way you would or wish he would does not mean he is screwing up his kids. And even if he does screw them up (because, let’s face it, all parents screw up their kids a little), then that’s part of their journey.

His parenting decisions may not be “right” for you or your child, but they are right for him—even if the results turn out differently than he intended.

Be a partner first, stepmom second

Know that your main job is to tend to your relationship, not to parent your stepkids
or judge and control the parenting of your partner and his ex.

When you feel an urge to control a situation that is not yours to control, ask yourself: Is it more important for us to have a happy, healthy relationship or is it more important that he raise his kids the way I believe they should be raised?

If you’re leaning toward the latter part of that question, you are going to have a diffcult time being a part of a stepfamily and might want to rethink your priorities.

Accept the reality of your situation

The stepmom is the lone family member who is greatly affected by decisions in which she often has no say. This is the truth of stepfamily life and one of the reasons why being a stepmom is so difficult.

It is one thing to have to live with consequences of your own choices but quite another to have to deal with consequences from choices that others have made. Having a husband who understands this and takes his wife’s feelings into consideration is often the difference between being in a happy or a strained marriage.

At the same time, you must understand there will be times when your partner makes decisions regarding his kids that will negatively affect you. In these cases, he likely perceives that tending to his kids’ needs—in the end—should take precedence over protecting your feelings. It doesn’t mean he is a bad husband. It’s just something he has to do. It is yet another piece of the challenging stepfamily dynamic.

What does being supportive look like?

Being supportive doesn’t mean being a doormat and it doesn’t mean selling yourself out. It also doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with the decision you are supporting. It means that you are choosing to respect your partner’s decision. You can show him support by doing the following:

  • Once a decision is made, stop bringing it up. Let it rest.
  • Don’t keep trying to get him to change his mind on an issue you disagree on.
  • Don’t be angry with him. If you truly support him, there is no anger there. There is only respect for his individuality and his right to parent his kids as he sees fit.
  • If his decision leads to a negative consequence, empathize versus criticize: “I’m so sorry, honey. I know this is hard. You did your best. You did what you thought was right at the time.”
  • Don’t ever say, “I told you so,” or any variation of that. Throwing his failures in his face isn’t respectful or supportive. It’s childish.
  • Don’t probe him about the situation. Let him come to you and share when he’s ready.

By being a supportive partner, as opposed to a partner who has to have everything go her way, you are doing your part to honor your relationship and ensure its survival.

You are showing up as a woman who respects her partner by being kind and loving as he grows as a parent and a person. And, most importantly, you are creating a space for both of you to make mistakes within the safety net of your relationship—a safety net that will serve as the foundation of a rock solid romance that will last long after the last child has grown and left home.


© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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