Why do stepmoms often feel like such outsiders?
Because they are.
Non-stepmoms won’t understand this concept. But if you’re a stepmom you know exactly what I’m talking about.
- The kids walk into the house and ignore you
- You answer the phone and they say “Is dad there?” – No “Hi, how are you?”
- You’re sitting on the couch next to your partner, but the kids only say goodnight to him
- Your stepchild offers to get his dad a drink while in the kitchen, completely ignoring the fact that you might be thirsty too
You’ve never been so ignored and felt so insignificant in your life. Welcome to the stepfamily.
Why is this such a common occurrence in stepfamilies?
There are a couple of possible reasons:
- There’s a common conflict in step families. Blood bonds vs. love and/or marriage.
- Its unintentional; kids don’t even realize they’re doing it. And this I know from personal experience.
It’s true. I have a stepmom that I love. And I didn’t realize it until I was an adult, but I never included her. I would always call out for dad, address dad, ask for dad, and not even notice that I was ignoring her. If someone would have pointed it out to me, I’m sure I would have been shocked – as shocked as I was when I realized it as an adult, and I would have made more of an effort.
I’m sure it felt awfully personal to her, but it wasn’t.
And then there are bond conflicts.
There’s a natural tendency to reject what’s foreign. That’s why a person receiving a new organ has to be put on special medications – so their body doesn’t reject the foreign object (organ).
Same principle applies in stepfamilies, and it sucks. Your partner and his child pre-date your relationship with your partner. They have rituals and memories and inside jokes that don’t include you.
Home is supposed to be the one place you feel safe. The one place you can relax and let the worries of the world fall away. But that can’t happen when you feel like a stranger in your own home. Ignored. Treated like a maid. Surrounded by draining, negative energy from kids that you didn’t birth.
Luckily, there are some things you can do to ease that feeling of isolation.
- Stop feeling like a freak or thinking it’s your fault. Acknowledge that, unfortunately, it’s a normal occurrence in stepfamilies. It’s not personal. It’s not about you.
- Your husband’s support is vital. He can’t force his kids to like you, but he can demand they treat you with respect (see #3). He can also verbalize his appreciation for you and show you in little ways that you matter to him and to the family.
- Create some house rules around common courtesy and basic manners (hi/bye/please/thank you).
- If the kids already have an active mom, even if you don’t agree with her parenting, focus more on being a wife and less on trying to “mother” your stepchildren. You can still nurture and show love, but remember that they already have a mom.
- Let the kids set the pace of the relationship. The harder you try to get love from them, the harder they’ll resist. Let the relationships evolve naturally and remember it can take years to form a bond.
- Invite your friends or family over for holidays. You’ll feel like you have somebody on your team and will be more comfortable being yourself.
- Create a kid-free zone where you can escape from the awkwardness, decompress and recharge.
- Be your big, beautiful self. Don’t shrink because those around you treat you like you’re insignificant.
It’s easy to get your feelings hurt, but walking around with hurt feelings will only intensify Outsider Syndrome, because the way most of us behave when we’re hurt will only serve to increase separation – instead of leaving space for connection.
Focus more on your own life and other aspects of it, enjoying your marriage and friends and focus less on the kids. Chances are, as the years go by and they see that they’re not in competition with you and that you’re actually kinda cool, they’ll naturally start integrating you into their lives. But give it time. And remember that time in a stepfamily moves at a snail’s pace.
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
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You might also enjoy:
- Five ways to make your marriage the priority
- Stepmom Burnout: What it is and what to do about it
- Acknowledging loss and embracing your life as a stepmom