“Stepmoms, You Knew What You Were Getting Into…”

You knew what you were getting into when you married him.”

When we hear those words, it makes us want to punch something; usually the mouth that spoke them.

The sentiment reflects an ignorant mindset from many of those who have never walked in the shoes of a stepmom.

Want to know what I “knew” when I married my husband?

I knew that my experience as a stepchild was a pretty great one. That my mom and stepmom always got along and that my parents never fought in front of me.

I “knew” that I was marrying an amazing man whose kids were nice to me.

I “knew” that his ex-wife wasn’t happy about me but that she’d eventually get over it.

Just as a new parent can never really know what to expect when their biological baby enters the world, no member of the stepfamily could have actually known what they were in for.

What many outsiders don’t know is that the challenges don’t just appear the moment we start dating our partners. In fact, many of them don’t even show up until we get married.

It seems the marriage itself triggers many of these issues:

  • The ex-wife who behaves like a three year old, full-blown tantrums and all, when she realizes you’re here to stay
  • Kids who previously thought you were cool, now loathe you as they have to share their dad’s time and attention
  • The parent who doesn’t really parent because he’s feeling so much guilt over the divorce, which leaves you in a house full of wild, undisciplined children
  • Court dates and custody battles
  • Parental alienation syndrome
  • Doctor’s offices and school systems who don’t recognize you as anything more than a glorified baby sitter

…just to name a few.

So no, we didn’t “know” this was what we were signing up for when we said “I do.”

I think it’s shocking that people really think if we were faced with all these challenges on our first date – or before we fell in love with our partners – that we would have stayed.

Except for a few masochistic woman, many of us would have jumped ship.

For most of us, we were already madly in love with our partners when the common stepfamily challenges started to rear their ugly heads. And so we stayed.

And we continue to stay because we believe our men are worth it. We believe our marriage is worth it. And to make sure it continues to be worth it, we need to have many more good times than bad.

When someone with children tells Laura Antonucci, a member of my Childless Stepmoms Facebook group, that she knew what she was getting into, she replies with,  “Did you know everything you were getting into with your first child?” And when they say “no,” she says  “Well I guess we both knew but didn’t really know.”

I like this response. It’s surely more effective than the commonly used “screw you” response!

And what about you? How have you responded to this blissfully ignorant statement by people who have never been part of a stepfamily?

Update: Jenna is no longer admin for the Childless Stepmom Facebook group. 

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

(photo credit:graur razvan donut)

25 thoughts on ““Stepmoms, You Knew What You Were Getting Into…”

  1. I would NEVER say something like that to someone. Besides not knowing their life experience, it’s incredibly insensitive.
    I’m not a stepparent, but I’d want to punch the mouth that said this too :-)
    Kind of like when people say, “You knew what to expect when you got a divorce!” ~ Uhhhhh….no…nobody knows that, and in fact most don’t think of what might occur beyond the dissolution of their marriage and learning how to live separately.

    Fact is, nobody KNOWS what ANY life experience is like until they actually go through it….I think it behooves us all to remember that, and to show some empathy and sensitivity when others are struggling with their chosen paths.

    Thanks, Jenna.

    • Dina, you’re right – none of us know what it’s like to be in the other’s shoes. And I know you’d never say something like that. It’s SO not your style :).

      • I’d punch myself in the mouth if I ever heard myself say it! :-P

        Seriously though…I’m sorry people say those things. It’s just not supportive, at all.

    • Hmmm . . . I like the comparison to “You know what you were getting into when you got a divorce.” And I completely agree with both the post and the response that no one can really know what he or she is getting into. But from a proactive point of view, is there anything we CAN know? What can we DO about it?

      For example. If you are going to be a stepmom, you do “know” that there is going to be another woman in your husband’s life. Similarly, getting divorced, you know that there is likely going to be another woman in your child’s life someday. You can’t -understand- what your emotional reactions will be, but yes, you should brace yourself with the knowledge to some extent. The reason so many stepfamilies (and original families, but stepfamilies more often) end in divorce and separation is because people don’t do this. They go in and out of love blindly. It’s a major problem with our culture, imo.

      :) I wish there were a class to teach people to be self-aware and think.

  2. For me no one can tell me I knew, or understand my love for a child that isn’t mine. We aren’t married yet, (Sept this year) but we have been dating since she was born (long story) so I’m loved and accepted as a parent by my step daughter. I’m what she knows. Each situation is different and has its own struggles. I like to say ‘YUP I KNEW, I know I love him and that little girl. I know as long as I can I will try to do my best by her. But that is all I know.’ New struggles arise the closer the wedding gets, and I don’t know what I’m in for once we say ‘I do’ But I know I AM IN THIS.
    :)

    • I am in the same boat as you… My stepson has never know anything different than his Dad and I being together. I love them both so much, and know they love me just as much. But no one could ever actually know what’s going in the long run… I knew we were going to have a bumpy ride bit I sure didn’t expect it to be this bumpy. But I love my family and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing, even with all the drama.

      • Grace,

        You said it perfectly!!! I find it so hard because I have been around since minus day 1 I actually forget she ISN’T really mine. I have to step back at times. It’s my struggle and wanting to do everything and anything for her and feeling such a strong motherly emotional connection with her. Best of luck in your journey. It’s nice to know there is someone else out there who understand.

        Breast

  3. I’m so tempted to send this to my parents-in-law. They have said this to me many times when I’ve had a struggle and it drives me crazy. I’ve always just responded that I did know some things, but you can’t really KNOW until you are in the situation.

  4. I have had several people tell me this, especially some of the parents of the boys’ school friends. I in turn tell them, “I must be a mystic if I knew what I was getting myself into. So why am I not a millionaire if I can foresee the future???” That usually shuts them up, LMAO!!! The other thing that kills me is being told by some others that my love for the boys’ are not the same of a “real” parents. Serious cahones to be saying that because I feel my love is just as deep if not deeper than most. Especially with all the sacrifices step moms make. I don’t know many that would endure some of the things we do.

  5. I had to laugh when I sat down, opened my email, and saw the title of this blog…just 5 minutes beforehand my husband and I were having yet another heated discussion about my role as a “step”mother who has the kids 100% of the time, unless of course their bio-mom decides to show up with candy, video games, and still no time to spend with her kids. I won’t go to much into that because it will make my BP skyrocket again :) My husband has uttered that exact phrase to me more times than I can count. He honestly just doesn’t “get it”, and I have had to accept the fact that he will never really understand what its like to do all the work, give all the time, attention, and love, but never be acknowledged for it unless he actually finds himself in the same situation. I agree that we have absolutely no idea what is involved when we fall in love with a man and his two brown eyed innocent little boys…back then it was easy. I was fun, cool, and adored by all. This lasted well into the first few months of our marriage, even through a court battle where we were awarded full custody of the kids. I testified in court, and it felt so good to know that they were finally out of harms way (they were badly neglected with their mother), but when I married my husband I never in 100 years thought that I would be the main “mother” in these boys lives. I went from being an independent, working woman who always paid her bills on time, to a depressed, resentful woman who feels ignored by her husband and overwhelmed with raising 4 kids on my own…(oh yeah, I was determined to have my own kids so in 5 yrs I had two more). I guess I felt like I was going to be an amazing mom, but that feeling was quickly demolished when I actually had kids :) My husband feels so bad about what the boys went through that he always gets to be the “hero, good guy”, and that leaves me to discipline and always feel like the bad-guy. I have no idea how to fix this family, or my marriage when its been on the back-burner for so long. I was raised with the understanding that marriage should be put first always, it doesn’t make you any less of a parent instead it makes you an even better parent because your happy. My husband doesn’t hold the same beliefs because he has always put the kids before anything else, and it didn’t take long for our kids to figure this out and let me tell you they take it and run with it. Sorry I went on and on, but your blog was perfect and I plan to have my husband read it when he gets home. Thanks :)

    • I am so glad to have found this website. I am at my wits end and as a last ditch effort for support searched and found you, thank you! I really feel so very alone in my struggles with balancing family, career and a husband who is struggling with depression stemming form our most recent court battle that eventually gave us full-custody. We too have spent years in court battling for such simple things as permission to get my stepson seen by a psychologist or to just play sports and yes, even with the depression he is still the better of the two parents. It was miserable and I certainly had many people asking why I stick around and what wonderful things I have done for my stepson, how lucky my husband is to have me and my personal favorite, why doesn’t my stepson call me mom? I am not his mom, and even though I completely disagree with all the horrible things she has done to my family and especially her son I will not replace her BUT I will always treat him as if he were my own. He is now old enough and life has settled some and I have even asked him if I step over the line in my role as his stepmom and his reponse has been, no, you are more of a mom to me than she is. While that melts my heart it also hurts becuase I know he wishes she would do more for him. This is one of the other struggles non-stepparents don’t see, we deal with an extended family and pain caused by that extended family that we have no control over unless we head into another 10,000 court battle. Yes, I chose to get married to a man with a young son but I never thought it would be like this 10 years later. I am very close to leaving and feel tremendous guilt over it. My husband does little to nothing except an occasional weekend where he to gets something out of it. His mood swings make life miserable much of the time but the times when he’s stable he is an amazing man and father. Now, I do it all. I drive him to the tutor 3 days a week, practice for whatever sport one day a week, drive to and from private school every day, dinner, household chores, help with his ADHD, volunteering with school, scouts, church and homework etc.. and God forbid I drop the ball. I also work from home and he seems to take this for granted. Things have gotten so stressful my relationship with my stepson is changing and my relationship with my husband, well there really isn’t one. Honestly right now my stepson is the only reason I have stayed. He has come so far and is such an amazing child. During the second round of court the guardian at litum and our lawyer both asked how I put up with the abuse of his ex-wife? (she really messed with my career and personal life) They also said I was a saint, I am not a saint, I don’t want to be saint. I simply want to be appreciated, respected and valued and until now I didn’t think anyone else did as much as I do. I ask myself would it have gone this far if I wasn’t in the picture? Did I pressure him to get custody? Now I see I am not alone yet, I still need to know what to do about it. What’s next? Where do I go from here? I am going with my husband see a therapist next week so hopefully this helps. Gosh, I feel like such a whiner but I just don’t know what to do!!!!

  6. This is an amazing website. How lucky are all of us who have come here and found exactly what we needed to hear. We all clearly have felt this way at one point or another and it gives me so much comfort to know that yes, I’m not alone. Our roles as step-mommies are no doubt challenging but I can also say I AM HERE TO STAY. I certainly didn’t know it’d be THIS hard, but I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I am beyond in love with my partner and this is why I am in this situation and that is not to be forgotten. The strongest love will survive the harshest of conditions. We can all do this ladies. We made these sacrifices for a reason. Pick your battles. Stay focused on whats important and try not to get too caught up in the drama of it all.

  7. I only knew my husband for a few weeks, 24 years ago when we married – only knew him a few weeks. He was in my town visiting with his sister. He proposed on a Tuesday and we were married the next week. He had four children: sons 16 and 18, both in school; also two daughters ages 21 and 24, both married. I told my Mother the day we got married (afterwards) and my son, 25, the day before we married. My husband didn’t tell his children until AFTER we were married. I remarked to him, “I think you should tell them first.” His reply, “They will be happy about it. They are good Christians and will love you.” Well, as it turned out that they all did!!! God truly blessed us with our marriage and children. Even though their Mother is a real part of their life, the children are still loving to us, call me Mom, Judith Mom, etc., and treat me as though I am their Mother too. As I lost my only child 18 years ago, I am blessed with grandchilden from my heart and husband’s family, now my family. We have never had a problem with each other or the children. We do have ups and downs with things that we do. We are also now helping my husband’s single niece who fostered children and adopted the last two. The first one came home from the hospital at 7 days, and the second boy was only 2 days. JOY has come through these blessings. They are now 11 and 12. I have been the caretaker alone until my husband retired three years ago and we both now take care of them while their Mom works, and anytime else that is needed – and of course any time they want to come visit to play ball, etc. God is GOOD! Thanks to HIM for putting us together! Put God first in your life!

  8. Hello Stepmoms,

    First off I would like to think Jenna for taking the time to share something that should be required reading for anyone involved with a stepfamily. Every member of a stepfamily has their own struggles to deal with, but what so often gets overlooked are the efforts of the stepmom. She has adopted a family that wasn’t her own, but so often has to pickup the shattered pieces of a divorce, wounded kids and distressed husbands, and then carry these broken hearts as if they were her own. Never knowing what to expect, she ventures into each day frazzled from the day before. Disrespected by kids, exhausted by court battles, clinging to her own sanity and always asking the question, “how did I get to this place in my life, when all I wanted was the love of the man I married.” There was no way you could have known the trials associated with that love, or the depths of strength you would have to tap into just to make it through another day. You are the unsung heros of your family.

    I never realized even a fraction of what I was going to put my wife through, even before we got married. At 44 she had never had kids of her own. I had three kids from a previous marriage, all of which had been emotionally abused by their bio-mom. Like the story goes, before we were married, my two younger daughters took to my wife, the younger one even calling her mom a couple of times. But then entered my 22 year old son with a chip on his shoulder, and single handedly turned them against both of us and then blasted my wife for no reason other than to try to rob me of my happiness because he was mad at me for seeing someone new. Not knowing what to expect, having never had kids, my wife had only shown love to all of them and this was a stab in the heart. Since then we have battled to put things back together again and have had several struggles with my girls, guardian ad litems, custody battles, counselors and senseless court hearings. Often her sanity has hung from a thread, and not even our wedding day was completely happy because of my sulking daughter. My wife has been through hell and back and still she struggles to do all that she can to understand how to be a better stepmom. I love her more each day for the love and endurance that she gives to each of us, especially since so little is returned back to her. This is a very weak tribute to her devotion and not enough words can be said to honor her efforts. But if nothing else I hope she knows that she is loved.

    Stepmoms are very special women that deserve far more than they get, and I am thankful for all of the sacrifices and devotion you make to better the lives that you touch, and the love that you give. God bless all of you!

    • Bryan, thank you for this heartfelt comment. As difficult as your situation has been, I can see that you love, support and appreciate your wife. I’m sure she’d agree that you make the journey worth it. Much love to you and your wife.

  9. Bryan, OMG I am crying at what you wrote. I wish my husband could see this and realize the never-ending battles I have been through and fought for him and his son. I have had little in return and love them both more than they will ever know. I wish there were more husbands like you…

  10. I just want to let all of you other stepmoms, and moms, out there that this little fact; remarried families have a BETTER divorce rate than first marriages AFTER the 5th year of marriage!!!! So, the statements about how the statistics are against you, or about how stepfamilies don’t last as long, blah, blah, blah…if you can make it past the 5 year mark, we do BETTER than first marriages.

  11. What a relief. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and have reached the summit! Oh, the irony! Relief when you read other people’s pain. I feel so validated.

    I have 2 adopted children and a step son. All 3 kids have gotten along famously from the first day they met. I have always encouraged my 2 children to embrace my husband and his son as their first family. (My children are adopted by myself alone)
    My husband on the other hand loves this embracement but is not sure on how to reciprocate for fear and guilt that his ex wife will feel betrayed. And rightfully so. My stepson is very close to his “brother and sister” but his allegiance to his biological Mother is so strong that he is unable to really allow himself to embrace me as a Bonus Mom. His biological Mother, although kind, has not really grieved their divorce and still hangs on to the “what could/should/would have been”. My husband, riddled with guilt, does not know how to explain to both his ex wife or to his son that it’s ok to have 2 Mom’s. Or it’s ok to love people differently and enjoy them and not fear.

    The only reason I have been able to empower my 2 children is because they are adopted. They had to face these issues over and over again. And I as an adoptive mother thought- what’s the difference with being a Step Mom. Isn’t it the same thing? Allegiance issues. Same thing, right? Being the “second” Mother. Same thing, right? God, it can’t be farther from the truth.

    If people out there think parenting is a thankless job, they should get a glimpse of step parenting. I have to admit, I’m one of the blessed ones, where my husband reminds me everyday of how wonderful I am to his son. And what a great Mother I am to all 3 kids. This is lovely and very comforting and makes me feel good, yet it still doesn’t help the fact that I wish that his son would feel the same. I love this little boy, honestly as much as I do my adopted children. But knowing that this child is struggling to reciprocate hurts me deeply. Let me tell you, if I would have known the trials and tribulations to this extent, I would have never gone on that second date with my husband.

    This is when I say Thank you God, for not letting me know the future. Because if I would have known, and I didn’t go on that second date…I would have never have met the love of my life. The one where all of this is worth it. And for that I am thankful.

    So when people say to me “well, didn’t you KNOW, what you were getting into?” I simply tell them, I am thankful for not knowing then what I know now.

  12. Hello Stepmoms,
    Looking for an equivalent blog where men share the trials and tribulations of blended families. More importantly, what these men put their wonderful stepmom wives through.
    Jenna – I see an opportunity for you expand your audience……
    I admire Bryan for his tribute. I am pursuing the “30 Day Relationship Challenge” with my wife.
    Based on my experience, I have to ask the question to you stepmoms – What’s the deal breaker with regards to you husband? How much “challenge” can you endure (short of an extra-marital affair)?
    Face it, we’re still cavemen. Many of us still have the behavioral baggage formed from the relationship with the bio-moms that are still parenting the children for some amount of time.
    Like Bryan, I knew this would not be easy on my wife or me. In 2012, her simple life with a then 6 yr old daughter became exponentially more difficult when adding my then 13 yr old daughter and then 5 yr old son. Two new dimensions to instantly deal with – “teen” & “boy”. All 3 are respectful and get along. But, they require their differing levels of engagement. The dynamics of a teen daughter currently comprise the greatest challenges.
    Throw in the all-knowing, dominant bio-mom in the picture and it seems like every day is a new challenge.
    My wife & I both work; we each have our kids 50% of the time. Thanks to some flexibility by bio-dad, we’ve coordinated a schedule that mostly gives us 3 kids or zero.
    Gentleman, what have you done (consciously or unconsciously) to upset these wonderful women? How did you make up for it? Did you do it more than once?
    My wife and I are both paying off the debts accrued during the divorces that followed our recent depression. Bio-mom already gets $10,000 per year from me in child support. My wife has no disagreement regarding this.
    In my case, my tendency to avoid conflict with bio-mom has led me to twice provide additional funds to support a rather expensive activity for my teen daughter. First, several thousand in cash that had been saved up. More recently, a related credit purchase that I avoided mentioning for 6 weeks. So basically, I was forgiven the first time, so I went and did it again.
    I respect and admire my wife’s “going in” position on this – “your daughter is old enough to gain the appreciation of working hard and earning the money for what she enjoys”….
    Unfortunately, my actions do not reflect the “respect” I share in the previous sentence. It’s not about the money, it’s the dishonesty I have shown to merely avoid a conflict.
    I plead “guilty” and throw myself on the mercy of all the stepmoms and divorced fathers for analysis, opinion, and punishment….

  13. Spot on points, as usual! I didn’t even meet the kids until six months in to the relationship-by then I had already realized I found my parter and it wasn’t an option to “go back.” Four years later, things are finally less rocky with the kids-one with multiple special needs and another with lots of undiagnosed issues. The ONLY reason the relationship has been able continue with all the obstacles is that my husband is respectful of me having my own time and also very open to my observations about some of the really unhealthy things his kids were doing that had become “normal” to him.

    I always appreciate your blog and your Facebook posts. Makes me feel like I’m not alone out here!

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