What You'll Learn
- Letting Go of Perfectionism as a Stepmom
- The Contradictions in Expectations for Stepmoms
- The Unique Challenges of Becoming a Stepmom to Young Children
- Avoiding Comparison as a Stepmom
- Navigating Relationship Dynamics as a Stepmom
- The Importance of Self-work as a Stepmom
- How to Be the Stepmom You Want to Be
Learning how to be a stepmom can be complicated. Blended families face unique challenges with relationships, contradictory expectations, and potential conflict. But with the right approach, you can navigate the dynamics and embrace your role as a stepmom.
Today, I’m joined by life coach Jamie Scrimgeour, founder of The Kick-Ass Stepmom, to discuss how to let go of perfection and expectations and show up as the stepmom you want to be.
My Own Relationship With Potential Stepmoms
Growing up as a child of a high-conflict divorce wasn’t easy. And when I hit my teenage years and my dad started dating, it became even harder.
I didn’t always make things easy for my dad (or his girlfriends). Looking back, I understand my own emotions so much more clearly. But I can also see things from a new perspective. It must have been very difficult for my dad’s potential partners to step into that situation.
Motherhood is hard—full of contradictions, unrealistic expectations, and complex emotions. But becoming a stepmom is full of its own challenges—some similar to that of becoming a mom, and some completely unique.
I appreciate Jamie for serving as a voice and support system for stepmoms everywhere, and I couldn’t wait to chat with her about the process of learning how to be a stepmom.
Letting Go of Perfectionism as a Stepmom
Jamie was 26 years old when she became a stepmom to three kids. Before long, she was expecting a baby. She described it as a whirlwind—she was thrust into a new role that she wasn’t prepared for, but one that she wanted to excel at.
So, she went to the internet for advice. Unfortunately, she found that most of the groups for stepmoms consisted of negativity and commitment. She didn’t want that to be her story. Jamie began a journey of self-work and personal development. One of the key lessons she had to learn was to overcome perfectionism.
Jamie had always been a self-described control freak. She tried to carry that into her role as stepmom—adhering to strict routines, keeping a perfect home, and creating wonderful meals from scratch. Not only was she trying to live up to an ideal, but she was also battling judgment and comparison.
When Jamie gave birth to her daughter, she realized that she couldn’t keep aiming for this target of perfectionism. It was impossible to achieve. She had to focus on what really mattered and let the rest go.
Jamie’s journey with perfectionism reminds me in many ways of my own. All moms experience this pressure to be perfect. I understand how stepmoms might feel that pressure even more strongly.
But most of us hit this point where we have to let go of perfection—we can’t keep up with the pressure. Once we let go, we can find our own footing, align our life to our values, and chart our own path.
The Contradictions in Expectations for Stepmoms
Jamie said that the biggest thing for stepmoms to remember is to let go of the idea that they are going to function the same as a first family. If you try, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.
Stepmoms often experience mixed messages and contradictory expectations.
Jamie understands that, while her opinion is valued, at the end of the day her husband and his ex-wife are the decision-makers for their children. This can leave stepmoms feeling lost in their role or undervalued.
Stepmoms often experience mixed messages and contradictory expectations. They are pressured to keep up with the nitty-gritty of parenting—making lunches, showing up for the kids, and even managing the mental load in the house. But they are also not an authority when it comes to the kids. Stepmoms are told that they should love their children like their own, but also to step back because they’re not moms.
Sometimes outside judgment can be hard for stepmoms to deal with. Those contradictory expectations come from all sides. For example, some people might expect you to show up at field trips or school parties. Others might feel that you are overstepping and disrespecting the role of the mom.
It can feel like a complex push and pull. And it often involves people overstepping boundaries. Jamie said that there is almost an expectation that she will have conflict with her stepchildren’s mom. When she meets people they feel entitled to ask about their relationship.
It’s okay to set boundaries when people overstep. They aren’t entitled to know about you and your family dynamics.
Jamie pointed out that it’s hard to fulfill contradictory expectations and find your footing in your role. But the key is to shut out the noise and find what works for your family.
The Unique Challenges of Becoming a Stepmom to Young Children
When Jamie married her husband, her stepchildren were 5, 8, and 10—they were still very young. This came with unique challenges, but Jamie believes that it made it easier in some ways.
She finds that stepmoms of young children often struggle because the kids might miss their mom or need to talk with them every day. This can be complicated, especially in higher conflict situations.
But Jamie pointed out that in some ways it is easier to bond with younger children. When the stepchildren are teenagers, there might be additional hostility or pushback.
In both cases, open and honest communication helps. We might be tempted to shield our children from what’s going on. But Jamie said that it’s important to overcome our own shame and embarrassment and empower the children in our home with age-appropriate truths.
It’s important to empower the children in our home with age-appropriate truths.
She had to navigate tough conversations when her daughter was old enough to understand that the other children were leaving to spend time with their mom. But Jamie supported her along the way, and now, at age 8, she understands the situation very well.
Jamie recommends keeping the conversation open, giving the children as much information as they can handle, and providing space for them to ask questions and understand in their own little minds.
Avoiding Comparison as a Stepmom
One of the things Jamie urges stepmoms to avoid is comparison. She said that sometimes stepmoms get caught up in being the mom of the house or trying to be competitive. But this sets stepmoms up for extra emotional distress.
Competition sets stepmoms up for extra emotional distress.
Jamie said that stepmoms are the motherly figure in their homes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s also important to avoid the competition piece and respect and honor the children’s relationship with their mom—even in situations where the mom isn’t showing up the way you think they should.
Jamie doesn’t shy away from the word “stepmom.” She thinks that it is an amazing role, and one that can be embraced without comparison or competition.
Navigating Relationship Dynamics as a Stepmom
Jamie also pointed out that it can be difficult to navigate relationship dynamics and our own emotions. It takes time to build and form attachments—they aren’t created instantly. But for stepmoms, there is an expectation of an instant bond.
She pointed out that her relationship with each of her stepchildren is different—and that all of those are different than her relationship with her child. But she doesn’t think that is anything to be ashamed of. This can bring up a lot of guilt for stepmoms.
There is a difference in loving your children differently and treating them differently.
But Jamie said that there is a difference in loving your children differently and treating them differently. There might be times when the relationship is strained with your stepchildren—but you have to take a look at your own emotions and remember that you are the adult.
Relationships are built over time, and they won’t always look the way we want them to. We can’t form instant bonds or force our stepchildren, or ourselves, to feel a certain way. But we can control the way we show up.
Jamie said that it’s important to build the relationship out of trust and respect. You don’t want to be forced to feel a certain way about other people—and that means that you can’t force your stepchildren to feel a certain way either. When you play the long game, strong bonds and relationships can form.
Why Self-Work is Important as a Stepmom
Ultimately, as Jamie became a stepmom, the best thing she could do was to work on herself. There is so much out of your control—but self-work gives you the power to change how you show up.
When Jamie thinks back to her own challenges as a stepmom—her need for control, her perfectionism—so much of it comes down to her own wounds and insecurities. She had to spend a lot of time asking herself questions like:
Why do you think this is important?
Why is this so triggering?
What are you really scared of?
Our own insecurities about feeling valued, seen, and appreciated often play a role in our stressors. But when we focus on self-work, instead of how we think things “should” be or how a family “should” run, we can change the entire atmosphere in the home. For Jamie, this allowed her to see stepfamily stress in a whole new light.
If we feel anxious about our role or a desire to prove ourselves, we might think we need to do more—have more rules, be more involved, play a more active role. But Jamie said that sometimes the answer is actually to do less. She believes that knowing when to disengage as a stepmom is extremely important.
Jamie pointed out that if you feel consumed about conflict or overwhelmed by trying to fix or change a situation, it’s a good sign that it’s time to disengage.
This doesn’t mean you take a step away from your family or check out of your role—that can lead to further distance from the type of family you want. But it can mean pulling back, being less involved in discipline, and regain some perspective. The goal of disengaging is to regroup and rebuild relationships within the family.
How to Be the Stepmom You Want to Be
When you can focus on self-work and regain perspective in your family dynamics, you can also start to see where you can show up differently in the future.
Often, our conflict with our stepchildren isn’t about us. It might be about difficulty with the transition, overwhelm with the change, pain, or grief.
But Jamie pointed out that sometimes the problem is us. She recommends reflecting on our own behavior and asking how we would feel about us? If we were the stepchild, would we feel respected and cared for? Or would we feel frustrated?
If we were the stepchild, would we feel respected and cared for? Or would we feel frustrated?
We all react in ways that we shouldn’t sometimes. That doesn’t mean we’re failing in the role. But it does mean that we need to regroup and repair where necessary. Owning our own mistakes and apologizing can go a long way in reforming and repairing bonds.
Jamie has gone through a different journey with each of her stepchildren. Some, she has been close to forever. Others, she has experienced strain that had to be worked through. But she navigated it by focusing on what she could control and on committing to show up in a positive way.
She encourages everyone to remember that no matter what happens or how strained the relationship might be, and no matter how frustrating that can be—the stepchildren did not ask for this. But we have the power to show up in a way that can build bonds, strengthen relationships, and open up a positive family dynamic—regardless of what that looks like.
If you’re struggling with relationship or family dynamics, our therapists can help! We provide parenting support for all families. Book a FREE 15minute virtual consult today.