Sister Stepmom: When You Feel Like an Outsider

Laura, I feel like I’m standing outside of my house, holding my child’s hand, looking in the window. My child and I are on the exterior watching my husband and his kids enjoying life,” stepmom Melody cried. “We live there and yet I don’t feel like my child and I belong on the inside. I’m outside the circle of my husband and his kids, attempting to protect my child from feeling the same. How can I survive when I feel like a foreigner in my own home? 

Melody’s experience is very common.

Most people assume that adding more bodies to a home will ease the angst of feeling lonely, rejected and/or empty.

However, in a remarriage stepmoms often experience the “outsider” angst  more common than not!

Here are a few common reasons why stepmoms often feel left out in the cold.

1.Outside vs. Inside-

A stepmom often steps into a setting that has already been created and established by her husband and his kids. She is  arriving into a home and family that already possesses a pattern, rhythm, or flow that they enjoy. Whether it’s a healthy or high functioning system or not, it’s familiar to them.

In general, most people hate change. Kids who have been through the breakup of their parents or home, detest change. And they finally have gotten into the rhythm of Dad’s house with him as a single parent.

To them, when dad adds a new woman to the house, it’s one more change that stimulates fear, anxiety and loss. Trauma has taught them to resist, fight, and attempt to destroy almost anything that threatens their newly formed safety zone.

Typically this has nothing to do with the stepmom or her kids, it’s more about anyone who threatens to “rock their world”–AGAIN!

2. Where Do I Belong? -a stepmom often struggles to determine her role. Is she a mother or not? Does she have authority over the kids or not? Is she supposed to step into a support role or not? Does she communicate with the Mom or not? It’s VERY confusing. And most of the time the couple didn’t read a stepfamily resource, or learn anything about blending the family before the union.

The confusion over her role in the home sets the stage for feeling like she doesn’t belong. Every person has a role in the family. For the stepmom she must sit down with her husband (preferably before the wedding) and discuss this conundrum. What does HE view as her role with HIS kids?

When this isn’t addressed the problem lands into one of two landmines:

One, Dad doesn’t like saying no, so he dumps all the parenting into stepmoms lap–big mistake.

Two, stepmom assumes because she is an adult in the home she should automatically have authority over his kids, and parent them as she does (or would) her own.

Both of these choices have HUGE ramifications.

If you battle this, my book, The Smart Stepmom has several chapters that can help.

3. This is MY Dad and MY House-It’s crucial for a stepmom to understand that after a divorce it’s typical for a child to get promoted from a kid into the “Friend” “Partner” or “Daddy’s Helper” role.

THIS IS NOT the child’s fault.

It happened naturally after the divorce, and typically Daddy doesn’t even realize it happened. When a stepmom blames the child for this shift in roles, or calls the daughter a “mini wife,” she creates tremendous frustration for herself, her spouse and the child.

The ONLY solution that works is for Dad to undo the damage.

He must take the initiative and recognize that he has sabotaged his second marriage by placing the child in the front seat. Over time he must slowly and gently place the child back into his/her proper position of being a kid, not a friend or partner.

If Dad refuses, it will never properly heal.  

4. The Loneliness is BAD.  “I’m the loneliest I’ve ever been in my life,” Tanya shared. “This is worse than when I was single! At least then I could make my own decisions and my cozy apartment felt like home. I thought marriage would heal my loneliness and emptiness, and yet it’s done the opposite. I just don’t understand.” This part is often really hard on a stepmom. She didn’t realize that a blended family marriage comes with a lot of sacrifices, and a large number of hurting people who often have huge wounds and needs. And one of them might be her husband. She didn’t create those wounds and she can’t heal them.

Now that we have a better understanding of the WHY, let’s tackle the HOW.

Merely understating that it’s normal to feel outside the circle can be a HUGE help. This should remove the overwhelming, “What am I doing wrong?”

Step One: Relax- When a wife raises her voice and rants, complains, nags or accuses her husband he normally does one of two things. The man physically and/or emotionally shuts down and runs away, or he becomes angry and defensive. When she responds this way when it involves his kids you can expect that response times 10.

Verbally attacking or belittling him will backfire.

Step Two: Relay-Set up a time to talk when its just the two of you. If this requires getting a sitter and/or going to a restaurant, do it. This discussion must be a high priority. If left unaddressed, it has the potential to destroy your marriage.

Step Three: Resources-Show your spouse this blog or one of the TV clips I have on my website. It’s often easier for him to hear your this situation from a stranger, or an author who understands stepfamilies. I understand that may come across as if your personal pain isn’t important to him. I’m sorry. It’s merely that I’ve discovered that in most cases he isn’t trying to discount your feelings, this is merely what works.

Step Four: Relate-Explain to your spouse that you hadn’t anticipated feeling like an outsider and that these emotions are confusing. No one is to blame, the kids aren’t doing anything wrong, he isn’t a bad parent, you aren’t overly sensitive, it’s merely a normal occurrence when a dad remarries.

Step Five: Resolve-Set up a signal between the two of you that communicates to your spouse when you are feeling excluded. Some couples choose a phrase or a word, others use a gesture, do whatever works for you. Then discuss some ways your spouse can bring you into the circle. Understand, it will take some time for this to work. Your spouse should gradually implement this initiative. If all of a sudden he says to his daughter, “OK, I have a wife now and she’s part of our family. So she’s going to sit beside me on the couch from now on, and you need to start sitting in the chair,” all it will do is create resentment for everyone but you.

This must be done slowly, patiently and over time.

Step Six: Receive wisdom. Sister Stepmom, even though you didnt understand the entire package, you chose to marry a man with kids. I understand the angst when hearing those words. The reality is those kids came with many hurts, wounds, sadness, grief, and anger. It’s ok to mourn what you didnt know, but you can’t reside there. The kids need their dad. Not always you and their dad–sometimes just their dad. When they come to your home, let them have their dad.

If that means you need to go have coffee with a girlfriend or take your kids to breakfast so they have some alone time with him–do it. And if you added an “ours” baby, sometimes take the child with you. Let the kids have their dad. It will benefit everyone in the long run.

Step Seven: Reach OUT! Stepmoms, hear me. This is why I work so hard to create events for stepmoms. I strongly encourage any woman dating, engaged or married to a man with kids to connect with other stepmoms. Attending an event designed for stepmoms is a wonderful way to find healing and help. For our stepfamily marriage to survive we NEED each other. This is not a luxury like a pedicure. This was created to strengthen your family. And I know we THINK social media can do that, but statistics show that it makes us MORE depressed and lonely–not less.

That’s because God created us for real community.

We need each other’s hugs, tears, laughter and encouragement to survive life’s challenges. The “I understand” and compassionate tenderness of a fellow stepmom is worth more than I can describe.

Stepmoms isn’t it time we obtained success? Isn’t it time we stopped focusing on the ex and the choices she’s making that we can’t control? Are we ready to live victorious lives? Do we know the strength we have when we link arms and ask for God’s strength and blessings?

Are you looking into the window of your home, and feeling like an outsider because the joy has been sucked out of your lungs?

It’s been robbed? Would you like it back? Did you know God is LONGING and capable to fill you with contentment, and place you smack dab back inside the home next to your husband and family.

This is a complex situation and way too intricate to give a “cookie cutter” answers. If this is a big issue in your home, you may need additional help from a 3rd party. I offer life coaching for stepfamily couples.

If your spouse refuses to hear your feelings on this situation, or receive additional help and disregards you with comments such as, “Your the adult here, just grow up,” that indicates a marital problem–not a stepfamily problem.

It’s a husband, wife problem, which requires help.

Here is a prayer to start:

Answer me quickly, Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

Rescue me from my enemies, Lord, for I hide myself in you.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

Psalm 143: 7-10

Copyright © 2019 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved

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