Stepmoming the Motherless Child

Recently, at a stepmom event I observed the large number of full time stepmoms.

These are women who have their stepkids full time, and mom is no longer in the picture. There are a variety of reasons why the numbers have significantly increased over the years. The most popular are that mom is:

  • Coping with a mental illness and unable to care for a child
  • Battling an addiction, perhaps moving in and out of rehabilitation
  • Chasing her dreams and trying to “find herself”
  • Choosing to leave her kids for a “soul mate”
  • Living with a physical illness that prevents her from parenting
  • Deceased

Life as a full-time stepmom can seem like a maze of benefits and vulnerabilities.

A stepchild, especially if young, may quickly embrace a stepmom. However, that doesn’t mean the child isn’t still longing and hoping for Mom to return. Parents and children share a unique, unexplainable, hard wired bond.
Keeping this attachment in mind will help the stepmom when or if the child appears standoffish, rude, depressed or miserable.

When a child loses a mother, especially due to desertion, the effects are long-term and devastating. For the child this rejection isn’t about mom and her issues, its all about them. They see this through a different lens than an adult. The child’s self-worth has been demolished. He/she believes, “I am so horrible, ugly, unlovable, disgusting, and despicable that even my OWN MOTHER doesn’t love me.”

I highly recommend seeking professional help for this child, and its best if its a therapist who understands kids and trauma.

For the full-time stepmom it will take a great deal of hard work and prayer to balance the compassion, patience, and forgiveness this child will need as he/she heals from the emotional loss of a parent.

“I was completely devastated when my teen stepdaughter, whom I have raised since she was four years old, chose to leave our home and move in with her unstable mother. I walked around the house sobbing for weeks afterwards,” stepmom Kerry explained. “Why does she want her mother when I’m the one who has been there for her all these years? Why aren’t I enough?”

It’s important for a stepmom to prepare for potential pain. If the mother is still alive it is possible that she may choose to re-enter the child’s life at some point. This is much more common than most full-time stepmoms realize. And, like Kerry, they are ambushed by the sense of loss and betrayal that can accompany her. This mom might stay away for a few years, and then re-appear desiring to reestablish a relationship with her child.

Begin now to think through how you will handle the anger, frustration and fear that will automatically arise should this situation occur. As the child’s caretaker, be aware that after the mother appears, the child may reject a stepmom. A child who fears that a good relationship with a stepmom will displease or jeopardize the relationship with mom may drop the stepmom in a minute. This is due to the soul-deep desire to bond and gain the love and approval of mom.

“The nicer you are to me, and the more you do for me, the more I hate you,” stepson Ryan said to his stepmom. “Because you, and those mom-things you do, are a constant reminder that my own mom should be here doing them. She didn’t love me enough to stay. So, stop being nice to me.

As adults we can’t understand Ryan’s response to his stepmom. Our thoughts are, “How fortunate this young man is to have a stepmom who stepped up, and loves him so much.” But to the child, it’s very different. Their lens has been fractured, like broken glass. All they know is, “There is something so repulsive about me that my own mother doesn’t care or love me.”

And the family members that have remained faithful are usually the target for their venomous arrows.

God explains why the child has this perspective. He uses the natural mother-child bond as the ultimate expression of love.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!” Isaiah 49:15

Full time stepmom, you are a woman to be admired. You have taken on the role of loving a forgotten, hurting, lost child. And its no easy task. God will strengthen you, if you ask.

Remember, you didn’t create the hole in your stepchild’s heart and soul. And you can’t fill it.

God doesn’t expect you to heal your stepchild. He knows a soul-deep parental wound, which slashes and scorches a child’s self-worth and significance can only be healed by the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

Your job is to come alongside dad, pray consistently, offer compassion, and serve when and where you can.

That doesn’t mean being disrespected and abused (Dad must step in to control that). It means standing firm against the very thing threatening to destroy the child.

Copyright © 2018 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.

Would you like to know more about becoming a Smart Stepmom? Join me January 18-19 in Austin, Texas at Stepmoms Alive. 


Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul.

Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com