The role of a stepmom is a tricky one. A really tricky one.
Figuring out when to step up and when to step back, is a constant battle for many.
When it comes to a stepmom’s involvement in:
parenting her stepkids
communicating with her husband’s ex
making decisions for the kids
and sometimes dealing with the legalities that come with stepfamily life
– there really is no one size fits all approach.
There are so many contributing factors that determine the right approach.
That’s why it irks me when I see posts that say a stepmom should never play a role in discipline or that stepmoms should never communicate with her husband’s ex.
While part of me gets the rationale behind (some of) these posts, another part of me is like “what do you know about what works for another family?”.
You have to do what feels right for you.
One thing I know for sure is that a lot of stepmoms feel depleted, overwhelmed and exhausted by the ebbs and flows of stepfamily life. It can be a A LOT to deal with.
And while I firmly believe there is no one size fits all approach, there are two things that I think a stepmom should consider when it comes to their involvement with stepkids and the ex – especially in high conflict situations.
1. Is my involvement productive?
2. Is my involvement impacting my ability to show up as the best version of myself?
When stepfamily life gets extra stressful and overwhelming, sometimes the best thing a stepmom can do is disengage.
When I say disengage I don’t mean taking a “screw it, not my kids, not my problem approach,”
(even though that is sometimes what ends up happening).
I mean strategically take a step back for the benefit of the family unit.
I’ll say it louder for the people in the back…strategically take a step back for the benefit of the family unit.
Even though SO many stepmoms will have pushed back on this, I firmly believe that a stepmom’s answers to these two questions can help decide whether disengaging is the right next step.
Let’s dive into this!
1. IS YOUR INVOLVEMENT PRODUCTIVE?
Is your role in discipline met with anger, hostility and resentment?
Is it causing issues in your marriage?
Is it causing (more) turmoil in your co-parenting relationship?
Is it making things better or worse?
If you answered yes to the top three questions, and worse to the last – it may be time to consider taking a step back.
WHAT DOES DISENGAGING MEAN?
Making the choice to disengage does not mean that you won’t have a say about how things are run in your home.
It does not mean that you have to adopt an “eff it” mentality.
It simply means that you’ve consciously decided to take more of a behind-the-scenes approach, and let your husband take the lead.
I often hear stepmoms make reference to the “NACHO MOM” approach. Which is basically summed up by saying “NOT YO KID – not my problem.”
While this approach works for some, it’s not something I can get behind.
Let’s be real here – it kind of IS your problem.
Your stepkids and their mom DO affect your life.
When you disengage, you’re essentially addressing the problems from the sidelines, while not necessarily playing in the game.
This is a bit of a ridiculous analogy, but it’s kind of like you’re the team manager or the trainer. Not a coach, not the player, but still there to support the team!
2. IS THE STRESS PREVENTING YOU FROM SHOWING UP AS THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF?
The second scenario where you should consider taking a step back, is when the stressors that come with your stepfamily life are impacting the way you show up.
Is the stress impacting how you show up as a wife, stepmom, mom, friend, employee etc?
There have been times in our step-family when the stress was just too much for me. I’ve told the story about how my hands used to shake. There was a time when I found myself unable to think about anything else. It consumed me.
I found myself being short and snappy with my husband and the kids, because I was so depleted. I was emotionally exhausted and felt like I was always on high alert.
It was at that point that I told my husband that I wanted to be informed on a need-to-know basis. As a control freak who likes to be in the know, it was a HARD thing to do – but I knew it was what I needed to do for my own mental health. It was actually quite freeing.
He still asked for my input.
He still informed me when something was going to affect our house and our schedule.
He still considered my position.
But I took myself out of the nitty gritty details.
If you find yourself anxious when you see an email or text come in – or constantly worrying about “what went down” today – I highly recommend giving this a try, even for a week.
It doesn’t have to be permanent. You can simply take a break – replenish your energy and then jump back in when/if you think it’s beneficial for your family as a whole.
I will say, from our experience, doing this was not just beneficial for me – but the mood of our entire household shifted!
If you’re a struggling stepmom right now – I’m not going to tell you what you should do.
Like I said, you’re the expert on your own life.
BUT, I do want you to consider whether your involvement is productive (making things better or worse) and how it’s impacting the way you show up in your life!
Remember – you are the rock of your family. They need you at your best.