10 Secrets Stepmothers Keep

Let’s face it. By definition, stepmother relationships are complicated—not only for the stepmother, but for her partner, too: Never entered lightly, never entered without thought for already present responsibilities, never meeting childhood fairytale hopes of perfect, unencumbered romance.

While things might be slowly changing, a stepmother often feels pressure, real or imagined, to keep some feelings to herself. She might be embarrassed by the depth of emotions that seem petty to those not in her situation or she is afraid of confrontations that could follow point-blank statements about things that aren’t changeable. She knows that some of her thoughts are meant to be shared only with her girlfriends, some only with her confessor and some shouldn’t be voiced at all.

Still, there are a few things she wishes you just … knew; the innermost thoughts that, if voiced, might be hard for you to hear, that make her vulnerable and that are just plain embarrassing. No two women are alike, and this goes for stepmothers, too.

This list is in no way comprehensive, nor will every point hit home with every stepmom. If you’re a re-partnered dad, try asking the love in your life to highlight the points that are in her voice. Ask her if there are things that she wishes you knew that didn’t make the list. Then listen. Chances are she has been carrying these thoughts around for a long time. She doesn’t need you to fix it. She just needs you to hear her.

1. I MARRIED YOU IN SPITE OF YOUR KIDS, NOT BECAUSE OF THEM. I never once fantasized about riding into the sunset with my prince charming … followed by a string of ponies. I was always the princess in my fairy tale, never the evil stepmother. I was excited about being your wife even though I knew I’d have to figure out how to be part of the family you created before you knew me, and I married you because no matter how many people told me how crazy I was or how saintly I must be, I believed I could foil the stereotype. And I knew our love could withstand anything that our life thrust upon us. I still believe that.

2. I DON’T KNOW IF I’D MARRY YOU ALL OVER AGAIN. It’s a hypothetical question, and I wish you’d quit asking me. The fact is, I had no idea how hard this would be. And while I love you and have no plan to leave you or retract my commitment, there are days I wonder what the heck I was thinking. That’s not every day or even most days. But if I tell my best friend not to date the guy she just met because of the package deal he represents, you shouldn’t take it personally. You should just empathize with the fact that nobody can possibly be prepared for the quagmire of emotions stepfamily life brings.

3. I AM JEALOUS OF YOUR EX-WIFE. There. I said it. You loved her first. She has memories of you and the kids that I will never share. I compare myself to her and sometimes unfavorably so. I love when she looks like crap. I hate when the kids compare my lasagna to hers or inform me that their mom cleans the bathroom floors with a different brand of cleaner. I’m not their mother and I don’t want to be, but it’s hard to be my own person with her shadow in my home.

4. WHEN YOU STAND UP TO HER, IT FEELS LIKE YOU’RE CHOOSING ME. Please do it more often. I know we fight about this all the time. I understand that you’re just trying to keep the peace. But you knew when you married me that I am a powerful woman, and her presence in our life is the only thing I cannot address in my own way, with my own words and with my own power. That really stinks. I know I can get a little—or a lot—controlling about how you deal with her, but please try to understand how powerless I feel to affect my own life when it comes to her.

5. I DON’T LIKE WHEN THE KIDS DISRESPECT YOU, AND I DON’T LIKE WHEN YOU GIVE IN TO YOUR EX BECAUSE YOU THINK IT’S BETTER TO KEEP THE PEACE. I love your strength and masculinity, and I would like to see it in all parts of your life. I know you feel guilty about everything that went down with the kids, but allowing them to break reasonable rules because you don’t want to be the bad guy is bad for us and bad for them.

6. THEY’RE NOT MY KIDS. I know they’re the light of your life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I didn’t have the opportunity to fall in love with them when they were babies like you did. That’s why you can still love them even when they’re acting up, and I struggle more by seeing only what’s in front of me, which sometimes, you must admit, is less than their best selves. I go to their sporting events to be with you and to work toward forming this family we’ve made. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t love watching them play as much as you do, and guilt is only a short step away from resentment and starting to feel like I have to go. So, when I want to skip a school function to eat dinner with my girlfriends, kiss me goodbye without making me feel like I’m a horrible person.

7. I’M NOT THEIR MOTHER. A lot of what I do, I do to please you. I think the kids and I would find our own way eventually, but you’re used to the mom in the family taking on a certain role, and you’ve thrust me into it. Maybe I thought I could do it, or maybe I thought it was the only role open to me. But I’m learning that there might be better ways for me to fit into this family, and I’d like your support in figuring that out. I think there might be a way for me to be an awesome STEPmother, but in order for me to do that, we have to stop trying to make me the mom.

8. SOMETIMES I FEEL INVISIBLE. Like a really, truly look-through-me ghostly presence. When the kids come into the room and don’t acknowledge my presence or when the family starts telling stories about all the great times that occurred before I came into your life or that time your mom gave your ex a great big hug at your son’s graduation, I feel like I cease to exist. It would help a lot if you made it a point to favor me with that special look or reach for my hand so I feel like I matter.

9. EVERY SINGLE THING I DO FOR YOUR KIDS IS A FAVOR TO YOU. I know this is different than in a traditional two-parent family, but the fact is that your kids are your responsibility. I want to share in every aspect of your life, so I’m willing to help, but I’d really like it if you would thank me and show appreciation for what I do. I understand the kids are used to getting their needs met and won’t be overly appreciative of what I do for them, but I need you to be.

10. DESPITE ALL THESE THINGS, I AM WITH YOU BECAUSE I WANT TO BE. Every day, I recommit myself to our life despite our challenges. This is exactly where I want to be. I know I act crazy sometimes and that my eruptions are difficult for you to take. You are caught in the middle and all you want is for me to be happy and for the kids to accept us as a family. While I may avoid articulating the things on this list, I want you to pay most attention to this last one. We didn’t know how hard it was going to be to form this family, but I’m in it for the long haul, and I still think we can beat the odds. I married you because I love you and I want to build a life where we live happily ever after.

And that is all.

bethann gondeck