Stepparents caught between two worlds

In response to my Halloween request for subjects folks want to discuss here, Evil SM commented last week:

In thinking about my biggest concerns as a childless woman that I’d love to discuss with other women who “get it”, I’d say it’s definitely the tension between feeling 100% childless and still having to reconcile the relationship with my stepkids. I’m not going to lie, I’m very resentful, and am trying to make my peace with it all. Sometimes I want to embrace having no children, and then there are my husband’s kids. I feel stuck between two worlds, and no matter how much I have given to them, tried to feel something parental towards them, I just don’t. But, I can’t say that. I have to put on a mask and pretend I feel a certain way about them and my role, or lack of, in their lives. Some days it eats me alive. I have most, if not all, the responsibility of a parent, and none of the warm feelings. Like you, Sue, we are custodial. My husband expects that if/when the kids have kids, I will feel like, or want to feel like, a grandparent, and that’s just not my truth. In the beginning of our relationship, I thought I wanted a baby, but for some reason that changed and now I’m almost completely on the other side of the fence, though I still have some of those baby blues days. I feel more childless with my husband and his kids than I would otherwise. It’s constantly in my face. Anyone else feel this way?

I do, Evil SM. My stepchildren are all grown now, and with my husband gone, I rarely see them, except on Facebook. But I remember those feelings. To be accurate, only the youngest of Fred’s three lived with us. Sometimes I felt like his mother. Sometimes I felt like I was co-parenting with Fred’s ex. More often, I felt like a babysitter who had no idea what she was doing. I loved him, but I’m not sure how he felt about me. I was always aware that he had a “real mom” who had first dibs on him.

As for the other two, we tried, but that warm fuzzy feeling proved elusive. I’m watching my words here because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or start a war. (We have enough problems with the fallout from the election.) They just didn’t feel like my own family. Even when I became a step-grandmother, it was like I was playing a role. I wish we could have made it one big happy family. I wanted that so bad. But they weren’t mine. So now I “like” their Facebook posts, send Christmas and birthday greetings, and pray for them every day.

To Michael, Gretchen, Ted (and Shelly), if you read this, I love you and miss you and feel so far away. You haven’t reached out, and I’m afraid that if I reach out to you, I will be rejected.

Oh, God, I feel as if I have opened myself up too much here. Thanks a lot, Evil Stepmother. 🙂 I used to call myself that, too. Thank God the kids laughed.

So, readers, it’s your turn. Many of us have stepped into relationships that include children from previous partners. Does the presence of these offspring make you feel worse about not having your own children or does it ease the pain? How do you get along? Can you love them like your own? What gets in the way of that?

Let’s open up this can of worms and see what’s inside. It might take more than one post. You can be as anonymous as you need to be. Me, not so much.

Thank you for being here and sharing with me.






21 thoughts on “Stepparents caught between two worlds

  1. Evil SM’s comments do resonate with me, although my situation is slightly different. I kind of liken my situation to Lisa Manterfield’s. When I married, my step-kids were already out of the house (early 20’s, late teens). One already had kids, and I embraced being a grandparent eagerly, too eagerly, as it later came to bite me. I never attempted to fill the mom role with my stepkids because (thankfully) they are both super close to their own mom, and besides, even if they weren’t, I don’t believe in ‘forcing’ a relationship*. My infertility challenges have caused much grief and angst each time they have another baby, but that is a pain that I own and work towards healing that has nothing to do with their building their own family.

    My stepdaughter once rubbed it in that I don’t/can’t have my own children in a taunting, condescending tone; I certainly placed some extra distance between us after that conversation.

    *Although I don’t believe in forcing a relationship, and even told my stepson that when I married his dad, oddly enough, he and his wife are trying to force one on me.

    Evil SM writes: “In the beginning of our relationship I thought I wanted a baby, but for some reason that changed and now I’m almost completely on the other side of the fence, though I still have some of those baby blues days”

    I’m kind of the reverse. I went into the marriage thinking I could not have children and had mostly made peace with my situation. Then surprisingly got pregnant (x3) and miscarried (x3). Only once I got pregnant did my longings to have a baby of my own resurface. It’s been an awful roller coaster ride. Any time a grandbaby is born, I am genuinely happy for them, yet I am also crushed to pieces on the inside. My last miscarriage I was pregnant at the same time as my DIL. Thankfully she went on to have a gorgeous healthy baby, but as you can imagine on that day I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. So many emotions, some good and some bad. The important thing I’ve learned (coming from a military family where feelings are not encouraged) is to allow my feelings of grief and sadness to happen naturally, to feel them, embrace them and honor them as a natural part of being human.

    Sue, to your points…
    Does the presence of these offspring make you feel worse about not having your own children or does it ease the pain? How do you get along? Can you love them like your own? What gets in the way of that?

    I have many, many times loved my step-kids as my own, and at other times I’ve really had to work toward having a positive attitude toward them. Even in those moments I never stopped loving them, just not at the “as my own” level of love. I only lived with my stepson a few months (it didn’t go well). I think *living* with a child is far different, so I don’t feel experienced enough to speak to your situation or Evil SM’s because you guys shared a home for a far longer time period with them. Not sure I worded that very well

    Their presence doesn’t make me feel worse; it might even ease the pain, but only slightly. Of course, I hate Mother’s Day, but it’s gotten better over the years. Stepson’s wife insists on recognizing me; before she came, it was several years with no recognition on Mother’s Day. Then around the 10th year, my stepkids went in together and bought me jewelry for Mother’s Day. I was utterly floored; I cherish that necklace. My stepdaughter no longer recognizes me on Mother’s Day; I’ve just made peace with it. I would never want her to fake anything, and–far more importantly–my husband honors me on that day in his own way. I’ve learned to stay home though; the kids used to invite both me and their bio mom over to celebrate Mother’s Day together (one big happy!) and after a few years I said thanks but no thanks. If we do anything Mother’s Day, it will be apart from her and, frankly, it will be on my husband’s and my terms.

    What gets in the way? Pride, on both sides. As a person matures, hopefully their heart softens and they realize the bigger picture. One part of a bigger picture is that a stepmom has to constantly put herself last, and be okay with little to zero recognition for her efforts. Many don’t make it. A supporting spouse can make or break the situation.

    I hope that Evil SM’s heart gets healing. I feel the angst in her words and I pray for her to find peace.

    It doesn’t speak to the question of whether or not to have children, but the book “Stepmonster” was helpful to me in establishing healthy boundaries with my stepkids.


    • Wow, CaliStepM, I guess this post got you going. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sorry for your miscarriages, especially happening when your stepkids are having successful pregnancies. So hard. I’m jealous of that necklace. You are lucky to have that much love. Cherish it.


    • Thanks, CaliStepM. Angst is a great word for the way I feel. I’m working on the healing, and Sue’s blog definitely helps!


  2. I’m a stepmom to a 20-year-old college junior. He was 3 when his parents divorced and 11 when his father introduced us to each other. My stepson has a very close relationship with his mom, with whom I get along with but don’t see her very often.

    So those are the facts. Oh, the feelings!

    In retrospect, I probably pushed the stepmom role early in our relationship (trying to engage with him a lot when he stayed over, making a lot of meals, etc) but he and I are different people and we were introduced when he was just starting to be a tween. The awkwardness! In a couple of years I got a clue and decided 1) not to take anything personally because I realized I was a person in a role in his life, but he and I didn’t really know each other yet; 2) let time take care of how close we’d become; 3) accept that his mom and dad would make decisions and his dad as my husband would let me know what they were, but I didn’t really have input; 4) I’d be consistent and a presence because that’s what kids really need, and to demonstrate that I really loved his dad.

    As needed, I cried and pouted to myself and vented to my therapist and shared my feelings with my husband.

    Now, 9 years later, we have a nice relationship. It turns out we have the same taste in a lot of sitcoms and comedian podcasts and so we share these things with each other. He finally returns my periodic texts. His hugs seem genuine now and honestly the lo-pressure approach feels like a relief.

    That being said, I have a lot of feelings about the future. I hope he turns into a young man who enjoys his relationship with me and, if something happens to his dad, lets me still be involved somehow in his life. I hope, if he marries, that his wife likes me and doesn’t compare me (too much) to bio-mom. I hope if he has kids, that I’m allowed to get close to the kids. If none of that happens, I will be very sad, but at the same time, I’m intentionally developing a relationship with the same ideas in mind with my nephews and nieces and I have the same hopes for them as I do my stepson.

    Most of the time when asked, I say I don’t have kids. Because I feel that I don’t, I instead have a stepson. But if my husband or a friend is with me and I say I don’t have kids, sometimes they’ll correct me. Which doesn’t embarrass me. The subject is so complicated that I can barely keep myself clear on it, let alone others. But sometimes others seems surprised or a little embarrassed for me if I’m corrected like that. It’s one of the few things that I don’t take personally because only other non-bio stepmoms will EVER understand what this is like.

    It’s a role I didn’t ask for, was unprepared for, and have no idea how it will pan out. It’s one of the biggest challenges of my life. Thank you for bringing this subject up.


    • Colleen, thank you for this comment. I’m so glad you and your stepson get along. You’re so right about other people not understanding. I too have been corrected when I said I didn’t have children. My friends would make me stand up at church on Mother’s Day and it was so awkward. I don’t think anybody is prepared for this role. Thank Evil SM for bringing it up.


    • “It’s a role I didn’t ask for, was unprepared for, and have no idea how it will pan out. It’s one of the biggest challenges of my life.”

      This…exactly! I think I thought at some point I would figure out how it would pan out, but I still have no clue. I feel like I will always have a polite relationship with the kids, but it seems clear that this is all they and I are capable of. It is disappointing, and sometimes I wonder if the neutrality is worse than flat out rejection. To some extent, what they say about love is true; the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. I’ve never been a big enough presence in their lives to accept or reject. I am just here, existing on some parallel plane.


      • OMG, this is so true – “It is disappointing, and sometimes I wonder if the neutrality is worse than flat out rejection. To some extent what they say about love is true; the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.” I’ve really been struggling to put my finger on it, but this is exactly my experience. Thank you for sharing. At least we know we’re not alone in what we’re experiencing! Hugs.


  3. Yet again, I am so, so grateful for this blog!! Thank you, Sue!! Completely understand how Evil SM feels. Even though my husband’s children were grown up and living independently by the time we got together, I find it incredibly difficult to be with a man who has children, and now a grandchild, when I don’t have children. It definitely doesn’t help that he didn’t want children with me – I try to understand that he had ‘been there and done that’ and didn’t want to start again at his age and in his financial situation, but it doesn’t make it any easier to bear. Just like Evil SM, I feel that I’m not able to move forward, to embrace and accept my childlessness. This may sound ridiculous to others who have not been in a similar situation and I am extremely reluctant to voice how I feel anywhere other than places like this blog for fear of the kind of negative responses I might get. Deep down I feel like I am a ‘bad’ person for not being able to embrace these people in my husband’s life. Surely if I was ‘nicer’ I would be able to separate my childlessness from them? But it is a visceral feeling. Whenever he is in contact with them, it hurts me and it feels like he is rubbing it in my face that he wanted these children, with those women, and not our children, with me. Ugh. How is this my life!?!?


  4. Hi Sue!

    I’m a stepfather. 35. Been with my SO for 5 years now. I met my stepdaughter when she was 5 years old. So she’s just entering her teen/tween years right now.

    My SO has always been very supportive in easing me into the stepfather role. She’s always included me as an integral part of our family. My stepdaughter spends 90% of the times with us, only a few days per month with her dad. The latter has never been a force of friction or anything. My SO and I, we have a cordial relationship with him in the interest of my stepdaughter. I never felt resentment or the need to force myself as a “replacement parent” towards her. I’ve always accepted the situation for what it is. As such, I can only say that right now I have an outstanding relationship with my stepkid. I do all the things a regular father does, too: we play together, I tuck her in bed, we share secrets, I take care of her, she talks about what troubles her to me, we have family trips. When she was younger, we were more distant, but right now, our bond is strengthening as I am also opening up to her while I age. I can see it in the small things like her drawings of our family, how she acts around me, demands my attention to her daily activities, how she includes me in our family. She is a real to joy to have in my life. And my SO reminds me of how important I am to her and her daughter each and every day. So, I don’t feel like a “mere” babysitter or an “uncle once removed”. I’m the most important person to her after her dad and mom, and she’s becoming the second most important person, after my SO, in my own life, as I slowly let myself open up to her, too.

    My SO doesn’t want any children anymore. I’m very ambivalent about the matter. Always have been. During my 20’s, I didn’t have children on my mind at any time and the idea always elicited a big red no on my part. Having a child of my own felt like something that really wasn’t the thing for me.

    However, I only recently, after 5 years with my SO, realised what it means to have no children of my own. That there is a difference. You see, while I do all the dad things, she doesn’t call me “Dad”. And I can feel that her love isn’t unconditional. So, only a few months ago, I started feeling this incredible sadness about what hasn’t been and will never become. And yes, as a man, I cried about this. I don’t hold my tears back when I feel a bout of sadness, because I feel so relieved when it passes.

    However, I don’t feel longing or burning, wishing that I had a child of my own. (At least not right now.) I also don’t feel regrets about my choice. I’m happy with how I am doing right now. I’m happy to be a stepdad and a godfather to my two godchildren, and an uncle to the nieces of my SO. I do feel some regret towards my parents, though. That I won’t grant them grandchildren. They don’t resent me for taking this path though; they are very understanding and caring.

    On a sidenote, My nan isn’t my ‘real’ nan. My granddad remarried before I was born. But to me, she’s always been my nan. No questions asked. The knowledge that we don’t share genes has never bothered me one bit. And it is something that I reflect upon quite a bit when you ask me to define “grand)parenthood”. So, my own experience speaks volumes to me when I ask myself “How important are those genes really?”

    So you see, I try to look to the things and the experiences I do have in life right now. Counting my blessings is extremely important to me. I don’t know what the future holds. I am keenly aware and fearful of the unspeakable worst case scenarios out there. Then again, I can’t control how things will play out down the line. I listen to the stories of my friends who do have kids. Each and every one shares pain, anger, resentment in some form or another next to happiness and joy. I can only give myself the moment today and make sure life will be fulfilling to me when I look back down the line. Letting go of past choices, my past wants, my “hasn’t beens” is at the same time extremely hard and extremely necessary.

    My therapist recently said to me: “Out of the woods? You are never out of the woods!” And he is right. Everyone suffers hardships, regardless of having children. It’s about the grand journey that is life, and how we choose to experience that journey. Kindness to oneself is the most important gift you can grant yourself. I’ve only recently realised this. The biggest regret I would have in my old age is cultivating my feelings of regret, guilt and pain each and every day for the remainder of my years about an idealised life that I never can nor will pursue without destroying all the good things I have right now.

    So, that’s my story. It’s how I feel right now about all this at 35. I can’t be sure how I will feel about all this aged 45 or even 55. I can’t really say. The not knowing is the hardest part of all in this life. That’s scary. And reading about all those stories about resentment later in life makes it scary. But I do know that it’s so so so important to really cherish and embrace the life and the people I have right now, as a way of buffering against those negative feelings that might bubble up later on.


    • Matt, Thank you for sharing your wonderful story with us. It is heartening to see a man embrace the stepfather role so wholeheartedly and enjoy it. It sounds like you don’t really need to worry about the future. It will be fine.


  5. Thanks for your kind words, Sue! I’ve noticed the vast majority of stories online are shared by stepmoms. It seems men are a silent group when it comes to this topic. So, I felt sharing this might be of value to others.


  6. Thanks for sharing Matt. Your words ‘The biggest regret I would have in my old age is cultivating my feelings of regret, guilt and pain each and every day for the remainder of my years about an idealised life that I never can nor will pursue without destroying all the good things I have right now.’ are really powerful and inspiring to me at the moment. My partner has 2 kids (doesn’t want any more) and I am about to move in with them. My partner wants us to be a family, as I do, but I still have sadness knowing I will never have children of my own.

    All the best to you,


  7. I’m very thankful I have stumbled upon this blog. I’ve been searching for someone, anyone really, who I can relate to and to see that I am not alone in this whirlwind of step-parenting.
    Last year I met a man that I was completely not ready for. He was the most incredible man I have ever met, kind, nurturing, persistent, caring, understanding, supportive, and above all he was completely and utterly in love with me. He had been in a relationship for 10 years and had two kids 9 & 5. His ex had left him a year and a half before we met. He was the bigger man and moved out of the house they had just recently built and moved into a rental, while still paying for the house and all her bills, (which I think is completely and utterly insane. I know if that was me I would not be funding her) But his excuse was he was doing it for the kids as she would not be able to afford the house and bills as she did not work. I have come from a hard upbringing. My father was abusive and my mother worked three jobs to support our family, so you can see why I would have a bad taste in my mouth to begin with from his ex not wanting to work, even though both children are at school, when my mother raised us all and worked three jobs, but that’s just my view, I guess. My partner won my heart after months of my hesitation to commit to him. I knew deep in my heart I would be in for a whirlwind of a ride once I committed. He was still going through the sale of his house. She was still living in it. He works away, so he was gone for a full week and the week he was home he had the kids for the whole seven days. So from the very beginning I knew if I stepped into this, I was becoming a half-time stepmom. That when I saw him I knew I would be seeing the children too, never a moment alone to have our own relationship. But love won me over.
    Three months into our relationship, we moved in together. Not only was he pushing for it, as at the time he was coming home and staying at their ‘old home’ which she still lived in, and would go to her friends’ the week he was home, but my current rental was about to run out of lease. So we made the plunge and moved into a two-bedroom apartment. As his ex had run him dry of money, I ended up paying and furnishing the entire apartment (which included a room for his two kids, with whom I had only spent a handful of time) and accepting the fact that I was now involved. The two kids are beautiful. I have grown to love them very much. I take them to school, I pack their lunches, I cook them dinner and put them to bed, do all the things a mother would do. But, at the same time, all I can see when I look into their eyes is her. She would call and abuse my partner at ridiculous hours, she would start messaging me abuse, he would try to be reasonable with her and she just would not have it, and that absolutely kills me inside.
    My partner from the start told me I was the love of his life and he wants to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me and have children of our own. Up until recently. Now he has decided that he does not want any more children. When those words came out of his mouth, it absolutely ripped my heart out. I’ve wanted children my whole life. I have had three abortions to exes, because they did not want to be fathers, or the time was not right, and they would not be around if I was to have the child. So I did the right thing ( so I thought) and went through the traumatic experience of having an abortion, because I want my children to grow up in a family with both a loving mum and a dad, and not a dad who does not want them. I know firsthand how many times I wished when I was a child my mum did not have me because of my abusive father.
    So now I’m 28 and the man who I thought I was going to marry and start a family with has changed his mind on having any more children. Do I leave and attempt to find someone else I will fall in love with and both want a family, or stay in hopes he will change his mind? It’s not like he cannot see the mother I will be. I’m more of a mother to his children then their actual mother. It breaks my heart to know that I’m 28 and I’m still completely and utterly unsure of what I’m doing in life. I don’t think I could live the next 20 years with his children and none of our own, I feel like that’s taking something special away from me, away from us, that he does not want us to have that connection, and it leaves an awfully bad taste in my mouth.


    • Honest, you’re not going to like my response, but I’m going to say it anyway. Looking at it from the outside, I think your guy is taking advantage of you. You have provided him a place to live and free child-care while preventing you from having your own children and while still supporting his ex. Maybe he does love you, but the whole situation sounds messed up to me. I wish you all the best.


    • Honest, I’ll be honest also. I identify with a lot of what you said and feel, and I wish someone had told me at 28 how very young I was. I’m not so young anymore, and sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision for myself. I suppose I’m saying maybe you shouldn’t accept the heartbreak, or rather why should you? Even though it seems like you won’t find anyone else that you love as much as this man, time heals most, if not all, things and life does go on. But, I suppose we all have to realize for ourselves what our deal-breakers are. For me at this point in life, it’s not so much wishing I had kids of my own as much as wishing I hadn’t taken on all the baggage that came with being a stepmother. Sometimes I envy couples that are 100% childless. I will also tell you that resentment is an awful pill to swallow, and I’m afraid for me it hasn’t completely dissolved, even if it’s changed in shape and intensity. That’s blunt, and I’m sorry to not be able to sugar coat it for you, at least not based on my own personal experience. Of course I don’t mean to imply anything about your life, and you could have a completely different experience even if you decide to stay. It’s tough either way, and I wish you peace and happiness, no matter what you decide.


    • Hi. I just found out about this blog and I was wondering where did this relationship go. It is very difficult to imagine a long term future together with one having to give up his/hers plans.


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