Wicked Stepmother: 5 Surprising Secrets About Step Moms.

Via Erica Leibrandt
on Aug 29, 2013
get elephant's newsletter


*Warning: Do not read if you are engaged to a man who happens to have a few kids left over from a previous marriage. You might end up staying single for a long, long time.

Step parenting comes with unlimited challenges, not the least of which are our own emotions.

Following are some insights into step moms which may surprise you.

1) We get jealous.

When I moved in with my husband 15 years ago, I didn’t have any biological children of my own. He had five. And he had full custody. This meant that I, self centered 29 year old that I was, a woman used to being in one on one relationships, was now in a one on six relationship, with me somewhere on the outer edges trying to sneak in.

I asked my husband once, during this time, “If our house was burning down, who would you save? Me or the kids?” His answer, “The kids, of course!”

I was horrified! What about me? It’s pretty embarrassing to admit I felt that way now, but I was really hurt. Didn’t he love me?

When the kids piled on top of their dad on the bed, with me just sort of there trying not to get pushed off, I felt jealous. When the kids told me how beautiful their mom was (and she was—intensely beautiful), I felt jealous. When my husband and the kids reminisced about Christmas’s, vacations, and parties that happened before I joined the family, I felt jealous. When the girls got to dress up for dances and I was assigned to take their picture, I felt old and jealous; like Cinderella in reverse.

Ugh. It’s exhausting to think about. I grew out of it, but I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.

2) The way we feel about our step children is different than the way we feel about our biological children.

Before I had my biological son, I used to wonder; what is wrong with me? Why can’t I love my step kids as deeply and profoundly as their dad does? Am I missing some kid loving gene?

Nope, I am not. Because as soon as my son was born, it kicked in. My heart cracked open and now lays bare and vulnerable each and every minute of the day to the extent that I should probably invest in a bullet proof vest so just no one accidentally squishes it.

The great thing was, now I understood why my husband didn’t even pause before saying he’d leave me to die in a fire. To save my son, I’d leave him too.

But the shitty thing was, now that I knew about crazy parent love, I also knew I hadn’t been feeling it for the older kids. Which seemed like a terrible sin, because they are awesome kids who deserve to be loved that way.

Like the jealousy, that changed with time. I have a love for my step children now that surprises even me with its depth. But it’s still different on some molecular level from how I feel about my son. And if I could take a pill or get hypnotized to change that, I would. Which leads me to my next point.

3) We constantly feel guilty.

We know we are the usurpers. We are coming into damaged families, no matter how equitable the divorce was. You’d have to be awfully cold-hearted not to realize that you are building new lives on the wreckage of old ones.

Even though (presumably and hopefully) the divorce wasn’t your fault, you know if you were a kid, you wouldn’t want you around. There’s nothing you can do about it, but you feel guilty because you’re trespassing—emotionally breaking and entering.

4) We don’t know how to handle the question “Are these your kids?”

I don’t know. Are they? I mean, yes they are. Should I break it down for every cab driver, hair stylist and checkout girl who asks?

Here we go: These five are my step kids; I’ve been raising them for X number of years. This little one is my biological kid. We don’t use the words half-brother/sister or step brother/sister. We all live together; I cook for them, I clean for them, I do homework with them and everything else that moms do. Yes, I do look really young for having all these children. But I’m sure I won’t for long.

Since that seems a bit much, I always simply answer, yes, but then I feel guilty (see point 3).

Maybe the kids don’t want me saying I’m their mom. They claim they don’t care, but are they just trying to be nice?

I wish I could just go around with a little pamphlet or something that has a brief description of the family with my email on the bottom saying, “Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.”

5) We are afraid we won’t be accepted. 

Not just by the kids, by the whole extended family. And not just that, the community.

When I first started going to school to pick up the children, I was regarded with suspicion by the ladies at the desk. Who exactly did I say I was? Why was I picking up the kids? Where was I taking them?

You’d think I’d driven up in a van with blacked out windows and was handing out dirty lollipops. It made me feel like an unpaid nanny with a criminal back ground, and it took years for that to change, even after I had a ring on it.

But don’t let me scare you.

I’m not saying step mothering can’t be amazing. It can be, and has been, ultimately, for me. But it takes a strong woman, decent kids, a good man and plenty of time. And a glass of wine at the end of the day won’t hurt either.


Like elephant family on Facebook.

 Ed: Bryonie Wise / Cat Beekmans


About Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed mental health clinician, certified yoga instructor, and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and we can never dance too much. Connect with Erica on FacebookTwitter, and Tumblr.


10 Responses to “Wicked Stepmother: 5 Surprising Secrets About Step Moms.”

  1. @DanaGornall says:

    Erica, this made me laugh and cry at the same time. I can totally relate to this. I am not a step-mom but I've been helping raise my niece since she was seven. (from my husband's side) She is seventeen now and my husband and I are separated but she lives with me and my two other children. This is exactly how I feel pretty much all of the time. How do you answer, is she your daughter? Well, yes, and no. In all intensive purposes I am her mom but she had a mom who died so… And does everyone really need to hear that story?

    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Marian McAfee says:

    I inherited (upon marriage) two children. One boy, a sophomore in high school & a girl in her first year of college. I, too, have no biological children. I wasn't jealous because SURELY when they found out how nice I am & happy their dad is (mother went to be with another man) that surely they'd not only welcome me but love me! Instead, I found the girl could care less about her dad, just wanted his money. Which, since he wasn't doing so well (and didn't want her to know) became my hard earned money. Over & over…always called a loan but never repaid a penny. I was shocked when she said he owed her everything (college, sorority, new car, etc.) This is parenthood? Each time she visited my job was to serve her & cleanup for days when shed leave. She insulted me as her lifestyle while my husband overlooked it all. My new son was a little better. Not as insulting but years layer found he'd tell his mother lies about me to make her feel better about things (untruths to make me seem bad). In the end, I have no regrets for not bearing children. My husband says I missed the best part (when they were younger). Neither of them speak much to us (I was "defriended " a few years ago). I was clinically depressed, gained 80 lbs & my heart was heavy. My husband side of the family stepped in with all their opinions as well. Last fall I decided to break free from it. Not my husband but trying to make everything alright. Just let go (with love). Said I was taking a vacation for a year or two from all commitments. Began to breath again. Feel better. Lose weight. Got a Golden Retriever puppy. Started to smile. My husband joined in. I don't think I have the jealous gene, but I have feelings. Being hated or lied about is something really awful. It tears up the spirit. I was naive to think most people who divorce put there kids' welfare first. That just isn't the way it always goes no matter what they say. Divorce seems to evoke a self righteousness that no offspring need hear about. It brings out some unhealthy ego oriented vindictive wishes as well. I pray from afar for these two (my only children) because they have so many life lessons not yet learned & I worry they'll be okay . Love goes one way but its still love & valid. My heart goes out to step moms who inherit older "kids". You may inherit a stunted version that's stuck from wanting to believe in one who wasn't brave enough to be honest.

  3. antihorder says:

    Its interesting to hear from a stepmother that cares as I've struggled with a very cold version that has the honour of being one to my lovely daughter and doesn't seem to care one bit! On one hand its none of my business but on the other as her mother I want her to be looked after and cared for when shes not with me. Now shes 15 I don't worry so much but at 9/10 yrs old I was concerned. I've been aware alot of it stemmed from jealousy but as she has a child of her own I couldn't see why. I understand a bit better now, althougth I'm not sure I will ever understand her lack of warmth. Luckily I don't have to as its not my household. Her dad has had to shift his life around to try and make both daughter and wife happy (more the wife really!). I think any stepmother would be lucky to have such a great kid as my daughter but I guess I'm a bit biased!

  4. Erica says:

    Marian, It sounds like you've had some enormous challenges. My heart goes out to you. You are obviously an empathetic loving person..your stepchildren don't know what they're missing. I'm glad you got a puppy…very wise, and are taking care of yourself. Life is too short to be stuck in misery! Many blessings to you. Erica

  5. Lisa says:

    This is HANDS DOWN the best article I've ever read on Elephant Journal. I don't feel alone anymore. I've experienced everyone of these situations. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You rock!

  6. Caitlin grace says:

    Im the step mother to 4 daughters and mother to 3 sons.Thankfully they have all grown up and left home now. Hubby and I have been together 21 years and it has been a long road with many ups and downs. Two of his daughters lived with us on and off over that time and to say it was as strugle would be putting it mildly. Thye moved in when they were teenagers and anyone who has been a round teenage girls knows how taxing that can be and for someone whose own kids were (1) boys and (b) nowhere near the teenage years it was a shock . add to that the fact that they ( then) hated me for not being their mum and tensions were high. Still not really sure how we survived it all but we did.

  7. kimchicuddles says:

    Sweet article for it's honesty, and it's interesting that we were in such similar situations but with totally OPPOSITE experiences! Maybe being polyamorous to start with made me less prone to jealousy, but I didn't have any jealousy issues at all. My stepson and I loved each other right away, and when my daughter came along he loved her right away too (and so did HIS mom, who I lovingly refer to as my dear ex-wife-in-law). I never thought of their family as being DAMAGED, as I don't think the success of a relationship is based on whether or not it's participants died together or not. My husband has a son with his ex-wife (my ex-wife-in-law) and I feel like all of them are part of MY family.

  8. Cheryl Gould says:

    I can empathize Marian! Change some of tbe details and it would be my story. My husband & I have been married for 10years and I have two stepdaughters-38 & 42 now. I was looking forward to having a great relationship. I’m a stepdaughter myself and get along great with my stepmom, always have. Four years ago, my husband and I were in a very bad car accident. The youngest, 34 at tbe time, filled out our admitting paperwork. She didn’t list me as his wife, did not tell friends that I was in the hospital, and only told people that her father was in an accident. I found out later, she had told someone tbat she hoped this would end our marriage. Since no one knew I was injured, they wondered why I wasn’t at the hospital caring for my husband; my stepdaughter had an answer for them “she cares more about her dog, than my dad”. There are still people, “friends”, who don’t speak to me because of her lies. It has taken a lot of work, time, and an extra 70lbs to work through and I’m still working on it. Why can’t kids, especially adult ones, realize that their parents got a divorce because they weren’t happy together and that the new person makes their parent happy? Or at least tries to when the stepkids aren’t trying to cause World War 3!

    BTW-great article and the first time I have ever commented on an article. Keep up the great work.

  9. Webwicked says:

    Excellent post. Please keep up the great work.

  10. April says:

    I just found this article and it's so spot on, I can't even believe it! Thank you for pouring your heart out and letting me, too, realize I am not alone in this journey. My husband and I separated, he moved out about 9 months ago and we are back together but I haven't seen his kids since Thanksgiving. I can't say it's a bad thing. He sees them, he even stays with his sister when he has his kids. I stay at my house with my kids. While most people look at me like I have two heads when I say, "I'll be alone to that event, it's a kid weekend", it works for our marriage as bizarre as that is. I understand and am slightly envious of the people who seem to make the step-parenting role seamless, it just doesn't work well in my situation. So, thank you!