The One Phrase To Never Say To Stepmothers

Oh, and don't call her "evil" either.

mother kissing her child Vitalii Vitleo / Shutterstock

If every stepmother got five bucks for every time she heard this, she could easily afford a vacation to a fabulous spa for a much-needed and well-deserved rest:

"You knew it was a package deal."

Any woman who has the courage, love and determination to marry a man who already has children probably intends to be a loving parental figure to her stepchildren.

I've rarely met a stepmom who would fall under the definition of an "evil stepmother."


But did they? Are there really thousands of women who blindly went into a marriage with a man who had children, not really accepting that he had children? Of course not.

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Step-parenting is not for the faint of heart

One of the most common complaints I hear from the stepmothers I work with is, "I had no idea it would be this hard."


Many of them had excellent relationships with the children of their partners before marriage or living together. These children were respectful, and kind and expressed love and affection for them.

But for many stepmothers, whether it happened right after they said, "I do" or when their darling stepchildren turned into resentful teenagers, something shifted and they found they were the objects of blame, hostility, and rude behavior.

Even worse, when they expressed how painful this was, they were often told, "You chose someone who had children. You knew what you were getting yourself into."

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The first ones to take the blame

Many adult stepkids have confessed to me that while they liked their father's girlfriend, the day the couple became husband and wife, these stepchildren were surprised to find they suddenly had strong feelings of dislike for their new stepparent. For these children, this second marriage was a permanent symbol that their parents would never be reunited.

The loss of their family may not have been fully grieved until the marriage smacked them in the face and reminded them the family they once knew and loved was now gone forever.

Many stepmothers who marry men with young children enjoyed years of peaceful, loving relationships with their stepchildren. They pride themselves on having a truly "blended" family and having genuine feelings of care and love for their stepchildren ... until they become teenagers.

She finds that she's the first one to be blamed for any conflict or strife.


These women are stunned and rightfully hurt.

What had they done? Why had this happened? And should they dare to complain to someone who didn't understand the ever-changing nature of stepfamily dynamics?

They're often shamed and talked down to with clichés — and that's anything but helpful.

Do people really believe these women's IQs suddenly dropped into the double digits and the thought never occurred to them that they were marrying someone who had children?

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Stepmoms need validation, compassion & understanding

They need to be reminded that it isn't personal, that most children (no matter their ages) are always going to have natural loyalty binds toward their biological parents, even if that parent is deceased or has abandoned them.


They need to know that — like any family — there are bound to be times of stress, strain, and tension and that they are not responsible for being blindsided by this.

Stepmoms need their husbands to cover their backs when their stepchildren treat them with disrespect, blame, and disdain.

People might be surprised to know how many fathers don't do this because they feel torn between their children and their new spouse. The stepmom is left hung to dry and wondering how to live in a home that no longer feels safe.


Telling her, "You chose this!" often evokes unearned guilt and self-doubt.

This wise adage (passed on to me by my mother) rings true, "Don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes." 

That's not a platitude, it's just plain common sense.

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Mary T. Kelly, M.A., is a family therapist who specializes in working with stepfamilies. Her work has appeared in Huffington Post and Stepmom Magazine.