When it comes to blending a stepfamily, people sometimes disagree that stepmothers have a more difficult time adjusting to step parent life than do stepfathers. Since anyone other than a stepmother will never be a stepmother, or have any idea what stepmother experience is like first hand, it seems proper and a good idea to defer to the experts of the experience, stepmothers themselves.
According to my field research, stepmothers agree that, factors contributing to the difficulty of the stepmother role are multifaceted. This article will focus on three reported reasons that women have difficulty with the stepmother role.
- Increased household and stepchild responsibility.
- Maintenance of a career outside the home.
- Perceived lack of support from spouse, family and friends.
Increased household and stepchild responsibility. Stepmothers are tasked with increased household and stepchild responsibility. Stepmothers have more contact with stepchildren and with increased contact with stepchildren; the reality of the stepmother is that she assumes more household and parental responsibility than her spouse. Stepmothers internalize ideals of what a stepmother’s duties are and find that even a stepmother’s work is “never done”. According to stepmothers, in comparison to stepfathers, stepmothers are expected to develop a relationship that has more involvement with the children’s daily activities including school, sports, and religious activities. The amount of involvement stepmothers spend with their stepchildren is often underestimated. Some speculate that the calculation is grossly underestimated because the typical stepmother is a non-residential stepmother, meaning her stepchildren do not live with her full-time. Since the stepmother is non-residential, her involvement occurs during visits with the stepchild’s biological father. Due to their more complex relationship, stepmothers and stepchildren experience more difficulties and problems.
Maintenance of a career outside of the home. In today’s economic times, it is not surprising that most stepmothers work outside of the home, maintaining employment, more often than not, full time. Working outside of the home can be considered helpful as a job provides the stepmother with an opportunity to experience accomplishment, a much-needed outlet for stress and added adult social interaction. Conversely, 1) job demands outside of the home, 2) the lion share of the housekeeping chores, and 3) parenting children who are not her own and who may resent her efforts often become other sources of stress and anger for stepmothers.
Stepmother’s perceive a lack of support. Stepmothers often perceive a lack of support from their spouse, family and friends on parenting issues. At times, this perceived lack of support compounds the feelings of anger and resentment that can co-exist while performing the stepmother role. Stepmothers may feel a strong sense of guilt secondary to their anger and resentment which can lead to even more problems. Some stepmothers perceive their partners as unsupportive in the areas of discipline of the stepchild. They resent his perceived decision to sacrifice time with the stepmother’s biological children, if she has children of her own, to tend to the needs of her spouse’s biological children. Some stepmothers resent the stepchildren’s unfair advantage over the stepmother’s biological children in receiving material goods. They may experience resentment and anger for not being acknowledged for their step parenting efforts by their spouse, their family, their stepchildren, and even their own biological children. As a result of rejection and scrutiny, the stepmother may feel higher levels of resentment, frustration and disappointment. These feelings are a breeding ground for conflict, greater stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
It has been said that stepparenting is the most difficult of vocations. The stepmothers I interviewed would whole heartedly agree. The next time you meet a stepmother, remember that her job is ever thankless, tiring, and full of emotion. Give her a word of support, by acknowledging her parenting efforts in the face of challenge and uncharted territory.