Welcome to the stepmom journey! Whether you’re newly engaged or newly married, I am praying that this next season is full of joy and blessing for your stepfamily or blended family. I’ve learned a thing or two “the hard way” over the past 10 years, and in case you haven’t found your stepmom tribe yet, here’s a few items to point you in the right direction:
- Know the Custody Order (CO) inside and out. Depending on your husband’s situation, this could include a divorce decree, paternity agreement and/or any modifications of visitation or child support. We make a yearly calendar with mid-week, weekend, and holiday visitation spelled out. It’s important to understand timelines for submitting and paying medical bills, as well as who has rights (and the responsibility to inform) regarding education and medical info.
- Find a Family Law attorney. You never know when you will need one! Things to think about when searching for an attorney include which area (if you live in a different county or state than your stepkid’s mom), if he/she has experience in Father’s Rights, and specialized areas of practice like adoption or child welfare investigations. Note that even if you have a perfectly amicable relationship with the other household, there are extreme circumstances in which an attorney can be helpful – such as temporary custody for a funeral or family emergency.
- Research your state enforcement agencies. Get a working knowledge of how to file contempt for non-payment of child support and/or violating a custody agreement. Specifically, know where your area offices are located, how to request duplicate/certified copies of court documents, and numbers to contact in case of questions.
- Make a family budget. Finances can be a huge source of conflict in any marriage, let alone a remarriage. Although most stepmoms understand that their husband is responsible for child support, the financial impact on the household often isn’t realized until vacation plans have to be put on hold or extra shifts picked up to make ends meet. Another area of disagreement is expenses outside of standard monthly support, such as extra-curricular activities or special events like dances. Make a plan for unexpected expenses (such as purchases over a certain amount require discussion). Also, empower your husband to communicate with his ex-spouse in a healthy way: it’s really okay to say, “I need to check our budget” before agreeing to expenses.
- Set rules for your home. These could include everything from chores and bedtimes to being respectful and chores/responsibilities. Remember, the rules in one parent’s home may not be the same as the other parent’s home, especially if parenting time is not 50/50. If you are custodial, give your stepkids time to adjust when they return home from weekend visitation. If you’re non-custodial, consider the benefit of having structure in place to make the transition easier. Most importantly, define consequences if rules are broken – and ensure your stepkids know that they apply no matter which parent is home (you or their dad).
- Be a part of their life. I’m all about empowering stepmoms within healthy boundaries when it comes to being a part of their stepkid’s lives, but I recognize that every stepfamily situation is different. You and your husband should decide what’s right for your stepkids. There is great debate on how involved stepmoms should be in their stepkid’s education and extra-curricular activities. Consider options like parallel parenting and being a part of sports or dance on your parenting time.
- Set aside time for:
- You. Find time to rest, relax and recharge. Ideally, this would be a mix of alone time with God, hanging out with friends, and pampering yourself a bit. From one stepmomma to another: take care of yourself so you can take care of your family.
- Your marriage. One hallmark of stepmom-hood is that there is no honeymoon period: you go from dating to married with kids overnight. Struggling to fit date night into your stepfamily schedule? Try date afternoons or plan long weekends away. Your marriage is worth it!
- Your kids. This includes time with both biological parents and stepparents! Although we frequently hear that kids need time with their dads, there is great benefit to spending time with the stepparent too. I challenge you to find ways to connect with your stepkids, whether it’s cooking dinner together, seeing a movie or going shopping.
- Set boundaries. Talking through these is one of the best ways to set your stepfamily up for success! Healthy boundaries could be setting aside your bedroom as a parents-only space, or choosing a neutral location for exchanging the kids (rather than your home). Other ideas include defining what is appropriate for your husband to discuss with his ex (parenting, not personal or marriage conversations), and deciding together how to handle unexpected changes in visitation schedules. Being proactive about these beforehand allows you to confidently handle conflict in the heat of the moment, and builds trust between you and your husband.
- Start off on the right foot with your stepkids’ mom. I could write a whole blog post about this, but in 3 words: proceed with caution. You have inevitably changed her life, and her feelings towards you may be mixed at best. I recommend letting her set the pace – she may want to meet you and get to know the woman helping take care of her kids…or she may not want any contact with you at all. Be kind and considerate when interacting with her, but also have firm boundaries. Before you came into the picture, your husband’s ex may have had greater access to your home (or him!) than is now appropriate. Above all, show her that you are on the same team when it comes to your stepkids.
This list is definitely not all-encompassing, but hopefully nails down some of the biggest sources of conflict as you start your family. If you are a veteran stepmom, hang in there – I’m working on a list for you too. 🙂
As a reminder, I am not a professional counselor or lawyer. The opinions expressed on this blog (including those above) are my own, simply based on my own experience.