Suggestions, Opinions and Control

Stepfamily life doesn’t feel natural. It’s a blending of individuals who wouldn’t be navigating family life together. It is undefined, yet we have biological roles to play. Some fall into the roles easier than others and some never do.

For us stepmoms we try to find our way through this nebulous place every minute of every day. We hold the space for our partner. We hold the space for our stepkids. We hold the space for the ex. We want to be liked by the children, the ex, the previous shared friends. We want to be part of the family. We want to feel we belong. But we tend to put ourselves last in an effort to manage and care for everyone else because it’s the “right” thing to do. Putting your self-care back in the trunk while you put everyone in the front seats will put you on the fast track to being agitated, resentful, and disconnected.

Let’s start with where we can contribute. We have influence over our household, our partner, and the kids, but we don’t have control. This is where things can get challenging. We live in a space where our role is being defined after a family has been in place, whatever the health of that family dynamic was/is. We are navigating uncharted waters in our homes to find a natural flow. Some days it feels like you’re all sailing together into the beautiful sunset on calm waters, but other days it feels you are the lone hiker trying to reach the summit.


We all want a sense of control, it’s in our ego to fight for this. Most of us don’t even realize when it’s creeping in, but suddenly we find ourselves in a place of extreme frustration or anger. Control will get you satisfaction in the moment, but it ultimately gets you nowhere. It feels good to feel you’ve “won”, but we are all trying to live in harmony and create balance while raising kids who didn’t choose this life they are living.

Instead of having a power struggle with yourself or others in the family consider making suggestions (not demands) on what you are feeling could be an alternative way. Offer suggestions on how you see where things could run smoother. You have a valid perspective and deserve to be considered, but you don’t want to beat anyone over the head with your suggestions…especially your partner. He deserves to have one topic at a time given to him. You will get further in your discussions if you stick to a topic and don’t bring in a whole list of grievances. This will allow for him to trust you and not feel undermined and ultimately he will be open to more of your suggestions in the future. But the moment you voice it, let go of any attachment to the outcome. This is where your work will be.

I have ridden the roller coaster of being helpful and suggesting things. I’ve overwhelmed my partner and then I would be frustrated and annoyed because I’ve lost the sounding board and partner in my household. Let me be your tour guide here and save you some trouble: Approach one topic at a time with your partner and then let go. Give him space to process before you approach with more. If you are attached to how he wants to raise his kids you’ll end up living in a world of frustration. It takes time, it takes trial and error, and it takes patience, but you both kind find your way of relating to one another that feels good to you both. Celebrate the baby steps as they lead into the creation of new patterns.

Chrysta Horwedel

Chrysta is a Certified Stepfamily Coach and stepmother of two. Her approach is holistic, supported by certifications as a health and ayurvedic wellness coach and yoga instructor. She enjoys music, writing, hiking, healthy food, wine, and travel. She lives with her family in Los Angeles. Connect with Chrysta at instantblendedfamily.com. 

Mothering Day

Mother’s Day is coming up and I have lovely memories of celebrating my grandmother and mother on this special day. These women graciously and selflessly mothered me in many ways and they deserved to be recognized, at least, on this one day carved out for them. 

I would put on a lovely dress and we would go to have a brunch at a fancy place. We went out because that was the one day that the ladies would not be in the kitchen taking care of everyone else. My grandmother was a widow for as long as I could remember and my mother a single mom. They didn’t have a choice but to keep mothering and taking care of everyone, including themselves. 

Oh, and did I mention I had a stepmom too? My stepmom was on the outskirts of my childhood, dropping in here and there when I would see my father on occasion. It was a amicable relationship we had which I’m grateful for, but I was an easy-play-by-the-rules kind of kid so I didn’t attract much drama or discipline. We were close, but never too close.   

Little did I know back then that I would be in the stepmom role years later myself. Surprise! Being a sensitive empath isn’t exactly aligned with this role. I’ve made mistake after mistake after mistake over the years because of being overly involved. But as life goes, we learn from our mistakes and adapt to new ways of being. I’ll admit though, sometimes I wish I could trade in my sensitivity in order to channel that calm, cool, collected British demeanor my stepmom so effortlessly embodied. But no special Harry Potter wand for this girl to create any spells.  

Being a stepmom takes courage, grace, and confidence (and a bit of wine doesn’t hurt either).You are not the mother. Nope. Sorry. You have influence, but not control. You can speak your mind, but after you are heard: let goooooo. I mean it. Let go of any attachment of what YOU think the outcome should be. You will drive yourself mad. Focus on the good parts of the stepfamily and find new ways of approaching the not so good parts.  

Mother’s Day will never be your day, but there’s room for stepmoms to be recognized too. Did you know there is an official stepmothers day? Probably not as it’s not something that is in the mainstream of our society…yet. The kids have a mother and she will be recognized and celebrated by her children on Mother’s Day. It can be challenging to treat this as any other day, but in my experience it’s best to not have any expectations around this day. But I won’t lie, when I have received a text from the kids or flowers from my partner, I’ve felt incredibly grateful for the gesture and happy I was seen for my mothering.  

It hasn’t been the norm in our society, but I feel things need to shift to include stepmoms into the Mother’s Day “club”. Perhaps it is even changing Mother’s Day to Mothering Day. The majority of families today are now blended and stepmoms play a vital role in the raising of children. It takes a village to raise these children and it is time to be more inclusive of the the individuals who are present, despite how they arrived in the child’s life. It’s time to practice coexistence and to let go of old thoughts around the evil stepmother. 

If you are a stepmom, had a stepmom, or know someone in the stepmom role (maybe she’s mothering your own children), a small gesture of a text or card to tell her she’s appreciated could make her day…and maybe you’ll experience a sense of gratitude too. At the end of the day we all just want to feel seen, accepted, and loved, don’t we? 

 

Your Unique Stepfamily

Just hearing the word stepfamily, or worse, stepmother can cause people to immediately respond by saying: “I’m sorry, that must be so hard for you.” Without much thought there is judgement already happening before knowing too much about your family. In my experience this is generally from someone who has never had any intimate connection in the stepfamily dynamic. It’s not a biological union so why on Earth would life be easy or work out. Isn’t it supposed to be difficult and riddled with challenges.

Unfortunately most people have been exposed to stepfamily life through the sensational way the media portrays life with the all familiar “evil stepmother”. The stepmother is a self-absorbed, evil temptress who just wants the children to be rid of so she can focus on delighting her partner. She’s young, mean, and angling to make everyone miserable that sets foot on her path. Talk about needing to rewrite that characterization! Thankfully this stereotype is being re-written as more and more blended families has become the norm. Obviously it’s a big commitment to undertake loving a man and his children, but every stepfamily is unique and my experience may be vastly different than yours. Like raising children, there is no manual for blended family relationships or ant set way of operating within one.

There are so many factors, emotions, and histories to blend together in becoming a stepfamily. Most of us enter the relationship thinking the acceptance and flow of life of all parties involved will happen quickly. I mean we love our partner and his kids so what else could be a problem. If you are new to this dynamic keep in mind you are making a large commitment and with that needs to come patience, especially for yourself. The bonds and relationships won’t happen overnight or, sorry to say, not even in the first year. It is a process that will require a minimum of two to three years to achieve a desired flow and balance. Even after this time you’ll still be striving to keep a balance and flow to your life because, truth is, you share your life with another household and little people who are shuttled back and forth between. It is important to remember a family unit was created before you arrived and it unraveled. In that unraveling healing is needed, especially for the children. You are entering a role where respect, sensitivity, patience, and empathy are required from you.

The biological mom may or may not approve of you, the children may not approve of you, the former in-laws may disregard you, the other step-parent may ignore you, but don’t let that decide your worth in the family. Those relationships need time to evolve and they may or may not ever reach a place of harmony. But always (pay close attention here) always take the high road and be willing to be flexible. Don’t take it personally as everyone has their path, their role, and lessons to be learned.

Being a stepmom is a role where you have to be willing to go unseen at times. But know that you are not. That your presence is felt and that you matter. You have brought your unique perspective and life experience into this family unit that is being recreated. What you bring to the family is important and so are you. You’ve got this, girl. 

You Matter

You matter. Yes. YOU. Really take in what I’m saying. You. Matter. Now take a deep inhale and feel that in your body. I know that there are days when you feel like no one sees you or appreciates you. Those are the days that it is vitally important for you to recognize that you are enough. Your contributions matter, even if they go unseen. 

Being in a stepfamily can be one of the biggest challenges someone can have in their life. It’s an undefined role. It can be a mine field. Just like when babies are born, no rule book is given to you, but you can be assured that you’ll receive a lot of unsolicited advice about what you’re doing and how you are doing it. 

You’re walking into a dynamic that was intact, children were created, the relationship fell apart and now here you are arriving fresh on the scene in a phase of rebuilding. Despite the timing of your arrival into this relationship it may be much to the displeasure of an ex partner and maybe even the children, but it is the beginning of a dance of navigating a complex, but rewarding dynamic for all involved if you choose to allow it and be in the flow. 

When you begin to question your worth I have learned that this is the time you need to step away and focus on you. Just stop everything. This is not selfish, but necessary so you don’t deplete yourself or worse criticize your partner or children. The maternal instinct is a primal one that cannot be discarded. You may or may not have your own children that you’ve brought into your new partnership, or created together, but you are helping to raise children that do not share your DNA, but you love and care for as your own. This can cause some distress if you are not taking care of yourself and instead are putting your attention on everyone’s needs, perhaps even over perceived by you, before your own.

Believe me I know what it’s like to want to be the organizer, the healer, the advice giver, and so on, but you have to be prepared to give with no expectation of receiving in return. Give freely, but while doing so be sure that you are not over extending yourself into a state of depletion Energetically you can become so involved in trying to manage, or control, your household that everyone is negatively affected and detachment and distance can replace connection and flow of the relationships.

One mantra that helps me through trying times is: I am enough. I can’t recall the original source where I first heard it, but it resonated with me. Showing up in an authentic way in the present moment of the craziness of your life is a beautiful thing. It will be messy, you will say and do the wrong things, but if it’s authentic and you are willing to grow and learn; what is more beautiful than that. Recognize that in these moments you are enough. 

You are a woman who is sensitive to the world and who is a caretaker. If you are comparing yourself to intact families or other step families do yourself a favor and stop. You, my friend, are enough. Plant the seed, water it and see what beautiful moments blossom in your life.