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Anon: What is it really like to be a stepmother?

By July 19, 2020No Comments

What is it really like to be a stepmother?

In the latest installation of her Anon column, Liadán Hynes interviews a woman about the reality of being a stepmother, the trope of the evil stepmother, and what advice she would give to others in the same situation.

“I started dating my partner eight years ago. He has three children from his previous marriage. I wasn’t a stepmother straight away; it took around about a year before I first met the children. And we consulted with professionals as to how I should be introduced. They knew of me; they knew my name. We met for coffee, then we met in town for lunch. I would pop in for a coffee in the house. It was very gradual, with steps back when that was needed. But it was with the mindset that I was going to be a permanent fixture, it wasn’t a casual thing. I don’t think anyone goes into dating someone with children casually. Well, they shouldn’t. 


All three children were teenagers, which is probably the worst time to become a stepmother. Because the children themselves are pulling away from their own parents. So the last thing they want to do is get involved with somebody who could be slightly parental to them. It was tough in that regard.

There is nothing out there to support stepparents in Ireland. Absolutely nothing. There’s no support groups, Ireland is so small that there aren’t even any closed Facebook groups. I had nowhere to turn to for advice in an Irish context. None of my friends were in that zone, and if I did ever bring up any issues, the only response I got was “oh my god I don’t know how you do it/oh my god I don’t know what you were thinking/oh my god wouldn’t you just leave him?”

Which is tough, because they’re looking out for me because they can’t imagine doing it. It can be horrendously lonely. I have one friend who is a stepmother, but we are not very close. So any problems I do have I have tended to use internet forums. Because nobody can give advice.

They just look at me in horror. And that’s judgey. My family still think I’m demented.

There was a very tricky, probably, three years. 

There were a couple of times when really quite horrible things were said. And my partner, because he adores his children, unconditional love, forgets these things. He forgets the anger of teenage children. And as a stepmother you don’t. You remember. You remember how you felt. You remember watching your partner cry. You remember picking up the pieces. But equally I remember when I was pregnant and I had a cold and I couldn’t take anything my eldest stepdaughter went and brought me treats. It was her way of looking after me. 

There was huge pressure on the relationship from the start. It could be quite fraught; it caused 100% of our arguments were around this issue. 

I had to adjust, to being dropped with zero notice on a date, or a weekend away. You could spend a whole weekend with somebody, and they’re in great form, and they get one text message from their ex, and all the energy and mood is sucked out of the day. And there’s nothing you can do.

Video by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

There are times when the kids just accidentally crash in.

Like, for three years in a row I did not have a birthday with my partner. Not that I’m a big birthday fan, and I’m an adult. 

You have to be quite an independent person. My friends adore my partner, but they know that it’s not 100% guaranteed that if there’s a dinner party, or an event, that he’s coming with me. They’ve gotten well used to me being by myself, and I’m quite happy to do that. 

Twice I left and booked myself into a hotel. There are times when you have to turn around, and it’s never a happy occasion, but you have to be able to put your foot down and have that independence. Financial and travel independence, and friendship groups that aren’t wrapped around your partner are so important.

I’m not a good bystander, so I am a very involved stepmother. To the point where I was probably overinvolved. I know better than my partner what foods they like, I know where their friends live. I know where their friends live because I do the taxi service. I put myself into that mode very quickly, because I am a very practical person. They are teenagers, they didn’t need emotional Mammying. They did need lifts, and food, and how to get fake tan out of clothes. And I can do all of that. So I found myself in a very practical niche, which I still hold today. I needed an identity, so I created that myself really.

There’s a very good book called Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin which is about the Disneyfication of the evil stepmother. From Cinderella, to Snow White, all of these evil women just ready to kill your kids. It goes all the way back to Aristotle. All the way through the classics there are these evil stepmothers. Even being a stepmother, you have to almost disprove something that you never wanted to be in the first place. You have to actively show that you are a fantastic stepmother. And I don’t think stepfathers have that weight on them.

I think I’m braver now. I’ve had a row with each of them.

I think having a row shows that you can get over things. And you can’t just stop talking to me, because I’m going to be here for the rest of your life.

I’m not comfortable criticising them. Like if they leave their room in a mess, or the house messy, I don’t feel comfortable ticking them off. Instead I probably tick my partner off. Whereas I would do that with my own son now, and I will do in the future. 

What changed it really was the fact that I had my own child, their sibling. I think they thought ‘look he’s arrived, she’s going nowhere, that’s that’.  It’s still tricky. 

I would get your partner to read Stepmonster. Because I would take screengrabs of the books and send it on to my partner and say “this is what I was talking about.” My partner and I have been to therapy quite a lot. Quite a lot of therapy. I would say kind of accept that you might be going in and out of that for years, to help navigate this situation, and to make yourself feel heard. Go in with an open mind. You could be completely ballsing it up and expecting too much too soon. Let’s face it, no five-year-old dreams of “Oh I can’t wait to be a stepmother.” And no five-year-old thinks “Oh I can’t wait until I get a stepmother.” So it’s kind of an unwanted situation, so understand that counselling can help everyone. 

I feel proud of being a stepmother, and I do love my messy, sassy step kids. 

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