The Three Magic Words that will Save Your Stepfamily

stepfamily, stepmother, stepmom, stepkids

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Stepfamily life is tough. The only thing that is tougher than blending the family is keeping your marriage intact.  Statistics vary from a 50% to 75% divorce rate in a marriage where there are children from a prior relationship.  Anyone who is a member of a stepfamily will attest that they had no idea what they were getting into. Parenting and the relationship with the ex will often take the front and center role in your life. In fact, you may find that parenting and the ex are the only things you talk about.  Why?  Because both of these subjects are ones where we all have strong opinions.  We may not even realize that we have such deep-seated opinions until we are in a stepparent role.  Whatever we have seen or heard from our childhoods and the media mixes into a brew full of passionate opinions:  on both sides.

There is a secret that can stop the arguing before it begins.  Three magic words can avoid the entire heartbreak.  If you think it is ‘I love you’, you would be wrong.  The three magic words are:


“I trust that you know your children and you will make the best decisions for them.

I trust you will protect me.

I trust that you know how to handle your ex.”

No truer or scarier words were ever spoken.  The truth is that living in a stepfamily means giving up control.  It means going with the flow, even if we think we know better.  It means giving the decision-making control to some people who we may not even know.  Or worse, it means giving up control to people that we think we do not like or trust. For those of us that have a deep-seated need for certainty in our lives, this is a terrifying prospect.  (Google The Six Human Needs) Even if we say that we trust our partners, actually giving up control is a whole other matter.  Is it possible that we dislike the ex because she has control over portions of our life?

The real truth is that the parents probably know what is best even if we have fantastic ideas on how to raise our stepchildren.  We may have objective, rational suggestions on how to handle the relationship with the ex.  In fact, we may be right.  Either way, it is none of our business.  It comes down to trust and faith in the future. When we lose the trust in our partners, we lose a key to our marriages.  When we think we know better, our egos take over and the heart is left behind.  When you let your partners know you trust them, their faith in themselves grows. Your relationship strengthens and you have more time for the things you want to do.  Resentment lessens as you take that leap of faith.  I trust that you can do it.


20 Responses to The Three Magic Words that will Save Your Stepfamily

  1. This is the best advice I’ve encountered. This experience has left me feeling alone and demoralized–and we only have one adult child of our six living with us. My husband is exhausted and reactive. I feel like I will always lose out against his “blood.”

  2. If the kids live with you and especially if you have other bio children, you can’t just let the husband and Ex decide everything. You talk about letting go of control but that is not how to manage a home. My husband would just let all the kids do whatever and hope the future sorts itself out. His Ex is no help. Now my step kids are skipping homework and not planning on ever leaving our house. I’m the bitch who tells them they have to have a plan because they can’t stay here. NOW WHAT??? That is not how I want to raise my son.

    • I agree entirely, Alena. I trust my spouse, but I have a problem with giving up all control of my life and let him make all the decisions.

  3. Hi I agree with the post. I think if a person is in a tough situation, as Alena describes above, perhaps it does not apply…not sure. But I think the faith in your partner that you love and committed to, and jumped into this step parent dynamic for, the reminding of yourself and your partner, that “I trust you” will be a huge weight off of the both of you. And it will be scary, and will not be the mirror image of how “I the glorious step mom” may have handled things, but it will still be okay, and perhaps even good. I loved this post, and will tell myself this often. Thank you.

  4. I am a fulltime stepmother…the kids biological mother passed away 9 years ago.
    I stay home now and our 13 year old just started homeschool. 18 year old moved out, 16 year old is now driving.
    My husband and I don’t see eye to eye with parenting and disciplining the kids.
    They see me as constantly being a “nag” or complaining all the time. I feel the same. My husband makes the rules or sets a punishment and then does not follow through, I do! Yes…I’m the bad guy. I see things from a different perspective, with different lenses on. He sees things as any biological parent would, with unconditional love and always believing what the kids say, even when it’s a lie. I’m tired. He’s tired. Our relationship is fading, and I’m about to move out for a separation to get my mind right.
    He yelled at me infront of the kids and belittled/humiliated me for the last time. He was inn”protective” mode because I stated his punishment isn’t enough for his son who continues to steal. So he made it about ME and went off. This in turn makes the kids lose respect for me.
    I am with the kids WAAAAYYY more than my husband is. I see more, hear more, put up with more, and also get burned out more.
    I don’t know what to do other than go get myself some professional help to figure out if my feelings are real and normal or if I’m just plain insane and need to just suck it up and shut up.

    • I am not a stay at home mom but I am a step mother for 5 years now and my husband gets upset with me in front of the kids all the time my daughter and my step daughter. when I try to tell him how it makes me feel he gets angry. He says that I’m jealous of his daughter and that is why we don’t get along!! It makes me furious. I get to the point where idk what to do. People say that I only have to put up with it til she graduates and goes to school but that’s 5 years from now and he wants her to live with us while she goes to college!! I cant get her to do anything around the house without it being a knock down drag out fight and she talks badly back at me and glares at me and says whatever. My daughter who is 5 watches this and then talks badly to me too. I am so loving and supportive and I show up more than her own mother and I’m always the bad guy. I have thought about getting counseling for myself because he refuses to talk about any of it and defiantly refuses to attend any counseling with me because he already did that once before. I feel lost and heartbroken too.

  5. Rebekah, I am in the same boat with my step son. He is 12 now. he was 8 when we got together. My husband has had full custody for several years now and was doing it on his own without any help from the mother who gave him up to live with her new boyfriend in a city 2 hours away. I take care of him more than anyone including his dad. I am the one that deals with the attitude, homework, chores, etc. His dad and I have been together 3 years and at first of course, I never really got on to him or disciplined him till my husband told me I needed to do so. And i hated then and still hate being the bad guy. It has gotten to the point, I am the one that ends up grounding him and taking away stuff. His dad has gotten to the point now that when i get on to him, and the kid smarts off that the Dad takes up for his kid and lets him disrespect me. Just like your step son, mine steals and lies and his dad wants to always believe him. So of course it upsets me. He makes me feel like an outsider. I have a small part time business and almost done with my degree but feel like i need to move out for the same reason you stated. I am beyond exhausted and have considered getting myself counseling to figure out how i feel. I am tired of trying to teach my step son everything! At 12, he is not nearly as responsible as others his age i know. My friends kids are more responsible and much younger. His mother never even makes him shower or brush his teeth when he goes up there(which is rare now since she just had another baby). She sits all her kids in front of a screen .This is beyond frustrating and i feel overwhelmed and I hate always being the bad guy. I just want to give up at this point i think but moving out in the next couple of months is not even an option like i believe is best.

  6. This is so true. I still really struggle with trusting my partner. Especially when it comes to his Ex. I mean this is a woman he married and had three children with, some bonds don’t break. I think he still struggles to trust me sometimes as well that I am trying to do what’s best for the kids. But sometimes it feels like i’m the only one making compromises and i’m bottom of the pile when it comes to priorities. It’s hard being a step-mum! But it’s worth the effort if you love your partner.

    • Carrie, I’m in the exact same boat. what gets me is that this mom only wants to be around when she feels like it. I handle mostly everything when it comes to where kids need to be at what time.. anytime they don’t have school, I have them. I have the tightest bond with them and I have done the most for them while bio mom was off doing drugs. Now she’s back and takes all the credit for the beautiful amazing kids that they are. When we are out and about my husband will send pictures of he kids to her and it just gets under me that they communicate without me when I’m the one that takes care of everything. So frustrating! Now I have a daughter of my own and thought I could get my mind focusing less on how the ex is raising hers/my kids and how I’m raising my own. HARD HARD HARD!

  7. My comment is only to say that bio parent(s) should be “trusted” to take the reigns of their own children and that not enough do. I have 2 steps (12 and 10) that have been with us for 5 years. My encouragement to my husband is that the children will grow up quickly and that he is responsible for their parenting when he has them, as they are his children. I will certainly help him along, but I do not assume an authoritative persona with the kids. All comments, questions, and concerns from them are directed to their father. If he decides that he doesn’t want to be an adult at any given time (Aries man), then that’s another issue, but I remain in a neutral zone. Always. The ex factor is present, but she would love for us to take complete custody, which I have no intention of doing. I’ve no interest in easing her burden. I function in a supportive role, but I have no expectation that they will embrace me as anything beyond the person who is married to their dad (loyalty conflicts). Again, they are “their” children. Call me disengaged, but I will take peace over conflict any day of the week. BTW, I have 4 bio kids, only 1 left at home, so I can relate to the challenges of parenting.

    • Ann, I wish I could be like you! I have gotten so taritorial about me raising my steps because bio mom was gone. I had them all to myself. Now she’s back from prison and I have to share and let go of the kids I have raised for the last 4 years to a woman who hasn’t done a freaking thing for them! I’ve gotten hurt and tangled up into a mess a wish I never would have “stepped” into. I’m not enjoying this life. I’m way too involved.

    • I am in the same spot..disengaged. My stepson and I can go a whole week and barely say 2 words to each other. We have him every other week and while he is here the whole temperature in the house turns to ice. My husband and I have no kids together but I know we have different parenting ideas and it is hard to watch a child not being parented or given rules and not enforced. But like you I choose peace over war and I remain quiet…but the tension is thick. We’ve been down the roads of talking it out, doing things as a family unit, providing ample father/son one on one time and even reaching out to him myself to do something with me (usually he declines). I’ve seen text to his mom calling me the “other one” and deal with him leaving a room b/c I walk in, not speaking to me or even looking at me when I come in the house etc. I get how he feels he makes it clear I just feel stuck getting past it and how to manage the feeling in the home until we get past it. My husband is an up and down dad just not consistent and parents out of fear that his son won’t want to come around. (He’s 12). He has defended me multiple times and about a month ago told him that he couldn’t keep coming here if he continued to treat me this way, but again no follow thru. Any suggestions?

  8. I have three adult stepchildren, all married in their 40s and with children of their own. My partner and I plan to marry in two weeks. The ante is being upped. One tracked me down at home to list the things she didn’t like – mostly that three months’ notice of the wedding wasn’t sufficient for her to “fit it into my schedule”. She ended by yelling”my mother’s dead and you’re a homewrecker”. No contact for five weeks then she turns up on the doorstep tonight without warning to give her father a b’day present. Would a quick courtesy telephone call to check it was convenient be so much to ask?
    I was frightened that she was after me again. More diazepam. My biggest emotion after fear? Resentment because her issues are really with her father. Passive aggressive, both of them. Anyone else enduring this?

  9. Thank you for the advice and thank you for this outlet.
    I never imagined being a stepmom would be so hard. I have been through every emotion imaginable and I have found that simply knowing where these emotions are coming from and why has been a slow process, but a helpful one.
    I only have one stepson (age 4) and I can’t imagine dealing with some of the situations other women go through with their stepchildren, but judging by my experience with the one, it must be difficult.
    I am also a teacher and I think that has been an extra challenge for me because I have high expectations, knowing what children are capable of if they have the right structure. I have taught anywhere from preschool through 6th grade, mostly. I constantly have to remind myself that I am not my stepson’s teacher.
    I’d like to say that i fully trust my husband’s ways with his son and how that fits into our lives, but I don’t yet. I will work on it and constantly remind myself because I do believe that this is the best policy. I can not control how he feels about his son or how he chooses to discipline him. As difficult as it is at times, I remind myself in the moment that I am not the parent and I do not have to carry that burden. I try to find comfort in that fact even if it goes against my nature.
    My husband knows that if/when we have a child, he or she will be held to different standards, as he or she will be with us full time rather than part time like his son. I am fortunate that my husband is supportive and sensitive to my feelings.
    I know that while I may not agree with how my stepson is disciplined, he will never be allowed to be outright disrespectful to me and/or my home. I need to remind myself of that every time I feel a lack of trust in my husband.

  10. This post really resonated with me. “I trust you…” those three words can really build up your spouse and I am going to start saying these to my husband whenever I have to listen to him tell me that he had to leave work early or go and pick the kids up again because bio Mom just decided that that’s what she wanted that day. My husband works ALOT, especially on weekends when we dont have the kids and he doesnt have a set schedule and not having a set schedule with the kids drives me up a wall too. So I feel like he spends all his time at work and with his kids (they live on the complete opposite side of the city so he spends time with them at his mom’s house who lives in the area) Now I realize, this sounds disgustingly selfish of me but we are newlyweds (7 months) and it is hard because I feel like my husband’s priorities are his job, his kids, everyone else and then me. This step family thing is not for the weary…but I keep trying to work on my marriage everyday. There’s alot of arguing and resentment from my part but I think this post gave me some inspiration on what I can say whenever things are flipped around in our daily schedule….Thanks for this!

  11. Wow after sending myself insane for the past 5 years I finally looked up stepmum help and I am amazed to find that I am not alone in my feelings of doing everything for two stepkids ….to two different mums I may add! I am the one who does homework feeds cleans we have them both 4 sometimes 5 nights out of 7 and I am tired of being the bad one they don’t bath at BM’s they don’t brush their teeth they sit on tablets or in front of tv constantly when there but at my house we have rules always have always will but I feel like they love me because I in their words take them nice places and buy them nice things we get no help financially with these two as the minute you bring up receiving their benefits (we both work full time) as why should they have them to just drink and take drugs with when it can help us pay for the stuff we need we get well you can’t have them or become a weekend dad is said to my OH and to us it’s not about money we would rather have them with us and them be clean and healthy BUT WOW I AM TIRED does it get easier are they gonna hate me when older they are only 8 and 5 I don’t know what to do anymore I often feel like giving up and my partner just tries to please me and takes my guidance on everything but I aren’t their parent but if he has to work who else is gonna do it HELP keep me sane

  12. Yea, well, I don’t trust him. He has muffed it over and over. He has thrown me under the bus, not protected me from his hateful daughter, stood aside while she berated me and called me names. I did trust him in the beginning. I trusted him when, beyond all evidence, he assured me she was happy we were marrying. I trusted him when he said, “She’s thrilled to be a bridesmaid in our wedding!” I trusted him when he said, “I think all the work you put into her wedding has really made her bond with you.” After laboring over my stepdaughter’s wedding while everyone else was having fun, all that “bonding” stopped. She stopped responding to my emails. Then a holiday gift came for him and nothing for me. Several months later a postcard came addressed only to him. When I ask him what’s up with her, he says he has no idea and he has no plans to address it with her. So, no, I don’t trust him. Why would I? Trust doesn’t just happen – it is saved…you save a little here, a little there, like a bank account growing bigger. My account is empty and the proof is the miserable human being my husband raised.

  13. I am the step-mom to 4 kids….the boys are 24, 23, 21, and the girl is 15. We have been married for just over 8 years now and I have to say, your 3 words advise is absolutely true. Because I always trusted my husband to do the right thing by me and the kids, and he trusted me to do the same, our marriage has been relatively easy (outside of that first year where the learning curve was so huge and we were figuring out our new roles). At this point we are finally developing trust with the other half of our parenting team (bio mom and step dad) and it is a great thing….for us, for the kids. All 4 of the kids are well adjusted and good human beings….thank God 🙂
    I can never imagine a marriage where either partner would disrespect the other in front of the kids, or where either parent would disparage the other parent in front of the kids. We have always kept it positive and I do believe it has helped all of the kids by lessening the stress of the blended family situation.

  14. Wow- best advice I think I’ve ever heard. However, I’m not sure I can give up control. But you hit the nail on the head of how I feel and why I act and feel the way I am currently. I had no idea what I was getting into marrying a man with a daughter. More times than not, I wish I could go back and never meet him. He has changed for the better and I’m thankful for that and he wants to put on the gloves and fight for our marriage, but I don’t. I want to give up. Throw in the towel and not fight for anything. Go back to when life wasn’t so complicated and I was in control. Where I wasn’t being watched 24/7 for how I treat his daughter. Where I treated her and loved her as my own. When I wouldn’t be told I knew what I was getting into. Ugh- anyone have a time machine?

  15. I think you are right, but ‘I trust you’ is easy to say and so much harder and more complex to do. In our relationships, even step-parent relationships we like to feel that we have some control over our lives and what we do.
    However trusting you may be you cannot always leave everything up to your partner or by default the ex partner. It leaves even the most trusting person too much at the mercy of others who it is debatable will have any concern for your wellbeing or the wellbeing of your relationship.

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