I recently received an email from a concerned stepmom expressing frustrations with her living situation and asking how to address them. The letter reflected challenges I’ve heard from many stepmoms over the years, in one form or another.
Her first concern was that she felt like an outsider, or like hired help, rather than feeling like part of a cohesive family unit. This is actually two separate problems, and here’s the crux of it:
You need to feel like a wife, before you’ll start feeling like a mother.
“As a new stepmom, I feel like hired help, not a wife.”
Feeling like hired help has two components: your husband’s expectations of you, and your expectations of him. Here’s what it means if you feel this way.
He only appears to primarily expect you to serve physical needs: doing household chores, driving him or the kids around, feeding the family, etc..
Meanwhile, he is failing to meet your emotional expectations, like him cherishing you, exchanging affection, treating you respectfully, and demonstrably valuing your opinion by consulting you.
“My husband doesn’t feel ‘present’ or emotionally available. Why?”
- He hasn’t recovered from the trauma of his divorce.
- He may not yet fully trust his new wife’s intentions.
- He may be afraid of getting hurt again.
- His faith in his own judgement falters in the wake of the previous marriage’s demise.
What can a stepmom do about it? Well…
Schedule a time to talk with him about your perceived emotional distance. Tell him you feel: hurt, worried, unloved, etc.. Empathize with him, and share your hopes and dreams for the relationship. If he gets defensive and doesn’t take responsibility for his behavior or problems between you, suggest seeing a therapist so that he can recover from the post-divorce trauma.
Then, lay a foundation for relationship hygiene:
- Weekly date night. Hire a sitter. Go somewhere fun. Rule #1 of date night: you do not talk about children.
- Do small things for your spouse. Big things don’t happen that often, but little things set the tone of the relationship.
- Love the other person the way they want to be loved, not they way you want to be loved. For example, some women hate flowers. If your husband is bringing you flowers, gently suggest to him that your preferences lie elsewhere. He may think himself an outstanding gentleman, but he’s doing you no favors by giving you hay fever. Your love languages may be different, too.
- Have scheduled, routine conversations. These happen 3-7 times a week, each lasting less than 45 minutes. Each conversation should focus on one topic that one of you has concerns about. You should be able to present, process, and reach a resolution for a given issue within that span of time.
Conclusion: Working Your Way into Their Hearts & Home
Remarried couples will find becoming a cohesive unit to be an involved endeavor. It requires lots of patience, creativity, and commitment both to the marriage and the family. Stepmoms will find process of becoming part of the family especially demanding of their time and energy.
However, though the journey from step-maid to stepmom is long and frought with peril, it is one well worth the effort.