Can You Be a Stepmom and Childless?

Written by Gail Miller

Someone once told me that if she had stepkids, she would consider them her own.  

It’s not uncommon these days for people to decide that they know how they would feel and act in someone else’s shoes without ever actually being in that situation – regardless of the circumstance.  

When it comes to being a stepmom though, it’s incredible how strongly others believe they know what it must be like and the strong opinions (judgment) others have.  Add to that being a stepmom with no biological children and you have a recipe for assumptions, judgment and criticism galore! 

One of the criticisms comes when those of us who have stepkids but don’t have biological children consider ourselves childless.  On top of the negative presumptions about being childless, we’re also often scolded for not thinking of stepkids as our own.  This can come from our partners, family, friends, coworkers and society.    

Here’s the problem – no one is in anyone else’s shoes.  Just as there’s no universal experience for all birth moms, there’s no identical experience for all stepmoms.   Each family situation is unique whether or not there is a stepparent.  

Research shows that the relationships within stepfamilies vary from family to family.  Some stepmoms consider their stepkids as their own but not all do. There is a range of factors that play a role in those feelings.  A few factors that have an influence are:

    • Age of kids when stepmom relationship started.  Depending on their ages, adjusting to their parents having a new relationship can have different effects, affecting relationships and acceptance.

    • Regardless of their ages, kids will often feel that they’re being disloyal to their mom in having a relationship with their stepmom – sometimes it’s not even conscious, but it can affect how they show up with their stepmom. The kids’ acceptance of the stepmom’s presence significantly impacts the relationship and her feelings.

 

    • The relationship with the kids’ birth mom will affect the stepmom.  Understandably it can be challenging for some to think of another woman considering her child/ren as her own.  

 

    • Their partner’s expectations also influence stepmothers’ feelings.  As a result of this factor alone, there are so many different expectations – and these results directly connect to a stepmom’s feelings……… 

This is just a partial list of factors contributing to how a stepmom feels about her stepkids. Even when disregarding all of these influences, Mary Kelly writes about one particularly powerful one that’s often overlooked.  She is a psychotherapist who works with step couples, stepmoms and stepfamilies and explains why expecting a stepmom to view her stepkids as her own can be difficult.  “If I took you to the nearest mall and pointed out a group of kids and told you that you needed to love them, you would think I was the crazy one,” she writes. “It’s quite normal that you don’t love your stepchildren. Just because you fell in love with their father doesn’t mean you will automatically love his children.”

So, why does any of this matter?  Because it’s one more way in which women who are childless not by choice – the ones who have stepkids – are judged and shamed.  It’s yet another message that we’re not acceptable, that what we’re doing is not enough.  That becomes a problem when we internalize those opinions.

What are some of those accusations?  You’re cold….there’s something wrong with you if you can’t feel that love of a mom…you’re selfish…you’re uncaring…you’re not trying hard enough…the list of negative, hurtful and WRONG criticisms goes on and on. 

As I’ve said – no one walks in any other person’s shoes.  No one else is living your experience.  That means that they also don’t understand your thoughts and feelings.   They also don’t have the right to impose their assumptions and judgments on you.  Because no one is you.

For those of you who are stepmoms without biological children and consider yourself childless – there is nothing wrong with you.  You aren’t a problem.  You’re not missing something.  You’re not cold, selfish, uncaring or any of the other unfair characterizations that have been heaped on you for not considering your stepkids as your own.  

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