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Stepping Up

This article first appeared on

Let’s face it, being a step mum isn’t easy and it doesn’t come with a manual. You suddenly find yourself a mother figure for the first time in your life, or perhaps you have been thrown into the mother role for a second time later in life when you thought your lunch box duties were over.


Here are 10 things a stepmother should never say:


1. “Go ahead, call me Mum!”

You’re not their mother, and you never will be. They’re conflicted enough, and pushing them to call you mum will only confuse them more.


2. “I’ll get it,” “I’ll drive,” “I’ll wash it,” etc.

Don’t let your stepchildren (or their father) turn you into a martyr. Martyrs make people feel guilty, and when kids feel guilty, they generally react negatively. You’re better off avoiding situations where there is potential for a negative fall out.


3. “Why the long face?”

Allow your stepchildren time to grieve the loss of their parents never getting back together. You remain the constant reminder in their faces that their parents are not getting back together. Give them space and let their father lead as the parent figure. Their depression will pass—they’re kids.


4. “Your dad and I always…”

Don’t allude to the great times you have with their father when they are not around. They may already feel left out or a struggling to accept their new stepmother, so don’t parade this in their faces. If you want to give them a positive image of a loving couple, just be a loving couple.


5. “Did your mother bring you up to do that?”

Never bad-mouth the ex – regardless of the circumstances of the divorce. Studies show that it’s the ongoing conflict after divorce that hurts kids the most.


6. “Have you always done that?”

Families have traditions that are meaningful to them. So if your husband and his children insist on watching Masterchef or cooking tacos on Tuesday then keep the traditional and join in – whether you like it or not.


7. “Your room is a pigsty!”

Sometime it’s best to cut the kids some slack and not be overbearing. If the situation is dire and the kids are growing subspecies in their rooms, then let their father step in and parent.


8. “Well, my kids and I…”

If you have kids of your own who live with you and your husband, your stepchildren may feel neglected or substandard. Mentioning trips, restaurants and the fun stuff you did on the weekend while the stepchildren were with their mother will only make them feel jealous or inferior. Be clear that there are no favorites and everything is even between both sets of kids.


9. “What’s the matter, never heard of thank you?”

Don’t become a stepparent expecting gratitude. While you shouldn’t tolerate rudeness, choose your battles carefully. Kids generally don’t have the best manners; they get preoccupied and forego social niceties. Don’t be difficult; you’re the grown-up.


10. “It’s them or me.”

It will always have to be them. Your stepchildren are jealous of you. But admit it, you’re jealous of them, too. If you make it a battlefield, this is a battle you will lose.




Image credit: Derek Swalwell for Kennedy Nolan Architects

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