Stepmother survival tips


April’s Story: Stepmother Survival Tips

Within a year of her wedding, April found herself unexpectedly
raising two teenage sons from her husband’s first marriage.
Here’s how she struggled through some turbulent years and found
calmer waters.

“I had no idea that I would quickly become a full time mother
of two young teenage boys when I got married 23 years ago.
While my husband and I were still getting to know each other,
his sons asked to share our home and we felt clear it was the
right choice. I didn’t realize what I was in for. No one did.

Creating a home for all of us while my husband and I tried to
balance our busy careers, our new marriage, and being part of
our sons’ lives, put extraordinary stress on us as a couple.
We were concerned that the boys feel at home with us, their new
schools, and with new friends. I was determined to be the best
parent I could!

It was a particularly difficult transition for the younger boy.
I wanted to be helpful and not be resented, yet realized that
was probably impossible. Knowing that did not make it easier.
My husband’s second son was so unhappy with himself and his
situation; nothing I did seemed to work. He tested me constantly
which was excruciating. At times, I felt like an outsider and
frequently like a prisoner in my own home. My husband, who
avoids any confrontation, was unable to support me. I
had to take a stand. Even though there was resistance, I held
my ground and we began working with a family therapist.

Life changed again as our family changed. After the emotional
pain of a miscarriage, my husband and I were delighted by the
birth of a son together. Shortly after, our eldest entered
college and seemed to be on his way. Our middle child, however,
with whom I had had so much difficulty, eventually rejected us
completely. He no longer lived at home and I was so frightened
for his safety. I would be knotted with worry over him, calling
his friends several times a week, trying to learn about his
health and whereabouts. We knew he had to find his own way,
but it was torture to be so helpless. During the early years
of our youngest son’s life, we never left him alone with his
troubled older brother.

Fast forward. Our eldest son has a new life with his wife in
another city across the country. I felt blessed to finally
have a terrific daughter. So many people “lose” their sons
but I truly gained a wonderful friend in her. We now have two
grandchildren we share with her family, a relationship we

Our middle son has turned his life around and is slowly
growing closer to us. After completing college at 27,
he felt a need for more structure in his life, and he
entered the armed services, serving in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Once again, I was terrified for his life and well
being; we tried to follow his whereabouts as closely as
we could, but that was no easy task!

To my surprise, the service had a positive influence
on him. He came to value family and us specifically.
Thankfully he returned to us safely and entered
graduate school. We are thrilled that he and our
youngest son are now enjoying each other more.

Our youngest is now in his final year of high school.
A joy, he marches to his own beat and is very much his
own person. The process of visiting colleges has been
very helpful in preparing me for his eventual departure.
It will be the hardest transition so far when my last
child leaves the nest. Sometimes I wish I could have
it both ways – admire the emerging adult in my son, and
keep him home and safe forever. Where is he headed?
I can’t wait to find out.

I love that our family connections continue to deepen.
We have come through some tough times together and I feel
blessed for what we created. Our family is now blended
with each person holding on to his own individuality.”


Stepping Stones: LEAP: Holding On and Letting Go

April’s story touches on a mother’s lifelong tension between
holding on and letting go. She has demonstrated how to
nurture children with love and commitment, no matter what
the composition of the family. April worked hard to
recognize how and when to trust them and let go.

We have developed a 4-step process to help you work
through all sorts of transitions. We call it LEAP:
Let go, Evaluate, Act, Power up!

Just as April was dealing with her growing children,
you may be facing changes in your relationships with
your aging parents, partner, or friends. You can also
apply LEAP as you meet challenges in your work or health
arenas. We will be highlighting this process in future
newsletters. Let us introduce it to you now.

LET GO. Transition and the changes you make demand letting
go of something. It could be a a sense of control you once
had, a role you took for granted, or the way you have
defined your family relationships. Every loss, even a
symbolic one, needs to be mourned and emotional, physical,
and behavioral changes are a normal reaction. Without your
familiar comfort zone, it’s hard to feel grounded and
it’s not uncommon to doubt yourself.

EVALUATE. To understand where you are now, it’s important
to discover your strengths and resources and determine what
you need to move forward. Give yourself permission to open
up and look deep inside now. Ask yourself, with all these
changes, who am I? What resources do I have to fill the
void? How do I figure out what to do? How do I restore

ACT. Create a plan for yourself and develop the best
coping strategies that will help you implement it. This
can be the most rewarding part of LEAP as you allow your
creativity to run wild. Brainstorm some original ways to
build on your old strengths and enrich your identity by
trying on new roles. Call on others for support when you
need it.

POWER UP! Your growing strength gives you the incentive
to build on your successes; taking control gives you
momentum to sustain your motivation. During each phase of
the process you tap into your personal power, define it
in your own way, and use it to your best advantage. You
may find yourself deciding to take a risk or to do
something completely out of character.

Here’s how LEAP applies to April’s story:

*L* She let go of her dream of what life as a young
married woman would be. She had expected
to ease into the role of a new bride with time to
get to know her husband before children entered
the scene.

*E* She evaluated the situation and recognized that the
transition to a successful blended family would be
difficult. April acknowledged her feelings of
anxiety, depression, fear, anger and rejection.

*A* April acted to make the family relationships
work positively for everyone as they all grew and
matured, she and her husband included. Reaching out
for support, she remained patient and kept open
lines of communication with the children.

*P* April’s powerful affirmation of feeling blessed
reflects the work she did over a decade to create an
inclusive family that loves and respects one another.

Consider how you would apply the LEAP process as you work
through challenges in your own life. Using a journal will
help you begin to move through the 4 steps. Let us know
how we can help you get started.


Our Invitation to You

Welcome to “Stepping Stones” (TM), the newsletter of
Her Mentor Center. Here we highlight stories of women
struggling with significant issues and developing new life
perspectives. We hope that these give you inspiration and
comfort. And as you look inside yourself, we expect that you
will find stories of your own waiting to be told.

Storytelling can be a significant catalyst for women’s
transformation. Hearing a good narrative can spark
introspection, inspire new ideas, and stimulate you to action.
The stories here are your stories. These women are just like
you – with attitudes, thoughts and feelings that are quite
familiar. These revealing first person accounts will
introduce you to coping strategies that worked. As you gain
self-confidence and begin your internal dialogue, learn to
take the steps to write your own story of transition.

We invite you to share your story with our readers for the benefit
of women who themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The
skills you used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested,
please e-mail us at

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