Being a stepparent is hard enough without the insensitive comments from other people. Here’s how to avoid making a tough situation worse.
“You knew this was a package deal”
Parenting is the most difficult aspect of stepfamily life, especially if the kids are adolescents, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Naturally, a stepparent may feel overwhelmed. But if you happen to be on the receiving end of a venting session and feel the urge to say, “Hey, you knew this was a package deal,” you may want to reconsider. Indiana stepmom Kate M. says that a statement like that is “a cute platitude people use to mean: ‘You’re on your own, I don’t know how hard your situation is, and I don’t care to.’” Her advice? Refrain from saying this because it makes stepparents feel isolated. It’s better, she says, to offer words of comfort or encouragement.
“You should love those children as if they were your own”
“I’m no longer a stepmom,” says California resident Amanda M.K., “but I remember hearing, ‘You should love them as if they were your own.’” This caused her a lot of pain. Why? “It’s hard to demand that someone feel a certain way toward a child. That can create several feelings of guilt and failure if you don’t,” she explains. “I wish someone had told me, ‘You will love them in your own way.’” Indeed, Mary T. Kelly, a Colorado-based marriage and family therapist, says that this statement is a “biological impossibility.” She explains that a person may not even like their stepkids, and that’s “nothing to be ashamed of.” It can also take time to develop a close, meaningful relationship with someone. She advises keeping all of that in mind, as well as developing “more compassion for everyone involved.”
“Step aside for the family photograph”
Lisa S.C., who lives in the greater New York City area, observed her biological daughter ask her stepfather—Lisa’s husband—to step aside for a family photo. This statement can also come from a variety of family members, not just a child, and Kelly explains that it can deepen “third wheel” feelings among stepparents. She says that while you may not want the stepparent in a family photograph, it’s helpful to remember that this is strictly about “a family that has at least one member that’s not biologically related”—and nothing more. She suggests skipping that comment, taking the photo, and remembering to be kind. Here are a few other things to never say to your family.