It can be frustrating when you’re left out of decisions pertaining to parenting your stepkids. From one stepmom to another, here’s my advice on how to have your voice heard.
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illustration of family with stepmom with no mouth
Illustration by Emma Darvick

Despite the fact that you probably have an active role in getting your stepkids to their schools, medical and dental appointments, Brownie meetings, soccer games, and swim meets, as a stepparent, you might not have much input into the decisions pertaining to those activities and appointments. And you will help them do their homework, build science projects, proofread book reports, remind their father to sign permission slips, and show up for school performances for which there may not be an extra ticket for you to attend.

It can be frustrating and maddening to have such limited input, especially if your views of parenting are 180 degrees different from the ex’s.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about the ex and his or her parenting skills. What you can do instead of stewing in your angst is to take a walk and pound out your frustration on your Nikes, or you can grab a coffee or drink with a friend who is also a stepparent—other stepparents understand. Have a manicure or buy a book to get lost in for half an hour. Walk out the door and drive (or take a bus or a subway). Just don’t waste your time running the proverbial hamster wheel in your head.

If you start taking out your frustration on your partner (or the kids), it will color your whole relationship, because there is nothing they can do to change the ex and their personal approach to parenting. The ex is who she is, and believe us when we say that she’s not going to change anytime soon just because you think she should.

However, there may be something you can do to help your partner with their parenting skills. You may, for lack of a better term, parent them. You may have to be the one to set up some of those house rules, even if they’re as simple as the need for respectful behavior and a few nonnegotiable terms of basic household cooperation. You suggest to them that you’ll take care of laying out the ground rules so that everyone better understands each other, and all you ask is that they support your efforts.

Then, to the kids: Yes, duh, you have to bring your dirty dish into the kitchen and load it in the dishwasher, and you can’t insult me in my own house. Yup, life’s tough, and you can make up your own rules when you have a place of your own. Feel free to insert your own script here in your own inimitable words.

If you’re certain (for sure certain) given a particular situation that you do, in fact, know better than the ex about what is best, don’t jump in yourself to communicate with the ex, especially if you’ve been rebuffed by him before. Instead, suggest to your partner that she take control of the situation. If and when she is able to assume control, you may then be free to step in and help remedy the situation. It sounds elementary, but it’s sometimes the only way things get done when you’re not the parent.

Not only mustn’t you think of yourself as Mom or Dad, but you also may want to try not thinking of yourself as a parent. The term itself is loaded to begin with, especially if you have some carved-in-stone textbook idea of what being a parent means. Parenting means many different things to many different people—disciplinarian, scheduler, Sherpa, therapist, friend, nursemaid—so as a start, just let go of what you think you’re supposed to be. There is no tried and true, one-­size­fits-all definition of stepparent. At best, you can be an influential adult in the lives of your stepkids.

Excerpted from THE STEPMOMS’ CLUB: How to Be A Stepmom Without Losing Your Money, Your Mind, and Your Marriage by Kendall Rose. Published by SourceBooks. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.