When I met my future step kids they were 4 and 8 years old. I was dating their father.
Our life looked very different then than it does today.
They did most things with him and I would occasionally join them for events that we would do together. For example, we might go to a theme park or the zoo together.
Later my then boyfriend and I bought a house together and my boyfriends custodial overnight time with his kids included me because I lived in the same house.
This is when I began to become aware that sometimes when the kids were over at the house I felt a little uncomfortable.
I think in the beginning I thought it was because I wasn’t really used to being around young kids.
That was almost definitely accurate.
I also think that I understood that there was an existing pattern and relationship present between my boyfriend and his kids that didn’t always include me. I still think this is true and I find it helpful in my role as a stepparent to honor the original relationship between kids and their parents.
At first, I don’t really think it bothered me because I was young and independent and I would basically just find my own things to do on those nights and weekends.
At the start, when we were just living together as boyfriend and girlfriend I didn’t feel much pressure.
However, as time went on this feeling of being an outsider not only persisted it actually got progressively stronger. After we were married I think the “pressure” to behave like we were a family perhaps got a little more intense for me.
I have learned that this feeling of not belonging in your blended family is not uncommon which is why I’ll talk about it here today. I will share my personal experience and some things I tried and also how I work with clients today to help them in their families.
I wish I could tell you that this feeling magically goes away. It’s been more than 2 decades since I joined my blended family. For me that has not been true. What has been true for me is that I developed some coping strategies for specific situations, I set up some guidelines and boundaries but in the end I will say that the biggest change was when I finally did the inner work on myself.
Feeling like an outsider is a very common pain point for adults in blended families
Sometimes I see stepmoms describe this as being jealous of the connection between the spouse and biokids.
Other times I’ll hear a stepmom describe feeling resentment over the attention the children either want or that they receive from the bioparent when they are together.
Personally, I would describe how I felt as the sensation that I was being pushed out of my personal space and didn’t belong in the shared family space of the house.
This was tough for me because this was happening in my actual living space.
I remember feeling like when the stepkids weren’t in my home that it was my house and my kitchen and my couch but when they came over it was their couch and their house and my only space was the bedroom. I would either leave the house entirely or I would sort of hide in the bedroom.
Here’s an example.
My stepkids were young and they watched a lot of cartoon tv like Spongebob and movies like Grease. The noise of their programs carried through the entire house … thank you open plan design… and either you were watching the show with them or listening to it from another spot in the house.
It felt like there was no way for me to escape the noise.
I didn’t feel like I was welcome to watch with them on the couch. I didn’t feel like there was enough physical space for me with them on the couches. So instead of sitting with them I would go and do my own thing outside the house or I would retreat to the bedroom and sulk in my feeling of leftoutedness.
Leftoutedness is perhaps not a real word but if you have felt that yourself then I hope you understand my sentiment.
Semi officially this can be called outsider syndrome. I don’t think this is an official medical diagnosis but it shows up this way in articles.
Interestingly one of the solutions we tried to help me with my sensation of feeling left out included actually buying bigger couches.
The reason I share that is because it did actually help some.
Perhaps it’s a distinctly suburban solution. In my experience sometimes more space for more people is helpful.
Later we also moved the kids tv into their bedroom. This goes on the list of things I did that I thought I’d never do (put tvs in bedrooms) and that actually also helped because truthfully I didn’t really want to watch Grease 27,000 times but the kids did.
I would sometimes feel like I was walking on eggshells when my step kids were around.
Early on I decided to make a dinner for my husband and kids. We were in a new house with a big kitchen so I was cooking more than when I was in a small apartment.
Nobody asked me to make dinner…I decided on my own and I made something I had enjoyed when I was a kid.
Unfortunately, the kids hated it and they let me know.
Young kids are super blunt.
My feelings were very hurt by what the kids said. I think I let them know that I didn’t like their words very much.
Unfortunately, my husband didn’t really appreciate how I handled that with his children. This is a common situation that plays out in blended families when one adult has a different parenting or discipline strategy than the other.
I was in my mid 20s and had no kids so I cannot really say that I had a parenting strategy at that point.
I did feel like if I was an adult that I should be respected. I felt like if I made a dinner the kids should … you know … eat it.
I was surprised when that didn’t happen.
When I thought back to my childhood I seemed to remember just accepting the foods that my parents made for me and not having much choice about the whole thing.
My husband on the other hand was not at all surprised that his kids didn’t eat what I prepared. He was surprised that I thought they would.
If you are curious the fix for this turned out to be me and my husband getting a lot clearer on what was expected of me when it came to adulting during the time his kids were in the house. Eventually we were able to establish what I now call “house rules.” This is a strategy I incorporate with my clients.
It’s important for me to say here that my step kids were just being kids. They did nothing wrong or anything to cause me to feel or not feel anything.
I felt like other people were in charge of my schedule and I had limited control over my life.
I was in my mid-20s when I became a stepmom. At that time I did what I wanted with my time. I went where I wanted when I wanted. I ate what I wanted when I wanted. I spent my money on what I wanted. I was super independent.
When I became a step parent the kids things took priority.
I understood this as a concept. Right. Kids come first. Seems easy… but in practice sometimes it caught me by surprise.
I would think I had one plan for the weekend only to find out when the kids arrived that there were things like birthday parties, lessons and other events planned that everybody seemed to know about except me.
I didn’t even always know if I was included or expected to be a part of these events. And that was a logistical and emotional challenge.
I remember saying to my husband that I felt like his ex-wife was setting my weekend calendar. Which … in hindsight was not really at all fair to her.
The quick fix for this was that my husband needed to tell me what was expected for the weekends earlier in the week so that I could make my plans.
This is communication.
Honestly, a lot of family conflict can be improved with better communication.
Full disclosure – my husband is still not good at this. This still happens even though my step kids are grown and flown. It just happens with other stuff like work commitments, meetings and whatnot. This issue wasn’t actually because of my step kids or my husband’s ex.
This is a reality of sharing a life and commitments with the man I married. I have accepted that and come to a place where I don’t feel less valued or less loved because of an event on the family calendar.
I once described my feelings as sometimes I felt like I was an unwelcome guest in my own home.
It didn’t feel good.
I didn’t like it at all.
This was so unpleasant that I considered the idea that perhaps I did not want to continue living in a blended family.
Yes, I throw that in there because I think it’s important to share that while I am here having been a stepmom for over two decades it has not all been roses.
I will admit that many times I have wondered if I wanted to continue.
I doubted my ability to keep my marriage going. I doubted if I wanted to stay in this family.
I never want anybody to think that I have cruised through this role of stepmom and wife in a blended family without any issues. I don’t want you to think that I didn’t have these questions or doubts or struggles. I did and if you are wondering about this in your blended family. I think that’s not unusual.
It also doesn’t necessarily need to be a deal breaker for your family. I am a living example that it’s possible that there are ways to try and work through these feelings. I can’t guarantee it but I can say that it’s possible.
The answers to your blended family struggles may not actually be what or where you think they are.
The question about whether I wanted to not live with my blended family is the situation that pushed me to work deeper through this issue.
The last thing I want to share with you about all of these things is that while I have shared some quick fixes here that I used with actual situations the real progress came when I committed to doing work on myself.
While the symptom was a loud tv or a fight over Rice-a-roni or a conflict over calendars there was actually something inside me underneath.
I wanted the fixes to be things that changed with my step kids or my husband. I wanted to fix these things by buying new things in my house or adding new tools like a family calendar.
The quick fix usually worked. Sometimes they worked really well for a bit.
Just not completely.
Because it was a band-aid.
I had to get to that thing underneath that was creating the feeling of being unwelcome. For me this was a belief that it was possible that I wouldn’t be welcome in my home by my family. In order for me to feel unwelcome in my own home I had to believe that. Then to change that I had to figure out why and do the work to set up a different belief.
In the coaching world this is sometimes called a limiting belief and pretty much all of us have some of these thoughts.
If you want help with discovering yours – let me know. Click here to learn how I work with clients.