My best friend is my stepdaughter’s mom.
Yep, you read that right.
What’s the question that follows that confession every single time? “How in the world did you get to that point?!”
My biggest recommendation for helping other stepmoms replicate our relationship is to develop a strong sense of self and what you stand for as a stepmother and mother in general, then taking the initiative to present it to your stepchild’s biological mom (BM). As with any relationship, you approach with respect, reverence, and caution. Don’t overstep and don’t disrespect. This is a chance to convince Mom you deserve a place in your stepchild’s life. She will be skeptical of you – wouldn’t you be?! She wants to protect her child, and that’s perfectly understandable. Prove to her that you’re intentional about being the best stepmom and co-parent possible. That’s all she can really ask of the other woman in her daughter’s life.
How to Communicate with Bio Mom
First, I need you to understand where she’s coming from. She was married to the man you’re with now. She birthed and cared for the child you are helping to raise. And she doesn’t know a thing about you. She doesn’t know if you’re a good person, if you could hurt her children, if you could try to turn them against her, or worse, if you would try to take them away. She’s scared, she’s protective of her babies, and she’s cautious.
If you understand where her animosity stems from, you can reassure her you only want to help her raise the best kids possible. Reassure her you’re on the same team. And reassure her you don’t want to take her babies away, you just want to be a bonus mom.
We’ll detail all of this in your stepmom philosophy.
Crafting your Stepmom Philosophy
The concept of creating a “stepmom philosophy” is something I’m borrowing from my corporate life. Oftentimes when I’m preparing for an interview or potential promotion, I revisit my “leadership philosophy.” It details what I believe, what employees can expect of me, what I expect of them, my hot buttons, and my leadership inspiration.
This translates perfectly into my thoughts on stepparenting! When I realized all of these concepts apply, I crafted my own stepmom philosophy. To help you create your own, we’ll go through it piece by piece.
What I Believe
First things first – “What I Believe.” In this section, write down first how you view the stepmom/mom relationship. Give her credit as Mom – this will earn her trust. You are trying to work together, on the same team, so make that known too! This section is going to include your thoughts, values, goals, and generalized statements about stepparenting from your perspective.
As an example, here are mine:
- The stepmom role is completely separate from the biological mom role.
- Your daughter should never call me “Mom.”
- We are on the same team, working toward the same goal.
- We can learn from each other.
- Collaboration is better than independent thought.
- A divorced home doesn’t have to be a “broken” home.
- Your daughter’s quality of life is enhanced by mom and stepmom working together.
What I Expect of You
Here we’re going to lay it all out there. What do you expect from Mom? I assume respect is something we’re all going to expect. We don’t want her badmouthing us to our children, CPS, neighbors, or in-laws. Perhaps timeliness or responsibility make your list. Think through anything that might bother you currently – what could be better? Finally, think through everything she’s already doing right that you consider expectations in the relationship (e.g., greeting you at the door).
Here’s my list:
- Willingness to compromise
- Refrain from negative remarks about my husband or me to or in front of your daughter
- Actively seek to understand my perspective
What You Can Expect of Me
Next, I want you to list as many things as you possibly can that you can promise to Mom. The key here is to ensure you can actually deliver on all of your promises. You’d always rather under promise and over deliver, than over promise and under deliver. Double-check that your list includes respect, communication, and protecting her child(ren). Those should be standard responses for each of us! Provide Mom with as much reassurance as you can in this section. You are essentially selling yourself as a responsible, loving, capable stepmom right now. Put a lot of time and effort into this section, and come back to it again if you need to.
Here’s what K’s Mom can expect of me:
- Communication – I will respond to all messages or phone calls as quickly as I can.
- Respect – I respect your role and will never allow your daughter to call me “mom” or think she has to choose between us.
- Flexibility – I will be flexible with custody arrangements and schedules.
- I will actively seek to understand your perspective.
- I will treat your daughter with respect and dignity.
- I will send you photos and share stories from when she is in our care.
- I will never speak poorly of you or your decisions to or in front of your daughter.
- I will never jeopardize your relationship with your daughter or try to replace you.
- I will always consult you before making big decisions for or with your daughter (haircuts, piercings) and will always relay any conversations we have about big topics like puberty, bullying, or abuse of any sort.
My Hot Buttons
Here’s where I want you to respectfully air your grievances. In this section, we’re listing all of the actions (or non-actions!) that Mom could perform that will flip your switch from sweet to crazy. There’s no reason to be ashamed; we all have them! I have yet to meet a person that doesn’t have a pet peeve (or 2). I will caution you against making this list too long. This is not a chance to complain and list all of Mom’s flaws. This is an opportunity to let her know your top few annoyances. Got it?
Here’s what I came up with:
- Dishonesty – Dishonesty is never acceptable.
- Responsiveness – My #1 pet peeve is being ignored.
- Tardiness – Tardiness should be the exception, never the rule.
- Disrespect – I’m a parent too, so don’t refer to me as a babysitter. Tardiness also feeds into this one.
My Stepparenting Inspiration
In this section, I chose to include a few of my favorite co-parenting and stepparenting sound bites. Feel free to choose whichever speaks to you. This may take quite a bit of research to get right, so allow yourself the time and energy to research and find the right sayings to reflect your view of the stepmom role.
These were the quotes that spoke to me:
- The well-being and welfare of children should always be our focus. – Todd Tiahrt
- You can make excuses or you can make progress.
- Your ex is not your child’s ex.
- Love your child more than you hate your ex.
- It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. – Frederick Douglass
My Parenting Inspiration
I think this section is even more important for stepmoms who don’t have biological children. It requires being intentional about your parenting style even though you haven’t had children of your own. It proves to Mom that you’re taking this role very seriously and truly want to do your best when raising her children. Further, this can spark some really great conversation if she sees something she agrees (or disagrees with) within your parenting inspiration. Again, take the time to ensure this list accurately reflects your parenting persona. You want to put your best foot forward, and it will be apparent if you threw a list together of cliché parenting quotes.
My list covers a variety of parenting issues but they’re all important to me as a mom:
- Children learn more from what you are than by what you teach. – WEB DuBois
- The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
- It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings – Ann Landers
- Loving a child doesn’t mean giving in to all his whims; to love him is to bring out the best in him, to teach him to love what is difficult. – Nadia Boulanger
- If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much. – Jackie Kennedy
- Success for me is to raise happy, healthy human beings. – Kelly LeBrock
Communicating your Stepmom Philosophy
Now that you’ve spent all of that time putting it together, it’s time to share! It won’t do you much good to have completed it but never communicate it. Having cemented your parenting persona and your stepparenting philosophy will help guide you as you move forward as a stepmom, but having established your hot buttons isn’t doing anyone any good if they don’t know about them!
First, I want you to present your stepmom philosophy to your husband. Explain to him the context and your intentions for presenting this document to Mom, and allow him to provide feedback. He knows her better than you do, and he can tell you if anything you’ve included would actually be a hot button for her (which is counteractive to our mission!). We want her to be receptive and welcome a relationship with us after this philosophy has been shared – not to retreat further!
Once you’ve gotten feedback from your husband and made the appropriate changes, it’s time to reach out to Mom and ask her out. Perhaps you meet over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Hubby can probably help you figure out a safe space that you’ll both enjoy if you don’t have one in mind. Explain to her that you’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to stepparent, and you’d really like to discuss your thoughts on it with her and better understand her perspective. You can ask her if she’d like a copy of the philosophy beforehand to review prior to the meeting, or you can go through it together line-by-line when you meet. I’d plan 1-2 hours to meet – this could take a while to talk through!
Remember to be courteous, respectful, and open to feedback. Mom’s going to have her own perspective and her own expectations. Allow her to voice those!
The End Goal
At the end of the conversation, you should both walk away with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence in the relationship. I’m not saying you should be best friends after one conversation, but you should have more respect for one another and better understand each other’s perspectives. You’ll know what bothers each other, what the other values most, and more importantly, you’ll both agree you’re on the same team working toward the same goal (raising happy, healthy children).
The ultimate goal of this conversation is to open the lines of communication as you move forward in your co-parenting relationship. Exchange numbers if you haven’t already, and establish rules/boundaries (e.g., I prefer texting, and not after 9:00).
I am so excited to hear how developing your stepmom philosophy shapes the way you parent and transforms your relationship and how you communicate with Mom.