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The Problem With Inclusivity in Online Stepmom Communities

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When I was planning my wedding, I got so tired of having to cross out the word “groom” for every single thing I filled out, from newsletter sign-ups on The Knot to the actual contract we both had to sign with our venue. Nobody meant any harm, that’s for sure, and one or two places even already had it marked out and changed for us. But it’s a seemingly small and simple thing that still required me to have to work to validate my own marriage and feel like an outsider, like I didn’t belong in the wedding world, like I was some sort of imposter trying to justify my marital existence. The same thing happened when I began to seek out stepparenting advice on the internet. I read forums, joined Facebook groups, signed up for blog emails, and bought books. I was surprised by what I found in the books, but I was really shocked at what I discovered in the online stepmom communities.

An outsider within a group of outsiders.

One of the biggest, most universal struggles of being a stepmom is feeling like an outsider, in your own family, in your extended family, in mommy circles, and in the general parenting community. Online stepmom communities are meant for us to have a safe space where we all feel like we belong. The problem is, we all don’t.

When I comb the threads of women both asking for and offering advice, I find them speaking to a very specific subgroup of stepmoms. These stepmoms are in heterosexual marriages (not “straight necessarily, because I won’t assume the sexual orientation of both individuals in a marriage), and a partner with a female-identifying ex who actually gave birth to one or more children.

Most, if not all, of these groups even have an encyclopedia of acronyms that everyone uses to quickly communicate. Here are a few examples:

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • BM = Bio Mom
  • SM = Stepmom
  • SS = Stepson
  • SD = Stepdaughter
  • EOW = Every other week (custody schedules)

This is actually REALLY specific, and not at all indicative of the makeup of the family of every stepmom.

Not your average stepmom.

I am queer, bisexual to be exact. I have a wife. Her ex is indeed a woman, but their daughter —my stepdaughter— came to them through adoption. I only check one of those boxes I laid out above. I get emails telling me to sign up for webinars about how my husband and I can get on the same page, or I’m shown an article with tips on dating a man with children. I go to these online stepmom communities and see threads with questions like “Let’s get to know each other! When did you first meet your husband?” or “What do you and your DH disagree on when it comes to disciplining your stepkids?” Or maybe, “What does BM do when you show up at school events?” In my case, BM does nothing because my stepdaughter’s biological mother is NOT one of her parents. My wife, her ex, and I are her parental unit.

I keep scrolling.

I cannot participate in these conversations. They do not pertain to me.

This, really specifically this, is why I started this website in the first place. It’s why I’m here. I can’t participate in most of the conversation, so I’ve created my own. I use inclusive language. It’s not hard. I have to, because I’m in the minority, and because I never want to exclude anyone. I say “partner” instead of “husband” and “DH” or “other parent” or “SD’s mom” instead of “bio mom” or “BM.”

It’s really not hard. It’s second nature to me, because I’m used to existing outside of the conversation and having to use language that will create similarities between me and the people I’m talking to.

My core struggles as a stepmom are the same as those whose stepfamily structure is a bit different than mine. I get jealous, we fight about money, I feel insecure, my wife and I discipline differently, we lose things in the back and forth between houses. We’re all unique, but we’re not different.

As stepmoms, we often feel excluded from parenting conversations, from the mommy world. Let’s not isolate each other in our efforts to band together within online stepmom communities.

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Beth McDonough

Beth McDonough, Certified Stepfamily Coach, is the owner and founder of The Inclusive Stepmom where she has taken thousands of stepmoms from hopeless to happy through 1:1 coaching, group coaching, and her signature Calm Over Chaos course. She is also the co-host and co-founder of the annual Stepmom Summit.

Beth specializes in being a child of divorce, LGBTQ+ dynamics, being a childless stepmom, infertility, dealing with the ex in a small town, and strengthening stepfamilies through focusing on your relationship with your partner. Her work has been featured in NPR, Good Morning America, StepMom Magazine, Stepparent Magazine, SheKnows Parenting, BabyCenter, Stepmomming, Stepmomz, and ParentMap.