5 Surprising Reasons It’s A Bad Idea To Love Your Stepkids As Your Own

Let me be clear: I love my step kids very much. They add much joy and light to my life and I can’t imagine where I’d be without them.

However, I don’t love them like they’re my kids and I’m their mother. I’m NOT their mother. I actually have a daughter of my own who would be right pissed (and with good reason) if I loved my husband’s kids just the same as I love her. I love them a lot, but it’s not the same and none of us expect it to be.

My advice on this topic is not the advice you typically read on social media, where women take swipes at each other for not being able to generate what they think are the perfect kind of warm fuzzies for their partner’s kids.

Here’s why I think those stepmoms have it all wrong:

1. When you love a child like your own, there’s an unconscious expectation of being loved back. It puts a lot of pressure on that child to love you in a way that feels good for you without respecting what they need. If you think you can love a child like a mother does, but without any need for them to reciprocate, talk to me in a few years about how that’s working out for you.

2. If you actually have children of your own, you’re setting them up for a nightmare of sibling rivalry. Even bio-siblings suffer from feeling like they are not getting all the love they deserve because of an older brother or sister, or because of a new baby. Kids would have zero sense of security if they actually believed their mom could pick up a couple of random kids from the playground, and bring them home to love.

3. You risk activating a loyalty bind in the child. Kids are not wired to have two mothers at the same time (no reference to same-sex parents here). In order to love you as a mother, they have to kick their own mother out of the nest and more often than not it makes them hate themselves. That’s the source of a ton of inexplicable behaviours from step children; they punish themselves for loving you too much or for wishing that you were their real mom.

4. You’re either putting unrealistic expectations on yourself, or you’re feeling pressure from outside to make this relationship “perfect” in some way. Some kids are much more naturally lovable than others, and so are adults. You don’t fall in love with everyone you meet, and it’s even hard to produce genuine lovingkindness towards everyone. It’s pretty easy to love preschoolers who are cute and behave well, and exponentially harder to love surly, aggressive teenagers. I have a free download on this exact topic, you can find a link at the end of the post.

5. You’re missing out on the beautiful, authentic relationship you could be having for them and that they could have for you as an important, caring adult in their lives. They can love you they way they do an auntie, or their best friends’ mom, or the next door mom, or a coach, teacher or mentor. I love my husband’s kids very much. I feel close to them each in their own way so that they can come near or hold me away when according to what they need.

It actually takes a lot of love to do that.

Here’s a link to my free download:

Playing Hard To Like: 10 Challenging Step Kid Personalities And How To Win Them Over

2 Bedrooms, 2 Bosses. It Just Bites.

Imagine, if you will, that you work in an office where as part of the normal workflow you must work every other week at a different location. You pack up all your stuff – you might even need to put it in a large briefcase on wheels – and go to another desk in another building. Then, after a week, you pack it all back up and return where you were.

Naturally, you have a different supervisor on these alternate weeks with different expectations of you. Sometimes those expectations are made clear, but it’s hard to keep it all straight in the chaos and you end up messing up a lot. You feel embarrassed when you make a mistake and the supervisor gets angry because you should be able to manage. The supervisor doesn’t have to move locations, you think to yourself.

You have different jobs to do with a different team of co-workers. Sometimes you get along great with one team and not with the other. There can be nasty office politics at work as well. The two supervisors are constantly competing with each other and one or both of them will throw you under the bus when anything goes wrong. They each sabotage your work with the other’s team so their own team can have an advantage. There are work secrets on both sides that you are privy to, and not allowed to speak of even though it would help everyone get the results that will move the whole business ahead.

Want to quit yet? Think again. This is a job you can never leave. It’s forever. You feel like the whole crazy thing is somehow your own fault. If only you were better at what you do, you could have landed a job in one of those businesses where people get to stay put in one g*dd*m place and just get their work done in peace. It seems like everyone but you works for a normal company like that.

If you get fired, you will never work anywhere again. That would be a total catastrophe.

You pretend to like your job, but you feel crappy all the time. If you like the atmosphere at one area better than the other, you feel scared because the supervisors can tell, and it will only be worse for you if have those thoughts. If you try to change the system so you can just stay in one place, you feel guilty because you know that half of your work is going undone and the rest of that team are struggling without you. You try to keep calm but sometimes you just explode over nothing. Everyone around you thinks it’s normal to work like this. It makes you forget what you are even upset about.

The End.

Now, look at your stepchild and tell me what you see. Did this shift your perspective just a little?

A stepmom is like the HR professional who has to do her best to support this employee through what she hopefully understands is an impossible situation. If she does her job well, the employee might actually dump a lot of unhappy feelings on her because there is no other place to do that. The best she can do is be a good listener and try to help the worker keep things straight. She can explain that everybody sees what a good job the child is doing and that it’s really OK to mess up sometimes. She is not a punching bag, and she will alert the child when they are using her as a stand-in for one of the bosses instead of as an ally who is trying to help. Being a stepmother is really hard, often thankless work.

One day, she will get the recognition and appreciation she deserves. Maybe even a promotion.

We Should Think More About Things That Don’t Matter

Why is it so hard to keep our priorities straight?

We think we’re focused on what matters, but in an instant, the universe can show us that we had it all wrong. We know what’s really important, but we insist on building other things up to be important as if we need to be surrounded with important crap all the time.

We don’t.

At least once every year there is a local news story in everyone’s area about a house fire that leaves a family with nothing but the socks and pyjamas they ran out into the street with. People rally to help, not only from genuine sympathy and charity but because they suddenly realize that none of their own crap is that important to them after all. They feel moved to share whatever they have because, in the end, it’s just stuff.

We need stories like this to keep us in line.

We are wired to be vigilant, to save up for a rainy day, to be fearful of attack. This comes from our animal ancestry, and it serves us pretty well in the wild, but in modern society, it makes us obsess about social media and consumer goods as though they were essential to our survival.

A brand of car, that bathroom reno, having perfect eyebrows become the stuff of necessity instead of amusements for when we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from.

It’s not that we forget what’s really important. The problem is, we forget what’s not important at all. We need occasional stories of sudden and total loss to remind us that we could step out of this paradigm any time we choose.

We can choose to remember that every bit of the stuff that surrounds us in our homes is dispensable. Likewise, everything happening on social media is rendered instantly meaningless when we hear a loved one has died – so, why do we ever think it different?

The only thing that’s stopping you from feeling joy right at this moment is the lack of a desire for joy, and you can fix that any time. Imagine it’s you who has just escaped disaster with nothing but the clothes on your back and the knowledge that your loved ones are safe and sound.

Think on that for a bit today!

Yes, you can de-stress in just 2 minutes, and there’s no better time to learn how!

Suddenly, you find yourself being the teacher, babysitter, and all around domestic goddess of “pandemic-quarantine central”. No playdates, no playgrounds, no activities and no rest for you. You need to become a ninja of self-care!

Your mental health is more important to how your kids get through this time (and how your marriage thrives through this challenge) than what you put on the dinner table or how clean you keep the house.

Here are 5 incredibly quick and effective ways to dial down your stress level.

1.Essential Oils.  If you’re already a fan of essential oils, just use whichever ones you love. I’ll suggest Lavender as a great go-to, it’s the main oil for releasing tension and anxiety and it also smells just heavenly. You can diffuse it, even if you just put a drop on a tissue in a few places you walk by regularly. My favourite thing is to rub a drop or two between my palms and then run my hands through my hair. I got that trick from a friend and it works great, without making your hair oily or anything.

Besides Lavender, I really love Frankincense, which is an oil that connects you to your own inner wisdom and dispels dense or negative energy. If you want to apply essential oils to your skin, they need to be diluted with a carrier oil, like olive oil or coconut oil. Just add a drop or two to a teaspoon of the carrier oil and then you can rub it on wherever you like. Take 2 minutes in the bathroom to massage your feet or run a few drops through your hair – you’ll feel like a new woman!

2. Breathe. Think about it, breathing is right up there with biting on a bullet when it comes to managing the intense pain of childbirth so it can do wonders for emotional pain if you know what to do.

This particular exercise is one I learned from of my favourite authors, Brené Brown. She does it sitting at her desk with a pencil and paper, and you can do that too, or you can draw with your finger on a steamy bathroom mirror.

Make 4 dots in the shape of a square and slowly trace between the dots, breathing in and out through your nose (very important) while counting slowly to 4 between each dot. The reason to breathe through your nose is that it automatically restricts the flow of oxygen so you don’t hyperventilate, and building up carbon dioxide in our blood actually initiates your body’s relaxation response reflexes. Every little bit helps, right?

3. ESR  (emotional stress release) is a move that comes from the world of Touch for Health and Brain Gym. Think about whatever is  the most stressful feeling for you at this very moment – maybe resentment, frustration, aggravation or disappointment. Rate the intensity of that feeling from 1-10 for yourself and make a note of it somewhere.

Cover your forehead very lightly with one hand, as if you were checking for fever. With that very light touch, close your eyes and play yourself a little movie clip of whatever is making you feel stressed.  Run about 20 seconds of that movie for yourself and really get into the feeling.

Really visualize what’s bothering you in an active scene – the chaos in your home, or people being noisy, maybe disrespectful. Maybe it’s about your step kids coming to visit from their other home where they are not being careful about social distancing.

Now, run that movie again. Just really look at it, see the people involved, feel the feeling as intensely as you can.

When you’ve done that, play the movie again but insert a positive ending; make it all turn out the way you want. See your kitchen all clean and tidied, see the kids quietly doing their  work or playing together without fighting. See a bright white light all around your home protecting you all from viruses. Just watch this part of the movie, the happy, desired outcome, with everything the way you want it to be.

When you’re ready, open your eyes and take your hand away. Check in with yourself – what number would you give your level of intensity around that emotion now? It should definitely be at least a little lower than before. If you want to get it down more, just do another round or two.

4.Thinking Caps /Brain On. This is also from Brain Gym. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently grasp the outside of each ear up near the top and then pull outwards and unroll the cartilage. Move down slightly and do it again,  pulling and unrolling all the way down to your earlobes. When you’ve done the whole ear all the way, go back to the top and do it again. Go around 3 or 4 times.

Your ears are a hologram for your entire body, according to Chinese medicine, so you’re really massaging all the acupressure points of all your organs by doing this. This exercise is amazing for releasing tension in your neck,  where many of us store our stress.

Note: I’ve done this right in front of people many times and nobody has ever noticed so you don’t even need a private place to do it!

5.Meditation. It doesn’t have to be long to be really effective! This exercise I learned from my friend Duda Baldwin, Buddhist teacher and life coach who was a guest in season 2 of my Essential Stepmom podcast.  She does a delightful little meditation that you can do anywhere with your eyes open, alone or in front of anybody.

Just look around you slowly and calmly, and name what you see with a single word, either shape, colour or material:

“Chair “…”red”… “cloth”…”wood”…”phone”…”cup”…”wood”…”black”…”bowl”…”window”…”orange”.

Don’t be fooled by how simple this seems; it really serves to break your pattern of thinking and get you out of your head for just 60 seconds or so, long enough to do a quick ‘refresh’ on whatever tab you have open on the screen of your mind.

The biggest challenge is to actually DO these things when you need them! I suggest keeping a quick reference list on your phone that you can look at when your higher self is trying to get your attention. Even better, experiment with setting alerts to remind yourself to take 2 minutes a few times a day and give yourself the grace of a new start.

Want to watch me demonstrating these techniques? Here’s a link to a quick video demo. Join my email community for weekly advice and inspiration by sending an email to info@essentialstepmom.com or message me @essentialstepmom.

The Four-Minute Stepfamily

Roger Bannister, a mild-mannered medical student and middle distance runner was the first human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. This milestone (pardon the pun) was a very, very big deal when it happened on May 6, 1954. Every serious runner in the world had been trying to do it for almost a hundred years when Bannister crossed the finish line with a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

His effort is relevant to us as step-parents because what really helped him break the 4 minute mile was an unconventional approach to the problem. Here’s what I read about him in the Harvard Business Review about him, in an article by Bill Taylor:

“The British press “constantly ran stories criticizing his ‘lone wolf’ approach,” notes John Bryant in his book 3:59.4 and urged him to adopt a more conventional regimen of training and coaching.”

You’d think that everyone would want to try the lone wolf approach, but people are very social creatures; we want more to be like everyone else than to be unlike them. When you do something that goes against the conventional wisdom, you’re sure to get some pushback from the conventional thinkers!

Bannister had to resist a great deal of pressure and I can’t guess how that felt to him at the time. Nobody gets to know in advance how posterity will judge their decisions, but of course he made the right call. The conventional regimen had never helped anyone do what he was trying to do, so he let go of it.

The modern step-family (i.e., with kids being raised by parents in different homes) has never existed as a significant social construct anywhere in the world before now. The first laws pertaining to joint physical custody of children after divorce are barely 40 years old and already there are an estimated 12 million stepfamilies in the U.S. alone. Stepfamily life is a novel situation for humanity;  it’s going to require some adaptation in order for these re-marriages to thrive and for children to flourish.

Statistics reveal that almost 3 out of 4 of step-couples persist in thinking that the tried-and-true parenting traditions still apply to this novel situation. They’ll stick stubbornly to their belief all the way until they hear the long beep of a flatlining marriage and say “we tried everything and nothing worked.” They encourage others to follow the same route or shame them for choosing an alternative path, convinced that theirs is the only sensible approach.

Back to Roger Bannister.  No sooner had he blazed a trail into the history books as the fastest mile-runner alive, someone else was able to repeat his achievement mere weeks later. Soon after, 3 runners cracked the 4-minute barrier in a single race! And on, and on. Once someone showed that it could be done and people believed it was possible, and it actually was possible. The “nay-sayers” were eating their hats!

I believe it’s the adapters of unconventional strategies who are going to cross the finish line of stepfamily satisfaction and here’s why:

•    Adopting unconventional strategies involves personal growth, which by extension benefits children and spouses, even professional or business activities.

•    Children come to respect parents and step-parents for their integrity and for how they model their values instead of simply fearing them for their power.

•    Novel parenting techniques result in compliant behaviour instead of imposed obedience. They heal the wounds of divorce instead of just working around them, allowing parents to raise resilient, confident, emotionally intelligent adults.

To my knowledge, nobody is yet studying the outcomes of unconventional thinking in step-parenting so there is no data available, but anecdotal reports on social media forums that I monitor suggest that alternative approaches are helping thousands of families to live harmonious, happy lives.

I salute the Roger Bannisters of the world, and all the courageous parents and step-parents who are open to trying something new for the sake of their own happiness and for everyone coming along behind them. Show this to your partner and be a solidly unconventional team!

Step-Parent S.O.S: Find Your Phone Buddy!

This might be the most important thing you read today.

#Wouldn’t it be nice to talk to someone who understands what you are going through in your stepfamily day-to-day? It would be so great to feel like you’re not alone, like some of this cray-cray might actually be normal…

There’s someone out there who feels exactly the same way, and boy – would she be glad to hear from you!

Yes, you would be doing her a great big freaking favour if you would find her contact details and send her a private message. Here’s what to say:

Dear ___________,

Read your post online today. Sounds like you are actually living my life! Any chance you’d be open to talking some time? I would really love to chat with another stepmom, so let me know if you’re up for a call!


Your name.

Easy, right?

Now, if she accepts, here’s how to approach this:

  1. Plan a first call to introduce yourselves to each other. Make an agreement to keep it to 20 minutes or so, and put a timer on so you don’t fall down a rabbit hole of stories right away.
  2. Make a time for a second call, and agree to a structure where you each get half the time allotted to tell your own stuff. Use a timer – this is important!
  3. Your job is to either talk, or listen. That sounds obvious, but it’s not. Don’t offer advice, try not to comment as she goes along with how this or that sounds just like what happened to you. You’re allowed to say “Uh-huh…what else?” or “What was that like for you?” or “Wow, I can imagine how I would feel if that happened to me.” Your whole job here is to hold space for her to talk.
  4. When it’s your turn, she’ll do the same for you. She’ll just listen, without judgement, without cutting you off, without falling apart even if she’s feeling your pain.

Share this with her so she understands the ground rules. They’ll be a big help, because it’s easy to just feel like you’re supposed to say something back, to fix a problem. The benefit is in being heard – you don’t need to do anything else.

This might be the most important thing you read today.

Go ahead, find that woman whose posts make you feel grounded and normal, or the one whose life situation mirrors yours so closely. Let’s get social – really social, not behind our avatars but human voices helping each other.

You won’t be sorry.

Go ahead and grab this free download, 3 Secrets Of Successful Stepmoms!


Start Thinking Smaller.

It’s not just the antidote to overwhelm, it’s the answer to most of your stepmom problems.

There are only two reactions to overwhelm. You either become paralyzed or you spin your wheels. If you’re one of those people who find that being overwhelmed makes you more productive, it’s not really overwhelm, it’s more like challenge.

Overwhelm is a challenge too, in its own way. It challenges us to find another response to this combination of high expectations, low resources and zero hope of prevailing. This is just as true inside your blended family as it is in the workplace.

The most important skill you need to develop is the ability to think small, to break the problem down to the tiniest actionable step, and then make just one miniature move.

For example, weekends with the step-kids are total chaos. They are wired when they arrive and the transition is always difficult. They are demanding, loud and needy. Your partner copes by focusing on the TV. They complain about what you make them to eat. They drop their stuff everywhere and the house is a mess.

Where can you begin?

Here are some tiny things you can do keep from feeling overwhelmed.

  • Put 10 drops of Rescue Remedy into a tall glass of water and sip. Repeat as needed. This will calm your nerves and leave you able to drive the car, unlike a glass of wine which is an otherwise excellent suggestion if escape is not part of your game plan.
  • Suggest a routine “welcome activity” that’s the same every time they arrive: pizza, bowling, ice cream, music, card games, waffles, whatever. The predictable routine will be welcome and help them calm down sooner. You don’t have to do it, by the way. It’s the suggestion that’s tiny.
  • Don’t make the food. Problem solved. If that feels too big, go smaller – just get dad to dish it out and put it in front of them.
  • Find something to do outside of the house. For yourself, I mean. You don’t have to be there every minute the kids are visiting, and they will be glad to have dad all to themselves. Think of something small – take yourself out for a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Sit at a bookstore.
  • Do the ESR (Emotional Stress Release) move. Go somewhere you can close the door. Close your eyes and lightly cover your forehead with one hand. Visualize the crapstorm happening on the other side of your closed door for 20 seconds or so. Now, replay that little video clip and tack on a lovely, calm, utterly pleasing end sequence. Smile and take a deep breath.
  • Repeat this phrase, aloud or silently to yourself: “I am not responsible for this. My only job is to help my partner be a good parent – it’s not to do any of the parenting for him.” The next step is to let go of how it looks with you not doing any of his parenting.

Start small – you can pick just one of these tiny gestures and if it feels good, go ahead and try another one.

All that matters is that you keep moving. Change might be glacially slow in coming, but this too shall pass.

Are you a member of The Spectacular Stepmom on Facebook? Join us there!

3 Common Misconceptions About Parental Alienation

This is the situation divorced parents fear more than any other (OK, maybe next to child support payments that empty your bank account!). If you are determined to put the needs of your kids first, it’s very hard to see them being held hostage by your angry ex. It feels like a really helpless, hopeless predicament but it’s not!

As a stepmom supporting an alienated parent, you can help them to take an optimistic perspective on their situation. That’s how I saw my role, anyway. I really believe that I played a part in helping my whole family overcome this problem by staying positive and keeping us emotionally afloat!

I won’t lie – it wasn’t easy. I had a cartload of resources and knowledge from my working life as a health consultant and I relied on a small army of support professionals who held me up when I was down.

Here are some common misconceptions that stop parents from taking constructive action:

  1. There’s nothing you can do
  2. The kids are probably saying what they mean anyway
  3. It’s going to cost a fortune to deal with it

Let’s take these one at a time:

1. There is something you can do – actually, there are a lot of things. The most important part is keeping a positive mental attitude despite the heartbreaking circumstances. One important thing to be aware of is that most kids eventually reach out to the alienated parent and build a close relationship, but it can take years until they are old enough or strong enough to do it.

Much of what you can do today is to fortify yourself for a long wait. You probably know what’s coming next – my list of things to do to keep yourself positive! The best thing you can do for your partner is to share your positive energy.

I can spell it out for you here, but I don’t expect all of you to be able to implement all of these things on your own. Nevertheless, I encourage you to try any or all of these for yourself and reach out for help to go deeper or to become more secure in your positive attitude.

Gratitude Journal (grab my free template > here < )


EFT (tapping)

Essential Oils/Bach Flowers (I generally choose these individually for each client’s unique needs, but there is info available online if you want to self-treat with these)

2. It’s important for dad to give his kids space to be angry at him, and the same is true for you. It’s true that their life changed when their parents divorced and they have a right to be angry about that and to talk about that if they need to.

On the other hand, your step-kids are not saying what they mean if they don’t want to visit anymore, they’re saying what they have to say to survive. In their minds, survival means receiving love from the dominating parent (in this context, bio-mom). Her love for them is surely real, but it’s conditional on taking her side and rejecting dad. Kids have to meet what they believe the conditions are in the only way they can.

My own step kids have been able to talk about their experiences with alienation and they say they felt they had to hide their desire to visit or to live with their dad. Some kids naturally want to protect and support their mom, who they may perceive as being more emotionally needy than dad in many ways. Moms are more likely to lean on their children for support, although the reverse can certainly be seen as well.

In a way, kids know that the parent who loves them unconditionally will keep loving them no matter what, but the one who lays out conditions (whether they know they are doing that or not) will withdraw his or her love if they don’t play their cards right. The kids are therefore walking this tightrope perfectly – they get love from both parents in this way!

3. It can cost a fortune, but it doesn’t have to. Family law is big business and it thrives on your highly charged emotions. Make sure you are dealing with your emotions in another way (see #1 for ideas). Then, check out Legal Shield, which is a membership system for prepaid legal services. It’s a bit like a typical Auto Club where you pay a fee that gives you access to towing, battery charging or lock-picking. Legal Shield gives you access to unlimited questions with a lawyer by telephone, and a discounted fee with a qualified lawyer in your area if you need to be represented in court. They also have a phone app with an emergency button so you can get a lawyer on the phone inside of 3 minutes! I spoke with one stepmom who says that she and her husband successfully re-instated visitation of his children after BM refused to follow court orders. Eventually, they even got full custody of both kids and the fees they paid were both reasonable and affordable – like, under $5K for the 7-year process!

In the end, remember that your partner is doing all the rowing, so his back is facing the goal. Your work is to face forward, keep him on course and report signs of progress! Don’t forget that you don’t have to do this all alone – help is all around you.

BTW, If you’re not already a member of my Facebook group >>The Spectacular Stepmom<<, come on over and join us!

The cure for picky eating [and BONUS: The cure for ANGST over picky eating!].


CLICK BELOW to join my 4 day livestream video challenge from Monday March 9 to Thursday March 12, 2020. You can watch live, on replay or listen in audio only mode and download the tips and recipes too!


The book I mentioned is The Collapse of Parenting by Leonard Sax.

Please come on over and join us on social media, if that’s your jam. We’re at The Spectacular Stepmom on Facebook.

Ready for some one on one advice you so you can feel lighter and more optimistic about stepfamily life? Want to learn how to support your husband through the challenge of parental alienation? Set up a free call and we can talk about what this kind of support might look like for you!


Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/essentialstepmom/message

Confessions of a people-pleasing stepmom [and the 3 stages of a recovery-in-progress]


What can I say? It’s true, I’m a work in progress.

Brene Brown’s audio-book The Power of Vulnerability is available from her website, http://www.brenebrown.com

Visit my website at http://www.essentialstepmom.com

Join the Facebook group, The Spectacular Stepmom

We have a group for your spouse called One For The Dads too!

Got my free guide yet? Grab it here: Playing Hard To Like: 10 Challenging Stepkid Personalities and How To Win Them Over

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/essentialstepmom/message