EPISODE #126

When "I Do" Makes You A Parent, Too

EPISODE #126

When "I Do" Makes You A Parent, Too

For many of us, the word “stepparent” conjures up images like this:

Evil stepmothers. The Brady Bunch. That’s what came to mind for our guests, Jillian, Lyndsay and John, when they thought about stepparents as kids. But then they became stepparents themselves, and they realized that becoming someone’s parent through marriage is actually pretty complicated stuff. These three have very different stepparenting stories—so we invited them all to our studio for a roundtable discussion on what being in a blended family is really like.

Me, John, Lyndsay, and Jillian

Our Panel

Jillian met her stepson when he was just a toddler. Since then, she and her husband have have two biological children together.

Jillian with her family

Lyndsay started dating her husband when she was 23. He was 32. It took him a month to admit to her that he had an 11-year-old daughter.

Lyndsay and her husband, Peter

John already had a kid from a previous marriage when he got together with his wife, and she had two of her own. When they blended their families, the girls were seven, five and three years old.

John

John’s daughters

Tune in to hear some of the unique challenges—and surprising advantages—of parenthood when kids come to you because of who you’re dating.

What has surprised YOU about stepparenting?
We know tons of you are stepparents or have stepparents. Tell us about the challenges, wins, and unexpected perks of your blended family!

Lyndsay’s wedding photos: Our Two Hearts Photography; John’s headshot: Katie Friedman

Our sponsors for this episode are Detour, Third Love, Sunbasket, and Casper mattresses. Use the promo codes at checkout for a special discount.

26 thoughts on “EPISODE #126: When “I Do” Makes You A Parent, Too

  1. I just listened to this episode. It was very interesting. However, as a married mom who doesn’t have any step family members, the conversation horrifies me in a way that is hard to explain. The thought of someone else being a parent to my children makes me feel awful. I love that there is a platform for step families to have recognition, support, and celebration. But I wonder if on the other side of some step families there are spouses that had a step-family relationship forced on them. There is infidelity, abandonment, and other ways that a spouse can have the family they created broken into pieces by someone else’s choices. And then the spouse who left still has the right to bring a another person into there child’s life to assume a parental role. It would make me angry to have another woman be a mother figure to my children especially if I never wanted my original family to be broken in the first place.

    1. Whether you wanted your family broken apart or not, one would hope you could put your child’s happiness first. My husband’s ex is still angry about their divorce (after 7 years) and frequently trashes him and me to her daughters. She would rather they be unhappy when they are with us because that fits her narrative as the victim of her divorce. Marriages break up. It happens. That’s not a reason to make your children choose between their parents, no matter what the circumstances.

      1. Of course! I would want the best and the happiness of everyone involveveryon. Your husband’s ex isn’t right to talk badly about you to anyone. That is true no matter the circumstances. Marriages end sometimes because one person breaks the promise they made. I am saying for the other spouse who was faithful, watching another another person mother your child may be harder than if it was just a mutual decision. I get that you have to get over it and make the best of so that everyone can move one. It’s just you don’t hear much about that side. Also I would bet there are people who benefit from a conversation about this and support.

  2. The timing of this episode was a bit uncanny for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about what a step parent relationship is recently, as my dad and step mom have gone through a divorce this year and I’ve been struggling with how my 15 month old will continue to relate to my step mom. It’s also changed my dynamic with her, now that our relationship is no longer also defined by her relationship with my dad. My mom and dad got divorced when I was three, and both remarried. My mom divorced my step dad about seven years ago. I guess what I would find really interesting to hear, in addition to the content of this episode, is how people navigate these kinds of shifts. When a mom and dad divorce, they are still your mom and dad, so there’s less questioning of roles. But with my step parents, especially as I’m an adult with my own kid, it’s much more nebulous. And the final kicker to all this is I found out last night (last night!) that my parents have reconnected and are getting back together after 27 years apart. It’s so exciting and also the weirdest thing ever. Love this show so much-thanks for doing what you do.

  3. I married my husband when his daughters were 3 and 7. I am a step mother to two beautiful girls who are now ages 7 and 11. And we have added a little man to our family who is now 3.
    My step daughters have different mothers so this complicates the communication with the blended families. We have civil relationships, but both of their mothers are total opposites. One very free spirited and the other very controlling. I fall in the middle of that spectrum. It’s been hard to set boundaries as rules for our house knowing the boundaries are so different at their mothers homes. I also can’t imagine how complicated it is for the girls having to manage the two. The oldest in our house is the youngest at her mothers house. And the Middle in our house is an only child at her mothers house. So the dynamics are so different for both of them. I often see the oldest struggling with the fact that her younger sister has pretty much everything she could ever want when she often isn’t as spoiled by her mother. Being as fair and consistent as we can at our house has helped midigate that to an extent. The middle daughter really struggled with not being the baby anymore in our house. She has definitely adjusted well in the last year or so when we made it clear that she was a big sister and she needed to teach her little brother things. She accepted that responsibility and has definitely grown! My husband and I have definitely grown as well in supporting each other. I have learned so much from him and the girls too.
    The girls still call me Cat and when they do introduce me as their step mother it lights up my heart.. I have never forced or asked them to call me mom, but when they do it is the best feeling in the world. And I’m always sure to let them know That I am not trying to replace their mothers in any way but I do love them as my own. Its interesting to see how my son is learning that his sisters have a different “mommy” then they do and he will sometimes call me “Cat” then laugh and say “your mama, not Cat.” And the girls often correct him and say “no that’s Mama.”
    I would say the most awkward moments are when the youngest daughter went through a stage where she would want us to “hang out” with her mother, like go to dinner and a movie. She would invite us, it was hard to explain to a 5 year old that that wasn’t going to happen. She is now understanding that we have a blended family and we all get along but we aren’t going to go to the movies together or have dinner together unless it’s her birthday or something celebrating her.
    It has been a great learning experience with our little family and I wouldn’t change it for the world!

  4. I am very new to the world of stepparenting, coming up on one year with my partner (though we haven’t rushed into marriage yet–we want to be responsible about our whirlwind romance, especially for the sake of his daughter). We fell hard and fast, with no doubt in my mind that he was the one (and I was grateful for his sacrifice–his 13 years in the wrong relationship meant an otherwise amazing man was off the market until I was ready to meet him). When I tried to figure out what the catch was I realized it was his 3.5 year old daughter, and decided it was worth it.

    At the beginning, I constantly feared that I was stepping into one of the nightmare scenarios I’d always heard about so I read everything I could get my hands on to try to educate or inoculate myself against trouble, and I began spiraling into a panic at all the statistics about second marriage divorce rates and the percentage of blended families that actually manage to be happy. (If you feel inclined to respond to this saying, “just you wait, I thought we were going to be different and get it right, but you’re just being naive!” you needn’t bother, I’ve read a billion such accounts and each has left me depressed, but my connection to my partner is so strong I can’t fathom making any other choice.)

    Each big step was preceded by a period of extreme anxiety (meeting the ex–she’ll hate me, she’ll try to sabotage our family, she’ll see me as competition, she’ll think I’m trying to replace her; meeting the kid–she’ll reject me, she won’t respect me, she’ll tell me she doesn’t like me and wants her mom back), and yet each time I’ve won the stepfamily lottery and had things to better than expected. The ex immediately (and sincerely, though I was extremely skeptical at first) welcomed me into the family unit, gave me her blessing, and expressed her desire that we all coexist peacefully and multiply the love. The kid was sitting in my lap on the first day and has accepted me into her life without missing a beat. His ex has now entered into a serious relationship herself and the four of us have out to dinner together to discuss the kid and share parenting best practices. I get dinner with the ex every month to cultivate our own relationship independent of my partner or their daughter so that we can all maintain positive and open communication.

    I know it’s very early, my FSD will likely re-process her parents’ divorce over and over again as she gets older (at 4.5 I don’t think she understands it in a societal context yet since she hasn’t been able to compare her family situation to other kids’ very often), who knows what’ll happen when she’s a teenager, the ex could change her mind at any moment and decide to make our lives miserable, the 50/50 custody situation will likely become extremely complicated and possibly contentious once she starts school full time, and I do still carry a bit of low-level anxiety around with me waiting for the other shoe to drop, but I like to think that by educating myself, keeping my expectations low, and giving as much love as I can I will get through this, and hopefully even thrive. If things are still going well in fifteen years I might finally relax and feel like we beat the odds, but until then I’ll continue to be warily grateful that we’re able to take this approach.

  5. This episode meant so much to me. I started listening to LST when I first became a stepmom, and I was desperately seeking models of nontraditional parenting relationships. I like to say “I first met my daughter when she was 3” (which is my weird workaround to calling her a stepdaughter, in case that might make her feel bad). Now she’s 9, and I’m still learning how to cope with all the judgement people heap upon my daughter, and me, and my relationship as soon as they hear the word “step”; I’m still learning how not to hate Mother’s day (I now have a biological child, too, and this year people sent me cards about my “first” Mother’s day that made me feel so small); I’m still learning how to feel like a full parent to my daughter and not like an inappropriate intruder (I still remember how awkward I felt the first time she asked me to wipe her butt!). Thank you so much for making an episode on this topic. LST is always so complex and warm and funny and open, and it makes being a parent better!

  6. My family is like Lyndsay and Peter. My mom and dad got divorced when I was 12 and my sister was 9. When I was 15 my dad met his new wife, she was 22. They went on to have two daughters. I had my two kids in 1988 and 1985. My sister had had her three kids in 1983, 1984 and 1988. My step mom had her two daughters in 1989 in 1994. I’ve always been close with my step mom and my step sisters, I don’t call them step sisters they’re my sisters. It was hard at first for my stepmom, then after she had her kids it really made a big difference with our relationship.

  7. I really liked what Jillian said about being a “bonus parent”. I have a step father and step mother and I prefer to call them bonus parents. I feel like saying “step” implies that they are somehow separate from our families and makes people wonder about your relationship with that parent because of the stigma of evil step parents. By saying “my bonus mom” or “my bonus dad” it breaks that expectation that things are awkward or strained in that relationship. My bonus parents came into my life when I was a preteen and it wasn’t easy at first. It took a while to develop our own unique relationships that I have come to deeply appreciate. They each contribute to my life in really amazing ways and I can’t imagine my life without them. Thank you for exploring this topic with such a diverse range of people.

  8. I sooooo needed to hear this episode. I have been a step mom for about 8 years, and my step daughter is now 15 yrs old. It was very hard for me to understand my role as I was in my mid twenties when I became involved in her life. I fell for my husband hard and loved him from the beginning. However, making our blended family work has been quite the struggle, especially in the teen years. The ex does not support our side of the family and she has resentment and animosity towards us. She does have a partner but no other children. My husband and I had a son who is 1.5 yrs. I have tried my damned hardest to mediate the tension, but it has not created respect or open communication between both homes. My husband and I are in counseling now to try and figure out coping strategies and how to communicate with his daughter. Unfortunately, his ex makes several passive aggressive remarks and back handed comments about us, so we have to be the bigger people (even though I dont want to sometimes!). I hope more episodes are made about this in the future. Blended families are becoming more common and it is great to hear others stories. Thank you.

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