Feeling Like The Third Wheel? Coping Strategies for Stepmoms

When I first became a stepmom, I thought I had at least a vague idea of what I was getting into. Sure, I didn’t have kids of my own, but how hard could this be? I was always great with kids and I was so head over heels with my husband that I was happy to step up and take on this challenge.

Well, speaking of challenge, I’ve definitely encountered lots of them over my four-year career as a stepmom. Luckily, overall, we are an exceptionally happy blended family but I have no shame admitting that we have had our share of struggles along the way. This unique position comes with no manual and I have often found the journey confusing, awkward and isolating. Interestingly, one of the most robust feelings I have experienced as a stepmom went unnamed for years. I never wanted to talk about this feeling because it induced guilt, but there was no denying it existed. The feeling was similar to that “third wheel” feeling you might get when hanging with your friend and her boyfriend for too long. As soon as I became a stepmom, I often began to feel like an outsider in my own home. Naturally, my husband would dote on his two children and the three of them would enjoy reminiscing about memories they shared. Their behavior was perfectly innocent but it totally made me feel like an “outsider”.

Thankfully, through my vlog Nacho Mom, I had the opportunity to interview licensed stepfamily therapist, June Taylor. When we were discussing potential topics to discuss during our interview session, she insisted that we talk about the “Stuck Insider/Outsider Challenge”. It sounded way to clinical and unrelatable to me but when she explained it, I realized she had hit the nail on the head for this weird excluded feeling I had been experiencing in my own family. She eloquently described it like this:

“This core challenge starts early in the relationship and weaves itself all the way through, even in mature, long established stepfamilies. As soon as the stepchild walks in the room or interrupts the conversation, a good parent turns to the child. At this point, the stepparent is the outsider. This happens over and over in stepfamily structure.”

It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. It is an icky way to feel but talking about it with other like-minded stepmoms was so comforting and truly helpful. Furthermore, June not only enlightened me about this challenge almost all stepmoms face at one point or another, but she also shared some strategies to help cope:

Healthy Coping Strategies:

– Normalize the situation. Feeling like the outsider at times is something that just comes with the stepmom territory. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed about it.

– Carve out quality one on one time for each relationship within the family structure. Step couple time, Bio parent with children time, and stepparent with children time.

– As the stepmom, shift from the outsider position to the insider position by choosing activities that are your specialty so you can “show” the family. For example, if you love to paint, take the family for a painting lesson where you are the expert.

– Make some time for yourself. Don’t feel guilty of taking some time to retreat to your own space and disconnecting for a bit. Everyone needs to recharge!

June and I went on to discuss the importance of good interpersonal communication skills. Regardless of what challenge you and your spouse face, being able to communicate with each other effectively is key. June suggests not agreeing, but rather empathizing. Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and vice versa. Practicing empathy will not only help you get through the insider/outsider challenge, but also any other challenge that comes your way. At the very least, know you are not alone stepmamma! There are so many of us living the same experience and talking about it with each other will only help.