Approximately 1/3 of all weddings in America today form in stepfamilies. More and more women are becoming stepmoms.
Unfortunately, the stereotypes about stepmoms aren’t what many moms aspire to be—and functioning well as a stepmom is challenging and unique.
So, I contacted today’s guest—Michaela Bucchianeri, to help us out. Mikayla is a clinical psychologist, speaker, and coach who blends the science of psychology and the art of stepmom eating. Mikayla explicitly helps women in this unique role to create a stepmom identity that’s all their own.
Whether you’re a seasoned stepmom assumed to be a stepmom or simply someone curious about the complexities of stepfamily dynamics. You’re in the right place.
In this episode, Michaela talks about:
- Her journey on how she became a stepmom
- How to overcome burnout as a stepmom
- The unique challenges of being a stepmom including control, grief, and ambiguity
- Difference between stepmom and biological mom
- Why stepmoms feel isolated
- How she bonded with her stepkids and tips to bond with yours
- Advice for stepmoms struggling to find their place in the household/family system
Get Organized HQ
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Dr. Michaela Bucchianeri is a clinical psychologist, speaker, and coach living in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, with her husband and two stepsons. Blending the science of psychology and the art of stepmom-ing, Michaela helps women in this unique role to create a stepmom identity that’s all their own– so they can worry less, shift their energy to whatever lights them up, and start having way more fun!
Connect with Michaela
- Website: https://www.theanxiousstepmom.com/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theanxiousstepmom/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/anxiousstepmom
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/theanxiousstepmom/
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@theanxiousstepmom
Check out this unique resource exclusively for listeners of Real Happy Mom: https://www.theanxiousstepmom.com/realhappymom
Transcript of this Episode
Approximately 1/3 of all weddings in America today form in step families. More and more women are becoming step moms. And unfortunately, the stereotypes about step moms aren’t what you would aspire to be. And functioning well as a stepmom is challenging and unique. So I reached out to today’s guests. Mikayla to help us out. Mikayla is a clinical psychologist, speaker and coach who blends the science of psychology and the art of stepmom eating. Mikayla specifically helps women in this unique role to create a stepmom identity that’s all their own. Whether you’re a seasoned stepmom assumed to be stepmom, or simply someone curious about the complexities of a step family dynamics. You’re in the right place. Hey there, my name is Tony and I am the host of the real happy mom Podcast, the podcast for busy working moms who need help with time management and achieving their big goals without pulling their hair out. In random fact about me. I live in Nebraska for five years, so I know all about the cold weather. In today’s episode, Mikayla talks candidly about the unique challenges of being a stepmom and how to overcome burnout as a stepmom. I’m sure after listening to this episode, you’ll feel more empowered to step out of the overwhelm and find your place in the family system as a stepmom but before we dive into this episode, I wanted to make a quick announcement about now that I don’t want you to miss I’m talking about get organized HQ virtual. Get organized HQ virtual is the one stop shop for all things life, home and organization. It’s a five day online event that starts on Monday, September 11, and centers around practical real life strategies for creating homes filled with more peace and less stress. And this year, there are over 100 Women who are sharing tips, tricks, advice and secrets on everything from budgeting, and meal planning to decorating and decluttering. And the best part about this event, it is completely free. So head on over to Real happy mom.com/get organized HQ to get your free ticket. Now let’s go ahead and jump into this week’s episode. So every mom has a unique journey in motherhood. Some have interesting birth stories some moms adopt, and then there’s others that become step moms. So let’s start from the beginning and tell us how you became a stepmom.
I’ve heard it said before that no one ever dreams of becoming a stepmom. And that is certainly true. In my case, when I met my now husband, I was planning to just be in this area in the Twin Cities of Minnesota for a couple of years. I’m from the Bay Area in California originally, but we met and I thought oh, I’ve been troubled because he he lives here. And he’s very much staying here because he was a divorced dad of two little boys at the time. And so I went through kind of a real process of figuring out am I am I up for this? Could I actually see myself becoming a stepmom as I got to know him. And as I talked with him about this, I realized that yes, I’m up for trying this. That was about 11 years ago. So we took the process of me stepping into a stepmom role pretty slowly. So as we were dating, we spent about We dated for about six months before I met the boys. And they were three and five at the time when I met them. But that was just it feels like just yesterday and also a million years ago, because as I said they’re teenagers now, but we were together for several more years after that before we got married. And now we’ve been married for about seven years.
So being a mom is challenging, but being a stepmom has his own unique challenges. So what would you say are some of the challenges you faced as a stepmom?
I think there were many challenges and a lot of them were self inflicted, I would say looking back, I’ve seen lots of places where I made things harder than they needed to be. But I think that’s the case for a lot of us no matter what our mom’s story looks like. But I would kind of collapse them into a couple different categories. So one would be overthinking and the other would be over functioning. So overthinking in the sense that once I realized, okay, yes, I am going to I’m going to try and be in this stepmom role. I’m in this for the long haul. I sort of defaulted to my natural setting, which is like sponge up all the information I can find. So I read every book I scrolled through every forum post online. And the problem with that is that when you really deep dive into information overload, it can do just that it can overload you, it can also bring just a really heavy energy to what you know, relationship wise should be the sweet time of getting to know each other and so That was my experience, I had kind of one foot in the, you know, the heart eyes of just like just dating this person that I’m getting to know. And also reading all the scary statistics of separation and divorce rates of step families. And so what I would recommend is, when you’re facing that tendency to want to, you know, over educate yourself, focus on quality over quantity, because I do think it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with some key terms. So if I could go back, I would have gone to high quality sources, and I’m happy to share I can share some resources here at the end of where, where step moms can go and locate this information. But you know, just learning a few key terms, like learning what a loyalty bind is, would have been really helpful in getting some empathy and understanding for what my stepkids were likely feeling in navigating relationships between two households, that would have been really helpful. But yeah, more is not necessarily better when it comes to learning the ropes as a stepmom.
Okay. So overthinking is something that I know we’ve all been guilty of. Now, I’m sure there are other challenges that we can relate to.
The other area where I faced some challenge was in over functioning, like basically just doing the most, because it was really born out of Not, not quite knowing what to do. And so oftentimes, step moms are eager to get in there and try and make up for lost time. And so we can find ourselves, trying to smooth out all the wrinkles for everybody pick up all the slack. And what that can lead to and what happened for me is that I gradually dropped just about every one of the self care practices I had in place, up to that point. And so that could really, that really led me to a place of burnout, which is an experience that a lot of step moms have.
Sometimes when we are trying so hard to make a good impression, or we are trying not to traumatize the kids or even just fit in as a stepmom, burnout can start to creep in. So what are some ways to avoid burnout as a stepmom so that there’s harmony within the home?
I would say that instead of trying to be everything for everyone. Really start by focusing on yourself, because everything that happens in your step family, quite frankly, is influenced by the quality of the relationship with your partner that is so central. And I knew that and fortunately, I was focusing on our relationship. But only many years later, did I have a full appreciation in the rearview mirror of how central that was to everything else in our family. And your relationship with your partner is absolutely a reflection of your own well being how you’re doing. So I would encourage any stepmom to first start with you What do you need to get your mind right each day to sustain you through the week, what’s going to light you up and nurture the parts of you that have nothing to do with being a stepmom. Then prioritize your relationship with your partner do what you can to guard it and protect it, give it real airtime on your calendar, you do these things and I promise everything else in your step family life becomes significantly easier.
Now there are some unique complexities of being a stepmom that I really wanted you to unpack because they are things that I feel like are not talked about. So go through a couple other challenges or unique complexities that that moms probably aren’t talking so much about.
Stepmom is a blanket term for a whole wide range of experiences. So just around the topic of children, for example, some step moms come to this role with kids of their own from a previous relationship. Others, like me are childless or child free. And still others of us go on to have children with our partners while others don’t. But in general, there are some themes that come up for a lot of step moms. And each of these absolutely came up for me. So the first has to do with control. So what I mean by that is, by the time they become step moms, many women are pretty used to calling the shots in our own lives. Like we tend to have autonomy in our work, our finances, our living space, our free time, everything. So by joining a family system, you didn’t create a step mom can find herself thrust into this like pre existing set of rules and norms. Many of them are unspoken, that were determined and decided without her involvement or input. There is a lot in place in a step family that the stepmom can’t actively control or at least not on their own without some discussion or collaboration or compromise. But that still very much affects their day to day life. That was that was a piece that I didn’t fully anticipate just things big and small that influenced my day to day schedule are finding and says how, how our time looked, holidays, everything. And a lot of that was set in motion already. Now, that doesn’t mean a stepmom can’t have a place in navigating and shifting and maybe revising that over time. But it can be a rude awakening for a lot of step moms when they first step into this role. The second piece has to do with grief. So a lot of step moms talk about grieving, missing out on the first. So think about kind of, there’s the step family. And then there’s the first family. So the first family pre divorce, pre separation, whatever that looked like. So oftentimes, I’ll hear from step moms who have this sense of loss over, you know, they, they might go on to get engaged and maybe marry their partner, but it was not their parent, that was not their partners. First, they might purchase a home together. But that might be the step mom’s first. But it was not her partner’s first first baby, and on and on and on. There can also be a profound sense of loss of the freedom you had. As a single woman, I remember feeling that way, I have this memory of coming back from a yoga class. So this is on the other side of my initial over functioning and burnout. When I finally realized, like, no one asked me to stop going to my yoga class, I just sort of did that on my own. So with my partner’s encouragement, I went back to this class that I got so much out of, and I was driving home, and I pulled up it was evening, and I could see into the window and I see my, my husband, their folding laundry, the the kids are around him, they were still pretty little. And I just remember thinking, like, I was excited to go see them, I love them. And I had this like wave of sadness come over me that it was just like I had rounded a corner and Gone were the days of me just going back to my own apartment and living my own life just as a single woman. And I think oftentimes there’s guilt that comes up for step mom’s in in grieving that loss. And I think just being allowed to feel it feel it all at once, because it’s all normal. And then the third piece of challenge or unique dynamics and complexities that can be inherent in being a stepmom is this peace of ambiguity. So there’s tremendous ambiguity about lots of different things in step motherhood. So there’s ambiguity about the past. I’ve described it before, like, it’s like coming in midway through a movie, and you’re learning all the characters and you have a sense of the plot, but you’re relying mainly on like one person summary as you’re trying to play catch up, like your partner’s cluing you in on what all went down before. But there’s, you have this sense of like, I’m missing information. And so there can be ambiguity for step mom’s. There’s also ambiguity about the future, like so many aspects of step family life are moving targets, we talk about things that are constantly evolving. And this can raise questions about what life is going to look like down the road. And finally, and probably this was the biggest one for me, there’s ambiguity about your current role, like, What even is my purpose here, in this household, in our family? Maybe in our broader community? What are everyone’s expectations of me? And how does all that square with my own expectations? So it’s, it’s a whole lot, it’s a whole lot to wrap your head around.
Being a stepmom is different from being the biological mom for obvious reasons. But there are some common themes that come up for step moms that are not talked about often. So let’s go through some of the differences between step moms and biological moms.
I could like fill a whole episode here with just some differences. But I guess what, what I’ll say is two, there are two really big ones that come up again, and again, like so many of these things. They’re more like themes that cut across lots of different situations. So again, with the disclaimer that stepfamilies look all different types of way. Something that comes up for many of us some one difference is a sense of there being a double standard. So what I mean by that is many step moms will talk about having this really deep sense that they are granted all the responsibilities without many of the rights. So often step moms are enlisted to help with practical tasks like homework, housework, transportation, maybe financial contributions, and the and more invisible responsibilities. So, oftentimes step moms will carry a significant portion of the mental load in a household, or they’ll be called upon to hold space for really big feelings by different members of the family. But when it comes to some of the traditional rites and honors bestowed on Mothers, so certain holidays or milestones in the kid’s life, hives step moms can feel as though they’re walking on eggshells not wanting to move in on mom’s turf. And unfortunately, even without anyone in the step family trying to communicate that message, we’re sort of immersed in it culturally, there’s so many of these messages swirling around us that it can be really difficult to navigate. Step moms also feel often very isolated. And that’s the second big difference is that many step moms feel that there’s really no place to vent. So when I say event, I’m not thinking of like, really big, like, we need to address this conflict issues I’m talking about. Okay, so you think about like your most demanding day, as a mom, it’s just been one of those days where like, everyone’s needing something from you, you’re juggling a zillion different things. And then at just like, the time when you needed at the least somebody has a meltdown, or spills their food all over the place, like something happens, that is just like, Yep, that was the final little straw that I did not need. And now I’m done. This, this same scenario, when a mom vents about it publicly or semi publicly, tends to be received differently than when a stepmom does about the same, very same situation. So what I mean by that is, and I know, it’s not always the case, there’s still plenty of shaming that happens against first family moms. But there’s much more of a movement toward, hey, keep it real, like, share the hard parts of your day mom, like this is not easy. There are spaces online where moms are celebrated for keeping it real and sharing about those challenging parts. They’re safe places like this podcast, where moms can talk about the challenging days and the hard parts where it just doesn’t always feel bright and shiny. But oftentimes, when a stepmom will voice, that those same kinds of frustration, there’s some pushback. So maybe it’s a comment, like, didn’t you know what you’re getting into? Or maybe something more direct? Like, maybe you shouldn’t be a stepmom at all, we don’t tell moms who are venting in a good natured way about how their kids are driving them up the wall, we don’t say maybe you shouldn’t be a mom. And yet, these are the kinds of comments sometimes that step moms will receive. Or maybe there’s just an awkward silence and like the judgmental eyebrow raise, right. So this is often driven by the expectation of bonding another another difference between step moms and biological moms is that there is this expectation that step moms instantly bond with their stepkids, like very soon after meeting them. And what’s so interesting about this, to me is that there’s a wealth of research now that even among biological moms, there’s wide variability in how and when they bought into their children. So the idea that we’d expect a stepmother to instantly bond with a child, that that is not her own is kind of wild. And yet it’s a very pervasive expectation that we have.
Now let’s talk about bonding with your stepkids, because bonding with their partner is one thing, but bonding with kids, it’s a whole other thing. Now, what are some ways that you were able to bond with your stepkids
eight, I would encourage any stepmom listening to this to do your very best, I mean, knowing that you will put pressure on yourself because, again, that usually comes from just really caring a whole lot and wanting to do a good job in this role. But try not to put pressure on yourself to form those connections in a given timeframe, or for it to look a certain way. There are so many factors that can influence the pace and the quality of your relationship with your stepkids. And honestly, I mean, we don’t want to hear it, but many of them are well outside our control. So try to keep your focus on what you can do. And often, it’s the simple things that are the most potent and powerful in forming those positive relationships. So being generous with your attention, giving your full presence and eye contact to your stepkids when you’re speaking to them, knowing that it might not be this like hearts and flowers bonding experience early on, it might be as simple as showing them the respect that you would anyone else you’ve just met. And for women who have more than one stepchild in particular, I want to say it’s crucial that you approach each of those relationships individually. So for instance, in my case, when I met the boys, the younger of my two step sons was a very warm, I mean, he was he was three years old, but he was very warm, very affectionate. Right from the start. he chatted me up, he wanted to give hugs. His brother took longer to open up and get close to me and to be perfectly honest, that’s more my natural style too. It takes me a while to to As someone and open up and I was definitely that way as a kid so that that really didn’t faze me, but depending on your expectation as a stepmom of what it’s going to look like, it can really throw you if one or more of your stepkids just doesn’t give you those immediate signals of warmth right away, just try to hang with it. And know that’s natural. You really can’t ever go wrong by leading with respect. So for me, this looks like never making my stepkids feel like they have to choose between parents or households or mom versus stepmom. There are so many parts of this that are hard on the kids, they didn’t ask for this situation, they didn’t ask to be navigating between households. And so even though we can’t take those difficulties away from them, we for sure can make the commitment not to add additional stresses and pressures on top of them. So we try to communicate just this kind of posture of openness. You are free to share anything about life with your mom or your life at that house. Like we want to hear about it because we love you. But we’re not pumping them for details. And we’re certainly not shutting down those conversations when they come up again, that for me just comes back to respect. And that’s something fortunately that a stepmom can uphold. Regardless of whether she feels quote unquote close with her stepkids, you always can lead with respect. So that’s something you can fall back on. Even on the toughest day.
What advice would you give for a stepmom that is struggling to find her place in the family system?
It can be so so hard, because because there are so many demands on us because it’s such a kind of uncharted territory, we aren’t given this map to navigating the stepmom role. I find it really helpful in those times to just go back to basics. And one of the best pieces of advice I heard when I was in my own stepmom journey, was fast forwarding ahead to when your step kids are grown. What do you want them to remember about their interactions with you about life with you? And again, the tendency can be to overcomplicate that, like, Oh, what do I want to teach them? Or, like I have to make each moment count? It’s not about that. It’s about what do I want the feeling? What kind of feeling? Do I want to come over them when someone asks Oh, what oh, you had a stepmom? What was that? Like? Because again, we know I mean, check any Disney movie. It’s not a good luck most stepmoms. And so for me, it was very clear, I don’t I want my stepkids to have warm memories of me. I want them to feel like I am like I was a positive, respectful, compassionate presence in their life. And I want them to know that lifelong, I hope they can always come to me with whatever, whatever is going on for them. And they’ll be treated with kindness, and they’ll be received just as they are. And so when you’re struggling to find your place in the house, in the in the family system in the household, trying to remember okay, how do I want people to feel when they leave this interaction with me? How do I want them to feel when they walk in our door? Is it going to be a tense environment? Or is it a place where everyone can feel like they’re welcome? Whatever that looks like on a given day, that’s something that really has become kind of my Northstar, as over the past decade is always coming back to that, like I can control the quality of my interaction moment to moment with my stepkids. I hope you
have enjoyed this week’s episode, but the fun does not have to stop here. Make sure to get the links in the show notes mentioned in this episode by going over to Real happy mom.com/ 211 That’s real happy. mom.com/ 211 But wait, there’s something special just for you from Makayla,
I have created a special page on my website. So it’s the anxious stepmom.com/real happy mom. So the anxious stepmom.com/real happy mom and that’ll be just for your audience. And then we’ll have links to stepmom resources, there’s a quiz that they can take there to help connect them with some resources that might be most supportive depending on what they’re going through right now.
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode and listening all the way to the end. Make sure to stay tune in next week for another episode with Kate house where we will unlock how we can overcome guilt and understand the importance of self prioritization for our overall well being. That’s it for this week. Take care and with lots of love