Walking on Step-Parenting Eggshells


Please note: every step-parent’s story is different. I write this not to hurt anyone, but to bring awareness to what happens on the other side. I hate the title “step-children;” I call both my step-daughters “my children,” but for the purposes of this article, I am using the term “step-children.” In everyday life, they are my children.

Put your right hand over your heart and hold your left hand up. Repeat after me, “You are in a no-win situation and nothing you will ever do will be good enough.” This should be the step-parent’s motto. 

I am in my second marriage. My ex-husband had three children from previous relationships and my current husband has two children from a previous marriage. During my first marriage I would often hear from my ex-husband, “You don’t have children, so you don’t know.” I now have a precious little two-year-old boy and I can say with utmost certainty that step-parenting is WAY harder than parenting.

(Remember, this is my perspective. Everyone has a different story and I am jealous of the families/exes who are able to blend their families for their children’s sake. I wish I were in that situation.)

No matter what, my son is mine. I am his mother and regardless of what I say or do, he will have me as his mother. He is stuck with me until the day I die and I have every right to put in my two-cents. My step-children have a choice, however. I am not their mother, nor do I try to be, although I am on their team. I am another person who loves them and has their back; a person who wants to be there for them as much as they will let me. But, they don’t have to let me in, nor do they have to have a relationship with me if they don’t want to. If I say something they may not like, they know I don’t have “rank.” I am not their mother, father, grandfather, etc.; I am just the “step-mom.” They have a choice, while my son doesn’t.

They can take me or leave me, and they will still have a mom and a dad.

This idea usually translates into the notion that I, as the step-mom, can buy them stuff, take them here and there, etc., but when it comes to discipline, I don’t hold rank. I am just the step-mom. I can ask for respect and for them to do things like keeping their room clean, helping with laundry, etc., but I am setting myself up for behind-the-back talk if the step-children don’t like it. I was once told that asking my step-child (who is older than 13 years of age) to put folded, clean clothes in her bedroom makes me hateful, and that I should be doing it because I am the mom, so it is *my* job to put the clothes away. This request also led to me being talked badly about to the “real” family — how hateful a person I am to ask such things. I ask my son to put his toys away and although it might take a few tries to get him to focus, he does. But again, that’s okay to outside parties because my son is mine and my step-children are not.

I don’t ask my step-children anything different from what I ask and will ask my son.

Because my son and step-children are very different ages, they are asked to do very different things. But I am pretty sure I will be telling my son to throw away garbage, put dishes in the sink, empty the dishwasher, help take out the trash, make the bed, keep room clean, put clothes away, etc., when he is older, too.

That is the crazy thing about step-parenting. You ask the same of your step-children that you do your own children, but it’s ok for your own children and not okay for your step-children (let me say that this is *not* my husband’s point of view). As a step-parent, you can do for your step-children, but you cannot ask of them (this was my ex-husband’s opinion).

It is extremely frustrating because it puts a wedge in the relationship you, as a step-parent, are trying to build with your step-children. Again, I do not nor will ever replace their mom. I don’t want to. But when you marry your spouse, you marry his/her children, and you can’t help but want to love them as if they were your own. They are your family however, and these “eggshells” get in the way because anything you say or do will be held against you. It doesn’t matter what the real family says. It is in one ear and out the other, but as a step-parent, you make one wrong move or say one wrong thing, and you are done for.

Although I am a step-parent, I am still me — I have to be true to me.

Therefore, as right or wrong as it may be in the step-parenting handbook, I will ask for simple tasks to be done. If I am hated for it, I am hated for it. If it makes me evil, it makes me evil. Again, I don’t ask for anything different from what I ask (or will ask) of my son.

I wish I could say I am in a great place with both of my step-children, but I am not. I have a great relationship with one and not the other. Do I hope this changes? Absolutely. But for now, I will keep walking on eggshells while questioning every move I make, praying that I’ll be able to foster a strong relationship with both of them.

Other step-parents: let me know what works for you and your family. I am willing to take suggestions which may help clear up my “step-mom wart” so that my blended family can just be a family without the eggshells. 


  1. I hope some day soon she realizes that as parents we can only do what we believe is best to raise responsible adults, no matter how unfun or unfair it feels. Good luck!!! And I hope you grow to question yourself less as time goes by.

  2. We need to be best friends. I have 3 stepkids – not how I refer to them normally – 17 & twin 13s. I’ve been their stepmom for over a decade. I have two miracle babies (3 & 2) that I was told I’d never have. The last couple of years with the 17 year old rough, but (fingers crossed) we seem to be getting back to a good place. Their bio mom could care less about silly things like passing grades and discipline, so all 3 have come close to failing school despite having the capability to be straight A students. I echo your sentiments wholeheartedly- I wish we could just be a team and work together to raise these awesome kids!!

  3. Yep. Yep. Yep! The eggshells…that’s exactly how I refer to it! And step-parenting is so.much.harder than bio-parenting. Like, a million times harder and i dont feel like tjsts am exaggeration. And maybe part of that is because I’m hyper aware of each eye roll and non-compliant action, whereas with my son and daughter I can parent with the “this is my expectation” mentality and for the most part they do it because they don’t have another home with other rules. It’s getting a little easier as the years progress but those first few years were torture figuring our “new family” out. Thanks for this. I feel less alone.

  4. I have often looked at this from my step kids point of view, re:how their loyalty will of course go to their mother. How they even feel guilt if they get too close to me or spend time with me. My step kids were almost grown when I married their Dad and I had no kids of my own. So I wonder if I placed too much importance on them as the only kids I’ll ever have and then pull back to not be presumptuous and step in their deserving Moms way. Push/pull. Another idea is they don’t need me. I am just Dads wife, so they don’t try to have a relationship. But it does hurt to make the effort over to have a relationship and never get a call except to ask for Dad, or get a birthday card even. I have another friend in the same boat. She and her man have been together 30 years and one stepdaughter really just doesn’t need my friend at all. Just her father. We blame ourselves so much for not doing enough but sometimes it’s a brick wall of loyalty of whatever. Not sure

  5. Omg! This is me exactly. As one responder said, I am not sure if it is just that I have become hyper awar ed of each eye roll and mumbled comment, but my step-daughter and I just can’t seem to get along. I have been with her dad for 7 years now and we have a child of our own too. She is nice and funny and helpful when she wants something from me but the minute I say no or something she doesn’t like, it is all disrespect and eye rolling. I hold no sway. It is so frustrating especially when all I am trying to do is mold her into a responsible adult. Thank you for sharing! We should form a club! 😉

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