Care and Feeding

I Think I’ve Discovered Why I’ve Been Failing as a Stepmom

I have no idea what to do with this new information.

Woman sitting on a couch with two kids.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Eyecrave productions/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

For 10 years, I’ve been the stepmom to three kids, ages 12, 14, and 16. My husband “Brett” and I have a decent co-parenting relationship with his ex, “Kristin.” I’ve been really unhappy for the past year or so, and believed it was because I’m not doing well at being a stepmom, even though I love the kids very much and treasure our closeness. Recent events have given me new information but I have no idea what to do with it.

In the past six months, the following things have happened:

1. Kristin took the kids on a weeklong vacation. I had zero parenting responsibilities but still felt miserable at home.
2. Kristen, her husband, and I co-parented the kids together for a week when Brett traveled for a conference. I felt happy and fulfilled.
3. Brett went on a fishing trip with his friends at the same time as Kristin’s mom fell at home and she had to go out there. I had the kids on my own, and while it wasn’t easy, I was happy and not frustrated.

It seems like I like being with the kids, especially with a good co-parent, but maybe my marriage is the problem? How do I handle this, especially since I was so sure that I had stepparenting resentment?


Dear Confused,

You don’t mention any specific issues with your husband or with your stepchildren, so I can’t speak on any challenges you’re facing with your marriage or “stepparenting resentment.” It sounds to me like you truly treasure the time you have with your husband’s children. Do you not feel the same way about the time you spend with him? What made you feel like you’re not being a good stepmom to his kids? Did he stir those feelings of doubt? It sounds like you’re unclear on the source of your unhappiness—and you have to get to the bottom of that. I think talking to a therapist would be very useful for you. A professional can help you to identify what’s not working for you and can help you identify strategies to address it.

It’s possible that you’re dealing with some form of depression, which doesn’t always require anything to be “wrong” in our lives to show up and begin to attack our sense of contentment. If there are challenges in the marriage that you simply did not disclose, then it may be couple’s therapy that could be most helpful to you. Either way, I urge you strongly to seek out some professional help so you can begin to feel like yourself again. You deserve to feel happy within your marriage and your relationship with your stepchildren. Be proactive about making that happen. Wishing you all the best.


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