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When Should A Stepmom Disengage


I’m a wife, stepmom x3 and mom x 1. When I couldn’t find the stepmom support I was looking for, decided to create it myself. I love mac + cheese, distressed denim, sauvignon blanc and all things Dateline. 

Hey, I'm Jamie


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Disengaging is a hot topic in the stepmom space.
Figuring out when to step up and step back can be extremely confusing.

Society’s narrative about a stepmom is plagued with unrealistic expectations and double standards.

You should love your stepkids like they’re your own but don’t try and take over the role of their mom. That’s overstepping.

Love them like they’re you’re own but don’t discipline them, leave that to the real parents.

Treat them like you would your own child, but remember they’re not your child. You’re not a real parent.

Stepmoms are expected to step up while at the same time, society reinforces the “you don’t have to listen to her, she’s not your mom narrative”.

It’s no wonder many stepmoms report feeling damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

When it comes to disengaging, the “nacho kid” perspective is one that is wildly promoted.

(Nacho Kid = Not Yo Kid – get it?)

Nacho kid, nacho responsibility.
Nacho kid, nacho problem.

I’ve never been a fan of this mindset.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but when something is happening with your stepkids, it very much feels like your problem. Especially when they’re living under your roof.

Here’s what I know for sure. 

When it comes to a stepmom’s involvement in:

Parenting her stepkids
Communicating with her husband’s ex
Making decisions for the kids
and sometimes dealing with the legalities that come with stepfamily life…

there really is no one-size-fits-all all approach. 

There are so many contributing factors that determine the right approach.

That’s why it irks me when I see posts that say a stepmom should never play a role in discipline or that stepmoms should never communicate with her partner’s ex. 

You have to do what feels right for you. 

One thing I know for sure is that a lot of stepmoms feel depleted, overwhelmed and exhausted by the ebbs and flows of stepfamily life. In fact, as shared in Stepmonster written by Wednesday Martin, stepmoms are the members of the blended family who report the highest feelings of anxiety and depression. 

While I firmly believe there is no one-size-fits-all all approach, there are two things that I think a stepmom should consider when it comes to their involvement with stepkids and the ex – especially in high-conflict situations. 

Ask yourself:

1. Is my involvement productive?
2. Is my involvement impacting my ability to show up as the best version of myself?

These answers will help you decide whether it’s time to disengage. 

I’ll explain. 

When I say disengage, I don’t mean taking a “screw it, not my kids, not my problem approach,”
(even though that is sometimes what ends up happening).

I mean strategically take a step back for the benefit of the family unit. 


Ask yourself: 

Is your role in discipline met with anger, hostility and resentment?
Is it causing issues in your marriage?
Is it causing (more) turmoil in your co-parenting relationship?
Is it making things better or worse?

If you answered yes to the top three questions, and worse to the last – it may be time to consider taking a step back.


Making the choice to disengage does not mean that you won’t have a say about how things are run in your home. 

It does not mean that you must adopt an “eff it” mentality. 

It simply means that you’ve consciously decided to take more of a behind-the-scenes approach, and let your partner take the lead. 

I have disengaged this several times over the last 11 years as a stepmom. It has improved my relationships and acted as a reset for the foundation of our stepfamily life.


The second scenario where you should consider taking a step back, is when the stressors that come with your stepfamily life are impacting the way you show up. 

Is the stress impacting how you show up as a wife, stepmom, mom, friend, employee etc?

There have been times in our stepfamily when the stress was just too much for me. I’ve told the story about how my hands used to shake. There was a time when I found myself unable to think about anything else. The drama with the ex, and issues with my stepkids were consuming me. 

I found myself being short and snappy with my husband and the kids, because I was so depleted. I was emotionally exhausted and felt like I was always on high alert. 

It was at that point that I told my husband that I wanted to be informed on a need-to-know basis. As a control freak who likes to be in the know, it was a HARD thing to do – but I knew it was what I needed to do for my own mental health. ng.

He still asked for my input.
He still informed me when something was going to affect our house and our schedule.
He still considered my position.

But I took myself out of the nitty-gritty details. 

If you find yourself anxious when you see an email or text come in – or constantly worrying about “what went down” today – I highly recommend trying this, even for a week. 

It doesn’t have to be permanent. You can simply take a break – replenish your energy and then jump back in when/if you think it’s beneficial for your family. 

I will say, from our experience, not only was this beneficial for me – but the mood of our entire household shifted! 

If you’re a struggling stepmom right now – I’m not going to tell you what you should do.
Like I said, you’re the expert on your own life. 

But, I do want you to consider whether your involvement is productive (making things better or worse) and how it’s impacting the way you show up in your life! Remember – you are the rock of your family. They need you at your best. 

If you’re wondering if disengaging is right for you. I created a short quiz to help you decide.
It takes less than 60 seconds. You can take it here.

I also have a workshop titled “How To Disengage The Right Way” in The KICK-ASS Stepmom Community. Members can access in their library. Not a member, click here to join.

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