Author: "Rocket Queen"

Stepparenting can be a real shock for women who have never had any children of their own. Preconceived gender roles assume that women are automatically programmed to "mother" in a mothering situation. At the same time, stepchildren already have biological mothers who often resent another woman on her "turf" — her ex-husband and children.

Often, when a woman meets a man who has been married before and has children and decides to embark on a relationship with him, she discounts the real impact this can have on her life. Suddenly, someone who has been previously judged on her own merits is judged by whether she is "mother material", regardless of whether she intends to marry her new friend.

If she's been in contact with the children from the first marriage, she will frequently be put into difficult positions vis-à-vis people outside the relationship. Many people — whether friends, in-laws, the children's biological mother or even total strangers — will appear to feel a need to remind her that she is "not the mother." She may be treated with suspicion, be greeted with unsolicited advice on her role, or be burdened with unrealistic expectations.

One of the most hated sentences heard by stepmothers, especially those without biological kids, is any variation of, "It's different when they're your own." This phrase is often by someone who views the stepmom as a "non-parent" or usurper of the parental role, especially when the stepmother tries to discipline her stepchildren. If you hear this, you can assume the speaker has given you all the responsibility of parenting, but none of the rights.

At the same time, stepmothers are expected to love their stepchildren as their own — unconditionally and instantaneously. Some stepmothers may be concerned about the feeling of putting one's feelings on the line — the risk that love won't be returned. Some even fear that the stepkids' love will be revoked if the children are used in a biological "parental power play" or some other type of manipulative behaviour frequently exhibited by divorced parents.

Many women struggle over expectations in parenting in the blended family; this leads to the question of level of involvement or detachment. All too often, a new stepmother throws herself into the "mothering role," either because she really believes it's expected of her, or because she wants to put the best face forward for her significant other or husband.

She attends all the stepkids' activities and involves herself fully in parenting responsibilities: cooking, cleaning and driving. She is free to experience all the joys of parenthood until she learns what the hated sentence — "these are not your children" — really means. Perhaps her husband or significant other undermines her decision-making or doesn't allow her to discipline, yet he still expects her to "parent."

A common reaction at this point is for the stepmother to reevaluate her decision to be an involved stepmom. She may stop involving herself to a high degree in the stepkids' lives.

Disillusionment over lack of appreciation by the children's biological parents and the stepchildren themselves; over rules, respect and boundaries, often leads stepmothers to detach. Many stepmothers detach if her partner is consumed by guilt over the divorce and refuses to set boundaries with either his ex-wife or his children.

Detachment is often the best decision when a woman realises her input is neither recognised nor welcome. While detachment is quite easy in theory, the experience of many second wives is that it's very difficult. Detachment can range from detaching from issues dealing with the ex-wife to not enforcing rules with stepkids to complete non-involvement.

When trying to decide on the best balance for her, some stepmothers frequently find pressure comes from both inside and outside. Guilt can lead a stepmother to choose not to detach or to become over-involved. She may feel she is rejecting her stepkids. Someone else may tell her she is. Knowing what is best for the kids but wanting the opposite often plagues non-custodial stepparents and custodial stepparents alike — this can be a huge guilt-inducer, as well.

One of the important "rules" of detachment is to let your husband or stepkids know why you've chosen to detach. Understandably, such a decision may be met by opposition by your husband or significant other. He may see assistance with the kids as the stepmother's duty. That's a subjective issue — everyone has his own opinion. However, explaining your comfort level with involvement or detachment can help you to clearly communicate your feelings and ease the transition to "insta-parenthood."

The ups of becoming an "insta-parent" are the pleasure and experience a woman can gain from her stepkids — it can be the most wonderful experience. The downs can involve behavioural problems in the stepchildren, weak parenting skills or guilt in your husband or significant other, and a variety of issues with his ex-wife or your in-laws.

Each stepmother should look at her situation and decide what her best level of involvement is for the whole family, but especially herself, in order to reduce the ups and downs and make her stepparenting journey as smooth as possible. No stepmother should feel guilty about establishing her own personal equilibrium.

Good luck!