Demographers have predicted that, if we include cohabiting versus marriage in the projections, as many as half of all women in the US will find themselves in the role of stepmother at some point in their lives.
And over the years a body of research has sent a clear message that stepmothering is tough--tougher even than stepfathering, broadly speaking. The condundrum of being a stepmother is linked to the conundrum of being female.
The good news is that informed strategies are within reach for the many women who partner with men who have kids from previous relationships. We now know what separates the women from the men: there are three things that stepmothers do and stepfather's don't. Addressing these differences in experience has the potential to turn the stepmothering experience around, dialing down the aggravation and conflict significantly.
What Makes it Tougher for Stepmothers?
1. Women feel more internal (emotional) and external (social) pressure to create a perfect "blended" family than men do. Additionally, they may well feel pressure from their partners or husbands to "make us into a 'real' family."
2. Stepmothers are dealing with ex-wives. Stepfathers are dealing with ex-husbands. In their twenty and thirty year (respectively) longitudinal studies, Constance Ahrons and Mavis Hetherington found that statistically speaking, women tend to nurture feelings of hostility and anger longer post-divorce than men, who are more likely to harbor fantasies of reconciliation or smooth sailing. This sets the stage for conflict between the ex and her ex's partner from both directions--she may be very resentful of the repartnership and he may want to avoid creating waves, and so remain involved with her and in her household in ways that create dissatisfaction and discomfort for his partner/wife.