Friday, January 7, 2011


I’ve seen a lot of “score-keeping” rants on stepmom posting boards:

“We do so much for the bio-mom and she never says thank you!”
“I seem to do all the child care work for my husband’s kids.”
“I do x, y, and z for my stepkids and they never seem grateful!”

When I read statements like these I’m reminded of the theory of reciprocity, which explains that when people receive a gift we feel obligated to make a return gesture.

What we stepmoms may forget is that our stepchildren—not to mention their bio moms—don’t want to feel obligated to us. Acknowledging the fact that we went out of our way for them makes them feel uncomfortably indebted to someone they may still think of as “Dad’s new partner.”

Our partners are not exempt from this effect, either. Thanking us for all the work we do to take care of their kids reminds them of how guilty they feel about their divorce.

When it comes down to it, keeping score is a waste of our precious time, effort, and energy. You can keep tallying up offences and complaining about them or you can change how you handle the situation by:

- assertively communicating your needs
- scaling back your efforts
- choosing to not to expect thanks

Being Assertive about your Needs

If you feel frustrated that your husband isn’t participating enough in the childcare or if your stepchildren aren’t helping enough around the house, score-keeping isn’t going to change anything. Instead, sit down and assertively communicate what you need their help with.

Scaling Back your Efforts

It’s natural to feel a little hurt when people don’t thank you for the things you do for them. But if you find yourself frequently angry with your partner or stepkids, then it may be time to reevaluate how much you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Are you trying to buy your stepchildren’s affection? Are you trying to be super-stepmom at the expense of your own happiness?

Choosing not to Expect a Response

You have a choice of whether or not to do something for your stepkids, their bio mom, or your partner. If you choose to do something for them, then make a conscious decision to not expect anything back in return. If you aren’t willing to do something for them without a thank you, then maybe you should give some thought to whether you really want to do it at all.