Handling an Overbearing and Controlling Step Mother

To handle an overbearing and controlling step mother, own your power.

Why is it that step moms get such a bad rap? Is it because of the wicked step mother in Cinderella – do we project that image onto women in this position? With high divorce rates and remarriages, there are many women who step into the role of being a step parent. And of course, many of them are balanced and easy going, but there are some with dominant personalities, vying for the matriarch status in the family.

If you’ve been trying to enjoy family gatherings and time spent with your father, but keep butting up against your controlling and overbearing step mother, it may be time for you to own your power. Not through force, resistance or control (as this is the controller’s game tactic), but by being bigger than the fight for power.

This doesn’t mean giving up or giving in to your step mom’s demands, as that is the polar opposite of control; being controlled. Owning your power involves seeing the game that is being played and choosing not to play it. Not biting the bait in an argument over who is right and who is wrong. Not being a rebel and going in the opposite direction of a request (or demand). Not being reactive every time your step mother derails the conversation with her interruptive questions, comments and arguments. And not fighting her for your father’s attention.

When we are conscious of what’s really going on behind other’s behaviors, we can avoid getting caught in the fray. We can maintain a position of neutrality and see the bigger picture. From this higher vantage point, we can choose which direction we want to go.

Here are some suggestions for handling your overbearing and controlling step mother from a place of empowerment.

Look for the motives. Why is your step mom controlling? Is she trying to earn the family’s respect? Does she have low self esteem or feel insecure? Take a look at her childhood and background to see what might be motivating her dominating behavior. With this understanding, you will gain insights into how to handle her with compassion instead of resentment.

Bring your amusement. Anything we are not amused with is bigger than us. Bring humor to your family gatherings and it will lighten the atmosphere and create balance and equality. At the very least, if you are amused, you won’t be reactive.

Don’t take things personally. If you feel your step mother’s behavior is an attack on you, you will naturally be defensive or reactive. Instead, recognize that her personality quirks are all about her and nothing to do with you. Stay in a state of ease and non-resistance. Don’t engage in any arguments or battles and watch her antics fizzle and fade.

Own your power. Touch into your self-esteem, self-affinity and self-confidence any time you feel reactive around your controlling step mother. Her behavior may be an attempt to make you feel small so she can feel big. If you feel self-empowered, she will sense this and know there is no point in trying to deflate you. It will also be easier to set healthy boundaries from this empowered state.

Look at your reflection. When someone triggers us over and over again, it’s often because they are mirroring something we don’t want to see in ourselves. Yet until we look at it, we will continue to be judgmental and reactive. Is there some area of your life where you become controlling or overbearing? Or is this a lesson about creating healthy boundaries and not giving up your power?

Use the power of love. Each of us shares the same need for love, acceptance and a sense of belonging. Shine as much love as you can on your step mother and see if that softens her. If you can see past her abrasive behavior to the spirit within her, it will be easier to connect on a heart and soul level with her.

Look at the bigger picture. What do you both want? Is it to have a relationship with your father, bond as a family, move through power struggles and get along? Look for the commonalities instead of the difference between you. Then set your intention to achieve the end result you both want. What we focus on grows, so pay more attention to the experience you want to create than the one you want to avoid.

It takes two to play the control or be controlled game. If you step out of the game by owning your power from a place of bigness instead of smallness, the fight will diminish and the family dynamics will improve.

Do you have any questions or insights on how to handle an overbearing and controlling step mother? Please share below.

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Dear Readers,

I am not able to be on the computer much these days due to my current activities, so I won't be able to respond to comments very often.

I encourage you though, to use the comment section as a place to share your experience, read about others' and to respond to and support each other with your situations.

Take care,


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12 Responses to Handling an Overbearing and Controlling Step Mother

  1. simonn says:

    I shifted in with my dad and step-mum when was 12 and she had her 3 boys.i already had my 2 brothers.so there was 6 of us.i was only girl and the eldest.she was nice n peachy to start with then tried to put me in the role of mother.she was preg wit another, to my dad.so was 7children in the end.so as the years rolled on i got put on correspondece 2 be at home more n when i did small things like not say we are getting low on apples for lunches,that was it, i was held accountable.i was not allowed to speak my mind or even go to school.now that the years have passed on even more my 2 full brothers, and her eldest realised wat 2 do…get out of there.she is now a primary school teacher in my region and have heard lots of bad feedback of how she treats the kids.she has mentioned to fellow teachers that she is not allowed to see my 2 boys which is pretty irrelevant when she chose herself not to visit or get in contact and my youngest is turning 2 next month.what more can i do??

  2. Gini Grey says:

    Hello Simonn,

    It sounds like you don’t have contact with your step-mum, which is probably a relief, yet it also sounds like it’s not complete for you. I think what is most important is for you to feel at peace about the state of the relationship – even if it means not having contact and accepting that. It’s not your responsibility to make things ‘right’ with her. If she’s difficult to be with, she’s creating walls between you and you are only responding in a way that is healthy for you (setting boundaries of not being around her for example). But if there is a way you can forgive her for her past behavior (and current gossip behavior of you) then that will free you even more.

    I’ve been dealing with the antics of my dad’s wife for years, and even since writing this article I’ve learned more. My most recent insights are around staying away from her, but not out of resistance, so that if I do have contact with her, I can feel at peace. Whenever I go to see my dad, I set a high intention that if she is there our interactions are set in a tone of respect, peace, ease and love. So far, she hasn’t been home when I visit and I believe that’s because of the intention I set (what doesn’t resonate with where we are can’t really be in our space unless we go into resistance with it or give our power away to it).

    What I also do is to consciously choose not to get caught in her drama (or the stories she tells about me not seeing them much etc.) and to have compassion for her (as she must be feeling insecure to act so controlling etc.). When I do speak to her on the phone, I stay focused on sending her love as she babbles away (I also don’t say much as she has a way of turning whatever I say into a disagreement).

    See if these ideas support you.

    Take care,


  3. Maya says:

    Umm …. I’m 14 years old and I have a VERY controlling, manipulated, and a B of a step mom. All she ever cares about is herself, her 2 sons, and my dad. She has taken my dad away from me. It is her fault that the relationship got so bad in the first place. Me and my brother have ALWAYS respected her yet shes going around saying we dont respect her. That is stupid!! Every time me and my brother do something and it is not something she approves of or is something that annoys her she gets my dad to yell at us and he will cuss at us and yell and say DONT EVER SAY THAT OR DO THAT EVER AGAIN. Even though my dad does that he and my step mom still think think that they are perfect beings and that they never do anything wrong. I may not be able to deny that they dont buy me things but they deny me the thing I really want. Love, affection, and the feeling of being wanted. I always felt like a walking doll over there doing what ever they say acting and never being my self . It was really hard. They emotionally and mentaly abuse me yet they dont realize it. Im actully sick from stress!!!!

  4. Gini Grey says:

    Hello Maya,

    I’m wondering if your step mom is jealous of you and perhaps your relationship with your dad. Something I realized with my step mom is that she would treat me very differently than my brothers. What I senses was that she respected males more than females, and that she wanted to be the “head of the household” and since we both had strong personalities, she became overbearing to make her point. I also felt she was jealous of my relationship with my dad as we were very close.

    So see if any of this resonates with you, or touch into your intuition to see what you sense about why she treats you the way she does and feels you don’t respect her. If you can see her weaknesses from a place of compassion, her behavior may not bother you as much and you will feel less stressed.

    Another suggestion is to have a heart to heart talk with your dad where you tell him what you said here – that you want to feel loved and accepted by them. Try to do it from a non-blaming place because when we judge or blame another they often become defensive and make excuses for their behavior (or their partner’s behavior), but if you just say that you feel unloved and yelled at more than cared for, he may be able to hear you and then adjust his reactions and maybe even talk to his wife about it.

    But the bottom line is for you to love yourself so much that no matter how anyone else treats you, you still feel good (and can either ignore or be amused by their bizarre behavior).

    Take care,


  5. Steve says:

    My stepmom is overbearing I’m 20. Years old and everytime my dad and I talk he agrees with me then tells her and so he doesent fight with her he agrees with her and we have a conversation about it. For example I get asked what I am doing everyday I got to college and work at a restaurant I do yard work and clean the house. But it is still not good enough it’s always he vaccum the rugs but doesent sweep the floors or he blows the leaves onto the street and that took five minutes but her son cando whatever he wants what is your advice

  6. Gini Grey says:

    Hello Steve,

    It’s a tough situation you are in as you can’t change your stepmom’s behavior and neither can your dad – people can only change their own behavior if they are motivated from within. But, you can try to focus on the truth about it and not take it personally. For example, if your stepmom has a controlling and critical personality, it’s not about you, it’s about her. So knowing this supports you to slough her behavior off rather than taking it personally.

    Also knowing that parents tend to favor their own kids over others explains why she is not as hard on her own son. Perhaps you can use her behavior as a way to practice feeling so good about yourself that nothing can trigger you. Each time you are triggered by her, see if you can be amused by your reaction and then switch to reminding yourself that your housecleaning etc is good enough and she is just being controlling, critical or nitpicky.

    Don’t bother putting energy into a power struggle with her about it, make a joke of it if you can and be accepting of her as much as you can (not in a phony way, but by seeing her woundedness and having compassion for her as she is probably critical of herself secretly or doesn’t feel good enough so projects this onto you).

    The bigger a person you can be about this, the better you will feel and over time she may relax around you with her criticism.

    Take care,


  7. Steve says:

    Thanks for responding a. Few months back now I have another question how do you answer a question so it’s good enough for her cause it seems like every time I get asked a question my step mom or dad does not like the answer they want to hear so they try to make me feel like I don’t know what I am talkin about when I don’t give them the answer they want so I get mad what is your advice?

  8. Steve says:

    I have another question my car is in my stepmom a name I am 21 now and paying the insurance I know it’s in her name but why should she have a say as to wheather who drives in the car?

  9. Dawn says:

    Hi Steve, I am in the exact same boat as you. I am 21, living with my dad and my step mom for about 9 months. They are extremely controlling over me and I am currently borrowing their car to get to my 3 jobs. Recently they voiced that I don’t let them have their car enough, which is an easy fix, but instead of calmly voicing it, they blew up in my face. I have always calmly listed to their opinions and never voiced my own, but yesterday I wrote a brutally honest letter then left the house. Well of course they did not take it well at all. My dad forgave me and understood it was coming from a place of stress and frustration, but she still isn’t talking to me. She also is no longer letting me use their vehicle. I don’t want to apologize to her because I am actually not sorry about what I said in the letter. But I know I can’t live like this forever. I am making plans to move out asap and get my own car. I think that it may help you if you look up information on narcissists, because both our step moms are extreme versions of one. Reading about that made me realize I am not crazy, I have been helping enough, but nothing is good enough for a narcissist. It also helped me deal with one better. Hope this helps!

  10. Steve says:

    Thanks for responding I did look it up and some of the symptoms are there and some are not. I do have to say that I act way different at work than at home the atmosphere changes at 5:00 when she walks in the door. She thinks there is something wrong with me yeah I have ADD. But I still have a job go to school an had an internship but its like it is not good enough. It’s like walking on egg shells sometimes

  11. Zack says:

    I recently got back my college grade for my summer class with a C and my mom said as long as you pass and you tried your best thats all I care about. Which I did I told my dad and he was fine with it then my stepmom found out and it’s like well you could have tried harder thats not good enough I wanted to say my mom and dad said that its fine so sty out of it but I didn’t . My cousin FINALLY stood up to her last week and told her how controlling she and she moved out I just can’t seem to do tha though cause I don’t have enough money to live on my own. I don’t want to live with my mom because she is a 30min drive from my work and school. It’s always neagtive as soon as she walks in the door the mood changes

  12. Mandi says:

    Hi Gini,
    Thanks for making this post, I have found it very helpful. I’m 23 years old and I’m getting married next summer. I am in a very happy place in my life, working part time and attending post-secondary school full-time to become a teacher. However, I can often slip in melancholy when I think about my strained relationship with my Father and my Step-Mother.

    My mother died from breast cancer when I was 15 years old and 1 year after her death my father started to date my stepmother. To make matters more complicated, the women my father started dating was my mother’s best friend. At first I was happy that my Dad was happy with her and I didn’t expect the relationship to last. But the year I graduated from high school my Father told me my soon-to-be step-mom was moving into my parent’s old home. I left home that summer.

    I was forced to move back home 1 year later when I lost my job and decided to go to university. At first my father and step-mother were very supportive even though our relationship had started to dwindle when I left home. It didn’t take long for my step-mom to show her true colours as a possessive, defensive, controlling person. I realized that my step-mother had many issues, low-self esteem from past abusive relationships, an addictive personality and a fiery temper (she was recently diagnosed with depression and is now on medication). My father of course didn’t help to ease the tension because his personality is very passive and I have never been very close with him. I was constantly being pulled into aggressive arguments with my step-mother over simple things, such as household chores and my lack of presence at home. Matters turned even uglier when my father married my step-mother 3 years ago, while I was still living with them. My step-mom was constantly favouring her own two daughters over me and I felt like she constantly disrespected my mother’s memory by calling me her daughter, a notion that made me sick to my stomach. If I didn’t do exactly as she told me, when she told me to do it, I would turn from her “darling, daughter, that she was so proud of”, to the disrespectful moocher. I’m a naturally anxious person, and I tend to be a people pleaser, so living in this environment was very stressful for me.

    All hell broke loose when we decided to go to family counselling and I finally spoke my mind about our family dynamic, honestly hoping for some kind of resolution. My step mother stormed out of the building calling me ungrateful and disrespectful. My relationship with my father has never been the same. My relationship with my step-mom is almost non-existent. Currently, I see my Dad and my step-mom only at special occasions. My older sister has managed to stay close to my father and tells me about all the awful things my step-mom says about me, which makes me want to have NOTHING to do with her. She told my sister she “didn’t give a shit about my wedding” and is trying to convince my Dad to leave right after dinner is finished. I just want to find some peace with this dilemma in my life. I honestly don’t know what to do anymore.

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