Power: Struggle or Sharing between Moms and Stepmoms?

Flower_phone
While talking to my friend Becca the other night, I idly mused on why the internets seem to be so chock-full of stepmom blogs, but when it comes to one written by an ex-wife/mom outlining her struggles with the stepmom, there's nary a blog to be found.  Becca thought about this for a moment and then said something that surprised me.  "Well… you know, the internet is kind of an equal-opportunity landscape…  I would imagine it's especially appealing to the disenfranchised…"  

Say more about this, I prodded.  

Hold_on_to_the_wheel
"Think about it, who has most of the power here?  The moms.  There are probably lots of moms out there who think, this is the way it's going to happen.  We're doing it my way. And I'm not budging an inch.  That would leave a lot of stepmoms feeling like they're left holding the short end of the stick.  Processing online is one way to deal with that imbalance of power."

Whoa.

Glacial_rapids
Now, I'm not going to be disingenuous here and claim that I've never thought about issues of power when it comes to Carol and I.  Back when we barely knew each other and rarely talked to each other, I was well aware of her as a force in the background to be reckoned with —
someone who had her own ways of doing things and her own preferences, probably many of which clashed with mine.  And I sometimes wondered if agreements that my ex-husband and I had made that "trumped" her own were causing her angst and grief.  Initially, this didn't bother me, thinking of her bothered.  You might even say a part of me relished the idea.

Children_playing
But one can only sit in glee on the lower end of the teeter-totter for so long without getting bored, and hopefully, feeling guilty.  Plus, there was all that tension between us, following us around, filling up rooms.  It was unpleasant, cumbersome baggage.

I've chronicled our journey here before in many posts on this site — going from not-quite arch-enemies to close friends. No need to go over the whole story again, but basically… things had to change.

Plant_gift
As they did, I know I considered the fact, sometimes in the back of my mind as an unformed thought, sometimes deliberately: if we start getting along, I'll have to be nice.  I'll have to compromise more and yield more, when I'd rather not.  I'll have to take what she wants into consideration and consider situations from more angles and that could be a total bummer.  And to be honest, even though it might have looked like generosity and maturity and grace eventually won out, a percentage of it was actually expedient self interest coming to the fore, because, man, I just could not hack the stress between us!

But.

It was more than that too.  

Cannon_barrel
I hated feeling like the two worlds that the girls had to travel between were so fragmented and separate.  I had the feeling that they would leave one house, and ptooey, they'd be spit out from a cannon into the other world.  When they came back home, it was the same thing.  Ptooey, then… thump.  There was a chasm between our households and I shuddered to think of how awful that must have felt for them, making this jarring switch.  If I put myself in their shoes, I felt instantly grumpy.

So what made all the changes worth the discomfort?  Why DID I loosen my hands on the reins?  Let go of more of my side of the rope?  Finally stop tugging altogether?

Mayan_sacraficial_altar
In hindsight, when things began improving between Carol and I, it was this little dance between us.  It did feel like we were making trade-offs, both of us.  I know sometimes, I'd end up doing things more her way when it was inconvenient for me (or even the girls), if it meant we could all be on the same page as parents and create a united front.

It was the the feeling of unity that made it all worth it.  

Flying_high
The sense of ease and relief and almost… relaxing that I could see in the girls.  When the acrimony between Carol and I (and David too) slowly dissolved and started to be replaced by visibly positive feelings between us – joking, conversation, generosity with plans and arrangements, even friendship and affection – it's like it gave the girls room to be happy too.  No longer was there such silence when it came to describing what they had done over the last weekend or week at their dad's and stepmom's.  I would imagine they felt freer to talk about their lives here, at their house too.

Their lives started to merge, to blend, to become more of their lives.  Instead of one life here… and one life there.

Open_handed
Another motivator: I know Carol and I also felt a sense of pride that we were setting our own emotional discomforts aside in favor of the common good – a much better place to put our focus, rather than on that familiar bitchy, back-stabbing thing women can do.

So, I ask you all, dear readers–

Window_rain_dropsStepmoms: what's your sense about why the ex-wives out there seem to be invisible?  Do you think they think they're holding all the cards?  Does it FEEL that way to you?  Do you think the moms see a possible relationship or friendship between you as potentially losing their power?  Are you actively fighting with her for dominance?

Switch
And moms, why is it you don't see the need to work a little harder to connect with the stepmom?  Are you just holding your breath and waiting until the kids grow up, so she'll FINALLY be out of your life?  Are you worried about weakening your sense of control?  Do you prefer to just not think about the kind of atmosphere this creates for your kids?

What's being modeled for these children when it comes to conflict resolution and human relationships?

Tree_in_the_wind
Our kids grow up so fast and the years seem to especially speed up once they hit their teens.  If you must, think of this as a temporary bending, this softening towards the other person, like a tree bends in a hard wind.

But please, at least try….

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. You know I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I first started seeing it brought up in this blog. Actually I think that there is no shortage of ex-wife/mom blogs out there…it just isn’t how we as moms primarily identify ourselves, not to the world and not to our children. We are just moms. Maybe some of us talk a bit more about single parenting, but then if you do a search for that, we get mishmashed up with the moms who were never married, never had the involvement of another parent, etc. But my experience is there are tons of us out there talking regularly, but aren’t fixated on the women who our exes moved on with. And isn’t that rather…healthy?
    I get kind of upset sometimes when I read this blog because I feel like I’m consistently being scolded for something I didn’t do. In this instance, the exwives seem to be painted as inflexible and power hungry. Really? I don’t know that I agree with that assessment individually or on a grand scale. Sure we all tend to mis-trust the unknown…and sharing your children, even with their FATHER can be hard sometimes. But the fact that we do it anyway despite the friction, despite the struggles, says something to our interest in the greater good for our children. What if instead we give moms a break and thank them for doing the very best that they can for their children.

  2. Hi EJ,
    Thanks for writing!
    Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that sometimes my writing has a scolding tone to it – I’ll have to sit down and think about that for a bit. But I will and then will come back and write more.
    I know there are lots of moms out there dealing with stepmoms, and it makes perfect sense that they’re probably not going to make that one of the main things about their blog….
    Back soon!
    -Jennifer

  3. Given the stigma and negative stereotypes of stepmoms, or even just the woman the ex-husband happens to date after the divorce, it seems natural there are so many stepmom blogs. Disney has made a fortune from the “evil stepmom” character, so there’s a lot frustrating about it right from the rip. Not many people start blogs or seek support for “gee, my life is going pretty great”.
    I find the intense negativity very sad, though, between stepmoms and the biological moms. Unfortunately, being willing to extend the offer to do things a better way isn’t very productive when the other party is still wallowing in jealousy or bitterness or whatever it is that blocks her from being able to behave differently. So I find myself agreeing with much of what you say, but also feeling frustrated that it is a two-way street, and if I’m the only one willing to go that way, it doesn’t help the kids out very much.

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