Guest Post by Wednesday Martin: What your child's stepmother wants you to know about her life…

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(Like it or not, the two women in your child’s or stepchild’s life are typically the hands-on parents. Gender roles die hard! With both sides vying for control over the same position, there are bound to be problems and misunderstandings galore. And with power struggles come one-dimensional thinking, an abundance of perceived slights and the temptation to demonize the other side.

In the service of  better understanding each other and putting yourself in the shoes of the “other woman”, here’s Stepmonster author Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., with a raw and heartfelt guest post.

I’ll post my response, “What your stepchild’s mom wants you to know about her life” on Friday.)

Mutual understanding is one of the most important ingredients in the ex-wife/wife coalition mix. In that spirit, here are some of the things that the women with stepchildren I interviewed for my book Stepmonster told me they’d like their husband’s or partner’s exes to know.

Let the dialogue begin!

It’s not easy to feel judged and misunderstood

You likely feel, especially if you’re unpartnered, that the deck is stacked against you, that it’s me and your ex against you. From my perspective, I’m perceived as a wicked stepmother and a homewrecker even when I’m not, no matter how hard I try and how nice I am. Being the fall guy when I’m trying so hard takes a toll on me. And while you might feel shut out, I wrestle with the knowledge that I’m not and never will be “first.” We’re both struggling, you and I.

Your child isn’t perfect

Do you find yourself thinking of me as a rigid control freak? Too harsh or strict toward your kids? If that’s the case, ask yourself what role you and your ex may play here by being permissive, indulgent parents post-divorce. I might have to tow the line in my home because you two are afraid to, or can’t be bothered, or feel too guilty to parent effectively, since you “put the kids through a divorce.”

Have you told your kids it’s okay to like me, let them know it’s imperative to at least be civil and polite to me? Or do you secretly like that they don’t like their stepmom, that they’re disrespectful and rude, even hostile, toward me? Does that arrangement make you feel better, more secure?

What am I up against here that’s any harder than what you’re up against? you’re wondering. For starters, kids of any age resent getting a stepmom way more than they resent getting a stepdad. For a long time, too. And while plenty of kids of divorce do just fine, they are twice as likely to have serious emotional and social problems as kids from intact homes. Remember that when it comes to adolescence, I don’t have the foundation you and your husband do to tolerate all the drama, sullenness, and more. At some point, if your kids are rude to me and I am rebuffed enough, I may withdraw to preserve my dignity. Think about that next time you’re about to tell a friend that I’m “cold” to your kids.

I don’t want to be friends with you, do holidays together, or vacation together

And I’m a little tired of all the pressure I’m feeling from people who haven’t a clue that I “should” want to do, and be doing, just that. We can have a parenting coalition that works. I welcome that, and I welcome civility and friendliness. But if I’m like most women with stepkids, it just doesn’t feel appropriate to me to be close to you. My loyalty is to my husband. I want to get stepmothering right for his sake. Beyond that, I don’t want to feel pressured to be pals with you. I already have pals. So please don’t take offense that I’d like us to be friendly enough, but not necessarily friends.

I don’t love your kids just like my own, just like they don’t love me like they love you!

There’s way too much pressure on women with stepkids to “draw no distinctions” between their own kids and their stepkids. And it flies in the face not only of research findings about what stepfamily “success” actually is, but common sense as well. I might really like your kids, love them even and come to feel extremely close to them one day. But I might not.  Can you blame me, given all the stepmother hatred out there, and given the very real fact of kids resenting getting a stepmother? There’s a whole range of “normal” here, a whole spectrum of stepmother involvement. They have you and their dad. So please, don’t expect me to “love them just as if they’re my own” while also expecting me to follow the sacred directive, “Don’t ever try to replace their mom.” Especially if I have my own kids, as likeable and great as your kids are, they’re not mine, I’m not theirs, and it’s okay for me to just be a supportive ally.

I’m not your husband’s “new wife.” I’m his wife. You’re his ex-wife.

It’s that simple. When you ask him to do chores, come over for dinner or do holidays at your place “for the kids’ sake,” you’re being disrespectful of our partnership. Yes, you are. Please respect my marriage and have healthy boundaries. This includes not putting your ex in-laws in a loyalty bind or using the kids as leverage (“You won’t see your grandkids if you spend time over there with your son and his new wife”).

I promise to play nice if you do.

Most women with stepkids really want to get it right, and try very hard in the face of significant challenges. Getting along would be the best outcome for everyone. I know that, and so do you.

It’s a start….

What Jennifer and Carol have managed to do is impressive. And if you’re reading the No One’s the Bitch site, it’s because you wonder if you and your partner’s ex, or you and your ex-partner’s partner, can do the same. If all the adults are committed to getting along, the rewards can be tremendous–easier lives, happier kids, and less stress for all.

(Thanks, Wednesday!)

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Comments

  1. These are really great! I couldn’t have done better myself! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  2. Well said Wednesday!

  3. So wonderfully put, thanks! I especially liked the part about being the wife, not the “new wife.” I hate that…it makes me feel so second rate (maybe because it’s nearly always said with disdain?). We’re dealing with an attempted breach in boundaries right now (look for a post about it soon) so that bit really hit home for me too.
    Sorry for the late comment – the host issues got me!

  4. Wellspring says:

    I really have to second the advice to not call my husband to do chores, etc. He is not your husband anymore. He is my husband. Any request that does not pertain directly to the kids is out of line. Period.

  5. It was really good to read this. I’m the ex-wife and my son lives with his dad and step mom. This helped me understand what her perspective might be.

  6. If only. I actually considered buying this book for my husbands Ex. It all just makes so much sense. Some days I wonder if I will ever recover from being a stepmom… will I ever be viewed based on who I am or will the “step” issue folow me forever???

  7. Beautifully written. I particularly appreciate the part about the parameters regarding things for the kids vs. things for the ex. I’m a divorced mother and a stepmother and it never occurred to me to ever call my ex for non-child related issues, but I’m coming to find that is not the case always. My husband’s ex thinks that he should drop everything and run to her side the moment one of the children backtalks not to mention stay on the phone and offer tea and sympathy whenever she feels she’s having trouble parenting, making money decisions, life decisions, house trouble, etc. It’s manipulative and inappropriate and the “children” are always the bait. You have to come fix my leaky sink because it’s your children’s home. Please. Her issues are her issues, including those of how to relate to her own children. Figure out this single parenting moms because it’s not your ex-husband’s job to walk you through it anymore than it’s your job to help him cope with being away from the kids and trying to fit a relationship into two separate housing arrangements. Learn to discipline and deal on your own because he doesn’t live there anymore and you are a mother, not a babysitter calling the restaurant to tell the parent to come home early because you can’t hack it. If you can’t hack it and are really having that many problems, perhaps you shouldn’t be the custodial parent.

  8. Great post!! and I agree with everything except the part about not loving the children the same. Not only do I think it’s possible to love the children equally, I feel that-based on the age of the children and how much they see you, it is your Responsibility to treat them the same as you would your own. As a stepmom, I sometimes WISH I wasn’t as emotionally involved, because it is true that they often DON’T love you the same as they do their mother. But there are several stepmoms that take on a full-time role with the children, and without loving them like you would your own, you are depriving yourself and those children of love.

  9. Jennifer says:

    Pam, good points and I could see how an interfering ex-wife could be absolutely maddening. I do have to admit that, way back when, there were times that I called my ex-husband to vent about our children’s meltdowns or complain to him about how hard things were financially. Not often, but every once and a while.

    In hindsight, part of my behavior was motivated by the frustration of feeling like he was basically on constant “vacation” as the non-custodial parent. I wanted him to feel more of the burden of parenting and yes, I admit, I wanted to get him upset at times. Not pretty, but there you have it. Perhaps that same feeling motivates other ex-wives out there too.

    I’m not saying it’s RIGHT, mind you. Just saying I probably wasn’t the only one feeling this. Luckily, that was about 7-8 years ago and is a thing of the past.

    Breanna, how you feel about your stepchildren is wonderful! Kudos to you for acting from your heart. It really does come to love, doesn’t it? :-)

  10. Hey there. I’m a mom and stepmom to 6 kids, 3 who are biologically mine and 3 whom I get to share. My skids’ mom and I are very different and we don’t always see eye-to-eye, and there was a time we couldn’t be in the same room with each other, but we are past that now and we get along well enough. I just wanted to say that while I agree that some requests by ex-wives are out of line, I don’t think it’s wrong for a mom to want to vent to the father of her children about their behavior, especially when she is generally respectful of your marriage to her ex and your role in her kids’ lives. When the kids are having problems, it is the duty of the parents to come together and sort it out. Also, while I agree that the “come over and take out my trash/change my light bulbs,change my oil” requests are inappropriate, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a father helping in an area that is something that isn’t a “DIY” project when the mom doesn’t have money to hire a professional, and dad is capable of doing it. Money is tight after a divorce, and sadly, this is especially true of moms. Why make the kids suffer on principle if it is an issue she genuinely cannot resolve? For example, if my skids’ mom’s AC went out and my husband knew how to fix it, and she couldn’t afford an AC repairman, what kind of stepmom would I be to refuse to allow him to help her out because it’s not “his job”? I’m not saying that I always would have been comfortable with this, but even when there are insecurities, the best interests of the children should come first. now, I know that when you are dealing with a hostile mama tiger, it can be hard to “let” your husband help her when she treats you like dirt, but parenting is a self-less gig; stepparenting, even more so. So let your husbands do what you would want them to do for you and your children if you ever split up. Just my $.02.

  11. Hi. I too am a mum and step mum. I would give anything for just 5mins of tranquility between my family and my husbands exs family. From day one it’s been torture. Nothing we say or do is right. My husbands feelings have no baring on how the children are raised, we often hear “thats my decision and it’s final”. Since the ages of 6 and 4 she has felt the kids are both old enough and mature enough to make decisions about where and when they see their Dad. More recently (7yrs on) the eldest of the two kids (10) decided she wanted to stay with us more, suddenly her mum said her reasoning for it was based on emotions and she wasn’t going to allow it. What child could ever make that decision without it being emotional? I’m at my wits end, it’s becoming far to hard. She says I’ve crossed boundaries but when asked to stipulate her boundaries she wont. All I’ve ever done is be the best care provider for her kids when they are with us. Each and every year I spend time and effort at Mothers day, birthdays and Christmas so she gets a little surprise from her kids. We show and express interest in their lives at their mums in an effort that the kids feel it’s OK to be happy and enjoy their lives no matter where they are. We don’t feel any of this has ever been reciprocated and going by what the kids do and don’t say it’s not. The saddest thing is the kids feel it and know…

  12. I was enjoying this until I read the line about asking your husband for chores. Are men incapable of saying no? This is written by a feminist stepmom? A man can still have a relationship and should have one with his wife thought with boy boundaries. From all your “research”, you should know that the best way to raise children after a divorce is to maintain a genuinely positive relationship or friendship. Im very comfortable asking my ex to do hinges before me. We were friends long before we were married and considering I am the primary parent, a few “chores” to make life easier for me and OUR children is not a crime. If you have a problem with it, that’s between you and your husband not you and his wife. You claim you want the ex out of your life and you have little control over that in terms of his kids ( you did CHOOSE to marry him) but you have complete control over how you treat/accep his relationship with his ex.

    Also, I think you’re entire book is more a means of releasing your anger and frustration that a genuine attempt to redress the imbalance between literature on children and stepmothers as. You obviously resent your stepchildren, and I’m dying of curiousity about your family’s reaction to this book

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