What to expect when you weren’t expecting… a stepmom

Maybe you experienced a long, slow slide towards divorce. The communication dwindled. The awesome sex became lost in the tidal wave of daily life demands. It was always one thing after another with the kids. Or perhaps you were unlucky enough to be blind-sided by the sting of infidelity.

However you found yourself in the Land of Divorce, putting your life back together, reveling in the opportunity to occasionally eat cereal for dinner when the kids were at Dad’s house, I bet you never saw this one coming: another woman in your kids’ lives.

A woman you didn’t know either.

Remember what it was like after a break-up, when you were younger? Maybe you dumped him. Maybe he dumped you. But you bump into him with his hot, new girl on the street, with that air of intimacy about them, and part of your stomach goes, “Wrenk!” It’s just human nature, whether you still want him or not.

Now take that feeling and magnify it by ten when a new woman arrives on the scene with your ex-husband.

Because THIS is the man who fathered your children. THIS is the man who shared your pregnancies, who you spent countless hours talking to about what was going on with the kids. THIS man was supposed to be your future. Your partner stretching out into the years of your family’s history. One half of the foundation, the nest for these vulnerable little beings.

But no more…. It’s done. Over.

And now you’re just a statistic.

And so are your kids.

But hey, people do this all the time now, right? What’s the big deal?!

This may be hard for stepmoms to really, really understand, even when they have their own kids: but when a new woman comes into your children’s lives, it’s just plain weird.

Like someone you’ve never met before plopping down at your table of friends. Like someone getting into your car at a stop light. Like a perfect stranger joining you in the hospital waiting room during a crisis, their brows furrowed with worry.

You look at them and think: Who are YOU?

And why are you now a part of my children’s world?!

Sure, on a logical, practical level, we get it. You’re dating him. He’s dating you. If he’s integrated you into his life enough for you to meet his kids, then he’s probably in love with you and Lord knows, it’s always best when both people love each other.

But it’s the emotional stuff that throws us for a loop, as moms. It’s the automatic “jurisdiction” we don’t get – that sense that you now have a right to have input on how things should be done with our kids, when they made it this far in life just fine without you. (It makes sense for that to eventually happen, but sometimes it comes wayyyyy too early.)

It’s knowing that our children are creating their own bonds and connections with you “off stage,” as it were, outside our view. It’s wondering if you truly want them there, or if you’d rather have him all to yourselves — if you resent them, just don’t like them or are irritated by the same behavior that irritates us.

It’s the fear that yes, there is love there between you. We want that — but we also don’t. Our own experiences as mothers are often so much more conflicted that the cookie-cutter version of motherhood. Our children’s love with someone we don’t know can cast a spotlight on our shortcomings as a parent. We can feel guilty and anxious, fearful and confused.

It’s the vulnerability that we feel, knowing that a natural part of romantic attachment with new couples is a dissection of past mistakes and mishaps, and this likely includes stories about us that we’d rather have you not know….

In writing about this subject for years now, I think I finally understand how painful and heart-wrenching it must be for stepmoms to often feel like the perpetual outsider, to be exasperated by the ever-shifting boundaries, to be reminded over and over again that important family memories and milestones took place that had nothing to do with you.

I’m not even sure I could do it! And I have the utmost admiration for those of you who do, who keep plugging away in the face of all that pain and frustration.

Please just know that some of the difficult behavior you experience with the moms has nothing to do with YOU personally (although if you trade mutual barbs, it will eventually, sadly).

We would feel this way about any new stranger interacting with our kids, even though you may think our actions are irrational and ultimately destructive. Sometimes they are. We’re not perfect. But we’re also trying to do the best we can to do right by our children….

Think of it like this: in our minds, we are traveling down a long, flat, straight road. We can see miles and miles into the horizon. We once felt secure in the knowledge that we’d be traveling down that road with another adult by our sides: the father. The only other person in this whole world who cares about the kids just like we do.

We may have accepted that he will no longer be traveling down that road alongside us (though some moms haven’t, but that’s another story). Perhaps he’s on the right side of the road now, and we’re on the left.

It just feel jarring and strange, disorienting and illogical to be joined on that road, walking along with someone we don’t know, someone we don’t feel comfortable with, someone who may or may not be on the same parenting page whatsoever.

So please, give us time. Leave the majority of the parenting to your partner, even if you see him fumbling or out of his element. Leave the communications between houses to him. The financial negotiations. The discipline. At least initially….

Don’t take our mother tiger behavior personally. As Jenna said in the post before this, focus on making YOUR life happy!

And moms, just realize: once you’ve seen the stepmom in your kids’ lives for a while, once you’ve seen her trying and trying, busting her ass and putting in all the same grunt work that YOU do, please, for the love of God! — cut her some slack.

And reach out to her. She’s taking care of YOUR kids!

You WANT her on your side.

After all, isn’t that the highest sacrifice you could make as a mom? Creating room for another woman, so she can do a good job of loving your children — with your help?

How is any other choice serving them?

.

(P.S. We just posted the recordings for our recent webinars here.)

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. Dina McCausley says:

    As usual, easier said than done. :-)

    I think one facet missing here is that we don’t *want* or *need* another woman to come in and bust her ass like we do with our kids. It almost feels insulting to think that someone who was not there before, would just swoop in and think she knows what she’s doing ~ even worse, thinking she’s going to do better than I do at caring for the kids.

    It’s very easy, especially if there is not any kind of communication between parties, to fall into the trap of thinking that we know what the other woman is thinking, or what her intentions are.

    I’ve been learning that I can’t know what ‘she’ thinks or intends, I should only “judge” her on her actions without putting my own spin on them. Just because she does special things for the kids doesn’t mean she’s thinking she’s better than me or even that she’s judging me on what she may or may not have heard. Truth is I DON’T KNOW….and it doesn’t help me or the kids or the ‘split-house’ situation if I’m walking around seething in anger and insecurity.

    I can only be the best Mama I can be. It’s not a competition. I have to remind myself of this every time the kids leave. I’m thinking, at some point, it will be second nature. I look forward to those days.

  2. Hi Dina, you hit on something I’m going to be writing a post on soon; that you can’t know what the other woman is thinking or what her intentions are. I know some stepmoms who are repeatedly told by the mom what their thinking and what their intentions are, and the mom is 100% wrong.

    No one ever knows what someone else is thinking. Most of the time people are judging others as they judge themselves, and it comes from a place of fear.

    For the moms out there, I can tell them, I run a support group for stepmoms and 99% of the time they’re just trying to do the right thing for the child, it has nothing to do with thinking they’re better than mom or trying to show her up. In fact, most of the time they wish they had a relationship with mom so they could collaborate, ask advice, etc…

    Making assumptions about the other woman is never helpful. The best thing to do is to ask what her intentions are, in the most neutral, non-defensive,non-attacking way possible :)

  3. Dina, your wonderful comment sparked so many thoughts for me! :) Another one I just had, when you talk about it being insulting for another woman to swoop in, and that moms don’t want or need that person taking care of their kids- I think this goes back to “taking it personally”. Just as stepmoms shouldn’t take it personally that moms usually automatically dislike them, maybe moms shouldn’t take it personally that another woman is willing to care for their children. (not by choice, but because they married the moms ex-husband and now they’re faced with these kids). Does that make sense?

    As women, we love to make things about US, but really they’re not. They’re about the kids.

  4. Dina McCausley says:

    Exactly ~ and when emotions are involved it can sometimes be hard to remember that IT’S NOT ABOUT ME.

    I think that the ‘insulting’ part comes in because, as mother’s (most of us) we wouldn’t *EVER* just let a strange person into our kids lives, let them keep them overnight, clean thier clothes, help with bath time, etc. In the case of a Step-Mother, we have NO SAY. We don’t get to intervbiew or get to know this person, we just have to trust that the ex has made a good choice (and that may be hard given a not-so-good track record in the past). It’s “personal” because it’s our kids! :-)

    That said, I’ve personally tried really hard to not have any bad feelings or preconeived notions about my ex’s GF. She’s a nice person and she’s gone out of her way to be kind to the kids. My job has been to put my EGO aside and reassure the kids that it’s ok for them to like her ~ hey, I like her! Sometimes I’m tearing up on my ride home, my mind a-swirl with thoughts of how AWESOME thier time is and how I can’t compete because I’m the “every day boring” parent, but I deal with those feelings privately so I can greet the kids (and the ex and GF) with a REAL smile and true happiness for the good times they just spent together.

    Our feelings as Mom and Step-Moms DO matter and deserve to be validated. This is a tumultuous ride for everyone. However, I do believe our ‘feelings’ come second to the comfort and well being of the kids feelings. If we could think of that first, I think we’d be more apt to have positive relationships with each other.

  5. Excellent points, Dina! I commend you for really making the effor to deal with your stuff privately, for the sake of the kids and your relationship with your ex’s girlfriend.

    Jen and I have this conversation recorded somewhere, but it’s almost like a no-win situation, because when you talk about having no say about who this woman is and that you don’t get to interview her (all very valid points), at the same time, there are so many stepmoms reaching out saying “Hey, here I am, I’d love to chat, don’t you want to get to know me??”, just to be rebuffed by the mom. And how does that cycle end? Maybe it just takes time? Maybe the mom just can’t accept her reaching out because of all those reasons you listed above and all the points Jen made?

    I don’t know the answer, but it’s great to have moms posting on here giving us their side of things :).

  6. Dina McCausley says:

    Unfortunately I have no idea what that’s like. I’m routinely ignored and treated like I don’t exist. That’s why I did the reaching out….kind of trying to put myself into her position and see what it would be like stepping into this crazy situation. I figured if she felt welcomed by me, and not threatened, it would make things easier…but I kind of feel like it’s making me look like a chump. Eh…not gonna worry about it because it’s not about *ME*, but it does sting.

    I’d like to think that all of us are enlightened enough to be ok with, and even HAPPY, to be ‘bothered’ by the stepmom….but alas, I realize that’s not the case. Humans in general are territorial. Make that two women who, while the personal experiences may be completely different, are technically sharing a private life with the same man (whether now or in the past), trading kids back and forth, having to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme, etc.

    I can’t wait to get beyond *Step One*. I’m imagining rainbows and sunshine…bunnies frolicking…hahaha….just kidding. I AM imagining peace though…at least a calm in the external storm to reflect the calm I’m working on inside.

  7. Dina McCausley says:

    and I also want to say THANK YOU to all the amazing Step-Moms (Step-Parents) who put thier feeling aside and do what is best for kids they didn’t bear. It says a lot about a woman when she loves like that.

  8. Ugh, Dina, sorry to hear that :(. It’s funny, it seems like if the stepmom reaches out, the mom wants nothing to do with her, and if the mom reaches out, the stepmom wants nothing to do with her. So ridiculous.

    I too would like to think that we’re all enlightened enough to welcome a new woman in, but that’s just not the case.

    And as for rainbows and bunnies, don’t give up on that! You just never know what tomorrow will bring. And thank YOU for doing your part in attempting to bring peace, for your children :).

  9. Dina McCausley says:

    I’ll let you in on a secret.

    I am doing things the way I am because I don’t want to be towards the “new Lady” the way my ex was towards my Husband. ALL of the things we’ve heard about bio-moms doing to the new step-mom has been done to my Husband, by my ex. It’s been REALLY hard to sit by and watch him be undermined, bullied and disregarded while he’s desperately trying to do everything he can to be a good parent without stepping on anyone’s toes. In our case, my Husband reached out to my ex on many occasions only to be rebuffed and demeaned. I don’t think it’s any easier for any GOOD step-father.

    I NEVER want “her” to feel the way my Husband has been made to feel. I feel like this has given me a *window of sensitivity* (unfortunately at my Husbands expense)and helped me stick to treating her the way I want to be treated, no matter what.

    As for the peace, it’s not just for the kids! I need it too…so does Step-Mom. I can justify it right now by saying it’s for the children but ultimately we’re all going to benefit..and THAT is what I’m working towards.

  10. Yikes! We definitely don’t hear about stepdads/dads being treated that way. The research shows that they typicially have it much easier than stepmoms/mom, but of course there are always the outliers.

    And I couldn’t agree more, we ALL need the peace, it benefits all of us.

    I’ve noticed that some people are addicted to conflict, drama and suffering and they want to spread that to others. In those cases, it really IS best to just stick to ourselves and do the best we can for the kids. :).

  11. Well look at the party y’all were having while I was gone!!! (Running around like a crazy person today.)

    Dina, you made some great points about the work that’s involve in trying to do the right thing. Sounds like you have a sense of perspective and even mastery. That doesn’t make the problems and challenges evaporate, but at least you have a sense of the bigger picture and can separate your ego out from everyhing.

    I too remember those teary drives home, wondering why I felt so sad when we’d all just had a great time after I dropped the kids off.

    I’m sorry to hear that your husband went through that with the ex, but you’ve used it to grow and probably headed off even bigger problems with the other woman, even though it might not seem like it!

    Jenna, I’m glad this thread sparked so many new ideas for you! It’s true that the judgments go both ways, for sure, when really, we barely know each other at all. As I tried to show, moms can feel extra exposed when they feel like stepmoms know all their dirt from the get-go. I remember feeling really frustrated that Carol probably knew everything about me, but SHE was a closed book. :-)

    Eager to see what comes from this in new posts!

  12. It’s great to hear the BM’s point of view as I often have NO IDEA where she is coming from. I feel like I’ve tried everything (appologising/extending an olive branch/asking permission for everything to do with SD/sending photos of SD at her sport etc) only to get every response but the one I thought I would?
    I know I should stop TRYING so darn hard and just live and control the things I can but it’s not as easy as it sounds! Why do I feel like I have to be the best SM ever? Why do I feel like I can never do anything right? Why do I care what she thinks/says so much? Why won’t she put SD first and communicate with me and DH?
    So many question and so few answers.
    I thought I could let it go but I don’t think I know how???

  13. Hi Karla, try remembering that she’s just a person, like you. With her own insecurities and fears. Try repeating to yourself “so what?” when you start question yourself. Just because she thinks or doesn’t think something of you doesn’t make it true. Then look at the price you’re paying for trying to do everything for everyone. What’s the price you pay for spending your time thinking about her when you have a family right in front of you that would benefit SO much more from your energy and attention? Start by answering those questions and see what you come up with up :). Then make a list of everything you’re doing RIGHT. Remind yourself of all the things you love about yourself and your family. Find what you love about your life right now, in this moment, and then revel in those things! And always be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can!

  14. Hi Karla!

    Jenna has some great advice! I hope you end up making that list…. ;-)

    Darn, I wish I could point you to a recent webinar we did called “How to Know When to Stop Trying” but it didn’t record! We’ve talked about doing it again because there’s so much confusion around this area….

    There’s kind of a two-part process to answering this question. To greatly oversimplify, first, you have to take your “blinders” off and practice the art of brutal honesty with yourself. Look at the mistakes you may have made in the situation and then… look at the ways you might secretly be benefiting from the drama and conflict.

    Then, once you’ve answered that questions honestly, it’s time to assess your boundaries. “Boundaries” are just another fancy way of saying: the areas where you ALLOW people to mistreat you, the patterns.

    More than likely, they need boosting.

    Those two angles alone will give you a huge amount of information to work with and will make you feel MUCH more in control, in a good way.

    Also, take a listen to Brenda Ockun’s recent call with us on the Multimedia page. She goes into how important the maternal role is for women – how it’s been drilled into our heads since day one that the way we are as a mother (or mother figure), equals our value as a woman. Sounds antiquated. Like, “How could I believe something so silly and traditional?” But… I believe it’s a pretty powerful influence. That might be one reason this stuff is so hard to shake. :-)

    If you’d like to join us in the Member’s Community for a deeper discussion, we’ll be making a Friend Referral deep discount available over the next several days to make it more affordable for folks.

    Thanks for writing!

  15. Thanks Jenna and Jennifer,

    I have asked myself all of those questions and tried to be brutaly honest too… and yes it was hard and still is. It’s an ongoing process and I don’t always get it right.

    I know that there must be a “pay off” of some sort for me to get wrapped up in all of the drama but I’ve been asking myself what it is for over 6 years now….. And as selfish as it sounds the only thing I can come up with is it makes me feel better and vindicated when I think I’m putting SD first and she’s not…. when I see myself as the better parent (that was scary to write and put out there).
    I found myself nodding at the paragraph Jennifer where you write about how I feel in my role as Mother and Step Mother…. the two are inseperable in my mind and I do place A LOT of stock in how it reflects me as a woman. Especially considering BM and many others (including myself sometimes) still see me as the “other woman”. It’s like a big fat scarlet letter burnt into the very essence of who I am and seems to define me and judge me no matter how much I wish it didn’t.
    I can not and will not make excuses for the way my relationship with DH started as there is no defence for causing that pain to another human being. But 6 and a half years and 2 more beautiful duaghters later I can not wish it away either.

    My head and heart are full of so many questions and emotions and I fear they will never be fully resolved. I am just thankful that there are women like yourselves out there to help my try x

  16. Jennifer says:

    Karla, good for you. That kind of honesty is what’s going to help you get to a better place. It’s very hard NOT to find ourselves doing that automatic comparison between ourselves and the other woman. It’s even easier to do because we don’t KNOW each other.

    Have you ever seen someone at work that you passed in the hallway for years, but never interacted with? You formed your own impressions about them due to the way they looked, moved, behaved. Then one day, you end up having a five-minute conversation in the elevator and you realize you had NO IDEA of what they were really like. And you feel instantly guilty for some unkind judgments you used to have. Same thing here….

    As to how your relationship started, it’s easy for us as a society to stand in the corner and simply say these things shouldn’t happen. Period. End of story. And you’ve acknowledged yourself that that permanent “fact” about you pains you. I would venture to say that *this* is probably the heart of the matter, in terms of what’s making you unhappy — and what may even be behind your rejection by the mom, why nothing seems to work. You can’t change her opinion, or anyone else’s, but as you said, the relationship has endured. You’ve had two children. So maybe it’s time you focused more of your attention on forgiving YOURSELF. I think that might give you a huge dose of peace and it requires nothing from anyone else!

    We’ve had other folks comment here in the same boat as you. And I have enormous sympathy for those who have had to experience this on the other side. Their heartbreak over what this did to their children.

    But the dialogue can’t stop there. We can’t simply “rest” in the knowledge of right or wrong and leave it at that. Our children weren’t frozen in time when this happened and obviously, we still have to figure out a way to parent together. I understand that many moms might feel like is no way in hell they’re going to try with a woman who entered the picture THAT way, but… look who’s still standing there, looking at all of us expectantly for direction.

    The kids!

    Whenever I don’t know what to do, I always start digging. Going backwards. See what you can find out about what led to your actions, years ago. See where you might have compassion for yourself. Renewed compassion for her and the kids. Then give yourself the gift of kindness and let it go….

    Hugs.

  17. After reading this blog and Dina’s comments, while I can certainly SYMPATHIZE with the mother, I still have this gnawing issue in my head:

    Just as stepmoms should KNOW that the kids are going to be present, even while they can’t predict the difficulties, moms and dads who split up should KNOW that they by doing so they are choosing to relinquish the ability to control those in their children’s lives. Sorry, it’s a fact. To get angry just because there is a new woman and not because of something personal would be the same a woman getting angry just because the man she has started to date has a kid. I’m sure that happens once in a while, but it doesn’t seem to be the standard. I think for most stepmoms the anger comes later when the situation starts becoming more clear to her. It -is- personal. Yet impersonal anger is, according to this and other blogs, the standard for mothers.

    So, though the protective instinct of a mother is understandable, the unreasonable words and actions many then proceed with are still inexcusable. The problems the angry mom has with the stepmom should be personal. Her actions would be more understandable, workable, and forgivable if they were.

    I know, I know- I’m not making any friends here, but this is something that has been bothering me for a long time. I don’t feel that unreasonable actions should be rationalized on the basis of “instinct” without clear and present danger.

  18. Dina McCausley says:

    I don’t think anyone has excused unreasonable words or actions at all. All that’s being said it that it’s natural to feel territorial. It’s natural to have an aversion to strangers inserting themselves(or being inserted) into the lives of your kids without you knowing who they are. There hasn’t been one instance where anybody has said, “Yeah, now take those irrational feelings and treat the other woman with disdain.” NOT AT ALL.

    The purpose of this and other blogs is to get people to take responsibility for thier negative actions ~ actions that impact the realtionship usually before anyone even has a chance to know the heart or intentions of the other person.

    I’ve never met any woman either in the process of, or divorced, who’s first thoughts are, “Well now, I’m not going to have any say in my kids life anymore…it’s inevitable so I might as well just accept it.” Most of us are just trying to emotionally be ok with what we just went through. The LAST thing we think about is the fact that what we once were so involved in will suddenly be taken from us and handed to someone else….I know I never thought about ‘another woman’ becoming involved, I was too busy just trying to maintain and create stability for the kids. So when suddenly there was this other person, a stranger, intimately involved with my kids (and intimately involved with someone who I personally had a very negative experience with) my first instincts aren’t to like and embrace this Woman. They were to hold tighter to what I viewed as ‘MINE’.

    It takes TIME and EFFORT to get past those feelings. It’s NOT natural to just be ok with handing over your kids ~ sorry, it’s just not.

    Humans are not 100% logical and rational. Emotions are involved and there is no “normal” when it comes to the emotions of billions of humans. To try and psychoanalyze to the most basic factor does a disservice to the ‘working it out’ process. We are more than just rational thought, we feel ~ we hurt, we have anger, we have pain, we have moments of elation, we get confused, we have egos, we claim territory…we are animals.

    Feelings and emotions are not wrong. Nobody is excusing or accepting heinous action on anyone’s part. Us ‘moms’ need to be able to work out these hiccups too. Does it mean we should get away with doing things we shouldn’t? NO. Nobody is saying that.

    I just don’t see where anyone has excused anyone’s bad behavior.

  19. Dina- I agree that the fear is a natural reaction. And you’re right, I wasn’t appreciating that often, the moms are just trying to old themselves together after a traumatic event. To then be put in the position of realizing they have relinquished some authority can only be hurtful and shocking.

    However, in considering divorce, while it should not be a deciding factor, perhaps we SHOULD be aware that by divorce they are giving up that control over our children’s lives. No, it does not need to be the first thought our heads, but for it to never be acknowledged and thought about is irresponsible to some extent.

    Obviously, my own experiences with my husband’s ex have been consistently far from positive despite reaching out on multiple occasions and stepping back, so I do read these blogs feeling defensive. Perhaps that is why, to me, the words “It’s not personal” imply excuse. “It’s not personal, it’s business.” “It’s not personal, it’s instinct.” Things will be said and done and should be understood and, to a great degree accepted because “It’s not personal.”

    Does that make sense . . . ?

  20. Carrie, I’m glad you said something. And I don’t think anything is off limits here as long as it’s said of helping each other understand what the inner worlds of divorced moms and stepmoms are really like.

    You made an excellent point about how often moms use the old “it’s just instinct” line to excuse crappy, inexcusable behavior.

    And I thought Dina also did an excellent job of showing you how hard it is to be blind-sided by the difficulty of having another woman that you don’t know in your kids lives.

    It’s one thing to expect it logically. It’s another thing altogether to have it right in front of your face, bringing up emotions that you find overwhelming and impossible to avoid.

    I’ll see if I can find it, but I tried to write about this before: the stepmom is bringing an energy of “moving towards” to her stepfamily, trying to bring all the pieces together in a cohesive fashion.

    The mom has a “moving away” energy. She’s trying to distance herself from her ex and move through the grieving process (which sometimes can take years). She’s trying to create a flow and stability to her single parenting.

    Just the other day, I had a teary conversation with a new acquaintance who’s going through a divorce. She initiated it, and she knew that eventually, he was going to find someone else, which was actually fine with her. But it was the prospect of another woman entering her children’s lives that made her cry.

    You are both saying the same thing: people need to be responsible for their actions. It’s just difficult, when feelings run so high and you’re forced to deal with the unwanted presence and influence of the other person.

    Thanks for seeking to understand each other!

    Hugs,
    Jen

  21. Dina McCausley says:

    Carrie ~ YES, you make sense. I really didn’t think you were being defensive, your questions were valid. I just thought maybe I could explain (not excuse) how things can sometimes get muddled. While I haven’t done anything to the new Lady in the kids lives, I still have to deal with these crazy feelings that I *know* are mostly not rational.

    I can honestly say that I don’t understand the thinking of a lot of moms who purposely do things to thier ex or the new mom, but I think that’s because I (and my new Husband) was on the receiving end of those kind of actions for about 4 years. IT SUCKED. I would NEVER want someone else to feel and have to deal with those things so I’ve purposed to not perpetuate that kind of discord myself. I DO, however, understand being so frustrated and feeling so out of control that I *wanted* to say or do something just for spite.

    Maybe, for a lot of these mamas, they don’t know how to compartmentalize or reach out for help with coping so they act out. That’s not an excuse, but maybe if there’s some understanding as to ‘why’ someone does something, we can respond in a fashion that can cause them to stop and think instead of getting defensive themselves.
    Of course, there *ARE* those who are just nuts….

    I’m glad you chimed in. I’ve been thinking about this stuff all day :-)

  22. Jennifer thank you for this. As I much as I know that nothing excuses insane behavior, I have been enlightened on why there was insane behavior. The notion of not knowing why this woman hates you so much is such a horrible and isolated feeling. There is hope that it isn’t really hate but just a “mother’s instinct” that drives her to come off the way she does.

  23. I LOVE this. I really didn’t struggle with the stip-mom entering into the picture for my kids as much. I can see how much she LOVES AND ADORES my kids. I know that she is in their corner, fighting for them and at their house doing EVERYTHING that I do for them at mine and I cannot express in words how much it means to me. I never had that resentment towards her, so it is very hard for me to understand someone that has a different mindset than me about it. ANY help that I can get is WONDERFUL!

  24. Thanks, Aimee. I’m glad it helped. Do you have kids with your spouse? Many stepmoms who are also moms often swear that they would never treat another woman this way if, god forbid, they got a divorce. But I think it’s another thing altogether to walk in those shoes and be overtaken by some pretty primal emotions that seemingly come out of nowhere…. :-)

    Also, keep in mind, if there’s leftover baggage between the exes (gee, how rare is that?!), you’ll probably be associated with that, by default, because many moms assume you’re taking his side, no matter what. Tricky stuff, huh?

    Just keep the focus on creating peace in your family and with yourself…

    Thanks for writing!

  25. Stephanie, that’s fantastic that you made room in your heart for your kid’s stepmom. Kudos to YOU!!! Your kids will reap the benefits for years to come and will likely have better relationships themselves as adults because of it….

    Thanks for your comment! :-)

  26. Stephanie, it’s a wonderful gift that you’re giving to your children, being open to their stepmom :). We often expect people to behave the way we do, and when they don’t, we’re blown away. I hope you find lots of support in our little community :).

    Thanks for commenting!
    -Jenna

  27. Jenna writes: “maybe moms shouldn’t take it personally that another woman is willing to care for their children”

    Hey — I think it’s awesome when someone wants to help out. So long as I get the up or down vote on whether she cares for my kid.

    Have a look sometime at the boards to do with finding childcare, especially for young children. Look at how obsessively the mothers vet the providers, and continue checking up on them even after we give the thumbs up. We put a ginormous amount of energy into this — usually far more than the fathers do.

    Why don’t we just, y’know, trust whoever the dad brings into our kids’ lives? Well…if we trust the guy, then generally we do. But we’re divorced. Odds are decent that we don’t think a whole lot of his judgment. My ex? Wanted to bring our then-toddler daughter around a schizophrenic woman who’d lost custody of her own son for *biting* him. Over my dead body, I said. I’m aware that I have no choice, now that we’re divorced — unless I know of a reason why the woman’s dangerous.

    A good childcare provider, by the way, will always be open to having the parents come in and sniff around. They’ll always be open to questioning, special requests, complaints, etc. Basically they see it as normal to have parents to be freaked out about leaving their kids in someone else’s care, and they see parent-soothing as part of their job. They also know that they’re under review constantly. That’s how big a deal it is. I was actually surprised by this when my daughter was younger…and I’m still surprised by it at her after-school care now. But it’s true: every single childcare provider who’s ever looked after my daughter — and they’ve been just wonderful — has it firmly in mind that the parents (usually mom) are boss, and they’re at the ready with reassurances, programs, questions about preferences, etc. well before I even look for them.

    The only caregiver who hasn’t been open with me is my ex’s gf. Does that mean I simply sit back and trust, no. If there’s something online about her and her immediate family — including legal and financial records — you bet I’ve read it. If I meet someone acquainted with her, I listen carefully. And if my daughter talks about her, sure my ears are pricked up. Trust but verify, that’s my motto here.

    I’ve just been blown out of the water by possibly the worst mom/stepmom story I’ve seen maybe ever. There’s a woman whose blog I’ve followed for years, a mom of two; her elder daughter’s gone through three liver transplants. Like most moms with chronically ill kids, her life and her career’s been shattered, and her whole job in life is keeping her daughter alive, staying sane, and keeping life as normal as possible for everyone. She’d disappeared for a while, and I worried something had happened to the girl; last month she resurfaced. Fortunately, the girl is doing relatively well. Unfortunately, her husband’s just left her for another woman.

    Now, if I were this lady, would I be excited about the prospect of having this other woman take care of her chronically seriously ill daughter? Um…not one bit. Not unless she was a registered nurse who worked in a PICU. Because a screwup could cost the child her life. In fact I’m encouraging her to put language in the decree stating specifically that only the parents and qualified medical staff may have care of the girl when she’s ill. That may not even be enough, because the girl’s health turns on a dime: will the other woman know what to do when the girl’s suddenly pooping blood? Or vomiting everywhere, swelling up, lethargic, etc? Will the woman know what she’s looking at? She may be very well-meaning about learning to care for the girl, but if I were that mom I’d nix it. The stakes are too high here for the girl to be her learning curve, and besides, if the woman were all that wonderfully caring, she wouldn’t have encouraged this guy in the first place, and helped break up a family that needed him that badly.

    This is, incidentally, a very common story in families with children who have serious illnesses or disabilities. The mothers are all about helping the kids and/or keeping them alive; the fathers lose their grip and split, often after having found someone else. (In a response to the blogger’s predicament, another transplant mom told a story about a third transplant mom whose husband split right after finding out she was pregnant again.) Under a circumstance like that, I really don’t think the stepmom should be expecting any friendliness whatsoever from the mom.

    These stories horrify me, incidentally. I have in fact been involved with a married man — but I waited until his children were grown. I would never, ever interfere with a family engaged in raising children, let alone a family caring for children with disabilities or serious illnesses. There is such a thing as self-control.

  28. Amy, your ex’s gf isn’t a child care provider, though. Your ex has approved her, so that’s the way it is. Sorry. It sucks and it’s not fair, but you don’t have that control and shouldn’t.

    In an ideal world the two women are able to communicate so that fears along those lines can be assuaged, but it doesn’t always happen. Hell, I offered it to my BM early on and she rejected the option out of hand. She was more interested in flirting with my husband. And now, no, she has no place in my house. I was the primary caregiver for her son for four out of his six years. She doesn’t need to “inspect”.

    I know not all moms are in this position out of their choice, and it’s entirely unfair. And I know they have a valid fear when someone new comes into their kids life. But if the dad is so untrustworthy that he can’t even make a judgment on who should care for his kids, then he should have supervised visitation. But if that’s not a battle that is worth fighting for the mom when divorce happens, then chances are he is perfectly capable of making that call.

  29. No, I know she’s not a childcare provider. Jenna framed it in terms of “another woman’s willing to care for your child, isn’t that great?” and I was answering in the same terms.

    I know, too, that I don’t have any control over it. But — again — the issue was “why don’t moms just relax and enjoy?”. Like several other moms on this thread, I’ve explained why not. If you’re not willing to let a mom inspect, you’re going to have trouble. I’ve been on the gf side, btw, and been totally willing not only to let the mom inspect but to call the shots when it came to the kid. Because that’s her kid, and I know better than to get between any mother animal and her child.

    I agree that lots of guys should have supervised visitation, and I tried to get it. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to get. The fact that a guy’s seriously mentally ill and wants to bring a pre-verbal child around someone who’s had her own child taken away — that’s not enough to get supervised visitation here. He has to have damaged the child substantially, and usually repeatedly, first. Same story if the guy’s an alcoholic or drug addict or physically abusive toward the mother. And of course a responsible mom will have tried to protect the child from his irresponsibility and problems, so when the judge says, “Where are the CPS and hospital records,” there aren’t any — the mom’s put herself between the kid and the guy, and made sure the child hasn’t been put in the hospital.

    Before you decide what the moms should’ve done in divorce, read through single-mom boards and see what kind of horror stories go on. Moms all over know the guys are trouble, but until the kids have been damaged, no dice. There’s some reason for this. First, the hugely overworked courts deal with abysmal cases all the time, so a kid who hasn’t yet been burned/maimed/neglected/abused is not of interest to them. Second, the interest is in seeing that the kid sees the parent unless the parent’s a monster, and supervision’s expensive. Dads with supervised visitation are responsible for the cost, and often they don’t have the money, so they just don’t see the kids. So courts are reluctant to assign it.

    That leaves a lot of moms with irresponsible exes, who frequently do make bad choices when it comes to who has access to the kids.

  30. Hi ladies, I just wanted to pop in here briefly just to clarify that Jennifer wrote this article, not me. So feel free to address any questions to her :). Thanks!

  31. Spot on. BOUNDARIES are the best advice anynoe can give in this situation. It takes a lot of work to set them up, and often there will be drama in doing so, but once they are up things get so much easier for everyone. No one can open up if they don’t feel safe. Boundaries allow that safety and the potential of getting along in the future more than any fake niceties ever could.

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