What all stepmoms should know about divorced moms

In my three short years as a stepmom, I’ve learned some things about divorced moms that I wish I would have known at the very beginning. It would have made my journey SO much easier.

I’m sharing them with you now, in hopes that your ride will be a little smoother than mine.

Keep in mind, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are moms who are open to having another woman love, care, help raise their children, and don’t mind hearing about it. But there are far more moms who aren’t so comfy with that idea.  Some moms will never get there, and some just need time.

1. Whether or not they still hold a torch for their ex-husband, and whether it’s been six months or six years, moms think it’s weird to meet the other woman. Some of these women are angry because they have less access to their ex’s now that you’re in the picture, and for some of them it’s the reality that it’s over.

For others, even if they aren’t holding a torch, it can still be weird seeing the father of their child with another woman. No real explanation needed – it’s just ODD.

This can be hard for stepmoms to understand, because we know how our husband feels about her. But that’s not what she sees. She sees HER emotions and feelings and if she’s not ready to let go, there’s no way she’ll be open to you.

For this reason alone, it’s best to take it slow. If you’ve reached out and got your head bit off, or ignored, take that sign to heart. She’s not ready for you.

Take your focus off her and put it back on yourself and your family. It’s not personal, it’s about her working through her stuff.

2. Moms feel like a bad parent when they send their children off to dad’s house, where another woman, whom they don’t know, will be taking care of them.

It just feels wrong.

This is strange to stepmoms, because we simply see ourselves as an additional person to love and care for our partner’s children. Or at the very least, we’re  just doing what any responsible adult would do when there are children in their home – taking care of them.

3. Moms don’t want to see you at parent-teacher conferences. For them, it’s like letting a stranger in who suddenly wants to make decisions about their children. Even if you sit and say nothing, it’s still an invasion. They might look at you and think “Who are you? You have no right to be taking part in this ritual.”

This can be frustrating for stepmoms, because we  just want to know what’s going with the child so we can better help take care of him. This is especially difficult if our husbands aren’t so great at relaying details.

4. Mom didn’t sign up to co-parent with you. You’re a stranger to her. It doesn’t mean anything to her that her ex has chosen you. SHE hasn’t. She doesn’t want to hear from you about how you’ve disciplined her kids or the “plan” you and your husband have come up with.

In her mind, she only co-parents with him. She did just fine before you came along (even if you disagree), and if you attempt to discuss parenting or disciplining with her, what she’s likely to hear is “You’re not doing a good enough job. Let me take over. Let me tell you how to do your job.” Even though that’s rarely a stepmom’s intention.

Stepmoms often think we have a “right” to share in the disciplining of the children, since we live with them and are affected by their actions.

So, until you have a respectful relationship with mom and she’s given you “permission” to talk to her about parenting issues, keep them between you and your husband and let your husband be your voice.

5. You can be a reminder of what has failed. Often, moms feel like they’ve failed their family. They failed their children. And every time they see or hear from you, they are reminded of that. So go easy on them. Don’t rush them. Give them time to adjust to the newness. Give them time to grow.

6. Don’t tell mom that she should be open to you because “it’s what’s best for the kids.” Even though it IS best for the kids, saying this can put her on the defensive. It’s as if the fact that she’s not ready to work things out means she’s NOT willing to put her child’s needs first. And that will not go over well.

I know that some of this may not make sense to stepmoms, but it’s not your job to understand why she feels this way. Just knowing that she does, will hopefully be enough reason for you to find little ways to adjust your behavior so you’ll be in the best possible position for a relationship with her, when she’s ready.

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  1. Gosh I’m so glad I found this page thank you so much! I don’t want to write too much on this as I’m not sure who will see this but it has been such a great help to read your advice and comments that I have thought about and people have already asked.

  2. All very good that and quite accurate. I am sick of seeing the ex wives portrayed as villains. It seems that an awful lot of women do need to feel superior to others. In my case I am the ex wife. I haven’t asked for extra money and put up with too much crap from him as well as infidelities, dating sites and all the rest. Then he found a psycho who has put me through hell. She is so intrusive that under the guise of “just wanted to help” she texts me from his phone after I contacted him to say good night to my child when at their place. That is spot on on the co-parenting. I didn’t sign up to co-parent with another woman. Not a chance in hell. My brood is my brood. No other woman has any right to meddle. All I know is that I never controlled him (that is probably what he needed!) and wouldn’t even think of checking his phone. She is always trying to compete with me while I do my very best not to engage in the competition. No not all ex wives are insecure or bitter or jealous or it would be great if women were not so competitive with others and spared us the crap. Men don’t do that to each other. Far more respect between them.

  3. This advice is great, but does not always apply. I met my husband after he had been divorced for over a year. When we got serious, the mother of his kids asked to meet me. When we met, I said hello, she stared at her feet and that was that.

    She is remarried and brings her husband to conferences, etc. She changed the in case of emergency contact on my stepkids medical info to her new husband. She used to tell them to call her new husband dad.

    Sometimes, if the shoe fits….you can see how some bitter ex wives make everyone look bad.

  4. Anna, if your ex spouse is remarried to another woman now living with your and his children, it seems to me that being friendly to her is the wise choice. If you end up forcing your kids to make you happy and watching you dislike her, instead of your urging them to be happy with their stepmom, that is disallowing your kids to be happy in their current life. This doesn’t seem very kind toward the kids, and yes, even that woman as well. It seems better to me to model kindness so as they grow up, they learn to be happy in their life growing up, and to be kind to peers, even peers they do not like. We all need to learn to do that in life, don’t we?

  5. Mari I hear what you are saying but it’s so subjective everyone’s situation. I am a very awesome ex wife in my opinion. I will bend over backwards to be polite BUT the best thing I read on this site was that we ex wives don’t want you coming to my kid’s parent teacher conferences.. I HATE it. I think it’s so inappropriate for her to be there NOW i have to choose to either have the conferences by myself and let them do whatever they want or tolerate here there UGH… I sent her this website and she seemed to understand so let’s cross our fingers at the next one and see what happens. Problem is my ex is a tool and has no clue that she shouldn’t be there… Maybe if I ever meet someone and he comes he will understand but right now the sides are very unbalanced. wish me luck

  6. @ James

    What about women who leave addicts or abusers? Does mom give up her rights to have say in her children’s lives? Or should her kids continue to live in the instability?

    I think this is a great article that has valuable insight. However everyone’s situation is different and should be respected as such.

  7. oh my gosh i’m so glad i found you! funny, it took me moving 2000 miles away from austin tx to come full circle to women who share thoughts and ideas about step mothering right there where i used to live. i lived in austin for 10 years as a married woman then later divorced and single mother. it took me moving to new england to learn what it meant to be a stepmom. and it’s been three years of navigating new sibling dynamics and two houses and ex wives that pick fights. i just found your book “no one’s the bitch” and read nearly half of it last night! i just purchased a copy of Skirts At War and i’m very much looking forward to reading it. thank you. thank you so much… it means so much to know there are others out there and that we are not alone in this bizarre dynamic of relationships. it’s certainly not easy. but love is at the core of it, all around, and that’s what keeps us moving forward.

  8. From the actual mther half of this is a very wrong perception. No wonder the step mithers dont have it figured out if you are reading such misinformation. Thank god step parents have bo rights in the state of Florida.

  9. lauren says:

    I realize this article is 3 years old and I’m just now chiming in. I was reading something else and it suggested I read this one so here I am. Some of these statements are very accurate and some are very inaccurate. I have been in both shoes, stepmother and mom, and I see both sides. I know it’s different for everyone, but I really really don’t agree with #1. It’s probably just me because I have been divorced for 10 years and am really indifferent to my ex husband, for me it’s about my daughter and nothing else. He is remarried and I hold no ill will toward his wife. I am actually grateful for her, she takes good care of my daughter and I trust her to be responsible and take care of my child. I trust her 1000x more than I trust my ex to care for her alone!! Now that being said, we did have a rough time in the beginning, but I honestly feel she was the insecure and jealous one. At one point she tried to tell me that I was not to have any contact whatsoever with my ex unless it went through her! She tried to force my daughter to call her “mom” and on more than one occasion called or texted me to “scold” me about how I was parenting. Mind you, she had only been dating my ex for less than a year and she had no children of her own, so how she became the parenting expert I’m not sure… so sometimes the mom starts out accepting and the stepmom pushes her away. That was years ago and I think as time went on she realized that I have absolutely NO interest in my ex, and I’m actually a decent mother to my daughter. I’m sure she still has her thoughts about me but I could care less. As long as she continues to be good to my daughter I’m cool with her.

  10. X wives, in my case. My husband and her divorced 6 years ago. She shows no interest in her children which I end up going to their school meetings in case of my husband’s absence. She doesn’t cook for them and don’t care how they look when they are going to school. We builded a block of flats for them to get income on daily basis because she never worked in her life. What I hate the most is that she doesn’t see the value of education. Her boyfriend moved in with her (he is not working) with his children they r all spending this money and my husband’s kids are complaining about the living condition. The problem now is that the elder son (22 years) is behaving very strange. He comes to our house unannounced lock himself in the guest room and take my clothes and return them when I’m not around. My helper told me about this but I didn’t believe her but I’ve put cameras in that room. I couldn’t believe what I saw. This child has some “vudu” things he does in that room. Dusting my clothes with some powder and left some strange soil and sticks in the drawers. I waited for his father because I was afraid to touch them. I showed him those things but he didn’t believe my story until I showed him the video. I can be called an evil step mom I don’t care. I did everything for kids, treated them like my own but now I feel unsafe with them. The two young ones wanted to stay with us and we were still talikng about that but no. I don’t want those kids in my house again.

  11. We get so wrapped up in our own problems that we seem to forget about the feelings of others. I like to think of myself as an empathetic person, but still I struggle with this. It’s just too easy to write someone off as a bitch, instead of thinking, “Gawd, her mom’s sick, her ex remarried, she needs a break,”.
    There was a time when I was sure she was the physical embodiment of evil (lol) but… As my husband’s ex gets more and more toxic, I try to remember that her pain is real, and that her sometimes puzzling behavior is caused by variables outside of what I can understand, because I don’t wear “her shoes”.
    Of course, there are ugly circumstances in which finding compassion is more than hard to do. In these cases, we as parents need to take the highroad, no matter how it frustrates us. Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for– particularily in matters of emotion and love. At the end of the day, our children need to feel free to love *ALL* of their family without shame, fear or manipulation.

  12. momof2SMof3 says:

    When reading this article and the other about moms understanding SM i was disgusted with all of the people that arent open minded. Me and my husband dated in high school broke up and he has three beautiful children with BM. I tryed to be civil and left her alone. When we first started dating she said she wanted to meet me. We were supposed to get together with my children to let them play and meet. She had purposely invited us to his brothers sons birthday party at a public place just to cause a problem and make me look bad we didn’t go but she had a few items of his that he wanted and she did to meet us at her house. I went and got out of the car to tell her i just wanted be able to get along for the kids. This enraged her and she started calling me dirty names in front of her kids and mine. I walked away and when i did she got in his face screaming and swearing while holding their youngest child.i admit that this i couldn’t have so i chose to go back to her and get her attention back on me. Soon after she attacked me physically. I am not small 170 5’6″ and she is twice my size. Even after this i still keep my mouth shut and say nothing. But his oldest is alway sad that he has to go home. Always saying how mom doesnt care about him. This breaks my heart. When we told him that his father and i were married his response when asked if he was happy with me being his stepmom was yes because now i have a mom that loves me and takes care of me.he is only seven but knows the difference between positive and negative. She still calls me names ever time she finds some excuse to call him or when he calls about taking the kids does anyone have any advice about how to fix my current standing with this woman.

    Thanks confused stepmom and a loving father

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