Stepmoms: You Are Not Alone (Part Two)

(These are excerpts from an article that was originally published in the July 2011 issue of Stepmom Magazine)

Stepmoms often feel very alone in their journey, but they’re not. Here are some common thoughts and emotions that stepmoms experience.

4. “I’m a great stepmom. I can take care of everyone and everything. I’ll show everyone that I can do this! Where’s my cape?”

Say hello to two of the biggest mistakes stepmoms make: assuming they’re able to solve everyone’s problems and trying to do too much.

Give yourself permission to stop doing too much. Stop assuming responsibility for your husband’s happiness, the children’s happiness and the ex’s happiness. Stop assuming responsibility for a cohesive, spotless, perfectly happy household.

There are many things you have no control over, and the more you try to control them the more helpless, powerless and resentful you will become.

Have you noticed what happens when you try to rescue someone from consequences? They never learn. They keep repeating the same behavior over and over again because they know you’ll be there to clean up their mess.

The problems between your husband, his ex and the kids were there long before you showed up. They are not yours to fix.

So step back. Give the members of your stepfamily the opportunity to grow by letting them face the consequences of their actions.

It’s amazing how someone will step up when you step aside.

This rule also applies for those of you who are trying to do everything for your stepchildren. Let someone else take them to Little League or band practice.

You have a right to say no.

In fact, you should say no sometimes because what good are you when you are worn down, angry and feeling taken advantage of?

Take a breather. Let your husband or his ex step up to the plate. I promise you, their worlds will not fall apart while you’re gone.

Not sure you can do that? Start small. Find one thing you do for the family that you wouldn’t mind giving up. Then take a break from it for a week. See how it feels.

It might just make a world of difference.

5. “I am not their maid.”

Typically, women like clean houses. It’s natural for us to immediately scan the room and see 10 things that need to be done now. But your husband doesn’t notice the mess, and the kids are just adding to it because, after all, they’re kids. How do you find that balance between getting some help around the house and not feeling like a nagging wife and stepmom?

Sit down with your husband and tell him what you need. Don’t make it about the kids or him being messy; make it about what you need to be comfortable in your own home.

Then, ask him to help come up with ways to remedy the situation. Ask him to brainstorm ideas with you. This will show him you value him and want his help rather than coming across accusatory of him and his kids of causing you major stress.

After you’ve come up with an agreeable plan, have a family meeting. You could even get the kids involved in the decision making.

Although kids will likely complain about chores, it will teach them responsibility and give them a sense of contributing to the family, which, in turn, will increase their self-reliance and self-esteem.

6. “The ex-wife: Will she ever go away?”

The answer is no. At least not until the kids are 18, when your contact may be reduced to graduations and weddings.

It’s common for a stepmom to feel a bit of jealousy. Here is a woman who was married to your husband first. They had kids together, and that will bond them forever. There is a history  that didn’t involve you. The kids compare you to her, and maybe the in-laws do, too.

But nothing good comes from dwelling on the past. Instead, focus on the present. He’s with you now, not her. And what’s the benefit of him being previously married?

Well, perhaps he’s learned from the mistakes he made in his first marriage.

You get the new and improved 2.0 version! And maybe they made some wonderful children together that you absolutely adore.

You and your husband are making your own memories now. You have a future with this amazing man. Look around and appreciate everything you have.

You can’t change the past, but the future is what you make of it.

© 2011 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

(Photo credit: Michal Marcol)

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  1. An open letter to my ex’s future wife:

    Please read this blog post. I agree wholeheartedly.

    You know what? I don’t want you to knock yourself out to the point of resentment. You know why? Because it’s bad for you, sure. But also because you’re going to wind up taking it out on me and my kids.

    So please, please don’t.

    You’re not the maid. Don’t pick up after the kid. On the other hand, you did marry a guy with a kid, and they’re not small adults. The reason your husband’s not fazed by her messes, or by her not eating whatever you’ve cooked, etc., is that he long ago accepted that she’s a kid. Kids do this. They take the full 18+ years to civilize.

    The solution? You have a husband who’s the kid’s father. Show him where the cleaning supplies are and leave the house. His kid, his job. Don’t let him complain at you about how he works so hard. You do, too, and hey, he’s the guy who decided to have a kid.

    As for the food: She’s not leaving it on the plate because she hates you or is passive aggressive or because I’m poisoning her mind agianst you. You know how you like to criticize me for feeding the kid a menu of about six terrible things? I do it for a reason. She won’t eat people food for another ten years. Trust me, I’ve thrown away a lot of time and nice food trying. Eventually I looked back and recognized that I grew up on a diet of Trix and RC Cola, despite best efforts of parents and grandparents who did know how to eat. I lived. So will the small philistine who visits your house. So make yourself happy: cook something nice for your man and yourself, and let him prepare the kid’s “food”, though I’d appreciate it if you’d remind him that she’s not biking the Tour de France and doesn’t need 4000 calories a day.

    Please don’t spend your money on my kid. I mean that. I don’t know any faster road to a fight than for you to feel that all your money’s going to me and my kid. Unfortunately, you picked a man who’s actually kinda broke, once he’s done paying support and whatnot, even though he’s only paying half or less what it actually costs to raise her in a somewhat shabby hand-me-down middle-class way. (And no, he’s not supporting me. I make enough to support myself plus my half of what she costs, and there’s a reason why I drive a 24-year-old car.) Kids, they’re expensive. So if you actually want to live well, yes, you’re going to be supporting his rear end. If you don’t want to do that, you’re going to have to live at his financial level. Either way, I’d strongly recommend that you *not* pool your money with his. Keep what’s yours. And if you want to do something nice for the kid, sure, but please don’t feel obliged.

    Please also keep in mind that your future husband is on the hook for about $25K in college expenses: a third of her future in-state costs. If I were in your shoes, I’d be making sure he was putting that money aside, out of his own income, around $100/mo with a step-up once she’s in high school. And you might want take that out of you mental accounting of what he can actually contribute to your household. Because otherwise, you know who’s going to pay? Yep. You. Don’t do it. You’ll be mad, mad, mad, especially if you have your own kids at the time. Don’t be the hero now and say you’ll do it together. You don’t want to help send her to college. You’ll want to help send your own kids to college. (The courts will not be sympathetic when you argue that non-divorced parents don’t have to pay for college, btw. It’s done this way so that men don’t rob the kids of child support by threatening to pay zilch for college if the women don’t back down on c/s. Which was standard practice for guys before the courts stepped in and said Um no. It’s a complicated world, made more complicated by how colleges calculate EFC.)

    You can, of course, do the standard thing, pushing him to drag me to court to fight for all of $200/mo. It won’t be worth it. Even if you get the money, it’s not going to compensate for the stress and acrimony you’ll generate, both with me and in your own house, by going after small change. It’ll be better for everyone if you recognize going in that the guy’s just got no dough because he’s got a kid. (Also, if you lose, you’ll have to pay my lawyer, and she’s expensive. You’ll resent that, too, and it’ll leave you feeling powerless and dejected.)

    And no, I won’t be going away for a while. Believe me, I don’t want to be in this either. But I’ve got a job to do and another decade or so on the clock. After that, I will, with great relief, say goodbye and wish you a happy life.

    I guess my message overall is to please recognize that you’re walking into an expensive and complex situation, with a guy who hasn’t got money and who has got a kid and a ghostly ex-wife in his house. (You might also consider there are probably reasons why he’s already divorced two women.) And, if you really can and want to handle that, if you love him that much, then I say welcome, but please don’t stick your hand in the fan. Please don’t give more time, money, and energy to my daughter than you can sustain, or than you want to give her.

    What I do ask is that you be consistent with her. If you run in all gung-ho and then pull back, she’ll assume it’s her fault. Because she’s a kid, and you’re a grownup. No amount of explaining will truly convince her that in fact it’s you, not her. She’ll keep looking for ways to get the old you back, and it’ll be damaging to her. So start out conservative with money, time, “fun-ness”, and all the rest. If you really have more to give, titrate it carefully, and don’t push yourself further than you really want to go. Trust that she’ll just accept you for who you really are.

    OK? Good, you can go back to hating on me now. And congratulations.



  2. Melinda Shipman says:

    Ok, points well taken. There are many of them that are true and should be listened to. However, there is a negative undertone to this letter and message to the new wife. This undertone sets the stage for lack of co-parenting, lack of consistency as well as competition despite you stating that you want nothing of the sort. Also, this letter seems to be one sided and seems to assume that ALL ex-husbands are broke, ALL ex-husbands have more than one failed marriage, ALL bio moms and ex-wives are exceptional and innocent, ALL child support is deserving and is spent accordingly-there are many different circumstances to each situation and household that are not considered here, last but not least, it makes the reader feel as if this second relationship with your “ex-husband” and daughter are already doomed before it starts….or is that the actually the true message that you wanted to share?? If so, shame on you, for setting up your daughter in an already hostile and lonely environment when it’s already hard enough on her him/her with the divorce and splitting of households alone??

    Coming from a stepmom of three and bio mom of a 1 yo that also inherited a lifelong adult with childish behavior, also known as “bio-mom”, personally speaking, I did in fact know what I was getting myself into and how complex the situation was and can be with the children. I did realize that there are three children and with children come expenses and messes, ect. I DO NOT want to spend all of my money or my time on YOUR children, that’s why they have you and their father, however, I AM NOW their father’s partner in life and their stepmom, their new addition to their family. What kind of person, wife, stepmom and mom would I be to turn my head at “THEIR” messes, “THEIR” expenses and “THEIR” problems, and not my own child’s while they are in MY home. In MY home, with THEIR father, we are FAMILY and are ALL equal. There will never be a time, as frustrated as I get at moments, that I will suggest to another stepparent to set up such a “division” in a household, all because a bio-mom feels entitled or a little threatened. I DID NOT know what I was getting into when it came to women like you. I have heard of woman’s behavior once scorned, but never imagined it true or that a woman would put their own fears, desires and insecurities over their own child’s.
    I know you would like nothing more than the stepmom to back off and let you be the “BEST” parent, when in fact you sound like the bitter ex-wife who is convincing the kids that their father loves their “stepmom” more than their family or you and even them, creating even more issues unimaginable. You want to claim to be that powerful single mom and get all of the awards while discrediting your ex husband as a father and blaming him for your failed marriage. A true single mom, is not as lucky as you to have a caring dutiful ex-husband or caring and support step-mom, a true single mom doesn’t receive ANY child support, and if they did, they would rather have their child’s father actively involved instead. I hope for your benefit, you don’t find yourself as a “stepmom” one day in a blended family who has inherited a lifelong bio-mom like and ex-wife like you. Good luck lady.

  3. Wish there was a way to “like” what you said Melinda!!! There is a level of bitterness to most of what the previous poster writes normally. Hope she finds some peace and security for herself and concentrates of her own life instead of the unfortunate SM. have to say, your description of the BM in your life made me laugh!

  4. I read Amy’s comments and I really, really like them. Do I agree with everything in all of them, no. Nor do I agree with everything anyone else on here posts, or how my friends and neighbors think – because each of us experiences to our own standard and with our own past brought into it.
    What I find really interesting on this site is the responses Amy gets about being bitter or having a “bad attitude” about the SM or future-SM in her life. Guess what….We are all here because we are trying to find some way to cope with how bitter and frustrated we are with the SM or bio-mom in our lives – otherwise we wouldn’t be here. This expectation that BMs should just get over it because it’s over is not only futile but disrespectful. She has every right to be bitter about getting left holding the bag as far as the long term plans she and your husband or boyfriend made AND this is defintely the appropriate venue. She is witty and isn’t hugely offensive or derogatory. I’m sure when she’s ready she’ll eat less lemons!
    I am here reading everything I can get my hands on to try to find a way through the bitter to the better so I can interact in a peaceful and co-operative manner with the SM or equivalent in my life and Amy’s posts usually make me laugh and at least let me know that while I might not be there yet, I’m trying. Every time I read on here about the SM’s new family or her marriage being more important than my child it makes me cringe – but I’m on here trying to learn the SMs point of view so I can work with her. Allow us healing BMs our bitterness, a little reciprocity would be appreciated :)

  5. Elaine, I believe I understand WHY you say it “makes you cringe” to hear a father and his wife (SM) putting their marriage first and above the children… I honestly think I get where you are coming from as a mother… you think that now that the dad has a wife and a “new life”, the wife is all that matters and the children are just baggage or extras that get shoved to the back… right? But if that is what you think and I understand the reason that sentiment makes you cringe, I have to say I disagree wholeheartedly. The thing is, in any family, the marriage between the man and wife always must come first, before the children. Are children important? Absolutely. Would a parent give their life for that child? Yes. But to come first before a marriage? No.

    How many women do you know that get married and the marriage is good. Eventually kids are born and everything changes, as it should… the woman has the perfect life, the husband, the kid(s) and they’re so busy, they’re just too busy with kids to pay any attention at all to their husband, their partner in life, their partner is raising those kids. The marriage starts having problems, the husband feels neglected and shut out, the wife feels like she’s doing all the child raising and is just too tired by the end of the day to even consider the husband or that relationship, that can just wait until things quiet down some. Everyone is just too busy with the kids and events to work on the marriage, and guess what? The marriage fails. And then what happens to that family? You have divorced parents going through all of the drama and issues of divorce and eventually blended families that we are all here for. The bottom line is, if the husband and wife do not put their marriage first, regardless of whether it’s the original marriage that made those kids or the subsequent one after the first marriage fails, if they don’t make time to WORK on the marriage, because every marriage takes a lot of work, the family will crumble and fall apart because the FOUNDATION of that marriage (the husband and wife) didn’t take the time to keep the marriage strong. They made the mistake of putting someone or something else (children by your suggestion) ahead of the foundation.

    Unfortunately for the mother, she might not like it if the dad and his wife put their marriage first, before HER children…that idea makes the mother cringe to think that something or someone could be MORE important to her ex than HIS child…. he must be a bad parent because his child is not first in life. But the thing is, the father probably realizes that for his FAMILY to stay strong and intact and BE a family (because that is what the father has made with his wife and his children, a family, regardless of whether that makes the mother uncomfortable, that’s what THEY all are together) his relationship with his wife, the stepmom, must be strong and provide a foundation for his family.

  6. I have read all of this, been searching for days, weeks, months…my only question is, ‘How do I keep the ex wife from destroying my marriage…?’ My husband insists on letting her vent when she gets angry because he is afraid of what she will do otherwise. So he is on the phone once every couple of months for two hours while she behaves like a child. I support him – I have begged him to stop letting her call and going back and forth with her, that it only makes it harder for her to let go, and move on, but he says he has to or else she could try and take the kids, go back for more child support, despite the fact that he pays in full, is the only one taking the kids to the doctor, and so he plays the game to keep things civil. I don’t want to hate her – I just want civil relationships. She is an emotional mess, especially since our marriage two months ago, and I am exhausted. Unfortunately she does not have any boundaries, and thinks co-parenting, which is just her way of saying ‘I don’t want to be married to you, but I still want it to look and behave that way, when I need or want it to…’ and it is killing me becaue I fought it, and realized it was too hard on my husband, so now I am having to learn what to do with the pain this is causing. It just doesn’t seem fair when all we have tried to do is be respectful, mindful, nothing works. She always finds something. So if anyone knows what to do, what I should do, how do I deal with a woman like this (and yes, there are many, many more stories that would break your heart, including her telling us to take my children out of the school we moved them to so that all four of our kiddos could be in the same school together, that make this difficult beyond difficult. I will never give up, but this is wearing me out, and I fear will overshadow the relationship my husband and I have together. I love him and all of our children more than life itself, and I can’t lose this because this woman is having issues and taking them out on us….any advice would be great. I am at a loss – even my prayer time feels defeated lately…thanks ladies :)

  7. Pixie, his fear is common among divorced dads. And it isn’t completely unfounded. Although she’d probably lose in court, she very well might still make him jump through hoops by dragging him there. When he’s had enough of her, he’ll put a stop to it. But until then, you need to try to not let it get in the middle of your marriage. If he needs to let her vent, then remove yourself. Get out of the house or whatever you have to do to not be witness to it and not get yourself involved. If he wants to tell you all about it afterwards, gently let him know that for yourself and the sake of your marriage, you don’t want to hear about it.

    I also recommend you put your focus and energy elsewhere. When you catch yourself thinking about the situation, stop yourself and think about something else. Something good, something that brings you joy: your kids, your marriage, hobbies, self-care, etc…

    Your giving her way too much power and it doesn’t have to be that way. You are in control of your own emotions and actions.

  8. CKSmom your words were inspirational. You seem to have the most realistic thoughts. I have been a Smom for a year now and I appreciate reading your post! Good luck to all!

  9. My name is Kia Wilson and i am recently married to a wonderful man with wonderful teenage boys. Their mother passed away three years ago. I am having a problem with us not working together as a family so much anymore like we use to. Its either my husband and boys are together or its just my husband and i are together, and when we do all go out to the mall or something, or anywhere for that matter, i feel so left out, like im in the background. Hes always bragging about his boys and his wife who passed away from alcoholism. Im starting to feel left out of the equation here, like where do i fit in. I feel like i have to compete with a dead person, and i dont have children of my own yet. How do i fit in or how can i fit in without feeling like im interupting what he has going on with his boys and feeling?

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