Damn Expectations…

I’m going to take a guess here: nothing in your situation is what you expected. Is it?

We’ve all heard that expectations lead to disappointment, because inevitably, things turn out differently. But we had no idea just how off our expectations could be, did we?

Stepmoms thought that mom would be thankful to have a responsible, loving, intelligent woman watching after her children when she’s not around.

Moms thought the stepmom would naturally know her place and never, EVER, overstep boundaries.

Boy, we were all wrong, weren’t we?

We want to hear your stories:

In what ways were your expectations off and what was the fallout?

What have you learned about expectations?

What advice would you give others?

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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  1. My expectations for my stepfamily have failed each time….maybe I should stop expecting anything at all from the other side. Lets see, I expected the mother to not view my husband as her emotional support ten years after he left her. I expected her to respect my marriage to my DH as equally as I respect the fact that SHE is mom. I expected that if I tried hard enough, humbled myself enough, asked forgiveness when necessary, reached out and tried over and over to be friendly with DH’s ex, that she would reciprocate and that we could actually be friendly and blend our two separate families. I expected her to see that I could actually be an ally to her in mediating the many times my husband disagrees with her, her actions, her discipline, and just her in general. I actually expected DH’s ex to be an adult and put her children first, to not stand them up in front of her and guilt them into submission by telling them they must not love her, they ruined her night and she cried herself to sleep because they texted her instead of calling her one night they were out late with us recently. I expected her to instinctively KNOW as a mother how damaging it is to a child to make THEM responsible for HER feelings. I expected to be able to have the same successful relationship that Jennifer and Carol have because if THEY can do it, I can do it… right?

    Wrong. What I’ve learned from having these expectations is that while I might have the best of intentions, they are mine alone. I can’t hold the mother to the same standards or insist on her having the same willingness to cooperate at all. Most of us in the stepmom/mom roles will NEVER be able to accomplish what Carol and Jennifer have accomplished. And that’s ok. We need to make peace the best that we can in our individual situations. My expectations for myself remain the same though… I will continue to hold my head high and ignore the drama with the mother when it occurs. I will continue to support my two stepkids and show them (along with my husband) what a loving and healthy marriage and stable home looks like. I will continue to show them that they can be happy in spite of how others act, that they can’t control others’ behavior, but they CAN control their reactions to it. My husband and I will continue to raise them to be healthy, adventurous young adults who aren’t afraid of life.

    My advice for someone new entering this life as a stepmom is to set FIRM boundaries in the beginning. Recognize that your husband MUST be willing to enforce those boundaries with the ex. I am so blessed to have a husband who puts our marriage first, above his children and most certainly above anything his ex says or wants or the craziness she brings with her. And I am also blessed with two amazing children who come to their father and I for support during the craziness they sometimes have to live through and in spite of some of the challenges they face, they are learning so much about human behavior and how to deal with problems that sometimes come our way. If I had the past years to do over again though, I probably would not expect anything from their mother and “sounds about right” would have been a phrase I used more!

  2. amyjensen says:

    I had this silly fairy tale expectation that once we officially became a family, that we would just keep getting infinitely more happy and life together would be magical. Like a line graph that goes up at a steep angle. Boy, was I in for a shocker. I had no idea it came with such intense highs and lows. I have learned to ride those out over the years but it took a long time. I think back to my wedding day and how little I knew about what I was signing up for. I was so naive and that was only 2 years ago! I have learned not to have expectations and to be pleasantly surprised if things go well. It sounds kind of sad but it’s a necessary survival mechanism after getting what felt like beat up over and over and kicked in the stomach and slapped across the face. Every new email exchange between TM and DH would send me into hysterics trying to figure out how to cope. I was not a pretty picture at work amongst my co-workers, literally shaking over how to handle the next big crisis. I have learned to take a step back, keep my mouth shut, seek out LOTS of self care opportunities (yoga, church, walks, weekends away), reach out to others in my similar situation to find out how they did it, form a network of good friends, make my own fun plans separate from my family unit for sanity and not be afraid of getting some counseling when things get really rough. If I were to meet someone that was about to follow a similar path, I think I’d need to sit her down and be frank with her and ask her to really soul search to see if she’s ready for what she’s signing up for. But then I think I was so blinded by love and these fairy tale expectations that I wouldn’t have listened to me either. I actually do know someone that is about to embark on a similar adventure but because I don’t know her that well, I’m not ready to get quite this real with her about it. I will wish her well, say a little prayer and be here for her should she need a friend and a shoulder and ear. We are like a secret society of really supportive women, us stepmoms, and I treasure this new found community and lifeline.

  3. Im the StepMom and I expected that the BM would be thankful that I care and love for her son, in a day and age where many cant do that or wont do that. My children have a stepmom, and we rarely speak actually. But, as long as my children are loved and happy, I dont care what they do over there, what they call her, etc. The BM has such a hatred for me, that she wont let my ss love me, like me, or anything. She tells him horrible things to say, makes him tell us in person to both myself and my husband….its disgraceful – and the worse part is he is only 3. It breaks my heart

  4. I expected that I would get used to it. I expected that everytime I told my little girl that she is so lucky to have so many people who love her that I would magically one day believe it too. I expected him to still be a parent and as such still place his child ahead of anyone or anything else in his life. I expected to not hate SM for his shortcomings. I expected to feel mature and in control of my own life. I expected to be able to handle the epic failure of my family and be capable of accepting the beginning of a family that includes my most important part but that I am unwelcome in.
    I just keep being positive and supportive of my daughter and expect myself to not make my child carry the burden of how hard these expectations are…

  5. I expected that the five children we have between us would all get along and hang out together since they were all close in age (late teens, early twenties) when we got married. I expected that they would all drop over every so often and we would have great family dinners together. I expected that I could show his kids what a healthy mother and marriage looked like. I expected that my DH’s ex would allow the kids to spend holiday time with us. I expected his kids would see what a great person I was. Wow! I got the shock of a life time. What I learned was these kids didn’t want me to become a substitute mother – they had one they were VERY attached to, thank you very much, even if she was not mentally stable. I learned that these kids did not want to get to know me and did not want to see what a healthy marriage looked like. In fact, after nine years, these kids still do not want to come over to our home. They will only meet with their father or their father and me outside of our home. If we are in a situation where they must introduce me, I am their father’s wife. My DH has had to mourn the loss of a previous close relationship with his kids. I have learned to accept. I have learned to let go of my original expectations. I have learned to detach and not take things personally. I have learned not to hold grudges. I have learned that a mother can hold her kids hostage and force them to take sides and there is nothing you can do about it. I have learned to be greatful that I have a wonderful marriage and a husband who supports me and will not allow his children to force a wedge between us. I have learned that when something unexpectedly nice happens with his kids, that is good enough for now and it doesn’t mean that it will happen again. I would counsel women about to become stepmothers to read blogs like this one. I would counsel them to focus on themselves and their marriages. To have no expectations, to accept what unfolds and above all, don’t get caught up in the drama!

  6. Ellen, your post is so eerily similar to the one i was composing in my mind while reading earlier ones, it is uncanny. Same scenario, same story – fewer years inbetween. 5 kids between the two of us, ranging in age from 12 to 22 at the time of our wedding last year, same expectations ( we would have a lot of fun together, would have dinners together, the kids will appreciate what a happy family looks like – Ha!) My three steps are manipulated by their mother to the degree which i would have called unthinkable for adults ( the older two are in their early 20s) if i did not have their example right in front of me. They spout her rhetoric, accuse their father of every deadly sin, and see me as a rival, i suppose. They do not reciprocate, feel entitled to demand that their every need be met, show no empathy or compassion in moments of true crises. I have disengaged and stopped all attempts to make things better. In the meantime, i cannot forgive myself for bringing such garbage into my kids’ lives. Ironically, I am involved in a similar situation with my own 2 boys where i am the bio-mom trying to have a nice relationship with their step-mom. It is a rocky road, as predictably, i see her as crossing my boundaries all the time. I have not lost hope yet, but i have lost the expectation that we can all be a big happy family. However, life does not have to be perfect to be beautiful.

  7. CKSmom— exactly. Just exactly. And to whoever said “not wanting to hate the SM for his shortcomings,” I’m that SM in our situation. I get blasted for my husband’s shortcomings and past grievances by the ex. Poor fella can’t heal where he has grown, and neither can she when she hassles him about what coulda, shoulda, woulda. My expectations are still too high. I was hoping our family’s positivity would balance out the negative on the mom’s side. It’s taken me years to learn it’s not my responsibity. Their past mistakes are not my current ones.

  8. Alexis says:

    I don’t really know what my expectations were, I guess. I had worked with my fiance for years before he filed for a divorce, and we started out our relationship with his ex accusing me of stealing away her husband. I never touched the man prior to his separation from her! I guess I expected his own family to welcome me in as someone who makes him happy, (especially since his ex never got along with his step-siblings when they were married.) But I guess the whole ‘cheating’ thing, even though it was untrue, really spread like wildfire. Our first Thanksgiving together, he had his kids, and his own family invited his ex-wife to Thanksgiving dinner. I ended up not going- luckily, I have my own family near me as well. I guess I didn’t expect to be blatantly attacked for something that had been out of my control to begin with. [Him leaving her, no matter what his motives.] The fiance had developed feelings for me throughout the years we worked together. I was fond of him; however, I never touched a hair on him, or asked him to leave his wife. We never, ever, talked about a life of “US.” We weren’t a thing. He was married. But after it was all said and done, his ex turned her fury onto me, and although I expected not to be a huge part of their anger, I became the brunt of hers. I expected her not to be angry at me just for loving a man because he was once hers, but those expectations were dashed the day I got the e-mail accusing me of stealing him away. She said that “next time” I needed to leave a married man alone because there was someone else’s life attached to his. She also threatened that one day, when her kids asked about this, she would tell them what happened. I responded kindly that I was sorry for how she felt, but that nothing had happened between us prior, and that ‘one day,’ her kids would be old enough to understand that feelings change, as do people. I EXPECTED that “one day” would be years and years from then, when her children had grown to know and respect me, when they were adolescents and could form their own opinions about me. “One day” turned out to be when her daughter was only 6, and one weekend at our house, she asked me “Why did you split my mommy and daddy up?” I expected more civility, and I expected to have a relationship with a man- not suddenly be thrown into war with his spiteful ex wife. I expected love to conquer all, and you know…. I’m still not sure if it will.

  9. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for your website! I have spent the last two years feeling insane! I started my relationship with my boyfriend feeling confident and self-assured. We fell in love, he bragged about his wonderful relationship with his ex, and I expected we would all live happily ever after! Nope! Not even close. We have spent the past two years doing a dance that tortures all of us. The biggest challenge I face is my boyfriend’s expectations. He and his ex have been divorced for 15 years and claim to have worked hard to develop a friendship, but from my vantage point they are both manipulating one another. They spend the big holidays together and despite her rudeness towards me, I am expected to attend and not make things hard on the kids (16 and 20). I have tried several times to make nice, inviting her out for drinks and sending her flowers only to have her talk to my boyfriend about my attempts but ignore me completely. I feel my boyfriend’s expectations are too high and he is giving her the easy out instead of taking care of our relationship.
    This website has really helped me sort out what is my crazy sh*t and what my boyfriend’s unrealistic expectations.
    Thank you!

  10. Giving up on expectations has been the most freeing thing. My ex is not tremendously involved, but I consistently ask him to attend events. This spring he finally attended some of our eight year old’s baseball game, and I made sure to go thank him for coming and give him a brief update on the kids. My younger two were free and happy to go between us. By not expecting him to show up to anything, though, by making my plans regardless of what he chooses, I have freed myself from him in so many ways.

    Likewise, when his “wife” (I can’t help but “quote”, since they cheated, I don’t understand why they would bother with marriage?) emailed me for the first time earlier this year, chatty and pretending like we had a relationship. I responded pleasantly the first time, requested what I have been requesting for years now (we have a brief chance to meet in person alone – public, whatever) and expected emails would stop after she refused that. She emailed again, I said, um, no, not having little email conversations to help you plan father’s day if you’re not respectful of my request (again, very pleasant). She went off in a snit about about these four emails had been tiresome for her and her intentions were good (but she wouldn’t respect my request? No, her intentions were selfish.) Since I had expected nothing I was completely unruffled by this and walked away. I’d be willing to show those emails to any judge, jury, court, pastor, etc. I was perfectly pleasant and yet stood up for what *I* needed.

  11. My expectation was to nurture a happy extended family in my home with my two sons from a previous marriage, my husband’s two children and our little boy. Man was I off by thinking I was the only one in charge of my home. My husband’s Ex wants to make decisions about what room my kids sleep in, what church her kids attend and what activities the kids are involved in while they are with us. I’m tired of her thinking she has a place of authority in my house.

    My advice is to ladies out there that are in time to turn back… Don’t get involved with anybody with kids! Why? let me tell you that it’s rare when stepmom and ex wife get along like I get along with my ex-husband’s wife. I have been blessed in that area and so have my children because they didnt grow up in a hostile environment between their day’s house and mine.

    Unfortunately, my husband’s ex is from another planet. She attends church all the time and calls herself a Christian yet sits with her kids to put together a letter full of insults for me and their father.

    I can honestly say I’m SO SICK of her and now her daughter is acting on her behalf when he comes to my house. I wish I could turn back time. I’m still here only because of my youngest child that I share with my husband. Because as much as I love my husband, I would call it quits thanks to that witch.

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