Friday, September 9, 2005

Thoughts on Stepmothering: Some Lessons Learned

In the six years since becoming a blended family, I've learned some valuable lessons about what it takes to be a Second Wife and Stepmom. Living through my husband's bitter divorce, and now custody battle, have posed some of the greatest challenges I have ever known. Nothing could have prepared me for this life and I have to admit that accepting the reality of things and letting go of the fairytale has not been an easy task. Now since adding "Mommy" to my ever-growing list of titles, I know I still have a lot to learn, but here's some wisdom I have gathered along my journey:

- Be patient. As in my case, divorce and resulting custody battles can be time-consuming and downright ugly. Things may not always go as you want them to, but try to remember that your partner is trying to make the best decisions for everyone. Support your partner/spouse; criticism can be alienating. Don't be afraid to seek counseling for help getting through this.

- In the beginning, strive first to be a friend to your stepchild. They (as well as their bioMom, and maybe even your partner) may have a tough time figuring out and accepting your role in this child's life and may feel threatened. This is especially true if your interactions with bioMom are limited.

- Work with your partner to establish discipline guildelines, and let him handle most of this in the beginning. Otherwise, you are sure to become the
Wicked Stepmother.

- Try to see the good qualities in your stepchild's bioMom. Never speak negatively about her in front of them. Whatever crap is going on between your partner and her, it does not and should not involve the child. Yes, even a cold-hearted, manipulative shrew like my husband's ex- has a few redeeming qualities. Do your best to find them, as I did, and focus on it. Remember, above all else, that that child loves his/her Mommy and you should not do anything to undermine that love.

- Never send messages to your partner's ex- through your stepchild.

- Never make your stepchild feel guilty for loving his/her Mom or you could be contributing to what's called
Parental Alienation Syndrome.

- Develop your own family rituals and routines, not to replace old ones but to offer a sense of comfort and stability to your stepchild, and yourselves.

I will admit that, for me, being a Stepmom and Second Wife has downright sucked at times. I felt alienated in the beginning; like I was an outsider intruding on my husband's time with his daughter. I struggled to find my place in her life, and to find a place for her in mine. My husband and I made a lot of mistakes and I felt a lot of resentment towards her in the beginning. She represented this past life of his, and this other person who was wreaking havoc on our lives. But we've worked hard, together, to try to create a strong family unit in which my stepdaughter can thrive. and know that she is loved.


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Dolfinnlover said...

O my god reading your blpog , it seems I am reading my life... I am glad I am not the only one.

Christina said...

Im 27yrs old and a new stepmom to my husbands daughter who is 11. My husband and I have been together for over 8 years. The daughter lives with her biomom. We got married two years ago, and now I feeling treatened and very jeolous.HELP!

Liane said...

My husband children, the two boys in particular, are older. Been together/married for 6+ years. Boys are now 22 & 18 ... mentally handicapped daugher age 24. We have a 4 year old of our own. I am miserable ... I married one man, not three. Is there anyone else out there as hurt and bitter like me? When is it time for my baby and me? He thinks I'm asking him to pick sides ... I just want my fair time due me and my daughter. Or, am I being selfish?

Wicked Stepmom said...

christina: Jealousy is normal, I think. I know I certainly went through it. I resented having to share my time with my hubby with my stepdaughter. It took us a while, but we had to learn how to balance time with her along with our own time... and above all, learn that our relationship had to come first if we were going to be able to create a strong family foundation. Have you spoken to your husband about your feelings? Being open and honest about your feeling sfrom the beginning can do a world of good -- what you don't want is for your feelings to fester and grow. That can be toxic to your relationship not only with your hubby but also with your stepdaughter (trust me, I know!).

Wicked Stepmom said...

liane: I felt the same way when The Boy was born. He was my first biological child, and I wanted to be able to enjoy time with him and hubby... alone. [See my entry on "Favoritism."]

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear others frustrated with resentments that are hard or "wrong" to articulate. I'm soooo sick of the "hip" bio parents that pop in and out of the kids lives, (his and mine) never taking any real responsibility but boy are they "cool". My husband and I are much less cool, you know, given that we are the primary care givers and have led boring lives, paying our bills, saving money etc....I can deal with this but boy do I resent when Mom plants and actively feeds the ideal that we are materialistic, judgemental, etc. etc. when she's the one who essentially has abandoned her children, been divorced 4 times and now lives with (off?) her elderly mother. No. its hard to "sympathize" when her manipulations and own poor choices have put her where she is - time and time again. When she surfaces, I step back - have never said a bad word about her (to her children) but it is exhausting to always be the "bigger person"....take the high road etc. She's very covert in her style and her daughters are much like her. The both have many fine qualities but it saddens me that we just haven't been able to bond. I worry about it less and less now that one is almost 24 (lives with mom and grandma sadly) and the other graduates HS very soon. There are things I wish I would have done differently but I also did alot very it wrong to feel like I just don't care right now???

Wicked Stepmom said...

I think what you are feeling now is a sort of "disengagement" from your Stepkids. Sometimes, I feel, it's a necessary defense mechanism to keep us from going crazy trying to control situations that are beyond our control. I don't think it's wrong... I think it's a normal human response.

Anonymous said...

How do you handle when your husband children is now living with you and your children and he shows favortism between the kids at times. We often get into arguments when I bring it up and he denies it. He finally admitted it but still is not willing to change? Help!!!!

Ana said...

It's really good to hear that I'm really not the only one experiencing 'disengagement' and feeling frustrated. I am doing my best, but it's definitely not easy.

Anonymous said...

Reading this helps me in knowing I am not alone with all the issues of being a stepmother. I often feel like I am alone out there and do not know what to do.

My stepdaughter is 10 and most of the time she acts like she is 2. Many times she is violent and has tried to hurt me. She has gone as far as putting nails in front of me when I had no shoes on to trying to break my arm after shoulder surgery.

My husband has full custody of his daughter, and her bio mother has little to do with her, as she is usually just thinking about herself and nobody else. She tells her daughter she cant have her full time because she has to work and she want to spend time with her boyfriend.

I have to take care of my stepdaughter full time, take her to school, do homework with her, feed her, make sure she takes a shower etc. etc. etc. I am told by bio mom I am not to displine her daughter, and when there are problems (everyday) my stepdaughter calls her mother and she tells her she does not have to listen to me and to go out and play and ignore me.

My husband tries to help when he comes home from work, he tried talking to his daugher, he has displined her and nothing works.

I feel bad to say this but I have feelings of Hate now for my stepdaughter. We have been togeather for 3 years now and it is only getting worse not better. I do not believe there is a thing we have not tried to fix things.

I finally told my husband he has to talk to his ex and tell her she needs to start being a mom and take her daughter two weeks and we will keep her for two weeks. I knwo she will not go for this, as this would interfer with her time, but I am at the end of my rope, but refuse to let his daughter destroy our marriage.

Any help out there as what to do???

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have custody. I haven't even been married 2 years yet, but have been through an extensive court case, dealt with my step daughter being molested and a beaucoup of money problems.

She left them before I was in the picture...when they were 3 and 8. I met their dad right before the 3-year-olds 4th birthday. To add to the drama, my now husband, LIVED on the same road as his ex-wife's family. No mom in the picture, and following extensive therapies for their divorce trauma, the youngest was molested by a maternal family member. He moved the kids away from the molester and moved them in WITH ME.... cops were involved....investigations...more conviction. More bills, a little more biomom now. Still lived 4-5 hours away. We bought a house, and got married. The ex ruined my wedding night by upsetting the kids....We had the 4-year-old in the suite with us.

We were set to leave on our honeymoon 3 weeks later, and were SUED, LITERALLY, as we were walking out the door. The court case lasted a year and a half, with us winning everything, and also being awarded child support, though excruciatingly minimal. On their visitation weekends - she moved back to town towards the end of the court case - their father and I are spoken poorly of, by the biomom, maternal family.including the child molester the biomom decided was wise to take the children to see regularly, despite our vehement disagrence.

The kids are still in therapy, and are healthy, loving children. But I am exhausted. My husband is very supportive and sports an invisible superman cape daily. But the pain that the children have endured and the damage I cannot protect them from is too much to fathom. How can I support them? Without the anger and resentment that is bottled up towards their mother? Someone- it seems - whose sole goal in life was to ruin mine. How do I keep my chin up to say things like 'Momma is so funny!' and 'Momma is so sweet sometimes!' How do I SPEAK to this woman? Some body through me a LINE! I'm drowning!

Anonymous said...

I am a new step mom.My husband's two children(boy 15/girl 11) totally live with us.My husband is blackmailed by these 2 kids.He has to buy most expensive gifts for the children at least once a month( all laptops,X-box,expensive watches,Video cameras,ext..).I feel sad about my man.I am the only one who knows about my husband's debts.How can I help him.He is scared if he doesn't do what they say,that they might go to their bio-mom.What can I do?
Helpless step mom

Anonymous said...

I am not even a step mom...I have been dating the same man for over 3 years. I am significantly younger than he is (27 vs. 43) and he has two daughters from his marriage (7 and 10). Though they are beautiful and sweet girls, I cannot help but feel a variety of complex emotions about them. I just walked by one of them as they were sleeping and felt an urge to kiss and hold her, yet when she wakes in the morning, I will feel isolated and awkward, turning to my work as a distraction from the discomfort and frustration I feel about parenting them. My life has not been so hard as some of yours who have had to battle abuse, parental neglect, etc...but there are common feelings amongst step-parents which are both taboo and hurtful. I hated watching The Parent Trap and hearing from my boyfriends kids about their mother's wedding to their father. I hate that I am the only one who seems to manage to encourage the children to read and do their homework actively. Neither their mother nor father went to college, and I am currently working on my Master's. We come from such different worlds and they are their mother's children, so different from how I hope my children would be, and yet I love them and want them to love me back. I am very lucky in that my boyfriend supports most of my efforts to be involved in their life and does not expect me to take on major parenting responsibilities (though he is grateful when I do). For those of you who are expected to take on major responsibilities and who are dealing with being undermined by the "bio parent" I salute you, it is a terrible feeling, but you have to take solace in knowing that you are contributing to these children's lives, and even if they never recognize it, you know where your intentions are. If your spouse does not support you, you need to seek therapy...and if he is not willing, you need to leave, or else you will go crazy. Therapy has helped me a lot. I had a hard time accepting the fact that I would probably not be able to have children with my significant other because he could not afford to support another child financially and because I had some health issues. His children were visiting us and demanding my attention the weekend that I had a miscarriage, complaining that I was sick all the time. These kinds of things can lead to great resentment if not dealt with. I wish all of you good luck with your parenting endeavors, and want you all to know that any resentment or difficulty you feel about your position is normal and should be openly discussed.

Anonymous said...

I married my partner last year, we have been together for 4 years now and really do love eachother. I had nothing to do with their divorce of 8 years ago. I didn't know any of them then.

I have two daughters of my own 24 and 22 and my husband has two daughters of 16 and 14. We have pooled our resources and have a family home that any of them are welcome in. At the moment my 24 year old has just got married, my 22 year old lives with us. My husbands girls have lived with his ex wife. His eldest daughter has had major probelms at home with her mother and has recently been 'sent' to live with her father! She was so stressed out when she came here she could hardly stand up, she is now (1 month later) happy (outwardly anyway), well fed and becoming more secure. I really like her and I think she likes me, she gets on well with her step sisters. Her sister is still at home and playing the mummys little angel card, which I don't blame her for!

The problem is I am white hot angry all the time, and it is not with the stepdaughter - she is just a normal teenager - I've brought up two already! I am really angry with my husbands ex wife. She does not even acknowledge that I exist, never mind that I am now tasked with mothering her daughter. No body asks me about anything, it is like I have just been appointed to a great big job, with no application, no interview and no recognition. Yet I feel if anything goes wrong it will be all my fault. Also everyday there is another new development, new drama, new nonsense, emanating from mum, through the stepdaughter, to take up our time and attention.

I know I have to find a way through this, and I should be able to say f**k you and not care and get on with living life here in out home, but I am continually drawn into it so that all we seem to do is talk about the injustices for stepdaughter, the misbehaviour of stepmother, the manipuation of the one left at home etc. And I'm still really really angry which I only let my husband know about!

Anonymous said...

Reading the comments here is like an epiphany for me...I've been a the promary caregiver for my step daughters for the last 5 years. I have my own two daughters during that time. When my husband and I got married, there was never, NEVER, any talk of them living with us. When I was 8 months pregnant with the first, they moved in with us and I had to homeschool them for the next three months (yes, two months while I was a rand new mom) I said I didn't want to do it, I wanted to wait (only 4 months) until they could start the regular school year. Rambling here, but I felt like because they were his children, that I could never have a say in those decisions....drinves me nuts. The younger daughter is great, love her to bits. The older one is very manipulative, and I hate how she has no time for my kids, and they just long for her acceptance. I've recently given hubbie an ultimatium (first ever, so I'm relaly scared) She can't comeback here into this house, unless there are some ground rules (she's away at school, and has no plans to work after?!?!?!) AAAGGGHHH!!

Anonymous said...

WOW, what a relief to read that other women are struggiling like me! I feel SO much resentment.....HOW could my husband have EVER loved this mean, horrible, evil woman!?!?!?

All I have done for the past 6 years is help raise their now 7 year old daughter.....and I can never do "enough". And now, after an almost $10,000 court battle the only thing we were granted, (in addition to the every other Thurs-Mon AM we already had) is Wed after school til 7:30.

And guess who gets to load a 2 yr old and newborn in the car, to drive to her school and pick her up? ME.

This is tearing my husband and I apart-HELLLLLLP!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Reading all of these comments is bringing me some peace of mind! Not that my situation is any easier, but it’s certainly not unique. My husband and I are recently married with two step children ages 11 and 12. I get along great with the kids and they are incredibly respectful of me. Dad is a great father and disciplinarian so I do not have to do it.

Now enter the bioMom. Oh my — this woman has convinced me that evil does in fact exist in the world. She is a raging alcoholic who gets drunk and high (on whatever it is she takes) and proceeds to call my husband or text him incessantly horrid, awful things about what a bad father he is. She has also taken it upon herself to start attacking me. We have never met and I guess she freaked out when she saw that her daughter texts me and does not text her at all. It sent her into orbit and alas, the attack began. What really killed me in her attack was that not only has she never met me, but I’ve been kind to her kids and stepped in more times than not to cover her butt when she couldn’t be here to take them to events! I’m making the effort and all I see from her is complaint that I am a terrible and ‘strange’ person yet I am giving up parts of my life to be good to her kids because she is an abysmal mother and would prefer to get loaded?

We are in the process of going to an attorney to formalize the communication to get her antics to stop. What has killed me in all this is that I have gotten to the point whenever a text comes into my husband’s cell phone, I see him check his cell, I see a voice mail, I feel like throwing up. What is she going to attack now? What is her next drunken episode going to contain?

I finally told my husband that I no longer want to know the petty details of her texts and phone messages. I told him I do not want to know when she calls, what she says, what she texts, none of it. I want nothing to do with it. I will support him on the legal case, but I can no longer get involved in the petty details of her psychosis. It makes me sad that I feel I cannot take some of the weight off of my husband’s shoulders, but on the other hand, he was the one who married her and had children with her — not me….so why should I have to carry the baggage of the past?

I have had to disengage to restore my own sanity. I see no other way around it.

Anonymous said...

Whoa...I'm 57 and all these years, I thought my situation was rare. Now I know that I was an idiot for going through the same things I've read on this blog. The bad news: after 26 years, my husband and I just had a rehearsal dinner at our home for his son, 60 people at a sit-down dinner...the bio-mom didn't say hello to me, or thank you for having this party for my son, she didn't even give me eye contact. What a fucking bitch. Whoa, that felt good.

Anonymous said...

ladies, i am not a stepmom, but I have a stepmom. And let me just say a couple of things. Whenever you feel jelaous, or feel like you want time for you and your own kids and husband and no time with your stepchild, you are acting wrong. If you knew your "hubby" had kids of his own, you should have prepared yourself to embrace them as your own. If you truly love your hubby, then this shouldn't be a problem. You must understand that kids sense all of this and all that you are doing is contributing to make them feel unwanted and unloved. Hope you think twice next time you want to segregate a child.

Anonymous said...

I have no great advice... but I am going through (almost to the t) the exact same thing. If you have done anything that helps please let me know. I have been receiving the "I don't like you bc mom and sexual bio molester (she still lives with) doesn't like you". We have been back and fourth to change. We have tried therapy, it definitely helps everyone, but we cannot afford more than a weekly visit.