While I was away last weekend, Zach sent me a text that Gabe was going to sleep over at his Dad’s house.
Just so there’s no confusion, “My stepson was going to sleep over at my ex’s house with my sons”.
Weird, I guess, or maybe funny is the right word? Or maybe, totally awesome.
This week I was reading a post on a website where a writer was saying her kid’s step mom thinks she’s “the Mom”, and how should she handle this situation”?
The responses were a mixed bag of “ignore it”, to “hunt this evil witch down”, to “have some discussions on boundaries” to “perhaps you are overly sensitive and this step mom is trying to take care of your kids with their best interest at heart”.
It got me to thinking – why does it seem that the step dad thing is nowhere near as complicated as the step mom thing?
Hats off to my amazing step dad husband and my ex I guess. I see first hand how my husband treats my boys as his own all the time. He attends school functions, parent teacher interviews, sporting events, will stay home when they are sick, take them to the doctor, play with them, help them with their homework, discipline them, wrestle with them, love them. I think we decided the only thing that is really really hard is cleaning up the mess Josh can leave when he’s really really sick:)) That seemed to be the line:)) (kidding – sort of).
He does all this because he loves them and they are part of his family and that’s how he is choosing to raise all his kids – giving them all his best. Is there the same connection to the boys as to his own kids? Nope. Do the boys look to him as their father? Nope. We see the differences! Of course there are differences – on both sides! But do they matter? Nope. He is their one and only step dad. They are his stepsons. There is no competition to be had about anything.
For my ex, I’m sure initially he felt threatened. It’s easier in many ways to just not have anyone else in the picture, so I’m guessing it was an adjustment. However, now? I think he’s pretty darn confident that he’s the boys’ Dad, and pretty darn appreciative that when he is not with them they are so well cared for and loved by me and Rob. He is respectful to Rob (which I think is key) and appreciative and grateful because he loves his boys so much he wants them to be surrounded by love all the time – not just when he has them.
But why is it so different with Stepmothers?
Or maybe we just lucked out in the step dad/birth dad realm? However, I know Rob has no issues with his children’s step dad either – and he happens to be an ex-close friend of Rob’s! Rob’s wish is that his kids are treated really well by their step dad!
But with Stepmothers it appears to be different. And the websites, blogs, even word on the street supports that it is one of the hardest roles ever.
In my own situation, I’ve been accused many times of “thinking I’m their Mom”. Last year when my name appeared on Sam’s class list (I talked about it here), it sparked that exact situation. Trust me, I did not run to put my name on the list. It had never been there in previous years, and never since. I am of course listed as an “emergency contact”if the parents aren’t around, but I also happen to pick the kids up frequently so the teacher must have assumed my name could go on the list beside my husband’s (and don’t worry, their mother was also listed). But it stirred the pot and she got into it with Gabe (might be easier if she got into with me, so I could set the record straight) about me thinking I’m their mother or trying to take that role. Gabe’s response to his mother was “don’t worry, we know you’re our mother and that’s all that matters”.
Of course, that response from him was one that just solidified her thinking, because the reality is the response should have also been “and don’t worry she doesn’t think she’s our mother”. But it’s not his battle to fight.
And the hard part I think to explain or express without it sounding bad is the other part of the response really is “and she doesn’t want to be our mother either”. That sounds harsh I know (and could I’m sure be manipulated in some way to be mean), but the reality is it is very hard dealing with someone else’s children!!! I don’t want to engage in a lose lose competition. I’m perfectly happy being the lucky winner step mom and create our own unique relationship; that of being an added caregiver, role model, confident, guide, support. Basically an extra person who is in their cheering section who loves them a lot. An extension of their family.
The way I see it is there are a couple of routes you could take as a step mom : not be involved or be involved.
Is there a “right one”? I don’t think so. I think it has to do with the life and family you personally want to create.
Both are hard roads and have implications on your marriage, your relationship with your step kids, your relationship with your own biological kids (if you have any), your relationships with extended family and friends and your relationship with yourself.
I knew, from the get go, that the only way for me was to be an involved step mom. Which I guess was unfortunate for my skid’s mother, because I think that would not have been her preference. ( Although, quite honestly, I think I’ve also heard my fair share of “if you were her real kids she never would do XYZ” so I think I would have been in the same hostile boat anyhow….)
I knew I could not make my boys their lunch, and then insist my husband make lunch for his kids. It would feel so petty and not set the dynamic that I want in our marriage either. I could not make a birthday cake and candy poster for my kids, but not my skid’s. I could not help with homework when they asked (or always send them to their Dad) if I was completely out of the loop with what was going on at school. I could not do special things for my boys, and not for my skids. It’s just not me and it’s not the kind of wife, mother or stepmother I want to be. It’s not the family culture I want to create. No, we are not a traditional family, and I am not the mother to my skids. But they are my family, and it is my family, and I will work together with my husband to create the family dynamics we want to try to achieve. I choose to be the kind of mother, and stepmother that I want to be! It may be different than what other people choose, but it is my choice.
Have I made mistakes and maybe stepped on toes along the way? Of course!!!!!! You think it’s easy to step into a hostile situation and be the perfect step parent? Every move you make is micro analyzed and critiqued and judged. You think it’s every woman’s dream to have to raise another woman’s children part time (or full time for some even)? You think every woman wants to find out their dream man comes with the added bonus of a hostile ex wife??
So yes, I admit I have made many mistakes. And will unfortunately make many more as I navigate unfamiliar waters. And I will also admit I have stirred the pot sometimes and ok, I admit I have taken great pleasure in stirring that pot sometimes!!!! Sometimes it’s really out of sheer spite, but more often than not it’s out of anger, frustration and hurt and occasionally just poor judgement on my part.
But most of the time, we just do what we do because we both love these kids to bits. As our own, as our skids, as our family unit, and out of a deep love and respect to each other. I chose to love my skids initially because of my deep love for their father. I choose now to love my skids, because, well, I think they are awesome people who have greatly blessed my life and are an integral part of this amazing blended family dynamic we are creating.
I think the issues that surround the relationship between a stepmother and a biological mother come from a place of insecurity, jealousy, guilt and quite frankly, levels of happiness. And I know the defenses are going through the roof right now, but hear me out:
There’s often a lot of leftover pain from the previous marriage that is not forgiven or forgotten, and that can carry over onto the stepmother. Pain can come from feeling like this new stepmother has taken “your place” (especially if the divorce was not the bio mom’s initiative), but I know in my situation it can also come even when it was the bio Mom’s initiative! I’ve heard the feedback “Rob was never this way or never did that…when he was married to me”. Ok. Maybe that’s why you’re divorced. Different dynamic now. But clearly, there can be some unresolved marital pain there.
I think there is a lot of insecurity when you don’t have your kids full time anymore—insecurity that someone will do a “better job than you”. As mothers, I think we naturally struggle with feeling inadequate, so add another woman to the mix who does take on a maternal role with your kids and your insecurities go crazy. I think the insecurities push in the direction of “trying to win”, even though there really is no competition. We’re playing different sports all together.
I think there’s a lot of jealousy about a new life you may have created (which clearly is a better life than they had with your spouse otherwise they would not be divorced:) and again, the step mom becomes the target of the jealousy.
And finally, I think the hostility and drama created by the bio Mom is a clear reflection of her own happiness state. Controversial, I know. But let’s face it. When you are truly happy, do you really want to spend time surrounded by negativity trying to make someone else miserable? Do you not just want everyone around you – especially your kids to be loved and cared for?
So while the rumors of the wicked stepmother still surface, I actually will put it out there that the dynamics in the stepmother/bio mother relationship are largely dictated by how secure the bio mom feels with herself, and her mothering, and what kind of happy or unhappy place she is in. And before this upsets a bio mom too much, I want to use this analogy:
Just imagine if you wanted to go on a vacation and needed someone to watch your kids. If a friend, or even a complete stranger stepped in and said “Don’t worry! When you’re not here, I’ll take care of your kids! I’ll cook, clean, bathe, clothe, help with homework, take them to activities, sort out any friend drama, make the cupcakes for the class party, tuck them in and make them feel loved and ensure they call you every night! And, I’ll do all of this without getting any recognition or praise, or payment of any kind!”
Would you not think “Wow! Really? You’d do that”? What an amazing friend!!”
And you would come home, bearing gifts I’m sure, filled with gratitude and appreciation. Maybe your friend would have done something wrong or done things differently, but you’d likely chalk it up to “Don’t worry! You did your best! It’s good for the kids to experience differences”!
Now imagine if you came home and instead of saying thank you, or even saying nothing – you criticize what they have tried to do, or make fun of them, or call them names. You talk trash to the kids about them, belittle their family, and undermine any good they tried to do. Or you completely ignore them, don’t acknowldege their existence or are rude to them and talk badly to other people about them.
How would your friend feel? Would that surely destroy your friendship? What kind of a person would that actually make you?
I know it is so much more complicated than this example, but then again, is it really? Or do we just make it that way?
The reality is when you divorce, by your choice or someone else’s, you may not get to be with your kids 100% of the time. They may end up living with another woman just as much time as they live with you! You may just need to accept that and make the best of it and hope that your kids are the better for having another person who loves them.
I think everyone needs to stop and reflect about whether they are part of the problem or part of the solution. And reflect on the kind of overall lives we want our children to have (bio and skids). If the focus were always on their happiness, it would make everyone’s life so much easier….
Maybe we can just bury our weapons, swallow our pride, and put an end to this stepmom war.