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There are way too many stepmoms who find themselves silently sobbing in a dark corner of a closet because they weren’t acknowledged on Mother’s Day. Don’t let this be you. You’re way too important to feel like you don’t matter on a day that, let’s be honest, is more about overpriced flowers than anything else. So, here are some alternatives to the ol’ hiding-in-the-closet routine.
1. Celebrate StepMother’s Day instead! Yes, there is actually a day set aside for all of you women who became moms by marrying a man with kids. It falls on the Sunday after Mother’s Day, which is May 19th this year.
Celebrating Stepmother’s Day also lets the kids off the hook from feeling like they’re betraying mom if they celebrate you on her day.
2. Be proactive: If you expect others to read your mind, you will be disappointed. You must let your husband know exactly what you want. No hinting here, ladies. Men don’t like hints, so be specific: Honey, it would mean the world to me if you helped the kids get me a card” – or whatever it is you’d like.
3. Celebrate with girlfriends. Married to man who won’t be in town or has a block against holidays? Spend the day with your girlfriends. Let them know you’re worried you might get depressed and need them to support you on this day. Celebrate with people who know and love you!
4. Celebrate yourself. Women don’t do this nearly often enough. I always say no one will treat you better than you treat yourself. So splurge. Take a spa day. Buy yourself some (overpriced) flowers. Or just enjoy a quite space with no obligations to anyone else. Acknowledge yourself for how you’ve handled the stressors of the stepfamily, for the courage you have to be apart of something that can be so difficult on some days. And for the strength to keep going.
5. Be realistic. It’s not about you. OK, so your fears were realized and the kids ignored you. This has nothing to do with you. Kids are self-centered by nature. They can still love, care about you and cherish their relationship with you and still not realize how important it was to acknowledge you. Your husband, on the other hand, should be ashamed of himself if he didn’t take this into his own hands and get you something from the kids. Especially if you followed #2!
© 2013 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
Do you find yourself up against a mental block when it comes to cleaning up after your stepchild or nurturing her? Many stepmoms will gladly make their husband an afternoon snack or pick up his socks, but when they see their stepchild’s dirty dishes stacking up, or when they’re asked to make them a special snack, some experience a triggered reaction that feels something like “What am I, her maid?”
If this sounds like you, then you might also feel shame about this automatic resistance, thinking how can I be so nurturing with my husband but then feel a complete block with my stepchild?
Well, it may all come down to reciprocity, or lack of.
One definition of reciprocity is: “The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.”
Did you catch the phrase mutual benefit?
If your’e in a happy, healthy relationship, then you know that reciprocity is a vital part of that. You’re happy nurturing your husband because he may support you emotionally, provide a good home, make you laugh, fix things, etc… Maybe he’s the one staying home with the kids while you’re working. Whatever the situation may be, reciprocity is at play.
But this is often missing in the relationship between stepmom and stepchild, simply because that’s the nature of a child/adult relationship. Even though we know intellectually that we can’t expect a “mutually beneficial” relationship with a child, that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier for stepmoms to feel like we’re giving our all and receiving nothing in return. Many stepmoms don’t even receive a “please” or “thank you” from their stepchild.
Now, a parent might say, “So what? As parents we don’t receive a please or thank you either.” The difference is, as Jeanette Lofas has said, the child is an extension of the parent, thereby making it easier for a parent to give selflessly.
And although it’s often said that parenting is a thankless job, I would argue this point because parents do receive something: love. Unconditional love and a biological bond that can’t be broken. Granted, they don’t receive these things because they do for their children, but they still receive them. Sort of like an unintentional reciprocity.
This is why basic manners, such as please and thank you, from a stepchild can mean the world to a stepmom. It can make the difference between feeling resentful and feeling good about helping.
What to do?
- Let your husband and your stepchild (if age appropriate) know how far please and thank you would go. Request to incorporate these manners into your house rules.
- Adjust your expectations: don’t always expect appreciation from your stepchild, but do expect it from your partner. Let him know that you need him to acknowledge your efforts with his child. Frequently.
- Have compassion for yourself. You’re not evil and there’s nothing wrong with you. This is just one of those challenges that being a stepmom brings with it.
- Try to look at nurturing as an investment. Even if your stepchild has two involved parents, your influence will still help shape the person he will become. And when he is an adult, he will likely look back and be thankful that you treated him with such kindness.
- Ask your partner to step up in the parenting department so you can step back. The best parenting books all say “don’t do for kids what they can do for themselves.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the parents took that advice to heart, so every once in a while you got to spoil your stepchild without feeling like she’s missing out on some life lesson or that you’re going to ruin her chances of becoming a responsible adult?
© 2013 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
I came across this article written by Virginia Gilbert, MFT, on Huffington Post and the information is just too valuable not to share. Many therapists and counselors are still trying to get parents to co-parent, instead of acknowledging that when a high-conflict personality is involved, less is more.
Here are 5 vital tips for dealing with a high-conflict personality:
1. Minimize Contact
High-conflict personalities thrive off of battle. Their agenda, which is often subconscious, is to maintain your relationship by creating drama: bad-mouthing you to everyone under the sun and especially to your children, cyber-bullying, multiple, intrusive phone calls and any other way they can find to keep you from moving on with your life.
While your gut reaction might be to defend yourself, you cannot reason with a terrorist. Anything you say can and will be used against you. To mitigate the chaos caused by a high-conflict personality, you must keep communication to a minimum. Avoid face-to-face contact. Cultivate a “just the facts, ma’am” style of e-mail and text correspondence. When possible, arrange neutral places such as school for the drop-off and pick-up of children.
2. Keep Your Feelings to Yourself
High-conflict personalities are bullies. They like to “win” by making you angry or beating you down. Donot act on your feelings. If you yell, cry, plead, or otherwise tip your emotional hand, you will invite more attacks. Being stuck in the cross-hairs of a narcissist is traumatic, so by all means seek support through safe means: therapy, and online support groups for people with personality-disordered exes are two examples. But whatever you do, don’t let a narcissist know how you really feel — especially if you have a different point-of-view, which will always be interpreted as a threat.
3. Plan for the Worst
Do not listen to conventional wisdom that your ex will “move on” in time. Well-adjusted people move on; high-conflict personalities never quench their thirst for revenge and their desire to feel like “the good one.” Anticipate being dragged into court for minor indiscretions, or worse, total fabrications.
Do not say or write anything that might make you look bad. Respond to even the most frivolous accusations with factual, non-defensive e-mails detailing what actually happened. Document everything; save hostile e-mails, take screen shots of abusive texts, note every violation of your court orders.
You never know if a narcissist will follow through on threats to sue you, so you must be prepared if they do.
4. Never Admit a Mistake
You can, and should be, accountable for your part in the end of the marriage. But be accountable in a safe environment: therapy, 12-step groups, or in the company of trusted family and friends.
Do not admit wrongdoing to your high-conflict ex, especially in writing. Apologizing will not create a more amicable relationship. A high-conflict ex will interpret your apology as proof that you are the mentally ill, incompetent, stupid person she says you are. Even admissions of minor mistakes can be twisted into admissions of heinous acts and spur a high-conflict ex to take you to court, or simply broadcast to everyone with whom they come in contact that you are a terrible person.
5. Stop Trying to Co-Parent
Well-meaning, but misinformed therapists do targets of high-conflict personalities a huge disservice by advising them that they can, and should, co-parent. Certainly, an amicable co-parenting relationship is ideal for children. But attempts to co-parent with a narcissist or a borderline will keep you engaged in battle. You will forever be on the receiving end of intrusive, controlling, chaotic behaviors which will make you and your kids crazy.
Parallel parenting is the only paradigm that should be recommended to people with personality-disordered exes. This means that you give up the fantasy that you can have consistency between homes, or appear as a united front. The more high-conflict your ex is, the more you will need to separate yourself and your parenting. This may mean hosting separate birthday parties, scheduling separate parent-teacher conferences and not sharing what goes on in your house.
While you may feel that you are sending a terrible message to your children by limiting contact with their other parent, you are actually protecting them by minimizing the potential for conflict.
Targets of high-conflict personalities need to accept that it isn’t wise to be “authentic” with their ex. Strategic, limited disclosures and iron-clad boundaries are essential tools in managing a high-conflict divorce. While it may seem paradoxical, true authenticity comes from holding on to one’s sense of self while gracefully disengaging from a narcissist.
This is a comment a divorced dad left on my blog post “Stepmoms, you knew what you were getting into.” He sees his wife’s contributions and sacrifices with absolute clarity and appreciation, and I wanted all stepmoms to benefit from his sentiment. Thanks, David!
First off I would like to thank Jenna for taking the time to share something that should be required reading for anyone involved with a stepfamily. Every member of a stepfamily has their own struggles to deal with, but what so often gets overlooked are the efforts of the stepmom. She has adopted a family that wasn’t her own, but so often has to pickup the shattered pieces of a divorce, wounded kids and distressed husbands, and then carry these broken hearts as if they were her own.
Never knowing what to expect, she ventures into each day frazzled from the day before. Disrespected by kids, exhausted by court battles, clinging to her own sanity and always asking the question, “how did I get to this place in my life, when all I wanted was the love of the man I married.” There was no way you could have known the trials associated with that love, or the depths of strength you would have to tap into just to make it through another day. You are the unsung heros of your family.
I never realized even a fraction of what I was going to put my wife through, even before we got married. At 44 she had never had kids of her own. I had three kids from a previous marriage, all of which had been emotionally abused by their bio-mom. Like the story goes, before we were married, my two younger daughters took to my wife, the younger one even calling her mom a couple of times. But then entered my 22 year old son with a chip on his shoulder, and single handedly turned them against both of us and then blasted my wife for no reason other than to try to rob me of my happiness because he was mad at me for seeing someone new.
Not knowing what to expect, having never had kids, my wife had only shown love to all of them and this was a stab in the heart. Since then we have battled to put things back together again and have had several struggles with my girls, guardian ad litems, custody battles, counselors and senseless court hearings.
Often her sanity has hung from a thread, and not even our wedding day was completely happy because of my sulking daughter. My wife has been through hell and back and still she struggles to do all that she can to understand how to be a better stepmom. I love her more each day for the love and endurance that she gives to each of us, especially since so little is returned back to her. This is a very weak tribute to her devotion and not enough words can be said to honor her efforts. But if nothing else I hope she knows that she is loved.
Stepmoms are very special women that deserve far more than they get, and I am thankful for all of the sacrifices and devotion you make to better the lives that you touch, and the love that you give. God bless all of you!
As some of you may know, I’m in the process of finishing a book with my No One’s the Bitch business partner, Jennifer Newcomb Marine, called “Skirts At War: A Survival Guide for Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.” Click here to read an excerpt from it!
I wrote this a while back for No One’s the Bitch and it got a lot of attention – from both ex-wives and stepmoms. What are your thoughts?
1. She isn’t playing house with your child and your ex-husband.
Stepmoms are trying to build their own family, a very real family that includes their husband, and children who aren’t theirs.
Some of them will grow to love their stepchildren and some won’t, but they’re doing their best to ensure the child still grows up feeling happy and loved.
They’re nurturing a marriage and trying to figure out their role in the stepchild’s life. And while you knew your place in your child’s life from day one, stepmoms can spend years trying to find theirs.
2. It’s not about YOU.
A stepmom’s priority is her marriage. When she does something for her stepchild, often the motivation has nothing to do with you. It’s not about trying to make you look bad or make you feel “less than.”
The motivation is the safety and happiness of her stepchild. The motivation is the love she has for her husband.
She’s trying to do the right thing – just like you would.
Similarly, when she supports her husband, the intention is not to go “against” you. In fact, there are times when stepmoms actually side with mom, although — unless you have a decent relationship with the stepmom in your situation — you’d never know it.
3. Stepmoms often feel powerless and alone.
Stepmoms have no legal rights with their stepchild. They understand this; their stepchild already has a mom and a dad. But it gets difficult when they’re turned away for trying to obtain something as simple as a library card for their stepson or stepdaughter. Or when the doctor’s office won’t give them any information, even though they will be the one driving the child to the appointment and giving them their medication.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially for stepmoms who have taken care of their stepchildren since they were very small.
It can make a woman feel unimportant and insignificant. It’s a feeling only a fellow stepmom could understand.
In addition, stepmoms are often powerless when it comes to their stepchild’s behavior. This is a struggle, because they are greatly affected by the unwanted behavior, but they don’t have the authority to do anything about it. If they’re lucky, their husband will be supportive and listen to their concerns, but this isn’t always the case.
4. When you contact their household, it often feels weird and disruptive. Stepmoms know you have the right to call your children as often as you’d like. And they understand you need to talk to your ex occasionally about parenting issues. But it can still feel like an intrusion.
Stepmoms are constantly struggling to find ways to bond with their stepchildren. And when you call, it interrupts the activity in the house and their stepchildren are immediately distracted. Any bonding that was going on is gone.
Stepmoms may feel as though you’ve crept into every aspect of their lives. And your calling their house is another painful reminder of that.
5. Stepmoms don’t cross your boundaries on purpose, they just can’t see them.
Many moms complain that the stepmom is trying to “parent” their child. But a fundamental problem seems to be, what moms consider “parenting,” stepmoms consider “being responsible” or “supporting their husbands.”
Remember, many stepmoms aren’t sure of their role.
They’re stumbling along, figuring it out as they go. And it’s difficult to try and do the ‘right thing’ only to realize you’ve just caused mom a coronary. It’s not intentional.
Stepmoms wish there was a rule book. They wish the situations were black and white. They wish they could be on the same page as mom and dad, and know how to handle every situation.
But they don’t.
This is where neutral, open communication would be to everyone’s advantage.
Unfortunately, for many stepmoms, their first experience of mom is an emotionally-charged phone call, email or text telling her she has “no right” to do whatever it is she did. To a stepmom, this feels like you’re kicking her when she’s already down. It comes as a shock — because again — her primary intention was to help her husband and care for her stepchild.
6. A stepmom’s marriage has a 60-70 percent chance of failing. And one Boston study reported that 75% of the women who were surveyed said if they had it to do all over, they would NOT marry a man with children. That says a lot about the difficulties stepmoms face.
This may not mean much to you personally, but it means your children will have to experience the prolonged process of a second divorce and deal with the aftermath.
7. Stepmoms are often disrespected or ignored by their stepchildren. There are various reasons for this, chief among them understandable and agonizing loyalty conflicts for the child, but regardless — it still hurts. Stepmoms are only human!
Life isn’t always flowers and butterflies at the other household. Many children feel weird about having a stepmom. They don’t know what it means or what to do with it, so they act out or just ignore the stepmom, which is awkward for everyone.
And most stepmoms don’t have “unconditional love” to fall back on. When a child misbehaves, wreaks havoc, or throws a tantrum, parents may get angry and frustrated, but their unconditional love makes it bearable.
Stepmoms aren’t so lucky. There’s no unconditional love coming to rescue them from wanting to scream at their stepchild or run the other way, sob somewhere private, and never look back. All they have are difficult feelings and nowhere to put them.
But they do come back, day after day, because they believe their marriage and their stepfamily are worth it.
8. A simple “thank you” can go a long way.
Stepmoms wish you’d give them even the smallest acknowledgement. For a lot of women, being a stepmom is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. Often, their needs and wants come last, their schedules aren’t their own, and they’re affected by a situation they didn’t create.
Many stepmoms take excellent care of their stepchild, with little or no reward. They get no thank you, no love from the child, and no appreciation from anyone but their husband — if they’re lucky.
They make many sacrifices in order to be with the man they love. So to only be referenced as “she” (or even worse), or to be completely ignored by you, can hurt them deeply. What they wouldn’t give for a simple “thank you” or a nod in their direction.
I believe that kind of recognition can heal wounds.
Do stepmoms ever act from ego or a sense of competition with the ex-wife?
Sure, just as some moms do.
But it’s important to grasp the implications of a bigger context here: being a stepmom is uniquely difficult and confusing. If you’re a mom, could you see yourself struggling in her shoes?
Perhaps, one day, with a better understanding of each other, the mom/stepmom relationship will be one of championing the other, instead of automatic conflict.
© 2011 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
Do you feel undervalued? Do you long for love and acceptance? If so, join me on Wednesday, October 24th as I have the honor of speaking with best-selling author, Margaret Paul, to discuss why so many women still struggle to find love and acceptance in their stepfamilies.
During the free teleseminar/webinar, you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions and work directly with Margaret and I. You can also send in your questions ahead of time by clicking the registration link below.
When: Wednesday, October 24th @ 6:15pm PST
How: Click here to register for the webinar and submit questions ahead of time
Margaret Paul is the co-author of many best selling books, including Healing Your Aloneness and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved By You? and is the co-creator of Inner Bonding, a 6-step process that enables you to heal emotional wounds. Through Inner Bonding, you learn how to love yourself and share your love with others.
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
Janine from Santa Ana, California asks: “Why does my husband’s ex-wife hate me? I’ve never done anything to her.”
Well Janine, you’re in good company. Thousands of other stepmoms are also perplexed by this. So here is a list of the most common reasons your husband’s ex might not think too fondly of you.
1. She doesn’t hate you, she hates what you represent: The failure of her marriage, the break up of her family, the woman her ex-husband became a better man for, the fear that she might have ruined her child’s life by not being able to make the marriage work.
2. She’s afraid her kids will love you more than they love her. An irrational fear, as the chances of that happening are basically nil, but a common fear nonetheless.
3. She perceives you as overstepping boundaries. This could include showing up at a parent-teacher conference, forcing the kids to call you mom (yes, that does actually happen), calling the kids “mine,” posting pictures of the kids on your Facebook page, trying to co-parent with her by responding to messages sent to your husband, etc…
4. She perceives you as overstepping boundaries by participating in events she believes are reserved for “mom” and participating in events not only reserved for mom, but that are “firsts.” These might include: taking your stepdaughter to buy her first bra or getting her first haircut; participating in any sort of cosmetic experience (hair color/new hair style/ mani-pedi day); talking to her about the birds and the bees; painting her nails or coloring/cutting her hair the way you like it or similar to yours (even if your step is a teen and she requests this, it could still push mom’s buttons).
Think of any sort of milestone and you can be sure that mom wants to be there for it.
5. She has unresolved grief about her divorce. For a long time she could just ignore the painful feelings that accompany divorce. She didn’t really have to face it. She may even be remarried, but never actually grieved the loss of her marriage and family. Enter stepmom, and suddenly it’s real and it’s in her face.
6. You act as a mirror for her. When she looks at your strengths, all she sees are her weaknesses. If she never thought she was a good business women and you own your own business, that insecurity is magnified. Same could be said for your intelligence, physical appearance, age, housekeeping skills, creativity, fashion sense, how much her kids enjoy being around you and your happy marriage.
7. She perceives you as doing all the parenting while dad is “let off the hook.” Stepmoms often help their husbands out with household duties and life in general. That’s what a marriage is all about: partnership. You shuttle the kids back and forth to school or help with homework, you schedule appointments, etc… Often this has to do with gender roles, but all mom sees is that at her house she’s doing all the work while at yours you’re taking care of the kids and dad “does nothing but works.”
8. Now that you’ve come along, dad is asking for more parenting time. With your support, your husband may now see that he should exercise his visitation more or that he’s now able to provide more stability for his kids. In turn, he requests more parenting time and/or parental input. You’d think this would be a good thing, but this change in dynamic can be threatening and/or scary for mom. Not everyone likes change. It’s easy for her to pinpoint your presence as being responsible for this.
9. She doesn’t know you. When mom sends her kids off to be with their dad, and this woman she doesn’t even know will have full access to them, she can feel like she’s being a bad parent. She doesn’t automatically trust you just because dad does. But at the same time, she doesn’t necessarily want to meet you. A no-win situation for all involved.
10. She sees her ex-husband being a different man with you. It can be painful to see the man you think treated you so poorly, treating another women like a princess. She might think he’s being a fraud, or she might think “Why wasn’t I worthy of being treated like that?” She might still be grieving the loss of her marriage while he’s moved on. It’s nearly impossible for her to have good feelings towards you when she’s still processing – or in denial of – the loss of her family.
11. You actually did something worthy of her negative feelings: Are you consciously or subconsciously trying to make her look like a bad mom? Are you trying to prove to your husband that you’re a better wife than she was? Are you trying to make your stepkids love you more than they love her? Do you try to show her up in any way? Do you want the school faculty, PTA or your neighborhood moms to think you’re a better caretaker than she is? Take a look at your behavior and your motivations. You’re going to have to be honest with yourself to see how you might be contributing to the high-conflict dynamic.
Did I miss one? Share your experiences in the comment section below.
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
(photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos)
Did you know that September 16th is the “official” day for stepfamilies to celebrate themselves? Here’s the back story on how National Stepfamily Day came to be.
Here’s to wishing all you hardcore stepfamilies who have managed to keep it together (as hard as it might be on some days) a Happy Stepfamily Day. Now go out and celebrate yourselves!!
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved