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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 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
It was a hard day for me when I had to let my nanny go (I know, Veuve Clicquot problems!). My daughter, Zemrie was turning four and heading to preschool. I also have a fabulous stepson, Zac who is nine. Julie has been a life saver, assisting our family since my daughter was born. She has even watched and played games with Zac, the Zman, on a few occasions.
I was busy doing some work, housecleaning, planning, etc… and as Julie left one day, I said nonchalantly, “Well, you know the little lady is heading to school, so we will be seeing a lot less of you in a couple months.” I gave a little pouty-lip frown and head tilt, then as I went onto writing the grocery list, I looked up and noticed her crying. I thought, dear God woman, I am not sending you back to Honduras! We live in LA, you will find a new job in a week! My other thought was that of guilt…I will get online and put my attanae out and help her with a new gig.
Man, was I so off with my thinking.
She looked up with watery eyes and spilled, “I will miss Zemrie so much, I have been with your family for four years.” I stopped in my tracks, what?? This isn’t about a job or cash flow?? You love children that are not yours??
She continued on as I stood there dumfounded. “This is the hardest part of this job. Leaving the kids I love, teach and adore.“ My chin started to quiver… I hadn’t felt a tear over something like this in so long… I thought this was a duty for her… an obligation.
Duty and obligation? Sounds so familiar to me. Most people believe stepmoms are parents out of obligation…something you must do, based on the situation, which is only part of it.
I stood there and looked at Julie and thought to myself, I feel a connection and empathy (or is it sympathy…I always forget). If anything happens to my husband or we decide to separate, I will also be “let go” from Zac’s life, a boy I have been raising since he was four…most courts would make you really fight for even slight visitation and most likely there would be none…and would fade overtime. No biological connection is really a doozie, but it doesn’t make the love any less, as I also realize even with Julie.
I began to watch Julie while she was with my daughter, something I have never done through her eyes… only mine… judging, making sure she was teaching correctly, giving my daughter the utmost attention and the right amount of hugs and guidance…something that I am sure most do when watching stepmoms, including our spouses, in-laws, friends, biomoms, teachers and complete strangers.
I noticed so many things Julie did that I never knew before… the truly selfless behaviors, everyday, many hours of the day… she certainly did not get the payment, monetary or other-wise that she deserves. It’s priceless to find a gem like that.
My negativity started coming out again… will she pull away? Will she become flaky? Ugh, I want to slap myself, but I just put on some really good face cream I ordered from Ole Henriksen….
None of that happened over her last months. It seemed like she was even more attentive and caring, because it was genuine. Hand me the tissues and waterproof mascara!
I talked to another mother who works with Julie and she told me she had a waitlist for her services! People that lived closer to her than I do and would even pay her more than what I was paying. I couldn’t believe this. She loved our family and chose the less desirable route for her…a difficult choice to say the least. Something most of us stepmoms can certainly relate to…not that I would even put myself on the pedestal I now put our Julie on…she makes me want to have another baby so she can come back!
Then I come to my senses… hell no, I’m not that crazy, pass me the Malbec and I will just sit back and remember how lucky I am to know someone else who loves children that she shares no dna with… we were a lot more similar than I ever thought we would be.
Cheers to you and people like you Julie! You make me know the term ‘biological’ is truly just a technical one. Visit anytime, it’s a court order!
(photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
© 2012 Sara Stanley All Rights Reserved
Sara Stanley is a biomom, stepmom, stepdaughter and an audacious stand up comedian and writer who has been featured on The Style Network and E! Entertainment Television. She has also written copy for National Campaign ads. Sara is a business woman and telecommutes from home for a successful finance company as well (gotta pay the bills!) email@example.com. http://www.sarastanley.com/
Does your partner have a contentious relationship with his ex? Does she call, email or text him multiple times a day for seemingly unimportant issues? Perhaps to rehash an old argument or let him know about a movie she saw that reminded her of him? Or maybe she’s addicted to criticizing and/or blaming him for her unhappiness?
Well, I’m here to tell you about a wonderful tool that might just put an end to (or at least lessen) the intrusive, harassing communications.
Our Family Wizard is a third-party website for divorced parents in high-conflict situations. It’s a place where all communications can occur. Everything is time-stamped and recorded for use in court should the need arise. As their website states, No more “he said, she said.”
Forty-four states have actually court ordered its use among co-parents as a way to diffuse the aggressive communications between co-parents in hopes of keeping the children out of the middle.
When the other parent sends a new message or does anything else on the site, the other parent gets notified. The parents can choose their method and frequency of notifications, preventing your dinner and other family activities from constantly being interrupted.
There is also a shared calendar, expense reports, private journaling tool and family resource center. Everything that co-parents need is right there in one place.
Of course this may not stop every parent from sending harassing messages – but at least now they’re readily accessible, with a nice little “print” function, to present in court if need be. In fact, the courts can actually log in and see everything for themselves. Very cool.
The website does a much better job than I do at describing in detail all the features it offers. So do your family a favor and check it out!
Note for stepparents: There’s a “third party” feature for stepparents, grandparents, etc… It’s pretty limited as far as the options available, but you can sign in and see the shared calendar and receive messages. Unfortunately, you can’t add events to the calendar. I’ve already contacted OFW about adding that function for stepparents, seeing as (especially stepmoms) we do most of the scheduling.
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
Still, many stepmoms have managed to overcome that initial “Oh my God what was I thinking…” phase and move into the “Okay, I’ve got this. It’s not so bad after all” phase.
I can sit here and preach all day long about how to get that peaceful place, but I’d like to hear from some of you.
- How did you overcome your stepmom challenges?
- What was the moment that changed things for you?
- Was there a moment? Or more like a series of moments?
- What is your outlook on stepmom-dom now?
And to those who are still in the “Crap, this sucks” phase, what are you struggling with most? What do you think needs to happen in order to find your peace?
When we share our stories, others learn and are comforted by them.
Sending appreciation to everyone in advance!
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
“You knew what you were getting into when you married him.”
When stepmoms hear those words, it makes us want to put our fists through something; usually the mouth from which those words came.
The sentiment reflects an ignorant mindset from many of those who have never walked in the shoes of a stepmom.
Want to know what I “knew” when I married my husband?
I knew that my experience as a stepchild was a pretty great one. That my mom and stepmom always got along and that my parents never fought in front of me.
I “knew” that I was marrying an amazing man whose kids were nice to me.
I “knew” that his ex-wife wasn’t happy about me but that she’d eventually get over it.
Just as a new parent can never really know what to expect when their biological baby enters the world, no member of the stepfamily could have actually known what they were in for.
What many outsiders don’t know is that the challenges don’t just appear the moment we start dating our partners. In fact, many of them don’t even show up until we get married.
It seems the marriage itself triggers many of these issues:
- The ex-wife who behaves like a three year old, full-blown tantrums and all, when she realizes you’re here to stay
- Kids who previously thought you were cool, now loathe you as they have to share their dad’s time and attention
- The parent who doesn’t really parent because he’s feeling so much guilt over the divorce, which leaves you in a house full of wild, undisciplined children
- Court dates and custody battles
- Parental alienation syndrome
- Doctor’s offices and school systems who don’t recognize you as anything more than a glorified baby sitter
…just to name a few.
So no, we didn’t “know” this was what we were signing up for when we said “I do.”
I think it’s shocking that people really think if we were faced with all these challenges on our first date – or before we fell in love with our partners – that we would have stayed.
Except for a few masochistic woman, many of us would have jumped ship.
For most of us, we were already madly in love with our partners when the common stepfamily challenges started to rear their ugly heads. And so we stayed.
And we continue to stay because we believe our men are worth it. We believe our marriage is worth it. And to make sure it continues to be worth it, we need to have many more good times than bad.
When someone with children tells Laura Antonucci, a member of my Childless Stepmoms Facebook group, that she knew what she was getting into, she replies with, ”Did you know everything you were getting into with your first child?” And when they say “no,” she says ”Well I guess we both knew but didn’t really know.”
I like this response. It’s surely more effective than the commonly used “screw you” response!
And what about you? How have you responded to this blissfully ignorant statement by people who have never been part of a stepfamily?
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
(photo credit:graur razvan donut)
(As previously published in the October 2011 issue of Stepmom Magazine)
Hindsight is 20/20. If there is one thing I wish I could have foreseen when I met my husband, it’s the difficulties I would encounter with his ex-wife. Before she had even met me, it seemed her mind was made up. I was the devil—at least on the days she was willing to acknowledge my existence.
Within many stepmom communities, divorced moms have earned a pretty bad reputation, and it’s easy to see why. There are many reasons why perfectly sane, intelligent, otherwise-normal women act not so normal when their ex-husbands remarry.
Stepmoms can save themselves a lot of stress and angst by understanding a few basic truths and some sound coping strategies.
So, here are five things that will help you cope with a less-than welcoming ex-wife.
1. Don’t expect appreciation from her.
You deserve to be acknowledged, but being deserving isn’t enough. In mom’s mind, she didn’t sign up to co-parent with you, and she and her ex were doing just fine before you came along.
If you stop expecting a “thank you” that might never come, you’ll stop being disappointed. Let that expectation go, and if she happens to come around one day you’ll have reason to celebrate!
Who you should be receiving appreciation from is your husband. If he’s lacking in that department, give him a little reminder that it would be nice to be recognized for all you do.
2. Let go of wishing she did things the way you do.
It’s so easy to judge another’s parenting, especially when we only hear half the story. Realize that she is not you. She doesn’t see life through the same filter as you. She probably has different values than you, and our values guide most of our decisions.
Is she making decisions that put her child in immediate danger? Will her choices assure your stepchild a life of crime? If so, then your husband needs to kick it into high gear, but if not, try to let go of your judgments. They’re a waste of time and the only person they hurt is you.
3. Recognize the need for boundaries.
Does she seem to CC you on every nasty email to your husband? Or perhaps you’re the lucky recipient of her anger. A wonderful boundary to set in regard to email is setting up a rule.
On most email servers, you can set a rule that says, “If from ___ then send to ___.” That way, her email goes directly into a designated folder for later use in court or the trash—whichever you see fit.
Either way, it saves you from being harassed or affected by her negative words. And what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
4. Remember that she’s your husband’s ex, not yours, and it’s his job to deal with her.
I don’t know why we stepmoms feel the need to have our hand in everything, but the smartest and sanest thing you can do is let your husband be the one to communicate with her.
This might seem harsh, and you might feel guilty because he’d rather not talk to her either, but it was his decision to marry her, or at least procreate with her, so she’s his to deal with.
Stepping away from her drama will leave you in a more peaceful state and better able to support your husband.
5. Don’t take it personally.
Unless you were intentionally nasty and cruel to her, please stop beating yourself up, wondering what you did to make her hate you.
And while you’re at it, please stop trying to be overly nice to her while she continues to show you she has no interest in forging a relationship with you. There are probably a million emotions she hasn’t processed or isn’t capable of working through and she just might not be able to accept you.
It’s OK to stop trying to get somewhere with her. On the upside, she doesn’t have to accept you!
Her opinion of you doesn’t dictate your worth.
Let go of trying to please her and focus on what really matters— you, your marriage and your family.
(photo credit:Idea go)
© 2011 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
It’s not just a myth that in a stepfamily the marriage needs to be the number one priority. It’s what has been proven to work hundreds of times over. Otherwise, there ends up being a second divorce, or just two miserable people tolerating each other.
Either way, it sucks for you and it sucks for the kids.
The couple is the pillar of the family unit, holding the family together. But when the children’s wants are made to be more important than the adult’s needs, chaos ensues.
Kids need structure in order to feel safe. As Ben Garber says in his book “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle,” think of the marriage as their safety net; something they can rely on.
Be prepared. They’re going to test that net to see how far they can stretch it. They need to know it will stretch without breaking. They need to know they can count on it to be there, to catch them when they fall.
Here are 5 practices that will help ensure you’re making your marriage the priority!
1. Explain the new “structure” of the family to the kids. The kids are often in pain from divorce and the loss of their family, resulting in misplaced anger (usually aimed at the stepmom). It’s up to the biological father to listen to his children, empathize with them about their pain, but remind them that the new structure of the family includes the stepmom.
Let them know they’re loved and find out what needs of theirs are possibly not being met.
Make sure to have some alone time with them at every visit. And talk to them about possible solutions for what’s ailing them.
2. Stepmoms, your spouse must defend you to the kids. The children will take their cues from dad, so he needs to be your biggest advocate. He needs to let them know that he loves you and that although they don’t have to love you, or even like you, they must respect you, as his wife.
Referring to you as his wife, as opposed to their stepmom, may be less threatening and easier for the kids to digest.
3. Be affectionate in front of the kids. It’s healthy to hold hands, give a peck on the cheek, etc… If the previous marriage was volatile, this might be the first time they’ve ever witnessed love and affection between two healthy adults.
This is your opportunity to model a loving relationship so they have a better chance of experiencing one for themselves in the future.
And give yourselves some alone time! Do your best to create a date night (or at least a date hour). The adults in a marriage need to experience each other without the children around. It’s important to keep up the “R-rated” aspect of your relationship, so you continue to see each other as more than “parents.”
4. The couple should never undermine each other in front of the children. Stepmoms, if your partner doesn’t agrees with something you’ve done or said to the kids, he needs to support you in front of the kids and then discuss it behind closed doors.
Otherwise, the child may see the stepparent as insignificant, and feel a sense of power over the family. He may believe he’s found a way to drive a wedge between the couple, thinking this might be his opportunity to get his parents back together. And he may think he can dictate how the family runs.
I don’t actually need to describe the hell it would be to have a child running the household, do I??
As Foster Cline recommends from the book Parenting teens with love and logic, “A good relationship between child and stepparent is healthy and worth striving for. But when disputes arise, the birth parent must unequivocally back up the stepparent as an authority in the home.”
And stepmoms, you’re not off the hook here. This rule goes both ways.
5. The child won’t respect the stepparent if the biological parent doesn’t demand it. By “respect” I’m referring to listening to the stepparent when she’s directing the child, not insulting or badmouthing the stepparent; showing basic manners.
If this isn’t occurring, the biological parent needs to step in. It can’t come from the stepparent, because the child most likely does not feel any loyalty or responsibility to the stepparent.
The results of a child not respecting a stepparent can be enough to damage the marriage. A stepmom may feel powerless in her own home. She will come to dread the children’s visits.
She will feel she is cooking, cleaning, nurturing this child, only to be completely disrespected. If this goes on for too long, the stepmom ends up feeling used and abused, instead of loved and supported.
She will also be angry with her husband for not protecting her or listening to her needs. She may feel so beaten down that she doesn’t think it’s worth it to stay in the marriage.
After all, the marriage is the reason she’s here!
As you can see, the dad holds a lot of responsibility for keeping the stepfamily intact. That’a pretty big burden and it’s a difficult job. But with his wife’s support he can succeed. And with her husband’s support, the stepmom will know that her marriage is strong. She will know that her efforts are worthwhile and her emotional cup will be filled.
And the whole family will benefit!
© 2012 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
(Photo credit: photostock)