Everyday Voices: It’s Not Just About the Kids

Guest post: by Jennifer Shepherd

I have been a stepmother to two amazing teenage boys for the past 23.5 months. Having had a stepmother of my own for the past 20 years, I already knew that it was a thankless, terrible job with few to no benefits and a lot of stress. Although my stepsons and I had a great relationship before my husband and I got married, I still worried that something might change once I married their dad. The chances of their parents getting back together, for example, would diminish even further once he had a new wife.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about with the kids. They have been a parent’s, much less stepparent’s, dream. My son and I moved from our home into theirs, and he had to transition to sharing a room for the first time.  Likewise, my younger stepson had to go from having his own room to sharing with someone else. I worried about the adjustment, but the boys made it work without fuss. I was so proud of all three of them.

My stepsons live with my husband and I full-time. A little over three years ago, he was awarded custody in his divorce, and the boys’ mother declined her visitation time with them (every other weekend and every Wednesday). The boys were crushed by the abandonment, and it got worse when she and her boyfriend announced that she was pregnant. They felt as though she had chosen her new family over them.

She did come to sporting events (as long as they took place in our town). Aside from that, however, the boys didn’t see her. They told us it was what they wanted, and that they were happier this way, but I knew they still loved their mom.

Again and again throughout that time, the boys amazed me with their resiliency. It was a tough spot as a stepmother to be in, but they were so easy to love I just tried to do the best I could to make sure they realized that they would always have a stable home environment with me and their dad.

Then I wrote the paper.

For a Communication Research course I was taking in college, our project was to research a topic and write a 20-30 page paper about it. Because the topic was near and dear to my heart, I chose stepmothers. It was a great choice, because it led me to several stepmother support groups online. Reading their stories, and subsequently interviewing them, led me to realize all over again how blessed my family was. But one topic that came up time and time again was the relationship with the biological mother.

I completed the paper three months later and, at the urging of my new stepmother friends, posted it online in my Facebook notes to avoid the hassle of emailing it to so many different people (I had surveyed 100 stepmothers). I wasn’t worried about the boys’ mother at this point for two reasons: first, other than a couple of sentences in the intro identifying my situation as a stepmother, she was not a part of the paper. Second, she had told the boys time and time again that she had blocked me on Facebook, in her phone, and in her email so that she would never have to communicate with me in any way.

I was wrong to have believed that. She did block me, yes, but then accessed my account through other means. She read the paper, and everything changed.

She reacted badly, and said a lot of negative things to all of us.

All of that was standard with her personality type. But then something unexpected happened: she actually started trying to be involved with the boys’ lives. 

She started traveling to out of town games and tournaments. She stopped cropping them out of her Facebook pictures. She started contacting them and actually talking to them. They started to rekindle their relationship. They became more receptive to her. They actually started seeing her for an hour or two here and there.

At first, my younger stepson didn’t know how to handle it. He felt that he had to hate one of us at all times.

Once I sat him down and explained to him that we would both love him no matter what, and that he could love both of us without upsetting us (I hoped I was speaking for her, too), he got better.

My purpose in writing this is because I know there are so many more stepmothers like me out there: stepmothers whose major obstacle in their journey isn’t their relationship with their stepchildren, but instead dealing with the biological mother of those stepchildren.

While it is still a long road ahead of us, the important thing, to me, is that she has a relationship with the boys again. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I want to scream, but I keep reminding myself to breathe and let it go.

Maybe someday she will, too.

© 2012 Jennifer Shepherd    All Rights Reserved
(photo credit:FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Jennifer Shepherd is a lifelong Midwesterner, though if asked she can’t say how this happened.  She has a great son, two amazing stepsons and an awesome husband. She loves to read, write, and laugh at everyday craziness. She also likes to laugh at pretty much everything else. She got married in 2010, got cancer the same year, beat it the next year, and finally got her bachelor’s degree the year after that. Master’s in progress!

“Stepmoms, You Knew What You Were Getting Into…”

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You knew what you were getting into when you married him.”

When we hear those words, it can feel like a punch to the gut.

The sentiment reflects an ignorant yet common mindset from many of those who have never walked the path 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 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 – like any normal, mature, emotionally intelligent adult would.

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 actually know 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 permissive parent who doesn’t really parent because he’s feeling so much guilt over the divorce, which leaves you in a house full of undisciplined children
  • Court dates and custody battles
  • Parental alienation syndrome
  • Doctor’s offices and school systems who don’t recognize you unless they get approval from both parents

…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.

One stepmom told me that when someone tells her 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. And it’s probably more effective than giving them the finger.

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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(photo credit:graur razvan donut)

Dealing With a Difficult Ex-Wife

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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 would do things the way you do.

It’s so easy to judge another’s parenting. 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. Or better yet, just block her completely.

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 acceptance or lack of has nothing to do with your value as a person or a stepmom.

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.

(As previously published in the October 2011 issue of Sm Magazine)

© 2011 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

(photo credit:Idea

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Put Down Your Good Intentions and Step Away From the Ex-Wife

 

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We often talk about stepmoms overdoing it and needing to step back from all their responsibilities; needing to take a break from taking care of everything and everyone.

But sometimes it’s not the stepchildren they need to back off from.

Sometimes it’s the ex-wife.

Stepmoms usually start out innocently communicating with mom around things like schedules and logistics. If that goes well, she starts thinking “Great, mom is receptive to me. She’s accepting of me.”

She then takes mom’s receptiveness as an invitation to move into position and start taking the reigns around other aspects of co-parenting.

She also starts to think she can heal the relationship between her husband and his ex. Oops…

What starts out with good intentions on the stepmom’s part, often turns into an ugly power struggle or war between mom and stepmom.

Before she knows it, she’s crossed a boundary she couldn’t see and mom is up in arms accusing her of overstepping and trying to take over.  (Cue the barrage of nasty text messages from mom)

The stepmom is often an easy scapegoat. We’re the new kid on the block (even if we’ve been around for years). And it’s so much easier to point the finger at someone else and tell them what they’re doing wrong, than trying to see how their presence could benefit the family and wanting to find solutions.

Stepmoms, when you start getting frustrated about this, remember these four words: YOU CAN’T FIX IT.

It was broken long before you showed up.  And as much as you might love your husband and want to make things better for him, you can only do that in your household. When it comes to his ex, it’s HIS job to handle her.

There are some moms who do communicate better with their child’s stepmom and choose to deal with her rather than her ex. For those of you who can make that work, I commend you!

But for all the others…

Your husband has a choice. He either chooses to lay down some ground rules with her or he chooses to continue letting the dynamic be as it is.

Either way it’s his choice.

So what do you get for  “getting out of the way”? You get to improve your marriage. What your husband wants is to feel supported by you. By letting him deal with his ex and NOT harassing him about his decisions, or hers, you allow the space to simply support him.

And you get to go about your business focusing on all the things that bring you joy, knowing that whatever stress she brings, you’re more protected from it than you would be if you were right in the line of fire.

This will be a challenge for those of you who define yourselves as control freaks. You might feel like bursting at the seam every time something happens, but eventually you learn to enjoy not having the pressure of needing to know every gory detail of the interaction.

And you might need to fake it ’till you make it. Put notes around the house reminding you to bite your tongue.

Your husband is a big boy, let him handle things in his own way (which I guarantee will be different than the way YOU would handle them).

If it’s something that affects you, then have that conversation with him. Otherwise, learn to let go.

You’re making room for more peace in your life and at the same time showing your husband “ I trust you, I believe in you.” And more than anything, that’s what our husbands want to feel from us.

So stepmoms, do your best to remove yourself from fights that aren’t yours.

Your marriage will thank you for it!

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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