I post a lot of happy photos and experiences on social media. I have a pretty good life. One thing I almost never write or post about is Daren & my biggest struggle. The largest hurdle we haven’t gotten over and continue to learn about and navigate is having a blended family.
I’ve written countless journal entries over the years. We’ve written hundreds of heartfelt emails to one another, our kids and our extended family trying to explain where we are coming from. I don’t really know anyone in real life with a current blended family to turn to for advice or to vent. There are little to no resources.
Over the years in complete frustration I’ve turned to the Internet. It’s been helpful in learning how we are not alone, but as with many things in life the ‘tips’ (if you can call them that) are much easier said than done. In the past week I’ve been a bit selfish and have only been looking up information about stepmothers. In the past I ran across information and angry forums where biological moms and step-moms posted and complained about one another. It was all a bit too Jerry Springer for me, yet I kept reading the same kind of stories and threads over and over. This week I tried to stick with peer-reviewed information only. There is little to none. The closest thing I can find that has a lot of information are Psychology periodicals. The New York Times and Huffington Post had some articles too, but on average 1-2 a year– and they are more informational for the public to be aware of the struggles that blended families experience rather than a help to the blended family itself.
What shocks me is how ‘textbook’ we are. We fell hook, line & sinker into exactly what normally happens.
Stepmothers generally have such a bad reputation. It’s often long into adulthood, usually after grandchildren/step-grandchildren are born; that the relationship between a step-mother and her step-children starts to flourish. Until then it’s often contentious and it doesn’t have to be. These are 3 things in order that a family could do to speed up that process.
- The parents should work together to establish the boundaries, rules and consequences in their home (father and step-mother).
- Both biological parents should work together to maintain as many commonalities as possible between both homes and back one another up or at least check-in when the children complain about one home or the other.
- The biological mother should give her children permission to accept the step-mother in their lives.
This is the bare minimum to ensure success. Taking it further might look like all 3 (or 4 if mom is remarried) parents working together, especially if either stepparent has children living in their home. Mature adults realize this is in the best interest of all kids involved. Without the above 3 factors in place the situation is practically a perfect set up for failure. However we are so quick to blame the step-mother when anything goes wrong. Why? The world believes the fairy tale evil stepmother fantasy. She is the easy target because she is the outsider and no one feels any loyalty to her.
This is a very lonely feeling. As a stepmother you wonder what is wrong with you. You lose part of yourself. You question every word you say. I felt really alone for so long. It’s comforting to now know that research shows that there is a high incidence of anxiety and depression among stepmothers. They’re often the lowest member on the stepfamily rung, the P.S., the annoyance, the person that everyone in the family “puts up” with and often wishes would just go away.
Taken from the article (The Evil Stepmother: Myth or Truth?) “Simple… as a stepmother, I’ve been called names, blamed for things I had nothing to do with, talked behind my back, badmouthed, lied to and about, used and abused, mistreated, misunderstood, and all because I actually tried to be exactly the opposite of the common perception of ‘The Evil Stepmom’. I never demanded or asked for anything. I never made anyone choose. I never lied about their mother. I never treated her unkind. I never forgot their birthdays or a holiday. I never whined about how much money we spent on travel, child support, court costs, lawyers, or on the children.”
Wow how that sits with me. So it’s not just me? It’s not something I did or our special situation?
I’ve been accused of thriving on drama, needing my husband’s ex as a common enemy to save my relationship with him, being verbally abusive, making capricious rules, being childish, having an eating disorder, trying to make the children into something they aren’t, the list goes on. To anyone who knows me in real life this sounds so ridiculous. But if you didn’t know me and heard I’m a stepmother you really might believe it – because you know step mothers are evil & all that.
Why do so many women have the same experience?
From what I read recently, the stepmother is the first to notice something isn’t jelling and starts to do research about how to make her family work. She becomes the authoritative figure at home trying to educate herself, her children, her husband and his children about the topic. This often breeds resentment and alienates her as a starting point.
I’ve also learned that stepfathers don’t have the same experience as their counter-parts (step-moms) because usually ex-husbands deal with a divorce in a more healthy way. According to The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers it’s the ex-wife who is likely to hold onto anger, feel it for longer and have the kids act it out on her behalf. Additionally the mom usually will have stronger agenda about what happens in her ex-husband’s house “The stronger the ex’s agenda, researchers found, the more involvement across households–and opportunities for conflict. And high conflict situations between two linked households lead to greater resentment of the stepparent, who feels more expendable”
The above is a real problem when the step-mom has her own children and is trying to treat everyone fairly. It’s so important that the kids feel at home – all of them. Due to ex-wives trying to exert control, the step-mother loses control of her own home, and if she has children of her own that live in the house; she can’t seem to make things fair for everyone – leading to a great divide between step-sibling.
Geez, if we could only all just co-parent that wouldn’t happen right? That takes maturity though. Sadly the one target everyone points to as immature, jealous, power hungry, etc is the stepmother.
These are some common myths that I find so absurd.
She is jealous of the children
That just such a weird accusation yet widely held belief. I’ve heard it long before I ever became a step-mother, I’ve heard it about myself, and see/read/hear about other step-mothers that are jealous of their step-children. They are so jealous in fact, that they do all kinds of crazy, secret, manipulative things to make the children look bad in the father’s eyes. Has anyone ever questioned this hypocrisy? Why would she be jealous of the children?
She tries to exert power over the blended family and make the children’s lives miserable
What kind of person wants to see children miserable? I really ask that with pure interest of what someone’s answer might be. Do you know many people like this? I can’t think of a single person in real life that ever exhibited signed of feeling such intentions (at least that I know of… I’ll give you that).
I think a lot of people know just a single story and are more apt to listen to angry ex-wives and the kids who have a distorted image of “what goes on in that house”. She isn’t super strict and making capricious rules when she asks the kids sit up at the table, not climb the furniture, use utensils properly and say please & thank you. These are common complaints (wow… again I’m not alone) 5 Good Reasons to be an Evil Stepmother.
In step-families where the husband is the biological parent, research shows that fathers are more likely to be permissive parents if their ex-wife is not remarried and works outside the home (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers). The biological mother will often start to let little things go at first, then big things. When the children get to their father’s house they are used to not having rules and the father fears that if he is too strict the children will not want to come back. The stepmother inadvertently becomes the menacing authoritative figure for wanting to instill a few simple boundaries that others would normally not question. In turn people look at her like she is on a power trip and wants to make the children miserable and unwelcome into their dad’s house. After this happens a few times the stepmother will often feel like she has no control of her household and has to walk on eggshells when the children are around. It only makes the situation worse which is why most blended families on the surface seem happier early on. It’s not because the stepmother’s true colors have emerged that she has been holding in all this time until she got her claws deep enough into the family. Life isn’t that simple or sinister.
She shouldn’t have any say when it comes to the children
This is a partial myth. She has a lot to say about a lot of things and nothing to say about many others. Does she have a right to be part of a negotiation about what time something should take place when it affects her and/or her own biological children, or her household? Yes. Should she have a say in how holidays are celebrated within the confines of her own blended family, especially when she has children of her own? Absolutely. Should she be part of schedule planning for breaks, summers, and vacations if they in any way shape or form will be part of her schedule, her own vacation or anything related to her children? Without a doubt!
Does she have a say about where a child goes to the doctor or to college? Absolutely not. Nothing at all. Is it ok for her to be there to look at school options on the table? Why not? If I weren’t married and my brother or a good friend came with me and my child to look at schools, no one would blink or question their motives. They may even be able to say something like – hey remember that great cafeteria at that place, I had a fantastic burrito! But the stepmother accompanies her husband to the physician or a college visit and she must want to manipulate an outcome for her own benefit right? She must think she is their parent and has a right to be involved in this decision. Ya… ok then.
What about discipline? This is a tricky one. It depends. Did the child do something at school or get a bad grade? Then she should have little to no say. That is up to the biological parents if they are communicating well enough. Did the child break one of the house rules that she and her husband had in place? Then she does have a say. Many might disagree with me, but I think she has more of a say and should work with the husband closer when there are more than 1 set of biological children in the house. If there are stepsiblings or half siblings and something happens under your roof or in your care; the adults should work as diligently as possible to keep the same consequences for all the children in the house. Toxicity is created when the rules are different for one set of children than another. The stepmother has a say about what happens in her house, especially when it affects her or any children she birthed.
If she is kind the children will warm up to her
Not necessarily. The odds are stacked against her. She is putting up with a lot more than you know. People don’t look at her and smile warmly. When the family is out in public and strangers start asking questions where she has to explain they are a blended family, there is subtle shift in the conversation where she is looked at like she is just a bit ‘lesser than’. She can feel this hostility from strangers, the kid’s friend’s parents, teachers, etc. The extended family often quietly or openly resents or blames her because things aren’t just exactly the same as before. The kids sense all of this. How can they like her?
Throw in “loyalty”. Many stepkids–and adult stepkids–suspect that liking stepmom would be a betrayal of mom. So they keep her at arm’s length–or worse. And there’s nothing she can do about that. Only mom can release them from the torturous loyalty bind and pave the way to a healthy stepmom/stepchild relationship, by saying, “I wish you’d give Jenny a chance. I won’t be upset.” Too often, no such permission is given” (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers).
It’s been found that the more warm & appealing a step mom is, the more conflict a child feels about liking her.
Culturally there is a double standard “Stepchildren are allowed to dislike and resent their stepmoms, while a stepmom must always show unconditional love for her stepchildren.”
She isn’t immature and childish; she is human with little understanding on her part.
Are you a stepmother or know of any? Try looking at things from her perspective. Most little girls don’t grow up with dreams of marrying a man with children. Almost no woman on earth goes out seeking a man with children. Marrying a man with children means you really love him and accept all facets of his life, including his children. The day the couple says “I do” with smiles on their faces, she isn’t secretly plotting about how to systematically get the kids out of his life. I don’t disagree that there may be a few incredibly unstable females out there where this might be the case, but trust me in that they are the exception, not the norm.
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One thought on “The reputation of Stepmothers”
Hi E – My dad married my stepmother when I was 15, now 30+ years ago. I feel like our relationship was mostly benign (she did not really participate in my relationship with my dad, and was a basically neutral background figure for me) until I had children. Any drama was related to my stepsister who had many issues and could not really function on her own as an adult. I felt angry that my stepmother brought this drama and grief into my dad’s life. However, once my stepmother was my kids’ grandmother, our relationship blossomed and became very warm and close as she was so loving and generous to them. Now she holds a special role as one person I can trust to have my kids’ best interests at heart and really follow through with that. Would be happy to talk more sometime. – D