After reading several books, articles, and blog posts, written by women giving advice to stepmothers, I’ve concluded that most do more harm than good. All of them, I believe, have good intentions; to aim to teach stepmothers how to successfully blend their stepfamilies, because of course, the responsibility falls mainly on them.
I’ve read and heard people give advice like, “work on trying to build a relationship with your stepchildren,” “try to understand where the ex-wife is coming from,” “try to understand how your husband feels,” “you can be that mediator or voice of reason between your husband and his ex-wife,” “remember that divorce is hard,” and finally, “be patient and everything will work out.” All of this advice leaves stepmothers feeling like they are actually the problem. It gives them more responsibility for a divorce they didn’t create in the first place and indirectly reaffirms the myth that we are all wicked. How? Because you are telling us stuff that we already know. We already realize that we have to try to get to know our stepchildren. We are not heartless creatures who need someone to tell us that. The fact of the matter is the reason children often don’t like the stepmother is not because she is not doing everything to forge a relationship with them, but because of the divorce itself; which means that none of this is the stepmother’s fault, but the bio mom and dad’s. Yet, all of the advice makes it seem like it’s something that we’ve done or are not doing.
The advice that suggests that stepmothers be understanding of how the ex-wife feels and give her time to adjust is also counterproductive as the problem is not that we don’t understand (as women, especially if we are already mothers, we usually do), but it’s her intrusive behavior that gets under our skin. So again, it’s nothing that we are or aren’t doing. It’s completely natural to react, feel hurt or angry at someone who is constantly attacking you and/or your marriage and while we may understand where she is coming from, the behavior is still UNACCEPTABLE. Understanding or sympathizing with someone doesn’t mean that she gets the green light to whatever she chooses, no matter how damaging it can be to your marriage.
And I’m not letting husbands off the hook because the same applies to them. Of course we understand where our husband’s are coming from. We know that they just want their children to be okay, but that doesn’t mean that we have to accept everything they do either. We are their wives, partners for life and should always be treated as such and NO ONE should be allowed to interfere in our marriages…period. This means that we make decisions that affect our household together; there is no more going over to the ex-wife’s house to fix the kitchen sink, tell her to call a plumber; there’s no more allowing your children to disrespect us because they’re hurting, stepmothers are adults and giving respect should be demanded (whether they like her or not). You took vows to honor and protect your marriage and it doesn’t make you evil or a bad father for doing so.
The other piece of advice that is almost laughable is telling stepmothers to be patient; to which I personally want to reply by giving that person a good firm kick in the butt! Telling me to be patient is implying that I am not already being patient. I’ve been sticking with my husband, despite his difficult, intrusive ex-wife, financial strain due to numerous back and forth court battles, a child who, for the first 4 years, demanded (verbally and via his actions) that his parents be back together again, a husband who jumped (for years) at his ex-wife’s every whim because he was afraid she wouldn’t let him see his son and much more, for nearly a decade now, yet I’m still here. I’M PATIENT AND UNDERSTANDING!!! If I wasn’t, I would’ve told all of them where they could go a long time ago and most stepmothers experience battles that are years long when their husband is in high-conflict with their ex-spouse. Once again, it’s not that we aren’t already patient; we’re frustrated, angry and fed up because we have been patient for so long.
It’s so important to offer support and good advice to stepmothers if we are ever to truly understand the stepfamily dynamic and help stepfamilies flourish. Currently, ALL of the responsibility falls on the stepmother and she receives absolutely no understanding. She is taught to be everyone’s punching bag because they are hurting due to the divorce. She must love, nurture, encourage and support everyone, including the ex-wife, yet she isn’t given the same and even demoralized, if she expects it in return. Not to mention that she is taught that everything is her fault anyway. His kids don’t like you because you’re not being patient. His ex-wife is difficult and intrusive because you are not being understanding. Your husband caters to his ex-wife’s every whim because you, you evil, wicked stepmother, aren’t being understanding of his needs. All of this is wrong, bad advice for stepmothers and leaves them feeling even more frustrated, overwhelmed and like failures. It makes her feel bad for wanting to be respected by CHILDREN; wanting the ex-wife to butt out and not wanting to share her husband with her.
Stepmothers are not wrong and wicked for wanting, demanding even, the above-mentioned. And they are not wrong for reacting to such unreasonable behavior. Everyone must understand that divorce is hard on EVERYONE, including the stepmother and if everyone else gets a free pass to be wicked and evil due to something that they created themselves, then the stepmother gets a pass to react to something that she didn’t create in the first place. The stepmother is not the reason for everyone’s hurt, so stop treating her as such. Remember, in the majority of cases, the divorce happened BEFORE she came along.
Stepmothers, I urge you to take your power back. Your husband’s divorce was not all your fault and it isn’t your responsibility to fix it so don’t beat yourself up trying to. Your husband’s and his ex-wife’s emotions are their responsibility to take charge of and not allow them to affect their children or YOU. You can be understanding and supportive without being everyone’s punching bag.
Overall, when did our society start encouraging people to act and do as they choose just because they’re hurting? This is exactly the advice that is constantly spewed to the stepmother by saying that his kids are mean because they’re hurting; his ex-wife is disrespectful and intrusive because she’s hurting; your husband doesn’t pay attention to your needs because he’s hurting. What is this teaching our children? When they are hurting, they can go and slap little Susie at school just because they are hurting? It’s unacceptable behavior and totally unfair to demand that any one person accept it, from everyone in the stepfamily, and happily at that.