If ever you see a stepmum blogger get flamed in a comment, the commenter will generally include the phrase
You have NO RIGHT to…. [breathe/set boundaries/defend yourself against your stepson's jujitsu moves]!
Notice how these commenters always go on to tell horror stories about their own stepmums? While I’m sure there are some nasty wicked stepmother (stereo)types out there, I tend not to respond with a reflexive Oh, how awful! to these narratives since becoming a stepmum myself.
Waaaaay too often, the story is about an evil woman who forced Dad to move interstate, inserted her children into his family tree, stole the inheritance. And my question is always
OK, but where is the Dad’s responsibility in all this?
Please understand, I’m not suggesting that some of us haven’t had yucky experiences with stepparents. My own father had a stepmother who was apparently pretty revolting by all accounts, and the Lovely Man reports (ahem!) mixed experiences with both his stepparents as well.
But the aggressive rants about rights always intrigue me.
You’re not my mother! You’ve got no right to tell me what to do!
(Earth to kid: I. Pay. The. Mortgage. Here. So actually, I can insist that you take your plate up to the sink, if I want to.)
Us stepmums have no right to anything much, it sometimes seems. According to our stepkids, and to way too many adults as well.
In rebuttal, I offer the Stepmother’s Bill of Rights, courtesy of the Wicked Stepmom (aka The Original and The Best).
This was the very first piece of online stepmum wisdom I ever found, and it came at a time when I was absolutely desperate – thanks, Cate!
I’ve made some changes to reflect my insistence belief that you don’t have to be married to be a committed stepmum.
(And before the ranting starts anew, there is also a Stepchild’s Bill of Rights and a Bill of Rights for Children of Divorce.)
Stepmother’s Bill of Rights
1. I will be part of the decision-making process in my relationship and family at all times.
I’ve struggled more with this in the small than the big things – where will we go for dinner? rather than where are we going as a family?
2. People outside the immediate family – including ex-wives, in-laws and adult children – cannot make plans that affect my life without my consent.
3. I will not be responsible for the welfare of children for whom I can set no limits.
Initially I thought this meant I can’t guarantee to keep them safe if I can’t trust them to get off the highway when I ask. Increasingly, though, I’m taking it to mean I’m not babysitting children who don’t have to do as I tell them.
While the Lovely Man is good at pointedly delegating authority to me as needed, I do find the solo childcare aspect of stepparenting especially draining. Every request is a battle some days, with cries of It isn’t your house, it’s Daddy’s! and Why should I? Tell me why?! Why!!!!
Because I said so!
is the phrase that springs to mind here. As well as the juvenile but appealing:
It is my house, actually. And that’s my chair you’re sitting on to play PS3 on my television!
4. I must be consulted about which children will live with us, when they can visit and how long they will stay.
Cate found this one a source of discomfort, saying that she wouldn’t want her partner decreeing that her child couldn’t live with them if the situation was reversed. Fair enough; but I have a different take on it.
Agreeing to consult with a stepmum is not the same as giving her the power of veto.
I would expect to be consulted, and have my views taken seriously. In the absence of extreme circumstances, though (and I know many other stepmums out there have experienced “extreme circumstances” to the nth degree) I would not expect to have the final say all to myself.
5. I will not be solely responsible for housework; chores will be distributed fairly.
Still working on this one. As with most things, the Lovely Man makes a big effort. Unsurprisingly, though, the kids are resistant to doing regular chores.
Getting this happening on a consistent basis is my major stepfamily resolution for 2010. I dream of rosters and family meetings and star charts – I hope not in vain.
(Interestingly, a very negative Boy A today stated that even the chores at Mummy’s are better than here. Given that the Boys obviously contribute a lot more at her house, I’m choosing to see this as him giving us permission to up the ante.)
6. I will be consulted regarding all family financial matters.
This goes without saying, I hope and trust. Or for the most part, anyway – there have been a couple of times in the past when the Boys’ Mum has gotten under the Lovely Man’s skin with her poor me-ism and wangled money, but I don’t think that would happen now.
7. Others may not violate my private space at home, nor take or use my possessions without my permission.
This one hasn’t been an issue in my family so far, but I can imagine it would easily become so if we had the boys with us more in our city.
As it is, the last two-and-a-half weeks of three boys constantly communing with the Playstation in my loungeroom has left me feeling a bit space invaded, so to speak. Ultimately it’s about boundaries, I guess.
8. I will never be treated as an “outsider” in my own home.
Like most stepmums, especially those without children of our own, I often feel like an outsider in my home. But that’s different to being actively treated that way, like the woman Wednesday Martin wrote about whose stepchildren and husband acted as though she was invisible at mealtimes. Not fun.
9. My partner and stepchildren must treat me with respect.
I’ve only recently laid down the law about not making “fat bum”, “old witch” and “ugly old lady”-type comments. It was well past time, and I’m happier cracking down than trying to laugh it off with a tight, fixed smile like before.
10. Our partnership is our first priority, and we will address all issues together.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I don’t think I need to say anymore…
What would your Bill of Rights include?