Tag Archives: stepmother
So, the Lovely Man and I are getting married.
And he wants to include something in the ceremony that includes and maybe even speaks directly to the Boys.
It’s hard to navigate. So I’m cautious.
There are a few “nots”.
I’m absolutely not going to say anything that doesn’t feel true.
I’m not ready to promise the kids anything that isn’t entirely in my power to deliver, or shouldn’t be solely my responsibility, eg I promise to build a strong relationship with you.
And I refuse to say anything that might tighten the choke hold of their loyalty binds – no “Yay, new family, love everyone, take you to be my children, yay!” kinds of things. Honestly, I Googled “stepfamily wedding vows” and there was so much schmaltz that I entered a whole new emotional state – kind of a cross between nauseated and despairing.
(Sorry if that offends anyone – I can imagine lots of stepfamilies where sentimental love statements might not be out of place in a wedding ceremony. Ours isn’t one of them, though.)
Please, could those of you who are married or planning on getting married or just have an opinion share what, if anything, your wedding ceremony had/will have/would hypothetically have specifically related to your stepchildren and stepfamily?
If you’ve already had a ceremony including stepfamily references, how did it work out?
As time passes for me in my stepmother role, I am more and more coming to appreciate the importance of my network. Only a stepmother knows the feeling (or a former stepmother, for that matter) isn’t just a useful mantra, but a self-protective one.
Stepmothers flock together; they find each other, sniff each other out. [No doubt some mothers would say that's because we all stink! So be it; I'm sticking with my metaphor...]
Across two cities, a country and the world, I’ve built my network over the last three and half years, and now there’s always, always another stepmum I can connect with. And almost always, they just get it.
They know it’s like to be partnered with a man who is burdened by separation guilt. (Because no matter who initiated the split, and for what good reasons, they ALWAYS seem to feel guilty, and usually seem to act guilty with their kids and the ex.)
They get how painful it is to feel like an unwanted, unappreciated outsider in your own home. And veteran stepmothers will understand and remind you to feel how that feels, but try not to take it too personally – even if sometimes you’re more successful than others.
Other stepmothers know from experience what a loyalty bound child looks and acts like. This one takes a while to learn, and it’s so confusing at first.
But we were having fun – why is she suddenly hitting me?
He said blue was his favourite colour, so I bought him blue sheets and now he says he hates blue!
Stepmothers know from experience that stepkids’ mothers aren’t necessarily pleased when you demonstrate a caring interest in the kids. No, they don’t want you to be mean – “wicked” – but…. they don’t necessarily want you to be (too) nice or loving or fun, either. They might expect you to uncomplainingly share the work of looking after their kids because that’s what you signed up for but still refuse to acknowledge or include you as a figure of importance in their child’s life or in the parental decision-making process.
Most stepmums recognise that because this role makes us feel insecure, sometimes we project our shit onto the kids’ mother.
Most of all, other stepmothers realise that talking to most non-stepfamily people about all of the above is generally:
a) pointless – they say unhelpful things like why don’t you just slap the little bugger if she’s acting up? or oh well, only thirteen more years!
If it’s not a), though, it’s b), and b) is the poisonous cup stepmothers quickly learn not to sip from.
b) includes ouchies like don’t ever forget you’re not the Mother! and Oh, you can’t have kids? At least you have your two beautiful stepchildren. And, of course, that spiky old chestnut you knew he had kids when you married him.
So, that’s the best reason why a network of stepmothers, in person, over the phone and via the www is the biggest gun in your stepmother arsenal. Not to bitch and moan and get drowned in negativity, ideally, but to be able to use shorthand like handover day and disengage to someone who understands everything wrapped up in those words, and knows better than to judge.
Those of us who have a good network know how far it goes toward keeping us sane. Probably if you’re reading this, you have at least begun to tap into some kind of internet community of stepmothers.
But if there was one bit of advice I would offer, it’s that it is so, so helpful to have someone you can meet for a coffee, or a real live voice on the phone. So, adopt a fellow stepmother today!
Where have you found your stepparenting network? Where would you suggest others look to build a network for themselves?
I was over at Family In Bloom reading Tulip’s latest about how her husband put a really powerful and appropriate boundary in place for her pre-teen stepdaughter, Daisy. Go read her post, if you haven’t already – the way Tulip’s husband handled the situation was just SO perfect. It was like stepfamily poetry or something.
What was interesting though was despite the ringing-from-the-hills rightness of how the issue got dealt with, a rightness so patent that it had commenters alternately sighing wistfully and congratulating madly, Tulip was nonetheless second guessing the actions taken and wondering if the way the particular situation was dealt with was too harsh.
(In case I wasn’t already clear, there was NO.WAY. it was too harsh… in my opinion, anyway.)
The whole thing made me think: isn’t it funny/weird/interesting that we stepmums tend to push harder than our partners for boundaries, rules, structure in a dynamic that can feel utterly ENDLESS, but when we finally get our wish and we get to firm up the boundaries or someone else does it for us, we suddenly feel a tiny bit guilty, uncertain, or just plain mean?
I had this come up recently in a different context.
It was my week in the Boys’ City, and there had been a steady but not slow degeneration into morning chaos and disorganisation from the Boys. Morning after morning, we’d get halfway to school to hear a voice from the back that someone had forgotten their assignment, due today and reeeeeeeally important. Or someone else had left their lunch behind. Or their tie, and now they wouldn’t match the other kids at choir and would risk getting into trouble.
I’m sure I need hardly say that in every instance, there had been a range of reminders that morning about the assignment, the lunch, the tie. For goodness sakes, the Lovely Man and I give multiple prompts about taking assignments and homework with them, we place the Boys’ lunch boxes on top of their school bags to be packed and we LAY THEIR UNIFORMS OUT ON THEIR BEDS for them (OMG, I’m a valet to pre-teens!) while they enjoy their leisurely reading breakfasts. Which is another story altogether…
Anyway, the Boys were constantly and sloppily forgetting their school things. And for the most part, the Lovely Man would either turn the car around to get whatever it was, guaranteeing a late arrival at school for all the Boys, including any that were organised that morning, or he would drop them at school, then drive the twenty-five to thirty minute round trip to collect the forgotten item and deliver it to the school. There were never any negative consequences to the Boys from their forgetfulness, just a confident expectation that the adult servants would rectify the situation with minimal inconvenience to the child involved.
I’ve always had a problem with this approach; the incentives aren’t there for improvement in the patterns of behaviour, so how could we expect improvement? It would actually be unfair to expect the Boys to be more careful to remember their things unless the adult response changed.
So anyway, the Lovely Man had early work on a couple of mornings in a row and it was down to me to do school runs alone. The Boys were a tiny bit more motivated about getting ready in a timely way than usual, but inevitably the call came: Boy B had forgotten his blazer and tie, and Boy A had forgotten his blazer as well, despite my reminders.
We were about halfway to school, doing okay for time but set to be late if I turned the car around, so after checking that they wouldn’t be cold, I said:
It’s a pity, but I’ve got things on today, so I can’t run home and get them for you. You’ll just have to manage as best you can.
There were no demands that I rearrange my schedule or accusations of cruelty or wickedness; they were pretty accepting.
But you know what?
Even though I stuck to my guns, it was a warmish day, and I absolutely knew letting them tough it out was the right and necessary thing to do if they were ever going to learn to take responsibility for packing their school necessaries properly, I felt bad and guilty and just plain mean.
All day long.
I recently posted about Urban Stepmom’s dilemma regarding how much we should expect ourselves (and each other) to sacrifice for our stepkids. Wednesday Martin describes this set of assumptions and pressures (internal and external) as StepMartyr Syndrome.
It’s an interesting question, and as with everything stepfamily-related, there are starkly differing opinions out there. Married to Batman has a different take on it from me, for instance.
Lisa at Urban Stepmom has given the issue some more thought and come to a conclusion that will hopefully work for her and her family.
Here’s the start of her update; click through to read the whole post.
…Or Not Change Our Lives?
My last post got me thinking. Do the kids really come first? Is the greater good of this “family” more important than my needs? How much should I change my life to accommodate this stepmom choice? And I came to a couple of conclusions:
1) Who do I think I am, Mother Theresa?
2) You can’t do something for others and then resent them for “making you” do it.
I realized that over the course of the last six and a half years, since I met my husband, I sacrificed HUGE things in my life, for him, for the kids, for his ex, for them, for what I thought was “us”, for what I thought I was supposed to do.
Click here to read the full post.
How much, indeed?
I found this post on UrbanStepmom recently.
It addresses a key question. People outside stepfamilies often seem to think that as stepmothers we have almost a duty to unblinkingly make whatever concessions of any possible magnitude that are (apparently) required by life with stepchildren because “the kids must come first” or “the kids didn’t ask for their parents to separate”.
True, they didn’t.
But does that mean that a stepmother should automatically, say, take on a one hour plus each way commute to work every day? Or move away from her friends, family, work, social and support networks?
I’m not saying what the answer should be, but I do think that it’s important to question these assumptions, and to weigh them up against the assumptions that a stepfather might face in the equivalent situation.
Because sexism is far from dead, and women still feel enormous social pressure to sacrifice themselves and their needs as carers of children, even when those children aren’t their own.
Absent the same degree of gendered expectations, it seems more than likely to me that our hypothetical stepfather would face less of these “putting the kids first at any cost” assumptions, and feel less push to relocate (or whatever demand was being made) both externally and internally.
What do you think?
From UrbanStepmom.com: How Much Should We Change Our Lives?
I was out with one of my favorite urban stepmoms the other night for a good chin wag and mid week martini. One of the issues that came up for her was the fact that as her relationship gets more serious with her boyfriend (who has kids obviously) the expectations also become more serious. The main one worth discussing here is where to live now that she’ll be spending more time with his kids.
She is very urban; a film producer, lives in a swank condo downtown, lots of pilates and martinis, lots of travel, and her boyfriend’s kids live a good 90 minutes drive away. He is currently living with her, where there really isn’t room for his kids, and he commutes to go see his kids on weekends.
Sounds unsustainable in the long term.
She said that they are going to need to move to a bigger place to accommodate the kids when they have them. I glibbly suggested she move to where the kids lived. Her response was “No, he is with me now, and this is my life and this is where I live. It is his choice if he wants to be with me”. I found this response to be full of empowerment and confidence of a single woman with no kids. I was envious of her steadfast determination to not change her life to accommodate his just because he has kids.
Chances are her soul would die a slow death if she moved 90 minutes away into the thick stillness of suburban life. She likes living downtown and doesn’t see why she needs to change it.
More power to her I say. May as well set the ground rules early on in the relationship before you start doing things and changing things that you might regret. I however, did not embody that empowerment and confidence. I threw myself into the expectations of the role immediately and have always understood that “the kids come first”. Six years later, I’m not sure this is the most airtight mantra for a happy life.
Fortunately for me, I did not have to move into suburbia as I too would have died a slow death not being able to walk to Starbucks, bookstores and my yoga class. I also wisely kept my career which was always a big part of me. I still insist on making time for myself even sometimes instead of spending family time. And I still get together with girlfriends on a regular basis.
But recently we had a situation come up where we were to entertain the idea of moving. My husband’s ex got married recently and her husband lives across the border in the US (he too shares the belief that he is not changing his life for the kids). It is only about a 40 minute drive for us, but if you put the kids first, we had to ask ourselves if our neighborhood made the most sense given that their mother technically lives in another neighborhood (well, country really).
Although I was reluctant, I tried to have an open mind as we took a drive to a more mutally central neighborhood and toured some homes we could live in. There were some gorgeous homes in this new neighborhood and it seemed like the neighbors were very nice, but on the drive home I listed all the things in my mind I would have to change if we moved there. And it was a long list.
My work commute would be at least an hour each way. I’d have to find a new gym, new yoga studio, new running route, new neighbors to be friends with. I wouldn’t see my friends as much. I wouldn’t see my family as much. I wouldn’t catch much theatre or sporting events. There would be a great deal of change indeed.
But, the kids would be close to their Mom and their Dad. Life would be easier for all of them. The kids would adapt to the change. Would I?
In the end, nothing is happening with any urgency. I think I have veto power. I think I could Kaibosh the whole plan if I felt strongly enough. But because I have been so adaptable in the past, I wonder if I really could veto it if it is “the best thing for the kids”?