Maybe you experienced a long, slow slide towards divorce. The communication dwindled. The awesome sex became lost in the tidal wave of daily life demands. It was always one thing after another with the kids. Or perhaps you were unlucky enough to be blind-sided by the sting of infidelity.
However you found yourself in the Land of Divorce, putting your life back together, reveling in the opportunity to occasionally eat cereal for dinner when the kids were at Dad’s house, I bet you never saw this one coming: another woman in your kids’ lives.
A woman you didn’t know either.
Remember what it was like after a break-up, when you were younger? Maybe you dumped him. Maybe he dumped you. But you bump into him with his hot, new girl on the street, with that air of intimacy about them, and part of your stomach goes, “Wrenk!” It’s just human nature, whether you still want him or not.
Now take that feeling and magnify it by ten when a new woman arrives on the scene with your ex-husband.
Because THIS is the man who fathered your children. THIS is the man who shared your pregnancies, who you spent countless hours talking to about what was going on with the kids. THIS man was supposed to be your future. Your partner stretching out into the years of your family’s history. One half of the foundation, the nest for these vulnerable little beings.
But no more…. It’s done. Over.
And now you’re just a statistic.
And so are your kids.
But hey, people do this all the time now, right? What’s the big deal?!
This may be hard for stepmoms to really, really understand, even when they have their own kids: but when a new woman comes into your children’s lives, it’s just plain weird.
Like someone you’ve never met before plopping down at your table of friends. Like someone getting into your car at a stop light. Like a perfect stranger joining you in the hospital waiting room during a crisis, their brows furrowed with worry.
You look at them and think: Who are YOU?
And why are you now a part of my children’s world?!
Sure, on a logical, practical level, we get it. You’re dating him. He’s dating you. If he’s integrated you into his life enough for you to meet his kids, then he’s probably in love with you and Lord knows, it’s always best when both people love each other.
But it’s the emotional stuff that throws us for a loop, as moms. It’s the automatic “jurisdiction” we don’t get – that sense that you now have a right to have input on how things should be done with our kids, when they made it this far in life just fine without you. (It makes sense for that to eventually happen, but sometimes it comes wayyyyy too early.)
It’s knowing that our children are creating their own bonds and connections with you “off stage,” as it were, outside our view. It’s wondering if you truly want them there, or if you’d rather have him all to yourselves — if you resent them, just don’t like them or are irritated by the same behavior that irritates us.
It’s the fear that yes, there is love there between you. We want that — but we also don’t. Our own experiences as mothers are often so much more conflicted that the cookie-cutter version of motherhood. Our children’s love with someone we don’t know can cast a spotlight on our shortcomings as a parent. We can feel guilty and anxious, fearful and confused.
It’s the vulnerability that we feel, knowing that a natural part of romantic attachment with new couples is a dissection of past mistakes and mishaps, and this likely includes stories about us that we’d rather have you not know….
In writing about this subject for years now, I think I finally understand how painful and heart-wrenching it must be for stepmoms to often feel like the perpetual outsider, to be exasperated by the ever-shifting boundaries, to be reminded over and over again that important family memories and milestones took place that had nothing to do with you.
I’m not even sure I could do it! And I have the utmost admiration for those of you who do, who keep plugging away in the face of all that pain and frustration.
Please just know that some of the difficult behavior you experience with the moms has nothing to do with YOU personally (although if you trade mutual barbs, it will eventually, sadly).
We would feel this way about any new stranger interacting with our kids, even though you may think our actions are irrational and ultimately destructive. Sometimes they are. We’re not perfect. But we’re also trying to do the best we can to do right by our children….
Think of it like this: in our minds, we are traveling down a long, flat, straight road. We can see miles and miles into the horizon. We once felt secure in the knowledge that we’d be traveling down that road with another adult by our sides: the father. The only other person in this whole world who cares about the kids just like we do.
We may have accepted that he will no longer be traveling down that road alongside us (though some moms haven’t, but that’s another story). Perhaps he’s on the right side of the road now, and we’re on the left.
It just feel jarring and strange, disorienting and illogical to be joined on that road, walking along with someone we don’t know, someone we don’t feel comfortable with, someone who may or may not be on the same parenting page whatsoever.
So please, give us time. Leave the majority of the parenting to your partner, even if you see him fumbling or out of his element. Leave the communications between houses to him. The financial negotiations. The discipline. At least initially….
Don’t take our mother tiger behavior personally. Focus on making YOUR life happy!
And moms, just realize: once you’ve seen the stepmom in your kids’ lives for a while, once you’ve seen her trying and trying, busting her ass and putting in all the same grunt work that YOU do, please, for the love of God! — cut her some slack.
And reach out to her. She’s taking care of YOUR kids!
You WANT her on your side.
After all, isn’t that the highest sacrifice you could make as a mom? Creating room for another woman, so she can do a good job of loving your children — with your help?
How is any other choice serving them?
© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved