There's a fascinating discussion taking place over on the Doughtie Houses Exchange (DHX) site about the weird feelings both mother and stepmothers struggle with when the children bond with the stepmother (up to 65 comments so far!). In "Other Women's Children," mom Kathy Shirek Doughtie talks about bonding with her new step-son and whether it's possible to really and truly love someone else's child (hence the title). I've never been a stepmom, so I don't know what it's like, but I can imagine the process of falling in love with your stepchild. But…. also what it might be like when it doesn't go that well, either. Scary!
In the comments thread, my interest was captured by one poster in particular who feels betrayed by how much her daughter seems to like her stepmom, even calling her mom, which feels like a slap in the face to the mom. I've got some long comments there too and I can certainly remember this painful, tender feeling in my stomach when my daughters first expressed enthusiasm and joy over something they did with their stepmom. Maybe it's what someone feels like when their husband cheats on them? Ooof. Absolutely horrible.
But the tricky thing is, when you divorce, you also want your children to be in TWO environments where there's love, stability, and attention. Barring some kind of situation where there's something legally actionable going on at the other house, you're stuck with whoever's over at the other house, so you cross your fingers and hope for the best.
It's a very odd feeling hoping for the best, when that can also mean more of that punched in the gut feeling for yourself. You hope for the best in the sense that you want the other couple to stay together so that there's stability in your kid's lives and not another fractured relationship.
You hope for the best in that you actually WANT the stepmom to treat your kids well, and with kindness and ideally, love, although a part of you secretly does not want them to love the stepmom back! But you know that's what would best for them in the long-term, and so you wish it for them, even though, somehow it seems to leave you on the trash heap. This seems like a childish way to handle things emotionally, but… there it is.
You hope for the best in terms of an overall feeling of safety and cosiness and happiness at the other house, although, again, part of you feels jealous about this, as if the existence of that happiness has to mean that you're doing something wrong in your world. Not so….
Such complicated feelings!
When I try to put myself in the shoes of a stepmom, I would imagine it feels nerve-wracking trying to build a relationship with the children, like you have to be careful. You don't want to step on the mom's toes or make her feel like you're trying to undermine her. (Or who knows, maybe you are! So many women have their stories that are just set in stone about how outrageously impossible the other woman is, no matter what….) You're also acutely aware of the fact that if things DON'T go well with you and the kids, you put your own relationship with father at risk.
So hey, no pressure or anything.
At any rate, I spend some time strongly advocating that the mom mentioned above who felt so hurt by her daughter not step back and let the stepmom take the lead "as the mom." It doesn't have to be about asserting some kind of competitive primacy. It's more about preserving and maintaining that elemental tie between mothers and their children, and not breaking it because the mom feels hurt.
What's your experience been when it comes to adjusting to a new stepmom? Did it just about kill you to hear your kids go on and on about her?
And stepmoms, what were your concerns about the mom when your stepkids first came into your life? Were you weary of crossing any particular boundaries? Confused? Competitive?
We'd love to hear from you!
Make sure to check out the thread! I think it raises some real questions of substance….
(You might have noticed that I regularly recommend posts on the DHX. It's one of my favorite sites because it's also focused on creating harmony between the two families, a subject that's near and dear to my heart. May there one day be lots more sites like it!)
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved
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- Top Ten Reasons to Not Even Bother Trying to Get Along with the Stepmom or Ex-wife
- How to stop hating the ex-wife or stepmother in your life in seven simple steps