Your Questions Answered

27 10 2008

My stepkids’ bio mom is a total pain and I don’t want to do anything to help her. She’s sweet as can be when she’s getting what she wants, but if we say no to switching the schedule she attacks us, even though we always take the kids when she asks (for days that aren’t in our usual schedule) if we’re free. The only time we say no is when we’ve already made other plans we can’t break. How do you deal with switching days when all you want to do is tell her to go jump in a lake?

I know exactly how you feel. And so do millions of other stepmoms. If your stepkids are school-age, the calendar can cause constant friction between two households. And you know you have to accept the struggle until the kids are off to college. (I’ve got 10 years and counting!) If there’s a way you or your husband can communicate with bio mom about how her reactions are making you feel, she might actually apologize and be better about it in the future. This does happen, ladies. However, if bio mom can’t see what she’s doing to you and your husband, then you’re going to have to find a coping strategy together. Marriage researcher John Gottman found that happy couples had five positive, joyful interactions to every one negative. So your best defense is to do something wonderfully fun with your spouse.

The difficulty with the calendar is that you really can’t make hard and fast rules about switching (such as no switching without 24-hour notice) because we’re talking about kids here who need to be cared for. If doing bio mom a favor really turns you off, then think about it as a service you’re doing for the kids and for your partner. You’re giving the kids much-needed time with their dad. And you’re giving your spouse the chance to spend time with his offspring, which he most likely craves. The good news for you? There is an end in sight. Someday, you won’t have to deal with her on such a regular basis. The kids will grow up and move out. It happens. Really. It does.

How do I approach my husband if I see his children misbehaving and he doesn’t see it? He gets defensive every time I talk about his kids at all. Can you help?

Honesty is always the best approach, but sometimes guys have a hard time seeing that their defensiveness of their children is actually harming their marital relationship. Once he has that ah-ha! moment, stepmoms report that the atmosphere at home drastically improves. However, how do you get a man to see that he needs to help you all bond and not drive a bigger wedge between you?

Having a discussion about it can help, depending on how well you two can communicate. But sometimes you need an objective third party to help a parent learn how to let a stepparent in. At the same time, as the stepmom, we have to be sensitive to the fact that our stepchildren are not ours and that we don’t have the final say. We have to communicate to our spouses that we know it’s not up to us, but that we really appreciate it when they listen to our thoughts. That way we feel like we’re part of the team, part of the family. It takes a lot of trust for a parent to sit back and allow a stepparent to get involved, so you need to respect that. And your husband needs to respect your role as an adult in the house.

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