Do Stepparents Get Too Involved?

8 04 2009

If you missed the Good Morning America segment When Stepparents Get Too Involved, check out the link to watch the video. It starts with a talk about supermodel Gisele Bundchen and features fellow stepmom Brenda Ockun, the publisher of Stepmom Magazine.

Though the report clearly showed that neither moms nor stepmoms have it easy, the segment was far, far too brief! And it didn’t really finish what it started. Do stepparents get too involved? Sure, some of us do. We try too hard at the beginning. We jump in without taking time to get to know the kids or the family dynamics. We come on too strong with words of love or authority. But some of us don’t. Some stay too distant. One adult stepchild I interviewed for my book said all she wanted was affection from her stepmother but she received ettiquette lessons from her instead. Stepfamilies are complicated and this brief report barely skimmed the surface.

There are so many stepfamilies struggling to knit their families together who need the tools to learn how to do it successfully. As stepmom Diane Sawyer pointed out, it often takes a decade before a stepfamily begins to feel normal. And I was struck at how bio mom still had tears in her eyes when she talked about watching another woman with her children. Even after years in a stepfamily, we can still feel sadness for our children, grief over a divorce, or anger at the other woman in our life even if we all get along most of the time.

It’s been more than two decades since my parents split up, and even though everyone is settled and both of my families have developed their own identities and rituals, it still pains me every now and again that I didn’t have parents who stayed together. On the other hand, now that I’ve been a stepmom for five years, I am hurt when the kids don’t acknowledge me when they walk in the room, even though I know what it feels like to be in their shoes. To say that stepfamily life is complicated is a HUGE understatement.

As I watched the Good Morning America segment it reminded me yet again of the best advice I’ve ever heard about living in a stepfamily: Remember that every single member of a stepfamily has a compelling story to tell. I know I’ve repeated that on my blog only about a million times, but I have to repeat it to myself often when I’m having a tough stepfamily day–as a stepmom or a child of divorce.

Brenda’s comments about the segment are below.

“I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to represent all the strong, smart, dedicated StepMoms who work hard to create loving and healthy homes for their families.

There was a lot of information from my interview with JuJu Chang that I wish had made the final edit and I do agree with many of your comments that certain elements of this story position “moms” as victims and “stepmoms” as intruders, which is unfortunate. I believe this stereotyping only compounds the matter and does women in general a disservice.

I started StepMom Magazine to increase society’s awareness and understanding about stepfamilies and to dispel the negative perceptions that exist about StepMoms. There is still much work to do! But the ball is rolling – and people are starting to talk – and that’s the first step!” –Brenda Ockun

Well girls? What do you think about the show? Do you think stepparents can get too involved? Did you feel compassion for mom and stepmom or did you side with one or the other? By the way, there are no right or wrong answers. As far as I’m concerned we are all doing the best we can.

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8 responses

9 04 2009
Carrie

I agree that it takes about ten years to get ‘knitted’ as a family. Luckily for me, I knew that going in — because I’m a step daughter and went through the long and painful process. I’ve been a stepmom for 12 years now, and we have definitely knitted, but it did take about ten years.

If you know this going in, it really helps — because it stops you from ‘trying too hard’ in the beginning. And it also helps you to focus on the long term goal.

9 04 2009
ToolBoxGirl

I grew up in a blended family (more like pureed…we all got creamed!) and became a step mom with two kids of my own later in life. Between my husband and I we have 6 children (5 adults, one teenager). My youngest stepson is the only one still at home and he lives under my roof 24/7.

As an involved step parent, I know the double edged sword of doing vs. not doing all too well. It helps that my husband’s ex-wife and I get a long, but at the same time, when I’m planning her youngest daughter’s baby shower, stepping on her toes or hurting her feelings is always on my mind. Why? Because if the roles were reversed, I don’t think I’d be ok with my daughters’ stepmom planning something as big as a baby shower. As a mom, THAT’S MY JOB.

What I did to resolve the dilemna in my head was to delegate a lot of the baby shower planning to my oldest stepdaughter (after I took care of the ‘big’ stuff – location, decorations, cake).

I was so worried about my husband’s ex-wife’s feelings, that I sent her an email and told her that I didn’t want to step on her feelings and that I had no problems stepping back. Her response was gracious and very kind, “this is K’s time if she is ok with what is going on then so am I. I am just grateful that all of the kids have someone in their dad’s life who is so involved and obviously loves them.”

I’m a doer – and I can’t imagine not doing. It will always be the side I err on.

9 04 2009
Kate

I agree – moms, stepmoms, dads and stepdads are all doing the best we can and we all merit compassion. No one has an easy job. I tire of the idea of ‘taking sides’, of pitting stepparents against parents, when we all have degrees of influence in the childrens’ lives. Why aren’t we all on the kids’ side? Adults who have never raised children in step-families are often inclined to identify more with a parent or step-parent, and pass judgment on another. And the judgment can hurt. But in the end we can’t let that translate into passing judgment on ourselves. When that happens, it’s the kids that suffer. At the end of the day, if the kids know that they are safe, supported and loved by all the important adults in their life, they’ll be fine. But we can’t love another without loving ourselves first. So the self-criticism and focus on blaming another parent or step-parent has to stop.

Does this ring true with the adult children of divorced families out there? My parents never split, so I’ve never had that experience personally. I’d love to hear more feedback from that perspective, from those who experienced stepfamily life from the perspective of the child.

13 04 2009
Tracie

I think that it’s different for every family. I think that you need to go slowly at first; but not everything works the same way with every family. I read in self-help books, over and over again, that I (as the stepmom) shouldn’t get too involved with the kids (especially with discipline). But frankly, in our house, my husband and I work better when we work together and I didn’t want to be on the sidelines of my own family. So I discipline (and so does my husband) and I organize a lot of the activities in our house (like chores, cleaning etc), and it feels better for all of us. But that works for our family and it took 9 years to get here and I feel like we still have a long way to go.

In the end, book and experts aside, what works is up to your family and you learn as you go.

14 04 2009
Kela

As a momand stepmom, I can relate to both sides of the story. I understand the need to come on too strong just so that you can create a semblance of synergy or wholeness in your blended family. But I also understand the feeling of having to share your child with another family; missing out on moments with him or her(because you share visitation and/or custody with the other parent) that you can never get back.

It’s what we as women do; fight to hold on to and protect our families. It partly fits into that “mama bear” syndrome that I believe ALL women were just born with. The other part is that competitiveness that women have struggled with, with each other for years!

That being said, what I always preach on http://www.blendedfamilysoapopera.com (shameless plug…LOL) is that we musn’t allow our INDIVIDUAL issues to affect our blended FAMILY issues. Sure there have been times when I felt like I just don’t want to share my baby today and have been mad at the fact that I had to release him to this other woman! Sure there have been times (in the past) when it seemed like no matter what I did, I could not get through to my stepson. After 4 years, he still just wanted his mom and dad back together again. But those were MY issues and no one else’s. It wasn’t anything that my ex’s current wife was or wasn’t doing. Nor was it anything that my husband’s ex-wife or stepson was or wasn’t doing. It was about the way I was feeling and I had to own those feelings instead of blaming everyone else. It’s all about learning to recognize when concerns are more about you and when they are more about your family as a whole and then address them accordingly.

The stepfamily is hard and it does take YEARS to even begin to seem like a normal family. After 8 years, one side of my blended family is finally starting to feel normal, but the other side STILL HAS SEVERAL ISSUES that need to be worked out before we can even begin to take the steps to feel normal!

14 04 2009
Emily

I have two primary issues with this.
(A) Why do they frame the title as something negative? Why did they not present both sides of this, and why does media in general not? Did we really need yet another silencing of stepmothers, yet another judgment on us for stealing others’ children?
(B) What if this had been reversed, and a stepdad had said this quote? Would the media indict him, or would they celebrate him for valiantly and selflessly loving a child that was not biologically his? Would they have more room for the idea that a child can have more than two loving parents?

15 04 2009
Kate

Here’s to that, Emily! There is definitely a double standard in the media for step/fathers and step/mothers, and it’s destructive. There is an expectation that women meet impossibly high standards when it comes to parenting, and if men do the littlest things they are exalted as parents. These expectations feed into the already existing tendency of women to be critical of ourselves when it comes to parenting, and also feeds a temptation to be destructively competitive with our mother-counterpart at the kids’ other house, because deep down inside we have a lurking concern that we might not be good enough to measure up to June Cleaver or Clair Huxtable.

If all the step/mothers out there could judge ourselves the way that the media judges step/fathers, we’d be in a better place…

2 08 2011
Cindy Schneider

My heart goes out to all involved; moms, step-moms, and the children (probably dads and step-dads too). Divorce and step-parenting may be “normal” these days but it still isn’t natural. It takes a lot of work with an intact family to have healthy relationships and cohesiveness and double (or more!) the work in a divorce/blended family situation. As a mother of three, compassion, empathy, and acceptance have been crucial when co-parenting with my children’s step-mother. My heart has ached many times, but more at the losses I have been forced to experience (holidays, time with my children, certain motherhood dreams, etc). My children’s step-mom is not the reason for these losses, so (by the grace of God), my grief has not been directed at her in contempt. If we could all step outside of ourselves and consider the other person involved and her feelings, I think things would go a lot smoother. And remember, one person can pave the way for change. If the mother or step-mother courageously steps out in compassion, respect, and empathy, the other is soon likely to follow. Regardless of the outcome, one never regrets treating others with true kindness and dignity. It’s not easy, especially during the beginning stages of a blended family. But, I promise, it gets easier and an unexplainable peace will follow.

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