Your Questions Answered

3 06 2009

Q. Hi, I finished your book about 2 months ago, and I want to tell you that it’s the most relevant book I’ve ever read. As a new step-mom I have so many questions, concerns and unexplained (and unexpected!) feelings. I am so thankful for your book! I have been married 4 months, after dating my husband for a year and a half and my step-daughter is almost 6. We have her every Friday night, and then every other full weekend, as well as split holidays. My step-daughter and I get along wonderfully, but my husband and I have no communication with bio-mom whatsoever, and I don’t think that will ever be possible (her choice), though they split up before my step-daughter was even born. We do our parenting completely blind to what happens in the rest of her life when she is not with us, but we present a united front as far as rules, etc. goes, and work very hard to show her a secure and loving home environment. I have some questions that I think you may be able to offer some feedback on. First, what should I say when people ask me things like “Is this your little one?” when my stepdaughter is out with me? When I’m with my stepdaughter, I just say something along the lines of “yes, this is my stepdaughter” and that seems to be ok, but it that ok for her? She always tells me that she’s my daughter, but never tells me that I’m her mother. I want a response that I can be comfortable with, but that will also make her feel good about herself and our relationship.

A. I think it is always best to ask your stepdaughter what makes her feel comfortable. Ask her if she wants you to correct someone in public when they say, “your daughter.” Ask her if she’d rather you not explain your exact situation because the only thing that matters is that you and she know that your her stepmom and you love her. Sometimes kids are more embarrassed when we try to tell a stranger about our complicated families.  We put our stepkids in a loyalty bind when we ask them to call us “mom” or some variation of that and it makes them feel uncomfortable or they get flack about it from their Moms. When I asked my stepkids what they wanted me to do when people asked, “Is that your mom?” or some other related question, they said, “Just tell them your my stepmom.” And that was the end of it. Now when people ask, I’ve gotten used to saying that and it doesn’t have any negative connotations in my mind because it is simply a descriptor that other people understand.

Q. What about when my husband and I are out together without her and people ask if we have kids? This is the absolute worst—as soon as I say that my husband has a daughter, I’m dismissed completely, and the situation becomes uncomfortable. Bio-moms seem to have no respect for a stepmom and they don’t really know what to do with us. Again, I wonder how I can be honest in this situation without making people (especially me!) feel uncomfortable, while at the same time expressing the value the my stepdaughter, my husband and I place on our close relationship. I am more sensitive to reactions than my husband is, and maybe I’m just too sensitive in general, but it seems like they then find you lacking and completely loose interest. If I am asked when I’m alone if I have kids I just say that I have a stepdaughter, and while they loose interest almost immediately then too (unless they happen to be a stepparent) it seems less uncomfortable. Why is this?

A. People are uncomfortable with stepparents for two reasons in my opinion. First, because the stepparent feels uncomfortable and we transmit those feelings. Second, because stepfamilies are different, and people don’t know what to say. Because stepfamilies are formed in the wake of sorrow after a death, affair, or even a “good” divorce, the negative connotations that go along with the title “stepparent” are absolutely real. I know first-hand the discomfort you describe. We have four kids in our home. When people ask how many kids I have, what do I say? Four? One? One and three stepkids? After much trial and effort I came to a response I feel comfortable with most of the time. “I have a daughter and three wonderful stepchildren.” When you admit to a social group that you’re a stepmom it can feel like you don’t belong, but I bet if you started asking around you would see that plenty of people in the room either are stepparents, are married to one, or had one themselves. Rumor has it stepfamilies outnumber first families in the United States. So think about that the next time you feel like the odd-woman out. It might help!

Q. How do I talk to my husband about some of the things I feel because of my role as a stepmom? I can’t share your book with him because he would panic, terrified that I don’t want to be with him because of all these tricky emotions. That’s not the case at all, but he doesn’t really get that. I already tried to express some of the difficulties I face with adapting to this new role, but it didn’t go over well, so now I just keep it to myself. Could your blog incorporate some articles for husbands of stepmoms to read?

A. Yes! I will work on some articles for the blog that stepmoms can hand to their husbands, but in the meantime you can show him this. It is incredibly important that you are able to talk to him about your feelings–the good, the bad, the ugly. All of the research on stepfamilies show that a couple who are able to talk about their experiences within this new stepfamily in an honest and open way have a FAR better chance of making it. By not allowing you to talk about your negative feelings, he is basically living in denial and it absolutely will come back to bite him in the tush. When we suppress anger or hurt feelings for a long time, they come out eventually. And your husband is not alone in his reaction to your feelings. Most men have trouble hearing negative things about their new family or their kids or even the ex wife because they are living in their own fantasty land. They want this new marriage to work. They don’t want to be divorced again. But the reality is that remarriage divorce rates are higher than first marriages. The inability to talk openly about the COMPLETELY NORMAL stepfamily challenges often leads to divorce. If he won’t read my book or any other book about stepfamily development, then read him the sections in my book where other stepmoms talk about their experiences or read a post from a blog by another stepmom. Perhaps that will help him see that what you’re going through. Hopefully he’ll be able to see that what you’re family is going through right now is part of the deal during the first years of stepfamily development. You might also check out Patricia Papernow’s helpful book: Becoming a Stepfamily. It does an fantastic job of showing the stages stepfamilies go through so you don’t think you’re going crazy!

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4 responses

4 06 2009
Carrie

My situation as a stepmom was very similar to yours (my stepson was 8 when we met and is now in college). A book that really helped us (my husband and me) is “Step-By Step-Parenting: A Guide to Successful Living With a Blended Family.” I have purchased this book for many girlfriends and they are always enormously grateful.

Back then, I would read relevant chapters to my husband for a short time, until I could tell he was getting ‘uncomfortable’. Then I’d put it down and continue at another casual time. It wasn’t immediate, but I know it really helped him understand the big picture of what we — as stepmothers — are feeling. And, over time, he started to react with empathy. And also I started to react with more empathy toward his situation.

I wish you only success and happiness. It’s not an easy road — but oh-so rewarding. Bless you.

4 06 2009
originalflowers

Hi, I actually have a strange request. You say that you have no contact with the bio mom, but you have split custody. Can you tell me how that works? My boyfriend and I are actually looking into ways to cut off all contact with his kids’ bio mom (b/c she’s insane). Besides a restraining or mediator, I didn’t know if it was possible since they share custody. Any advice would be greatly appreciated :). Thanks!

4 06 2009
protechac

Well, first I want to state that it is not our choice to have no communication. We would like very much to co-parent because it would be in my step-daughter’s best interest. Biomom wanted him completely out of the picture after step-daughter’s birth, but he took her to court in order to have the right to be an active father. Guess she held a grudge, as there has never been any communication unless its absolutely necessary. Pick-ups and drop-offs are done in total silence, and the only time there is communication is if she wants something (schedule change, money for activities, that sort of thing) or has something unpleasant to say to my husband. We are lucky though, that she keeps her ugliness towards him hidden from their daughter. I wish with all my heart that it were different. I can’t offer any real advice except to be civil to one another in front of the kids, as hard as that may be. If you truly feel that the children are in danger, there are other avenues you should take, but if it’s just general unpleasantness between the parents, you’re going to have to work at eliminating it as much as possible. Maybe drop-offs where they can keep their distance from one another. That and communication via text and e-mail only works very well for us. Hope this helps and is somewhat enlightening.

4 06 2009
originalflowers

Well, thank you for the advice, but they’ve tried everything. We’re definitely well aware that everyone should be civil for the sake of the kids, but she won’t have any of that. The kids are older, 10 and 12 so the parents don’t even see each other at the drop offs. But she is totally crazy. I’m talking about incessant calling, texting, emailing, all negative remarks. They gone to therapy, etc…but she’s oblivious to her role in the dysfunctional situation. She can’t really see herself, so she’s not able to get help for herself. Anyways, trust me when i say in this situation, no communication is better for the kids. My boyfriend and I keep it under wraps, never talking negatively about her to the kids, but we know she doesn’t do the same. It’s a super sad situation for everyone involved.

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