Your Questions Answered

12 11 2009

Hi Jacquelyn,

My name is Jeff. I am happily re-married to the most wonderful woman in the whole world. We have 5 (15, 13, 11, 7, and 5 years of age) children from my previous marriage, she had no children. Every other weekend the children come stay with us and once a week we go see them and it takes about 50 minutes to get to the children (one-way). My wife says she loves me and has no problems with me and our relationship. However, she is wanting to leave due to the ex-wife being in our lives. I have put forth great effort to minimize any contact with the ex and have been quite successful just dealing with the children. The children adore their stepmom and love her more than myself (which has been great) due to lack of the proper attention at home. She (stepmom) has been a source of security and stability for me and these 5 children. She is tired of the monotony and seeing 1/2 my pay check go to a woman who does nothing but sit in her chair, watch tv, talk on a cell phone, and then leave the kids a few times a week and spend money on herself. My wife is a hard worker and sharp as a tack. She is angry for letting herself get into this situation, angry because of the wasted money, and has quite frankly had it.

I am not a stepmom. I have read a couple of books and can see where she is coming from. Issues of how society treats her, how is she supposed to act, not being herself etc. I try to stand in her shoes, I have treated her like the queen she is. I help with the house, laundry, cooking etc… She gets flowers once a month, cards, notes, daily hugs n kisses, thank yous and appreciation. I love her more than anything in this world ( I am not saying I am perfect, though. I am male ;)). How can I help relieve her anger and frustration? I try to get her to focus on us / me rather than the ex and future issues. She seems to go through a cycle where we are doing great and then she is walking out the door. This cycle used to be monthly and has now been not as often, around every couple of months since the beginning of the year.

We have been to counseling that was superb.

She is tired and I am hurt because she is hurting.

Any suggestions?

Signed

Losing My Soulmate 😦

Dear Losing My Soulmate:

If only all stepmothers had a man as aware and engaged as you! (Sorry dads, but stepfamily life really asks dads to step up to the plate like never before.) It’s tough to know exactly how to advise you because I don’t know enough of your particular situation but here are a few general rules of thumb that you can share with your wife that will hopefully help alleviate some of the pressure you both feel.

Lighten up. I don’t mean to be flippant here. I really mean that. Have some fun! Since you don’t have the children all the time, go out and have some inexpensive fun. Laugh together. Create a list of activities that would interest both of you so you can build some really strong, wonderful memories together. Do this with all the kids, too. Create some fun rituals so that your stepfamily can begin to create an identity.

Hire a financial advisor or take a money class. We all know that with the economy the way it is, money is tighter than ever. Join a stepfamily and Dad’s money now goes to support two families. Though this is a tough concept for a stepmom, she really just has to accept that you are sending money to the other household. You are financially obligated to support your children. (She knows this I’m sure.) If mom is really not using the money on the kids then you always have the option of going back to court. (Though I would HIGHLY recommend mediation first because the courts rarely handle these cases intelligently, well, or fairly. Little rant there.) Check out these books for a place to start:  

For Richer Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples, by Ruth Hayden. A money class in a book that helps couples learn to view their financial lives as a partnership. Hayden doesn’t address stepfamilies specifically but her approach to dealing with money as a couple is fantastic.

Money Advice for Your Successful Remarriage: Handling Delicate Financial Issues Intelligently and Lovingly, by Patricia Shiff Estes. A guide to financial systems, options, and solutions that work in remarried households as well as how to deal with the complicated emotions connected with the subject of money.

Create boundaries with the ex. It sounds like you’ve already set up the ways you two will handle your ex wife and that’s great. Sit down with your wife and brainstorm together ways you think you should handle the ex as a couple. The more you do the job of co-parenting, the better off your wife will be in the long run. If she is feeling jealous of the ex or angry at her for intruding on her family life, then tell her to write me a letter so I can help her by knowing more of the facts. It sounds like this is your wife’s biggest issue. Depending on what kind of ex you have, this can be a major stressor. Is she open to co-parenting? Or is she angry and bitter and in your faces? That makes a big difference in how things will go in your house.

Thank your lucky stars. The fact that your kids love her should make your wife jump for joy! There are so many families who are struggling because the kids are resentful of and angry at stepmom.

Chin up. You didn’t mention how long you’ve been remarried, but I want to toss this out there: The two of you are not going to figure out everything all at once. This is why that lighten up section is so important. Balance the icky parts of stepfamily life with fun times and lots of laughter and intimacy and you’ll be just fine. (If you’ve read my book then you know about John Gottman’s research: 5 positive interactions to every one negative interaction equals marital longevity and satisfaction!)

 

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5 responses

13 11 2009
Mrs.Olsen

Wow….I had to comment, all that information was too real for me. I did leave my husband after a year of marriage, and then after a lot of begging I went back a year later. We are now 5 1/2 years into step family. We were always doing without, it was a waste of my time and money to be a part of this family. I am a smart intelligent women and I could not believe I had allowed myself to be put in this situation and especially drag my kids through it. Nothing was ever fair and the accusations were unbelievable. It was like I wasn’t allowed to raise my own kids like I had all the years before. But then again the step kids did not want me as their mother. It was an awful situation. I felt like I had found my soul mate but dealing with the ex-wife and step kids was beyond me. Everyone caters to her feelings and she does not pay a darn thing even though it is required by the divorce decree. It was a nightmare, things are better now, because I decided my life was not going to be dictated by an ex-wife and step kids. I am in a healthy position now and am going to stay there. Things still aren’t always easy but it is better. I can totally relate to the new wife, it isn’t fair and it won’t be. You give up so much as a step mother. If I were in the position to do it again, I would not.

17 11 2009
Stina

Oh my god, this just weighs on my heart! I totally feel for both of you and I think your positions are both understandable. I totally get where she’s coming from and writing my blog saved me for a time. What I realized was that, at some point, when all the unfairness is tallied up and its way more unfair for the stepmom (I won!) that at the end of the day, I still was madly in love with my husband. As painful as all of these “life experiences” were, in the end, they were still enriching my life. I was uncomfortable, but I was learning. I still get angry, but much less so than at the beginning. The first 2 years are so hard. And then it’s more about just accepting that life isn’t giving her what she expected. Expectations are the bane of a stepmother’s/second wife’s life. I battled that early on, http://amourfati.blogspot.com/2008/09/expectations.html. I wish you all the best, and from my heart, I hope she hangs in there. Its worth it in the end.

23 11 2009
Jacque

Dear Mrs. Olsen,

Wow, my heart goes out to you and your family. What a tough situation. You’re right, “fair” is not a word used to describe stepmothering. That’s for certain. But I’m so glad to hear that things are better. The first years in a stepfamily can be so tough it’s no wonder that so many stepmothers decide to get out. But the rewards of sticking out the tough times can also be wonderful. Hats off to you and your family.
Jacque

23 11 2009
Jacque

Stina: You’re so right. Having an outlet like a blog or a journal can be a wonderful pressure release for a new stepmom. And you bring up a really important point: expectations. They get us into trouble so often. At the beginning we expect that things will be wonderful and so much fun and we’ll all be in love and everyone will get along and we’ll heal the wounds of the past and and and…. And none of those are realistic and in fact get us into trouble more often than not. Stepfamilies are not first families. They are going to feel differently, look differently, and act differently. And that’s OKAY! Know that and you’ll have a fighting chance at keeping your sanity, m’ladies.
Jacque

16 03 2010
Terri G

Thank you for this post and the comments. They helped this stepmom today.

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