Accepting Stepfamily Life

26 05 2011

“When I argue with reality, I lose–but only 100% of the time.” –Byron Katie

At some point you have to accept your stepfamily life for all it is and stop fighting it. Know what I mean? It’s so easy to get sucked into the “If only X was different, my life would be happy,” spiral in everyday life. When you add difficult stepchildren, challenging exes, and beleaguered stepparents, it’s enough to spend a lifetime arguing with reality.

An example: Many stepmothers I have interviewed over the years have insisted on speaking only of the ex-wife practically the entire time we talk. For many of us, the other woman is a reality of stepfamily life that we fight against. We say things like: “If only she’d leave us alone.” “If she had any rules over there, the kids would be doing better in school.” “If only she had a job.” If she weren’t so crazy.” “If she stopped calling the house.” “If only she married somebody else…” and we end each of those sentences with “…my life / marriage would be better/perfect/happy.”

And certainly, there are things about stepfamily life that do get easier over time. Sometimes the relationship with the ex smooths out after a few years. Sometimes an ex moves away. Sometimes an ex remarries and life does improve significantly. But sometimes none of those things happen and we just continue to fight reality instead of accepting it. And that makes the reality worse.

Part of the job of each member of the stepfamily is to learn how to accept the things that come along with stepfamily life that we can’t change. That ex? She’s here to stay. So how can you stop fighting what is and accept it? How can you work with your thoughts so the situation itself doesn’t have as much power to upset you?

The fact is, there are things we just have to swallow about life. As most of our parents told as at one time or another, life ain’t fair. So how can you make the most of what you do have? How can you focus your mind on the wonderful areas where you and your family are doing really well? How can you build peace into your daily life?

You decided to marry / date / live with a partner who has kids from a previous relationship. That’s reality.

He has kids. That’s reality.

He has an ex, whether she’s alive or dead. That’s reality.

So let’s get on with the business of figuring out how we’re going to live with the reality in the best, most positive and healthy way possible for ourselves and everyone in our families.

Yes?


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28 responses

26 05 2011
mulletpickle

Hi,

I agree with all of it, and I have just recently (after almost 3 years being around the kids) started to accept that this is my reality. If I choose to be with this man, these are the payoffs, good and bad. Likewise if he chooses to be with me, adjustments need to be made, just as they would in a nuclear family if, say, a new baby came along. But it has been a long and difficult road to get here, I thought about throwing in the towel on many occasions, and compared to some stories I’ve heard on support forums I actually have it pretty easy (no psycho ex, no horrible children, no custody battles). The bizarre dynamics, role-ambiguity, personality clashes and being away from friends & family were enough to shake my confidence and I spiralled into depression. But now, since we have decided to elope, everything is cemented and I feel so much more stable, and my confidence is returning.

To all of you out there that are still struggling, my thoughts are with you. Just know that if you are truly meant to be with this man, you will feel it. You can’t do much about the ex, but the kids will eventually grow up and have their own lives and (hopefully) not sap your time/energy/relationship so much. Make sure your relationship is still going strong when that time comes, and all those hard times will have been worth it.

27 05 2011
Carrie

One of your best posts EVER

27 05 2011
Alexandra

Thanks for this ! I needed this!

27 05 2011
Victwa

Love this post. In response to mulletpickle (best name ever, by the way), I would say though that for me, I need some clear reasons to be here NOW, not just “when the kids are grown.” I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, and then what’s the use of living in/for the future? I had a great life before I got involved with my boyfriend (and his family) and I had always said to myself, if I was going to be with someone, it had to be an improvement over being single. And even with the adjustments and the struggle and the ambiguity, I’ve been clear that being with this man, who is a flawed, amazing and a beautiful human being who loves the crap out of me, it’s worth it and I gain more every day from being with him (and the relationship, however complicated and crazy, with his kids) than being single offered. It’s worth it RIGHT NOW, and a lot of it is because I’ve really tried to stop railing against the stuff I can’t control (their past financial transgressions, and his ex’s inability to take control of her own life, for example) and just be with what is my reality right now– which is pretty freakin’ great. My boyfriend has been a support by trying to stay focused on what he can control and be positive about (i.e., he cannot control her employment situation either), and it’s been a good reminder to me that we are lucky people. The more I focus on what I’m grateful for RIGHT NOW, the better my world seems.

27 05 2011
Tiffany Lindsey

I couldn’t have said it better myself. That being said, it took me awhile to get used to the fact that the ex, her family, and my stepson were there for good and wouldn’t be going away any time soon. We are now getting along pretty well. We just had lunch for my stepson’s kindergarten graduation. It was amazing there was absolutely no fighting and it was truly about celebrating the achievements of my stepson.

1 06 2011
La Madrastra

I always love your posts, and I always feel compelled to leave the darkest responses for some reason. I’m actually a very happy person, I promise! But a concept that has helped me with accepting reality is to consider that whatever problems we have now will be different before long. For example, right now, the kids annoy the bejesus out of me with their picky eating. In another year or two, it won’t be picky eating that’s the problem– it’ll be their ravenous appetites that requires 5 trips to the grocery store per week. That’s a short term situation. Longer terms looks more like this: Bio-mom has no understanding of social boundaries, and often makes being around her super uncomfortable. But in another 10 years, both kids will be in college (and likely out of the house) and the number of times I’ll have to see her per month will be drastically reduced. It might sound a little pessimistic, but I swear, it works like a charm. Just gotta keep your eyes on the end game.

6 06 2011
me

I love the blog. I am fighting against reality with myself , my boyfriend and his ex wife. She has yet realized that she is divorce a constant stream of text messages about the kids and where they are and what she needs from my boyfriend – her ex. She is not independent and needs lots of attention still after two years, everyone would love for her to move on but her. It’s hard and I need to focus on me, what’s important here instead of getting side tracked after 2 yrs of her. I am wondering is it really worth it for 14 more yrs at the least. Life is short and the only thing I can control is myself and whether I stay or go…I am lending more towards the go because he and I are more hurt / frustrated than ever before, I hate to take down our relationship because of her.

8 09 2011
Gloria Lintermans

It is not uncommon for tension, compromise, and confusion to rule when the role of parent is shared between a step and biological parent. Some people still feel that stepparents aren’t “real” parents, but our culture has no norms to suggest how they are different. And the less our roles are defined, the more unhappy we are as both parents and stepparents.

Another role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other in much the same way as biological parents and their children do. In reality, however, this is often just not so. A stepparent might feel a tremendous amount of guilt about his or her lack of positive feelings (or even the presence of negative feelings) toward the spouse’s children. Discipline might be a constant source of family conflict: You might, for example, think your ex-spouse isn’t being strict enough, when in fact, most stepfathers and stepmothers think the real parent is not being strict enough.

As a stepparent, you might feel like an unbiased observer with a grudge because you’re an outsider and the very thing that’s making you “unbiased” is something you resent, biology. Stepchildren, as well, often don’t react to their parent’s new spouse as though he or she were the “real” parent. The irony of expecting instant “real” parent-child love is further complicated by the fact that stepparents are not generally expected to be “equal” in discipline or otherwise controlling their stepchildren.

Another reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that your child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility. Commonly children harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. If children had reservations about or strongly disapproved of your divorce, they may sabotage your new relationships in the hope that you will get back together. Children who want their natural parents to remarry may feel that sabotaging the new relationship will get them back together. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

Although all stepchildren and stepparents are to some degree uncomfortable with some aspect of their new family role, certain difficulties are more likely to affect stepmothers, and others are more common to stepfathers. Conflicting expectations of a stepmother’s role make it especially hard. As a stepparent, your best shot at happiness is to ignore the myths and negative images and to work to stay optimistic.

As a stepmother, yes, your work is cut out for you. In fact, the role of stepmother is thought by some clinicians to be more difficult than that of stepfather. One important reason is that stepmother families, more than stepfather families, may be born of difficult custody battles and/or have a history of particularly troubled family relations.

Society also seems, on the one hand, to expect romantic, almost mythical loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel, vain, selfish, competitive, and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtime stories we are all familiar with). Stepmothers are also often accused of giving preferential treatment to their own children. As a result, a stepmother must be much better than just okay before she is considered acceptable. No matter how skillful and patient you are, all your actions are suspect. Is it any wonder that stepmothers tend to be more stressed, anxious, and depressed than other mothers and also more stressed than stepfathers?

Some researchers have found that stepmothers behave more negatively toward stepchildren than do stepfathers, and children in stepmother families seem to do less well in terms of their behavior. In fact, the relationship between stepmother and stepdaughter is often the most difficult. Yet, other studies indicate that stepmothers can have a positive impact on stepchildren. Because stepmothers are much more likely to play an active part in the lives of children than stepfathers, perhaps there is simply more to go wrong.

Still, some step-mothering situations can make this role especially complicated — such as a part-time or weekend stepmother if you are married to a non-custodial father who sees his children regularly. You may try with all your heart to establish a loving relationship with your husband’s children, only to be openly rejected, or you may feel left out of part of his life because of his relationship with his children. In addition, a part-time stepmother can feel left out by her husband’s relationship with his ex-wife; for example, non-custodial fathers need to spend time communicating with their ex-wives about their children’s school problems, orthodontia, illnesses, and even household maintenance and repairs.

Yet, well-run by knowledgeable, confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), this modern version of an ancient family form can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect (Llumina Press).

28 10 2011
puddles

I’ve been reading up on the stepmothering life for a short while now.. I know I am dated on the postings, but if someone has the time, a little boost could really help. I was a 20yr old single female who went from 0(if not -5) to 120mph in a second. I am married(happily) and have two wonderful stepsons (2&5 now,it’s been a full year) and a “tolerable” bio-mom who is married with a new baby and 50/50 custody…so it’s not awful..but at this moment I am a 21yr old female with two kids I care for 50% of the time(daddy works) and a babymama and what feels like no support. I live in a new city, my friends are few and far betwee these days, my inlaws are hurtful, my poor husband shouldn’t bear it all from me either and I don’t know how to find stepmom support where I am. I feel so alone and stretched to dimentions beyond explanation and reaching out seems to add resentment a lot.I mean, I have tattoos and piercings and a mohawk to top it off so outside of being “different” I am young too so finding a “peer” situationally speaking is isolating. I’m stressed out and burnt up and I need something, just something so my kids and husband don’t catch the heat. I don’t want to lose what I’m working so hard to have but I need help. And I know this is a vent but maybe something will come of it. If anyone can relate or express empathy or conversation.. I’m sick of myself fuming about it and it hurts to try to talk to friends who are bio-mommies because they will never know how bad I’m hurting. So please, some body say something to me please.

7 01 2012
Mulletpickle

To Puddles, you are not alone. I moved 400km to be with my partner so I have no local support either. I’m far away from my family and all the people who knew me “pre-stepmum”. I often feel very isolated. But I did find an online support forum and have since met up with a few other stepmums in my area, which has helped a lot. It was really helpful to talk to people who had either been through or were going through the same situation. I would strongly suggest finding an online forum where you can vent, get support and advice, because it’s invaluable and can spare your hubby from those times when you just want to have a nice long bitch session! I just turned 30 and I recently married my partner of 4 years. I live in Australia and I don’t know if there’s a way to send private messages on here but I’d be more than happy to communicate with you if you feel you need support. Sounds like you need it! All the best.

26 03 2012
Kimberly

Dear Mulletpickle

I am in Australia too and dealing with all the issues this forum is giving us space to discuss. My partner has four daughters. I’m at the stage where I am seriously re-considering my future with him. The relationship with his daughters gets worse with time, not better, which has really surprised me. We have been together for two years. Do you know of any other online support forums other than this one which seems fairly US-based? Not finding much in a Google search. I really need to find somewhere to vent. I’m finding friends just say “Put up with it” or “Leave him” that’s about the range of the advice!

Suffering in Sydney.

27 03 2012
vegofoodcritic

Hi Kimberley,
I have been on MC2 (my connected community) in a few different forum groups. The most active ones are “Stepfamilies Australia INSTANT MUMS discussion group” and “Stepfamilies Australia STEPMUMS Group”. It has been INVALUABLE to me and so many other stepmums. However they are de-activating the website at the end of June. If I were you I would hurry up and sign up now, I’ve just started a discussion amongst ourselves to find another website or social networking site to stay in touch with other members. I know for sure there are a couple of active members in Sydney who have been keen to catch up with others, so just put the call out and I’m sure you’ll meet some other ladies in your area. I really feel for you, hang in there, help is on the way!

29 03 2012
Kimberly

Hi Mulletpickle
I tried to join the forums you suggested Stepfamilies Australia INSTRANT MUM and the STEPMUM group but because MC2 is closing down my attempt to create a login was blocked with the message that the site is closing May-June. I then tried a guest log in, found the groups but I couldn’t log in as guest logins don’t have access to the groups. Damn! Feel so frustrated as really would appreciate some local i.e. Aussie connection. Trawling the net at the moment looking for forums for support. Like many here I can’t bore my friends any longer with partner’s daughters horror stories. I do have a counsellor but would like to develop a network of those ‘living through it’ to bounce ideas off. If you find out if any of these groups are continuing in a new arena could you let me know. Many thanks.

3 04 2012
vegofoodcritic

Hi Kimberley, message me on Facebook: Rosalind Avellino

13 01 2012
cara

We are so similar! I am 23 and married as of two months ago with a man 32 years old who I love very much. However, he has a little girl and this has been a difficult transition for me. We have been together for 4 years, and the little girl is now 6. I understand that his little girl will never remember a time without me, which is so fortunate, but I’m starting to wonder if I made the wrong choice. I am a great mommy, but it is not something that I have a passion for. On the weeks that we have a little girl (50% of the time) I transition into something that I do very well, but it is starting to wear on my psyche. I love my man, but I do not feel like there is only one person for each of us and I feel guilty about not feeling fully invested in being a mom. I don’t want to end up resenting our life together and I feel like if I want to make a change it should be sooner than later. My advice to you is that go and see a counselor (if possible.) I am fortunate to be in my hometown, where my mom can help if needed, but like you, I have no peers. I am mature for my age, almost all of my best friends have left the state, and I don’t identify well with people my age. I think that this is what initially drew me to my husband. I know you want to make it work, which is the biggest thing that you have to keep in mind. Advice: Talk to your husband about how you’re feeling. I know that when your man is working you feel obligated to help out. However, it is making you miserable and maybe there is some sort of balance that can be struck, like he makes sure to be home early one night a week when you have the kids so that you can do something for yourself, (something you’re good at), which will make you smile, feel confident in yourself, and give you a chance to relax your brain for a short time. I’d like to hear more about your situation, because i really think we could benefit one another.

21 03 2012
ashley

Your not alone. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 1 and a half now. I’m 22 and hes 25. The kids are 3(boy) and 5 (girl). I absolutly adore them and treat them as my own. Our daughter said she wishes I was her mom. And has actually refused (in crying fits) to go to her moms. She sees her mom only 2 days a week. I feel like her mom is trying to step up only bc she is noticing my relationship with the daughter grow strong. She doesn’t want the full responsibility of a mother. And is more interested in other things.. I unfortunately fight depression and insecurities. We have a beautiful family and I shouldn’t feel like this. But I get moody if someone says oh she looks like babymama! I hate that. I wish they were my kids. Their mom is not the crazy but she is conniving but shes nothing to brag about. I let my negative thoughts take control and its ruining my relationship with my man. I love them all to death, but I feel second. I think stupid jealous things and it drives me nuts. I can see reality but it doesn’t stop the negative thinking and arguments. I need like how to change your thinking therapy…

10 11 2011
greenmelody

All I can say is thank you. I feel so alone most of the time and finding this blog has showed me that I am not.

5 01 2012
Sara

truth – and thanks …😉

7 01 2012
Milissa Lake O'Hern

I am so pleased to find this blog. I was really feeling alone in this stepmother thing. It is so difficult to find any sort of balance when you don’t understand what your role is. My husbands kids are 17 and 16. We do not have any established visitation so it is just hit and miss with everything including Christmas. I hate the feeling that someone else is controling my schedule more then I am. Help….

13 01 2012
Megan

Accepting it is one thing, sure. Easy to say. However, what if the REALITY is the “ex” has, over a course of 11 years created hell for my family and the REALITY is it has changed me forever. For 11 years, day in and day out, we’ve experienced hurtful text messages, painful emails, discruntal voicemails. Words hurt, more than anything…And after 11 years of listening/reading “you’re a terrible father, you’re not a step mother, you are a zero, loser, nothing, etc” you start to feel less, you become guarded, you become more angry, you change as a person…the reality is that person has gotten power of you. sadly, but true. it’s human nature to hurt when someone hurts you…especially over the course of years. How do you change that? How do you let that go and continue to live life “normally?”

20 01 2012
Anne

I am so happy to find this blog as well. I have recently moved in with my boyfriend who has 3 year old son we have 50 per cent of the time. I am 22 and he is 35 so i relate to you Cara and Puddles alot. I love being with my step son and my boyfriend is the most amazing person. I feel very blessed to be with them and have them in my life. However i do struggle alot with the pressure and requirements that are put on me. I am often confused by what my boyfriend and step son expect of me and it seems to change all the time. It is impossible to really vent to any of my friends or family because i really don’t think you can understand what it is like until you are a step mom yourself. I also struggle with his ex-wife. Who is a kind person but i struggle more with the jealousy of them being together and experiencing marraige and having a child together. I would love to talk more to you Puddles and Cara as i think we could help each other alot.

17 02 2012
Frustrated

I’m 48 and a step mom Been married since 2007 my husband has 2 kids(20)boy and (18) girl.We were fine for the first year but after that it’s been down hill from there.Their Mom died in 1996,their Dad gave them everything never said no them the kids always did what they wanted and nothing was ever said.They live at home and still doing the same thing.I’ve tried to talk to my husband about this since we got together to know avail.I’m frustrated,angry, and about ready to give up.Any advice on how to help me through this

21 02 2012
Mona

I am so, so glad to have stumbled upon this blog. This is only the second entry I’ve read so far tonight, but with all of the previous posters … I know those feelings all too well. I tried bouncing my “stepmom” issues on a friend whom I thought was level-headed enough [she’s great at letting it rip and speaking her mind] … but tonight, she actually hurt my feelings and was quite negative about the entire thing. And this is where I ended up, so I must thank her later.

My fiance has a ten year old son from a previous marriage. When we lived in TN, we were fifteen minutes away from his son and ex-wife [and her new husband], so we’d get him on the weekends. I was nervous at first interacting with him, but we slowly warmed up to each other. Sure, there were pangs of jealousy when I saw how they interacted — I yearn so much for that special bond as well. A couple of weeks later, we had our first dinner together [fiance, his son, his ex and me] … it was a bit awkward, but it ended up being a very pleasant evening. Everything was hunky dory.

Fast forward from June 2011 to February 2012 — things have drastically changed. We moved back home, adding an hour between us and his son. He was discharged from the army, excited to be live the life of a normal “civilian”. A month and a half goes by and I watch him spiral into depression and anxiety. The constant bright spot in his life, as he says, is his son, and me. We moved in with his grandad [which crippled his manhood even further] and we live across the street from his mom. If lucky, we get his son every other weekend, and it seems lately, when that times come, I feel myself getting ready for an emotional and exhausting weekend. For one, I try and avoid going to his mom’s house [personal reasons], missing out on time with my fiance and his son. I try and let them have their father-son time together, that’s what I keep telling myself, but honestly, it’s just because I don’t feel appreciated when I am in their company. At this point, I feel like I’m my own worst enemy and I *hate* that feeling of jealousy. I have two jobs that keep me on my toes, a social life that I love, but nothing really comes close to that satisfaction of a loved one. I’ve kept this bottled up for quite a while, and so glad to know that I’m not the only one suffering silently.

27 03 2012
mulletpickle

Hi Kimberley,

I’ve been on MC2 (my connected community) on the “Stepfamilies Australia INSTANT MUM” group and the “Stepfamilies Australia STEPMUM” group. They are quite active and have been INVALUABLE to me and heaps of other stepmums. However I just found out they site is closing down at the end of June so I would hurry and sign up so you can keep updated on how we are going to keep in touch.

I know there are a few ladies in Sydney who have expressed a desire to meet up so I’m sure if you put out a message you’ll find someone in your area. I feel for you, I know it’s hard when you think you’re at the end of your rope. Hang in there though, I guarantee the MC2 groups will be a huge support to you🙂

28 03 2012
Kimberly

Hey Mulletpickle – thank you so much. I really need to find a community – or end a great relationship. Just reading the responses here in this US-based forum has helped so much. (Yeh for the internet) I feel SO alone with all this stuff. I feel SO outnumbered (four daughters -v- me). Yes, I know I shouldn’t say ‘versus’ but that’s what it feels like. My partner and I have just celebrated two years together, he is blissfully happy (yes, blissful as in blissful ignorance!!!) but I am now questioning how much longer I can put up with this situation and therefore the relationship. I will definately follow up your suggestions, it would be terrible for this group to close, there must be so many of us who need it. Really appreciated your quick reply, hope things are going well for you. You can always contact me via this forum, not sure how to give over personal email addresses, but happy to do that somehow. All the best, Kimberly

1 04 2012
Lia

Thanks. This blog is very helpful. My boyfriend’s ex is a depressed schizophrenic, where in all her psychiatric consultations, she blames her depression on me. She certainly does not have a sense of reality cause her relationship broke down with my fiance way before he met me. His children were at first very kind with me, but lately are believing their mother’s and mother’s family’s allegations on how cruel and wicked i am. She has been institutionalized on several occasions, and my boyfriend has been severely criticized by her family for divorcing her. Now everytime i meet the kids, i face rudeness, hostility and sullenness. The only time I met the ex, I had to face mockery and hurtful remarks addressed to me. But I have to smile and be patient, knowing that she is ill and not in her right mind.
I am of course a constant reminder that they will never be together. He is stil kindly supporting her medical bills and life, a concept most of my friends/family don’t understand because that leaves me with financially nothing from him. But i have a successful career which provides me with enough that keeps me financially independent, so I really don’t mind that he uses his money to support his ex. I am at a point where i avoid meeting my friends and family to avoid hearing the constant criticism on how I should leave him and find another man.
I love him very much, i am happy when i’m with him, but i hold my breath and pray to Allah and constantly wonder if he’s the right man for me. At a time when i nearly give up and want “out” of this relationship, i find this website.
Finding this website is like a guidance from Allah that I am not alone… Thanks…

19 04 2012
vegofoodcritic

Hi Kimberley,

It’s mulletpickle here, sorry about the name confusion – I recently started a blog called “vego food critic” which hasn’t even gone live yet, and everytime I comment on another WordPress blog it uses that ID. Urgh.

Anyway the forum I was telling you about is closing down soon and they’re looking at a few options for moving it elsewhere. A few ladies in Sydney have espressed interest recently in having a meet-up so just shoot me a quick email at art@silveradoh.com.au and I’ll put you in touch with them if you like. That’s my work email, I don’t want to give out my private one for all the world to see!

Hope you are doing well.

31 07 2012
Jordan

I am currently a future step mom to 2 kids. A 4year old who is a ward of the state, and a 1yo boy. My fiance who is 45 (i am 21) expects me to pick up and love them instantly. the bio mom left my fiance for another man. Took their son with her. I can not bear children. Something I have always dreamed of. she is being investigated by cps for child neglect, but will not remove him from her care. We have him as often as possible. I love my stepson. At the same time I hate it, because hes a baby, but I resent him. I cant have my own kids. I hate her. Something my husband doesnt understand. I had a miscarriage on my stepsons first birthday. I am starting to believe that my husband is resenting me for him missing his birthday to be with me in the hospital. The state also will not hold investigation meetings (family team meetings) without them wearing their wedding bands. And I have no say in those meetings. The ex and my husband make all the rules regardless. I need help.

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