A Healthy Stepmother . . . gets real and rants.

I was never put in the position of having to choose between my parents. And, there was never any discussion about whether I could visit my dad when he came to see us. My mom kicked my dad out, he moved away after a short time of trying to find work in a tumbling economy, and that was the end of it. He came back to town occasionally to visit us, but there was no such thing as weekends here or there, no going back and forth, and no packing up my belongings.

I missed him, oh my god, I missed him. And, being the dutiful enabler and accommodator that I was, I worried about him being alone. Maybe every child of divorce worries about the parent that resides elsewhere. Guaranteed, they think about that parent. So, that means they either worry for their well-being or wish them ill, depending on the environment and parent where they do live.

I know others who didn’t have a choice either. My own step-siblings were abandoned by their mother, twice. My dear friend, a wonderful stepmother in England, took in her stepson within a year after she married his dad and that was the end of that. There was no custody discussion or every other weekend here or there, it just was the way it was.

I don’t know if it’s good for kids to have 50/50 time. I don’t know if it’s good to have shared custody or weekends here and there. I don’t know if it’s good for one parent to have all the control. And, I don’t know what it’s REALLY like for those kids who have to go through that. I did not. I cried my tears of loss. I grieved the family that was. I worried. And, I lived my life.

What I also didn’t have to go through was to hear and feel the daily tension between my parents. The who was doing what. The putting down of one or the other. The constant-seeming war zone that wasn’t Code Orange, only Code Yellow. As if Code Yellow was a healthy place to live. As if low level violence toward someone you love is ever acceptable. As if having one of your parents painted as an evil, no good, selfish, or neglectful person is a good thing for a kid.

Maybe those types of battles between parents are satisfying to someone in the short run, but in the long run they leave scars. Those scars won’t show up immediately. Nope, they will wait and rear their ugly heads when that young person gets into a relationship and doesn’t have a role model to follow. That young person won’t know that you can solve a problem by sitting down and talking about it. You can take responsibility for your actions and people will still love you if you are not perfect.

My friend in England, well……she’s not with her stepson’s father any more, but she’s still in a relationship with her stepson. My heart bursts for them because I know her and I know him and I am so glad they still have each other. She is not putting his father down to meet her own immediate emotional craving. It’s likely tempting, but she’s not. She’s getting on with life and making sure he knows he has a place in it with her.

What happens in a parent’s heart and head that allows them to put the other parent down? What is it that allows them to feel they don’t have to support the other person? What part of the child’s well-being do they not understand? Another friend of mine here in Portland has lived through years and years of emotional trauma because the mother of her husband’s children never let the kids love anyone but her. They were completely beholden to her. Now, as young adults they are struggling to begin their lives and are ill-equipped to even know where to begin. Ironically, they have fallen back on their father.

Fathers are no saints, but the ones I know (the husbands of all the friends I have who are stepmoms) have good jobs and pay their support payments and support their kids. I wonder if they get tired of being talked about. I wonder where they find the determination and persistence in the face of constant bad-mouthing and fighting with kids who are confused and being taught to not like them. How do they do it? Yet, another friend of mine is dating a guy who travels from one state to another to see his kids every other week. Thank goodness he works for an airline. He’s paying his ex-wife’s bills and his bills and he’s being bashed and fought and pushed away from his kids. While I feel outrage for the dad, mostly I’m focused here on why people are making such poor decisions for their children. No love lost between ex-spouses, but the damage to one’s children when these Code Yellow types of warfare are being waged in their own living room is completely unacceptable.

I’m a peace-monger. I want peace. I love peace. I love that even when people disagree they come and talk and even if they cry and feel big emotion or even have to yell (but no name calling, that’s against my code), they stay in the relationship. I love when people realize that life is precious and we don’t have time for this. I love that sometimes parents DO get it right and LET their child love others. I love that any parent could choose to trust that the child LOVES them and will always love them. I love that they could choose to have MORE peace in their hearts knowing that their child will grow up and be able to love someone else having had unadulterated access to both parents.

Peace is part of an environment where a child can remain a child until it’s time to move on and follow the natural maturation. Peace is hearing that you have freedom and choice to love your parent and you do not feel even the tiniest bit of a tug or pull when you spend time with the other one. Peace is knowing that even when you’ve been out on a dinner date with your dad (my case) that when you get home you do not have to do penance for 3 days while your mom punishes you because you spent time with your dad, a person she can’t stand. Peace is not having to listen to one parent say anything negative about the other.

Power to the peaceful.

I stole that last line from a bumper sticker. I have no idea who said it. And, I really do have all these friends who are stepmothers. Friends I’ve known for 10, 20, 30 years who are now in their own second marriages and who are taking on stepchildren or who are now done raising the stepchildren and are moving on to the next phase. I’ll count them up for you one day. At casual glance, there are at least 8 of them. They deserve their own post.

And, I saw another bumper sticker . . . the peaceful will inherit the earth. I hope so.

16 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . gets real and rants.

  1. This was an amazing post…one of my favorites I think. Based on our situation, I would say that it is NEVER good for one parent to have all the control. Our Ex uses her custodial power to hurt my husband, even now, and it really only hurts the child. He is so hurt and confused after seven years of this shit. And my husband and I can hardly ever relax because, since she has the power, if she has a bad day (for whatever reason) we don’t know what she’s going to pull to make herself feel better.
    I wish I knew what went through her head to make her treat us so terribly so we could just talk it out and get it over with. Just like you, peace is my ideal. I’d rather our relationship would consist of friendly waves and casual greetings instead of this intense need to avoid. I know everyone in our house can feel the tension, despite the fact that we never utter a bad word. And I know the kid gets grilled at his other house because our life is apparently the custodial parent’s business. It’s not right for anyone. I guess as long as we keep striving for peace that’s all that matters.
    (Most ironic in our situation is that the dear old ex is a marriage and family therapist who goes on yearly “peace retreats” to the local yoga center. Um….hellooooo?)

  2. Another well thought out and helpful post. You actually amaze me with your posts.

    Like you, I have a whole world of friends in various states of ‘custody’ From parents who split it 50/50 to almost non-existent visitation. It is hard…and the truth most of the kids are suffering in one way or another. I wish I could say that there was a fool proof way to divorce and remarry with kids. I also wish that all parents (and I’m not making any statements about people here) could figure out how to co-parent.

    I love your no name calling rule – it is one I support.

    I love peacefull times, and find it sad that our most peaceful times have been times when my SS hasn’t been here – it makes his dad sad too. I just wish that somehow everything could be…better, calmer, happier.

    I will keep walking this path. I love my husband and he does deserve happiness. Hopefully together we can navigate these choppy waters into a more peaceful time.

    Thank you again.

  3. Your posts are amazing! So beautifully written and it is evident you put a lot of thought into them. It is always a pleasure to read something so intelligent.

    Like you, I am a peacemaker. I really do not like confrontation and feel it is unhealthy – spiritually, emotionally and physically, to live in an atmosphere filled with animosity.

    Sadly, my steps don’t have the luxury of living in a peace-filled environment. BM has filled their heads with so many falsehoods and lies, that I am sure they now believe these to be truths. It is sad really as it has altered what could have been, a very nice relationship. I was so willing (and did for the first year of my marriage) to offer them a life very different from the one they were living. I simply can’t anymore. Once bitten, twice shy. I realize it is not there fault (to a certain degree), but honestly, we had been developing such a beautiful relationship until they bought into her insecurities seemingly overnight. It broke my heart and then to have my SD tell lies about me and my husband, severed any hopes of me fostering a relationship with her.

    Anyway, a friend gave me a plaque that reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.” Amen!

  4. I never envisioned myself as a stepmother … and then I became one. I never envisioned myself comforting my spouse because his little girl doesn’t feel she can tell her daddy she loves him – for fear mummy will find out and be hurt … but I comfort him on a regular basis.

    I never envisioned trying to explain to the 11 year old stepdaughter whom I adore that her heart is big enough and strong enough to open itself up to accepting love from many people … until I tucked her in one night and had just that conversation.

    And I never envisioned I’d ever in a million years have to defend the love and care I feel for a child I did not give birth to but love no less for it … but I’ve defended that love and caring time and time again.

    I truly wish evey birth parent and stepparent – all the world over – would read the outstanding and heartfelt post I’ve just read and would take the message to heart.

    The only person they’re hurting by their selfish behavior is the child/children they insist they love. LOVE is a verb. You show it by living it. It’s just that simple.

    Thank you for such an insightful posting. You’ve touched my heart deeply tonight.

  5. EWO, thanks for commenting. Completely agree…..it’s never good for one parent to have control, whether that’s court sanctioned or emotional blackmail. And, the irony of your husband’s ex being a therapist isn’t lost on me. As I find my voice, I’ve got more to say about therapists. There’s a post percolating inside me about what therapists and the psychology profession could do to shift the culture. They’re beginning, we just need them to take a stronger lead. We don’t have time and shouldn’t tolerate generations of kids being raised with socially accepted violence in their homes. And, I’m counting bashing, eye rolls, put-downs, and any other “little” thing against the other parent as violence.

    WS, it is sad how many kids are in deeply troubling family environments, that low-level, gut-wrenching worry and anxiety that comes from having to choose. It’s enough to make a child sick. Having said all that, I do know a couple of people who are working together and making their child’s lives okay. It’s hard some days but they hit the right note most days. They also happen to live in a state that legislates that you make a co-parent agreement, take a class TOGETHER, and basically sign with the state that you will honor the agreement. And, they are taking their word seriously. You and your husband and your loved ones deserve happiness……definitely.

    Ohio, I relate, I really relate. We walk in open-hearted and get burned. And it hurts. And then we get to choose between bitterness and staying open. I spent a long time in my first marriage slowly closing off and it wasn’t healthy. Hence, my current strategy of keeping an open heart toward my stepkids (for me…….simply for me). An open heart is lighter and more resilient, in my experience. For me, an open heart can remain open but also aware and able to take care of itself. So glad you are reading.

    Jill, ALWAYS great to know you’re reading.

    Lori, indeed love is a verb. That’s a great reminder. Your comment was another chime in the wind chime of thousands of stepmothers to say, s. t. o. p. this unreasonable behavior, it’s time to let children feel safe, loved, and okay.

    Thank you to all of you. Your comments help me to percolate even further, take my thoughts to their deepest expression, and know that I’m saying what I wanted to say. Thank you for sharing your feelings and knowings in such eloquent ways.

  6. Please know I have not closed my heart! I think you said it well when you replied, “an open heart can remain open but also aware and able to take care of itself”.

    I am now aware of my SD’s feelings toward me, and while it saddens me deeply, it also allows me to give myself permission to take care of me. (shew, that was a lot about me!)

    Truth is, rather than anger, I feel like a burden has been lifted. I certainly didn’t expect to feel that way, but it is rather freeing.

  7. Ohio, don’t read anything in your reply about anger, very sorry if I implied you were. No, more that, I relate and was describing the process I found because it feels similar to how you’ve described your path. Relief and freedom are feelings I also experience. And I love that someone else is holding an open heart cuz I can’t always tell that from what I read. Let’s talk more about this, it feels so vital.

  8. No offense taken! After having re-read my comment, I realized it sounded well, bitter and harsh. I am not, just rather detached. After a visit to court, it became crystal clear to me that my SD really did not want a relationship with me and I was really quite content with that, which shocked me. I thought I’d feel somethingelse (not sure what), but I felt at peace.

    I’ve always known that you can’t give someone something they don’t want and now I had solid evidence that supported my theory! And the best part — I am fine. The energy I use to spend worrying, fretting and feeling guilty has seemed to vanish. I feel (today and I take it day-by-day) content.

    Thank you for resonding. I can’t tell you how helpful you are. A very calming influence.

  9. I love this post. Our twins have three, sort of four parents. The forth “sort of” parent is their mother’s partner who is sort of involved. In any case, the three main parents put peace and the kids first and the rest seems to follow. One time in six years I heard something negative from the twins that their mother had said about their father. I was horrified at the lie and how it made their father look and how it made the boys feel. The ripple effect of her words on the boys and on us was severe and hurtful for all. Thankfully, it hasn’t happened since, to my knowledge and won’t happen again. So far, the kids haven’t had to make any hard choices, and so long as the parents keep their hearts open, I hope they never do.

    • Lisa, even the most subtle of negative comments can be devastating. In fact, something as simple as an eye roll, indicating disbelief or disdain of what someone thinks or feels, weighs heavy in the negative column. Good for you and your group that you don’t have to deal with this on any day-to-day to level. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  10. Hi – reading some of the older posts looking for insight, support and kinship….on what is proving to be a tough weekend. I so appreciate that people out there are sharing their wisdom, sadness and experience with this challenging path (God, who knew?! I guess blinders serve a purpose too!). Needed to tell you, Kim, how important your blog is to my health and abilitity to sort through this challenge of being a quasi step-parent (we have chosen not to live together, even after 5 years, given the challenges even while keeping separate homes). thank you.

    • It’s so wonderful to know you can scroll through and have access to the older posts. There are many of them there, inspired by some hair-pulling and tears. It has not all been easy. Know that you are not alone.

      • So true – I love your pacifism, and through your blog, I realize the universality of the relationship I’m in. Would have likely continued to think I am deficient with this situation, without the blog and replies from others like me, who read it, and find commonalities amongst the responses. I think I’m ready to step away, and use the techniques that have worked for others (disengagement, self-soothing, and my about to be patented, but will share with you tonight, rx: Chateaux Margot!) A mechanism that I am leaning on as a disengagement aid tonight 🙂

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