Young girls grow up and often spend days/years dreaming of being a wife and mom. They expect that they will be their child’s “only” mom! They get married, have children, and dream of raising their children with their husband … with no one to interfere. They look forward to having a close family with lots of fond memories (vacations, t-ball, bedtime routines, etc.).
Then divorce. And even worse … your (now) ex-husband remarries! You didn’t plan to share your motherhood job with anyone else. Your dream of exclusivity with YOUR children is gone! Your sense of loss soon becomes disappointment, frustration, and anger. As if that isn’t bad enough, your children like or even love her (the new “step-mom), and that makes it even more awkward and uncomfortable! (***Note, this can even apply to Dads and Step-Dads.)
I hope you read through the whole blog because this blog is intended to help you handle this better than I did! I wish I had this insight 30 years ago because I have been both the step-Mom and the Mom who had to share my child with a step-Mom. And, I am pretty sure I failed miserably!! It’s so tough!! So please know that I am NOT bashing Moms! Navigating these relationships is so tricky and tough. We don’t realize how our actions impact our children and all we are trying to do is put one foot in front of the other day after day. Most of us would agree that we signed on for a different ride but I promise, this one can be just as fulfilling, enjoyable, and memorable … in a good way!
Me, Sabotage? What is the Motivation?
The loss of your marriage (your “family) may have been due to circumstances that leave you feeling sour, bitter, and abandoned (maybe even justifiably so). The following issues can make it much harder to accept your child’s positive relationship with their step-mom:
• She may have been your husband’s lover; she may have been the reason you think your marriage ended.
• She may be younger, attractive, and easy for your kids to relate to.
• She may come from a different background and is exposing your child to different faith or cultural values.
Regardless, it is unsettling seeing your child spend more time with someone who is “filling in” as their mother! You feel inadequate, your judgment clouds, and you make knee-jerk reactions in protection of your little ones. You catch yourself making unkind remarks about your children’s stepmother and demanding your children’s unwavering loyalty.
By doing this, you are just making life hard for her, right? Wrong.
Things Your Child Wants You to Know:
Some of the things you do hurt us!
• Information Battle
1. Treating us like a mole by grilling us about details of what happens at our father’s house. It makes us feel like we are being interrogated and we begin to feel annoyed and will start to avoid talking to you.
2. Censoring our ability to talk about what goes on in our home. By doing this, you imply that there are things we need to keep secret and hide from our Dad. This makes us feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
• Denying Us Permission to Like Our Step-Mom
1. When you do not give us permission to like our step-mom, you also deny us to be ourselves. You rob us of free will and of making a decision based on how our step-mom treats us. This sometimes makes us feel awkward and unimportant.
2. This forces us to focus on your needs instead of ours. We feel less safe and taken care of and instead feels like we need to take care of YOU. We feel insecure and may be more clingy because we feel that YOU need us. The dependency is not healthy for either of us. Emotional energy towards fulfilling your emotional needs drains us and can hinder us from being able to be ourselves and relax. We feel anxious, uptight, and guarded which can lead to anxiety problems.
3. This scenario is a role reversal in which we (as the children) take care of our mom instead of the other way around. This can also set the stage for us to become an enabler for other people with other problems later in life. Life is tough enough as it is … please don’t add to it.
4. By denying us permission to like our step-mom, you discourage me/us from identifying what my real feelings are. This can lead to resentment, anger, and depression.
• Discourage Me/Us from Cooperating with Step-Mom
1. This makes it difficult for me when I am at my Dad’s (and step-mom’s) home. It leads my Dad and step-mom to be upset with me. I end up causing problems at Dad’s house because you don’t want me to be happy there and I feel guilty if I am.
2. This negative attention often comes with consequences at my Dad’s house (punishment). This makes me feel frustrated, confused, and isolated.
3. When I feel like I shouldn’t like my step-mom, I feel like an outsider at Dad’s house. It will have a lasting impact on my self-esteem. It will damage my sense of belonging (which is a fundamental need) which, when missing, leaves a void that I could end up trying to fill with things that aren’t appropriate (like addictions).
Here’s How You Hurt Yourself
Undermining your child’s positive relationship with his/her step-mom, backfires. Your child will be angry at and resent you for not trusting his judgment and decision to have a relationship with his/her step-mom.
So, What Now?
• Remember that you have significant influence with your child/children.
• Empower yourself with a positive and proactive attitude.
• Have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself. Journal your thoughts/feelings and get in touch with the buried feelings that you haven’t addressed yet. Get counseling!
• Evaluate your concerns about the step-mom as objectively as possible.
• Give your child permission to like their step-mom.
• Allow them to have their own feelings about their step-mom independent of yours.
• Listen to your children. They want to be heard and have their feelings validated by you.
• Get counseling if you still need help dealing with your losses or establishing appropriate boundaries.
• Reach out to your support system (friends and family). If your support system is lacking, it is not too late to create one. Get involved with some new hobbies, activities, church, friends, etc.
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