Friday, May 6, 2011

Telling Children about Remarriage

After living together for several years, my fiancé and I are getting married in fifteen days! Meanwhile, I finally have a fully-functional replacement laptop in my possession, and today I’ve been reading about the different ways that people prepare their children for their remarriage.

Back when my stepdaughter was four, my fiancé and I sat down with her on our big purple couch and told her that we were getting married.

She scrunched up her face. "No."

I looked over at FH and raised an eyebrow.

"Yes," He said.




FH frowned. "Why are you saying that?"

She sighed and looked at us like we were being ridiculous. "Because you guys already got married a long time ago."

Then it dawned on me—she can’t remember a time when FH and I weren’t living together. She just assumed that we were already married, maybe because she thought that all men and women living together are married.

We talked about it a little more at the time, and then a little more and a little more as the months passed. Mostly she’s just been excited about a new dress, a party, and her grandparents coming to visit.

While my stepdaughter has handled my marriage to her father with ease, I suspect that I’m in the minority. I’m interested in learning more about other people’s experiences. How have you all handled this situation?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Stepmoms and Extended Families

For years my husband’s family sent Christmas cards addressed to him and me that were filled with writing about DH’s ex-wife. “So glad to hear about [BM’s] new job. So glad to hear how well [BM] is doing.” I remember dreading those little read envelopes. It felt like they were gently shoving me out, like they were trying to recreate some perfect previous family that I was not a part of.

For years, whenever I happened to be home when DH’s mother phoned, she spent much of her calls talking about his ex. It was so frustrating. After all, I had been living with her son for years. Why wasn’t she asking about me? Why didn’t she want to get to know me?

Frustrated with waiting for his family to approach me, I started being the one to communicate to them. I began sending them little emails here and there to say hi, letters about what everyone had been up to, and pictures of DH, SD, and I together as a family. I’m pleased that our relationship is now growing slowly but surely.

My experience establishing myself as part of DH’s family has been especially difficult given the fact that they live in another country, but I’m sure it also has a lot to do with me being wife #2.

From what I’ve read, it’s pretty common for extended families to be slow to welcome stepmoms into the fold. Having seen wife #1 come and go, they may see us as replaceable. Or, they may still have loyalty to the ex-wives and see us as interlopers.

Has anything similar happened to you? I’m interested in hearing about your experiences.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stepmothers: Taking Control, Part II

Conventional step-parenting advice says that your husband is the one who will determine the success of your relationship with your stepchildren.

For example, in Step-Motherhood: How to Survive Without Feeling Frustrated, Left Out, or Wicked, author Cherie Burns says that the father, “sets the tone of their relationship. His attitudes and actions determine how effective his wife can be, especially in matters of discipline and authority. Granted, a stepmother can botch a few things on her own, but she cannot be successful, even at her very best, without her husband’s support.” (p. 26)

Burns also says that, “A husband determines much of his wife’s stepmothering experience . . . Unlike natural mothering, step-mothering is exclusively a project for couples. A stepmother has a parental relationship only through the husband, the father” (p. 26)

Having read advice like this, I spent almost two years waiting for my fiancé to step in and instruct his daughter to treat me with respect. I waited for him to have conversations with her about how the three of us fit together as a family. I waited for him to talk to her about what my relationship was to her. I waited and waited, and as each month passed with no progress I grew more and more frustrated. When he didn’t take action, I started hinting and, finally, nagging and whining.

Finally I realized how ridiculous it is to sit back and wait for your partner to create for you the relationship that you want to have with your stepchildren. Having so little control over such a significant part of your life—relationships that affect how you spend your time, that affect your emotions, and ultimately affect the quality of your life—is likely to leave you emotionally exhausted.

Rather than put the fate of our happiness into someone else’s hands, we stepmothers need to take control of our relationships with our stepchildren—no matter what the so-called “experts” say.