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 fiancĂ© 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.

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