Friday, December 2, 2011

Stepmother Stressor: Money

A friend of mine recently complained to me that her son’s stepmother makes sure that her own children have nice things but doesn’t do the same for her son. I could tell my friend was upset and my immediate reaction was to agree, “Wow, that’s too bad.” But just as the words left my mouth I experienced a secret flash of sympathy for her son’s stepmother, and in the moment of silence that followed I worried about being in that woman’s shoes when I have my own bio-kids.

When it comes to spending money on our stepchildren, what is our responsibility as stepmoms? A toy is one thing, but what about piano lessons and horseback-riding camp every summer? College tuition? At what point do we draw the line?

There are a lot of complicating factors, like whether or not you and your partner have joined finances (we don’t), amount of visitation time, and how involved or detached you are from your stepchildren. However, no matter the circumstances, I think that we stepmoms have the right to decide how much money we want to spend on our stepchildren without worrying about other people will judge us.

Like everything with stepparenting, this is a lot harder than it sounds. A lot of emotional issues go into finances and stepparenting, like wanting your stepchildren to feel like equal members of the family and not wanting them to feel inferior if their stepsiblings get things they don’t. You also may want to have some discretionary money to spend on your biokids alone, but then feel guilty about not spending as much money on your stepkids.

I think the first step to addressing these issues involves just letting go:

- Let go of your guilt. You were not the one who got divorced—their parents were. It’s not your fault that your stepchildren are now in this position.

- Let go of worrying about what their biomom or other people will think of you if you buy or don’t buy something. Remember that your partner and his ex always have the choice to buy things for their kids. If you purchase horseback-riding lessons for your kids and not theirs, they still have the option to buy them for their children. It’s not your fault if they don’t.

Another thing you can do is to focus on finding ways to make your stepkids feel valued and included that don’t involve a lot of money:

- Create a home environment in which your stepkids don’t feel like they are just visiting. Make sure that they have a space of their own and that they’re involved in activities like meal preparation and family dinners. Even something like having assigned chores at your house makes them feel less like a guest and more like a part of the family.

- Spend time together doing things that don’t cost a lot of money, like playing board games and going to the park. Have fun, talk, and get to know each other better.

- Give them encouragement and praise their efforts. Tell your stepchild about how you admire the work she put into their science project and what a good dancer he is.

- Make it a priority to communicate your affection through words, attention, and time instead of by buying things. Money is not the only language of love.

Has spending or not spending money on your stepkids ever been something you’ve stressed about? Have you ever felt guilty about buying something for your kids but not your stepkids? I’d love to hear your story.

1 comment:

  1. Just playing devil's advocate here, but is it possible that the real issue is that the bio mom sees it as the father who is giving preferential treatment to one set of children and not another. Maybe she thinks that his favoritism is because of the stepmom.

    In my situation, the biomom is very controlling controlled pretty much everything when she was with my BF, so she assumes that I exert the same amount of controle in our lives. It's not true, but when he does something she doesn't like, she blames me, because I must have told him to do it.