Monday, November 12, 2012

Has the Bio-Mom Ever Surprised You--In a Good Way?

Hi everyone! I had a great trip and I’m finally feeling back in the swing of things this evening. I haven’t had much time to read this week but I’m looking forward to starting Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., this weekend. I’ll let you know what I think next week.

In the meantime:

This evening as my stepdaughter was getting picked up, she asked her mom, “can I give Meesha a hug before we leave?” And she ran over and jumped in my lap and gave me a big hug and a kiss.

As she walked back around the couch, her mom turned to me and said, “speaking of which, [SD] has a book with pictures of everyone in it—me and her dad, her dad’s family, my family. If you want to give me a picture of you or of you and [DH] together, I’ll add it in there. She likes to look through it before she goes to bed.”

And I thought, wow, that is one awesome mom. I don’t know if I would have been big enough to make that offer if I were her.

How about you--Has your stepchild's biomom ever surprised you in a good way?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Starting the Revolution

My fiancé glared at me, and if looks could kill I would have been flat on the floor.

“I told you to hold her down.” He wanted me to grab his shrieking, kicking daughter and pin her to the carpet so he could force a dose of medicine into her mouth.

My heart raced. Between her screaming and his yelling, I was overwhelmed by the both of them. I put a hand on her arm and then whipped it back. “But the stepparenting books say I’m not supposed to do that kind of thing!” It felt like the thousandth time I’d said it.

He rolled his eyes. “The books,” he said gritting his teeth, “are bullshit.”

I tentatively took hold of her, and only by working as a team were we finally able to get the medicine through her pursed lips. Later that day, after several cups of tea and lengthy reflection, I decided to abandon most conventional stepparenting advice.

I came into my stepdaughter’s life just after her second birthday. I spent the next two and a half years reading everything I could about what I was supposed to do and not do as a stepmother. By the time she’d reached four and half, I was emotionally drained, exhausted, and at my wits’ end. I felt betrayed by all of the step-parenting “experts” I’d consulted. Most of their advice was either impractical, didn’t apply to us (my stepdaughter being very young), or just plain didn’t work.

More than that, much of the advice I read seemed to emphasize, either blatantly or subtly, the need for stepmothers to accept an unreasonable amount of disrespect, inflexibility, and poor behavior by their stepchildren and partner because these things “just come with the territory.” One book I read seemed to suggest that it’s a stepmother’s duty to accept this kind of treatment because she is the one disrupting her stepchildren’s lives.

According that author, once a woman becomes a stepmother she should accommodate her life to her stepchildren’s because “the children have been raised with a family pattern, and it’s not fair to them if they suddenly have to change [their lives] . . . it would be complicated for the stepchildren and this would present them with an opportunity to resent you—the reason for the change.”* Later in this same book the author remphasizes that, "The other members of your family have a previous history and their routines need to be modified to include another person. Sometimes you may feel awkward because you are the reason for all the adjustment and change.”**

When, in reality, the real reason that children’s lives change is because their parents get divorced--stepmothers just come later. But I digress.

Desperate for more information, I started lurking on Internet posting boards like and Step I was surprised—at first—to see that so many other people were experiencing the same problems that I was. I kept seeing people write “the books say . . . but.”


With so many hundred of thousands of people entering into stepfamilies every year, I thought, why isn’t there better advice available to stepmothers? Why are there so many unhappy, frustrated stepmothers?

I decided to start researching stepparenting and stepfamily advice more seriously. I've set up this blog to discuss my research, talk about my experiences, and share strategies that hopefully other women like myself can use in their everyday lives. My goal is to focus not necessarily on how to be a "good stepmother" but how to be a happier, more contented, or at least less frustrated one by rethinking and reshaping the role.

* From 7 Steps to Bonding with Your Stepchild by Suzen J. Ziegahan, page 54.
** " page 96.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I've Come to a Realization about Detachment

I’ve been putting lots of effort into my relationship with my stepdaughter lately. Last week I spent extra time with her reading books, playing dolls, and baking cupcakes. (This was of on top of my normal stepmama workload: cutting up her food, cleaning her juice spills, trying to get her to eat one more bite of broccoli, helping her in the bathroom, getting her dressed, and, well, you get the idea.)

In the end, every game, every project turned into a devotion to her mother. “These pictures are going to be for my Mama!” “I’m going to tell my Mama about how we went to the park!” “These cupcakes are going to be for my Mama!”

Then one evening she proceeded to tell me over and over again, “I love you, but I love my Mama more than you. I love her more than you.”

Is this surprising? No. Is it normal? Completely. Does it still sting and annoy the heck out of me?


I've decided it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate my level of detachment. According to The Ups and Downs of Becoming an Insta-Parent, “Detachment is often the best decision when a woman realises her input is neither recognised nor welcome . . . Detachment can range from detaching from issues dealing with the ex-wife to not enforcing rules with stepkids to complete non-involvement."

Julie W. describes detachment as, "an art. You must say, “I disagree with what you are doing, but I respect your right to do it. I am washing my hands of this situation, and you, as a parent, must deal with the natural consequences.”

However you go about it, detachment isn't easy. With our family of origin we didn’t have to give a second thought about what we said, who we said it to, or what family conversations or situations we got involved with. But learning to navigate “detached” family relationships doesn’t come instinctively. We have to plan when to speak up and when to keep quiet. We must calculate our comfort levels of detachment and involvement, of love and distance.

This week I'll be thinking about how I want to to renegotiate my stepmom-stepkid relationship. More next post.