Being a step-parent may very well be the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. Parenting is tough enough in and of itself, but at least with the children I birthed I know that I can make a major parenting mistake and they will laugh at me and forgive me for my shortcomings and then forget about it by the time they get home from school. It seems like no matter what we face, we begin each day with a clean slate.
It’s different with my step-children. I find myself worrying that I may at any moment make an irreversible mistake which could cause them to harbor resentment until my last breath is taken. I often dance around issues and walk on eggshells and probably coddle them more than is even necessary.
But the most challenging part about being a step-parent is not crossing the imaginary “boundary line” to which so many parents and step-parents refer. We are expected to love the children like our own… but not too much. We are expected to make decisions regarding our home… but not specifically regarding the step-kids. We are supposed to be interested in their lives… but not too interested in what they do at the other home. We are supposed to go to their sports activities and cheer them on… but not offer to assist with the activities. We are expected to treat them like our own… but not really.
WHERE IS THE BOUNDARY LINE?
As both a mother whose children have a step-mom and as a step-mom myself, I honestly have no idea where this supposed line is. It changes completely depending on the parent and I am pretty sure I have unknowingly crossed that line as both a mother and a step-mother. The fact of the matter is this: I may not have always willingly accepted it, but my children’s step-mom essentially acts as their mother when they are with her. Unless it is a major medical or educational decision regarding my children, then she and their father make the decision together if it is their custodial time. I trust in them and I know if it is something that is the least bit controversial, then they will consult with me. If I didn’t want that to be the case, then I should have stayed married to their father. I didn’t, so here we are.
I admit that when my ex was newly married, it would infuriate me when he would copy his wife on all of our emails. I would always “reply” without hitting “reply all.” Each time I did that he would add her back on when he replied. I remember thinking, “WE are the parents! SHE is not! Is she keeping record of all of our correspondence in case he takes me to court?” It’s much easier emotionally as a mother to designate the role of the step-parent as one of someone who sits on the sidelines and smiles at the appropriate times, but nothing more. A step-parent worth a grain of salt would never settle to be merely a “cheerleader.” One day my ex plainly said, “I need her included in the emails because she plays a major role in picking up the kids and getting them where they need to be and she needs to know if the calendar will work out for all of us.” <insert my blank, idiotic and sheepish look here> I felt like a fool.
Until that moment, I had not seen her as a valid part of our parenting arrangement.
It was in that moment that I realized that I should always include her in my correspondence. I began reaching out to her specifically about things like clothes or medicine, since she would probably be the one to handle that. After that email, I realized that she is a woman just like me and it’s not just MY life… it’s OUR LIFE. What a disservice I was doing both to my children and to her by trying to exclude her from our equation. We now truly respect each other and share this important role in raising the kids. After eight years of working together, we don’t have this supposed boundary line in our relationship. We have something better – TRUST.
Unfortunately, not all step-moms and moms respect each other like we do. Some are truly out to hurt the other person. A friend of mine reached out to me a few days ago for advice. She said that her ex-husband, who was very controlling and still angry about the divorce, had remarried an equally controlling new wife. My friend and her ex have shared physical custody of the children and joint legal custody. Her kids began a new school in the fall and my friend has noticed that she has been missing important events and has not been receiving information like she should from the school. She reached out to the school to find out that the step-mom had put HER name in as “mother” on all school paperwork. My friend’s information was nowhere to be found. Here’s the kicker: the step-mom had informed the office that she and her husband had full custody and that all of the info was to go to her and NOT to the mother. My friend had to fax her custody agreement to the school to PROVE TO THEM that she was in fact the mother and had parental rights for her daughter! Can you even imagine?? After doing a little more research, it turns out the step-mom had changed EVERYTHING – soccer contacts, dentist, orthodontist, pediatrician. My friend is currently trying to figure out how to handle the situation from this point, but this is an example of someone who didn’t just cross a boundary, but POLE-VAULTED over it!
I may not know where the line is, but I know it was crossed in this particular situation – far and purposefully. I suggested she talk to her ex and plead to his softer side by asking him how that would make HIM feel in the same situation… She told me that she tried that and his response was, “Too bad… you shouldn’t have divorced me.” Wow. I would love opinions from my readers on how my friend should handle this situation with a step-mother who has clearly leapt over that boundary line.
I truly believe there is a balance that can be found between step-mother and mother as long as there is respect on each side. As many friends have told me though, sometimes that respect is just not there. While it comes naturally to me to always fill out paperwork with my name and my ex’s name as the parents’ info and the step-parents info under “emergency contacts,” some people refuse to do that – claiming the other parent doesn’t pay or just avoiding putting the information in out of spite.
Because I am in a positive situation, I find it shocking when people choose not to make it work when kids are involved. Through my writing/research though I am learning that this blatant disregard for the best interests of the children is far too common. And the very best thing for the children involved in divorce is for there to be no need for these supposed “boundary lines.” If we all work together with open communication while putting the children’s best interests and needs ahead of our own, then we can raise happy, healthy children… together. Erase the boundary lines and trust each other.
Wow wow and more wow!!! That is insane that the step mother did that! I could never in a thousand years imagine doing that with my step child. That is borderline crazy in my opinion. I probably wouldn’t be so nice as your friend, but when I get upset I don’t always think about how I should react and I usually just react emotionally. I have no advice except to say good luck and I hope the daughter realizes in the future that it wasn’t her mothers fault.
I on the other hand have a great relationship with my sons step mother. I actually talk to her over Joshuas father, but it also helps that his father works out of town and she is the one raising Joshua 90 percent of the time when they have him. It never used to be like that. We have worked hard for the relationship to be where it is now, we have become some what of friends over the past couple years and its great. I couldn’t imagine raising my son with his father any other way. Since we have been separated since I became pregnant.
My step sons mother has not always been so helpful, she used to lie and make things up and also not include us in things or tell us when things would be happening. Now it is much better and we communicate great. I don’t think we will ever be where Joshuas step mom and I are, but it’s good.
I have witnessed through a friend when she got divorced and went through her separation the child was clearly not in her best interest. She would talk badly about the childs father directly to the father and they would have screaming matches when the child was present. She even when so far as throwing a rock at the fathers windshield when the both the father and the child where still in the car. She is lucky it didn’t break completely but it did crack completely all over the place. Sadly nothing came of it because she lied her face off to the police.
Stories like that make me sad that parents aren’t more willing to work together for the child. I mean the child never asked to be put into this situation. The least parents can do when they are not together anymore is put the anger aside for the time they are with the child and work together. I know however this is harder then it seems as I once was angry as well.
I hope that the situation with your friend gets better.
Sorry for such a long reply.
I appreciate your response! As you can tell from my writing, I have never claimed to be an easy person to deal with from the start. Where we are now is after nine years of water have flowed under that bridge… I’m just thankful that we got things working before we burned the bridge down. No communication and harboring anger does nothing for the kids… all they want in this life are their parents to be able to be around each other and be (seemingly) happy. That’s all they want!!! To be able to be around ALL of their parents without it being a tense and stressful situation. If only more people would just accept that and move on!!!!!
Thanks again for your reply and your continued support of my blog!
Great piece! Wow! I wouldn’t know what to say. The step mother was completely out of bounds. I would probably have let her know through my lawyer what her role was and send her a book on the effectiveness of co-parenting. I am currently separated and going through a divorce and my soon to be ex-husband and I have created a cohesive and positive parenting plan that seems to be working for our son. I hadn’t even thought about getting married and bringing someone into the situation, but you gave me a lot to think about should my ex get remarried and treating her as a parent in this relationship because her impact on my son will be just as important.
Valerie~ i continue to appreciate the candid way that you handle the topics of divorce. So many want to shift all the blame someone else. Your reflections on the situations are so refreshing and helpful. I loved this line: If I didn’t want that to be the case, then I should have stayed married to their father. I didn’t, so here we are.
Very good post! I wish I was able to have a respectful relationship with my husbands ex. I actually thought we were on our way down that road until I was recently blindsided with accusations. I know as a mom who is divorced and a step-mom who is remarried, both situations can be hard. I have experienced both roles. My husbands ex is remarried to a man who had no children until they had one together. Sometimes I wish she had step-kids just so she knew the blurred expectations of a step-mom.
Maybe you should talk to my ex-wife! My girlfriend and I are both recently divorced and we each have a child from a previous relationship/marriage. Needless to say, i am just now “jumping into the blender”. i look forward to reading more of your posts!
Rob, I pray that the blending goes well for you. As you have probably surmised if you read my blog, I am brutally honest about how it WON’T ALWAYS go well, but it’s all in how you handle it. Keeping your perspective and focusing on your children is the best thing for everyone…. Thanks for your comment!!!
My granddaughter’s stepmom took her to the doctor and got her a shot without notifying her mom, she justified it by saying she was doing it at her husband ‘s request. Come to find out that they had not listed her mother at the doctor’s as even existing and the doctor did not ask about the biological mother, just took their word. When her mother showed up, the doctor scrambled to cover their ass, and her mother had to come back with the court papers to prove she had primary custody. By the time the mother got back, the doctor had already gotten legal advice and attacked the mother by saying the stepmother was the father’s agent. The office deliberately provoked her mother, trying to get her to react so they could secretly film it and get her arrested. Thankfully she kept her cool, got the records, left, eventually went back to court and the judge picked another doctor and told the stepmother to watch her step. The good news is my granddaughter no longer has to stay overnight or have anything to do with her stepmother or father unless she wants to, she can’t be forced to be with people who hate her mother.