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The Art of Step-Parenting

I got divorced in March of 2005.  Two months later my ex-husband announced that he was engaged to a woman he’d known since high school.  Four months after that they were married.  My children were at that time 2, 5, 9, and 9.  At first I was incredibly grateful for this new wife.  She was kind and loving to my children.  She had been a 5th grade teacher prior to marrying my ex, and she was consistent with homework, offered genuine support and love to my children, and just generally took care of them when I could not.  She was easier to work with in scheduling that my ex husband was.  I thought everything was great.

While it'd be super-nice to be able to behave like this, it'll probably get you fired.

While it’d be super-nice to be able to behave like this, it’ll probably get you fired.

Except the part where my youngest child began to forget that I’m his mother.  See, the ex had told the children to call his 2nd wife Mom; she had the same last name, they introduced her as the children’s mother to everyone, they put her name down as the mother on school forms.  My youngest child believed that she was his mom, and I was some random nice lady he went and saw once a month.  When he threw a toddler tantrum at my house, he was crying for his Mom–and I was not that.  I was Marca.  His mom’s name was (Not Marca).

I was even able to suck up that blow, deciding that so long as my children were happy, being taken care of, and not being warehoused in day care by my ex, that was fine.  Until the day that the Stepmom asked me why I told my sons that she was their stepmom.  She said, “I don’t tell them you abandoned them.”  I told her that she damn well better NEVER tell them that, because that is NOT what happened.  At that point, it became apparent that the ex and his wife were trying to completely ease me out of  my sons’ lives (except for the paying child support part.  They were adamant that I give my ex money every month.)

“Oh yeah???? Well take THAT!!” is probably not a very adult way to deal with differences.

Things have gotten better since then, almost entirely because I asserted myself with my kids, with their schools, and with their church leaders.  I let them all know who I am, that I wanted to be kept involved in my kids’ schooling/scouts/sports/etc., and that I appreciated them being part of my children’s healthy upbringing.

And it only took 6 years to get there.

We’re now 10 years out from my divorce.  I just barely remarried in April of this year.  For a decade I was single, dealing with a stepmom interacting with my kids, feeling all of the hurts that came with the snotty remarks about how I wasn’t as much of a mother as SHE was, why did I tell the children I was their mother, etc.  I have become very sensitive to how parents tell their children to treat the Other Parent in divorce situations.  My children’s stepmother plays a vital role in their well-adjusted growth and day to day successes.  I am deeply grateful for her for that.  But she is not their mother.  I am.  They do not need another “mother,” because they already have one.

Which brings us to Now.  I gained 5 stepchildren when I married my husband.  Two of them are adults, not living at home, and therefore not addressed in the divorce decree’s custody portion.  The younger 3, however, are 15, 10, and 9.  And two of them are girls.  Which is a new thing for me, since all of mine are boys.  Lots of new things to learn.  Including how to let my stepchildren know I love them, provide them with positive support, make them know that they belong in our home–that it’s their home, too–but at the same time, NOT overstep the boundaries of being a stepmom.

I have known my stepchildren’s mother for almost 30 years.  We have never been friends.  But she is their mother, and she does love them, and they do love her.  So while I don’t necessarily like the woman, I know that it’s extremely important that I not throw her under the bus with her kids.  That I not tell them to call me Mom.  That I help them know that while I love them and am so glad they’re now part of MY family, that they have a mom who loves them as well.

I am trying hard to follow my own advice.  I do not want to antagonize my husband’s ex wife.  That solves nothing, proves nothing, and does nothing to make my life (or anyone else’s, for that matter) easier.  I keep my opinions to myself, even if it means biting my tongue til it bleeds.  As the family court here in Northern Utah is wont to remind us all– Your children are half you, and half your ex’s.  Anything rotten thing you say about your ex, you are saying about half of your own child.  Don’t make your child feel that they are somehow Less because you don’t happen to like their other parent.

Because we’re the Grown Ups.  Damn well better act like it.


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