Tuesday, November 25, 2014

For Stepmoms

November 25, 2014
It's been a long time since I've written anything. I'm going to post a long stepmom's email to me and and my responses. It covers a lot of typical situations when "blending" a family and an opportunity for me to respond with the principles that work! Here it is.....

We need your help!
My husband divorced his ex-wife three years ago and we married one year after that. He has a daughter who was 10 then and now is 12 (going on 13).
Two factors I see immediately:
1) not enough recovery time between marriages.
2) age 10 can be a volatile time for handling divorce and remarriage (actually any age will evoke a response or reaction).

This was a VERY bitter divorce. Funny because he did not want the divorce. She did. BUT now that he is remarried she is very angry and vengeful still. She didn't want anyone else to have him either. Nor does she want him to be "happy.”
Very normal – this is a “what is” (or given) when it comes to divorce & remarriage. Unfortunately, many remarry without educating themselves on what that territory will be like. When we’re “in love” we’re seeing with blurred vision and making up how wonderful everything is going to be. 

Anyhow the reason I am writing is that the "ex-wife" can't stand that I spend any time with her daughter. I am getting so sick and tired of being the scapegoat for the reason she is unhappy or fighting with my husband (her ex) or her daughter.
Fact: the stepparent is always the “lightening rod” (at least for a number of years until some stability takes place). Understanding and accepting what you signed up for can go a long way in giving you some resilience for what is normal in stepfamily land.

Every time my husband mentions my name, his ex comes unglued "this is between us." I have told my husband to just talk as if everything is coming straight from him....as though we have never talked about it. He just falls into the habit of mentioning me from time to time however.
Good advice for your husband – to leave your name out of his conversations with his “ex” – at least for now! Maybe forever….You’ll know when the time is right. I'm wondering if he inadvertently does this to keep the focus on you rather than collaborating with her regarding their daughter.

What it comes down to though isn't just that she wants all agreements to be between just the two biological parents....she can't stand that I bake cookies with my stepdaughter, or take her shopping, or that my stepdaughter has a new grandma (my mom), or spends time with her new cousins (my nephew)....etc. She keeps her daughter's schedule sooo busy that she has after school events every night so that she doesn't have to come home to our house and be with me when my husband is still working late etc. I don't know what to do.
Nowhere have you mentioned bringing children of your own into the remarriage. If not, I would suggest taking a trip into your husband's ex's world and how threatened she may be because she lost her husband (whether she wanted him or not), she lost her dream of family (whether she initiated the divorce or not), and she doesn’t want to lose the only thing left – her daughter. Plus, women get very competitive and jealous. No way does she want to be robbed of her place in her daughter’s life. Right now, she’s not seeing your involvement as positive. That may take some time! 

The most important relationship to keep in place is the father-daughter one. I would encourage the daughter to stay with the mom vs. spending time with you alone right now. That’s a primary relationship that needs to stay secure and your relationship will develop more freely when things calm down. This is putting the daughter in a very difficult place of loyalty conflicts. I encourage stepparents to lay low when there’s this much resistance. Hopefully your husband isn't passing on his parenting duties to you. That won't work!

Just yesterday we tried to reassure her that I am not a threat to her being the "mother".
Communication principle: It’s not what you believe, it’s what she believes. Instead of getting her to accept your point of view, accept hers. She’s the mom. In time she may come to see your truth.

I know that my stepdaughter loves her mom and that that bond is important....but I am in her life and I think that having one other adult to care for her is not a bad thing. Kids need all the help they can get.
True, but not something to tout at this point, or you could lose what you might be able to have with your stepdaughter in the future. Developing relationships is a LONG, SLOW, STEADY process. She had a decade with her parents before you entered the scene. You are building family with strangers. 

She (the ex) let me know that she would be sending us some "research" she has on stepparents. I know she is going to try to slam dunk this in some way to make it seem that my being in her daughter's life is bad.
She’s just showing you how important this is to her. It might serve you to focus on her fears, sadness & disappointments…all the losses that have taken place and especially, not wanting to lose her daughter. Whether that is rational to you or not; it’s her world you are dealing with & understanding it will serve you well. You don’t have to agree to “get it.” But “getting it” may open you up to some very positive ways to handle all of this.

What I’m concerned about is the impact this is having on the daughter. She’s in the middle of a boiling pot and having to absorb stuff that doesn’t belong to her. How can you as an “outsider” ease the situation? It takes a lot of maturity to be in a stepfamily.

Well, needless to say she is a practicing alcoholic. So we are not dealing with a rational person here. I am the "Christian"......my husband is.....well.....he goes to church with me but he is a babe in the woods. I don't think that Jesus is real to him nor that he has ever had a relationship so to speak with him. Do you have any suggestions? Other than prayer? Are there any specific articles you can direct me to? Is there anything we can do?
There is a lot you can do.
1. I'll keep prayer on the list with this specification: Are you praying for the ex and/or your husband to change (which you have no control over)? Or are you praying for God to change you & open up your view of the situation?
2. Educate yourself - there are a lot of resources that will walk you through stepfamily development. I am forwarding those to you. http://cgtaylor.com/7-3-resources.htm
3. Find a stepcouple support group - or start one. Be sure you have an agenda for the group - i.e., using resources that will educate the couples on stepfamily principles; otherwise it can become a gripe group and nothing gets done. Hopefully this will help. Thanks for your email.

About Me

Carri is a documentary film producer and communication skills trainer. She and her husband speak nationally on relationships, communication and stepfamily development.