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How Sabotaging Stepmoms Hurts Your Children - Remarried With Children

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You expected mothering to be a solo job. You and your husband raising your kids together, with no one to interfere—okay, except the media and public education. You anticipated tender, private moments with your children.

So much for that. Along came divorce. Worse still, your husband remarried.

You didn’t sign up to share motherhood with another woman. Your dream of privacy and exclusivity with your children is shattered. Your profound sense of loss gives way to anger and frustration. As if that wasn’t bad enough, your kids like or even love her, making it more uncomfortable still.

Sabotage: Finding Your Motivation

That dream’s loss may have been sour, but these special cases can make it that much harder to accept your children’s positive relationship with their step-mom:

  • As your husband’s lover, she was the wedge that split the marriage.
  • She’s younger, aggravatingly attractive, and is easier for your kids to relate to.
  • She’s less worldly, leaving you insecure about the “life experience” and maturity level that backs advice she gives to your children.
  • She comes from a different background, and is exposing your kids to different religious or cultural values.

Either way, it’s unnerving watching your children spend more time with a competing mother figure than you. You feel inadequate, your judgement clouds, and you make knee-jerk reactions in protection of your cubs. You catch yourself making unkind remarks about your children’s stepmother and demanding your children’s unwavering loyalty.

You’re just making life hard for her, right? Wrong.

Surefire Ways to Damage Your Child

Information Warfare

  1. You treat your child like a mole by grilling him about every detail of what went on in the other house. It’s boring and annoying having to do seemingly insignificant reconnaissance work for a neurotic parent.
  2. You censor your kid’s ability to relay what went on at your house. Being unable to talk freely makes your child uncomfortable and unsafe.

Deny Your Child Permission to Like His Step-mom.

  1. You deny your child permission to be himself. You rob your kid of free will, which can make him feel unimportant and depressed.
  2. You force your child to focus on your needs instead of his own. Your child feels less safe and taken care of. Emotional energy towards fulfilling your demands is divested from your child’s ability to relax and be himself. Your child is left uptight and guarded, which can lead to anxiety problems.
  3. Engaging in the role reversal in which your child has to take care of his mother instead of the other way around can also set the stage for your child to become an enabler for people with other problems, down the line.
  4. You discourage your child from being in touch with his feelings, which can foment resentment, anger, and depression.

Forbid Your Child From Cooperating with His Step-mom.

  1. Your child’s stepmother and father will become upset with him. Your child is causing problems on your orders, not of their own volition, and now has to take the heat for it. This leads to anxiety.
  2. This negative attention often comes with punishment, which will additionally leave your child frustrated and isolated.
  3. Your child won’t feel like the part of the family when at your ex’s house. It’ll impact his self-esteem. It’ll also damage his sense of belonging (a fundamental need) which, when missing, leaves a void that people try to fill with things like addictions and cults.

How You Hurt Yourself

Undermining your child’s positive relationship with his or her stepmom* also backfires. He will be angry at and resent you for not trusting his judgement and decision to like his stepmom.

*This assumes absence of any major indicators of abuse.

How You Can Fix Things

Empower yourself with a positive and a proactive attitude by taking these practical steps:

  • Have a heart-to-heart talk with yourself. Write it all down and get in touch with the buried stuff that you’ve yet to examine.
  • Evaluate your concerns about the stepmother as objectively as possible.
  • Grant your children emotional permission to like her if she is indeed nice to them.
  • Give them permission to have their feelings independent of yours.
  • Listen attentively to your children. It’ll deepen your relationship.
  • Give your children your undivided attention when you are with them.
  • Get therapy if you still need help processing your losses or establishing boundaries.
  • Reach out to your support system, like friends and family, or join a support group.

Closing Thoughts

Let go. Your old dream of a private, exclusive family life chains you to the past. Releasing it lets you create a new, happy, and healthy vision for yourself and your children.

Most stepmothers won’t come between you and your kids half as much as your fear will.

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10 Responses to “How Sabotaging Stepmoms Hurts Your Children”

  1. Anonymous says:

    These articles are great, but the mothers who really need to read them will never look for them or find them. Wouldn't it be great if you could sign someone up to receive a "welcome to our website" message with a link to the articles?

    • rwcadmin says:

      That's a really good suggestion. I gave this a lot of thought.

      Pay attention to when the person you'd like to see it is using Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site you know you two have in common. When you know they're active and attentive, share the thing you'd like your intended audience to see with *everyone*. Don't use a direct message.

      The major advantage is that you're not directly sending it to your intended audience. This lets you avoid him or her taking the recommendation the wrong way and becoming defensive or confrontational as a result of feeling called out. As a secondary benefit, friends you didn't know would benefit from the article also get exposed to it.

      You have a "get out of jail free" card and create positive externalities for your friends: everybody wins.

  2. Anonymous says:

    So what should we do if their mom is doing all these things? You can’t ask her to stop. (She won’t, and it will just cause a fight.) You can’t really point out to the kids what she’s doing. (You can’t critize their mom.) We already don’t reciprocate (ie, we don’t do these things ourselves). What else should we be doing?

    • yaffa says:

      I hear your frustration and concern. I agree that it’s hard to be heard by an angry biological mother. My hope is that the information in the articles will help you develop a conversation between the two households. Express your empathy toward the biological mother about her predicament. Repeatedly reassuring her that there’s no intent to replace her may help her feel less threatened and believe it over time.

      I do realize that it is not possible to do it in some cases. It’s best, under those circumstances, to reinforce the notion of separation between the two households by reminding the children that there are different rules and expectations in the two homes, and that these are just different. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other.

      Also, if she is saying and doing things to undermine your household, tell the children that you’re very sad that she’s choosing to be negative, and that you hope that she’ll stop soon. Role modeling a positive and hopeful attitude will really help with children, as they themselves are probably very uncomfortable being subjected to the negativity dished out by their mother.

  3. nmo says:

    I plan to print this out and send it anonymously through the mail to the bio-mom of my step daughter!!!

  4. [...] Even worse, she has power over you. Your privacy feels compromised because of the possibility that Big Mother Is Watching You through her junior [...]

  5. Lisa says:

    Great advice!

    I don't understand why women have such a huge issue with their kids having a Stepmom. I had one, and my Mom would invite her over for coffee. They got along well. I was free to love her and have a good relationship with her (thanks Mom for modeling healthy behavior for me!).

    Additionally, I had hoped my ex would marry again, and my kids would be blessed with another mom to love and guide them through life. But, that never happened.

    I'm raising my stepkids full-time, since they were babies, and their mother causes nothing but problems for us. She's a drug addict/alcoholic, etc….so it's been a nightmare to deal with her. She bad mouths me, my husband and our child together, to the stepkids, and it makes the stepkids angry. They love all of us, including their mom and her family, yet their mom refuses to allow them to relax into their lives, and enjoy the rest of their childhood.

    Enough about me/us!

    I'm enjoying reading your articles,
    pbajmom on twitter

  6. Ann says:

    I'm waiting for help on how bio moms can deal with a SM that just bitches and bashes us. It seems the bio moms get a lot of flack, but for us good bio moms out there dealing with the SM that is unhappy-what support do we have?

  7. yaffabalsam says:

    I hear your frustration and agree that there isn't enough support for bio-moms. Stepmothers have been much more vocal in the social media than bio-moms. I work on developing an understanding and empathy between bio-moms and stepmoms. I wrote an article on how stepmoms sabotage bio-moms, hoping to open a conversation between them. http://www.remarriedwithchildren.org/archive/2010
    We need to remember that it is in our children's best interest for the the homes to co-parent and co-exist respectfully and harmoniously.

  8. humility says:

    My daughter's step mother is extremely jelouse (I assume) as she refuses to let my daughter talk to me when she is at her dads house, refuses to let our daughter's father spend any time alone together, she badmouths me constantly to everyone and brags about how much better of a mother she is than me; bio dad loves this behavior and gives her kudos. I think she is like this because she has low self esteem, as far as I can tell he married his secretary because he wanted a trophy wife and someone he could continue to "boss" around to stay home and do the dirty work (clean house, make food, take care of his kids). Happy people don't behave like a-holes, I think she is probably pretty unhappy : (

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