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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
- 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.
- 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.
- You deny your child permission to be himself. You rob your kid of free will, which can make him feel unimportant and depressed.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- This negative attention often comes with punishment, which will additionally leave your child frustrated and isolated.
- 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.
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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