How Sabotaging Stepmoms Hurts Your Children

How Sabotaging Stepmoms Hurts Your 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

Frustration & insecurity provide motivation for sabotaging stepmoms.

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 judgment 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

Woman Manipulating Her 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.

Woman Forbidding Her Child from Growing Close to His / Her 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 judgment and decision to like his stepmom.

*This assumes absence of any major indicators of abuse.

How You Can Fix Things

Woman Being Positive and Optimistic

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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20 Responses to “How Sabotaging Stepmoms Hurts Your Children”

  1. Anonymous

    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?

    • 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

    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?

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

  4. 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

    • Re: Bio-Mom, I hope that you get this ANN, as an encouragement. I was the bio-Mom, and yes it was rough but I also worked at a counseling Agency for about 13 years, & I grew up in a pretty horrible situation with divided parents so this is from experience on several levels.
      Your kid, whether you’re the mom or the step parent, when they’re little, they’re easy to manipulate – it’s a fact, & the best thing you can do is love that child, set healthy boundaries & good examples for that child because even if that step parent spends a lot of money on them & takes them to places you could never afford, Disney World whatever, that kid may love that step parent or parents, whatever the case may be but if those people talk bad about the mom or the dad whichever the case may be, that kid at a certain young age can be manipulated without a doubt but as they get older, they become more mature in their thinking & they realize who the ‘good parent, or BETTER parent really is & they will love that parent till their dying day for NOT being like that step parent or WHOEVER happens to be the OFFENDER, & I’ve seen that for 60 years of my life because the ones that really hurt the kids – wind up hurting themselves.. those kids, as they mature will NATURALLY gravitate in their hearts/souls, & mentally will become more & more AWARE of the imbalances, & will always love the parent who does NOT DO the OFFENDING wrongs that parents shouldn’t do at any level. Yes, I know it’s hard not to & there was once when my daughter was about 12, I can laugh now! LOL!
      But I got upset about something sitting at a Sonic Drive-In one day & I made one statement, it was very small & then I turned around self-righteoulsy, & said “well you know I really try not to EVER TALK about SO an SO, but sometimes I really do get tired of hearing how wonderful it is when they take you to all these wonderful places, & it kind of hurts my feelings. ..blah, blah..” Then my daughter looks back at me & she said “you’ve said stuff before Mom, about how her & Dad & her did this one & something else once..” wow..I was amazed! I truly did NOT even know that I’d made these little remarks before. But i set there for a few minutes in that drive in & apologized to her & talked for about 5 minutes AND prayed that God would help me to never do that again. And it had been my goal from the beginning not to but what I didn’t realize is that I had just let something slip a couple of times & because it wasn’t anything super ugly it didn’t stick in my mind that I had ever said anything negative about the step parent. It’s easy to do an no one’s perfect but as several people have said just do your best and leave the rest beside the road or in God’s hands, whatever, where you leave it! BUT Down the road one day, you will be blessed in the end for being the better person about your kids.

  5. 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?

    • Cynthia Freeman

      Not all moms are sabotaging the stepmother. Some stepmothers do it by themselves. Many give lip service to wanting to get along with mom only to show differently with her actions. When things are said to the kids like “my house, my rules” it can be undermining the other parent if what they say isn’t affecting the house, just the kid. Or expecting mom to communicate with the stepmom when the mom would rather work with the other parent can cause issues as well. Sometimes SMs have good intentions, but they let those cloud their judgement. Sometimes the kid simply don’t like sm, also. That is rarely taken into account on these types of articles, mostly because it is just easier to blame mom when her children want nothing to do with stepmom. Personalities clash even with kids at times. Coparenting that happens between the mom and dad is what should be happening. Supporting the parents in their goals and how they raise their kids is going to bode better for the sm/mom relationship that so many say they want. Forcing yourself into the parenting scene isn’t going to help.

  6. yaffabalsam

    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. 5 Ways Undermining Bio Moms Haunts Stepmoms
    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.

  7. humility

    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 : (

  8. Killer Bee

    My stepkids mother does everything she can to hurt her children, including many of the things in this article. She claims her daughter has just been diagnosed with moderate autism, but I am a mental health specialist AND i have just gone through ASD assessment with my son so it is blatantly obvious the girl has ZERO signs of autism. This woman is sooo dangerous, I believe she has factitious illness disorder and histrionic personality disorder….but try getting the kids to a safe place when the MOTHER has all the rights. This particular woman abandoned her kids for 18 months then stole them off he father alleging he sexually abused the kids. Sometimes the mother is NOT the best person for a child or children to live with.

  9. frustrated and lost

    This hit close to home. My husband and I have not heard from his son in over two months now. He was pretty close in our lives at one point and I had a good relationship with him. His mother has some personal issues and every time things would go good for our side she would get all defensive, threatening, and using him as a middle person at times. Then he had a breakdown (still not sure why cause he would never tell us) and she has slandered our name ever since. She has been emotionally abusive to my husband numerous times to the point he won’t talk to her. I at times could communicate with her but then she trashed me an then be nice and then trash again saying I was trying to control things. At this time step son is 15 and she has primary custody and it is pointless to fight anything. Do feel the courts were right by awarding her primary custody hen she is single and we were married? (especially considering she had no job on disability at time). No but she already had made her mind into his and he chose her but as said up above can’t say anything about her cause then they get defensive.

    • Yaffa Balsam


      I am so sorry that you are experiencing so many challenges with your husband’s ex and your stepson.

      It sounds to me that she is demanding his loyalty, and whenever he seemed happy at your household she felt threatened. Unfortunately she did not choose to process and heal in therapy. Instead she pressured her son to disconnect from his dad and you. It is ‘Divided Loyalties’.

      Your situation is considered high conflict. Your husband needs to consult with a local attorney to find out what can he do to help his son, and to have regular custody time.

      It sounds like your stepson felt compelled to take his mother’s side, but clearly he is not happy about it because he had a breakdown.

      You may want to read on parental alienation and see if it fits your situation.

      Also, check the Bill Eddy’s website, He wrote some books and a lot of articles, which I think you’ll find helpful.

      Hope this helps.

  10. Can I suggest something? This article has a pretty bad tone. All the suggestions for why the marriage split up…why does the first thing have to be that the stepmom caused it? A lot of the time it’s the biomom that ends things and then can’t live with the aftermath of someone stepping up to do her job because she refuses.

  11. Love the article – wish it had been written many years ago as I would have made sure my Stepsons Mom got it. I am both a Bio and a Step Mom so had to deal on both sides. By being a Step Mom, I learned what not to do as a Bio Mom with my child and ex and his remarriage etc. Unfortunately it didn’t really state with how to deal with a person intent on parental alienation. My step son refused to have anything to do with his father (as a teen) due to his Mothers problems with the divorce and was alienated from our family for years, has since come back into our lives. We now need an article or professional to help on how to deal with this as it is almost as difficult. The family was never truly blended or given the chance for it and the child who is now an adult is still angry and hurt inside over the divorce. And even worse still does not truly accept the other members of this extended family – so much so that now some of them do not see him as a real family member. He was undergoing counseling but seems so angry with us while still seeing his Mom as a victim. Worse yet, as an adult he is trying to undermine our household by using guilt and manipulation tactics he learned from Mom. I only hope that someday the court system will put parents going through a divorce into mandatory counseling and watch what the parents really do to their children.

  12. Kristina

    I have been struggling with this. I’ve tried talking to my daughter’s father about how our daughter comes home in tears sometimes. Him & i can talk without fighting, but usually says none of it is trye. I try to teach my daughter to treat others with kindness cause that’s how we want to be treated. She comes home saying she gets treated worse than her SM’S children & doesn’t like being around her.

    My other issue about her SM that I have is, she’s has had her children taken away twice for drugs (before she met my ex). She constantly drinks now that she doesn’t do drugs anymore. My daughter is not comfortable with it, cause her dad & i never drank except when we had a sitter & went out for a dinner. I’m not sure what to do. I’ve tried talking with SM, but she lashes out. I want my daughter to have a relationship with her father, but I’m afraid for her well being. It breaks my heart to hear my daughter come home & tell me things. She’s very honest cause we’ve raised her to be that way. Yes, kids tell stories here & there. We are stuck in a rut. What can we do??

  13. My husband and i lost contact with his daughter about 3 yrs ago…my kids asked if they could invite his daughter to the mall so they could have some fun browsing and do lunch…his daughter was about 15 and mine were a few yrs older…when we asked his daughter if she would like to join them she dropped her head down and said she couldnt, so we asked her why not, she told us her mom said we are not her family…so instead of pushing further with the daughter we questioned his ex..she told us we are not her family because a piece of paper doesnt make you related only blood this woman is no stranger as to how blended families work since my husband was her second husband..she had 2 much older daughters from a previous marriage…her older daughters were already in their early 30s when my husbands daughter was 15…when we told his ex we are her family too a huge fight broke out and havent spoke to or seen our daughter for almost 3 yrs..we called the courts and they told us since shes now over 18 theres nothing that can be done she can make her own choices…which sadly are mommys choices…so we hope and pray one day our daughter will realize we are her family too and want to see us.

  14. Thanks for the article. I’m a mom and recovering SM (now divorced). I did not find it hard to share my son with another woman. I didn’t agree with a lot of their choices around food, entertainment, etc., but we got along fine and worked well together around things like schedules, holidays, etc. We typically greet each other with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

    I own experience as a stepmom was very different. My husband and his former wife fought bitterly and continuously for the 12 years we were together. They called each other names and badmouthwd each other to their child. Holidays were a disaster because they wouldn’t preplanned, and then the morning of, they’d be on the phone yelling and arguing and hanging up on each other and then calling back. It was exhausting and toxic. In the beginning, when I was in love, I believed my husbands negative stories about her, but a couple years and, I realized that she was a decent person, perfect, but a loving mom doing the best she could under the circumstances, and I came to realize that he was more of the problem than she was, which was awkward, to say the least. He was also very rough on his son, verbally abusive at times, in my opinion. The last half of my marriage The mom and I were on friendly terms, occasionally collaborating on Chtisrmas gifts for my stepson or meeting for happy hour. Once, we met for happy hour and another patron was so impressed to see a mom and stepmom being friendly that he bought our drinks. I am no longer married t I am no longer married but we still get together a couple times a year.

    Sometimes dad is the problem more so than the mom or the stepmom ….


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