Joining a family is a tricky thing. You worry that you’ll be forever stuck on the outside, looking in. So, you want to please your husband and his children as best possible, solidify your role in the family, and bring stability into your life. If you’re particularly ambitious, you may even be out to heal your new family’s past wounds inflicted by the divorce or ex-wife.
You’re compelled to win everyone over. You won’t settle for “Step-Mom.” “No, call me ‘Super-Mom!’”
There are just a few teensy things in the way.
You’re uncomfortable knowing your husband loved and had a life with another woman, and fear his emotional divorce with his ex-wife is incomplete. After all, if it is, she has power over him. Even worse, she has power over you. Your privacy feels compromised because of the possibility that Big Mother Is Watching You through her junior spies.
It’s all very disconcerting. So disconcerting, in fact, that you may imperil your marriage by making these dire mistakes.
Micromanaging your husband’s communication with his ex.
You take control, to be sure your husband’s ex doesn’t manipulate him into doing things that make life easier for her at the expense of your marriage and well-being.
Micromanaging his communication with her damages your marriage. He’ll be angry and resent your lack of faith and feel suffocated by your insecurities. He’ll also feel you’re questioning his competence and adequacy at co-parenting. His resultant frustration with you also sends a negative message to children in your family: they see a troubled couple instead of a unified team.
Trust him and communicate early, transparently, and empathetically. Iron out issues that are important to you with your husband early on, so that he’ll know where you stand on parenting decisions before they come up with his ex. If he’s uncertain about arrangements and time allows, ask him to run it by you before finalizing a decision with his ex wife. Mutual decision may feel a little cumbersome at times, but it’s essential for meaningful, happy relationships.
Forcing the children to follow your rules and dismiss their mother’s.
You issue these orders, because you know what’s best for the kids better than their mother.
You often get the opposite of what you asked for.
Additionally, your step-children become miserable and impact your marriage. Out of the blue, some woman their dad fancies shows up and condescendingly says she knows better than the mother that’s been working out just fine for them thus far. Having followed their biological mother’s rules, they feel attacked too, and grow distant and upset. As they lash out and resist visitation, your husband will be irritated at you for having provoked them, and may withdraw physically and emotionally.
Don’t share your frustrations over the biological mother with her or the kids. Work things out amongst the adults. Let your husband bear news of issues or changes that need to be made, especially during the first years of the marriage, before bonds of trust are established between you and your step-children.
Downplaying the significance of the biological mother.
You refer to your home the “real home,” because you and your husband are “better” parents.
You put yourself in direct competition with the BM by saying that their bio mom doesn’t spend enough time with them, is unstable, or doesn’t perform motherly activities. Expecting your step-children to equate your role with hers puts you in a frustrating, no-win situation. Your step-children will be angry and they’ll resent you and possibly your husband for introducing you into their lives.
Apologize, stop putting the bio mom down, and accept that both homes are important to the children.
Embrace the differences between you and your step-children’s biological mother. They have a bond and a history that you will never share. It’s up to you to create your own with your step-children that will be different from what they share with their mother, not better or worse.
Openly disapproving of the biological mother’s parenting.
You call your step-kids’ biological mom out directly or complain about her parenting decisions in front of your step-kids.
Your step-children’s cooperation, their bond with you, and their well-being are put at stake when you do this. Life will be difficult. Why?
Your step-kids’ BM will be pissed. She’ll tell them to stop accepting your authority. She may try to alienate you from her kids. It might work.
The children are very protective of their mother and feel it’s their duty to defend her. They’ll be rude and uncooperative because you hurt their bio mom. They’ll also be withdrawn, shying away from family activities, possibly staying in their rooms. Their loyalty to her will also tug opposite their loyalty to you, making it take longer to bond.
Disengage. Let your husband co-parent with his ex. Apologize to the bio-mom for overstepping your boundaries and giving unsolicited feedback. In a perfect world, you have a good relationship with her, but it can be hard. Try, if you can, to at least be on neutral, cordial terms. Even that much is a big benefit to you and your step-kids.
Making the biological mother a household taboo.
You forbid your kids from ever talking about their biological mother or keeping a picture of her on display.
Your step-children and their bond with you are under fire again. Children, especially before they’re in their teens, see themselves as extensions of their parents. Your rejection of their mother will be seen as a rejection of themselves, leaving them upset, guarded, and withdrawn.
Forbidding your step-children from talking about their biological mother also endangers them. If they have problems they need help with, they’ll be reluctant to approach you or their father, because it’ll validate your position that their bio mom is a bad, incompetent mother.
It also makes it harder for them to transition between households. Kids like sharing what goes on in their lives with their parents. Having to stifle themselves and hide a significant part of their lives burdens them with anxiety. Feeling that something is wrong with their lives and selves also creates a sense of shame, which damages their self-confidence and stunts their emotional development.
Let your husband set the boundaries for what’s allowed in the home. Allowing the children some transitional items provides them with continuity that makes it easier to move between homes. Something like a picture in their bedroom or an old article of their mother’s clothing can function like a security blanket.
Your main motivation for undermining your step-children’s biological mother stems from insecurity about the relationship he had with her. Focusing on your marriage with sensitivity and kindness will help dispel that insecurity, whereas focusing on his ex-wife just sidetracks you and introduces new problems.
You bond with your step-children much faster by not getting between them and their mother. You’ll also be saving them, your husband, and yourself a lot of pain and frustration. Collaborating with your husband and letting him mediate, helps the whole family live happier lives.
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