It’s easy to resent the ex-wife

This mug was given to Chris by my stepsons for his birthday this year. His ex-wife purchased it along with something else; this is the second time they have gifted him this mug. I spend time in the run up to Christmas, Chris’ birthday and Father’s day engaging the children in gift selection and we generally figure out a gift he really likes. Despite this, Chris’ ex still insists on sending some thoughtless gift. Besides the incorrect grammar, the continuing to imbed herself as part of any celebration is hard for me to take. However, there is not much I can do but accept this. I don’t control her. I can neither control her dynamic with her sons nor how she relates to my partner (her ex).

She may be an Ex but she’s still MOM

Ex suggests someone who is gone and no longer around (it Latin ex means ‘out of’) but that’s likely not the case if your partner had kids with his ex. I know there are many ways a step-family unit might be constructed and a mother may be absent but in my case she’s still very much in the picture. She’s there because she has joint custody of the children and they live with her Monday – Friday. She’s also my stepsons’ mother and they love her.

It doesn’t matter what I think of her, how she’s treated me or if I disagree with her parenting decisions. The fact is she is their mother; I have to get used to her being on the edges of our marriage and all the time we spend with the boys. This is not an easy realisation: I’m starting year three of being a stepmom and I still have to regularly remind myself of this.

Recently, I’ve tried to calmly articulate to Chris how her presence, even on the periphery, makes me feel. I was surprised to find him empathetic to my plight. He listened to me and agreed that it ‘must feel terrible.’ This was a shift for both of us and I think it had to do with my approach. Previously, I’ve let my resentment at the situation build and lead to an angry explosion. This has put Chris on the defensive and led to arguments that left both of us feeling hurt, not heard and guilty.

You will feel resentment but you need to let it go

How can you not feel resentment? Your partner has to interact regularly with the person whose role you now fill. Except, you don’t fill that role. You’ve taken on the role of wife but you’re not wife and mom so the dynamics of your role will be different. It may also be different because during the process of separation and divorce your partner may have changed; he may be approaching this new marriage differently.

At times, I have let my resentment just bowl me over.

It’s left my anxious, angry and incredibly frustrated. It’s hard for me to reconcile that Chris spent over 20 years in marriage to someone else. It’s hard for me understand that he was married to someone that by his accounts didn’t treat him well and from my observations still doesn’t.

To deal with this, I have to first acknowledge that it is understandable and OK for me to have these sorts of feelings. Then, I have to analyse the benefit of holding on to them. Do they help me be a better partner and co-parent? Do they help me love my stepchildren any more than I do now? Emotions like this are not often productive for me. They cause my anxieties to mount and end up in me being irritable with my stepsons and sometimes exploding in anger at Chris.

I have to do sometimes do a reality check to let go of these feelings. What’s the reality of the situation? This helps me to move beyond my anxieties. I often write in my journal what is the reality, as opposed to the catastrophe in my head. Here are some examples:

  • Chris’ first marriage and the birth of his children happened before I knew any of them
  • Due to the age difference between Chris and I, it would have been impossible for me to be his first wife and the mother of his his current children
  • My stepsons are a product of their mother and regardless of that it doesn’t change the love I feel for them
  • The divorce and the parameters of it were established before Chris and I started dating
  • I fell in love with a divorced dad
  • I fell in love with the Chris I met when I met him; not some past version of him

This technique helps me to let my resentment go because I can see it’s illogical to resent a past that I was not part of and the feeling does not help the present in any positive way.

 

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Isolation of stepmomming

I find the experience of being a stepmom at times incredibly isolating. It also can prompt me to harbor quite negative emotions of anger, jealousy and frustration which may be natural but don’t help to develop the step-family unit. It’s important to try to focus on the positive elements of being a stepparent. I am hoping this strategy may help to diminish my feeling of isolation.

Reminders that my stepsons (who I love and care for deeply) have a mother are everywhere. I know logically they have a mom, whom they love. However, I find myself feeling hurt and cut out of the conversation when she is brought up. I find this especially hard when we are in the middle of doing something fun with my stepsons like playing a game. She gets mentioned and I start worrying they’re comparing me to her or I wonder why she has to be brought up then when we’re having a nice moment of feeling like a family. This is my anxiety and has little basis in reality. Children talk about their parents and others close to them and my stepsons are no exception. In all honesty, it’s nice they have positive experiences with their mom that they want to share. I would not want them to have a terrible time with her because that would make them unhappy.

The reminiscing the boys do with Chris is especially hard. They want to discuss nice memories of family holidays before the divorce happened and before I knew them. This feels isolating because it reminds me how much of a life they’ve lived before me. I wish I could have seen them as babies: I wish I could have seen first steps and heard first words. But I cannot change the past so I try to focus on the present and the memories we are all making together. They do also talk about the trips we’ve been on together, the outings to vegetable farms, and the games we play. I hope I’m adding to their store of positive experiences and memories of childhood. It’s also nice they have positive memories of the pre-divorce. A lot of children from divorces could have quite negative memories of fighting and chaos between their biological parents.

School events like plays and concerts are incredibly isolating mainly because Chris’ ex-wife does not want me there and ensures the kids know this is her wish, ultimately their loyalty is to her. I’ve missed birthday parties, lower school graduations and drum recitals. I get angry but what can I say when one of my stepsons says “I just want mommy and daddy there.” To try and deal with this, I continue to express an interest to the children in what they are doing in school and recently the older one has been ok with me attending his plays which feels great. I am trying to be patient with myself if I get frustrated, to be patient with Chris because I know he’d like me there and patient with the children because they don’t need to be caught in the middle between their mom and stepmom.

Other school events such as parent conferences, I just need to come to terms with the fact that it’s impractical for me to attend just as it is with doctors’ appointments. Some things step parents just don’t fit into and forcing the issue would make it about me and not the kids. Chris always tells me detailed accounts of what is said about the children in such meetings and I feel pride when I know I helped them to do well in a specific exam. Chris and I also try to come up with plans when changes and improvements need to be made. We don’t always agree on the need for such plans but when we can it again makes me feel much more included.

Stepmomming can trigger lots of emotions and that’s ok. It’s important to acknowledge them and determine the triggers. Once the triggers are found, it’s possible to adjust your perspective or speak to your partner about how you can feel more included. This is a journey for me but I am making some progress!

Building Stepfamilies, like any family, is a process that involves missteps and joy and patience is key, especially patience with myself.

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Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

Mother’s Day in the UK always falls during Lent, which is several months before the Mother’s day I grew up with in the US. Mother’s day is also known as Mothering Sunday and was historically about returning to an individual’s mother church/home community for a Sunday. It now has evolved into a day to celebrate moms (or mums) with gifts and cards. I find that Mother’s Day can feel very emotionally charged for me, leaving me feeling left out because I am a stepmom.

Tips for more easily handling Mother’s Day as a stepmom:

  1. Remind yourself how you do care for your stepchildren even if you are not their biological mother (write a list if it helps!)
  2. Tell your partner, as calmly as possible, if the day is upsetting to you. Discuss with him/her if there is a way to somehow make you feel more included in the day. For example: Could your stepchildren write or make you a card for being a stepmom? It’s easier to do this in advance so your partner doesn’t feel put on the spot on the day.
  3. If the day does upset you, acknowledge it and don’t blame yourself. Think of what might make you feel better. Consider doing something for yourself like going for a run or getting your nails done.
  4. Can you think of something fun to do with your stepchildren on the day that makes you feel more a part of the family? A game, a movie? It doesn’t have to be complicated the goal would be to allow you to connect with your stepchildren.
  5. Be empathetic to how your stepkids or partner might be feeling about the day. They might not like the day anymore than you do.

I don’t think Chris relishes any day that involves arranging gifts for his ex-wife. Regardless of how this activity makes him feel, it’s still important for the children to remember to celebrate their mom and her contribution to their lives on days like today. When they were younger, Chris did all the arranging of such gifts but now that the boys are older he has them participate. He or I suggest a few weeks in advance that they think about a gift to buy and they get involved in the selection/buying process either online or in the store.

This is my third Mother’s Day in the UK since becoming a stepmom. The run up to it with the advertisements and displays of cards feels like I am encountering blinking neon signs  everywhere reminding me ‘YOU ARE NOT AN ACTUAL MOTHER.’ On days when I am feeling more anxious or emotional, I tend to interpret things this way. On other days, I am able to remind myself that even if I am not their biological mother I do play the role of a ‘mother-like’ figure.  My stepsons live with us almost every Friday evening to Monday morning. During this time, I prepare meals, pop popcorn for movies, and play games with them. This weekend: I cooked dinner, played Trivial Pursuit, listened to music and read with my elder stepson and helped him plan a strategy to improve his Spanish grades.

On Saturday (yesterday), I was writing a post about how to foster a calm perspective of the stepmom role on a day like Mother’s Day. The post wasn’t going very well. Even when I remind myself of how much I love, support and care for my stepsons; I sometimes feel weighed down with the knowledge that no matter how much I do I will never be their mom. This is something that I work continually to come to terms with; It is not easy but I think of it as a process and on the whole I see my progress. As I was struggling to write, the door burst open and my younger stepson carried in flowers singing me ‘Happy Birthday.’ (He thought it was a good joke, since he knows my birthday isn’t for several months.) Chris explained that when they were picking a gift for their mom they had a conversation about people who cared for them in their life and they talked about me. As a result, the younger one decided he wanted to get me some flowers to ‘thank me for caring for them.’ I understand my elder stepson was fairly silent during this process but ensured the flowers did arrive with some of the water left in the vase. This moment was so incredibly touching to me. (The picture of the flowers are at the top of this post.)

In the past, Chris and I have discussed having the boys get me something on Mother’s Day to acknowledge my role. He knows that the day can be emotional for me. Do cards for stepmoms on Mother’s Day exist? I’ve never bothered to look so I don’t really know. He even thought he might have them do something for me on U.S. Mother’s day. Previously, these ideas seemed impossible to enact because of concern for how it would make the boys feel. Until recently, even my use of the title ‘stepmom’ caused angst for my elder stepson. Both of my stepsons are incredibly loyal to their mom: they are wary of her being disparaged and they certainly don’t want her to be replaced. (I try very hard to not be negative about her in front of them, as does Chris, and I try to make it clear I am not trying to replace her but that I do care for them). My appearance in their lives solidified, especially for the elder one, that their parents were not getting back together. I think this was a devastating revelation for them and as such it has take time for them to be comfortable with me having a role in their lives.

Getting flowers this weekend shows that we are continuing to evolve as a stepfamily ‘unit’ and that I am important to both Chris and the boys. This makes me feel incredibly happy.

Now, I have to go quiz some Spanish vocab.

 

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