• If you do love them, then that’s a wonderful thing. But if love doesn’t come naturally to you it does not make you a bad person. (iStockphoto/Getty)Source: iStockphoto/Getty
Comment: There’s insufficient support for women trying to manage grown-up stepchildren who should know better.
By
Nikki Kahani

2 Dec 2016 - 3:42 PM  UPDATED 3 Dec 2016 - 10:06 AM

The grown-up kids are moody and contemptuous, their dad is always on their side because he’s so guilty about the divorce and the stepmother just puts up with it and learns to tiptoe over the eggshells.

This is how some stepmothers live their lives. She has given as much as she can: she’s tried to love his adolescent or adult kids but all she gets in return is contempt, she’s tried to talk to her partner about how they dislike her but it always ends in a row, so in the interests of peace in her life she goes through the motions of acting nice on birthdays, Christmas’ and other family events, but never discusses her inner turmoil with her partner – or anyone, for fear that she is, or will be seen as, that dreaded person that everyone hates: the wicked step-mother.

Blended families, as they are politely called, bring with them blended emotions that can morph into hopeless confusion and endless unhappiness. And all those blended families who are trying to organise their Christmas get-together and think they can do it without upsetting anyone – good luck to you.

Blended families, as they are politely called, bring with them blended emotions that can morph into hopeless confusion and endless unhappiness.

A remarriage is a tricky journey to navigate. Outsiders see what they see through stereotypes, second-hand stories, fairy tales and myths. People understand how hard it is for the kids, they know how difficult it is for the divorced couple trying to re-build their lives. They appreciate the unique problems faced by dads and their connection to their kids. But stepmothers? Well, you chose to marry a man with kids, so live with your decision. You made your bed, you lie in it.

Kids, as we know can be very manipulative. But also, they don’t always think of the ramifications when they reject their stepmother – and that can take many forms. Into this equation comes the father whose loyalties are divided between his new partner and his kids. He’s consumed by guilt and how the divorce affected the kids and he doesn’t want them to suffer any more. He’s also afraid he’ll lose them forever if he doesn’t keep in touch. So, of course, he always takes their side. Now you have the perfect recipe for hell on earth.

Everyone’s experience is different and, undoubtedly, some stepmothers might not have encountered many problems at all. But for those who do there’s not a great deal of information out there that offers much help, , although Wednesday Martin in her book Stepmonster has some interesting insights on the “real reason why kids hate their stepmothers”.

I’m no expert and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But after more than 10 years of trying to deal with grown-up stepchildren, perhaps there are other women who might be interested in my top five tips for wicked stepmothers:

People understand how hard it is for the kids, they know how difficult it is for the divorced couple trying to re-build their lives... But stepmothers? Well, you chose to marry a man with kids, so live with your decision. You made your bed, you lie in it.

You don't have to love them

Sure, you have to care about them and support them whenever you can, but you don’t have to love them as if they were your own children. If you do love them, then that’s a wonderful thing. But if love doesn’t come naturally to you it does not make you a bad person.

You should aim to be their friend: be there if they need you, champion their case and be truthful with them. They will never love you like they love their mother, so don’t expect them to.

If they behave badly, you don't have to put up with it

You should expect respect and good manners from them. They do not have the right to treat you with contempt whether that’s questioning your authority, spreading malicious gossip about you, calling you names behind your back or giving you the silent treatment.

The last of these is the hardest to deal with, as you don’t have “evidence” of their bad behavior. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but if you feel they are treating you badly then you should first talk to your partner about it and enlist his help to talk to them – if that’s possible.

If your partner always sides with them, then tell him you intend to talk to the kids yourself. This will almost certainly make him feel uncomfortable – but then that’s his problem and he needs to deal with it.

Then, arrange a meeting with the kids, tells them, nicely, that you’ve had enough of their behavior and they have to stop it. If they don’t, and they might not, you’ll need to go through the whole process again. It might not work, but at least you have opened a channel of communication and that is a good thing.

Appeal to their humanity

Young people lack worldliness and they can be fickle. But, in my experience, they often have a fierce sense of social injustice. The world can be quite black and white for teenagers and those older. They know full well when their behavior is unfair, but it’s not until it’s pointed out to them that they can “own” it. Find a way to jog their sense of fairness.

Their emotions can swing between their mother and father, but if you think they’re being mean to their father, consider that they may be trying to punish him.

Be alert to signs that the kids might be trying to punish their father

Kids, no matter how old they are, don’t feel comfortable with their parents splitting up – it represents the loss of their idyllic idea of family and engenders feelings of abandonment. They might whole-heartedly accept a new stepmother, but they might also reject a stepmother because it represents a betrayal of their real mother and because shunning her thwarts her attempts to be a substitute. Their emotions can swing between their mother and father, but if you think they’re being mean to their father, consider that they may be trying to punish him. Do they hold him responsible for the break down of the family unit? Do they feel he’s been insufficiently involved in their lives since the divorce? Do they feel he spends more time and effort on his new partner rather than them?

You don't have to hate

It’s your partner who no longer wants to be with his ex-wife, not you. Whether you were present when their marriage broke up or came along afterwards, whether you are the younger woman or the woman who entered the remarriage with kids of her own, just remember, you haven’t done anything wrong – no matter which version of the wicked stepmother other people think you represent.

We place great expectations on mothers and stepmothers. We expect them to be constantly devoted, fair, even-tempered, forgiving, uncomplaining and unselfish. And we’re discomfited when they fail our expectations. But these are not the traits of a woman navigating her role as a mother or a stepmother. These are the traits of a fairy godmother. Who amongst us can claim to be such a paragon?

 

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