The Ambiguous Stepmom

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Someone once told me that being remarried means you have a new family that should be each spouse’s focus, not his or her “old family.”  Oh if it were only so easy. If only it were a clean and complete end of one life and a clear beginning of another. But I find it’s muddy. Blended family dynamics change with the addition of “ours kids”, when stepkids grow up or go off to college, and can be dependent on how much parental alienation is going on.  Sometimes stepkids live in our houses, part of the time they don’t. Sometimes they go through phases when they want to live with one parent not the other, then sometimes they change their mind and ask to move in to the other parent’s house.  (It’s not just as simple as following the parenting plan/court order because sometimes not all parties (adult or child) want to follow it and we in blended families know that sometimes it’s easier to choose your battles than give the lawyer another $10,000 for a trip to court).  At any rate, our “new families” aren’t so clear cut and they ebb and flow, dependent on many dynamics. 

A professor named Dr. Pauline Boss developed the theory of Ambiguous Loss. Her theory asserts that unclear (or ambiguous) loss is particularly challenging and burdening.  In fact, she says it’s the most stressful kind of loss. When there is no final clear marker, it’s hard to tell who is in a family or who is out. And with the lack of clarity it’s very difficult to cope. Consider the family member with Alzheimer’s disease who is physically present but psychologically absent. Or the prisoner of war who is physically absent but psychologically present to his or her loved ones. 

It’s not my intent to compare one person’s loss to another. However, it seems to me that in blended families we have a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity. No wonder it hard to cope. 

Stepfamilies can lack finality and clarity:

*if a husband isn’t married to his ex wife any longer, why might they still be so connected?

*one day your house might have lots of people in it, and the next day very few as the kids go back and forth. The membership keeps changing depending on the parenting plan and whose day it is. 

*holidays and vacations …it it hers, his, or ours? Where will the kids be? How will that affect our family and our celebration?

*are we real family? One day a step child can be warm, other days cold. On any given day a step parent might wonder “are we ok?”, “are we feeling like real family now or just polite strangers?”, “are we skating on thin ice today?”  

*In cases with severe parental alienation weeks, months, or years can go by without contact with the kids. Are we still family? Who’s in and who’s out?  When will we ever see each other again? And when we do, will the child(ren) still believe the lies perpetuated by the other parent? It’s very difficult to be family (or move on) with such uncertainty. 

*ex-wives can be physically absent but psychologically still present.

*stepchildren can be physically present when in your home but still psychologically absent (or at least distracted); and when they’re not in your house they are physically absent but can be very psychologically present for stepmom and bio dad. 

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you;  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Today I’m thankful for God’s peace and strength in earthly unclear circumstances. 

What are you thankful for?

For more on this topic: “Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief” by Pauline Boss (2000). 

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The Crazy Stepmom

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Stepmoms deal with a lot of stressful situations.  No one prepares us.  Maybe there should be marriage vows that account for this (“For better or worse, even if the ex-wife threatens to ruin your marriage, takes you to court umpteen times, makes up lies about you, and if you get blamed by the ex and stepkids for stuff you had absolutely nothing to do with…do you still take this man to be your husband?”).

Have you heard about High Conflict Divorce?  Parental Alienation?  High Conflict Ex-Wives?  Ever wonder if you’re dealing with some of that?  Here are some examples:

  • Your husband’s ex-wife has a melt down because one of your real-life friends won’t accept her friend request on fake-life social media. (Reality check:  sometimes people take sides in divorce, and sometimes there’s good reason.  Forgiveness is still possible, but we might not all be BFFs).
  • The ex-wife “forbids” her children from being social media friends with their dad or you.  This might sound silly, but it’s a way of cutting off contact between a parent and child – and that’s not a small thing.  (By the way, I thought only royalty had the power to “forbid”?)
  • The ex-wife does a little investigation, finds out what you are buying your stepson for his birthday…then buys the same exact thing and scoops you by giving it to him the day before you do.  (One more ruined holiday, thanks.)
  • The ex-wife keeps the kids up late and takes them to so many fun events on her days, that after the exchange they are too tired to do anything of quality in your house other than nap and do homework (which never seems to get done at her house).
  • The ex-wife has threatened your husband (e.g. “if you don’t abide by my rules, I will make sure that no woman ever stays with  you”…and what’s funnier is that she left him years ago, so why does she care about any woman in his life?).
  • She has confronted you or your husband in public and caused a scene (your front yard, a place of business, in front of the kids’ school, etc).
  • She goes ballistic when not invited to your husband’s extended family events. (Maybe she forgot that she is no longer in his family and is no longer the wife?).
  • She conveniently forgets to tell you about school events, recitals, sports events all together or until last minute…and you miss out on important things. (And then your husband’s kids think “dad doesn’t care about us, he never shows up”.)
  • The ex-wife subtly but consistently convinces the kids to dislike/hate you and their dad.  Instead she tells them she is all they need, she is the only real parent, and the only one who really cares about them (oh, nevermind how well you care for them, provide for them, or how kind you and dad are…she twists the truth).
  • When you’re on a date with your husband, ex-wife texts 10+ times (and he finally has to shut his phone off).

This is some stressful stuff that can be crazy-making for any stepmom and her husband.  Stepmom, don’t let the cray-cray stuff drive you crazy.  Set some boundaries.  Boundaries can be a great thing.  Talk with your husband and set the boundaries that are healthy for your family.

Remember you are strong and can get through this.  And maybe someday you can be a support to others because you got through tough times. God has good plans for you.

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV) says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Today I’m thankful for the strength that comes from above.

What are you thankful for?