"You knew it was a package deal."
If every stepmother got five bucks for every time she heard this, she could easily afford a vacation to a fabulous spa for a much needed and well-deserved rest.
Most anyone who has had the courage, love and determination to partner with someone who has children, whether they have children themselves or not, intended to be a loving influence, ally and perhaps even a parental figure to their stepchildren. In over ten years of working with stepmothers, I've rarely met one who would fall under the definition of an "evil stepmother".
One of the most common laments I hear from the stepmothers I work with is, "I had no idea it would be this hard." Many of them had excellent relationships with the children of their partners before marriage or living together. These children were respectful, kind and expressed love and affection for them.
But for many stepmothers, whether it happened right after they said, "I do" or when their darling stepchild turned into a resentful teenager, something shifted and they found that they were the object of blame, hostility and rude behavior.
When these stepmothers began to express how painful this was to their partners and/or friends, they were often told, "You knew it was a package deal" or "You chose someone who had children. You knew what you were getting yourself into."
But did they? Are there really thousands of women who blindly went into a marriage with a man who had children, not really accepting that he had children? Of course not. Yet the culture seems to want to blame stepmothers for struggling when they find they are living in a home where they are suddenly and inexplicably disliked.
Many adult stepkids have confessed to me that while they liked their father's girlfriend before they got married, the day they became husband and wife, these new stepchildren were surprised to find that they had sudden and strong feelings of dislike for their new stepparent. The remarriage was a symbol of the permanency that their parents would never be reunited. The loss of their family may not have been fully grieved until the remarriage smacked them in the face and reminded them that the family they once knew and loved was now gone forever.
For many stepmothers who marry men with young children, they enjoyed years of peaceful and loving relationships with their stepchildren. They prided themselves on the fact that they had a truly "blended" family and had genuine feelings of care and love for their stepchildren. But wait. The stepchild became a teenager and the stepmother found that she was the first dog that got kicked.
These women were stunned and rightfully hurt. What had they done? Why had this happened? And, should they dare to complain to someone who didn't understand the ever-changing nature of stepfamily dynamics, they were often shamed and talked down to with clichés such as the title of this article.
Not helpful. Do people really believe these women's IQ's suddenly dropped into the double digits and that the thought never occurred to them that they were marrying someone who had children?
Stepmoms don't need platitudes, they need validation, compassion and understanding. They need to be reminded that it isn't personal, that most children, no matter their age, are always going to have natural loyalty binds towards their biological parents, even if that parent is deceased or has abandoned them. That like any family, there are bound to be increased times of stress, strain and tension and that they are not responsible for not having foreseen or anticipated this.
Stepmoms need their partners to cover their backs when their stepchildren treat them with disrespect, blame and disdain. People might be surprised to know how many fathers don't do this because they feel torn between their children and their new spouse. The stepmom is left hung to dry and wondering how to live in a home that no longer feels safe. Telling her, "You chose this!" often provokes unearned guilt and self-doubt.
The older I get, the more the wise adages passed on to me by my Mother ring true. "Don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes."
That's not a platitude, it's just plain common sense.