Almost a 10 year veteran Stepmom now. In a family that runs smoothly and kids that are happy and well blended. The relationship with BM went from volatile (screaming profanities at me in front of the children, huge court battle, general insane behavior) to cordial. Parenting went from in your face hostile as we all tried to enforce co-parenting to peaceful co-existence by parallel parenting. My pieces of advice may not be for all, but they’ve made a world of difference to this family. And I’m going to be bad and give 5 lessons…sorry I really tried to keep it to 3!
1. Sometimes a bully is just a bully and you have to stand your ground. Trying to keep BM happy, and not step on toes in some cases just feeds the monster and you have to work harder to keep her happier and back off further to avoid her toes. At some point you have to stop letting someone else’s reactions dictate your actions. Be as involved in your SKs lives as you are comfortable, love them, support their activities, and (especially for young SKs) don’t let the fear of BMs reactions make you less involved than your heart longs to be. This course of action can stir the pot in the short run, but for me, in the long run, it allowed me to attend their events, love them dearly, and create a family unit that allows the kids to have “two moms”. They have thrived, and over time, the bully backed down. (Possibly because the kids were soon going to be able to see the behavior for what it was!)
2. Don’t try to change what you can’t. If BMs rules don’t match your rules, or if her ideals don’t match your family ideals…kids are resilient. They quickly understand “two homes, two rules”. They know they can’t scream inside, but outside is fine. They know they can eat candy for breakfast there, but here it’s cereal. And they know WHY. You can’t make BM behave the way you want her to…so stop beating your head on that wall. Explain why you have a rule (like nutrition at meals), expose them to your opinions, and as they grow they will take parts of both worlds and make it their own. Do the best where you can, and don’t fuss over what you can’t change.
3. Get a court order. The best of relationships break down over time. Some break immediately. And not having a court order allows the kids to be used a pawns and hostages.
4. Dads are just as important to kids as Moms. Believe it! We have 50/50 because we fought from the beginning that kids need their Dads just as much as they need their moms. Don’t fall for the age old wisdom that Mom is better when kids are sick, or Mom is what’s needed when kids are sad. An involved dad is a dad who is with his kids in good times and bad. And the child learns to lean on both parents. So get a court order, and stick to it. This gives stability to both the parents (no hostage threats!) and the children (who learn that life happens under the care of both parents, and Moms and Dads are equally good at taking care of kids).
5. And most important to me…Have each other’s backs. Always. I have my DH’s back and he always has mine. I don’t go around him to try to get something, and he always always always puts our family first. DH backs me with the kids, backs me against BM, backs me against his family if need be. I have his back too. If the two captains of this ship aren’t secure, the ship is in trouble. Set limits, live by them, and take really good care of each other. Remember this is all about love, not war!
My two cents…