Friday, April 11, 2008

"Wicked" Stepmothers

There has long been a stereotype of stepmothers as wicked. Women who are in that role often begin their new relationships feeling as if they are facing an uphill battle. Stepmoms often start out the process with strikes already against them and it can be hard just to get to neutral. What is that all about?

Some of it comes from fairytales like Cinderella. Children grow up connecting stepmothers and “wicked” together in the same sentence and it is hard to change that thought pattern.

At times, just her presence reminds others that the parents are no longer together and this can be very discomforting for the children and the others involved with this family such as the grandmothers who may have mixed feelings in seeing their own daughter “replaced”.

Women are also often seen as the primary caregivers and so are expected to be in charge of many life events related to the children and the operating of the household. Not all decisions or behaviors are welcomed and the stepmother may get the blame for anything that goes wrong or is unpopular … even if she has absolutely nothing to say about it.

Stepmothers make mistakes as well. They may try to hard to create a loving family, well before the children are ready. They may enter into issues of discipline too quickly, maybe out of necessity because there are times when she has primary care of the children. They may also feel resentful because the children do not seem to appreciate their hard efforts … and that resentment shows.

Dads sometimes contribute to the difficulties that stepmothers experience by listening too long to their children’s complaints about her or by not requiring respect for her.

We are going to share with you a few tips about how to handle being a stepmother, knowing full well that each family is different and there are also differences depending on the age of the children. We would be interested in some of your comments about stepmothers and how to break away from that negative idea of “wickedness”.

Expect to go slowly and measure progress in very small steps
. Celebrate those steps. Acknowledge them and let others in the family know that you appreciate them.

Find time alone with each stepchild, even if only a few minutes a day, just to ask them about what is going on in their lives
. Expect slow progress; however, as the adult, it is important to take the initiative and continue to try to develop a positive relationship.

Stay out of any discipline, if at all possible, for the first yea
r. Just use that as a time to build a relationship with the children. Share your concerns with the children’s dad, but let him be the “mouthpiece” for any decisions and changes that are made.

Never say anything even remotely negative about the mother of the children
. You can complain to your husband, just make sure that the children never hear it.

Do not expect appreciation
. Remember that the children have divided loyalties and appreciating you may feel disloyal to their mother. Keep doing things for them, however, your efforts and friendship will eventually reap its rewards.

Go to bat for them when you can. Be their advocate with their dad when it is appropriate.

Make sure that the children have some “alone” time with their dad, time that does not include you. This may seem like something that will not build the “family”; however, it actually allows the children to feel better about their stepmother when they do not feel that she is always in the middle of their relationship with their dad.

Stay positive with your husban
d. Listen and strategize with him about how to handle issues with the children and respect the fact that this is hard on him as well. They are his children and he loves them.

Accept the fact that you may not really like your stepchildren, especially if they might be teenagers
. That can be very normal. Just look for a place to build respect and find aspects of their personality or behavior that you do like.

Be kind to yourself
. Take time to be alone, visit with friends, talk with other women in the same situation. Expect this to go slowly. There are no easy “fixes” for this situation and the mere fact that it is difficult is not just about your efforts, in fact, most of it probably has nothing to do with you at all.

Please share your ideas here. What thoughts do you have? What stresses and successes have you experienced.

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