I’m not expecting a nomination for step-mother of the year…but I think I am at least worthy of an honourable mention.
Despite knowing any kind gestures I make to my step-children infuriates my husband’s ex-wife [for no other reason than they like me for it…albeit momentarily] and despite the fact that on occasion, it motivates me more than the desire to simply do something nice for them. But largely, I do nice things for my step-children because it’s simply in my nature.
I have two children that I love [as any mother would] unconditionally. I didn’t plan to have more, but then I didn’t plan to get divorced either.
From day one, I have disciplined my step-children as harshly as I do my own. I have washed and mended their clothes, cooked their meals, taken them to school, shopping, movies, allowed friends to stay-over and looked after them when they’re sick…well essentially everything a biological mother would do…short of love them.
Do I love my step-children? Some days…yes, some days…no. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good children and as far as step children go I’ve been pretty lucky. I have never been yelled at, sworn at, shown [too much] disrespect and they have certainly never used that classic step child statement “you’re not my mother”. Although I’ve used a version of that myself – when my sixteen-year old step-son, asked why I hadn’t put his school uniform back in his room, after I had washed it! [I left it on the ironing board, hoping he would get the hint…he didn’t]
Despite everything I do for them, they have never shown me affection nor felt 100% comfortable alone with me and to be honest, I haven’t either. I am affectionate with my own children but not one to enjoy hugging and kissing strangers upon meeting. So, when my step children came into my life at age fourteen, eleven and seven I really wasn’t sure what to do and neither were they. My youngest step-daughter however, would occasionally hold my hand when we were out, or lean against me on the lounge but I could tell, she was torn between showing me affection and showing her mother loyalty. Who at that stage, would ring EVERY night and talk to each of them for half an hour, as well as make the half heart gesture with her youngest [who reciprocated with the other half] whenever she said goodbye.
It was nightly hour-long phone calls [which would’ve no doubt gone longer if my husband hadn’t intervened] when they came to visit us interstate [for a week] but to be fair, that was her first time away from them – I was an unknown entity and perhaps she feared she would be replaced?
Her insecurities were highlighted when learning, my husband and I took his children to get some professional photos taken while they were with us and whilst it was all too soon for my children and I to be in them, playing the ‘happy [blended] family’ his ex-wife organised a photo shoot with her children as soon as they came home.
Even though since we’ve returned, we haven’t lived more than ten minutes away from his ex-wife’s house that hasn’t stopped her making the children feel guilty for abandoning her each fortnight. In the beginning her approach was subtle, making comments to the children like “I wish I didn’t have to share you with your father” and “I miss you when you’re away from me”. Truth be told I have said the latter to my children too, but that is to let them know they’re always in my thoughts rather than to alienate them from their father and guilt them into staying 100% of the time with me.
Which makes me consider that perhaps my comments, implying that she was manipulating her own children are a bit unfair…but then as I am reminded of her many negative actions since it sadly only reinforces my original views.
When my step children complain about their mother, I always defend her with comments like “I’m sure that’s not true” or “I’m sure she had her reasons” or “don’t say that about your mother” and whilst I try to sound sincere, I’m not.
But I don’t defend her out of some sort of respect for the woman nor is there a ‘biological mothers code’ I’m adhering to…I just simply believe they don’t need to hear their step-mother denigrate their biological mother. Because I respect my step-children and…for all her faults, she IS still their mother. I do say [at moments of utter frustration and thankfully, not too frequently] things like “I can’t believe your mother would say that!” or “Why would your mother do that?” [and less frequently] “Sometimes your mother can be difficult!” but I try to keep those types of remarks to a minimum and never too personal. But with my husband behind closed doors, I discuss her treatment of my step-children with absolute disbelief and condemnation.
You see whilst hardly perfect, I do consider myself a fairly decent parent / step parent so am frequently horrified when she does or says something that shows a total disregard for her children – whilst claiming to always have their best interests at heart. As a mother myself, it’s this type of behaviour over everything else she does that saddens me the most.
Deliberately showing favouritism towards her daughters, as my step son will defend his father if she says something he knows to be untrue, and that infuriates her. Or now that he works ONE day a week, making him pay for ALL his school lunches and bus travel when she will buy materials to make the two girls’ Comic-Con costumes [even though the eldest also works one day a week]. Although, perhaps my step son has brought this upon himself, as he frequently tells us he prefers to stay at home [alone] than join his mother and sisters out for dinner and particularly avoids social gatherings with her very large extended family, stating that he finds them all annoying and is embarrassed by his mother. But maybe this is ALL teenage boys and I have this to look forward to with my own son in a few years?
His mother is not totally uncaring though, having contacted my husband in a number of occasions to discuss my step son’s behaviour. Advising my husband that their son has told her, he has felt ‘unloved’ by both his parents and “the fact that you and dad are still fighting at this point is just ‘effing pathetic” or that she’s convinced he has mental health issues or fears for her life [after he stabbed the fridge!]. I understand that his ex-wife doesn’t enjoy communicating with my husband [the feeling is mutual] but I believe any serious discussion should at least warrant an email, if not a phone call rather than a brief text message.
When my husband and I hear about my step son’s behaviour we are both shocked…and a little bemused [as I strongly believe in karma]. Despite the occasional moments [of ingratitude, laziness and sullen behaviour…] this is not how my step son behaves when he’s with us. Whilst, I acknowledge that the family dynamics are different, as at his mother’s house there is no male figure to support his mother’s discipline of him, but it’s almost like she’s describing a totally different person.
His biological mother’s justification for this is that she believes my sixteen year old step son is scared of his father [and whilst my husband does have a temper, they are almost the same height at 6’2″ and both of slight build, so he’s hardly able to intimidate his son with his physical presence and is not a violent man]. I would say, it’s because he respects his father and acknowledges that in this house we have rules and boundaries. For example, in our house the internet is turned off at 9.30pm on a weeknight but never at his mother’s – simply because that would inconvenience her and my eldest step daughter. If my step son behaves badly here, his computer is confiscated or his internet access is revoked, however at this mother’s she prefers to deprive him of the foods he likes to eat or will simply yell at him. We all know how ineffective it would be as teenagers quickly become immune to that type of discipline.
Like it or not, when you become a blended family you can’t play it safe and only let their biological parent dispense the discipline, for fear of upsetting the child or worse the parent. Even in the most amicable of separations with easy-going and respectful parents [they do exist] children will rarely embrace the new step parent as their own. Why would they? They have two parents who love them, isn’t that enough? The same goes for discipline, only that has a different set of boundaries attached to it. They go to school and they [for the most part] accept discipline from their teachers, they are respectful of authority yet when the reprimanding comes from a step-parent, that is the hardest one to accept. Like I said, I’m lucky…despite maternal influences my step children are mostly respectful.
My biggest challenge is not when my step children are here, it’s as they prepare to leave. Whilst my husband prefers to justify their behaviour as them mentally preparing for the changeover [i.e. different rules, schedules, meals and parent], I think it’s more than that. You see I’ve observed the behaviour of my own children as they wait for their father to collect them [within an hour of their step-siblings departure].
My twelve-year-old son gets his last fix of Xbox and insists on hugging me every time I enter the room and leaving the collection of his stuff to the absolute last moment. My fifteen year old daughter is more organised [advising her brother of their father’s e.t.a] having her bags ready at the front door, and then spending her remaining time lying on her bed [getting her last fix of fast & unlimited internet]. But never leaving without kissing me and telling me she loves me. Changing houses every week, lugging school books, uniforms, laptops etc back and forth must be very annoying for them but thankfully they simply accept this routine is a part of their life.
My step children behave in a different way altogether. Firstly my youngest step daughter is collected from dance class on changeover day so, my last moment with her is the brief exchange before school. My priority is to ask her to tidy her bedroom, take her dirty washing to the laundry and pack up her breakfast mess and her priority is asking me for lunch money & leaving for school as soon as possible. But often her attitude changes the night before whereby she’s a little distant and moody towards her father and I.
My sixteen year old step son however, leaves our house about 5pm on changeover day and always seems annoyed, seemingly at the inconvenience of having to wait a few hours to be collected – even though all he does is play on his computer in the interim. Added to that, our food stocks are usually depleted by this stage which only adds to his annoyance. I also ask him to tidy his room [as I do with ALL the children] but generally he just ignores my request and with so few clothes worn during the week he simply puts his dirty clothes [from his bedroom floor] into a garbage bag to take to his mother’s. I try not to think about whether or not they actually leave his room to be washed at any point.
I’ve given up battling with my step son over clothes we’ve bought him that are taken to his mother’s, as I figure at almost seventeen he needs to be responsible for ensuring he has sufficient clothing [at either house]. So unfortunately if he complains about his lack of clothing here, as a result of taking them to his mother’s I simply refuse to replace the items. Although this week he seemed quite pleased with himself when the told me he had managed to wear only TWO pairs of underpants for the entire seven days!
Despite now working from home and being present when his biological mother comes to collect him, I rarely get a ‘goodbye’ from my step son. Sometimes it’s difficult not to be consumed by that overwhelming feeling of being used so instead I try to remind myself that teenagers are very self-centred and it’s [hopefully] nothing personal.
My step children may never truly appreciate all that I do for them and whilst I have had moments of despair when I feel very much like the hired help vowing never to do anything more than their own mother would [again]…I always do. If for no other reason, it makes my husband happy and it’s simply in my nature to be nice.