Stepmoms and Moms – You Don’t Need to Be Friends!

moms and stepmomsBy Mary T. Kelly, MA Originally published in the November 2012 issue.

For stepmoms who may be feeling like they’ve somehow failed because their relationship with the ex is anything but friendly, here are some thoughts on why it’s really OK—and why you’re not a failure—if you’ll never be BFFs with your stepchildren’s mother.

Stepfamily dynamics are complicated.
Up to 72 percent of remarriages with kids end in divorce, according to the Virginia Longitudinal Study of Divorce and Remarriage conducted by pioneer stepfamily researcher E. Mavis Hetherington. The multi-tiered complexities of stepfamily life make it challenging for couples to survive, much less entertain, a relationship with their partner’s ex. However, it is more than a worthwhile goal to achieve at least a modicum of Basic Etiquette 101—being cordial and polite—when one is interacting with their partner’s ex.

It’s not always best for the kids.
Wednesday Martin, PhD, contributing writer and author of Stepmonster, explains: “Francesca Adler-Baeder of the National Stepfamily Resource Center summarized findings from experts’ research and clinical experience that when exes are very chummy and cordial and spend a lot of time together, children are likely to experience confusion and wonder why they divorced in the first place and may continue to nurture fantasies of parental reconciliation.” Martin goes on to say, “Bending over backwards to engineer a ‘perfect world’ for kids of any age post-divorce is not necessarily doing them a favor. While the impulse is understandable to ‘keep everything exactly the same,’ it is not healthy. Things change after parents divorce and helping children develop resilience and a sense of confidence that they are loved is more important than spending holidays with an ex and potentially confusing them, if that doesn’t work for you as a couple. And if it comes at the cost of one’s personal emotional comfort and safety, it is a disservice all around.”

What she thinks of you is none of your business anyway.
Because it is so rare for moms and stepmoms to get along, you shouldn’t be overly absorbed with or preoccupied and concerned about what the ex thinks of you. It serves stepmoms well to remember how difficult, and potentially fickle, relationships with an ex can be. The reality is that you have enough on your plate without the added burden of worrying about cultivating and maintaining a friendship with your partner’s ex.

Here are three reasons why it’s really OK if you’re not BFFs with your stepkids’ mom:

1. You should be spending your time working on your relationship.
Stepfamilies are complex. It takes a lot of time and energy to manage the inherent issues associated with merging individuals together. When a stepcouple’s relationship has reached dire straits, it’s likely that their time has been swallowed up by the needs of the children, the exes and life in general. The solution? Focus on your relationship! If we’re going to talk about what’s best for the kids, what is best is that they don’t experience another divorce. Period. Research clearly shows that the new marriage must be the top priority; the couple must act as a team if they are going to beat those dismal remarriage divorce statistics. Schedule a weekly date night and an occasional weekend alone together. With your partner, nurture the relationship you want to last well after the children leave the home.

2. The kids don’t need you to be friends with their mom.
In fact, for some kids, it feels weird when mom and stepmom get too close. What the kids do need is for you to conduct yourself with dignity and integrity when you interact with their mother, even if you have negative feelings for her. If you’re a stepmom dealing with an angry ex who is constantly taking your partner to court over the minutest of details, sending long and intrusive texts and emails day and night, and calling non-stop until a response is given, know that dealing with this kind of stuff without blowing your top qualifies you for sainthood! Remember, taking the higher road has never hurt one’s soul. Avoid gossiping (this is different than venting to your good girlfriends), ruminating about or talking ad nauseam to your partner about his ex. It’s unproductive and takes the focus off the two of you and the enjoyment you could be having together.

3. You should focus any extra energy on yourself.
Being a stepmother is the most challenging and stressful position within a stepfamily. Therefore, self-care is critical to a stepmom’s well-being. Still feeling guilty for tending to your own needs? Want another reason to focus more on you and your marriage? How about this: Studies are increasingly showing that our society’s “kids first at all costs” mentality is actually hurting children by producing a generation of narcissists who haven’t learned how to problem solve for themselves. Let’s be honest. You are with your partner despite the fact that he has kids, not because he has kids. Take care of yourself. Pursue your dreams and your goals. Focus on your marriage. Focus on being kind and civil to the children of your partner when they are in your home. Be an ally to your husband as he navigates his way through parenting. In the big picture of your life, you’ve got bigger fish to fry than trying to be BFFs with your partner’s ex.

In an ideal world, everyone would get along great—the exes, the kids and the in-laws. But then again, in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be divorce in the first place.

Want to learn more about dealing with a difficult ex?
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13 thoughts on “Stepmoms and Moms – You Don’t Need to Be Friends!”

  1. I do agree that moms and stepmoms don’t HAVE to be friends. Fortunately, my childrens stepmom and I are. We always make each other aware of any misbehavior(which is rare for our kids) or failing grades. She and I share an amazing bond. We are both, what I like to think, mature hard working women. We have strong moral values that we pass down to our children. We never ever speak ill of one another, instead we encourage each other. I would like to see more families like this. It makes life so much easier and enjoyable. Thanks for the article.

    1. I have a hard time I have been in my stepson life since he was 1 he is now 11 his bio mom is around when its convenient she doesn’t pay for anything she thinks he is perfect he does no wrong but she sees him once a week if that she told me all I am to my stepson is a stepmom and no more than that she is in denial of how she is not there for him I have been there through all of him heartaches milestones everything she should’ve been there for she doesn’t even call him and he lives with me and my husband full time I think I deserve a little more credit than “Just a stepmom” it hurts my feelings I hate her more and more every time I see her..ugh I don’t know what to do to not be so angry and think about it all the time

      1. I completely understand your frustration, pain and hurt. The only thing you can do to help you is pray, i know it sounds stupid but trust me…..ask God to be the one to help you get thru this & what Im about to tell you is going to hurt a little or alot so here it goes: no matter how much you for your stepson and how much his biological mother doesn’t do, you will never be his mother. I know is harsh but is true. The job of being stepmothers sometimes go unnoticed and is okay, continue to provide for him, guide him, protect him, love him and be his friend don’t try to be his mom. Let him see for himself that what you do is out of love not only for him but for his father and that you will always no matter what be there for him. He is the only person that will someday acknowledged everything you do for him, what others say about the role you play in his life doesn’t matter. His mom is digging her own hole with him by not being there for him all you can & should do is watch her drown in it….her opinion towards you doesn’t matter. Pray that God continue to bless you with the strength that you had this past 10 years to be able to be the best mom ever to your stepson. Don’t worry about his biological mom, what she thinks or say…worry about him.

        1. thanks I appreciate that it does help but yes it does hurt cause for me he is my son and the only child I have raised ..and as he is 11 almost 12 I can see that he sees that shes not there for him sucks cause her and I got in an argument in front of him cause she thinks he needs meds and thinks he does no wrong when you only see him maybe 36 hrs in a month you cant think like that ..she finds me to be a threat and is jealous of me and her mom just started acting like that towards me as well ..she is a 38 year old woman that has a 17 year old daughter as well which doesn’t belong to my husband and still lives at her parents cant ..I could get along with her if she didn’t feel me as a threat :/

      2. Don’t be angry at her… feel bad for her. If you believe in prayer, Pray for her. She is the one with a deep rooted issue, Not you. You are doing what you need to do what you are supposed to do and with that being said.. you are his mom. She is his mom biologically, Yes. But she is not his mom when it comes to the things that count in life. Do not be mad at her or at yourself just feel bad for her and be proud of yourself. Pray for her and pray for yourself. I know first hand that this works. It does take time but you have to be mentally and spiritually ready to give up the burden of anger. You can do this!

      3. I understand how you feel, I have two step kids and their mom is horrible, she is jealous petty and ridiculous, constantly taking my husband to court over nothing, always refusing to pay for anything even though the kids live with us 2/3 of the time and she makes more money than my husband, she tried to move the kids away so my husband gave up pursuing child support to get her to agree not to move them, she has put us through so much that I can’t stand the thought or sight of her and also struggle with thinking about it all the time, I’m trying to find a way to let go of my anger towards her but haven’t been able to yet, everything the kids need we provide but she acts like she’s Mom of the year, her son wants to be with me and my husband all the time because she is so crazy, he complains when it’s time to go back to her house for the weekends, I can’t get over the awful custody battle we went through because I know she’ll do it again, I guess I’m writing all this to say you are not alone, it makes me feel better to know there are women out there who can relate to my situation

    2. Your lucky….my stepkids biological mom hates me, doesn’t like her kids calling me or speaking about me in her household. I have never spoken bad about her to the kids and never will but her in the other hand, let’s just say the kids know me, know how good I am to them and thank God that they have never listened to what their biological mother says about me. I dont wish to be her best friend but I do wish that we could be able to communicate more, for the kids but that will never happen and Im okay with that. So happy that you was able to understand and appreciate your kids stepmom role & that you and her get along….it goes a long way. God bless!

  2. It’s not easy, I’m a stepmom to two loveable boys. It’s almost been 2 years now and the ex and I get along we are not friends but we are civil. It took alot of biting my tongue and taking the high road. I understand my role in the situation and often try to place myself in hers. I have a loving wonderful spouse a good job a cozy home. She has no plan for her future, can’t seem to have find a healthy stable relationship and struggles with the cozy home and solid daily routine of a full time job. So unfortunately the boys suffer in constant change and caios.
    But I would never talk about her in a negative way and keep the whole “parents united” front out of respect and also so the boys know they cannot take advantage or manipulate us ( trust me the test and try all the time!), I try be supportive when I can….even though I know it pains her that I spend time with her children. It’s difficult for both of us…I am always the “bad guy” or one to blame when the oldest has a melt down. He hasn’t come to terms with me being permanent in his life…he is angry and mad with the situation…I get it I was once his age going through the same thing! It sucks!
    But I still try to make everything as comfortable as possible, giving his Dad and him one on one time. It’s difficult loving someone else’s children and hear wicked hurtful things that they say when all your trying to do is exist in a positive healthy relationship. It can make your heart hurt knowing the ex and the children would rather you not be in the picture. I try not to let it wear me down, but I know there will be highs and lows just like any family regardless if it is blended or not.

  3. Is there any advice for stepmoms with grown kids, young grand kids, and her own grown kids and young grandkids! The ex wife pops in anytime she likes! I believe in the power of prayer but I’m really struggling here!

  4. I don’t want to not like the father of my childs wife, in fact its hard for me to even consider her “step mom”. My childs father and I just recently went through court and I was granted sole custody and the father got visitation, and for some reason his wife believes that just because they are married, she has every right the father does and has to make it a point that I know. She includes herself in every conversation between me and the father and wont listen when I repeatedly tell her she has no rights to be apart of conversations between me and the father, and is always voicing her opinion and answering questions or responding to everything that comes out of my mouth when it is never directed toward her, and when I say “this isnt about you” or “can you let the father respond instead of you since I was talking to him” her response is always “we’re married, I’m step mom”. Its infuriating and I’m at a loss. Im not even sure anything can legally be done in this matter but please, correct me if I’m wrong. I feel like the father of my child and his wife are trying to find grounds to file for full custody or deem me a bad parent somehow or try to make me go against the judgement so they can take me back to court. My child is 3, almost 4, and the father hasn’t even been around for over half of his, on his own doing. My child was about 5-6 months old when we separated and he stopped coming around pretty much right after the first birthday.

  5. This article is EXACTLY what I needed. It is comforting to know that others feel similar. It’s been six long years. No matter what, I will love my bonus children unconditionally, but it hasn’t been easy, because of the negativity towards my husband and I in their other home. Her friends stalk me, despite being blocked, it has at times felt like we have zero privacy. Social events that we have to attend together are awkward and I often skip them, to avoid the bitterness. Which also comes with a level of guilt for not being there for the children I love and care for. I often feel things are expected as opposed to appreciated. My husband gets so frustrated with the every day contact from the ex and it causes him a lot of stress and anxiety. Which translates into his being upset and overwhelmed giving us little to no peace. It’s been several months since I removed myself and went NO contact. My peace is slowly returning. I had to remind myself that it’s not my place to fix what I didn’t break.

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