Sunday, 19 July 2009

The top five stupid things that people say to stepmothers

It has struck me over the time I've been with my partner that society has a very negative view of step-parents, and particularly stepmothers. In a world where 50% of marriages end in divorce, and of that 50% a high number of those are likely to have children and go on to remarry or have new partners, it seems that we're still stuck in the Ark when it comes to our perceptions of stepfamilies. They are nearly always seen as a negative thing, and people fortunate enough to NOT have gone through a painful separation or divorce nearly always seem to have something to say about it. I tell you what, those Brothers Grimm have a lot to answer for with those fairytales, because Hansel and Gretel and ol' Cinders set a nasty precedent for how life, and art, would reflect stepmothers (and stepfathers) in the future. Barring Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, not many artists have had much good to say about us, from the evil Mr Murdstone in David Copperfield to My Stepmother is an Alien.

A few months ago, I was out with some friends of DP's, and we floated the idea of getting married one day. One of his friends instantly came out with the comment "oh, poor SD". When I asked her why (as I was quite hurt that she would think my future stepchild deserved pity because I might marry her father, I tend to think of myself as mostly a pretty nice person!) and she said that it would be a permanent reminder for SD that her parents are no longer together. I'm afraid she has that reminder every day honey - I doubt that marriage is going to make a huge difference to that one! But her argument was that we should not get married and celebrate something that for SD, is essentially pretty negative, because it would look like we were rejoicing in the fact that DP is no longer with her mother (uh, why can't we rejoice at that, pray tell? ;)). Now I could probably understand if I'd been the one to break the marriage up, but I came along 3 years post separation. Oh and now we mention the cause of marriage breakup, how many of you stepmothers out there have had to contend with people's assumptions that you caused it? I've had that a few times and had to laugh out loud! "Actually, my partner's ex wife left HIM for the female nextdoor neighbour 5 years ago....." oh, the looks on their faces, muhahaha.....

So without further ado, here are the top five stupid things people say to stepmothers!

5. "The kids always have to come first".
So the stepmother has to relegate herself to a life in second place? I haven't heard anyone say that when talking about an intact family, it seems to be something that always gets trotted out when the family is divorced and someone's started dating. When you marry a man with kids, yes you accept that there are kids who will need your partner's time, attention and energy. But also when you marry, you become a family, and thus the good of the FAMILY gets put first, not just one element of that family. I always find the irony of this one is it's people who have kids who usually say it, yet those same people wouldn't dream of letting their own kids rule the roost at home.

4. "Well he has to go easy on them, look at what they have to put up with, poor kids"
This is usually the stock response to a stepmother who has issues with the kids' behaviour and their DP's lack of discipline. It's generally assumed that because their parents got divorced, the kids are sooooo traumatised that they cannot cope with the word "No". Let's get one thing straight (and I'll tell you this from the perspective of a child with divorced parents) - having your parents divorce isn't a get-out-of-jail free card. It doesn't exempt you from having to be respectful to people, or generally having to behave in an acceptable manner. Nobody is going to pretend that divorce is easy on children, and usually they are the ones who suffer most (personal experience again there) but it does NOT give the parents a green light to stop parenting and become their kids' buddy/bank account. Parents who quit parenting their kids out of guilt are doing their children a massive disservice. It's an unfortunate fact of life that shit happens, and a parent's job is to HELP their kids cope with that shit the best they can - not give them an excuse to use that shit to get out of their chores/visiting Grandma/doing their homework/and most importantly, being polite to their stepmothers!

3. "You knew he had kids"
Ahhh, that old chestnut. Now I don't exactly know what this comment is ever supposed to achieve. Generally, yes, we did know our partners had kids from the get-go. But I'm not sure that the mere fact of knowing that he had kids is supposed to make us feel better about the mountains of shit that sometimes go with that fact. A strange one, this.

2. "Well you wouldn't understand what it's like, you don't have children of your own"
This one is often aimed at the especially vilified species of stepmother, the childless stepmother. Well, half of that comment is just pointing out the damn bloody obvious - no shit, think I'd know if I'd popped an object that size out of my you-know-what, don't you? And while we might not have children of our own, we are spending a fairly large chunk of time around our partner's, and in some cases, there are childless stepmums who do the full time gig. Would they say that to someone who had adopted their kids and were having difficulty? I doubt it, but it's deemed fair game to say it to stepmothers. And it's damn hurtful to those childless stepmothers who want their own kids but for various reasons, can't have them (I'm in this bracket). OK, so there might be a tiny grain of truth in it in some ways, because we are not those kids' parents, therefore cannot fully grasp what it is like to be in the parent's shoes, but that works both ways buster - they can't understand what it's like to be a step-parent either.

1. "You knew what you were getting into"
Ooooh, my favourite. It's not unlike #3, just even more moronic. Sure, we knew during the shiny happy honeymoon phase of the relationship just exactly what was down the line for us. We had crystal balls, did we? I didn't know that these days only clairvoyants could be stepmothers. I doubt that anyone would say to a wife whose husband's elderly parents are now unwell and need a lot of care, "well you knew he had parents, you knew they might get old and sick". I doubt that anyone would say to a wife whose husband got cancer, "well you knew he smoked/drank/ate bacon/(insert vice here), you knew he might get it". But like #2, it's fair game to throw this one at stepmothers!

The above snippets of stupidity are the reason why I LOVE my stepmum support network on the UK CSM site and now, through the blogging community and sites like Stepchicks. We give each other non-judgemental support, and there are even ex-stepmothers who stick around to help others cope. Of course, we give each other the odd kick in the bum sometimes when we need it - but with thoughtful, intelligent and mindful sledgehammers!


  1. Yes!Yes!Yes! All so so true! And Thank God for our Stepmom sista's - the secret to my sanity these days.

  2. Love it!!!

    I take the sprogs to the library every saturday (well somebody has to teach them to read!) and the librarian they are my stepkids, refers to them as my "little friends" because she doesn't know what else to call them! It's funny really.

    B x

  3. So true, I am sick of hearing you knew what you were getting into, or yes his son should come first??? WHY?? I think before I had talks with the BF he had thought that too. I told him while a childs NEEDS should come fist regardless of whose kids they are but that doesnt mean the stepmom should get put last because she came after the child, how in the world could that relationship work????

  4. Ah, good old #2. As though not having any children of my own bars me from having a LIFE of my own. Although it still breaks my heart that I may never have kids of my own, I do revel in the fact that I am a STEPMOTHER and not a bio-mom. My stepkids' bio-mom drapes herself over the kids like a blanket. She has no identity outside of them because without them, she would lose child support and just be an overweight, unemployed divorcee. But with kids- suddenly she's a single mom! I work full-time to make up for what she refuses to provide, and yet- I don't understand because I don't have kids. Pfft. At least I'm a person of my own and I don't lean on children to make me feel worthy. There's something to be said for that.

    1. Thank you, thank you. After a particularly horrible Christmas holidays this made me laugh out loud in recognition.

  5. sounds like we've all heard these little pearls of wisdom from time to time huh! And it's amazing how many people say these things but don't actually realise how daft they are until a helpful stepmother points it out!

  6. ha ha LOVE IT!! All so true especially bthe point about parents just stopping parenting just cos they feel bad about divorce....I know someone like that. Sadly my husband and I put our WHOLE little family (including SD) first which his ex didn't agree with (because of the fact my SD gets whatever she wants...see lack of parenting point above)and this has ended up with no contact with SD, if she can't be a parent through guilt then she'll make damn sure he can't be a better parent than her by simply alienating his daughter!!

    Anyway bit of a rant ther...sorry!! Have heard all these points, all stupid!

  7. Well, you guys dont now how all these affect a step child because most step moms try to REPLACE THE MOM. You may not think you do but, im sorry most step parents do. You dont understand how it is. And for some divorses a lot of you dont now how those are either. Sorry to break it to all the step moms out there.

  8. @Anonymous, most step moms have no interest in being a replacement. The best thing for the kids is that both home have happy parents. Part of the happiness is making sure the bioparent is in a stable, happy relationship, so there's a foundation for the kid(s).

  9. After having been married to a man with two girls, then getting divorced, I couldn't help but laugh! Being a stepmom was a tough gig and was not worth it to me in the end to lose my sanity and myself. I'm so glad I got divorced and can only say good luck to those who are still in it. It was not easy being treated poorly by my ex, his ungreatful children, his ex wife and what felt like a very unsupportive community as a whole. I felt like Rodney Dangerfield and often said I get no respect!

  10. Fabulous! I enjoyed reading these as I endure lots of hatred for being a step-parent - mostly from mothers who never wanted to be mothers in the first place, who bitterly accuse me of taking the easy way out. I have some other comments to add if I may:

    1 "Oh poor things, they need to know who their mum is!" No. Just no.

    2 "You shouldn't celebrate mother's day. Some of us gave birth you know."

    3 "The kids will grow up spoilt"

    4 "You don't have kids of your own you'll grow up lonely"

    5 "They'll treat you like sht as soon as they become teenagers. Because you're the stepmum"

    6 "You can't tell them off, you're not their mum"

    7 "Do they call you mum?"

    8 "But what about his wife?" (Still can't really get over the audacity of this one) or any implications that I "stole" him, dispite her being the one who cheated.

    9 "Your step kids? So that's your...?" Come on as if you don't understand how it works.

    10 (Bitterly) "If my bf had kids with someone else - which I would HATE!" - so your bf was a naïve virgin before he met you then was he then love? ;)

    Keep 'em coming and as always happy mother's day!