The Guilty Stepmom

Pensive Stepmum

Being a stepmom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I find myself dealing with a high-conflict ex-wife and dysfunctional situations on a constant basis. What happened to my once care-free life?  It is now burdened with complications, which cause guilt especially when things escalate between my husband, his kids, or his ex-wife. Does my guilt come simply because of my selfishness or because I’m a terrible sport at allowing people to either take advantage of me or make me feel bad because I disapprove of their poor behaviors?

The formal definition portrays guilt as an emotional warning sign that we’ve done something wrong, which helps us develop a better sense of behavior. While I believe this is one way of looking at guilt I don’t believe it’s the only definition. Maybe our guilt is telling us something is wrong with the way we are living or allowing people to treat us. Maybe it’s telling us we need to make a change and take charge of our lives.

Here are some of the reasons why I’m a guilty stepmom: –

I Sometimes Feel Frustration in Raising my Stepkids

My stepdaughter came to live with us a year ago. As she lived the majority of her life with her mother, habits, and values unlike ours have been formed. Over the years, she witnessed inappropriate behaviors and naturally, some rubbed off. The good thing is my stepdaughter is smart enough to recognize this behavior and take responsibility; it’s a big part of the reason she is now living with us. Our part in instilling these positive changes may mean a consequence when behaviors are lacking. What gets me is when my husband’s high-conflict ex-wife constantly contradicts our punishments just to spite us rather than helping her daughter learn from her mistakes. My problem is when these behaviors come to the surface; I have a hard time accepting my stepdaughter’s faults because I know much of this is due to her mother. My patience runs short, my acceptance of faults is lacking and my willingness to forgive wrongdoings is weak. I think, why should I have to deal with and clean up their mother’s mess?

I can easily beat myself up over this one and equally condone my desire to throw my hands up and quit. When these feelings start I want to run and hide and be anywhere but where I’m at. I feel like the ex-wife is living right under my roof – AKA my stepdaughter. I long for the days when I didn’t have to check stories, decipher truths or devise a discipline plan to meet the crime. But, usually, after a few days or weeks, I realize when I married my husband that there were problems (maybe I didn’t know the full extent) and that I would be active in assisting in the raising of his children. I didn’t just marry my husband, I married the whole situation … for better or worse.

Remember, there isn’t much of an immediate change you can make. Realize your stepkids are the victims here. Your job is to love and guide them to the best of your ability (after you’ve pulled your hair out, cried, and looked for the nearest exit). You can only give suggestions to your partner and step kids about how you perceive the situation and outcome. Stick to your morals, values, and gut instincts. Be an example! Eventually, maybe even years later, your presence will have made a difference and you’ll be able to see your influence.

You may feel guilty when a boundary has to be enforced and conflict hits your blended family. That’s natural.

linda black

I Shoulder Guilt for Setting and Enforcing Boundaries with His Ex

My husband had a very casual relationship with his ex prior to meeting me. She became high-conflict after I came into the picture, and I became this person I didn’t recognize. My presence alone was her excuse for drama and I found myself reacting to save my sanity and marriage.

I had this urgent need to stop this woman from taking or keeping possession of my new husband. I had to mark my territory and the process wasn’t going to be pretty. How could this person accuse me of wrong-doings, hate me without knowing me and still chase after my husband? How did my presence cause such conflict? Was it all my fault?

What I did wrong was to simply exist.  Today, appropriate boundaries are now in place. At first, I didn’t even know what was wrong except I felt horrible and so out of place in this newly blended mess. I had to work hard communicating to my husband the things I couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate. We attended counseling and learned to set and enforce boundaries. But, the boundaries destroyed their relationship, thus trickling down to the kids. I carry the guilt that if I wasn’t in the picture, then these boundaries would have never been set up and a more peaceful life would be had by all.  Maybe his high-conflict ex-wife would plainly be just an ex-wife?

Ladies, you are not the problem. Any woman he would have chosen would be the problem. Don’t be afraid to defend your turf and fight to protect your relationship. A new marriage that includes a high-conflict ex MUST have boundaries to survive. You may feel guilty when a boundary has to be enforced and conflict hits your blended family. That’s natural. But, over time, forced boundaries will turn into expected behavior and the drama should die down.

Visitation Schedules Drive Me Nuts – Two Ways 

First off, every week we have to do a pick-up and a drop-off and my husband’s ex-wife wants to wheel and deal with trading weekends and changing pick-up times or locations. It has become a never-ending battle of communications. UNTIL I SAID ENOUGH! I’m done bargaining with his ex-wife and letting her disrupt what should be a simple schedule to follow.  Does this make me feel guilty as my husband would compromise until the cows come home? Yes, but I have to put limits up to guard my sanity even if it might make me feel guilty. Don’t try to reason with unreasonable people!

Secondly, my husband and I lost our flexibility of taking off work on a Friday to go away for the weekend returning on Monday morning, which we did regularly prior to my stepdaughter moving in with us and visitations moving to every week. I know this is part of stepparenting but it also cuts into my personal time with my husband. I should cherish my time with my stepkids but I often feel like I’m getting ripped off.

We need to stop letting the inconvenience of visitation fog our experience with our stepkids (and our partner).  It’s not their fault they are chauffeured back and forth to different family environments weekly. This has to be worse for them than us. Try to figure out what really makes this experience unpleasant. Is it the constant communication (or lack of) with their ex? Is it the time it takes for the kids to transition to your home environment?

Things you can do to alleviate your load may be to set up a definite pick-up/drop-off location and time or trying not to alter the schedule if this is proving problematic. Additionally, my husband and I often hire another person to deal with the pick-ups and drop-offs to prevent any drama with the ex-wife. Whatever makes you feel better without infringing on your partner’s time with their children is the right thing to do. Work jointly with your partner for visitation equilibrium that gives you freedom yet unity.

Guilt is a normal feeling for all of us and especially stepmoms. The road we have chosen to travel is narrow and laden with potholes. Maybe you, like me, will find this the hardest time of your life? But, hopefully, you also find it a rewarding time. We are only guilty of loving a man, his children and trying to make our lives work.