You are here

The No-win Life of a Stepmother

strugglingSM's picture

Lately, my DH and I have been fighting a lot whenever his children come to visit. We are both more likely to snap at one another and fight when the kids are around. The last two days, we've had some long discussions about how to resolve this. 

I've shared with him that I think he expects me to behave differently when his kids are around, that he expects me to treat his children as if they are the most special people in the world when they are around, and that I want nothing better than to cater to their every whim. 

A good example, I had a day off from work on Friday. Before going to pick up his children, DH says to me, "I would really like it, if you came downstairs when I got back with the kids." Fair enough, you'd say, but on most visitation weekends, I get home after everyone is at the house. No one ever comes down to say hello to one even stirs to greet me if I come upstairs and walk into the room where they're watching televison. Despite all that, I went downstairs when the kids arrived. DH was the only one who said the word to me and after about 2 minutes, both boys and then my DH walked by me and went upstairs. 

Later that evening, DH and his son were in the tv room and I sent him some texts - just to tease him and try to be funny. I also ask if he wants to bring SSs to the city with me tomorrow. He comes storming out to yell at me for interrupting his time with his child. I don't even fight back with him, I just say "fine" and go downstairs to the guest room to go to sleep. 

The next day, I went alone to the city for my appointment and then walked around, got lunch, did some shopping for about four hours before going home. DH wasn't even home when I returned. He apparently had things he had to do and one SS had a birthday party (neither of which he told me about). Fair enough, I'm fine doing my own thing when SSs are around. I'm still upset that DH totally snapped at me and annoyed that he expects me to go out of my way to cater to SSs and make them feel like I'm so glad they're there to stay to us, when they can't even bother to say hello. 

All of this is happening against the backdrop of DH undercutting me in front of his children. Whenever I remind his children that their trash should go in the bin, that their dirty plates should go in the sink, that dirty clothes should go in the bin, etc, DH will step in and say "it's not a big deal. Why are you making a big deal out of this?" 

So, after this weekend - where we had two blowouts over the fact that neither of us are happy when his kids are around, I told him that I thought we needed to have a heart-to-heart about everything. He said he didn't want to tell me what he thought and then finally told me, "I just feel like you're always competing for attention with my children." 

I pointed four things out to him:

1) Expecting not to be ignored or forgotten when his kids are around, is not an unreasonable request. There have been many instances where DH has forgotten that he was supposed to meet me or pick me up (once I was stranded at the airport because he was hanging out with his kids and didn't answer any of my 6 phone calls - he claimed he didn't see his phone). Or when DH has been late to meet me or left me to do things on my own (like set up the birthday party for MIL that DH insisted he would manage completely on his own. I also cleaned up on my own because he had to bring SSs home after the party) because his kids were hungry, so he needed to stop for food or BM sent his kids in inappropriate clothing, so he need to go home first to get clothes for them. I've told him repeatedly that I feel like either a single woman or the housekeeper when his kids are around. I don't feel like his wife. 

2) When I go off and do my own thing, leaving DH to give all of his attention to SSs, he gets annoyed with me that I'm not spending enough time with SSs. I feel like I can't win with him. Either I'm competing for his attention or I'm being cold with his kids. 

3) That he expects me to go above and beyond without any appreciation from him or SSs. He typically wants me to drop everything and spend all kinds of "family time" with him and SSs. I get their presents for Christmas, Easter, and birthdays, I plan activities and in return, I get very limited appreciation and often judgment or disdain at what was received.  

4) When I first met DH, his kids would compete to see if they could take his attention away from me. DH would give me a hug and one SS (9 years old at the time) would try to sneak between us. DH would sit down next to me on the couch and SS would come to sit on his lap (even though he never sat on DH's lap, otherwise). DH thought it was hilarious when he noticed that was what was happening and used to tease SS about it. When I first started staying over when the kids were there, they would scream and cry insisting that he needed to sleep in their bed with them. I told him that he shouldn't act as if these things don't matter, because my SSs are noticing everything to see who comes first. So, when DH undercuts me when I try to get them to put in the bare minimum effort, he is telling them that they come first and don't need to listen to me. 

I told DH that he expects me to feel like a parent toward his children, but he doesn't let me parent them, so I will never feel like a parent toward them. 

I also tell him that I'm annoyed that he accuses me of competing with his children for attention because I am his wife, so I shouldn't be okay being shunted to the side just because his kids are around. I shouldn't expect to be ignored just because his kids are around. If I was the mother of his children, he wouldn't expect me to fade off into the background, so his kids could take center stage. He replied and said, "see, I knew I didn't want to tell you, because it would just make you angry." I replied, "I'm not angry, I just think you're wrong." 

I feel like this is a line of thinking that a SM can never neutralize. I realize it must be difficult for DH to only see his kids every other weekend, but I don't think that my expecting to be treated as anything other than his wife - who deserves some attention even when the kids are around - is my "competing" for attention from his kids. If anything, he's expecting me to forego any interaction - other than the "happy family" interaction he dictates - when his kids are around. 

After weekends like this, I do wonder how long we'll make it because I know things will only get worse from here on out. I have also thought about counseling and suggested it for DH on his own to work through some of his issues of guilt over his divorce and anger and sadness that he only sees his kids EOWE, but since DH doesn't think he has a problem, I don't think it will help. 


lieutenant_dad's picture

Ugh. I don't understand these men! Some suggestions:

1.) Stop going to the kids and go directly to DH. "DH, SS left his plate on the table." "DH, SS needs his bin emptied." Every little thing SSs don't do, point out to DH to handle. If he won't handle it, then start taking away plates, bins, etc when the kids are there. Or stop doing things for them that generate plates and bins. If you have no authority, then stop with the responsibility.

2.) Do your own thing on weekends, and don't fight with DH about it. If he questions, just say "I am giving you uninterrupted time with your kids while I take some uninterrupted me time. Go have fun." Say it with a smile and as loving of a voice as you can muster. Or as flat and plainly as you can. Your tone should be dictated by whether you want to fix or end your marriage.

3.) Don't further engage in these arguments with DH. If he says you hate his kids, are just seeking attention, etc, repeatedly say, "DH, I have said my piece on this topic and my opinion hasn't changed. Unless you have something new you would like to calmly add to the conversation, I see no reason to discuss it further."

4.) If your DH does make an effort toward being a better parent and giving you more authority, recognize it and thank your DH for understanding. Positive reinforcement goes a long way.

Honestly, I think most of these men who aren't willing to listen amd change, or at least compromise, are bad husbands in addition to being bad fathers. This type of behavior usually isn't isolated just to situations surrounding the kids, but the bad is so bad with the kids that many don't see how bad the other times are, either, because they are an improvement over the bad-bad. Really look at the behavior your DH displays toward you and ask yourself if you would put up with it if you weren't married and he didn't have kids. Ask yourself how you would advise your GF or sister if she were in a similar situation. Bad relationships can have good times, and those good times cloud our judgment. A marriage is work, but it shouldn't be a battle. Really look at the path you are on and see if this relationship is sustainable as is, what would need to change to make it sustainable if it's not, and at what point you jump ship.

thinkthrice's picture

Step 1:  Search engine:  how to turn your wife into an evil stepmother.

Step 2:  read aloud to him

Step 3:  have him realize he's falling into an age-old poor behavior pattern of divorced fathers

Great advice from Lt_Dad!

Chef ticked EVERY.DAMN.ONE of the boxes as uber guilty/disney dad for five loooooonnng years with horrifically behaved THREE skids and uber HC/GUBM Girhippo before they PASed out.  PAS on steroids!!

strugglingSM's picture

Most of it feels like it was written about my life! DH would read it and say “that’s not me because” and he’s pick one detail in the example as proof it was not him.

thinkthrice's picture

I remember those days like it was yesterday.   Chef would say "my case is different/special."  (TM)  Or "I'm not like all those OTHER dads who FORCE their kids to see them; I want my kids to be COMFORTABLE (read: spoiled rotten) when they come here."  "I'm a gooood dad because I OVERPAY my CS (on the back of yours truly)"

Or "you worry too much; you get all these WILD IDEAS and STORIES from the internet."  

"That won't happen; who do you think you are,  Nostradamus??!"

"You're just jealous of [insert either skids and/or BM]"

And the old chesnut: "You don't like my kids!!" (darn tootin' their behaviour would make a peccary blush)

strugglingSM's picture

DH has repeatedly told me that I only feel this way because I’ve read a bunch of books and articles. His kids would never become money grubbing (they already complain that DH doesn’t buy them enough and were incensed when DH told them that if he won the lottery he would not tell them - as if he has a chance of winning). And of course, they would take care of me in my old age...I don’t even think they’ll take care of him.

Do all Disney dads share the same brain?

thinkthrice's picture

They are succumbing to human nature and feeling powerless in the "family" courts which are BM-centric to say the least.

However this will hasten the skids disrespect for dad.   He is actually speeding up their inevitable PASout.

You may have already seen this article:

pixielady's picture

I’m sorry but this situation sounds miserable, especially when you combine it with your crappy in-laws. Your DH doesn’t sound like he hears you when you explain things to him. He has his story “struggling hates my kids” and is sticking to it. I’m sorry. If he doesn’t get it after you explain it to him time and time again, I don’t see a lot of hope here.

DaizyDuke's picture

Holy Hannah!  The storming out to scold you for "interrupting time with his child"  WTF????  Does he think that the world simply stops revolving because his kids are with him??  This man talks out of both sides of his mouth.  On one side, he wants you to spend time with skids and treat them as your own, then on the other side he wants you to not interrupt HIS time with skids.  Which way does he want it??? 

My DH did this crap.  Some older posters around here might remember a few years back, I had  my DH tell me that SS was coming over and he'd really like it if I could have a smile on my face when he got there.  WTH?  We all joked that I was going to get some wax lips and wear them all weekend.  I mean come on!  Do these idiots not realize that by them saying things like this and critiquing and watching our every move and facial expression when skids are around,  it just adds to our want to NOT be aroung them at all?? I mean I can snap at our BS8 all day long (not that I do), I could be in a crabby mood around our BS8, and DH would not bat an eyelash, but if I wasn't all sunshine and sprinkles and unicorn farts when skids were around, DH was all over me and then he wondered why I either tried to make myself scarce or was noticably miserable. DUH!!!! 

Then there was the one time when SD (who I refused to allow on my cell phone plan anymore after 2 trillion incidents) had some $700.00 cell phone bill.  It was laying open on the counter, I saw it and asked DH what that was all about.  DH said "It's none of your business, I have it handled."  So of course I snapped and said well it IS my business if WE have to pay this! Then the big fool says, "Why don't you like SD? Why can't you be more like a mother to her?"  Then I really snapped and told him he couldn't have it both ways.  If she was MY kid, and there was a $700.00 cell phone bill, you better believe I would be questioning it and demanding to know what was going on.  If she was MY kid, I'd be punishing her for her pig sty of a room that she'd been asked to clean 40 thousand times, if she was MY kid, she wouldn't be playing sports while failing 4 core classes at school, if she was MY kid should would have paid to replace the clothes she stole from me.  But NO DH, you do NOT want me to act like a mother... you want me to act like a fake ass bestest buddy, who blows rainbows and cupcakes up SD ass and then turns a blind eye to everything negative that she does and allow her to constitantly disrespect me.  NOT.GOING.TO.HAPPEN.

Ugh, sorry for the diatribe.  I'm fuming mad for you!!!

strugglingSM's picture

What you describe is so like my situation. I need to be Mary Poppins when the kids are around, but god forbid I have an opinion on what we should do with them or provide for them. He wants that to be totally within his control, but then expects everything - including finances and planning - to be a “family thing”.

I can totally see the $700 phone bill in my future and DH’s comments that it wasn’t my business. One SS is getting braces this year - surprise - so we have to pony up over $1000 just for this year. I told DH that, that meant no fun vacations this year and he said, “no, it doesn’t.” I pointed out that he hadn’t saved an extra fund to cover SS extras (as I suggested - saying if he wanted to spend whatever he wanted on SSs, he should put aside extra money from his discretionary budget to do that), then there would be no extra spending because we don’t have the money. I wouldn’t rack up debt to entertain my own kids, so certainly won’t for SSs.

And yes, I was floored at his reaction to my supposed “interruption” of his time.

thinkthrice's picture

That is called giving SM 100% responsibility and 0% authority.

For each action there is an equal yet opposite reaction therefore, guess who gets 100% authority and 0% responsibility?  Yep, the skid(s).  Time to sloooowly get on the disengagement train.

I clearly remember being a doormat and maid whilst Chef snapped/yelled at me in front of his "angels" for:

1.  leaving grill marks on hotdogs/hamburgs

2.  serving day old hotdog rolls to his precious

3. going off the driveway in icy conditions causing precious minutes away from his oinkers getting to their feed trough

4. insisting YSS do his homework before playtime

5. taking a can of diet coke away from YSS as he was shaking it up and about to purposely spray us with it for not getting his way. 

strugglingSM's picture

Thinkthrice, your posts always make me laugh out loud. I can relate to them so much and I hope that I eventually reach the place where my sense of humor about all this craziness is as good as yours is about your situation.

thinkthrice's picture

slooowly disengage.  Chef has a temper and he was none too pleased about my refusal to play doormat and ATM.

He also did not care for the fact that of my predictions about the Girhippo and his spawn came true.

Its only after almost 14 years of this shit that he realizes I was right all along.  His kids are now GROWN pathetic, lazy narcissists; not good, wonderful and helpful; the way he would describe them early on.   I saw almost immediately the inroads the Gir was making with them and his guilty/disney dad crap ACCELERATED it.

SayNoSkidsChitChat's picture

I know this is an old post.


 I do nada for stepbrat. I buy nothing, I clean nothing, I provide nothing. No rides, no money, no favors. You need to disengage from the stepbrats, their BM and anyone who doesn’t put you first. 

Your husband is a gaslighting idiot!