communication, controversies, divorce, family

“Wicked” stepmothers are people, too!

It seems to be a very popular thing these days to ask people on Reddit if one is “an asshole” for acting in a certain way. The notoriety of the “Am I the Asshole” (AITA) posts has spun into people turning them into very active Facebook posts or people even writing articles about them. The comedian behind “God” is no exception. Yesterday, “God” posted an AITA article about a woman who refuses to share sanitary products with her stepdaughter. She wanted to know if that made her an “asshole”.

Below is the Reddit post in question:

To be honest, I would probably be annoyed about this, too. The stepdaughter should have asked for the pads instead of just taking them. The last bit about not wanting to share things might make the OP a little bit of an asshole… especially under the very personal circumstances involved with having periods.

God’s article seemed to try, at least on the surface, to be fair to the stepmom, allowing that it’s difficult to try to “parent” someone who is only 13 years younger. But the rest of the article is decidedly slanted against the stepmother, making her out to be immature, petty, and mean. So I went to the comments, which was obviously a mistake, unless you consider that the comments gave me fodder for today’s post. 😉

From the get go, lots of people were chiming in with stories about their own evil stepmothers. Since I am “technically” a stepmother myself, I see the role from a different perspective. I decided to ask, “So, any woman who marries a man with children is evil?”

I did not provide any information about myself. I didn’t explain that I have two stepdaughters whom I have only seen in person once. I just asked a question, and I didn’t target anyone in particular. People could have just ignored me, but of course, they didn’t.

The first response I got was this: “My stepmother tried to poison me, so I have a different perspective.”

I was a little troubled that the guy who wrote that didn’t clarify that he only meant HIS stepmother was evil, not that all stepmothers are, as his first comment seemed to indicate. I fought the urge to write something angry to him. Instead, I tried to be measured. I wrote something along the lines of, “I am truly sorry that you were so traumatized by that experience that, apparently, your overall view of stepmothers is negative. That’s too bad.”

That comment triggered at least three other people, who each decided to take me on. One immediately called me a “karen”. One gave me an angry reaction and said I was “proving” the guy’s point somehow. The other wrote, “No one said that, but you sure made a leap.” To each of these folks– all apparently women– I wrote “Have a nice day.” I was not going to get into arguments with people who immediately start off their communications with insults and assumptions, with no attempt to even try to be empathetic. I have learned that getting into arguments with strangers is pointless. They won’t understand, because they choose not to. You can tell by the way they lob insults like “karen” and go right for the proverbial jugular with verbal nastiness.

Listen– I get that stepparents– especially stepmothers– are a contentious topic. A lot of people are legitimately traumatized by their stepparents, especially the women who dare to marry their fathers. However, the fact remains that a whole lot of marriages end in divorce, and a lot of people will either marry subsequent spouses, or they will become stepparents themselves. No one I have ever met has ever said their life’s ambition was to be a stepparent. And dammit, stepparents– including and especially stepmothers– are people too!

While no one specially stated that women who marry previously married men with children are “evil”, that was definitely the attitude that was coming across loud and clear. Insulting and making assumptions about perfect strangers, simply because they don’t go with the comment flow, is pretty lame. Critical thinking and mindful responding are good things in a comment section, rather than just popping off with stale 2019 era insults like “karen” and assuming the worst about every person one meets online.

It just seemed to me that instead of responding to the specific case in question, people were using that space to comment about their own “wicked stepmothers”. I’ll bet the vast majority of them have never once tried to see things from their stepmothers’ perspective. But I know better than outwardly making that assumption about people I don’t know. It would only open up a huge, unpleasant can of worms. I think posting “Have a nice day.” to people who are determined to argue and are immediately rude is a good policy. I’m going to try to do it more often… or, even better, just ignore the haters completely.

It’s funny, though, that some of those folks apparently think I am a “wicked” stepmother myself. For many years, maybe I kind of was. You see, I was legitimately livid with my stepdaughters because of the truly awful way they treated their father. I was angry with them because I know and love their dad so much, and I saw the devastating effect the estrangement had on him. They would not so much as speak to him on the phone, send an email, or even tell him to kiss their asses. And, for years, younger daughter in particular seemed to have a haughty, mean-spirited attitude toward Bill that I found insufferable. She was the one who, as a nine year old, was emboldened to slap Bill across the face for having beer in his refrigerator. I couldn’t abide the disrespect, especially given that my bio father was in my life and often treated me with contempt. Here these girls were with a father who adores them, and they just threw him away.

In retrospect, I have since realized that my reaction to younger daughter was based on limited information, and I was wrong. I have since found out that she and her sister were pretty much forced to behave the way they did. When she later reconnected with Bill, I learned more about younger daughter when she’s not influenced by her mother’s toxic craziness. I then realized that she’s actually a very nice– and surprisingly mature– young woman. It makes me sad that she had to become that way so young, due to the way she was raised. Her mother’s immaturity made it imperative that she step up and be an adult many years before her time. But she’s clearly a great wife and mother, and she’s made it clear that she will not be raising her kids the way her mother raised her. She even lets her kids call Bill “Papa”, which is absolutely adorable!

But here’s the funny thing, though. After many years of being angry with my husband’s daughters, and finding out that younger daughter is really not as awful as she seemed, I’m now actually being appreciated by her– even though I haven’t seen her in person since 2003. This morning, Bill got an email from his daughter. In it, she included two photos taken nine years apart. The first photo was taken for her LDS missionary packet. She has a pretty smile, but it seems kind of forced and contrived. She looks a little bit uncomfortable. In the second photo, she’s smiling, obviously relaxed, and looks genuinely happy.

Younger daughter wrote that many people who knew her nine years ago and have seen her recently have commented on her improved “countenance”. She’s really happy now, and it shows. She says she likes to think it’s her husband’s genuinely loving influence on her that has made her appear to be genuinely happy. And then she wrote to Bill, “I’ll bet Jenny has had the same effect on you.”

In fact, I did once see a photo of Bill, taken when he was in his 30s, still married to Ex, and working at a factory where, all day, he supervised men making refrigerator doors. It was a job he hated, coupled with the misery of being in a toxic, loveless marriage to someone who didn’t appreciate him at all. I told Bill that he looked much older in that photo than he does now, as a man in his late 50s. Nowadays, he does genuinely look happy. And I know that apart from getting away from a disastrous marriage to a narcissist, he’s happy because we’re compatible, comfortable, and genuinely love each other. Our relationship is not parasitic in nature. We work together to build our lives. It’s too bad that he didn’t meet me first, because if he had, he would not have ever been through divorce. But then, the divorce helped make him who he is today.

This was taken a couple of months ago. We were enjoying local wines.

I really appreciate younger daughter’s kind words. I am grateful that she understands that, just like her, I love her dad, and I want him to be happy. I do my best to make him happy, so we can both live our best lives. I think he has a similar attitude. That’s why we’re still happily married after almost 20 years. Ex, on the other hand, lamented today on Twitter that she will never have “true love”, because no man looks at her with “awe”. I guess she and #3 aren’t a match made in Heaven, after all.

That experience of changing my mind about younger daughter also reminds me of a few I’ve had with dogs. Yesterday, I posted about meeting a dog who usually snarls at me because I have Arran and Noyzi with me. But, when I met her at the weekly market, without my big dogs, she was perfectly sweet and gentle. Kind of like years ago, when one of the neighborhood kids on Fort Belvoir commented that she hated my beagles, Flea and MacGregor, because she thought they were mean. She based her opinion on their loud barks and baying when they were on their walks, catching scents among the old trees on post. But then another neighbor kid– our next door neighbor who knew my dogs well– explained that actually, my dogs LOVED kids. And then Flea went up to the girl and stood stock still so she could pet him. She looked up at me and BEAMED. Her opinion was changed, because now she had personal experience to the contrary to what she had previously believed. Ha ha ha… given these examples of minds being changed due to dogs, maybe I am kind of like a “bitch”. 😉 But anyway, the point is, with more information, one’s perspectives can quickly change.

Now… getting back to the AITA case that prompted this post. I want to comment on something I noticed in God’s “responses”. The person who wrote that article wrote it as if the stepmother was the girl’s parent. I know that all situations are different, but the stepmom specifically wrote that she doesn’t see herself in a “mom” role for that young lady. And, assuming the teenager has a real mother out there somewhere, I think that’s entirely appropriate. She is, after all, only 13 years older than the girl is. Given that she doesn’t see herself as a “mom”, she probably lacks the empathy a mom would have for a girl who needs sanitary napkins. Personally, I don’t think I would have blown up at the teen, but she did explain that her “hormones” were everywhere. And while wacky hormones aren’t really an excuse to be nasty and abusive, I do know from personal experience that they can affect a person’s mood. If I were the stepmom in this case, I would not appreciate it if the girl was in my room, going through my stuff, and taking things without asking first. That shows a lack of common and basic courtesy that, by age 16, I would expect in someone. Moreover, it actually IS her father’s, and her mother’s, responsibility to provide for their daughter– or at least provide her the means to obtain those items for herself. I know a lot of stepparents do become de facto parents, but it doesn’t sound like that’s how it is in this particular case.

Was the stepmom an “asshole” for blowing up at her stepdaughter? Well, yeah, she probably was. But I can see why she blew up. I think perhaps they need to have a serious chat about respecting each other’s space and belongings, particularly since there isn’t a “mom/daughter” dynamic in that relationship. Maybe they need to try to define what the stepmom’s role is, and act accordingly. Is she expected to be a mom? Or is she just a friend who happens to be married to dear old dad? If she’s a de facto “mom”, then yeah, I can see her talking to her stepdaughter about things like periods and helping her out when she needs supplies. That would be a kind thing to do regardless. But if she’s really just more of a “friend”, and the teen doesn’t see or treat her as a “mom”, then I would expect the teen to stay out of her “friend’s” bathroom cabinets, right? She wouldn’t dare brazenly go through a peer’s cabinets without permission, would she? Besides, stepmothers can’t seem to win for losing. A lot of people would blame them for trying to act like a “mom” to someone who already has a mother. And others would blame them for NOT acting like a mom and loving their stepchildren instantly and unconditionally. While it’s wonderful when stepparents can bond like that with their partners’ offspring from other relationships, the reality is, that simply doesn’t always happen, for a huge variety of completely legitimate reasons.

I am, technically, a stepmother myself, but I don’t feel like a mom to younger daughter. I’ve only met her once in person. On the other hand, she has made it clear that I probably have been more of the kind of mom she would have chosen for herself, if only because I don’t say or do toxic things, and I don’t interfere with her budding reconnection with her dad. In fact, unlike the stepmom in God’s article and Bill’s ex wife, I am delighted to share!

Seriously, though… I do know that some stepparents are truly awful, and I sympathize with those who are traumatized. But you know what? Some bio parents are awful, too. Regardless, most of us would do well to try to see things from another angle from time to time. And everyone should stop using the derogatory term “karen” as an insult. It’s a very stupid and unoriginal thing to do.

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divorce, Ex, family, lessons learned, marriage

Repost: An open letter to angry adult stepchildren… 

I wrote this post on October 15, 2010. I am reposting it because I see that it got over 11,000 hits, and some people might find it useful. My personal situation has changed a lot since I wrote this piece 12 years ago, so please keep that in mind if you read this… For instance, one of Bill’s children now speaks to him. Sometimes things can turn out better given some time and perspective.

Before I start with today’s post, I want to explain that my thoughts today are not necessarily directed to my stepchildren. After all, in eight years I have only met my stepchildren once and, since then, have had absolutely no contact with them. No… today’s post is for angry stepchildren who still talk to both of their parents and, for whatever reason, hate one or both of their stepparents. 

Yesterday, I was hanging out at one of my favorite online communities when I noticed a post written by a guy who was very upset with his father. This fellow, who is very open about being a homosexual, had recently written a heartfelt letter to his dad about his homosexuality. He was asking his dad for understanding and support. His father, apparently, didn’t respond to the letter the way the writer had hoped he would. 

So my online friend was understandably devastated about this turn of events and, in the course of describing his pain, happened to refer to his father’s wife as a “heinous harpy”. He did not explain why he thought of his stepmother that way. In fact, most of his posts were about his relationship with his father. But I couldn’t help but notice that, for some reason, he seemed to hate his stepmother and felt the need to express his hatred in a post that, at least on the surface, had nothing to do with her.

Here’s what I’d like to say to that guy, along with anyone else who hates their stepparent(s), yet still loves their parent(s). You may have a very good reason for hating your mother’s or father’s spouse. Or you may not have a good reason for hating them. But have you considered the reasons why your parent married that person? Put aside your personal feelings for a moment and think about it. Just spend a few minutes looking at life through your parent’s eyes.

Divorce sucks. It sucks for almost everybody, including many stepparents. Yes, if you are a child of divorce, you absolutely have a right to be hurt, confused, angry, etc. But chances are, your parent is hurting too, and would like the chance to try to be happy with someone else. Do you really expect your parent to go through life alone, just because their first try at marriage didn’t work out? Would you actually want them to be alone as they get older and less independent? 

Like it or not, your parent made a choice to invite another person into his or her life. Your parent had his or her own reasons for doing so. Maybe you don’t agree with your parent’s reasons or taste. Maybe your stepmother or stepfather is cruel or hateful to you. Maybe you feel like he or she takes your parent’s attention away from you or tries to shut you out of your parent’s life. Perhaps your parent’s remarriage has destroyed any hopes that your parents might reconcile.  

All of these issues are valid reasons for you to feel the way you do. But I’m asking you to stop and consider your parent’s feelings. Think about why he or she made the choice to invite this new person into their life. Then, if you’re able, take an objective look at your stepparent. Is he or she really worthy of your hatred? Does your parent genuinely love his or her spouse? Have you taken a moment to see what your parent sees in their wife or husband? 

Then, think about this… Did you decide to hate your stepparent? Or did your other parent make that decision for you? Consider this. I have met my husband’s daughters just once. During our one meeting, which barely lasted 48 hours, my husband’s daughters and I seemed to get along just fine. One of them went as far as to give me a big hug and refer to me as her other mother. But not long after that meeting, my husband’s daughters mysteriously started distancing themselves from their dad until finally, in 2004, they stopped talking to him altogether and, in 2006, actually sent him letters demanding that he let their current stepfather adopt them.

Since I haven’t seen or talked to my husband’s kids since that one meeting which had seemed to go so well, I can’t help but think their mother was somehow threatened by me and told them they should hate me, as well as their dad for choosing to marry me. In other words, the girls didn’t decide to dislike me until their mother decided for them that I was a bad person. Incidentally, I have never met their mother, and she has very limited knowledge of me, so I’m not sure how she determined I was so evil. I try not to take it personally, since I have a feeling she would have hated anyone my husband had chosen to marry.  

Here’s something else to consider. Relationships are always a two-way street. You may hate your stepparent and that may be all very well and good. But your stepparent may also reserve the right to feel the same way about you, especially if you’re an adult. You might not care about how they feel, but if you want to have a good relationship with your parent, you might be wise to reconsider the way you treat his or her spouse. There may come a time when you’ll wish you were on better terms with them.  

Marriage is a dicey business at best. Statistics show that about half of all married couples eventually divorce. Many of those people will have children, so there are lots of people in the child-of-divorce boat. Moreover, a lot of those children-of-divorce will eventually grow up and be divorced themselves. If that ever happens to you, would you want to spend the rest of your life alone just to spare your child’s feelings? Would you want your child to have the right to choose your mate for you, especially since most kids eventually grow up and have lives of their own?  

In our society, most people reject the idea of arranged marriages decided by their parents or anyone else. Do you really think you should have the right to reject your parent’s choice for a spouse? Would you want your kids to overrule your choice of whom to marry? And would you be happy if your parent eventually divorced and remarried a third or fourth time? Remember, divorce sucks… and it’s very expensive. I think the only people who could possibly enjoy the process of divorce are those who get a paycheck from it. Chances are, if your parent divorces several times, he or she might not be as financially well-prepared to handle growing older. If he or she wants to remarry, it makes good sense to let them (hopefully) choose the right spouse, once and for all.

I know for a fact that my husband is less lonely and a lot happier with me than he ever was with his ex-wife. We are very compatible with each other. Certainly, things would have been less complicated had he and I met first. But that didn’t happen. We make each other happy and belong together. Most parents want the best for their children and hope they will be happy. I’d like to think that a loving child would want the same for their parent(s). I know my husband’s happiness has led to his being healthier and wealthier… perhaps giving his kids more time to reconsider whether or not they really do want to throw away their real dad for good.  

Life is pretty short and there may come a time when you’ll wish you had more time to spend with your mother or father. If you love your parent(s), I would expect you’d want for them what they, hopefully, want for you… health and happiness and freedom from loneliness.

It’s true that you may have all the legitimate reasons in the world to hate your stepparent(s). All I’m asking you to do is to take a minute to understand where your hatred is coming from and determine whether or not it’s truly valid. Maybe your stepmom is a harpy or your stepfather is a selfish bastard. But your parent chose them to be a part of their lives. They must have had a reason… And maybe you should try to have some respect for their reasons. I’m sure you’d wish for and expect the very same if you’re ever in their shoes.

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