“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too”

22 Sep

Is it our vindictiveness that keeps us from forming a working relationship with the "other woman"?


Recently I received a list of questions about stepmothers, and one particularly got my attention:    

Why is it that stepdads seem to be spared the challenges that stepmoms face?    

THAT is a very good question and one that sparked a great late night conversation between DH and me.    

Me:  Answer this question, “Why is it that stepdads seem to be spared the challenges that stepmoms face?”  For instance, the challenge that we hear most often is that the biomom hates the stepmom.    

DH:  Gender.    

Me:  That’s what I think too, especially with this issue.  Men aren’t as wicked to each other as women are.    

DH:  Women are too competitive with each other.    

Me: Yes, but men are competitive too at work and in sports, so why aren’t they competitive in family situations?  Why don’t we hear about conflict between stepdads and biodads?    

DH:  That’s true.  Men can be really competitive with other men at work or in sports, but at the end of the day, they can go out and have a beer together.  Women are…what’s the word I’m looking for?  Vindictive.  Yeah, women can be vindictive sometimes if they don’t get their way or if they don’t win.    

Me:  It’s true.  Women are hyper-competitive with each other but sometimes they can’t “leave it on the field” so to speak.  Instead they go in the locker room formulate their own “Kill Bill” list.    

DH:  Like a list of all the women they want Uma Thurman to take out?    

Me:  No, just a list of women that they despise. “The Wicked Stepmother” is usually on the top of that list.     

Ask any stepmom and she’ll tell you that one of the biggest challenges of being a stepmom is the relationship (or lack of) with the biomom.  Biodads and stepdads can meet in the driveway during pick-up and within 15 minutes, they’ve worked out a comfortable co-parenting relationship between themselves.  I’ve seen it happen in my own driveway. Once DH moved in, he made sure to approach my ex and let him know that he wasn’t here to take his place, he just wanted to support us raising our kids.  Two months later, they were sitting on the couch watching football and having a beer.     

Biomoms and stepmoms are a different story.  Put them in within 5 feet of each other and they’re sizing up the competition.  They put on their best fake smiles, exchange pleasantries, then go to their corner of the ring and morph into the Wicked Witch of the West. Remember how vindictive and spiteful she was:  “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”     

Not to pick on biomoms, but in most cases, we’re the ones with the chips on our shoulders (see my article in the July issue of StepMom Magazine).  Next thing you know, the stepmom is at the top of your “Kill Bill” list, also known as “The List of People I Wish Would Just Fall Off the Face of the Earth”.  We’re plotting the stepmom’s demise and ways to make her life a living Hell while the biodad and stepdad are having a genuinely pleasant and friendly conversation.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Does anyone realize that the kids are watching?     

So back to DH’s point, is gender the reason why stepdads seem to escape one of the biggest challenges that stepmoms encounter?  I think it is otherwise someone would have written “No One’s the A**hole” as the companion book to “No One’s the Bitch”.  I think much of the tension and conflict between biomoms and stepmoms happens because of the way women are “wired”.  We are all territorial and protective of our children, and then there are those of us who are still working on the less savory aspects of our personalities like jealousy, insecurity and fear which tend to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune times.  Of course there are all kinds of societal expectations of women as mothers and stepmothers, as well as their expectations of each other. But when there’s a contentious relationship between the two, nothing gets resolved.  When a stepmother and biomom spend time whipping up tornadoes and waiting for a house to fall on the other’s head, no one wins. The big losers in the war?  The kids.   If you think they don’t sense your deep-seeded hatred of the other woman, think again.  Maybe it’s time we take a lesson from the guys and learn to shake hands and play nice for the well-being of the kids.  Be a little less “Wicked Witch of the West” and a little more “Glinda the Good Witch”.  You’ve got nothing to lose by being nice but you risk quite a bit, including the respect of your children, by acting vindictively.     

So let me ask you the same question that was asked of me:  Why is it that stepdads seem to be spared the challenges that stepmoms face?  Do you think there’s a double standard as far as expectations of stepmothers and stepfathers are concerned? Do you think stepmothers face greater challenges simply because of gender or does society’s expectation of women in a stepmother role factor into the equation?    

NOTE:  This is the first installment in a series that will look at the unique challenges that stepmoms face.  Next topic: feeling like an outsider in your own home.

19 Responses to ““I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too””

  1. Erin September 23, 2010 at 7:13 am #

    I remember a time when my father/sperm donor and my stepdad practically got into a fist-fight. It was over my college tuition.

    Like women, I think men can get angry with one another when they feel their “male-ness” is being threatened. With my dad and my father, it was over how they could (or wouldn’t with my father) provide for their family.

    Women, I think, tend to feel threatened when they feel like someone is trying to butt in on their “territory” (aka, kids).

    I also think men can get upset about it but just don’t talk about it because that would mean talking about feelings. Only now that I’m a stepmom does my stepdad tell me how stuff I would do hurt his feelings when I was a kid. Breaks my heart that I didn’t realize it then or that he didn’t tell me. 😦

    • BioStep September 23, 2010 at 8:05 am #

      Erin, thanks for bringing up issues that happen between stepfathers. I never saw any conflict between my dad and stepdad, and there’s no conflict between DH and my ex either. You make a good point that men do get upset and don’t talk about feelings. Perhaps that’s why the rest of us don’t see conflict?

      Overall, I think stepfathers side step most of the issues that stepmothers face. Lucky them. And I think that most of the challenges that stepmoms face would be easier if a relationship with biomom existed. What do you think?

  2. TK September 23, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    I don’t know about “typical” bio vs step mom conflict because BM and I had issues long before SS was born. Sometimes I think she’d have been nicer to hubby about SS if he had married someone other than me because his friendship with me was a thorn in her side while they were together. (she tried many times to get him to stop being my friend) So I honestly don’t know how much of our conflict is related to back then and how much is actually due to the whole bio vs step mom thing.

    • BioStep September 23, 2010 at 8:40 am #

      So in your case maybe it’s jealousy and insecurity that fuels vindictiveness???

  3. knittingbetweencultures September 23, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    I am curious if stepdads would have similar problems as step moms if the biodads didn’t jump ship so early. I think that many biodads are having a problem with absenteeism as opposed to jealousy, territory, etc. This opens a whole new can of worms for stepdads: How to be a positive role model and father figure since the bio is not readily available as the child would desire. This also creates problems with the children: insecurity, jealousy, anger- just to name a few.

    I, personally, am not a stepmom- though I have had my fair share of them in my life (my stepmom and then my father’s current wife).

    I know that my stepmom struggled quite a bit with my biomom and all of the drama that she brought with her. My husband, on the other hand, has never even said a cross word with my ex (who could use a cross word every now and then). I wonder if it is because my mom was still trying to be involved in our lives and my ex has lost sight of that goal? The more you see and interact with people, the higher the risk for conflict.

    Of course, I am not saying that ALL biodads jump ship. I am just wondering that since the statistic is higher for a biodad to abandon his children, if this would have something to do with where the strain lies in step parent relationships?

    • BioStep September 23, 2010 at 8:57 am #

      “The more you see and interact with people, the higher the risk for conflict.” Good point. Since you’re not a stepmom, what you may not know is that there is HIGH conflict between BMs an SMs that never see each other. There are BMs that refuse to interact or engage with SM at all. The venom and poison is apparent to the kids (no matter how hard anyone tries to hide it). So, once again, perhaps that’s a gender difference. Men have the potential for high conflict with increased interactions and women have high conflict because they can!

      • knittingbetweencultures September 23, 2010 at 9:17 am #

        Good point back. I think you may be on to something as far as gender goes.
        Also, perhaps some sense of entitlement or jealously from the BM since she is the one that gave life to the child? I wonder if she feels threatened by the SM or worried that their relationship will now be hindered instead of changed? Very interesting topic.

        P.S. I absolutely loved the date night topic- just didn’t have time to comment.

    • BioStep September 23, 2010 at 10:26 am #

      I think I should also explain that when KBC talks about biodads “jumping ship” she’s talking about the biodads that choose NOT to have a relationship with their children. She’s not talking about abandoning your kids because he divorced BM, she’s talking about BDs that conciously walk away.

      • knittingbetweencultures September 24, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

        Yes, thank you for clarifying for me. I wish I was as eloquent as you are with your words. But since I am not, I will just bank on the cool idea that you can read my mind. 😉

  4. JustMe September 23, 2010 at 12:30 pm #

    “I’ll get you my pretty, and your dog too.” So funny but not really that the biomom in our situation has verbally attacked me, my children, and even my little dog too, lol. She once told my stepkids that my little dog was evil.
    Now she blogs that she is thankful that her kids have a dad who loves them and a stepmom who is respectful of them, however what she says to us in private is such a different story.
    I understand it’s insecurities, and I understand where it’s all coming from but at some point you just expect an adult to behave like one.
    I am constantly reminded who the mother is in this set up and the funny thing is I agree, and believe she needs to begin acting like one and not just barking that she IS one.
    I don’t believe all women are vindictive. I let a lot of crap slide before I say anything.

  5. Jenn September 23, 2010 at 5:04 pm #

    I wonder if the differences between the step-dad/dad relationships and step-mom/mom relationships have to do with women generally being more nurturing by nature. With them instinctively being care givers. Mothers.

    I am a bio-mom and my Ex is remarried. I have worked very hard at creating a cooperative relationship with my daughter’s step-mom, and we have never had any fights or drama or “she-said, she-said” situations.

    That being said, I can honestly tell you that my inner lioness DOES roar her ugly roar occasionally (OK-sometimes more than occasionally), and when it does it has to do with jealousy.

    But, not that kind of jealousy.

    Not the kind of jealousy that has anything to do with my Ex or wanting him back. It has to do with the fact that she nurtures and cares for my daughter like a Mommy would. Like I would, and do. And she did it from day one, and it was completely instinctual for her to do it and also instinctual for my Ex to back off and to let her handle all the “Mommy”-type things. Which can lead to stepping-on-toes types of situations.

    Because that’s my territory. I am her Mommy. I want to handle the Mommy things.

    But, during my daughter’s parenting time with my Ex, step-mom does all the things I would like to be doing for my daughter if it weren’t for the fact that I have to share her.

    My fiancé and Ex, by contrast, don’t seem to have this same issue. But then, my Ex’s household seems to mirror my own with us women being more hands on with the everyday tasks of caring for my daughter. So.

    That’s my bio-mom confession. I have these jealous feelings from time to time, but I don’t feel the need to act on them and make everyone uncomfortable, or worse. More love is more love. I strive to create a friendship with my daughter’s step-mom and encourage my daughter’s relationship with her, because that is what is best for my daughter. In the end as long as she is loved and cared for, who cares that my toes are a little sore, and my feelings a little hurt?

    Feelings are natural. It’s how we act upon those feelings that get us into trouble.

    • BioStep September 23, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

      Wow, just wow. And thank you.

      It’s encouraging for so many stepmoms to know that there are reasonable biomoms in the world. Kudos to you for working hard to establish a good relationship with your daughter’s stepmother. I know many stepmoms feel like they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they care for and nuture a child, they are told that they are overstepping their boundaries and trying to take mom’s place. If they disengage and step back, they’re labeled as heartless shrews.

      I’m glad that you have the attitude that “more love is more love”. That’s a good place to be, isn’t it?

      • Jenn September 24, 2010 at 4:42 am #

        It helps you realize what is most important. It’s hard to be mad at someone when you realize their actions stem from loving your child.

        And I can’t take credit for the “More love is more love” concept. Molly sums up this idea beautifully over at Postcards From a Peaceful Divorce. She is inspirational!

    • TK September 24, 2010 at 6:45 am #

      Jenn, you ROCK!!! I second what BioStep said. It is VERY encouraging to see a BM willing to work with the SM and to tame the jealousy and such. ::applause::

      • BioStep September 24, 2010 at 8:06 am #

        I think really realizing what’s important and then being willing to act accordingly is part of the evolution of a divorced biomom (remarried or unmarried). It’s a tough lesson for some. I know it was for me in regards to the way that I coparent with my ex.

        I just added you to my blogroll. Love your blog. Erin had mentioned her interview with you last week and I hadn’t had the chance to get over to it yet (too many kids doing too many things!).

  6. Jennifer September 23, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    I am not at all threatened by biomom, probably because she’s in Texas and I am here in WA. My issue with the biomom is that she’s just a crappy mother! She holds her son to absolutely no standard because she has none for herself. I don’t have a problem with people who need a little help. We all do at times. But living on welfare because you “just can’t” work … lame! Her highest aim for her son is a GED and a job at Walmart. Please – dream bigger for HIS sake!! Secondly she never does anything for her daughter to which I am the stepmom. She sends a birthday present and a Christmas present but never even asks about her or asks to talk on the phone. At least pretend to care so the kid doesn’t have a complex! I don’t feel at all threatened or vindictive and certainly not jealous. But there are days when I do want to kick the crap out of her for being a deadbeat!

    • BioStep September 24, 2010 at 8:19 am #

      Jennifer, every year my biodad sent a Christmas card with money. That’s all I ever heard of him until I was 13 and contacted him. With the exception of a few moments, I didn’t even realize he wasn’t there because I was surrounded by so many people who loved me. I know your stepdaughter is surrounded in the same way. Keep it up.

      • Jennifer September 25, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

        Thanks, BioStep. That’s encouraging to hear! When we first got married, I think she had a complex. She was afraid to call me mom or refer to me as her mom because she had a mom already. But now, I don’t even think she really desires that much of a relationship with her. She feels a bit of pitty for her. Luckily, besides two parents that are working their tails off for her, she has a fabulous community of people who aren’t deadbeats!

  7. Ellen Kimball September 26, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    I’m going to add my two cents here from a unique position. I was raised by my two natural parents who were beautiful, talented, and self-centered people in their own right. I was their only child and felt very little love. I dreamed of finding out I was adopted and tried to emulate several teachers. There was no way I was cut out to be a mother. I never played with dolls. I had golden cap pistols from Knott’s Berry Farm in California. Then I had two husbands in a row, one stillbirth with the first and two live births 14 months apart with the second. Husband number three has been with me for 37 years. He was a widower with three kids; I was divorced with two. So for all of my stepparenting life, I had to compete with “the way Mom used to do it…” a big glorification according to my husband, who was on business travel 50% up to 75% of the time. But I have to hand it to my TWO husbands. They did a great job with the finances when my children got old enough to go to college and make important purchases. The men put away their differences and worked together to help the children sort these things out. Now that husband #2 has died of the dreaded lung cancer, my children are close to their Bonus Dad and that’s proved to be a very good thing.

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