Mothering vs. Smothering

I met my SS when he had just turned four years old.  His parents divorced when he was just under two years old.

DH and I now have two bio children together, giving SS two siblings.  He has no siblings on his mother’s side.  She has not recoupled in the last ten years other than being the adultress to SS’s married allergy doctor.  She has not had additional children other than the 18  months she spent trying to adopt a girl from Guatemala and then Panama.   None of which panned out for her, leaving her alone and without family other than SS. 

She had a “falling out” with both her sister and her brother living in our home state.  Her own parents moved hundreds of miles away in retirement.  She is utterly, completely, alone in terms of an intimate relationship or even a familial relationship.  My poor SS is the center of her universe and her surrogate partner in life. 

It is my assessment that she is much more SMOTHERING than MOTHERING my SS.  They are truly enmeshed and she counts on him for things that she should be getting from other adults.  She leans on him for emotional support when he should be free of that and in fact, should be able to lean on her. 

I fear the damage that she is doing to my SS and feel virtually powerless to interene. 


To my step-son

I met you when you had just turned four years old.  I was introduced to you by your father and he asked that you call me “Miss Jones”.  I would have asked you to call me by my first name,  but it wasn’t up to me.  It was the first, but not the last time that decisions affecting you and me would not be up to me. 

You were delightful in your love of Scooby Doo and Matchbox cars.  We became fast friends playing “car show”, lining up the cars by color and type and showing them off to your father when he had finished cooking dinner for the three of us.  You and I became fast friends over tossing and kicking the ball in the yard.  We hid under a blanket and pretended to be aliens landing upon an unsuspecting planet Earth. 

I fell in love with you as surely as I fell in love with your Dad, albeit in entirely different ways. 

When your Dad proposed marriage to me some two years later, I enthusiastically accepted.  My first thought was of how wonderful it would be to spend the rest of my life with the man I so loved and cherished and enjoyed.  My second thought was how delighted I would be to watch you grow, to be a part of your life forever, and to help your Dad raise you to be the fabulous man you would certainly be. 

Not once did it enter my mind that my role in your life would be the subject of such debate and conflict. 

I have now been your stepmother for over six years.  I have watched you grow from a young child to nearly a teenager.  I have watched with interest and with love.  But I have watched from a sideline that was put in place not by you or by me, but by others who feel that I should maintain an “outsider” view of you. 

It does not change the way I feel about you.  It does, however, change your experience of me.  No longer do we share exchanges like the car show.  We merely co-exist in the same house and find our moments of connection from time to time. Not nearly often enough, but more often than some would hope.

I hope for a time in your life when you and I will once again connect without your feeling the risk of danger.  I look forward to meeting your girlfriends who might need my perspective.  I long for a day when you and I can once again openly enjoy one another’s company and even love one another without penalty.

Until that day, know that I care, know that I think about you and your needs, know that I am still…to this day…grateful to watch you grow and be a part of your life.   

I would put together a wicked car show if I thought that you might join in.  I am wise enough to know that the time has passed.  I am also wise enough to know that some day..we will once again find common ground.  I welcome that day. 

Mother vs Golden Uterus.

Make no mistake. We here at GU love mothers. Hell, we all have one. We understand that they are good and kind, and strong, and smart, and have what is very often a thankless job. They shape our future. This in no way excludes fathers. We like them too. Keep the hate mail about that to a minimum, m’kay?

There is a huge gulf of a difference between the mother and the GU. While it’s true that both are women (even if sometimes we mean that only in the strictest of genetic terms) and it’s true that they both have children, that is sadly where the similarities end. So with that in mind, we are going to outline for you, dear reader, the difference between the mother, and the golden uterus.

And in the Mother column:

Mothers are giving.

Mothers will say no to their children.

Mothers understand that children should not be burdened with adult situations. Mothers understand that a child’s brain is not physically developed enough to understand the ramifications of their decisions so they do not allow children to make serious, life altering, harmful, decisions.

Mothers teach their children how to survive in the real world.

Mothers understand that their principal job in parenting is to raise, happy, mature, adults in the hopes of leaving the world just a little bit better.

 While a mother feels like her child is her heart, walking around, she logically understands that her child is his or her own person and does not impose her own emotions onto her child.

Now in the blue corner, the golden uterus:

The GU doesn’t quite understand that she can feel one way, and her child another. To her, when she is sad, the child is sad. There is no difference.

The GU simply cannot see those things that she deems “unpleasant”. They just don’t exist.

GUs believe that what is best for her is what is best for everyone. Anything beyond that is foolish.

 To the GU disobedience is abuse. A child who disobeys her, must hate her.

 A fathers most important role is that of an assistant to the mother. There is no other purpose.

 Stepmothers may or may not provide childcare, and/or driving arrangements. These things may only be done with the understanding that it is to be treated as a case by case basis only. The GU must agree with each day separately because yesterday just didn’t happen. Further to this, childcare and driving must be done by an invisible stepmother. One who also cannot punish, take pride in, dislike or love said child.

A Golden Uterus believes that her emotions are reason enough for action, there need be no other justification than that.

Quote of the Day

Does feminist mean ‘large unpleasan person who will shout at you’ or ‘someone who believes women are human beings?’ To me it’s the latter, so I signed up.

-Margaret Atwood, Canadian Writer

My Role as a Stepmother, as defined by the Golden Uterus

When I started to date DH and spend time with the skids, BM asked a million questions about me and pushed to meet me. She said it was so she would know who was spending time with her children, that seemed reasonable enough, although DH had never met a single one of the many men BM had in and out of the children’s life. That was private, that was her business, yet, who he dated, was a parenting issue. As we got more serious, she got more and more intrusive, going so far as to snoop through DH’s things during the drop-offs and reading personal correspondence between the two of us. I began to feel more and more violated as this woman grilled my boyfriend about our  relationship on a daily basis, and when he did not share information with her, she threatened to deny him access to the kids, stating that since DH was hiding things from her, it was clear that I was not the kind of person who should be around her kids. Once again she  ignored the fact that she had frequent overnight guests in her home, including a married man she was having an affair with.
My role as stepmother was to be a window in which to peer into DH’s private life.
BM began to communicate more and more how fun it was going to be to have me as the stepmother. She said she needed more female friends, she didn’t have many. She said she and  the kids could use a shopping buddy, she expected that she and I would become best friends. She had no idea how intrusive she was being. She had no clue that she was not the person who would define the relationship I would have with my step kids, the step kids and I would define that. At that time,  I had no idea how much of a role I even wanted to play in their lives, but I certainly did not want to sit around and braid BM’s hair while we swapped recipes and stories about boys. At no point could she see that I was not dating DH to be with her. She completely felt that I should be some sort of sister to her. A little sister at that, as she would dictate and control everything we did, and I was to look up to her and idolize her. She did give birth to DH’s children, after all and to love them, is to love and worship HER.
My role as a stepmother was to be her biggest fan and to idolize her.
It got old really fast and I never played along. I was friendly, but I avoided interacting with her, and DH started to work on saying “No” regularly and setting up boundaries with her.
 She began to call DH as often as 10 times a day, insist on face to face meetings with him “about the children” multiple times per week and make Internet posts about me at a website we both frequented.  She would to use me as her back-up free babysitter when DH was working out of town and at the same time,  post that I was using her children in order to trick DH into falling in love with me. She liked me, but wondered if it was okay to allow her children to spend time with me. She would often post this type of thing while I was babysitting.
My role as a stepmother was to work for her.
After DH and I married, BM’s insecurities took control of her mind and actions. She emailed both Dh and I many times during the course of any given day, continued to call DH until he told her she would cost him his job (and her child support) if she did not stop calling during business hours, she began to be snotty to me and make digs at me when she came to pick up the kids. She began to complain to me that she had lost her best friend in DH and she was struggling. She often tried to visit with me and use me as her dumping ground. She expressed that she had no issues with me being a mother figure, and she was my biggest support in that  and she needed my husband to be as supportive in HER role as the mother as he was in mine. She asked me to tell DH that he should be there for her in the ways he was there for me.
My role as the stepmother was to reunite BM and my husband.
As she got more frustrated with the situation, as she lost more and more control of my husband she would swing from depressed to irate. Her calls and emails became these long diatribes about what a good person she was, what a bad person DH was. She began to badmouth DH and I to the skids. She began to make strange rules for them to follow in our home. I  actually started interacting with her more, first attempting to calm her down, then to  set boundaries. I began to cut her off at the pass and DH and I made stricter rules as to how often we interacted with her as well as  the nauture of these interactions, as she was always abusive and combative. She was offended when I would set up a boundary, such as “please do not let yourself into my home.” She countered with a declaration that if the mother was not given an open door policy in our  home, then the children would suffer severe emotional consequences and that DH and I would ‘pay’ for such an abusive rule. The children would never forgive us, that was for sure. We’d be sorry.
My role as the stepmother was that of an enemy she had to conquer.
We come to today. BM despises me and despises DH. She blames us for everything wrong in her life, openly badmouths us to the kid, lies in every single interaction and communication and is hysterical all of the time. She has always acted this way, the difference is that now, she makes no effort to hide it. I honestly don’t think she CAN hide it as she has completely lost the ability to control her emotions and her mouth. She is in a bad marriage, broke and her children describe her as ‘angry all of the time.’ Gone are the days when she was the center of the world, when she could make DH listen to her talk about her sex life and her break-ups, gone are the days he would bail her out financially, give her a place to hang out and do everything she asked no matter how much he hated it, because it was “for the kids.” DH came to realize none of it was ever for the kids, none of anything she did and said then, and nothing she does now are for the kids. BM’s rage is so complete she is now blinded by it. She is furious at this reality and does not accept it. Either DH and I are to be her biggest fans and to live to love her, or we are devils from hell. BM no longer acknowledges I exist and goes out of her way to direct all communication to DH. If she cannot control me, I do not exist. When DH last spoke to her she screamed at him “SM is NOT to mother MY children! She is NOT part of their lives!”
My role as a stepmother is to be invisible.
Throughout this I have remained the same private, steady person I was in the beginning. I still avoid her, I still would rather see a proctologist with a hangnail than run into her, I still find her to be obnoxious, controlling and dishonest. My opinion of her has not changed and my treatment of her has not changed. There are a few more boundaries, and she has burned every bridge she ever had with me, she’s out of second chances, but I remain- me.
The role I play as a stepmother has also not changed in my home and in the lives of my stepchildren. I remain the person who cooks, cleans, fixes hair and helps them figure out some of the hard things in life– just like I did in the beginning.
In the mind of the Golden Uterus, my role changes and is defined by her. In spite of her beliefs– to my step kids, I am the same person I always was. To my husband, I am the same. To me, my role remains the same. 
I am sure in time, when the wind changes direction or her newest mood swing hits my role will change again in her mind.
The truth is,  I define my role as a stepmother, not BM. I decide what kind of mother or stepmother I will be based on what is truly in the best interest of our family.  My role never changed, in spite of BM’s trying to hold back the tide. She has no control over who I am and the kid of parent I am. She does not dictate my level of involvement, love or even heartache I endure based on her current life situation and her belief that because she gave birth to the kids, they are not individuals, but an extension of her.

The rainbow of stepmothers

I have grown weary of our popular culture’s need to narrowly define the role of the stepmother.  From Dr. Phil on television to Dr. Joy Browne on radio, today’s “experts” readily put forth their opinions on the appropriate role of the stepmother.  In my estimation, their definition of the role of a stepmom leaves these women somewhere between the neighbor lady and the PTA welcoming committee. 

Dr. Phil is fond of telling the biological parents that they need to grow up, take responsibility, and work together for the sake of the children. I submit that it does not take a PhD to suggest that approach.  Similarly, Dr. Joy Browne likes to tell stepmothers that their role in a stepchild’s life is to be a good hostess when they are in their home.  Again, sounds practical, but lacks any real understanding of the reality of stepliving.

When a couple divorces, they admit that they can not get along, they can not come to resolution of major issues, they no longer like or love one another.  They might be in enough denial to not say these things out loud, but the message remains the same albeit subconscious.

The “experts'” recommendations are therefore founded on faulty thinking.  If these two previously married parents could get along, reach agreements, and put their children’s needs above their own….they would still be married. 

A natural consequence of a divorce is that one or both of the original parties will get remarried.  This person will become not only the spouse to the parent, but also the “step-parent” to the minor child.  If this happens when children are adults, this is a different dynamic entirely.  But when it happens when a child is still a minor, then the “new” spouse has a role.

The million dollar question is “what role?.”  I subject to you that the role varies greatly based on circumstances and can not and should not be dicated in the cookie cutter way to which the popular culture and its icons seems to want to default.

I focus my attention, here, on stepmothers.  I don’t wish to disregard the contribution that a stepfather has, rather I chose to discuss that which I know most about. 

I know stepmother who have entered a marriage as a custodial stepmother and as such have signed up for nearly 24/7 parenting responsibilities.  They become a surrogate mother to children whose mothers are not up to the task.  These women deserve the respect and admiration they have earned by taking on such a role.  We freely give this respect to adoptive or fostering parents; why not to stepparents? 

I know stepmothers who have entered into marriage as a “50/50” stepmother and as such have signed up for half-time responsibility for stepchildren which almost always includes a ridiculous amount of organizing, negotiating, scheduling, and assisting with the ins and outs of children moving between two homes.  This is no small task and requires perpetual adjustments in the dynamics of the home, yet again…stepmothers are expected to cooperate, never complain, and take it on as they “knew what they were getting into.”  That is a lot like saying that we all knew what we were getting into by going to college, getting married, or moving to another state.  It’s simply not possible to know “what one is getting into” until one gets into it.  Complaining is reserved for the bioparents, apparently, and stepparents should just put up and shut up with the challenges of child rearing. 

There is the additional population of fathers and stepmothers who have “visitation” or defined “parenting time” with the children.  It is this stereotype of stepmothers that tend to dominate popular culture’s idea of a stepmother.  It is this group who Dr. Joy Browne tells to be the hostess with the mostess.  Heaven forbid she actually experience what it is like to have a child whom both you and your husband love to come and go like a visitor.  Is she possibly suggesting that over the long term, a stepmother is to be as aloof and distant as Martha Stewart putting on a party? 

 These non-custodial parents see and experience so many things regarding these children that they can not help, if they are caring people, but to love and want to support and guide the stepchildren.  They often cook, clean, shop, manage, and assist the father in caring for the child(ren).  Yet they are expected to be a mere hostess?

Look, house guests come but once a year for a pre-defined period of time.  They are adults.  When it comes to stepchildren, they are not guests but family members.  They come at a great frequency.  They often have their own rooms, their own toys, their own clothes, their own domain in the non-custodial home.  House guests are old enough to behave as guests (ususally). Stepchildren require guidance, teaching, supervision. 

Stepmothers are a part of providing all of the above needs for the stepchild.  To treat her as or to suggest that she behave as anything less than a co-parent to the father is insulting. 

We praise our adoptive and foster parents in this country, yet we demean and limit our stepparents.  The only thing I can attribute that to is our tendency to place mothers on a pedestal, even when they have not earned the position.  We need to seriously re-think how we consider a stepmother, her role, and the appreciation that she deserves.   

“I love you, too!”

A previous post pointed out the way in which some mothers display “over the top” affection upon separation from their child(ren), even for brief periods of time.  I would add to that description the way in which they also seem to require reciprocation of those declarations from thier children. 

I have witnessed phone conversations between my twelve-year-old stepson and his mother (stepson’s side of the conversation) and his part of the call seems to consist of the following:

 “Good, yea, good.  How are you?  Yea.  Yea.  No.  Well, I don’t know.  Yea.  Yea. Right.  Right.  I love you, too.  No.  I’ll try.  Yes, I’ve looked it over.  Yea.  Yea.  Right.  Right.  Right.  No.  Umm, I’m not sure.  Yea.  Yea.  Right.  No.  I love you, too.  Okay. Okay.  Okay.  Okay then.  Yea.  See you tommorow.  Love you, too.”

This conversation will have taken place when he and his mother have been apart for less than 48 hours.  I take no offense in his telling her that he loves her.  I do take offense that she seems to require it repeatedly and inappropriately given their short separation.  It sounds desperate to me and indicates her deeply held insecurity in having her son away from her for any period of time, even if it is beneficial to my stepson to be with his father and our family.  It seems to imply that only she loves him best and that he ought to return the favor.  It places her emotional needs ahead of his own, which is a tremendous disservice to a growing child.