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Evil Stepmom


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Articles & Interviews
Their Weddings, Your Stories

“I couldn’t believe the way [my husband’s] ex-wife showed up at their son’s wedding. She had a fresh boob job, a sheath dress more appropriate for a 25-year-old than a 50-year-old, and a rich boyfriend whose lap she sat on most of the reception. I was embarrassed for my stepson.”

“My daughter and her fiancé were married outdoors, and they wanted all of their parents to sit behind them in a semicircle facing their guests during the ceremony. At the rehearsal, we worked it out with the minister so that my wife and I would be seated on one side, the groom’s parents in the middle, and my ex-wife on the other end of the semicircle. Then, as the ceremony began, the mother of the groom moved the chairs around so that I was between my wife and my ex-wife. All I could think through the whole ceremony was, ‘Oh, no! On the video it’s going to look like we’re still married and my poor wife is some extra person on the end!”

“My stepmother actually said to my mother, ‘We have a beautiful daughter, don’t we?’ What was she thinking?”

Oh, the joy of stepfamily weddings. Summer is here, and many stepparents of young adults are going to experience, first-hand, how strange and stressed-out families can get around this important passage in the lives of their youngest members.

Why This? Why NOW??

When a family adds or loses a member, everyone has some adjustments to make, whether they realize it or not. A wedding represents both an addition and a loss: the family is gaining a new in-law, but “giving away” a beloved child to marriage and to the new family the couple will form on their own.

This is why we so often see uncharacteristic behavior from family members as the big day approaches—the bride and her mother, who share identical tastes, suddenly fight about everything from unity candles to tablecloth colors; the bride’s Godfather Pete vows not to attend the wedding if her beloved Uncle Dick is invited; the groom’s angelic little sister is delivered to the front door by two uniformed police officers for shoplifting the day before the bridal shower.

Few people understand the stress and tension that a family wedding can stir up in its members. What looks like unrelated temporary insanity is more likely evidence of family members struggling to adjust to a seismic shift in the family system.

Add the Loss of the Parental Marriage

A parental death or divorce and remarriage can aggravate an already sensitive family at the time of a wedding. If one of the bride or groom’s parents is deceased, a very important person is missing on the young person’s special day, and everyone present is aware of this. If the bride or groom’s parents are divorced, the cloud of a failed marriage may cast a sense of foreboding over the new union.

Research on emerging adults has shown that young people whose parents are divorced have a lot more anxiety about the decision to marry than do young people whose parents are in a satisfying marriage. This fact alone can make the wedding a more somber occasion, and might light up some sensitivity in family members.

Whether the parental marriage ended in death or divorce, don’t forget that the loss adds a sad note to a joyous rite of passage.

The good news is that there are things stepparents can do to help make things better for the young couple, and for the entire family.

How Stepparents Can Help

Keep your composure. Remember that you can do anything for one day that you couldn’t do for a lifetime. You may have to hear from every single guest how much Rosemary, your husband’s deceased wife, would have loved the bride, the readings, the champagne, the dancing. It’s your job to say, “I can only imagine she would have,” and gently redirect the conversation. Tomorrow you will have your husband, and your life, back. So smile, breathe, and hang onto your self.

Skip the alcohol. Alcohol reduces your ability to self-regulate. If you find yourself in an awkward conversation in the Ladies’ Room with your stepdaughters’ mother, you will want to have your wits about you. “Shari is such a beautiful bride; you must be so proud today!” will be far better than, “Hey, Psycho, are you going to stop calling my husband every five minutes when this wedding is over?” And you’ll feel better in the morning.

Cut others a lot of slack. One stepmom wisely avoided alcohol at her stepdaughter’s reception, only to be blind-sided by the groom’s mother, who had participated in a few too many toasts. The two women and their husbands were chatting about what a great day it had been at the end of the reception, when the groom’s mother made a comparison of the day’s events to a classic romance film. She then turned to the stepmother of the bride and said, “Of course you’re too young to remember that… you’re a trophy wife.” The kicker was, according to this stepmom, that the woman didn’t know she’d said anything offensive. She evidently thought the term “trophy wife” was a compliment.

If you can keep your sense of humor about the things people do and say under the influence of stress and fatigue (and possibly alcohol), you will be better able to toss off insensitive remarks and reactive behaviors. Fortunately, this stepmom already knew that a wedding is not the time to draw conclusions about people.

Focus on the celebration, not the tension. Don’t lose site of the fact that a wedding is about the new couple, not their parents or stepparents, and about the future not the past. One young adult stepdaughter said that keeping her mother and stepmother separate throughout her wedding weekend events was so stressful that she lost site of her own celebration. “My mother refused to be in the same room with my stepmother, and my stepmother kept scurrying around like a mouse trying to avoid her. I like my stepmother. I wanted her to be a part of things, but my mom made it hard, and that made my stepmom weird, and that put me in the middle.”

This stepmother probably could have softened things up with the bride’s mother in advance of the wedding, knowing how Mom felt. A note, a card, or a kind word at the bridal shower might have helped the bride’s mother focus more on her daughter’s happiness and less on her own tension and discomfort.

There has never been a more important time to be the adult, so be prepared to set old hard feelings aside for the day and be the biggest, most gracious person you know how to be.

Plan a “honeymoon” celebration of your own. After the rice has been thrown, the bouquet has been tossed, and the bride and groom are off to start their life together, take your husband away for a quiet weekend to relax and focus on your marriage. If you can’t go away, at least take a few days off at home to catch up on your rest, enjoy one another, and be together as a couple. Have a mobile masseuse come to your home and give you both a massage, do some gardening together, or rent all the movies you’ve missed in the run up to the wedding.

Weddings can be crazy-making for families. The wise stepparent will welcome the opportunity to see their family members in action, to meet the characters that participated in shaping their stepchildren, and to be an enthusiastic supporter of the new couple.


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