Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
My Stepmom Is Freaking Out About My Wedding

Hi ESM,

I am not a stepmom but I am having major problems with my stepmom so I thought I would write to you.

When my dad and stepmom first married we didn't get along. I blame it on the timing--my parents divorced, my grandma died, and my dad remarried all in the same year. Over time we became very close. My biological mother and I didn't see much of each other after the divorce, and less over time. After a while, I started to consider my stepmom my mom.

Everything was great until I got engaged. I wanted to make her feel included so I put her name on the invitation, invited her to all the pre-wedding parties and asked if she wanted to help me plan. Since day one she has become a different person. She gets mad when my family talks about the wedding and she is constantly yelling at my Dad because she thinks he is spending more money on my wedding than theirs. My Dad and step-mom had a small wedding, but it was because my Grandma had just died and my Dad had just gone through a very difficult divorce.

She even got mad at my Dad because my engagement ring is bigger than hers, and now she wants my Dad to buy her a new one. My fiance's friend owns a wedding dress store so I was able to get a fabulous dress for free, and now she wants my Dad to buy her a new dress because she thinks it's unfair that mine is nicer.

These are things I don't have control over. Last month she told me I was selfish for getting married in the state where I live instead of the state where she and my Dad live. She said that she had a life and she shouldn't have to miss a week of it to come to my wedding. We haven't talked since then.

I really miss my cool fun stepmom, and I wonder if I did something along the way to make her act like this and what I can do to fix the problem.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Bewildered Bride


Dear Bewildered,

First, I want to assure you that you are not alone in your predicament. One bride-to-be/stepdaughter I worked with two years ago had a similar experience to yours. Her stepmother, with whom she had had a terrific relationship for 15 years, started criticizing her ever decision around the wedding—the wedding date, location, wording of the invitation, menu, gown--everything the bride did was "inappropriate" or didn't "honor protocol".

Meanwhile, this stepmother howled to the bride's father about the "embarrassing spectacle" his daughter was planning. Yes, she used those words. She begged him to intervene. She refused to contribute financial support. She refused to help with the planning. The bride barely managed to stay on speaking terms with her stepmother, and her father only defended his wife when his daughter asked him for help with her stepmom.

By the time the wedding day came, the bride had a whole team of friends and family members dedicated to keeping her stepmother busy, distracted, and away from the bride. (One bridesmaid even exaggerated a sore throat for two days to keep the bride’s stepmom running after hot tea and Theraflu instead of sabotaging the ceremony and reception.)

I share this story to let you know that you are not the first person to have a parent or stepparent go a little wacky around a wedding.

Parents and stepparents get pre-wedding jitters, too. Your stepmother may be expressing her nervousness or loss in strange ways—by protesting and complaining to your father, expecting him to give her everything he gives to you, or by putting unrealistic demands on his time and resources or your patience, to name just a few.

Children’s weddings whip up a storm of emotions in the calmest of parents and stepparents—especially first-timers. Most people aren’t aware enough of what a stressful event a child’s wedding is, but the tension comes out sideways, often without anyone making the connection to its cause. Parents and stepparents might argue or bicker more, become negative or weepy, get tired or depressed, use more alcohol or drugs than usual, have more accidents (such as falls or fender-benders), or get super controlling. Or a little of each.

Consider the following questions:


  • Have your dad and stepmom been through this before? Your wedding is a very important and stressful event for everyone in your family. If your dad and his wife have never given away a child, then they might be surprised and overwhelmed by the feelings they’re struggling with—concern about your future, sadness over losing you as a “kid,” frustration that your fiancé may not be the right person or worry that the timing is wrong, excitement about your great new adventure, eagerness for a new generation to love and look after, to name a few.

  • Does your stepmom have children of her own or with your dad? If not, her husband’s children are probably extra special to her. It sounds to me as if your stepmother is in a difficult “Mom/Not Mom” position in your family. This alone could make your wedding a lightening rod for her worries, anxieties, and frustrations.

  • What else does your stepmother have going on in her life right now?  Ageing, menopause, coping with ailing parents or other family members, dealing with job loss or change in financial status are just a few of the many pressures that could be contributing to her emotional reactions to your wedding.

  • Are you in contact with anyone in your biological mother’s family? I ask because your stepmom may, consciously or unconsciously, be feeling the burden of playing the role of “Mother” to you for your wedding. And every stepmother knows in her heart of hearts that there is absolutely no replacing a child’s only mother. We know it is a losing game to even try. If you were in touch with your mother's family, it would relieve pressure on everyone.

  • Is your dad overdoing it on your wedding? If I know fathers, yours will probably do just about anything to make you happy and to make up for your missing mother as your wedding day approaches. This may mean overspending, overindulging, or in some other way doing things for you that his wife does not agree with. You may want to ask your dad about it--try something light like this: “Hey dad, is the wedding help I’m asking you for going to make you postpone your retirement?"

  • What’s your role in this? Are you amped up, nervous, excited? What are you putting in the water with your dad and stepmom? Check yourself. Ask your fiancé. Ask your sister, maid of honor, or a friend who’s known you and your family for a while. One of the hardest things about being human is that we cannot see ourselves, we can only see others reacting to us. But we always think it’s about them, because we can see them.


What ever happened to the bride I told you about earlier? She navigated her way through the wedding without any incidents with her stepmother, then went on her honeymoon. When the new couple returned, dad and stepmom had them over for brunch and the bride’s stepmom spent the entire time gushing about the wedding—how perfect, beautiful, creative, classy, and original it was. Now, a year and a half later, stepdaughter and stepmother have a new, more separate but more adult relationship.

Feelings are, as the poet Rilke said, like clouds. Which is why things always seem to go better when we don’t get all caught up in them—our own or others’. If you want your fun cool stepmom back, you may just have to be patient and wait a bit (read: few months to a few years).

Please don’t hesitate to write again. This is an important time for you to figure out how to stay on your own path while staying in connection with important others in your life. I honestly think that’s why weddings were invented in the first place—to give parents and children something to fight about in order to create a little distance so that young people have a chance to break away.

Stay strong ~ ESM



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