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

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
Who's Crazy Here?

Dear Evil Stepmom,

Next month I'm getting married to a guy with two daughters--19 and 21. The girls both go to college out of state; they will start school again in late September, a few days after our wedding.

I get along great with both of his girls, so this isn't really a stepmom question--it's more about my fiance's ex-wife. Last week, she sent him an email saying, "Given the fact that you are getting married, shouldn't we discuss you leaving money to me to cover the girls' education if anything should happen to you?" WOW. She's got him dead and me stealing all of his money from his daughters!

It sounds crazy enough, but it gets better: the girls' educations are provided for by a fund he and his ex set up together during their divorce! What would possess her to ask him for money (which is already being provided) just because we're getting married?

She's been terrible to me and to us for the three years we've been together, and has vowed in writing to never treat me with respect, so it's not as if this comes out of nowhere. But is this how it's going to be forever? 

If so, I'm just not sure I can handle it. Can you give me a little help here?

Signed,

Maybe I'm the Crazy One

Dear Soon-to-be-Stepmom,

The good news is that this is not likely to last forever, and you are not crazy. Neither is your beau's ex-wife, even though I understand how it looks to you right now.

You don't mention how long the former marriage lasted. If your fiance and his ex got divorced when their children were in high school, they had sixteen or seventeen years to develop patterns of parenting together. If they got divorced when their children were small, they developed patterns for parenting separately and working together when it was in the best interest of the children. Either way, they have had a working partnership centered around their children for nearly 22 years. I didn't say a good partnership, but one that has worked well enough to put two young people in college.

Now their partnership is changing. Your fiance and his ex have probably had fewer and fewer reasons to work together since the kids left for school. This means she's had less access to him. And whether she likes him or not, odds are good that your upcoming wedding is making your fiance's ex nervous about her continued access to him as the mother of his children. Add to this the fact that her ex is bringing a new woman into her girls' lives, and you have the potential for a lot of strong feelings.

She's in a tough position: The "children" are moments away from leaving home for good, and her ex is getting ready to walk down the isle without her. Where does she fit in all of this? What if one of the girls needs him? Will he still be available to "the family"? These are a few of the countless possible questions rolling around in her head.

Launching a child into the world and adding a new family member are two of life's most stressful events. For your future husband, the addition of a new mate is all upside. But for his ex, your addition may be threatening to her relationship with her daughters (especially since you get along with them), with her former in-laws, and with the father of her children. This is all disruptive, stressful, and unsettling. 

In this context, it's easy to see how a person could get anxious and say or do things she might not when she's being her best self. Your fiance's ex may have chosen a curious way to go about it, but my guess is that she is looking for reassurance that she still matters in his life and that, if she really needs him, he'll be there.

The best thing you can do for your future stepfamily is to ignore the content of her message and hear it instead as a request to keep the lines of communication open with her ex. If he can stay open and available to her, I predict that tensions will go down over time. For example, rather than ignoring her email or telling her off, he might let her know that though their daughters' educations are covered, he will always work with her if there's an unexpected need. 

We all say things we don't mean when we're anxious or upset. Don't get hung up on words. Remember that there is a powerful emotional bond between a mother, a father, and a child--even after a parental death or divorce, even after a child leaves home. Keep doing the right thing and everyone will calm down eventually.

Stay strong,

ESM
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