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

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
Separated Parent and Stepparent Present Wedding Planning Challenge

Dear ESM,


Here's my deal. My dad and stepmom got together when I was about nine (I'm 28 now). I have known my step mom for a long time - she was a family friend. My dad recently cheated on her/left her, but now he is trying to get back with my stepmom. While they were separated, she would try and contact me, asking about my wedding coming up. Well I never responded (and neither did my siblings) because we knew what was going on and felt like she was trying to manipulate us to get at my dad. I'm not a huge fan of hers (or my dads) but we were cordial before all this.

Now she is having screaming matches with my dad because she is pissed off that we didn't respect her and respond to her during their separation, as if we owed her anything. I also think she's extremely pissed she isn't coming to the wedding (because hell if I'll let her ruin that day for me). 
So I'm just looking to help my dad (because I probably care too much) and was wondering if you had any advice on how to handle this situation.


Signed,

Stressed Bride


Dear Bride-to-Be,

I’m assuming that you’re getting married this summer. What a difficult situation in which to plan a wedding. Given that your dad and stepmother have been separated, it makes sense that you would not be in communication with your stepmother about your wedding planning process. What doesn’t make sense is why your stepmother would expect you to be chatty with her while she was in the process of splitting up with your dad. And what would make even less sense would be if your dad expected you to keep on good terms with his soon-to-be ex-wife during their separation.

What I’m saying is, anyone who would expect you to invite your stepmother to your wedding would be putting you in a completely unfair situation. If I were working with you as a client, I’d suggest you send (or at least write) your dad a note or email that says something like this:

“Dad, I’m really sorry to hear that Barbra is giving you a hard time about the family disconnects that happened during your separation, and about not being invited to Scott and I's wedding as a result of your split. I’m sure you understand that I try to stay out of your business with Barbara, and I have stayed out of your separation situation. I didn’t respond to Barbara’s inquiries about my wedding planning because I didn’t want her to know your business. I was protecting your privacy, just as you would ours. Scott and I agree that we don’t want any negative attention, gossip, or speculation about you and Barbara at our wedding—we want to let you two decide about how and whether you’re going to reconcile without the spotlight of the entire family on you. If my wedding was two years from now and you guys were happily married again, of course I’d want her at the wedding. But this is a fresh drama for the family and I’d really like to be able to not have to think about it or worry about it or have my guests distracted by it on the single most important day of my life. I want you there with me. I am sorry that, at this point in your relationship turmoil, I can’t invite Barbara—but none of this was my doing, Dad. I’d really appreciate it if you’d let Barbara know that if you decide you’re going to stay together after you two have done the repair work you need to do, Scott and I will welcome the opportunity to visit with you as a couple and start rebuilding our relationships with her. But let’s not put the cart before the horse, especially at Scott and I's wedding.” (All names have been changed.)

You might also consider sending your stepmom a similar note, just saying that you want to let the two of them work it out and heal privately; there will be many more family celebrations to share over the years after they’ve got their relationship back on track.

One very common form of self-sabotage for young adults with divorced parents is to allow their parents’ mistakes, missteps, and failures of responsibility to become their problems. You didn’t cause your mom and dad to get divorced, you did didn’t make your dad choose who to remarry, and you didn’t dictate your dad’s (or your stepmom’s) behavior in their marriage. You can’t fix the messes they’ve made. Only they can. And covering it up for them so they can appear to be “together” in front of the family is too much to ask of you.

They are grownups, Dear Bride. As a married woman the world will expect you to take more responsibility for yourself and your actions. The world expects the same from your father. I’m sure you adore your dad, and you should—but he’s got to take responsibility for the things he has and hasn’t done (like protect you from his poor decisions). This is not your job. Part of becoming a fully functioning adult is learning where others end and we begin. He is not you; his screw-ups are not yours. You shouldn’t have to contort yourself socially or emotionally to fly cover for a poorly regulated parent and his poorly regulated spouse.

All you can do is tell your dad that you want him at your wedding, and that you hope he’ll walk you down the aisle, but that you and Scott will handle it if he can’t. This isn’t to punish him or your stepmother; it’s to protect you and your groom, the people who are there for you, and the joy of your day. The focus should be on great beginnings, without any regard to the turmoil in your father’s marriage right now.

I’d also tell your dad that you’re going to tell anyone who asks that, “Barbra is doing great and was so sorry she couldn’t be here,” or something polite like that, and he should do the same. You have no wish to embarrass them, and it’s not the day to discuss his situation with ANYONE.

You might also ask your bridesmaids, close cousins, and trusted friends to intervene if they hear anyone gossiping about your dad. Just have them say, “Oh, Dear Bride would be so sad to hear that we were talking about this today—she really wants to focus on her and Scott’s future today.” Your close friends and family can help discourage any icky talk they hear, so there’s no chance of it getting on you. Let them.

If I come up with any more ideas, I’ll write again. I’ll be posting a ton more wedding-related letters on the site this week, so check there, and feel free to write to me any time.

Also, I’m wondering where your mother is at in all of this? Thanks!

Stay strong ~ Kimberly


 
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