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

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
Feeling Like Family at Stepkids' Weddings

Dear ESM,

My youngest stepdaughter, Anna, got engaged last October and will be married this August. The fall and winter went by without any wedding drama, but now several wedding-related events are being planned for this summer—showers for the bride and parties for the couple—and I’m getting nervous.

I’m already stressing about seeing my husband’s ex-wife, Carol, at these events. I haven’t seen her in three years, since Anna graduated from college. At that event, Carol went out of her way to ignore me while pretending to still be married to my husband whenever she saw him. He tried to discourage her and be as cool as he could in front of the kids, but it was weird. If it weren’t for my older stepdaughter, who worked hard to make me feel welcome and included at the graduation ceremony, I would have been invisible.

For a while I worried myself sick about the wedding, but now I realize I’m going to have to spend a lot of time with Carol before the wedding if I want to be part of Anna’s celebration. I don’t want to ignore her mother, but I don’t want to feel invisible or foolish, or get snubbed, either. I’ve even thought about just graciously not going to the pre-wedding parties. Any thoughts about what I should do?

Signed,

Stepmother of the Bride

Dear Stepmom,

You are in a difficult, but not unusual, spot. Weddings are nodal events in families—meaning a time of big change, such as a birth or death, a major status change or big geographic move, a divorce or a marriage. This wedding is not only an important time for your stepdaughter but for your whole family. A new member is being added, and everyone gets a little whacky for a while.

 You’ll do yourself a favor by taking on this challenge rather than shrinking from it. By facing stressful situations directly, we build our resilience and ability to be present in the face of our own and others’ discomfort. So try to think of this as an opportunity to work on your stress muscles.

It sounds from your message as though your stepdaughter wants you in her life, and would want you at her wedding and the parties that go with it. So for her, for your marriage, and most of all for yourself, try to find some ways you can participate and feel good about.

First, you need to think about how you’d like to see things go. We know that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior under similar conditions. If your husband’s former spouse has treated you with disregard and disrespect in the past, then you’re not likely to see a big change and you’re probably not looking to become her new best friend.

But what do you want? What can you handle? Are you hoping for cordial contact at events involving your stepchildren and/or other family members? That’s realistic. If you’re looking for a warm relationship with your husband’s former spouse, or even a détente, you might be setting your sights on an unrealistic and unsustainable goal.

Second, you need to figure out how to soften things up. Think about ways you might ease the stiffness and tension in the family system that’s showing up as a sore spot between you and your husband’s former wife. If you and Carol don’t know each other, then there can’t be any real conflict between the two of you. You and Carol are in the middle of a family play, acting out some frustration or anxiety for the rest of the family.

But how can you change this tense, prickly pattern all by yourself? In order to turn down the tension before the wedding, you can take one of two approaches: direct or indirect.

Taking the direct approach would involve making contact with Carol in some way. A note, a gift, an email or card, an invitation to have coffee are all ways you might try to have a light touch or two before the wedding. The goal here is not to change yourself or Carol, only to lower the tension between you for Anna's sake.

If that’s too intense for you to do with your composure intact, try the indirect approach: work on improving your connection with other important people in Anna’s life, and trust that mom will calm down about you after she’s had a chance to be around you and to see that you have her children’s best interests at heart.

Very few of the parents I’ve interviewed want to deny their kids the opportunity to have another loving adult in their lives. Believe it or not, parents often tell me they worry about their young adult kids liking their stepparent too much. So stay calm and do your job in the family and give Carol time to get used to having you around.

Third, I’m wondering what your husband can do to help. Sometimes former spouses see a “new” mate as threatening or blocking contact with their ex, and they want more access to their former mate simply because they're feeling shut out. By softening his tone toward his former wife, Carol may eventually soften toward you. If he can’t do that, at least cultivating an attitude of equanimity will help.

Finally, never take you eye off the fact that this is Anna’s day. It’s not about the old divorce, it’s about the new marriage, and it’s not about you guys, it’s about the kids. You can't go wrong if you let these facts be your guide.

Thanks for your message, and please let us know how it goes.

Stay strong~

ESM




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