As part of my stepfamily coaching certification with Jenna Korf, I read two books that were mandatory reading but are fantastic resources. They were mandatory because research shows that as a stepmom, two of the hardest pieces of the puzzle of trying to fit into preformed family life are the difficulties with the stepchildren and the challenges by the ex. More specifically the toxic ex. The first book was “No One’s the Bitch” (by Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine) and the second “Skirts at War” (by Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Jenna Korf). The perspective offered by each was about how to manage the often conflictual and stressful relationship between the stepmom and the ex. The “Bitch” book provided tips on how to mend fences and become allies at the least and maybe even -GASP- friends! The ultimate hope is that you can be on the same team, as allies, for the sake of the children. It is children who ultimately benefit if stepmom (SM) and birth mom (BM) can work together to subvert the chaos and tensions the kids would otherwise be exposed to in volatile SM-BM battles. “Skirts at War” gave some very useful skills to develop on how to set boundaries and remove yourself from the drama of a toxic ex when being allies/friends is not an option. These skills are pivotal in not taking things personally and not feeling overwhelmed which leads to self preservation. Reading these books can be a light switch moment. Putting the behaviour of the ex in perspective so that her behaviour doesn’t have a detrimental impact on you. You can remove yourself from her misplaced anger. Further to my loss and grief series, here are some insights into the ex or BM’s grief and loss that could be playing a part in how she treats you:
As in my Permission to Grieve blog a divorce or separation means failure- and failure is loss. So many losses combine into the big loss of the marriage and life long commitment. Failure doesn’t go hand in hand with high self worth. Self esteem is bound to take a major hit even if the choice to separate was hers. More so if the decision to end the relationship wasn’t hers.
Another self esteem blow: you are the upgrade or replacement in her eyes. Your husband has had a major ego blow with his divorce from the ex too. That likely changed his perspective and he may have done a personal overhaul as part of his self reflection. He has made changes that she wanted to see in him- and now he has you. From her perspective your relationship/marriage is a constant reminder of how she failed. Especially if you hit the alter before her.
She’s worried that you might be better than her at raising her own children. Or even if she’s not worried about that then her kids might love her less because she thinks if they like you there’s less to go around. When BM already has a tenuous self esteem because of the aforementioned points maybe her only redeeming belief/hope is that she is their mom and there is loyalty to her. Attachment. Love. She may see you as a threat to that little glimmer of hope. She may feel that she has EVERYTHING to lose with your presence in her life. That can be very scary. When you’re scared you act in ways to protect yourself and your ego.
When you look at her behaviour through this lens..one of compassion (I know it feels like that could be a real stretch ) it may help you take a different perspective. It is far easier to blame you and make you the target because you were strangers before you came into the picture. And she may want to keep it that way. But if you can remove yourself as the enemy by disengaging you are caring for yourself and your family. Because it’s no longer a fight when there’s nobody to fight with.