What Would You Do?


Everyone in the family looses when kids are encouraged and/or rewarded to disrespect their stepmom and their father. 

As part of the “What Would You Do?” series, I’m sharing with you a collective question I received from many stepmoms: how do you handle it when you feel your stepkids are encouraged and/or rewarded by their mom to be disrespectful to you and their father?

It doesn’t seem uncommon for stepmoms to struggle with a bio mom who openly encourages her children to be disrespectful to her and the children’s father. Some stepmoms even shared that their stepchildren are rewarded for being disrespectful and/or disobedient.

Gifts for Disrespecting StepMom???

Often it appears that a child isn’t openly encouraged (or told) to disrespect their stepmom. Rather, the mom  verbally rewards their child when they share that they spoke disrespectfully to their stepmom and/or dad.  I’ve heard from some stepmoms where their stepchildren are physically rewarded.

This not only wounds the stepmom and dad but it really puts the kids into a loyalty tug of war. A tug of war where the child is the biggest loser. When any parent encourages their child to be disrespectful, it’s a form of alienation and it plays havoc on a child’s emotional well-being: “someone I love is telling me to be mean to someone else I love….how do I make sense of that?”

I believe it is essential for a child’s emotional health and for the health of the child’s future relationships that no parent ever bad mouth another parent in their presence or verbally or physically reward their child when they share any disrespectful talk or action toward the other parent and/or stepparent. If and when an unkind word is spoken, it’s important for the adult to go to the child and apologize.

One stepmom wrote to me that her eight year old stepson came home from his mom’s with a new ipod touch. When she asked where he got the “new toy” he told her “mom took me out and bought me this when I told her that I refused to do my chores for you.” This stepmom was first speechless and then furious. She admits that she told her stepson how wrong that was of his mother and regrets ever saying it. She later apologized to her stepson for her reaction.

I’ve heard from other stepmoms that their stepchildren are told by their mother that they don’t have to listen to their stepmom because she isn’t their real mom. Another stepmom shared that her kids are physically rewarded for disobeying she and her husband (their father). The kids will come home with new stuff and say their mom bought it for them because they told her how they didn’t follow the rules at “dad’s house”.

The reality is that these stepmoms can’t stop the mom from saying and doing what she is doing. While the kids may love the “stuff” they get from mom, it has to pang their hearts to comprehend why she is doing it. I say stay firm with your rules and in enforcing the consequences for those rules. At some point the children will have to decide if the consequence for disobeying you and their dad is worth the “item” and/or verbal praise they get or it. A child will at some point wonder “what does mom’s actions say about her if she is rewarding me for being disrespectful?”

While your stepchildren may not like your rules they will come to appreciate your consistency. They come to learn they can depend on you. You are the same today, tomorrow and the next and that brings peace to a child especially when there can be many “unknowns” living in two homes often with two sets of rules.

It’s important for all of us to remember that kids are kids and to try hard not to take it personally. I know it sounds simple but what kid is going to turn down a new toy or gadget from a parent? Having said this, I’m suggesting that regardless of whether a child is rewarded for disrespecting a parent, that disrespected parent/stepparent has to take the high road and not condemn the parent in front of the child and not condemn the child for accepting the new “toy”. I would even caution against approaching mom. If her goal is to upset you and you give her that, she is getting what she wants and your reaction may validate her actions for her and may motivate her to continue her choices.

I also think it’s important to remember that if the other home is truly encouraging disrespect that their words/actions speak volumes about their character and not about you and your spouse and how you run your home.

As hard as it can be at times, maintain “your house. your rules” and reinforce that you set the rules in your home and all the kids are expected to follow them. You can stress that respect is fundamental to every relationship and that respect need be extended to everyone in the family. No exceptions. This rule should come down from the father. It makes a strong impact when dad backs his wife (the stepmom) to the children.

And I must note that this issue is not just limited to moms against stepmoms. I’m discussing it in this context given that the struggles have come from stepmothers however, I believe some parents in general (moms, dads and stepparents) encourage their kids to disrespect the other parent. I also believe that many parents don’t consciously set out but due to insecurities they find themselves rewarding their kids for a disobedient attitude and actions at their other home. No excuses just pointing out that pain unfortunately governs many parental decisions especially in co-parenting situations.

In closing, a stepfamily is a family and the greatest blessing a child can experience who lives in a stepfamily is to feel love, acceptance and peace. A parent may not like that their child has a stepparent but accepting them and encouraging love and peace is a gift that will bless the child beyond words. The truth is that no matter how much a child loves and embraces their stepparent they will always love their mother and father: it’s a bond that even distance can’t break. This is something I wish every parent whose child has a stepparent would understand. There is no need for jealousy and no room for it either.

What suggestions do you have for a stepmom who struggles with this issue? Do you struggle with this? Does the mother of your stepkids encourage them to be disrespectful to you? Have your stepchildren ever been physically rewarded for being disobedient and/or disrespectful to you? Thanks for sharing.

What would you do?  This is a new series I’m launching where I’ll be sharing some real stepmom dilemmas from real stepmoms and asking you to share your insight and encouragement with them.

I get emails frequently from stepmoms sharing a difficult situation and asking for my advice. As stepmoms, we all know that one of the greatest blessings of finding a stepmom community is not feeling alone in what we are going through. So I’ve decided to share stepmom struggles (with the stepmom’s permission of course) and am asking all of you to leave comments and words of encouragement, support and positive advice.

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To start this series off, I’m starting with a question I have. Yes, I’m turning the tables and asking a question from my “mom” perspective to all my stepmom friends. Here goes:

Late last week, my ex sent me an email asking me if he could have our two eleven year old sons for a big “road” trip over Memorial Day weekend. Knowing my ex, in the seven years we’ve been divorced and the nine years we were married, he doesn’t take road trips. We had agreed earlier in the year to split the kids that weekend and cafesmomknowing I have no business in his schedule or control over how he spends his time with the kids, I said yes. But I had a feeling…..

To give you some background, my ex and I get along well from a co-parenting perspective. He moved in down the street and we are flexible with the kids’ schedules. While I miss my kids like crazy when they aren’t with me, I know they NEED to spend time with their dad. I don’t agree with some of his choices but I do believe that he loves the kids and enjoys spending time with them. And above all else, I respect that he is their dad. I chose to have kids with him and I choose to nurture his relationship with the kids. As their mom, I believe it is my responsibility to ensure they spend time with their dad and his family.

The one thing I wish I could get through to him is that he should communicate directly with me via email and not through the kids. Having said that the kids came back this weekend and the boys said “Dad is taking us on a nine hour road trip with Angela and her son. We’ve never met her before but her son is our age and he loves basketball and video games. Oh, and dad rented an RV that we will sleep in.”

My one son was super excited and the other had guarded enthusiasm as he was hoping for a “boys” weekend. They were both shocked their dad rented an RV as we all know he doesn’t like camping. I figured there were some holes in the story and as the details have unfolded it turns out that his dad’s friend rented an SUV not RV for the trip.

Back to the story at hand… I’m thankful there is someone going with my ex. Two adults are better than one when it comes to wrangling kids. And I’m thankful the boys will have a female present. Women just bring a different dimension of care.

But I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous. The boys have never met her or her son (and today I found out the son is bringing a friend… everyday brings new tidbits). He is taking them to a major amusement park/waterpark which he’s never done and with someone that the kids have never met. I also know that my kids (generally my youngest) get attached to the women their dad introduces them to and rightfully so. My kids are starting to get guarded with new friends because of the pattern on having them in their life for awhile and then they are gone.

So here’s my question(s):

  • I typically pack snacks/games/books/etc….. for the kids when they drive with their dad to grandma’s or go on short drives and I do this on all of our camping trips. I want to do the same as I usually do and don’t want the two other boys to feel left out so I’d like to add extra snacks for her son and his friend but I don’t want to offend their dad’s friend. What are your thoughts?
  • I asked my ex if I could meet her before they go and he said that’s not going to happen because of time constraints. I told him that I really wanted to meet her in front of the boys and even give her a hug so the boys could see that I was truly happy about the trip. I conveyed that I think this is especially important for our one son who is a “runner” when he gets angry and I fear he could “run” at the amusement park if he gets upset. He wanted a boys only weekend with dad.
  • One of the reasons I’d like to meet her is because I feel it will give me a sense of comfort. I know that may be selfish. I want this woman to know my kids. I want her to know that my one son is heat senstive…. he needs to drink water constantly when out in the sun or he can get sick. I want her to know the signs to look for. I want her to know that he needs to wear a hat when he is outside and that one needs to be kept in the car in case he forgets it in the hotel (which he typically does).  I want her to know that my other son will over indulge in junk food if given the chance but will be sick, sick, sick, if he does and that will prevent people from leaving the hotel. I want to ask her to apply and reapply sunscreen to the boys (I’ve asked their dad and he thinks sunscreen is a waste. My kids can come home toasty). I want her to know that if my son with eczema swims in the hotel pool and/or at the water park, he needs to take a shower shortly thereafter and apply his eczema cream or he will be in extreme pain. Etc…

I want her to know my sons so she can care for them. 

You may be thinking that is their dad’s job. And you would be right. However, in the past even when he’s known this he doesn’t do these things. He is not a details guy. I’m not angry at him over this. It’s a fact I know about him and I work with it.

As I’m writing this I feel like it comes across as I’m trying to control the situation and in some regards maybe I am. I recognize that I have no control over my boys for the next four days and as their mom it isn’t easy. I sincerely want them all to have a great time and I want my boys well cared for.

I also want this woman to like me. And I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable when I call the kids via their dad’s phone this weekend. The kids have told me that dad always picks up the phone when you call if he doesn’t have a friend over but if your number pops up and he has a friend over he won’t pick up and says stuff like “Oh, it’s your mother again.” That not only puts the kids in an awkward position who want to pick up and talk I believe it sends a message to the friend that I’m a “bother.” I call my ex’s number for two reasons: to talk to the kids and to communicate anything regarding the kids.

So what would you have the mom of your stepkids do in this situation? Think back to when you first met your stepkids…. if you were going on a big trip, how would you feel about the mom wanting to meet you and give you some insight on the kids? Would it be insulting, encouraging, etc….?  What advice would you give a mom who wants her ex’s girlfriend to be well prepared to help care for her kids?

Would love your feedback.  Thanks.

Write to me at heather@cafesmom.comto submit a stepmom dilemma to share.

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