Stepparent Alienation

By on April 14, 2013
blended family

Who is the dad? When parents and stepparents get along, some people just don’t get it.

I’m proud of my family, and despite some nervousness to “come out” as a mom who peacefully co-parents with my ex and his new wife, I began revealing my co-parenting status by including Molly, my children’s co-parents, in school stuff and family stuff.

Wouldn’t you know it, my stance has been met with resistance from those who feel threatened by steps. People have expressed shock and dismay at my openness, or they at least radiate general discomfort. Apparently, I should be jealous, annoyed or infuriated. But I’m not. I refuse to be. That’s not right for my life or anyone in our blended family.

As a parenting team of four (me and my husband, my ex and his wife), we show up for the girls as much as possible. If there is a school function or something else important for the girls, we all try to be there. I have noticed that when the stepparent and biological parent are side by side, others in the vicinity act strange. Easy, relaxed conversation shuts down. The questions running through people’s minds must be drowning out all social sensibility.

How can the dad and stepdad be standing there acting like this is normal?

Is the mom annoyed that the stepmom is here?

Which one should I talk to? Or should I avoid them both?

Lest you think I’m making something of nothing, once they’ve gotten to know us better, people we know have admitted thinking these things.

We had an event for one of the girls at my home this past weekend. My ex-husband was invited, and when he walked into my front yard and joined the crowd, everyone suddenly treated my husband differently. They spoke more to my ex-husband, because he is dad. My husband felt alienated and insignificant, like he was just the stepdad.

This really bothers me. My husband is not my daughters’ biological father, but he is one of the dads in their lives. He helps with homework, he holds them when they cry, he talks them through issues that worry them, he plays games with them, picks them up from school and shows up for them all around.

Had the girls’ stepmom Molly attended the get-together, I think the same sort of dynamic would have unfolded. This is the societal alienation that stepparents encounter, and then there’s the intentional alienation that can be waged like a war when there’s an ex whose angry about feeling replaced, or feeling their role is somehow being threatened. Interestingly, society is MUCH more comfortable with that than they are supporting of exes who get along. It’s sort of like this:

If the mom isn’t going to alienate the stepmom, I’m going to do it for her.

Have you discovered that the steps in your family are alienated at times? What do you think is the solution? How can we teach society to treat us as equals?

Photo credit:  dolanh

big blended family Trish Eklund has lived in Nebraska for almost fifteen years, raising her two daughters of ten and thirteen with her husband, ex-husband and his wife. Taking a nontraditional approach to raising children after divorce and remarriage, all four adults co-parent their daughters. Trish is a feature writer for Big Blended Family, and also for Her View From Home in the family category, touching on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting issues. Visit her personal blog by clicking HERE.

16 Comments

  1. Patricia D

    April 19, 2013 at 8:50 am

    I was a step and was alienated, starting from before I even MET the mother, and had only seen the 2 kids for 4 days. It seriously hurt my relationship with them, to constantly be told bad things about me, and blame me for MOM’s divorce. It’s really sad because my former stepkids have a brother, (half) my son, and they have nothing to do with him…

    • BigBlendedFam

      April 24, 2013 at 12:45 am

      It is very upsetting to be vilified and scapegoated when what you want to give is love. The absolute worst part is that now your stepkids don’t know their brother, and he is separated from them–what an absolute heartbreak. I cannot imagine it. This is one of those moments when I wish we had stepmom superpowers and could transform the situation by silencing the alienator. The thing that scares me is that alienators tink they are right, and therefore they are totally devoted to cultivating distrust and anger.

  2. Trish Eklund

    May 2, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I’m so sorry about the damage done to your relationship with your step-kids. How sad they don’t talk to your son. I think a lot of animosity comes from the bio parent’s leftover baggage from the broken marriage. I hope one day it will change.
    -Trish

  3. Erica Carnes

    May 9, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    If only people could appreciate that every relationship is different and as long as people are happy, it doesn’t matter how the relationship formed.

    • Trish Eklund

      June 17, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Erica!

  4. Susan Broughton

    May 23, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Its really nice that you are actually trying with the children that are not yours. I was a step child of a step mother that was the replica of the evil step mother idea. A divorce is hard on everyone but being a child of one I can say it is especially difficult on the children. So I think it is nice that a step mother is involved in all the childrens life Congratulations on your blended family

    • BigBlendedFam

      May 23, 2013 at 1:28 am

      Susan, we appreciate you sharing from your past experience. Hugs to you!

    • Trish Eklund

      June 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Thanks, Susan!

  5. Hailie J

    June 6, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    I think the most important thing that a step parent needs to remember is that they are not the parent. They do play a role, but they are not a replacement mother or father, and they shouldn’t be offended when a step child treats them differently than they treat their biological parents.

    • BigBlendedFam

      June 6, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      In the blended family community, this would not reach the pinnacle of “most important thing to remember.” It’s important, yet there are more pressing issues. Creating a consistently loving environment, cultivating trust and “showing up” for all the children both practically and emotionally are all significantly more important matters. Those who look for opportunities to place a fence around stepparents usually don’t understand blended family dynamics very well, and rarely have the blended family’s best interests at heart.

      • Sam

        June 13, 2013 at 1:51 pm

        I hear this all of the time, that step parents need to remember they aren’t a replacement parent. Well, ok, but how should we be acting? Vocally I can say that I’m the stepmom, but is there something specific I should be doing to ensure I’m not seen as trying to replace the mom? To be quite honest, I don’t think most stepmoms ever have that intention or motive. Not once have I ever thought “I need these kids to see ME as their mother .” I just love those kids with every fiber of my being and I want them to know that I’m here for them, support them, and will take care of them, always. If that’s crossing some sort of line…I guess I’m SOL.

        • BigBlendedFam

          June 14, 2013 at 2:49 am

          My feelings exactly!

        • Trish Eklund

          June 17, 2013 at 4:58 pm

          Sam, I agree completely! Molly is never disrespectful to me. I also know in my heart that there is no one who could replace me. And I know Molly does not try to replace me. There is room for all four of us parents, and is plenty of love to go around.

    • Trish Eklund

      June 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Hailie, When my daughters are not in my care, when they are at their dad’s house, Molly is the primary parent. So she is their parent when it is their day. She happens to be very respectful to me and calls me on everything significant that happens in their household. I return that respect, and keep her in the loop of what happens in our household. We work as a team, and we consider each other family. Also, my girls do not treat her as a step, people that do not live under either roof are the people who treat the steps differently. Quite frankly, it saddens me to hear someone comment that the stepparents need to remember that they are not the parent. I think that step-parents are well aware that they are not the biological parents, but they are still a parent, and they deserve respect.

  6. Blaire

    June 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    I am a stepmother and have definitely come across the alienation you speak of. I get along with the kids’ mother splendidly. In fact, we all went to Disneyland together so we could all be there to see the kids’ first time. However, the respect I get from the mom (we’ll call her Emma) doesn’t translate to others. When I’m with the kids at school functions, I’m immediately assumed to be the mother. As soon as I clarify that I’m the stepmother, they immediately become cold and distant. In one instance, we were all at the school fair and we met one of my SD’s best friends from daycare. So they came up and introduced themselves to me (Emma was with the SS getting a drink). I told them my name not even thinking about whether or not I should be clarifying about the mom vs stepmom role, until Emma caught up with us. I had to explain at that moment that this was the kids’ mom and I’m the stepmom. As soon as that interaction took place, I was completely ignored. In fact, I asked my SD’s friend’s mom for her number, and she blatantly disregarded my request and gave Emma her number. It stung a little. It made me feel that I don’t even have the right to setup play dates for my step kids.

    • Trish Eklund

      June 17, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      Blaire, I am so sorry this happens to you with others. It is fabulous that you get along with the kids’ mom! Molly was even treated this way once in front of a therapist! She and I went to see a therapist about one of the girls, and the therapist kept disregarding everything that Molly said. It was very frustrating. Don’t let that change how well you and Emma get along.