I am racked with guilt over whether I am a good enough stepmom. Constantly. Way more guilt than I feel over being a mom.
Part of my guilt has to do with the fact that I am still unclear about what my role is supposed to be (will any of us ever know?). Just a few weeks ago my husband tried to have a conversation with his ex-wife about it, and she replied that my role was “[his] wife” and my job was to “support [him].” Notably defined with respect to my husband, not with respect to my stepson. She was unwilling to engage in the discussion any further than that. Ok, got it. Disappointing, but understood.
(I’m not an idiot – I see that the reason she doesn’t want to discuss my role in any concrete way is that she’d like it to be defined as whatever she needs it to be at the time.)
My husband is traveling next week and two of the nights he’ll be away are nights we’d typically have my stepson. He emailed his ex-wife asking if she’d be able to have him on those nights, saying that if she couldn’t, he could stay here with me.
She wrote back a bitter and sarcastic remark about doing me a favor by taking him one of the nights.
Since when is a child’s mom doing his stepmother a favor by letting him stay at her house for one night? Is that really a favor? Especially when I’m just the wife anyway?
We have a schedule that we try to stick to, but naturally things come up. I always assumed that the order of care in these instances went like this:
1. Parent 1
2. default to Parent 2 when P1 unavailable and
3. default to Stepmom/just-the-wife when P1 and P2 are both unavailable
1. Parent 1
2. default to Stepmom/just-the-wife when P1 unavailable and P1=Dad and
3. last resort Parent 2 when P2=Mom
Am I wrong about this? Honest question.
I don’t want to use the guilt angle here, I just thought this was the role we took on when we became parents, the responsibilities we assumed. We take care of our kids. I also assumed a parent who only saw her child half the time would want to seize the opportunity to see him more, but people are busy, people have schedules, I get it.
Here’s where the guilt comes in for me, though. It’s so hard to have this conversation and sort out my feelings about it without the perception that my relationship with my stepson and my relationship with his mother are conflated. The two relationships may be tangentially related, but they are separate. I can be “like a mom” to my stepson without being manipulated by his mom. The two are not mutually exclusive, but the conversation is so difficult to have without blurring the two, sometimes even to myself.
Image credit: Ana Teresa Barboza