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Role Confusion!
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Role Confusion!

My fiance and I are getting married next year.  He has a toddler child from a previous marriage and they have been separated since the child was an infant.  I want nothing more than to be the best Stepmother I can to the child.  I love him dearly and treat him like he's my own.  During the time after my fiance's separation, he relied on his mother and grandparents to help with the parenting role.  At times, the child was spending all day with the grandparents for daycare purposes and then staying several evenings a week overnight as well.  Whether this was right or wrong at the time is in the past, but it is causing major problems with myself and my soon to be in-laws.  When I came into the situation, there were some things from the outside that I shed light on for my fiance and he in turn has decided to make some changes with his son, (examples - sleeping in his own bed, socializing the child with other children through preschool, and making sure his son is spending the night with him).  Since then, his mother and father have now treated me horribly, which I'm led to believe is out of fear that I may take their place with the grandchild.  

Even though every grandparent should play a role, I feel strongly that she is overstepping her role as a grandparent, even if she was put in a position to be more of a mother.  She feels the need to call the shots for the grandchild and has even made decisions for the child's wellbeing without my fiance's knowledge!  She blames me totally for all of the changes that have been made for the child without her input, but will tell my fiance that she loves me and has no problem with me.  How can I continue to work my way into the Stepmother role and deal with her mistreating me because she's now being moved out of a motherly role?

Also, how do I deal with my fiance's mother continuing an overly-friendly relationship with my fiance's ex behind our backs?  I worry that this is only going to cause confusion to the child.
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Hello,
   stepparenting is quite a challenge, no matter how much you are willing to give to this little boy. It sounds like he and his father are quite fortunate to have you in the picture.  You are not alone in what you are experiencing (I am a stepmother too), and establishing what your role is to be is one of the greatest challenges of being a stepmother. People may treat you like an outsider or worse no matter what you do (and the word 'wicked' always comes to mind people think of stepmothers!).

It sounds like the grandmother is very threatened by your presence, and may fear that you will interfere with her ability to remain strongly connected to her grandson. She may have bonded so closely with him that she feels sad and angry to see you stepping in after all her hard work.  The key to managing this situation is solidarity with your fiance. Researcher John Gottman has studied couples who have healthy marriages, and found that a critical factor is the couple's sense of 'we-ness.' Happily married couples place each other and the relationship first, making it a shelter from life's storms (I strongly recommend Gottman's book The Seven Secrets of Making Marriage Work). Your husband does not have to alienate his mother, but he needs to make it clear to her and everyone else that YOU are to be his life partner and mother to his child. How he responds to pressure from his relatives will set the tone for how much you are respected as a parent and a wife. His allegiance to you will also serve to establish boundaries between you, the grandmother, and his ex-wife.

You can take steps to establish yourself and your household as you see fit. Check out the book The Enlightened Stepmother: Revolutionizing the Role by Perdita Norwood. Its a very realistic book that will help you both avoid and manage pitfalls.

Best Wishes
Rebecca Resnik
Disclaimer: These posts in response to Medhelp.com questions are intended to be informational only. They should never be considered a substitute for face-to-face medical and mental health care by a qualified practitioner. Answering Medhelp questions is not intended to create or imply a patient-clinician relationship. Information presented in posts is not intended to give or to rule-out a diagnosis.
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Rebecca Resnik, PsyDBlank
MindWell Clinical Psychology
Bethesda, MD
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