Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Common Stepfamily Challenges

The following article was written by one of our wonderful site monitors when The Step Stop was functioning in its original glory. As its topic is just as applicable today as it was then, I decided to 'put it out there' today and hope that it will provide you with food for thought.

When Sonja asked me if I would consider putting some of my personal thoughts and experiences together I was flattered as it reassured me that what had often seemed like just babble at the time, was in fact worth reading. However, the biggest obstacle to overcome was figuring out what to write about. Without the aid of an existing post to respond to I felt that I didn’t have much to offer. Playing around with various ideas realised that the 3 things that had been foremost on my mind were probably the most common issues of concern that are usually raised on TSS.

Right and Wrong


How much????!!!! If I received a dollar for each time that question is shot back at us with absolute incredulity when we mention the amount of money we pay the ‘ex’, it would definitely solve ALL our maintenance issues. I am convinced that maintenance is one of the really BIG ISSUES in the 2nd marriage problem arena and I am so grateful that the Government is finally beginning to recognise how urgently a fairer system is required. I only hope that they will also have the courage to give this a full overhaul and not just bandaid it in the same way they seem to do with so many other issues.

I cannot count the number of arguments my husband and I have had regarding money, with our biggest ones usually over his extreme financial generosity with the ‘ex’ – which I noticed would happen particularly when he felt guilty about being an ‘absent father’. After my husband’s separation from the ‘ex’ a verbal agreement was made (hmmm, that’s trusting!) for her to receive $1000 a month. This agreement, however, was immediately thrown out the window once she realised that Child Support’s Assessment demanded an additional $200 a month. Astounded by this, we immediately requested a review. Amazingly enough, CS confirmed that this was correct. As you’d expect, the ‘ex’ demanded the higher amount.

A few years later, our savings account now drained, my husband received a phone call from CS, explaining that an error had been made in his favour. They had miscalculated his payments and in total he had overpaid thousands of dollars to his ex-wife. Nothing could be done to recover the loss other than to cease paying child support for approximately 2 years. We decided against that option and suggested a more appropriate figure to over time recover our loss. Guess what? She wasn’t thrilled! Fortunately for us her greed had brought her undone and her sweet words:
“I’ll take what child support offers” are still music to my ears. If she hadn’t been so greedy in the beginning we would have been stitched into an agreement which would have ultimately seen many of our goals slip even further away. I understand that for most step-parents this scenario is a bit of a dream - a miracle you’d all like to see happen. However, the reduced maintenance does come at a price as now we have an even m ore disgruntled and irate ex-wife who continually asks for money. With many ‘paying years’ still ahead of us I know that in order to survive reasonably unscathed, both of us will have to develop even thicker skins.

However, this situation has taught me many valuable lessons and although they have come at a financial cost, I believe that I have become a stronger and much wiser person as a result. Who can put a price on this type of investment?!

Lessons learnt:

* Resentment about how much money we paid made me ill. I was worrying about everything we COULDN’T have. Once I began re-evaluating the situation, I realised just how much we DID have and I began to breathe again – it helps to breathe!!

* Some things are out of my control - maintenance was one - and I had to learn, and did over time, to accept this!

* To have trust and faith that all will work out okay. When I finally accepted the financial arrangement, I felt we were rewarded with the reduced rate.

* The ‘ex’ could have taken all that I materially owned, yet still she was without the one thing that she truly wanted - the love of my husband.


Honestly speaking, I have found that since entering the stepfamily arena my angry outbursts have become far too common. Prior to meeting my husband everything in my life was, to a degree, orchestrated BY ME! I lived alone, invested as many hours as I chose in a career that I loved and had an extremely hectic social life. Other than my family I only had ME to consider and although keen to marry my husband and take on his two children, I wasn’t prepared for the additional baggage that was part of the deal. For a long time I felt 4th in line with the kids coming 1st, the ‘ex’ a close 2nd, my husband 3rd and me an obvious last!

In the early days I was very jealous. As it was his ‘ex’ who had ended the marriage, I constantly lived with the insecurity that he might go back to her. So, life as I had known it was over, and what I had previously considered to be stressful I now thought of as having been sheer bliss. I experienced huge mood swings. When I felt up, wow! was I up but when I felt down, oh boy! was I down – and everyone else was dragged down with me. My mood swings depended, of course, on how often the ‘ex’ called and, more importantly, on what she wanted. Her name managed to weasel its way into every conversation, regardless of whether it involved her or not. She had become an addiction for both of us - one so dangerous and destructive it seemed to have taken on a life all of its own. There were many times when both of us considered calling it quits as neither wanted to spend every waking moment arguing but didn’t know how to stop. After extensive counselling we devised new and constructive ways t o manage the ongoing intrusion into our otherwise peaceful existence.

We created an imaginary box which became the new home for my husband’s ex-wife. When we found ourselves unnecessarily talking about her, the other had permission to ’shove her’ into it. For those occasions when we needed to discuss things that concerned her, we made an agreement to set a timer. This time restriction forced us both to focus on the main issues at hand and stopped us from wasting valuable time bitching about everything else. We found that things immediately began to improve after we’d introduced these two new ideas and were finally able to see our relationship heading in the right direction. With several boundaries now in place (having developed productive ways of handling difficult situations and limiting the involvement his ‘ex’ had on our own family unit) we were now able to truly commence living our lives as husband and wife.

Using these simple tools has given me back some control. Regaining control has allowed me to recognise that my role in this family is just as important as everyone else’s and, finally, I even reached the conclusion that no matter how hard the ‘ex’ tries, she’ll never win!

I often remember one of my mother’s sayings:
“Anger you do not wish to own, causes depression”. To me this said that I ultimately needed to work out what I was angry about, that I needed to own that anger and then do something positive with it. I didn’t want to spend my entire marriage existing in a dark and dreary hole. There is so much to be happy about and I believe that each one of us stepmums is entitled to every bit of honeymoon we can get.

Lessons learnt:

* Anger is a painful, horrible and debilitating emotion that has the power to do me, and my family life, a great deal more harm than it will do to the one I’m angry about – the ‘ex’.

* It isn’t worth getting sick over, losing any sleep over or losing my marriage over.

* Seeking help when it’s needed is a lot smarter than risking my health, my sanity or my marriage.

* A few great tools (like the imaginary box and a time keeper clock) can make a whole lot of difference.


“When you know you are right – there’s no need to fight”.

I wish I’d heard that saying years ago. But would I have really understood its wisdom? I think not!
My husband and I are regular talkers about the general ‘goings on’ in our lives. However, when the discussion revolves around the ‘ex’ I guess you could say that the “you know what” hits the fan. At those times I feel like every brain cell that is suppose to produce a reasonable and logical thought in my husband’s head is dead and I cannot comprehend how this normally rational and intelligent human being turns into a big jellified blob.

The struggle to be heard in our house is - I believe - due to the fact that there are not just two adults involved in decision making, but four. Whilst we don’t have that problem in relation to business that concerns my husband and me, when it comes to decisions that involve the kids I still fel like I am 4th in line (and the kid’s bonus dad shares that feeling). My husband strongly disagrees. He reasons that the fact he never has and never will make a decision without first talking it over with me should encourage me to feel on equal footing with him – but it doesn’t. I guess I know in my heart that, regardless of what I think, in the end it is up to him and the ‘ex’ to make the best possible judgement. However, there are many times when I don’t agree with what the ‘ex’ considers best for the kids and, truth be told, more often than not I have no faith whatsoever that she really puts their interests first. The occasions when she actually does seem to care about their welfare are fe w and far between. She generally spends far more time using them as pawns in the weird and twisted games she likes to play. There is no consistency in her decision making. On one hand she shares with the world how seriously she takes parenting, on the other she doesn’t have the time or energy to be bothered with her children. The only time we ever hear from her is when she wants money or has a problem she considers their father should fix.

My annoyance usually stems from the fact that it is SHE who creates the problems, then wants my husband to rectify them and in turn causes aggravation between him and me. I am tired of her incompetence encroaching on our otherwise uncomplicated lives and in the process draining our bank accounts. I’m hoping that, when the time comes for us to have a baby of our own, some of these control issues and the feelings I have regarding my lack of involvement, will have subsided. Until then, however, I’ll be working on the obvious. EVEN THOUGH I WANT TO FIX EVERYTHING, I CAN’T. I realise that there are times when I’m hanging on far too tightly and that I must learn to let go of what is out of my control. I’m prepared to admit that all too often I’m determined to make a point without considering the outcome of my actions. After this happens I frequently ask myself: Is it really worth the anger and pain this causes to our relationship when I can see that my husband is doing the best he can giv en the tools and skills he has???

I must admit that what I find really hard to accept is that it’s been me who’s helped him get to the place he now is at. It’s infuriating and, I guess you could say I’m jealous that whilst supporting him to keep the peace, I somehow seem to get lost along the way. There’s truth in the saying “When you know you are right – there’s no need to fight” and I keep reminding myself of this wisdom.

Lessons learnt:

* When I know I am right there really isn’t any need to fight. It’s a good idea to save my fighting spirit for another (more important) day.

* Bio parents (especially husbands who only see their kids every second weekend) can’t be expected to be logical – well, at least not all the time!

* I cannot control or fix things that are outside of my sphere of influence – this includes the ‘ex’ and her behaviour. It also includes some decisions that are considered to be in the children’s best interest (whether they are or not) and that I am not consulted about.

* To rejoice in the fact that my husband has come a loooooooong way and to remind myself frequently that it doesn’t matter who knows or understands that this progress is not least of all due to my influence on his life.


I believe that “Fear” and “Courage” walk hand in hand, for without one, how can we experience the other.

I guess some bonus mums feel that their situation is hopeless and they wonder how on earth they will last the distance if things don’t change, even if just a little. This was also true for me. It took a while until I came to the realisation that I ‘used’ my marriage to a man with an ‘ex’ as an excuse for how I felt - ready to blame everyone and everything around me for my unhappiness. Initially I didn’t realise that it was me who had the greatest ability of all – an ability so powerful that I could change everything I had ever complained about. In order to do that, however, I first had to acknowledge that the ‘ex’ is never going to go away and – even more frustrating - that she will probably never accept the role I play in her children’s lives, let alone be appreciative for all I do for them. My expectations of what I wanted in return for my hard work were to say, the least, ridiculous and unobtainable. What was achievable, though, was my control over my own actions and reactions an d the newly discovered ability to conquer what I feared most.

I remember my parents saying to me when I was young that it takes more courage to say ‘no’ than to say ‘yes’. How right they were. Looking back over the past 7 years I can honestly say that I’m really happy with the way my life has turned out and the direction it is taking. Of course there are still some external changes I’d love to make (moving to Iceland seems like a good idea!) but overall I’m pleased and proud to say that it has taken courage - lots of it - to reach this point. I believe that we far too often focus on what is considered to be our failings and neglect the positive and courageous decisions we make. The decision I’ve made is to no longer compromise my happiness for the sake of someone else’s demands. I believe that this decision is the only one that allows me to be truthful to myself. To achieve this there will, no doubt, be times when I need to say ‘no’ to what is being asked of me and that will cause surprise. When it does I will remember the sayings below that can be found in a book called “Angelic Dreams” written by friends of mine.

  • “Don’t raise your eyebrows at the challenges that face you. Raise your spirit, recognising that you will conquer every single one of them”
  • “The most powerful weapon is honesty “
  • “Despair is a sign that you have given up on your goals - never give up on them, unless of course you have replaced them with greater ones”
Lessons learnt:

* Unless I first experience fear I’ll never know the powerful satisfaction of experiencing courage.

* Acceptance brings its own rewards.

* Although there are many things I cannot control, I have complete control over my actions and reactions.

* Difficulties that I don’t allow to break me will make me into a better, happier and more mature person in the long run.


Help is hope!

The fact that you went searching and found The Step Stop says that you have the ability to ask for help. That’s great. But perhaps we just don’t do it enough. It’s difficult confiding in friends and family because even if they are sensitive and thoughtful, unless they are in a similar situation they still DON’T UNDERSTAND. Until meeting Sonja and becoming involved with TSS I felt completely isolated. If you had told me that I was the only stepmum in NSW I wouldn’t have doubted you. Now I am pleasantly surprised at just how prevalent we are within society and I finally feel proud to belong to an important, though often misunderstood, group.

By reaching out I’ve discovered that my situation is probably one of the better ones and I’ve even come to realise that my husband’s ‘ex’ is an angel in comparison to some. I’ve spent countless hours scouring other helpful sites via the links of TSS. Among these you’ll find much useful information, discover new tools and a host of reading resources that relate to a variety of stepfamily issues.

The most important thing to remember is that we are not in this alone. I’ve learnt that as we help others, we in turn, heal ourselves.

Lessons learnt:

* To have the courage to ask for help when I need it.

* To be involved with others (personally, online or in any other way) who are in a similar circumstance.

* To be grateful for small mercies like having an ‘angelic ex’ (well, let’s not be too generous here – in comparison to may others!!!)

* As I help others I heal myself!

Keep smiling !!!
© TheStepStop - 2004


Pamla said...

I have no words but thank you!

Anonymous said...

Your article really brought tears to my eyes. I always thought I was the only person who felt and experienced the crazyness of an ex-wife and the toll it can have on a marriage. I want to thank you for sharing your story, and I feel so much more up-beat and positive! Thank you!