When I first started dating my husband, I was actually happy when I found out he had kids.
He was a cool, rocker guy in his 40s and I was a nerd in my 20’s. I liked him right away:He was handsome, funny, smart, artistic and conversation came easily. I thought it would be a brief, just-for-fun relationship, since he was an unattached older guy and probably wasn’t looking for marriage. On our first big, official date (not just “hanging out”), he told me he was divorced and had two kids. I was excited -- this meant that he wasn’t afraid of commitment, marriage or fatherhood. Plus, if I decided I didn’t want children, he’d probably be OK with it since his genetic narcissism had already been fulfilled.
Before my husband, I’d never seriously dated an older guy and never a guy with kids. He seemed nervous to tell me about his kids but I didn’t see what the big deal was. So he had kids. Whatever.
Before I got married, people told me vaguely ominous things like “If you marry a man with kids, you’re marrying his kids, too.” I didn’t know what that meant. Today, I am not so subtle with my friends. When I find out my single girlfriends are dating a guy with kids, I break into my shrill rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills.”
When we were dating, I never met my husband’s kids. I thought he was just being protective of them, now I think he was being protective of me. It wasn’t until we were engaged that I spent time with them and even then it was minimal. Honestly, I would have bailed or at least reconsidered marriage if I had any idea what life with his kids would be like. Now that we are married, I see what the big deal is.
I am a teacher, so I am around kids a lot. I’m actually quite good with kids. Kids, in general, like me. People like me. I can strike up a conversation with anyone. I guess this is why I underestimated the challenge of stepchildren, I thought, “They’re just people. I love people! We can make it work.”
Before anyone accuses me (as all stepmothers get accused) of traumatizing my stepchildren, let me say I always treat them with kindness. I am great to them! I go out of my way to do kind things for them and never react to their rotten behavior. Even if they mock me to my face, I don’t respond negatively to them. However, being around them simply exhausts me. Since I have been married, I dread Fridays like most people dread Mondays. Now that I have stepchildren, I absolutely hate the weekends.
My husband’s two kids are teenagers and like some teenagers they are rude, selfish and unreasonable. My husband is constantly apologizing for his “bratty” kids. These kids are well-loved and well-cared for; if they grew up in a bad neighborhood with abusive parents, their behavior might be understandable but that’s simply not the case. They’re just jerks. To everyone.
What frustrates me most is that more often than not he does nothing to curb their rude behavior. Nothing. He often claims he “didn’t hear” the rude or profane remark that his kids made to him, his extended family members, strangers or me. My frustration is with my husband as much as with his kids. I grew up in a strict household where behavior perceived to be defiant was not tolerated; to be fair, it would be more accurate to describe my childhood home as “abusive” -- getting punched in the head as a kindergartener for spilling a drink can hardly be called discipline.
However, my stepchildren regularly say and do things I wouldn’t dream of doing, like call their dad “stupid” to his face and mimic (yes, just like a kindergartener would) and insult other adult family members. They boldly and loudly make racist remarks about every ethnic group not their own. My husband seems to think that as long as his kids aren’t physically violent, that their behavior is not that bad.
One of the most difficult things is to see my husband mistreated and used by his kids. I have to witness the person I love more than anything get tormented by two monsters and I can’t help him because it’s not my place. The only time they speak to him with a modicum of respect is when they are asking for something. Even then, they never say “please” or “thank you.” My husband always agrees to what they ask no matter what, even if it means disrupting his plans or dipping into our savings.
The first year of our marriage was very hard for me. I stuck it out and constantly bit my tongue. I kept thinking “Patience! [Stepson] is a senior in high school, he’ll be in college soon and won’t come over every weekend,” but then he didn’t feel like going to college. So then, I readjusted to “OK, [stepson] will turn 18 soon and won’t come over every weekend,” but then he turned 18 and his mom kicked him out so he moved in with us. So the second year of our marriage, I saw even more of my stepchildren. Yes, if I knew then what I know now, I would have bailed.
Coping with his kids really rough for me and I have no support. I have no one to talk to about it. I once jokingly referred to my husband’s kids as my “wicked stepchildren” in front of a group of childless female friends and they were horrified; these are the same friends who make abortion jokes. I’ve tried talking to my mom and her response was “That’s what you signed up for when you got married.” No one will even listen to me. I’m not allowed to vent or I’m an unreasonable bitch.
The only support I get is books and articles I read on the topic of step families. They all confirm that being a stepparent is fraught with difficulty and frustration. The ideal of a stepparent loving a stepchild as their own is extremely rare and occurs mostly in cases where the stepparent came into the child’s life when they were very young. Even then, the relationship ebbs and flows. If an unloving stepmother is “wicked,” then wicked stepmothers are the norm.
If you look at any online advice column where a stepparent (usually stepmother) has candidly shared the frustration they have with their stepchildren, the advice from the columnist is usually very sympathetic and helpful. The comments, however, are more often than not full of vitriol and wrath. A stepmother, these comments say, should love their stepchildren as their own. The stepchildren, they continue, are not the problem, the stepmother is the problem. Some commenters write that they are divorced with children but would never remarry unless their partner loved their children as much as the birth parents. Others ask what state the stepparent lives in and threaten to call CPS. Usually, there is at least one comment where someone shares the story of a friend or partner who was not loved by their stepmother and became an alcoholic. Everybody hates a stepmother.
I hate myself, too, sometimes. I never wanted to be a wicked stepmother. Of course I would much rather be a fairy godmother. My whole life, I just assumed I’d marry a guy, possibly start a family and live out the rest of my life, hopefully somewhat happy. I never imagined that I’d have two poorly behaved stepchildren sucking the joy out of life and that the world would consider me a huge bitch for not loving them.
It really is a testament to the love I have for my husband that I have stuck around this long. Our marriage is happy, loving and blissful with one incredibly huge exception. But I don’t know if I can take much more. It doesn’t feel like it’s getting better.
This summer, we are entering our third year of marriage and I fantasize about bailing like I used to fantasize about running away from my abusive childhood home. Please tell me somebody out there can relate.