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P33ish061: Biological Mom, Step Mom, And The Fine Lines...


There was a question on Diary Of A Naija Girl's twitter page during the weekend where a mom shared her upset about her daughter, with whom she'd had nine straight years alone, developing a bond with her stepmom and trusting her with stuff she hitherto would have brought to her mom, including the fact that said daughter had her period for the first time whilst at her dad's, and the stepmom was the one who helped her through it; with the mom having no idea that her daughter had even begun menstruating until she found a pack sanitary napkins while cleaning the daughter's room. Mom of course got sad-mad about the discovery and got on the phone with the stepmom and unleashed, because she felt they should have sent her baby home to her on discovering her first menstrual period was upon her, since it should be she who helped her daughter through such a significant milestone. She asked for opinion on how to get her daughter back, so to speak, because it was starting to look like her daughter now had an alternative to her and it cuts to not know how to go back to being her daughter's number one.

Reading that made me feel sad for this mom's situation: I felt her angst. Especially if you consider her backstory where the dad had only just recently become involved in the child's care/upkeep in more than name only. So naturally, it would put thoughts in her head when her daughter starts to prefer spending more time at said dad's than hers, and even more so when she starts buddying up so tight with the dad's wife to the point where mommy no longer gets 'tell first' privileges.

There were many opinions under the tweet, the bulk of which centered on the mom calling the daughter and very clearly clueing her in on how hurt she was about now being the last to be told things. There also were those who felt that the stepmom needed to be firmly called out for overstepping by not sending the girl home so she at least shares that milestone with her own mom. I understood all of that too. But there just are situations on which you can't hold unyielding positions until you've lived them.

The line between being accommodating to a stepchild and encroaching on their still living mom/dad's space is a very fine one, you see, so yeah it takes a careful third eye to not miss it. But it was my opinion that this stepmom didn't exactly do anything that can be termed wrong, it's all just an altogether sketchy situation where you're trying to cross a minefield while avoiding getting shot in the head at the same time. Because if your husband's daughter sees her monthly period for the first time while at your house, you of course promptly supply tampons and guide her through it, what else? She couldn't just up and tell the girl to go be with her mom, like, right away; only person who could have made that call with no undertones assigned was the dad. Because it gets tricky: she could have told the girl she needed to start going home now because her first period was here, and the girl could have decoded that information the wrong way, like, "oh so because she's not my mom she can't be bothered to help me..." blah blah. The stepmom definitely wouldn't have recovered from that -- in the girl's head. Neither would their relationship. And what else do you know, if the stepmom had judged that situation wrongly (not that there was any particular way she could have judged it without offending any party, mind you), it could also have been hell to pay with her husband--the girl's dad.

See, these arrangements are super tricky, and I say this as a mom who's had to form a bond with my son's stepmom too, and I tell you, that stepmom position is a nervous one all in itself--and we've never even had a situation. You just almost can never bank on winning with your husband's ex over the child that they made, a child for whom she's the primary custodian; so your only safe landing is overcompensating. Because you also don't want to be why the child can't feel at home with his/her own father.

Another thing, you know that conviction with which we are always swearing on how smart kids are? Yeah, they are even way smarter than we'd bet. And nobody calculates situations like single parent/blended family kids, which is why every split parent who knows their parenting makes their kids the first judge of whoever they're getting with next; and these kids, especially the grown ones? They know their power. They know that you, the next, know that how well you balance with their mom/dad depends on their approval and subsequent rapport with you. And trust me when I say they will milk that vulnerability, because children like security too, and you better come wearing it. And your only prayer is that they judge (and subsequently take to) you well. It is a generally good thing when they take to you well, though, and it will now be dependent on you to not encroach on a space that is not yours; especially when the rightful owner of that space, mom or dad, does a fine job of keeping it. But honestly, how do you even know when you're not like a serial step-parent who's had tons of practice?

So in this situation with this stepmom, I think she didn't do anything wrong per se; she only came through for her gained daughter in a time of need: a hit, if you ask me. The only bite was not making the girl get on the phone to share the milestone moment with her mom; because when your stepchild cozies up to you that tight, it is on you to insert their mom/dad into conversations that you--and you would--know you shouldn't get hear-first privileges on. But honestly, who gets these things right on first try, huh? And then again, there was no winning for this stepmom whichever way she'd swung in this situation, it was a precarious one, and it could have dangled here or there: she could have sent the girl home before she was ready to leave and find herself in an evil stepmother "sent me away" situation with the child; or found herself in a "so what if her mom didn't live close/what if she's ours both" situation with her husband; or of course "she overstepped and helped my daughter through an important milestone while I'm still alive" situation, which she got, with the mom.

Bottom line, step-parents (who give a shit) will always have a tendency to overcompensate; because it comes with the terrain, and this will often put them in situations where they're perceived to have overstepped. But let's just be honest here and admit that overcompensating will always be a better option than all its existing opposites in blended family situations.

But for a parent in situations as this one on DANG, where you're starting to feel like the other woman/man in your kid's life because of a bond she's building with the step--a bond which is now taking away from the one you both share, you can not take it up with the step; just don't. Them deciding to "leave your child for you to avoid trouble" will not translate well, because the fact that they share a space in your child's life means that situations will always arise in your child's unique journey where only one of you can be there to help. And if you take a deep breath and pause for a second, you'll find that this is a blessing; your child has two homes now: you must want him/her to get the home feeling and treatment too. I would say taking it up with the child is a better option, depending on maturity/understanding; but you want to choose your words well and clearly, too, because you do not want to put your child in a who's-more-likely-to-make-me-feel-bad-about-this push/pull situation that shoves them further in the direction you're trying to pull them back from.

You also of course very honestly want to be certain that you're not acting out all threatened like you are because you think that your Ex (and by extension their partner) doesn't deserve to hold that much valued space with your child because it'd been "just us all this time. I was there when you weren't!"

Breathe mommy, your baby will always come back 'home'...to you. 😊

A key point to note, though: kids at a certain age generally tend to prefer to trust certain details to people to whom they are the least accountable, like a step parent who they know favors them; because the automatic "good step-parent" predisposition is to want to stay in the child's good graces; so firm rebukes will often be ditched for subtle gentle guidance. And this is still a good thing for your child to have...I think.

But if you truly do feel you're losing your space in your child's life to their step-parent, then you want to talk to their other parent (your ex), because they are the only one who can restore the balance you're losing by ensuring that your child doesn't leave you out of important conversations.

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