A question I’m often asked is “Why does my husband’s ex-wife hate me when I’ve never done anything to her.” Thousands of stepmoms are perplexed by this. So, here is a list of the most common reasons your husband’s ex might not think too fondly of you.
1. She doesn’t hate you, she hates what you represent: The failure of her marriage, the breakup of her family, the woman her ex-husband became a better man for, the fear that she might have ruined her child’s life by not being able to make the marriage work.
2. She’s afraid her kids will love you more than they love her. An irrational fear, as the chances of that happening, is basically nil, but a common fear nonetheless.
3. She perceives you as overstepping boundaries. This could include showing up at a parent-teacher conference, forcing the kids to call you mom (yes, that does actually happen), calling the kids “mine,” posting pictures of the kids on your Facebook page, trying to co-parent with her by responding to messages sent to your husband, etc…
4. She perceives you as overstepping boundaries by participating in events she believes are reserved for “mom” and participating in events not only reserved for mom, but that are “firsts.” These might include: taking your stepdaughter to buy her first bra or getting her first haircut; participating in any sort of cosmetic experience (hair color/new hairstyle/ mani-pedi day); talking to her about the birds and the bees; painting her nails or coloring/cutting her hair the way you like it or similar to yours (even if your step is a teen and she requests this, it could still push mom’s buttons).
Think of any sort of milestone and you can be sure that mom wants to be there for it.
5. She has unresolved grief about her divorce. For a long time, she could just ignore the painful feelings that accompany divorce. She didn’t really have to face it. She may even be remarried, but never actually grieved the loss of her marriage and family. Enter stepmom, and suddenly it’s real and it’s in her face.
6. You act as a mirror for her. When she looks at your strengths, all she sees are her weaknesses. If she never thought she was a good businesswoman and you own your own business, that insecurity is magnified. Same could be said for your intelligence, physical appearance, age, housekeeping skills, creativity, fashion sense, how much her kids enjoy being around you and your happy marriage.
7. She perceives you as doing all the parenting while dad is “let off the hook.” Stepmoms often help their husbands out with household duties and life in general. That’s what marriage is all about: partnership. You shuttle the kids back and forth to school or help with homework, you schedule appointments, etc… Often this has to do with gender roles, but all mom sees is that at her house she’s doing all the work while at yours you’re taking care of the kids and dad “does nothing but works.”
8. Now that you’ve come along, dad is asking for more parenting time. With your support, your husband may now see that he should exercise his visitation more or that he’s now able to provide more stability for his kids. In turn, he requests more parenting time and/or parental input. You’d think this would be a good thing, but this change in dynamic can be threatening and/or scary for mom. Not everyone likes change. It’s easy for her to pinpoint your presence as being responsible for this.
9. She doesn’t know you. When mom sends her kids off to be with their dad, and this woman she doesn’t even know will have full access to them, she can feel like she’s being a bad parent. She doesn’t automatically trust you just because dad does. But at the same time, she doesn’t necessarily want to meet you. A no-win situation for all involved.
10. She sees her ex-husband being a different man with you. It can be painful to see the man you think treated you so poorly, treating another woman like a princess. She might think he’s being a fraud, or she might think “Why wasn’t I worthy of being treated like that?” She might still be grieving the loss of her marriage while he’s moved on. It’s nearly impossible for her to have good feelings towards you when she’s still processing – or in denial of – the loss of her family.
11. You actually did something worthy of her negative feelings: Are you consciously or subconsciously trying to make her look like a bad mom? Are you trying to prove to your husband that you’re a better wife than she was? Are you trying to make your stepkids love you more than they love her? Do you try to show her up in any way? Do you want the school faculty, PTA or your neighborhood moms to think you’re a better caretaker than she is? Take a look at your behavior and your motivations. You’re going to have to be honest with yourself to see how you might be contributing to the high-conflict dynamic.
Did I miss one? Share your experiences in the comment section below.
Jenna Korf is a Certified Stepfamily Foundation coach, an RCI Certified Relationship coach and co-author of the book, “Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.” She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post and has been featured as a stepfamily expert on CNN.com, parenting.com and care.com. Jenna is also a Registered Nurse, a stepmom and a stepchild. To read more from Jenna or for one-on-one coaching visit her at StepmomHelp.com.