A great fantasy surrounding divorce with children is that everyone is fine.
Those of us who marry into divorce with children situations are sometimes the first to notice that things are any thing but “fine”. In some ways, we are the canary in the coal mine- out ahead, sensing danger long before anyone else.
I remember when my stepson was 4 years old. He would throw things at his father and mentally break down at least 5-6 times per day- completely out of control. He also was not able to show any interest in learning certain skills. Initially, I was concerned, but did not say too much.
Sure enough, as soon as he tried to begin kindergarten, one red flag after another was witnessed by his school and he was held back. Even after being held back, he struggled with behavioral and learning issues.
Could all of this occurred had his family of origin remained intact? Of course.
But, what was interesting is that I was the first to notice these issues, and I do not think that the stepmom being the first to notice is in any way uncommon. In fact, Barbara Waterman in her book on adoptive, foster, and stepmothers cites a study which examined young boys having problems in schools. The study showed that in fact, in divorced families, it was often the stepmother who FIRST brought concerns to everyone’s attention.
Too often, the prevailing fantasy of everyone being “just fine” in divorce clouds the judgment of the actual parents- the ones who should be most in tune with any difficulties associated with their children.
So where does that leave us as stepmoms? Unfortunately, I think we are still left in no man’s land. Rather than being embraced as aware, insightful, perhaps objective witnesses, for the stepchildren in our lives, we are often viewed with suscipion and disdain if we dare to bring up any concerns.
I know, when I have talked to my stepson’s teachers, it usually takes a good 4 to 5 months before they are open to really hearing what I have to say. Let’s just be very blunt that there is no gushing, no open arms from his teachers, until they get to know him and the situation. Until then, I am viewed as the stepmom first, someone to be regarded with suspicion.
Waterman makes a good point in her book- rather than overlooking and disregarding the input from “other mothers” (step, adoptive, or foster) our society and institutions should value our insightful, laser-like eyes.
We do see things, and unblinded by the parental block of “My gosh, I have already put my children through a divorce, and I absolutely can’t handle it if they are in any way affected, so I am just going to pretend they are fine”, we may be invaluable resources for our stepchildren and their continued development. If only, we are listened to….