How to handle meeting my stepson's mother?
May 24, 2010 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I am step-mother to a charming fifteen-year old. His father and I have been together for 7.5 years and we have a six-year old. My step-son's parents are currently unable to hold a polite discussion about his life, and his mother has asked to meet with me as "you are more occupied with him" at our house. Part of me is glad, part overwhelmed.

This is complicated by the fact she and I don't speak the same language (I'm an immigrant) and we have different approaches to schoolwork. I respect her, and I love my husband, and I guess I'm glad to move something along, for my stepson, as he is going in to more difficult schooling and life things.
I am looking for anecdotes, ideas of what to discuss, of how to be a conduit between the two houses, but without going nuts. I am so stressed about it I can't concentrate. I do make the decisions here, mostly because I am here the most, and because my husband, while a wonderful father, can get distracted and doesn't do day-to-day things too well. Thanks in advance!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think the biggest thing you can do is include the stepson in everything - make sure he knows this is not a fight, or an "issue," but that everyone is looking out for HIM - to help him.

That is really the key thing this discussion is about, but it might be easy to overlook him in this process. He may pick up on the meetings and stress, and not understand why it is happening, only that he is involved somehow.
posted by GJSchaller at 10:49 AM on May 24, 2010

Perhaps you, she and your stepson can agree on academic goals, such as "We all agree with Son's desire to attend college. In order for him to get accepted into college, he must have (specific) grade point average, (specific) SAT/equivalent score, and these (specific) extra-curricular activities," then break it down by task to get to goal, for example: in order for Son to achieve desired GPA, we agree he must have quiet time and a place to study/do homework for X number of hours/day and we each pledge to make that time/space available to him. In order for Son to attend extra-curricular activity, MomA drives him on MWF and MomB drives him on weekends (or whatever division works for both of you, equitably), etc.

Just keep the discussion focused on common goals that benefit the child, it's hard for any mother to disagree with those.
posted by jamaro at 10:54 AM on May 24, 2010

I would not get that involved. It is the responsibility of the boy's father. I, personally, would not interject between the father and his ex. Did your husband's ex contact you about this or did she go through your husband? If she is doing an "end-around" I'd not meet her. Certainly you should get your husband to agree with it.
posted by JayRwv at 11:01 AM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

The reason for meeting is a shared love and concern for your step-son. I don't mean to be simplistic, but if the four of you can figure out how to find that common ground, everything will flow from that. Given that it sounds like other-mom is wanting to meet as well, it sounds like the 4 of you could potentially meet and discuss what seems like concerns.

I think if you can communicate that you are concerned about being misunderstood, in a way that they understand, I think that will be helpful in negotiating the misunderstandings that may crop up.

You all have a shared interest, and despite the fact that things may be different in each house, different rules, you can come to common ground about basic health and welfare and treatment. Civil, friendly, matter-of-fact and firm were how I looked at these interactions, and it served me pretty well.
posted by artlung at 11:07 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

[I am a stepmother so forgive me in advance if I project my own experiences too much into this answer.]

Why are the father and mother not able to communicate successfully? This is a big red flag. Those two have to be the pillars of a functioning co-parenting relationship. Turning to you as the liaison because they aren't able to work together is sort of an end-run around solving the actual problem. It's fine as a stop-gap measure but shouldn't become the norm.

Take care not to get ambushed. There is a possibility that the bio mom knows that she will have the upper hand (in communications, and as legal parent), and plans to try to manipulate you. She might also be trying to divide and conquer, to separate you from the decisions that you and your husband have made, and to bring you over to "her side."

What is the goal of the meeting with the mom? Be sure to establish this with her going into the meeting. Ask her in advance, "What will we be discussing? What are you hoping to achieve from this meeting?" If you set the agenda, there are mutually agreed expectations plus you will be able to tell when the conversation starts going off the rails.

It sounds as though the bio mom has issues with the choices that you and your husband are making in raising the child. Are you able to concretely identify what the specific issues are (for ex: "Son's mother thinks we push him too hard on homework." "Son's mother has expressed concerns about this extracurricular activity."), and then discuss with your husband in advance what your family's response will be?

If you are extremely stressed over this situation, it is possible that your husband is letting you down. He surely doesn't care for it, but care for it or not, the health and function of your family's relationship with his ex-wife belongs to him, and he needs to get over the tendency to "get distracted."

And you need to not let him off that hook, either—just because you are the primary caregiver in your own home and with your own child doesn't mean that you are the primary decision-maker when it comes to your stepson. Try not to be forced into a position of responsibility (for your stepson's education, well-being, mental and physical health) without authority (to determine how the child is raised).

Child therapists consistently say that the best thing for a kid in a blended family is to receive harmonious co-parenting. It's not about who is right, who is wrong, who wins, who has more custody... but that both biological parents and their new partners are all on a mutually agreed, collaborated parenting plan.

If you can be the conduit or the peacemaker or the consensus-builder toward that end, then kudos to you. You are doing the work of angels.

But don't put yourself in the middle as peacekeeper at the expense of your own mental and emotional health. You don't have to be the punching bag because your stepson's mom and dad can't see fit to communicate maturely regarding their son.

artlung is right: stick to the facts when you communicate about your stepson with his mother. Remain calm, reasonable, and try to remember that there is no winner or loser here other than the child.

And don't be afraid to walk away from the meeting if it starts to turn strange. If the bio mom starts to become abusive, or is critical of or offensive toward you, your husband or your choices, just say, "I'm afraid we have passed the point of productive communication today, so I'm going to leave now."

Remember that when kids and divorced parents are involved, there is always the potential on the table for legal action, and you don't need to be a part of something that could turn into a courtroom testimony.

For after the meeting: look for a sympathetic ear that is not your husband, someone you can debrief with or just vent to. Your husband is very much in the mix on this, and he likely can't be an objective supporter. He certainly can't understand first-hand what you are going through, because he is a biological parent and he has the biological imperative for this particular kid that you don't.
posted by pineapple at 11:11 AM on May 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

Speaking as someone who was once a teenage step-kid, remember that no matter what you do (pineapple has some excellent advice above!) you need to be very open with your step-son. He's old enough to understand what's going on, he's almost assuredly fully aware of the dynamic between his mother and father, and should be included in all discussion and decisions that are made about his life. He's also old enough for you to ask him how he would like you to be involved with this sort of discussion with his mother.

I feel for you. Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 11:37 AM on May 24, 2010

Wow! Is there any way you can get a family counselor (they are good at facilitating awkward stuff like this) who speaks both languages? I'm sure that would be tough but it seems like it would take a huge burden off of you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:32 PM on May 24, 2010

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