The Stepmom and the Ex: We’re Bringing Bitchy Back

stepmother bringing bitchy back
Stepmoms and the Ex: Does familiarity breed contempt?
Picture by Anne Taintor

I’m bringing bitchy back

Them other girls don’t know how to act

Sometimes I think that stepmothers and ex-wives should have a t shirt that says, “We’re Bringing Bitchy Back”.  Maybe, I should create a rap video of the same name.  Let’s face it. Many of us act really bitchy towards the ex-wife or partner.  Why is that anyway?  Is it in our DNA?

It comes down to the relationship between women.  What is with us?  Why do we care what we think of one another?  Why do we bring bitchy back when we become stepmothers and exes? Why do we no longer recognize ourselves after step-mothering for awhile?  I bet that the ex feels the same way.

The answer to this question can be found within the boundaries of a courtroom.  Professionals who specialize in choosing jurors researched and learned a profound fact: familiarity breeds contempt. That is, the more we learn about others who remind us of ourselves, the more we dislike them. Huh?  Let me explain.

In doing research for this blog, it reminded me of my divorce court story.
When I got divorced, my case was very simple.  I had custody of my son and I paid all the bills.  My ex had disappeared and did not have a steady job.  How easy is that?  I just wanted the bills split in half.  I owned the home. When I got to court, I was assigned a female judge. The judge was probably around my age and (I found out later) of a similar background. When I saw her, I thought, “This will be easy.  Surely, she’ll understand.  Grant the divorce and treat me fairly.”  The judge looked at me and decided she needed more time. (More time for what???)  She looked everything over and assigned more than half the bills to me because I worked.  How does that happen?

Frustrated, I did a little research into how this could have possibly occurred.  I learned that the judge ruled against me because she related to me.  The more a judge or a juror relates to the defendant, the more they will rule against them.  Why?  They fear for themselves.  They envision themselves in your shoes and do not want to see themselves in that position.  It makes the world too scary.  As a result, jurors and judges will impose impossible standards on the person to whom they identify as being similar to themselves.  When choosing jurors, lawyers will often pick people who are different than their clients because that sense of distance generates more empathy.  From that day on, I vowed that I would only step in front of a male judge, preferably a responsible dad.

The same happens between an ex-wife and the stepmother. By definition, we are similar.  We are both females who have married the same person.  We share children in one way or another.  We are now sharing in-laws and family.  We are similar.  The stepmother sees herself in the ex and harbors fears of being in her shoes. Stepmom does not want to be divorced and will set impossible standards for the ex-wife to meet because we want to be ‘better’ than the previous wife.  The ex-wife does the same to the stepmother.  She fears that the stepmother will replace her.  She is on a campaign to prove that stepmom is not a better version of herself.  Both women desperately want to prove that they are not like the other.  Both women fear for their futures.  Both women want to separate themselves from the other because it is too scary and feels uncontrollable.  Our similarities are what tears us apart.  Remember, “Mirror, mirror on the wall?  Who’s the fairest of them all?”

Did you ever wonder why the relationship between the mom and stepmom does not get better over time?  Could it be that Benjamin Franklin was right?  He said, “Fish and visitors have something in common: Both begin to stink after 3 days.” Studies have shown that, overall, the more people learn about one another, the more they dislike each other.  Consider the idea that many women feel as if they already “know” each other. This ‘knowledge’ makes the aversion towards each other even more powerful.  Think about how a stepmother and ex-wife are constantly hearing about the other one. We learn more and more about each other daily.  (Or, so we think!)  Most of this knowledge is not information that either one of us welcome.  (As a side note, most of the information we receive is incorrect or inaccurate.)

If Ben Franklin is correct, the blended family becomes a hotbed of revulsion as all of this ‘knowingness’ flows in daily.  The more data that is conveyed the more fear builds up in the heart and minds of both women.  It is terrifying for both of us as our expectations for the other grows and grows.  No one can live up to the standards that we have set for each other.  As time goes on, we bring bitchy back. We say, “Them other girls just don’t know how to act.”  The truth is that we girls act similarly.  We know that we are alike in some ways, but will fight to the death to prove otherwise.  We don’t want to acknowledge that we see signs of ourselves and, as we expect excellence from ourselves, we expect it from the ex.  Most of all, we don’t want to be them.

The next time you feel the urge to bring bitchy back, fight the urge. Both you girls know how to act.

11 Responses to The Stepmom and the Ex: We’re Bringing Bitchy Back

  1. Very true. I have to say I haven’t met my husband’s ex-wife. But, my SS said she bad mouths me all the time. I just laugh.

    • Well, I’ll try to be patient and read it with eeyvrone else. At least that will give me something to look forward to! =) My writing is going fairly well I’m still polishing Bloodstone and slowly writing the sequel. I’d like to start querying Bloodstone before long!

  2. I don’t agree with this one. My husbands ex is a drug addict and has been in jail and prison over 30 times. WE have full custody of the kids and she doesn’t even get visitation. I dislike her because of what she has put her kids through and continues to put them through. It has nothing to do with being similar to her. I’ve had one speeding ticket in my whole life. This may be true for more traditional ex/step-mom relationships – but not all.

    • I agree. I think it becomes a case of how could he go there/what did he seen in her, as my husbands ex is a gambler and was without a job for over 2 years. Whereas I have a good corporate career etc. The kids also stay with us on a full time basis. I fully agree that the kids suffer due to the emotional roller coaster she rides. And i have to fix the mess after each weekend visit.

    • The blog was not meant to be directed to all of us. My intent was to get people to think differently or, maybe, even challenge our thinking. I will say that you are one of our stepmom heroes…to be sure. Thank you for taking the time to write. Are you aware of my facebook page, The Evil Stepmother Speaks? If you like that, we have a secret page called Stepmom Life Class. If interested, you have to friend me on facebook at Barbara Brody Goldberg. If you can’t find me, write me a note on the Evil Stepmother Speaks facebook page. Just another resource!

  3. I agree, but I can honestly say I have tried to maintain a relatively healthy and positive relationship with the ex. She is so competitive, insecure and just generally nasty, sometimes I feel the need to defend myself. Moreso, defend my step daughter because that is the person she is hurting. I tried to tell her that my step daughter loves and is proud of both of her blended families and that the back biting is only hurting her. I am meet with I don’t care, “You told my daughter Santa doesn’t exist. No,I was asked by a 10 year old who heard at school and answered honestly. I told her it’s all about what you believe in your heart. Unbelieveable to me, she would make this an issue. I give. I am tired of defending myself and my actions, which I know are pure and out of love towards my step daughter, to someone who does not act in the best interest of her own child. That is on her, not me.

  4. I know this post is very true in my case, and I hate that! LOL. I’ve been trying for years to prove that I am soooo different than her, but I know deep down that we are similar and of course it bothers me, because all I see is faults and failures in her. I once saw her wearing the same exact shoes that I owned and immediately went home and put them in the Goodwill pile, because something internally just cannot live with the idea of being, doing, looking, saying, acting ANYTHING like her. I know it’s ridiculous, but as you stated, it is our nature. And you’re right, the more the kids talk about her, and the more we’re around each other, the worse it gets. My husband never wants to know anything that goes on at their house, and now I understand why. Knowing breeds resentment. Thanks for the post.

  5. Had the EXACT same problem in the first two years. I did everything I could to make sure I was better, smarter, prettier, and an all around better wife. I wanted desperately to prove that I was better in all aspects. Then one day, I had enough with the miscommunications and the misperceptions that I was trying to replace her as ‘mom.’ I am childless by choice and I had no intention on taking over the mommy role although I am very close to both my stepchildren. So, I texted her, asked her to coffee, she said yes, we met, and I found out that yes, we are different and the same but in the end, we just wanted the kids to be happy and healthy. I made it clear to her that I wasn’t interested in replacing her and I respected her as ‘mom.’ The entire dynamic changed within weeks. She and I now do things for the kids together jointly like taking them shopping for Homecoming, etc.

    I suppose what I learned was that as soon as I got over my own fears of not being good enough or the feeling that “I never gave my husband a child,” and she got over the fear that some other woman was trying to replace her, we became adults and showed the kids that adults can in fact, play nicely in the sandbox.

    Was NOT easy and still, sometimes it is challenging, but the kids don’t have to divide events any more. There is no more discomfort at events, no antagonizing, and most importantly, my insecurities went out the door. I focus on making my marriage a good one in its own unique way. I quit competing, comparing, and obsessing. It was liberating!!!

    I know not all bio-moms and steps can do this but believe me — this was a VERY VERY VERY acrimonious situation. So, I completely get the attitude that ‘this will NEVER work for me.’ I never thought it was possible either, so I told myself “If I try, then at least I know I did so with good intentions and the kids will see what being an adult looks like.”

    May be worth a shot my fellow stepmothers! Best of luck!

  6. I do think that there is something that second wives and ex-wives share – the husband. I think that in addition to seeing ourselves and fearing that future, many other women also question themselves and their relationships with their husbands, because they feel like, “what the hell were you thinking when you married this psycho?!” We wonder how the person we are married to could have found love and a life with this terror that we are experiencing on a sometimes daily basis. And if that judgement was off, then what does it mean for us?

    There are also so many second wives dealing with mentally and/or emotionally unstable bm’s. They try to manipulate their ex’s, use the children as pawns, and dish out spite like it was sliced bread. Second wives in this situation get bitter overwhelmed by the volume of games and deceit that dished around on a regular basis.

    In the end, you’re right. We do have to be careful of thinking that we know them. Most of the information we get about them comes through a filter – husbands and step kids (both of which have strong feeling that will dictate what and how they share).

    So yes, put your bitchy aside and go ‘head be gone with it…

    All the best,
    A. S. Noraford
    author, Stepfamily Diaries

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