A number of web sites for women with stepchildren have been posting this Bill of Rights — author unknown — for a few years now. But it's worth posting it again here — and praising it. Too many of us women with stepchildren don't think about these basic rights until it's too late — until we have been consumed with frustration and doubt about whether our expectations are unreasonable, whether our disappointments with stepfamily life and our partnerships make sense or are just self-indulgent, whether our feelings count.
In the course of researching my book, Stepmonster, for the last three years, I discovered that each and every one of these points below tells a story. About how stepmothers, rather than wicked excluders, tend to be Outsiders in the stepfamily system, whether his kids live with them or not. About how, rather than Cinderellas burdened with chores, stepkids, especially those who just visit dad on weekends or holidays, are likely to be waited on by dad, and especially stepmom, as dad lets reasonable expectations about helping out slip to the wayside "because they're hardly ever around." About how women with stepkids are often burdened with responsibility, but deprived of authority when it comes to his children. And about the terrible toll it can take on one's self-esteem and psychological well-being to keep trying in the face of a stepchild's repeated rejection and rebuffs, and keep pouring energy into a relationship that can feel painfully unreciprocal.
Every one of these points makes perfect sense — yet a surprising number of people who post responses to this Bill of Rights feel a need to qualify certain points (particularly number five, which sets them off). Others on these chat boards seem to feel that a stepmother who wants reasonable treatment from her husband or partner and his kids is just wicked.
But really now, what's so controversial about any of this?:
- Our marriage is our first priority, and we will address all issues together.
- I will be part of the decision-making process in my marriage and family at all times.
- People outside the immediate family - including ex-wives, in-laws and adult children - cannot make plans that affect my life without my consent.
- I will not be responsible for the welfare of children for whom I can set no limits.
- I must be consulted about which children will live with us, when they can visit and how long they will stay.
- I will not be solely responsible for housework; chores will be distributed fairly.
- I will be consulted regarding all family financial matters.
- Others may not violate my private space at home, nor take or use my possessions without my permission.
- I will never be treated as an “outsider” in my own home.
- My husband and stepchildren must treat me with respect.