The Second Wives Club

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A Reality Check

For the most part, I'm lucky in my personal situation -- my husband's family, and especially his daughter, welcomed me warmly. But a quick check on any one of the numerous stepmother/second wife-support sites on the Web reveals that my sister second wives aren't always so fortunate.

Perhaps we would be more accepted if everybody realized how different our lives are from the outdated stereotypes. Take the one that says we're out to snag a rich husband and peel him and his money away from his first family. Reality check: Far from stealing away men in their financial prime, the second wives I know are essential breadwinners whose paychecks help provide stepchildren with housing, clothing, and food -- and many of them need to work to compensate for the money their husbands must send to their first wives. A woman I know has it the worst, with much of her husband's income being funneled to his first wife 15 years after his divorce. His first child has a trust fund, sizable enough to ensure his financial security for life, and his ex has never worked. There is no trust for his child with my friend, who works part-time to help maintain their lifestyle (which, granted, is still pretty nice).

In some states, and depending on the discretion of a judge, the income of second wives can even be considered when alimony and child support are calculated. Shortly before my husband and I married, I learned that my salary could potentially be factored into future adjustments made to his nonworking ex. It had taken me years to get back on my feet financially after my first husband's death (he didn't have life insurance), and we were saving like mad to get a place big enough for my stepdaughter to have her own bedroom. (Fortunately, due to the financial situation of all involved, the threat never materialized.)

Second wives are often depicted as blinding their husbands to the emotional needs of their children. In truth, the stepmoms I've talked to are more "mom" than "step," attending parent/teacher conferences, supervising sleepovers, comforting kids, cleaning up vomit (it happens). The difference is, stepmothers don't get the respect and decision-making power automatically accorded to "real" mothers. Despite the fact that I've been caring for my stepdaughter for six years (she's now 12), I feel like a bit player in the ongoing negotiations between my husband and his ex over his custodial time. His ex often doesn't stick to a set schedule, and it's not unusual for me (us) to get virtually no notice that my stepdaughter is coming -- or, worse, that she won't be. I was also once excluded from an important school event because its organizers didn't think to take stepparents into account and it turned out there literally weren't enough seats. Even more upsetting, stepmoms often serve as lightning rods for the anger children harbor after a divorce, and stereotypes make this difficult situation even worse. I know of one woman whose stepchildren blame her for breaking up their parents -- a scenario their mother encourages them to believe. The second wife and her husband don't plan on telling the kids that their mother was the one cheating, but knowing she's doing the right thing doesn't ease her frustration about the blame and the "You're not my mother!" back talk she gets when she tries to set house rules.

Continued on page 3:  Why the Trouble?


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