The Second Wives Club
Why the Trouble?
Most of the problems I see among second wives can be traced to lack of respect. I've bitten my tongue more than once when I've heard a divorced mom dish about her ex-husband's new wife, snarking about her looks or job, finding fault with how she dresses or feeds the kids. Rarely do I hear appreciation for taking on carpools, school projects, extra laundry, and more. But we need recognition and support just like everybody else. The first time I ran an Internet search on "second wives," I was surprised at the number of online groups out there, filled with women swapping strategies for coping with problems like upset children, frustrated husbands and "deadbeat moms," which can refer to mothers who spend child support on themselves, then ask their ex for more money in front of the children, or mothers who unexpectedly "dump" children on their ex's household during their own custodial time. I used to believe that things like that didn't happen, but it's more common than one might think. And it's taboo to talk about: Complaining makes it sound like you don't care about your stepchild, so many of us turn to the Web.
I shadow some of these sites when I need reassurance that I'm not alone. Sympathetic souls turn up in unexpected places, too. Not so long ago, my stepdaughter and I were nosing around the kids' department at Bloomingdale's, and the saleswoman smiled and commented that she looks like me. "No, no," I said. "I'm just her stepmother." "Listen, honey," she said, fixing me with a look that clearly came from experience. "That counts."
The most recent Hollywood take on the second wife, the movie Stepmom, suggests we've made some progress, but not much. The movie wasn't very good, but I could relate to Julia Roberts' character as she dodged barbs and struggled to keep her relationship and career afloat while attempting to forge a bond with her fiance's children and their mother. It was more than a little depressing that the first wife (Susan Sarandon) had to develop a fatal disease before she could welcome Roberts' character into her children's lives. Is that what it's going to take before we'll be respected?