What do you do when your stepkids’ bio mom doesn’t like you? One of the most common things I hear from stepmoms is about the difficult relationship they have with their stepchildren’s biological mom. Especially if it’s a high conflict situation. Why is that? And how can you deal with it?
I knew my husband Craig had a contentious split from his first wife. And on some level, I knew that I’d probably have to deal with that at some point. But I don’t think I really fully understood what that would look like. Or how bad it could get.
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I am used to being liked. I’m used to being able to talk to people. My career is based on building relationships and being able to relate to people. And on most days, I can talk to a brick wall and make it work.
So I didn’t really understand what I had done to deserve any hostility from Craig’s ex. I knew they didn’t get along – but I was just existing and doing my best.
Her emotions and perceptions of me are complicated, as are most bio moms. Whatever the cause of her emotions or feelings towards you, your interactions with your stepkids’ bio mom can be hard to navigate. Especially if she and your partner have a high conflict relationship.
And you may feel at times like you’re walking a tightrope as you try to coparent in your household while you support your partner coparenting with their former spouse.
This can be especially difficult because so many coparenting decisions can impact you.
So let’s talk about . . .
Four Ways To Deal With A Bio Mom Who Might Not Like You
1. Set Boundaries.
Boundaries can be tricky. What does that word even mean? I like to think of it as, “saying no” to “say yes.” Identifying and respecting your limits, and saying no to things that cross them – so that you can be your best when you say yes.
What does that look like?
If your relationship with your spouse’s ex is testy, try to be directly involved with her only when you need to be and work with your partner on everything else.
You don’t need to be at drop off’s and pick up’s if it’s going to be awkward or make you anxious. You also don’t need to coordinate logistics, custody, or childcare directly with her. Let your spouse do those things.
If you can deal with her as little as possible and let your partner handle the communication, it will lessen your anxiety and minimize the potential for conflict.
#2 If You Must Communicate Directly, BIFF It.
Even when your partner handles all communication, there may be times you’ll need to interact directly and that’s okay.
But if it’s a high conflict situation, being nasty to her won’t make you feel any better, even if it’s in response to her hostility towards you. Leave the sarcasm and snide comments at the door.
Bill Eddy, who runs the High Conflict Institute, has written about how to navigate high conflict relationships. He advises to always use the BIFF method when you’re communicating inside a high conflict situation.
BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm
Brief – Whether over email or in person, keep your response brief. This will reduce the chances of a prolonged and angry back and forth. The more you say or write, the more the other person has to criticize.
Informative – Take a “just the facts” approach. While you may want to correct inaccurate statements that have been made, focus instead on the accurate points you want to make.
Friendly – You’re probably never going to be best friends, so you don’t need to be overly friendly. But remember the old saying about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar.
It’s tempting to respond to nasty with nasty – especially if you know you’re right. But don’t give her a reason to escalate. Remember your goals. You are more likely to achieve them in a friendly – or at least neutral – manner.
Firm – Be firm. In a non-threatening way. Don’t make comments that invite more discussion. Think like Forest Gump: “that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
#3 NEVER Fight In Front Of The Children.
Kids are automatically going to feel torn between you and their mom. They may be unsure if it’s okay to even just have fun with you, much less like or love you. There is going to be a loyalty bind even when it’s not high conflict.
Fighting with mom in front of them – or eye-rolling, or making snide comments about her – will make the kids feel they need to take sides between you and mom. And mom will always win. Even when she’s wrong.
So do the opposite. Refrain from talking about her in front of the kids. Be kind when you speak about her. Make sure they know that you’re not trying to replace her.
#4 Stop waiting for her to like you. Or approve of you.
Your stepchildren’s mom may not every like you or be able to be nice to you. But remember: your happiness doesn’t depend on whether she likes you. And don’t wait around for an apology if she has wronged you. It’s likely not coming.
This can be a hard one. Like I told you earlier, I am used to being reasonably well-liked. I’ve never had a problem making friends or getting to know people. I can generally talk to about anyone.
And sometimes I want to just say, “why won’t you like me? I’m great!”
But let me give you some tough love as someone who had to learn this the hard way: you gotta let it go. Your self-worth comes from within you. From knowing you’re a good person and you’re working hard and doing the best you can in this very hard role.
While it can be hard to interact with someone who you know doesn’t like you, if you focus on your own state of mind and behavior, you can help lower the temperature and, at the very least, know that you’ve handled things with grace and class.
You’ve got this!