My Stepson Constantly Compares Me to His Mom

We recently took over primary custody of my five-year-old stepson at his biological mother's request. We find that whenever he comes back from a visit with her, he carries on with, "My mom's got this..." and, "My mom's got that..." He says things like his mom has a better job than I do (she doesn't). His mom's car is sexier/faster/better (it's not). When I found out that I was pregnant his comment was, "So, when my Mom has a baby..." The funny thing was, he actually had nothing to finish off the sentence. Is there anything either of us can do to stop this competition?


Jann Blackstone-Ford

Author of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation, and Director of Bonus Families, a non-profit organization... Read more

Your stepson may be comparing you to his mother, but not for the reasons you think. Kids of divorced parents often feel that they must identify with one parent or the other, so it's not uncommon for a child in this position to secretly feel he has abandoned the noncustodial parent, even if it was not his choice to do so. And, if your stepson likes you, this can only add to his confusion. Knowing this, when your stepson constantly reiterates how he feels about his mother, he may not be comparing you as much as he is reminding himself that he still has a biological mom and his allegiance has not wavered.

You also do not know what his biological mom is saying to him when he visits. I'm sure she has her own guilt issues, as do most moms who give up custody. So, she may be overcompensating in different ways to appease her own guilt, all the while making the situation even worse. Simply saying something like, "Mommy is so sorry you don't live with her," which sounds innocent and is probably very true, can put a little five-year-old in a terrible position. On one hand he feels safe and secure at your home, all the while he's worried about his mommy and how his not living with her truly affects her.

Being a good stepmother is the most selfless job in the world -- more selfless than a biological mom. The biological mom automatically gets the hugs, kisses and the words "I love you." Stepmoms have to earn them, and if it takes a long time our pride may get in the way. Still, every decision we make must be in the best interest of the child, whether he or she is biologically ours, or not.

How do you stop the competition? Don't compete. When your stepson says something like, "My mom can ____ better than you" just respond with something like, "I'm sure you love your mom very much." Say it gently, with love, and prompt him to talk about it more. Take note of what he tells you and try to give him your undivided attention as he speaks. He was very young when his mother and father divorced. It obviously affected him deeply. He's looking for stability, for someone on whom he can depend. If you stay the steady course and he is not made to choose, he will eventually come to depend on both of you.


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