Shelly Jensen* of Folsom has been a stepmother for four years. In that time, she’s learned a great deal about how the blended family works, what to expect and even how to handle some of the conflict. The one area she has yet to master is the competition. ” The girls mother is hugely competitive with me. Everything I do, she knocks it down, or she tries to out-do it. The most recent thing was when I had to get a new car, out of necessity. My step kids told me that their mother hated that kind of car, yet she went out and got the same car, but the bigger, more expensive model. It’s always been like that. ”
Does this sound familiar? Many step parents and biological parents find the same situation with other step parents or biological parents, competition. While it can be irksome and annoying, is there really even a point?
Carol Fanning of Stockton knows this story well. ” My kids would see their dad every weekend, his new wife is a big time shopper. I like her, but she’s constantly competing with me and trying to ‘out win’ me. I let her, since I can see she feels the need to outdo me. I think it’s her insecurity” Fanning’s children were able to go with Fanning on a business trip to New York for five days. Upon returning home, a visit with their dad became another planned trip to New York with the kids. ” Of course, they got to see the Thanksgiving Day parade,stayed at a pricey hotel, ate at the finest restaurants. It’s always like that. Whatever I do for my kids, my ex and his wife out do it times ten” Fanning spoke to her ex about it, and he admitted his wife was feeling unsure of her position and felt the need to compete with Fanning for the loyalties of the children. ” It got ridiculous, to be honest. I finally had enough. The kids were being spoiled like crazy and it was beyond control” Fanning recalls.
Why do parents compete? There’s likely a lot of reasons that make sense to those who compete, maybe even to outsiders. For some, it’s a fear of loss of affection, that a child is going to love the parent who does more for them. For others, it may be a matter of low self esteem. Knowing that a parent can do more than another parent may boost their self esteem, being able to feel like the best parent. For some, it may be a fear, whether rational or irrational fear of ‘losing’ their child to the parent who provides the most for the child.
Early discussion of the feelings might be a way to head off the competition. As Carol Fanning found, speaking to her ex husband brought the competing to light. ” I basically made it sound as thought I felt sorry for the kids, having to do everything twice. He understood completely and they started opting for different things to do and give the kids. It’s helped a lot”
Assuring another parent or step parent of their important role can also be of some help the situation of competitiveness. With that in mind, it may not be very likely to give or get assurance from the ‘other side’. Most parents and/or step parents will feel it’s not their job to ensure the mental well being of another. One Stepmother comments “When my ex’s wife competes with me, I’m not going to make her feel better, that’s not my job to fix her.” There’s some truth in that. Ultimately it’s up to each of the parents/step parents to take care of their own mental well being. If there’s an issue with competition, jealousy and the like, it’s an unlikely source of comfort coming from the other parent or step parent.
If as a parent or step parent, you find another parents actions closely resemble your own, perhaps it’s not out of competition, perhaps it’s out of flattery. It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Another potential reasoning is inexperience. If a childless adult comes into a blended family scene, perhaps their style of learning parenting is by imitation doing what seems to make the child happy. Whatever the reason, take it with a grain of sand and remember you can’t control anyone’s actions or re-actions but your own.
* all names and details have been changed