Adapted from a recent online discussion.
I married someone quite a bit older, and now I am a stay-at-home stepmother to his two daughters, 13 and 11. Because he and his ex-wife are so busy with their careers, there’s ample space for me to volunteer at their schools and be involved in their social lives.
When interacting with other moms, I get a lot of, “You look too young to be their mom!” (because I AM), and when I explain I’m the stepmom, I immediately get stonewalled. I think these other moms think they know my life story as soon as they find out that I, 26, am married to (and currently supported by) someone their own age. It is 10 times worse when my husband is in the room.
I get why this would be annoying or threatening or whatever to mothers in their 40s. Perhaps they even see my existence as a sign their own husbands will leave them for younger women (not what happened in my case). But I am really feeling isolated now because they do not include me; I have even gotten a few snarky versions of, “We assumed you would not want to hang out with old ladies.”
Since most of my daily life revolves around the girls, I’m looking at several years of this crap. When I have a baby of my own, maybe I will start meeting more contemporaries, but that will not change my responsibilities with my stepdaughters.
How can I make these other moms feel more comfortable with me? Real, concrete suggestions would be nice. Also, how do I deliver the narrative about my marriage so they don’t make assumptions that aren’t true?
You’re asking for concrete suggestions to do something I’m not sure you want to do.
The friendship of snarky, judgy people doesn’t sound worth your trouble. Plus, trying to win their approval sounds about as promising as any other effort to be liked – as in, not very, but with high risk of undermining the self-worth of the person trying. Then of course there’s the narrative, which you owe to no one, certainly not to defend yourself against assumptions that were unfair and unfounded in the first place.
I do want to help you make this situation better – I just don’t think launching a “Like me!” offensive makes as much sense as just waiting this out: Soon enough, people will get used to seeing you around and won’t need to know your story. As you wait for your aura of otherness to wear off, just be warm, be helpful, keep volunteering and be guileless in response to snark. E.g.:
They: “We assumed you would not want to hang out with old ladies.”
You: “(shrug) I always welcome new friends.”
As for practical tips: Look to your stepdaughters’ friends, because their parents will get used to the idea of you soonest. Also, look for people who aren’t clumped with other parents. Some will be loners, but others likely just haven’t been absorbed by any particular group, for whatever reason, and will appreciate friendly overtures.
Besides that, keep doing what you’re doing in supporting the girls. That’s not only best for them, but also helpful to your cause – at least with anyone who’s paying attention.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.