S3, E10: The Stepfamily Dynamic: Learning to Stay in Your Lane

bio-mom blended families co-parenting divorce family dynamics parallel parenting step-parenting stepfamily stepmom Mar 13, 2024
S3, E10 of The Crazy Ex-Wives Club Podcast: The Stepfamily Dynamic: Learning to Stay in Your Lane

In this profound episode of The Crazy Ex-Wives Club, host Erica Bennett and guest Susan Haworth delve into the turbulent waters of step-parenting and co-parenting with a partner's ex. They explore the trials of parallel parenting, mutual respect, and communication, recounting personal stories of overcoming hurt and rivalry.

The conversation unpacks the emotional challenges of incorporating a stepmom into a family dynamic, the need for cohesive parenting, and the importance of defining roles to avoid stepping out of bounds.

Erica and Susan share invaluable insights for navigating the complexities of modern blended families, emphasizing the necessity of forgiveness, emotional healing, and staying within one's lane.

Tune in for an enlightening discussion and visit cambioscoaching.com for more support. Subscribe and share with those charting their own course through the world of step-parenting.

Learn More About This Week's Guest: Susan Haworth

Susan Haworth holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and two master’s degrees—one in counseling and the other in management. She also holds post-master's credentials in counseling.

Susan has provided counseling, coaching, and training to individuals, families, and executives for over four decades. 

She is the owner of Cambios Coaching and Consulting, which specializes in providing individual and couples’ counseling and coaching for stepparents all over the globe. Susan is a contributing writer to StepMom Magazine, where her monthly advice column, “The StepMom Whisperer,” appears. Susan also facilitates support groups for stepmothers.

In addition to publishing articles in numerous trade journals, Susan has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and on national and international radio, podcast and television programs.

Susan’s book, A Change Would Do You Good: Proven Strategies for Creating the Life You Want (January 2022) is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through independent booksellers nationwide. Susan and her family live in Northern California.


Join Susan's monthly free call for step-moms. To enroll, click HERE


The Stepfamily Dynamic: Learning to Stay in Your Lane FULL TRANSCRIPTS

Erica Bennett [00:00:00]:

When you get divorced, you know that you're going to be coparenting or parallel parenting with your ex. But what you're usually not ready for is having to do that same thing when your ex finds a new partner. And all of a sudden, you find yourself having to deal with somebody that you probably would not have ever brought into your life. But they're here now. You guys are all trying to parent together, and it can create a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of frustration, a lot of confusion. And of course, kids get stuck in the middle, which is not our goal. I'm super excited for today's guest because we're going to talk all about that bio-mom bonus mom. How do we thrive when we are parenting with a lot of extra people? Let's get started.


Erica Bennett [00:00:51]:

Welcome to the Crazy ex Wife's Club, a podcast dedicated to helping women navigate the emotional journey that is divorce. I'm your host, Erica. And if you're trying to figure out life after the big d, welcome to the club. Whether you're contemplating divorce or dealing with the aftermath or any of the many phases in between, the club has got you covered. Each week, you'll hear stories from women who have been in your shoes. This isn't about spilling tea on divorce details. This is about giving you the tools to take control of your own healing journey. Listen in weekly for advice, tips, and tools to help you move through each stage of the process.


Erica Bennett [00:01:31]:

Welcome to another great episode of the Crazy Ex-Wives club. I'm your host, Erica, and today my guest is an expert all about that bio and bonus mom relationship. So welcome Susan Haworth. She is from Cambios coaching, and I got an opportunity to see Susan a couple months ago talking about this relationship. How do you find your lane, find your place amidst all of the new chaos? And I knew I wanted to have her on because this was definitely an area that I struggled with. So welcome, Susan. Thanks for joining me today.


Susan Haworth [00:02:05]:

Thank you, Erica. It's really great to be with you. Anytime I get to talk about stepfamily dynamics is a good day.


Erica Bennett [00:02:11]:

Yeah, well, I know when we were chatting the first time, you just were like, I am on a mission. I am on a mission to untangle the web of the bio and the stepmom. And I love that because my first experience with bio-mom stepmom was reverse of what it is right now. When my marriage ended due to infidelity, the other woman had stayed. And now, all of a sudden, there were three of us trying to negotiate and they had moved in, and they were engaged, and now we had a whole new roll of opinions demanding what needed to happen. And it really was painful, to be honest. The things that this person had done, knowing or unknowing, I don't know, but it still hurt on my side. Absolutely.


Susan Haworth [00:02:56]:

You were on the bio-mom side, and many of us are on all sides. We're a stepmom. We're a bio-mom. Our kids may have stepmoms. You see things a little differently from different vantage points. It's a struggle all around, because, as you said, it's not like we chose these people, handpicked them. They just happened. And we need to peacefully coexist.


Erica Bennett [00:03:23]:

Yeah. Because now I'm on the other side. So now I'm the stepparent side, looking at how do I want to show up for this other bio-mom, or where is my lines? I thought it was really helpful to have the first experience I had, but it was still really painful because you're still trying to figure out your roles in the divorce. What is my new role and what's the ex's role? And then now you're layering in a whole other host of painful processes.


Susan Haworth [00:03:54]:

Yeah, indeed. And it's almost as if we're following the script of central casting and that we're setting it up so that the two women dislike each other. Bio-moms. Stepmoms. And it doesn't have to be that way. Not that this is going to be your bff. You don't have to have lunch with the person, but it doesn't have to be as contentious as it is.


Erica Bennett [00:04:24]:

Yeah. And I think that was probably even just a personal disappointment for me, because when I got divorced, I had really set the intention that I wanted to kick ass at being divorced. Right. I wanted to be great with my ex. It just didn't work out for us. Wasn't meant to be. That's fine. We had a past.


Erica Bennett [00:04:42]:

We had a kid. We could peacefully move forward with the shared interest of this child. I really had set some intentions, like some dreams that maybe will not maybe. I really thought we would blend family like. I'm like, how cool would it be that we'd all go to Hawaii and the first family goes, then the second family goes, and there's a week of overlap, and then the kid stays with the other family, and now they're there and had all these ideas. And I did have one friend who had that actually happen. But then when the reality came of having to try and work with this other woman and her, one, her opinions, and two, her fears that were still running rampant from how their relationship started became very apparent that wasn't going to happen.


Susan Haworth [00:05:26]:

Yeah. What you described as mutual vacations or joint vacations, joint celebrations, sounds torturous to many of us.


Erica Bennett [00:05:36]:



Susan Haworth [00:05:37]:

Yeah. Some people aspire to that, and very few people pull it off. But if they do, more power to them. It's nothing that one has to do. Successful coparenting requires cooperation, consistency. It doesn't require commingling.


Erica Bennett [00:05:58]:

100%. Yeah. I think I had just been doing a lot of soul searching, a lot of work, really setting the intention that this is the best for all parties and then share that story to then be like you guys, I struggled really bad. Even when that was my intention of, I really want to find a way to work with this person, it was really difficult. When people don't want to work together, when they don't want to be in the situation, it gets even harder to have that mutual respect. Our issue was mutual respect and communication.


Susan Haworth [00:06:30]:

Right. That's it.


Erica Bennett [00:06:32]:

And that's always where it falls apart. And there were things like, the one story that keeps popping up in my head as we're chatting here is. And again, I'll acknowledge that I don't always know what that other person's intent is. And until there's some sort of basic level of trust through communication, again, not best friends, but just trust that somebody has good intentions, it really hurts. Right? She had the Harry Potter series. I had the Harry Potter series. She wanted to make sure she gave it to my son, and I lost my mind over it because that was a thing that I had loved, and I wanted to pass it on to my child. And how dare she try and show up first, right? It became this competition, even though it wasn't.


Erica Bennett [00:07:17]:

These little things could set me off and send me down a path.


Susan Haworth [00:07:21]:

That story that you just told Erica is what a lot of stepmoms run into. And that's why I talk about staying in your own lane. It's not defined for you, but you want to make sure that you don't cross over into the bio-mom lane. And it sounds like your son's stepmom did that, and it left you with some really bad feelings. And I've heard many stories. They could be simple things, like the stepmom sending home vitamins. The message is, I know better had a parent than you do.


Erica Bennett [00:07:58]:



Susan Haworth [00:07:58]:

And that is guilt going in the bio-mom lane.


Erica Bennett [00:08:02]:

Yeah. And I don't know if that was her intent, she wasn't a parent herself. This was the first time she was stepping into it. I think that a lot of those times, she probably was just really like, I don't need them anymore, and I liked them, and I'm going to pass them along. And it was something nice she could do, but it hurts. And so having that awareness has now helped me in this new role when I'm on the other side.


Susan Haworth [00:08:25]:

Absolutely. And you're right. I love what you said. She didn't have malice. She wasn't maliciously saying, okay, I'm going to take over Erica's role.


Erica Bennett [00:08:36]:



Susan Haworth [00:08:37]:

But it does take an awareness, and it takes some restraint. I'm going to give you an example of someone I know. She actually was in one of my groups for a short time, and she told this story as a stepmom, that her stepdaughter was with her, staying with her, and they passed off. They did the transition after school. She was dropping her stepdaughter off, and the stepdaughter's mom was going to pick her up at the end of the day. Well, this woman noticed that her stepdaughter was having some difficulties. She was not wanting to go to school. She was worried about some interactions, struggling.


Susan Haworth [00:09:18]:

This woman, the stepmom, did what maybe a bio-mom would do. She picked up the phone and she called the school counselor and said, I need for you to pay attention to her. She's struggling today, blah, blah, blah. Well, when the daughter, when she was picked up by her bio-mom, you can imagine the reaction when she said, oh, my stepmom called the school, and they called me in to talk to me. The bio-mom went crazy.


Erica Bennett [00:09:46]:



Susan Haworth [00:09:47]:

As I would have. It was clearly the intention was to be helpful and loving and supportive. But she crossed right over into the bio-mom lane, and it didn't end well.


Erica Bennett [00:10:02]:

Yeah, I think that's where it's hard. Right. Because in that situation, she really was caring for the stepdaughter. Her heart was hurting. She knew her heart was hurting. She was doing what she thought was best. And now we have this whole new nuanced thing of, there probably was a call that needed to happen first or a group text that needed to get sent to the dad and the mom, the bio parents, to say, hey, I think something needs to happen.


Susan Haworth [00:10:29]:

Right. That's exactly what she should have done. Yes. And of course, in her mind, it might have been an emergency, but it really wasn't.


Erica Bennett [00:10:38]:



Susan Haworth [00:10:39]:

You have to kind of step back take a few breaths and assess the situation in a rational way, not just react.


Erica Bennett [00:10:48]:

Yeah. I think that the biggest lesson was first, don't react. We don't know why somebody else is doing it. We love to assign malice and intent behind other people's behaviors, especially if there's someone who has caused some pain or is pressing on some of your own traumas and triggers. Right. Of self-worth and everything else that you're automatically going to assume they're there to hurt you. But that process, I did a lot of like, okay, hold on, don't react right now. What do you think her intention was? Using some communication to go find out and ask about it, to explore about it, or even just set a Boundary.


Erica Bennett [00:11:26]:

Like, hey, I appreciate that. She offered. I'm not cool with it. That's something that I really wanted to share with my son. I'd preferred if she just left that topic alone until he's old enough and I introduce it to him.


Susan Haworth [00:11:38]:

Right again. It's as if we're following the scripts that have been written for us instead of what is the best way to proceed. And someone asked me, she was writing an article about stepmoms and stepparents, and she asked me, she had a friend who cut her stepson's hair. And she said, that didn't end well. What did she do wrong? And I said, well, what she did wrong was she was in the bio-mom's lane. So that is a role that parents have. Whether a hair needs to be cut, how it needs to be cut. You don't make those decisions just because somebody walks through your door.


Erica Bennett [00:12:23]:

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Erica Bennett [00:12:48]:

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Erica Bennett [00:13:33]:

Now we're talking about I have a partner, and he has three kids. And so together we have four boys. I have my one boy, his three boys, and we're in a place where, yes, we talk about, these are our four boys. Like, this is the family that, when we're together, this is our side of the cohesive family. There was the first wave of learning how to co parent with him. Right. Because I had to learn what was his parenting style and what was my parenting style, and how do we communicate within that. Right.


Erica Bennett [00:14:03]:

That was the first wave of letting go of control, because we obviously parented different. We weren't new parents figuring it out. We were seasoned parents who had expectations, and our kids were used to the rules in our house. And along comes a new stepmom showing up with new rules for dad's house. And how do you navigate through that? And a big lesson was learning to let go of control. Just because I felt something was better, I felt it was better if we ate a healthier dinner. Did I want to take on that responsibility, that level of control? Know the freezer meals, sauté up the meat and the veggies and put it over. We're not eating at McDonald's every night.


Erica Bennett [00:14:45]:

But I was like, oh, they need home cooked. Right? Letting go of that level of control kind of prepped me to then be able to move forward into the same place. How do you let go of control with the bio-mom's decisions versus what you think should be done? Because it's almost one more degree of separation away from you. It is.


Susan Haworth [00:15:07]:

And there's nothing that will trigger you if control is an issue more than stepparenting because you have no control.


Erica Bennett [00:15:16]:



Susan Haworth [00:15:17]:

Yeah. Letting go is important. We talk about that a lot. Is that the other phrase we use is not my circus, not my monkeys. Right. That's the other trope, is that let your step kids eat cake for breakfast. And literally, that was an issue for one of my stepmoms, that her step kid was eating cake for breakfast, and she was the only one who thought it was a problem. And I said, well, there you go.


Susan Haworth [00:15:46]:

There's your answer. It's not your circus, not your monkeys. Cake for breakfast. And I hear stepmoms a lot anguishing about, what is this kid going to become if I don't impose my values on him or her? That's the wrong question.


Erica Bennett [00:16:06]:

Yes. Because it comes from a place of, your values are better.


Susan Haworth [00:16:12]:

It does.


Erica Bennett [00:16:13]:

And that was the thing about the control, that when I was really like, why am I trying to control this? Well, I had a judgment that my way was better.


Susan Haworth [00:16:20]:

Exactly. And that's hard to let go of realizing, okay, I think it's better. Yes. And that's how I might want to raise my biological children. But someone else, you'd think it's better a different way. And who's to say, yeah, I'm old enough now to see the results of different parenting styles, and you can predict one thing and it can turn out entirely different. So just because the person who ate cake for breakfast may be the healthiest among us all, you don't know.


Erica Bennett [00:16:55]:

Yeah. And that's a lot of the conversations that then happened. I thought there was a thing that my value was better. Having the conversation with my partner, figuring out, okay, where do we land on common ground around this. Right. And then being able to understand that that's probably a value that's in their other house. It may or may not be right, but it's the same process of you're trying to assert a value that yours is better, then you're trying to control the details, and sometimes you're trying to manipulate it through the kids. Right.


Erica Bennett [00:17:25]:

Eating this way is better, or getting this sort of exercise is better to try and get them to do it at the other house as well.


Susan Haworth [00:17:33]:

Yeah. I mean, I was very judgmental. As a new stepmom, I recognize that now. We had different parenting styles, and why not? We were different people, and we came together when our kids were teenagers. One could almost expect that. But for years I thought, well, I know the right way to do this. And it takes, just, as you said, letting go of it and realizing that it might be a preference of yours. And when you're in charge, that's how you're going to do things.


Susan Haworth [00:18:09]:

But I used to say, when I was a counselor in a school-based setting, I used to tell the kids, when I'm queen, things are going to be different around here. But until that time, I have to follow the people who I report to.


Erica Bennett [00:18:25]:

Right. God, if we could all just be queen, and everybody did as we said, even our children, it would be so much easier.


Susan Haworth [00:18:34]:

It's one of those fantasies, right? But, you know, Erica, I did want to talk about fantasies, actually, because this is what gets us all into a lot of trouble, and especially second families, because we don't have any sense of what a second family really looks like and how it differs. We have this fantasy for those of us just stepping in, let's say, as stepmoms. We think, okay, they're going to love me because kids love me. And we're going to be one big, happy family. We're going to resolve all of our differences the way they do on sitcoms in 30 minutes or less. And we're going to think conflict is hilarious. Well, we get into the reality and we're ready to throw ourselves out the window. We're just at Wits end.


Susan Haworth [00:19:30]:

Things aren't at all how we fantasize. And then on the other end, the divorced dad has his own set of fantasies. I am going to have that beautiful first family I never had, and it's going to be, we're going to do everything together. We're going to love each other, love me, love my kids. And the reality is very disappointing. And the only way to get through that is to own it.


Erica Bennett [00:19:58]:

Yes, I will confess some secrets then. I had a lot of fantasies of what a second family was going to be for me because I had been on the other side of it. I'd been the bio-mom now being the stepparent, and I had always wanted more than one child, and I never got it. And mine and his oldest are the same age, but then he's got two younger boys, so I've got two more, right? And all of a sudden, I was like, oh, it's almost like a do over again. That whole extended family that I wanted; I love cooking breakfast. That's my favorite meal to cook so I would make the things that my child liked, and thought were just the coolest breakfast.


Erica Bennett [00:20:41]:

And one was so silly. It was like pancake bites, so, like pancakes in a mini muffin tin. And then you fill each pancake batter with, like, raspberries or Blueberries or chocolate chips, right? And they're little bite size, and you pop them in your mouth and you.


Susan Haworth [00:20:54]:

Dip them in wonderful syrup.


Erica Bennett [00:20:55]:

Oh, my God, they're so easy and they're so amazing, you guys. I'll have to find the recipe and post it on Instagram. But I was so excited the morning that I woke up to go make this for them. Nobody would touch it. And I was hurt and upset. And at first, I didn't know. I knew I was mad, but I wasn't really mad at them. I was already coming to terms and letting go of control of the cravings.


Erica Bennett [00:21:20]:

And the food that these guys liked were different than what my kid liked because they grew up differently. And so that was like, some of the control was going. But this hurts so deeply because I thought it was just because I was doing this for them. I was getting up. I was cooking for them and then I realized that really, it was the grief that I had to let go of the fact that these were never going to be the kids that I didn't have and that it was never going to be that type of relationship.


Susan Haworth [00:21:44]:

Right. I had a very similar story, too. And having had one biological child, it didn't work out to have more. And I thought, this is my shot. And it's very hard because, first of all, you didn't have a hand in raising the kids the formative years. Right? But also, the other thing that we need to talk about is our family loyalty issues. It might be impossible for a stepchild to actually acknowledge that he or she loves your pancakes. That would be disloyal.


Erica Bennett [00:22:22]:

Right? And I knew I wanted to give them a lot of space for that reason. I never pushed. Give me a hug or give me a high five or give me whatever. My son had had that experience where it was expected, and he could not say no. Like, when she showed up, you better come over here and give me a hug. And I was like, I will never do that, but I will wait it out. I go, I will play the patient. Available, helpful.


Erica Bennett [00:22:45]:

Like the babysitter. Right? Like, I saw myself as the babysitter. I had rules. I was enforcing things, but their dad was the main punishment deliverer. But I was still there to keep them safe, but I was going to wait it out. We start with fist bumps or start with something little. And I never tried to make them accept me faster than they were ready. And one by one, you watch them all kind of topple over into a place of know.


Erica Bennett [00:23:12]:

When I show up, they're out the door ready, like, oh, my gosh, Eric is here, Erica's here. I know that they like me, and yet there still is that grief because they won't ever fill that role of what my own bio child would fill.


Susan Haworth [00:23:25]:

Yeah, absolutely. And that's good to acknowledge that. And also, the kind of questions I get a lot of times are, well, am I going to love him or her? Is that going to eventually happen? And my crystal ball is a little foggy, so I can't really say, and it may happen, or it may not, and you have to just accept what is. And you're right. The role that we play is a babysitter, trusted aunt, neighborhood friend. We respond to when the situation is emergent, but not the example I sometimes give is, and this has actually happened to me. Well, it's a long story, but it happened to me. I was watching my step grandkids and they jumped on a table and started dancing on the kitchen table.


Susan Haworth [00:24:25]:

And I said, get down now. And they said, oh, no, my mom lets me do that. I said, I don't care, I'm not letting you do it. Get down. And they got down. But then I didn't follow up with, and now you're grounded for a month, so you can deal with emergent situations, but not be the dispenser of the discipline. The follow up, that's for the bio parent to do.


Erica Bennett [00:24:51]:

Yeah, that's really helpful. And it's actually, it's so much easier, but it requires more communication then between you and the bio parent that you are partnered with to be able that he and I have to have very clear and strong communication and respect for each other because that's what the kids then see. Then they know that Erica keeps me safe. But Erica is an extension of dad. And would dad be proud of the behaviors you're doing? And if the answer is no, know that Erica's going to let me know because that's her responsibility to, like, yes, I stop all the ones in the moment when they happen, but then it's up to the other parent to really carry through with what that needs to happen next.


Susan Haworth [00:25:40]:

And occasionally I work with stepfamilies where the divorced dad doesn't want that role. He's very happy for the stepmom to be the heavy and wants her to do the disciplining, and that rarely ends well, actually, there's a lot of resentment that it's not her place to do it. And it's like, here, I don't want to do it, you take it. The history of stepfamilies is interesting because prior to about the mid 20th century, most stepfamilies were formed because of death. Families had been around forever, and when one of the spouses died, you had to find somebody else to keep the farm going, to keep the household going. You couldn't do it alone, and there were big families, too. You just found somebody else and plugged her in, or plugged him in, and that's the way it went.


Susan Haworth [00:26:43]:

Well, we're not in that place right now. In fact, 90% of stepfamilies are formed as a result of divorce, not death.


Erica Bennett [00:26:52]:



Susan Haworth [00:26:52]:

We're not plug and play devices and we have different roles and in our modern society, we can't just say here, I don't want to do the discipline. You do the discipline and expect that that's going to happen easily.


Erica Bennett [00:27:10]:

Yeah. Luckily, in my case, my current partner definitely leads and handles the discipline, and that's been very helpful. Where we struggle is the traditional mom roles. Making the food, cleaning the kitchen. Right. Those were hard for us for a long time because, yes, it was nice to have a family to care for and to cook for, especially when it's just my son and me. We're kind of, like, low key on dinners when you're only cooking for two, it's just not the same as cooking for six now.


Erica Bennett [00:27:43]:

Right. But having that same conversation of what's my lane and what's your lane? Because all of a sudden, I'm taking on all this other stuff because we're in partnership. Because now you're their stepmom. Yeah. And I've still got a business to run and my own child to take care of, and we don't live in the same house, so we've got two houses that we maintain depending on where we're at. That was the same conversation of where's my lane and what's your lane? Or I'm feeling overwhelmed because I'm running too many things right now.


Susan Haworth [00:28:19]:

Right. In our culture, typically, women get a lot more responsibility for the whole thing. I mean, things have changed a little bit, but not as much as we think. Women are still doing more housework while working, childcare, all of that, making arrangements for dentists and doctors and on and on. But these are conversations that need to happen as early as you can have them, and it's never too late.


Erica Bennett [00:28:47]:

Yes, because otherwise the resentment just builds, and you'll notice it. I always look for the theme. For example, I'm feeling irritated again. What's the situation that caused it? Where's the theme? Where is this continuing from? For me to really get to the root so that we can fix that part. Because it rarely is just the fact of, something like “I cooked too many meals.” Well, didn't you volunteer to cook that meal? And weren't you having fun? Well, yeah, but now I'm out of time. Now I'm stressed because I didn't get my other stuff done. Finding the root cause can really help.


Susan Haworth [00:29:18]:

Yeah, I think that's a really good point, Erica. And we have a lot of responsibility, and as stepmoms, we don't have any authority, really, to speak of. And the other point to make is that people can change their minds. I mean, you didn't sign up for life. That I'm going to make the meals for the rest of my life for everybody. One of the expressions I use a lot of things work until they don't. So maybe for a while it was okay for you to make all the meals and do all the laundry. And then it started not feeling all right.


Susan Haworth [00:29:58]:

So that's another discussion that has to happen. And resentment is poison for relationships. Keeping that gunny sack and throwing in your resentments, eventually it will erode your relationship for sure.


Erica Bennett [00:30:15]:

There are two more things that I want to make sure we cover. The first one, I'm just going to out us, all, right? Because we've all felt this way, but we don't want to say it, but we've all felt this way. That now that you've got these step kids or you're parenting with a bio-mom and you feel like you're cleaning up her mess, the behavior she didn't treat them or teach them, the values they didn't have. I found myself a few times being really pissed because she had run whatever she wanted to run, and now I was left cleaning it up.


Susan Haworth [00:30:50]:



Erica Bennett [00:30:50]:

And our situation is a little different because they have a genetic disorder, which is creating a lot of other issues and other demands. It's not just the normal situation, but there's also physical complications. There are steroid road rage complications. There are emotional complications. And so, when they would just get dumped with us, with having all of these outbursts, and we would work so hard and see some of the most beautiful transformations that I've ever seen. If my job is helping people identify the emotion to free up the behavior. Oh, my God, did they show up? And in one week, you could see somebody completely transform into a new person.


Erica Bennett [00:31:34]:

But that irritation and anger and bitterness that I'm constantly cleaning up her mess. Constantly cleaning up her mess. And I'm sure we've all felt that way because no kid is perfect. Every kid can be a little shit sometimes.


Susan Haworth [00:31:49]:

The kids aren't perfect, and parenting isn't perfect. We all have had, those of us who are bio parents have made our own messes, right? And then, of course, it is a problem when those messes get handed off to other people because we didn't create it. And it doesn't really matter how old your step kids are, there are influences that you didn't have any part of. And so, yes, I think just owning that and trying to, again, let go of some of it. I mean, you have to fix it to a degree that you have to have a peaceful home, but you may not be able to remedy someone else's issues no matter how hard you try. And I think that that's another thing, is we stepmoms try too hard.


Erica Bennett [00:32:39]:

We do. Well, I think that there is something about mom energy is always mom energy. It doesn't really matter if I'm babysitting a kid when I was little or if now, I'm a bio-mom or now I'm a stepparent. Mom energy is mom energy. She's fixing boo boos and making sure you're fed and managing your emotions. And I think that that's different for guys. I think stepparenting as a dad maybe shows up a little different, because that's one of the points that we talk about a lot in our relationship, is they're being friends and a mom's being a mom.


Susan Haworth [00:33:14]:

We just have different expectations for men than we do for women, and women have different expectations for themselves. If a stepdad shows up occasionally, breathes in and out, standing upright, we're good. Yeah. Usually, if he's doing no harm, yes. But there are a lot more on stepmoms. We have to perform a lot more, and we think we have to perform a lot more. That's the biggest problem, probably, is that we take on more. We over function is the word that I use a lot.


Susan Haworth [00:33:51]:

I mean, women over function, period. And then when you get in the role of stepmom, you're doing double duty. Sometimes triple duty.


Erica Bennett [00:33:59]:

Yeah. To close out this one, I'd love to get really clear for listeners on some of the things they can do to stay in their own lane, because how do you win? You got to stay in your own lane. For me, one of the big ones, and then add on and tell me what other ones you teach your people with one of the biggest ones. Because I am a fixer and I am a people pleaser, and I am a perfectionist. When I saw these things that could be done different, like my partner communicating with his ex, I tried to fix it. I started writing the emails he'd send them, and I had to remind myself that that's not my role.


Erica Bennett [00:34:39]:

My role is to support him, to be the best parent and to be the best coparenting communication. I can't take over for him and do all the work and expect to get a different result. And that's something that I constantly will still call myself out on because I love that we have a lot of open communication, that he's always filling me in. I know what's going on and what's being said back and forth, and I love that he'll show up and be like, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it, and I'd love to hear what you're going to say. And then he decides what he's going to say. Right? We come together and we parent together on the situation and problem solve. And then I had to stop doing the work and then I had to sit back down, and I had to send him out to get it done in whatever way it was going to get done because I can't do the work for him. And that was one of the big staying in the lanes that impacted my relationship and my relationship with the bio-mom because it's not my job to be up in her, whatever their conversations are.


Susan Haworth [00:35:42]:

It is not. And you did a beautiful job. So yay, you.


Erica Bennett [00:35:47]:

It was a hard one.


Susan Haworth [00:35:49]:

Yeah, it's very hard because there's so many places where that goes sideways, though. Erica, first of all, you're communicating to your partner that you know better than he is not. This is not the stuff of romance. That is not a good thing. Nobody likes. Also, you know what? I advise my clients to take a hard look at what is directly impacting you and what is not. And the things that aren't directly impacting you, you need to ignore. So having a child have cake for breakfast is not directly impacting.


Susan Haworth [00:36:29]:

Homework is not directly impacting you. I mean, you can get into a spin with it of like, oh, my God, and then he's not going to graduate from high school and then he's going to boomerang back. And that's future fear. You have to deal with the here and now. What is directly impacting you? And that's where your lane is. All the other things that you would do differently if you were the bio-mom. That's what you have to let go and let someone else deal with it or not. And it takes a lot of self-control and restraint because sometimes our lane is not big enough for our big ideas and our big hearts, but it's the reality of it because the effect of crossing over is too great.


Susan Haworth [00:37:20]:

It destroys your relationship with the bio-mom, it destroys your relationship with the kids. It does nothing for your relationship with your significant other, your partner, your husband. So, yeah, it takes a lot of restraint, but it also takes a lot of awareness, too, of what is it you're doing and that you don't need to be doing. There's so much. As I said, I mostly see stepmoms who are over functioning.


Erica Bennett [00:37:49]:

Yeah. It's not to say if you're listening to this and you're like, oh, my gosh. Well, I just have to stop doing a lot of stuff. Right. It's not to say that you might not be doing those in the future when you establish trust and communication in your place in it. To me, it's like, don't take it all on. Create the boundary.


Erica Bennett [00:38:08]:

Know what your role is. And maybe years down the road or even months, who knows, right? Maybe there's a conversation, hey, it looks like so and so hair is getting a little shaggy and needs a haircut. I don't mind taking him, but you guys have to decide that it's ready. Right. And if at that point, maybe the bio-mom is like, oh, my God, thank you. Yes, please take him. Right. My son's going to be able to decide what he wants for a haircut.


Erica Bennett [00:38:32]:

If somebody had just asked and said, hey, I'm willing to help you out with this, do you want me to take him? Oh, thank you. Right. You're learning how to work with each other without disrespecting who gets to have the say.


Susan Haworth [00:38:47]:

Yeah, that's the cooperation part of it. That's what it requires. Again, it doesn't require having lunch with anybody. If you want to help, volunteer to help, but don't just do.


Erica Bennett [00:39:02]:

Yeah. And just like in some of the other episodes we've talked about the process of divorce, there's the emotional part and there's the business part. This is a business relationship, but it is so fraught with emotions.


Susan Haworth [00:39:14]:

It is. And it needs to be a transactional relationship, a business relationship. You have a job to do, and you don't have to like each other.


Erica Bennett [00:39:26]:



Susan Haworth [00:39:26]:

And also, I think sometimes bio-moms and stepmoms are easy targets for everybody's unhappiness. We blame things on stepmoms, and as stepmoms, we blame the bio-mom. And what about the bio-dad? What about our partner? Isn't he the blame, if you want to use that term, blame. He's responsible for maybe some of the fraught interactions. It's a lot easier to blame this person from central casting than to see who else is responsible in the interactions.


Erica Bennett [00:40:09]:

Yeah. And that, to me, is life lesson. Right. Anytime there's miscommunication anytime there's conflict, even when you think the other person is the one who is at fault, it's always asking yourself, is there something I could have done different? Did I need to show up with different energy? Or maybe they are wrong. Can I just extend a little bit of grace? Like, is this the hill I want to die on? Do I want to get in a fight over this thing? Or maybe they were having a bad day and maybe I can just ignore it this one time. If it becomes a pattern, then address it. But when it's a one off, we all need a get out of jail free card every once in a while, because I know. I'm sure I'm not perfect in my stepparenting role.


Erica Bennett [00:40:51]:

I try my best. I lead with an open heart, but emotions get in there. And so being able to just own where you do make a mistake, just like any parenting, you're not going to be perfect. Own where you make a mistake and fix that.


Susan Haworth [00:41:04]:

Yeah. No, so many mistakes. I mean, most of us who work with stepparents talk about all the mistakes that we made, and we have to forgive ourselves for that. We have to lend forgiveness to our partners, too, for whatever happened in their first relationship. But forgiving ourselves for our imperfections is really important.


Erica Bennett [00:41:28]:

Yeah. And that really is truly the emotional healing part of divorce and learning how to parent again and all the pieces. Because, yes, there is a transactional side, but it is that part, the heartfelt side of learning why something bothers you and what you want to do about it and how you could have done things a little differently to create something that works for the kids who are in the middle.


Susan Haworth [00:41:53]:

Yeah. We're all trying to heal from our childhood trauma.


Erica Bennett [00:41:57]:



Susan Haworth [00:41:58]:

We're playing it out in different ways.


Erica Bennett [00:42:00]:

We sure are. We keep getting sent these relationships to try and teach us our lessons. Well, thank you so much for joining today to talk about bio-moms and bonus moms, because it's one step at a time, you guys. It's about seeing if things worked when you tried it or if it didn't. I know that just like I shared with you after I heard you speak, I cannot tell you how many times a day I ask myself, am I in my lane? Oh, I'm leaving my lane. Get back to your lane. Get back to your lane. So being able to use that and then really, the last thing in our last few minutes, I would say you guys set your definition of what your lane is.


Erica Bennett [00:42:36]:

When you're happy, when you're in a good space, when you're feeling content, right? Because those are the rules that then you can apply. Like, I set what's my lane on Christmas spending for the kids and how is it still fair? But I set that lane before I'm walking down the aisle and I'm like, ooh, they'd love this. And ooh, they'd love this. And, ooh, they'd love this. So being able to understand where your lane is, have that conversation with your partner that you're with, and then know how that affects the mom on the other side, whether that's the bio-mom or the stepmom.


Susan Haworth [00:43:12]:

That's great advice. Great advice. Thank you so much. This has been great fun. Erica, thank you for having me.


Erica Bennett [00:43:20]:

It was so much fun. I know it always goes so fast, so I'm always like, oh, if we could just keep talking, but we can always do another one. Thank you, guys, for listening in. Oh, before we let you go, though, Susan does have an offer for you. I know you wanted to give them a free consultation, so if you guys are interested, if you're struggling in your stepparenting or know bio-mom bonus mom, Susan does have some opportunities for you. Do you want to tell them about that?


Susan Haworth [00:43:47]:

Yeah. First of mean, you can jump on my website, which is cambioscoaching.com, and you can book a free consultation, a complimentary consultation. I love talking to people, so just jump on. I also have a free public group once a month, the first Thursday of every month from nine to 10:00 a.m. Pacific time for stepmoms and people. It's open enrollment. You do have to register. It's on my website, but anybody can join.


Susan Haworth [00:44:18]:

You can come once, or you can keep coming back. It's a very welcoming group.


Erica Bennett [00:44:23]:

Beautiful. Thank you. You guys, all of that information, you can go to Susan's website. Otherwise, it'll be in the notes on the episode. So whatever platform you're listening to, go read those notes. It'll have her website and the info in there. It'll also be on the crazyxwivesclub.com under episodes where you can read the full transcript from our chat today. And until then, you guys subscribe on your favorite platform, share it with a friend, and we can't wait to talk to you next week.


Erica Bennett [00:44:52]:

And that's it. Another great episode of The Crazy Ex Wives Club, a podcast for women learning how to heal from their divorce. Tune in next week for more advice and tips to help you figure out life after divorce. And until then, give yourself grace. Do the best you can and know that this is all part of the process.


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