Stepmother is probably the single most difficult role a woman can tackle. I know, because I am one.

And guess what!?! My stepchildren hate my guts. But more on that later.

Being a stepmom is doubly hard when infertility renders you unable to have children of your own. And your ready-made children hate you. Or did I mention that already?

‘I get a fiendish delight,’ chuckled Herr Detwieler inThe Sound of Music, ‘thinking of you as the mother of seven. How do you plan to do it?’

‘Darling’, cooed Baroness von Schrader, ‘haven’t you heard of a delightful little thing called boarding school?’

‘Baroness Machivelli,’ Max replied.

But that wasn’t me! And it wasn’t you.

When we met our husbands, sure, we may have been momentarily taken aback when we discovered he already had children. But it certainly didn’t stop us because he was awonderful man. We celebrated being so lucky to have this amazing man in our life and wondered why any woman would’ve kicked him to the kerb. (But secretly, we’re glad she did sowegot to have him!) And personally, I was glad to have a ready-made family of four sons and a daughter, (15,14,12 (twins), and 9) without the trouble of going through labour.

Like you, I leaped into step-motherhood with high hopes and a glad cry.

Within a week or two of returning from our honeymoon in Provence, my new husband Rhys and I hosted his children together for the first time. I knocked myself out, cleaning, cooking, scrounging enough mattresses, blankets and pillows for the children. Rhys just shook his head as I fussed and stressed.

Then the day arrived. My stomach was in knots as we drove to the rendezvous point. Arriving, I could feel six sets of eyes watching my every move. Six because their mother, Rhys’ ex, was also there. How awkward it was to shake the hand of the woman (thewrongwoman, obviously) who’d had my husband’s babies…while it seemed unlikely I would ever have that honor.

Somehow, I stumbled through the encounter wide-eyed, smiling, and as stupid and innocent as a frickin’ dove.

Did he warn you? Did he give you a heads-up? Did you know about Parental Alienation when you married your husband?

I didn’t.

I labored under the delusion that we were all going to try our best to get along and hopefully, the children would come to love me and I would come to love them.

Yes, I was that nave. That innocent. That stupid. I’d heard stepmother horror stories dating from the days of Cinderella, but I thought I would be the exception. Innocent as a frickin’ dove, was I.

Oddly enough, we tried. I think we all genuinely tried. The kids and I. But we didn’t have a prayer. Not really.

Unbeknownst to me, Rhys’ ex was active in the background. Hyperactive, I should say! Pulling the strings like some Machiavellian marionette artist. She yanked her children’s strings. Whispered in their ears. Planted doubts. Manufactured scenarios. Told bald-faced lies. You never saw her doing her dirty work, but it showed.

It showed in the cloak of darkness, of evil that hung over the kids each time I picked them up. It showed in the unhappiness in their faces, their headaches, the dark rings under their eyes. It showed in their lack of hygiene (they stank!) and how they never packed toothbrushes or even an extra tampon for a weekend stay. It showed in how they wolfed down my cooking in a desperate we-never-get-good-food kind of way. It showed in their in-your-face physical, and even sexual, abuse of each other.

They rolled their eyes about their mother and flung themselves joyfully into their father’s arms. And yet…and yet. Her masterful Parental Alienation showed in the snide, disrespectful things the kids said to their father’s face. It showed in the vicious lies they and their mother posted about us on social media. Over the past eight years, it’s showed in the court documents arriving regularly. It’s showed in the knives, the cutting, the blood, the suicide attempts, the underage drinking, the mental illness, the pills, the arrests, the adultery, the threats.

I don’t think it could’ve gotten much worse.

Much as we stepmothers try our damnedest to bond with, care for, please, and love our step-children, there is one cardinal rule. One inviolable boundary over which that child must not cross. It is the unspoken bedrock of parents who are parenting together, but when parents are separated or divorced, sometimes it must be said verbally…especially when Parental Alienation is about its devilish work.

The rule is simply this:

You may think you can treat your father like that,but you cannot treat MY HUSBAND like that.

It’s not a lot to ask.

That’s the line in the sand. Older children should know it already. It falls under that rule about honoring their parents. Being obedient. It’s simple and straightforward. Young children may violate it unknowingly and must be taught, kindly but firmly, what is not acceptable to say and do to their father. Older children, like my stepchildren, knew it already and violated iton purpose.

Parental Alienation wielded by an extremely disturbed ex encourages children to violate honor, to refuse to obey, to flaunt disrespect…to treat their own father in ways they would never treat anyone else. And that’s when a good wife and stepmother lays down the law. To protect her husband and her marriage.

That’s the law I laid down when my stepchildren conspired together and did something so heinous against their father, he was speechless with pain and despair. That was the day my aspirations to motherhood, albeit step-motherhood, were dashed. Splintered beyond repair on the rocks of Parental Alienation. Not only was I not a mother, the kids made it clear that I wasn’t even their stepmother anymore. They’d be damned if anyone insisted they treat their dad with respect.

That was the day my stepchildren came to hate my guts because I laid down the law.

I wear their disdain proudly.

Parental Alienation is a fine art, right up there with sculpting and oil painting. A cunning, wicked woman will use her own children to manipulate you into looking like the Evil Stepmother she wishes you were. She plays you like a harp. She projects all her own evil onto you. For years, she tells her own children that “everyone hates you,” driving them to mental illness and suicide, then blames you for it. You become the villain, the witch, the bitch. Oh, yes. My step-kids have called me that to my face.

Naturally, you step back. You think twice about all the fuss, the bother, the work, the expense of hosting the stepchildren who abuse you, your husband, and each other under your roof.

Then she’s really gotcha!

You alienated your husband from his children. You are holding him hostage. You have made him abandon his children. You deserve to burn in Hell but she hopes God will turn your heart and forgive you for this vile thing you have done. She says it. Her kids repeat it. Their friends and relatives all post, share, and retweet it.

Wear it proudly, Ladies. You were called to be a wife first, and you’re doing a fine job by protecting your man from being abused by his own offspring. Perhaps, one day, the kids will wake up and realize who the true villain is and always was. Someday, in her arrogance, she will overplay and show her hand. But right now, the mind control, the brainwashing, the Parental Alienation is too strong. You can’t win by contradicting the lies. You will sound like a pathetically defensive liar yourself. Only time can reveal the truth. Only time can heal the wounds. In time, I hope and believe, the truth will set my (and your!) stepchildren free.

But until then, hold your head up high, stick to your guns, and keep loving your man!

Photo by Kevin Shorter