- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

A recent segment on “Good Morning America” — “When Stepparents Get Too Involved” — and the ensuing posts on the “GMA” online message board sounded more like “Wake Up America” to me.

The segment opened with reporter Juju Chang describing how quarterback Tom Brady’s new supermodel wife, Gisele Bundchen, created a firestorm when she was quoted in Vanity Fair saying she loves Tom’s son as if he were her own.

“Gisele Bundchen embodies a woman’s nightmare of a stepmom,” Miss Chang said.

I guess I just don’t understand. Is it a nightmare because Gisele publicly stated that she loves the child as her own, or because she is rich, beautiful and famous?

I suppose I was confused because a mother was then interviewed talking about how upset she felt when she was at her child’s sporting event wearing the “mom uniform” — jeans, sweatshirt with team logo, hat with her hair in a ponytail, and no makeup — and the stepmom arrived at the game looking great with nice attire, perfect nails and makeup, heels, and hair done up.

Then I was upset because I realized I’m in the former category — wearing the mom uniform every weekend, whether at my son’s games my stepson’s games. So, what’s wrong with me, I wondered.

As a sanity check, I talked to my son about his games.

The resulting lessons are a) he loves when any parents come to his game, step or not; b) he has no clue what we wear; and, c) whatever the “mom uniform” is can’t be that bad because this particular middle school student is frequently and easily embarrassed by his parents, just like many other kids his age. If I was truly embarrassing, trust me, he would let me know.

What if my children had a stepmother who publicly professed her love for my children? Sure, I would feel twinges; they had a stepmother, and I did experience moments of insecurity, jealousy and second-guessing myself.

But I would much rather have their stepmom attend every important event, take care of them when they are sick at her house, and help them when, unfortunately, I just cannot be there as a direct result of divorcing.

The alternative, a stepmother ignoring what’s important to my children, turning a cold shoulder to them and not helping them when they are in need, doesn’t seem like the best solution for my children.

The “GMA” message board had comments from parents and stepparents alike. There was a lot of emotion; more than a few posts were written in defensive, hurt and angry tones.

But one of the comments will remain in my mind forever. The author of the post, a child of divorce with remarried parents, wrote that her stepparents “are just as much a part of my life as my mom and dad … I know that divorce is difficult and often a result of unpleasant circumstances, but the child should not suffer because of this … I am loved equally by all of my parents and they love me as their own. … If this means that I am loved 400%, so be it.”

It doesn’t seem as if she has stepparents who went too far, even when the stepparents were there for “every softball game, sickness in the middle of the night, triumph, and failure.” Surely, the debates on whether a stepparent can get too involved will continue. In the end, let’s not forget what the kids need.

The final remarks between Diane Sawyer and Miss Chang started to touch on this. Miss Chang closed with, “Let the kids lead; let the kids have the boundaries, and put them first.” And Miss Sawyer followed with advice to err on the side of remembering that as a stepparent you can be 100 percent theirs, but they can’t be 100 percent yours.

I hope “Good Morning America” someday goes a step further and interviews counselors, psychologists and grown stepchildren as well as their parents and stepparents. Now that would be a wonderful thing to wake up to.

Paula Bisacre, founder of Remarriage LLC, is the publisher and executive editor of reMarriage magazine (www.remarriage magazine.com), a quarterly publication that provides practical solutions for the growing remarriage community. She can be reached at [email protected] magazine.com.

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