Ironically, shortly after I wrote that blog post, a fellow #twitterstepmom (@stepMomsAnon) posted this picture with the question:
Is this BioMom providing abusive care to her children?
I immediately felt a lurch in my gut. I could identify with this picture. A few years back, my youngest stepdaughter was sleeping on a blow up mattress (she did have a bed frame, though) in her room at Mama Ex's home. The previous mattress was old and smelled, and needed to be disposed of. A new mattress was required, but Mama Ex didn't have the money to buy her a new mattress.
Fair enough. Mattresses are expensive. They can be a few hundred dollars, and we knew that Mama Ex didn't have that kind of disposable income. Rather than be petty and shout from the rooftops "THIS IS WHAT CHILD SUPPORT IS FOR!", Hubs and I decided we would do the right thing and purchase a mattress for his daughter. Basic living conditions are necessary for her to do well in school and have good self-esteem about her life.
$150 wasn't worth an argument about semantics.
I felt good about this decision and even better that my SD was finally getting to sleep on a decent bed. All was well.
But a few weeks later, Hubs saw a text from Mama Ex to her daughter in response to asking for a new toy. The text essentially said, "Ask Daddy if you want that, honey. He's responsible for getting you these things. Just like your mattress."
Then the feces hit the oscillating equipment on the ceiling.
(That means shit hit the fan.)
All this time, we were getting necessities for my SD, thinking that Mama Ex was just unable to pay for them. We didn't interrogate her, we didn't accuse her. We just took care of it because it was the right thing to do. But to find out that even if she had the money, she wouldn't have taken care of those costs because it was Hubs responsibility?
So...despite my experience with this rotten and icky situation, my answer to @StepMomsAnon's question is still the same: No. That picture does not depict abusive care.
Poverty or near poverty is not a crime. There are millions of children who are sleeping on blankets on the floor at night with a mother and/or father doing the best he/she can to give them what they need. And they are failing to make ends meet. That is not abuse or neglect. That is an unfortunate situation that I can feel empathy for. Times can be tough, and we've all been there.
Don't get me wrong, there is a decidedly large difference between not being able to provide your children with proper care/clothing and choosing not to because you expect someone else (like the other parent) to handle it. Mama Ex probably could have paid for a mattress and didn't. Is it wrong? Hell yes. Is it abuse? Trust me, the Missouri court systems don't think it is.
But here's the biggest thing of all. IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYWAY. No one is going to show up at Mama Ex's door and demand that she change her mind about what the father of her children is required to pay for. Sure, we could spend several thousand dollars going back to court and once again slowly explaining to Mama Ex what child support is, and how it is to be used. But would it be worth it? That thousand dollars may as well go toward helping the kids with what they need that they clearly aren't getting elsewhere.
Is it unfair? Yes. Is this part of the responsibility of marrying a man with children? Yes, it is.
As a stepmom, I face this situation a lot, and I know a lot of you are with me. Hubs and I are able to give the girls everything they need at our home, and we are able to give the girls everything they need at their mother's home.
Does that mean we should?
I think Hubs children should experience both sides of the fence. As I said before, there is nothing wrong with living in a home that doesn't have every available amenity at all times. That's life, yo. However, when it comes to basic needs (like lunch money, mattresses, clothes that fit), I believe Hubs children should have those, even if that means we get to dig in our pockets and pay for it. I tell myself this every morning:
I can't make Mama Ex do the right thing. But I can hold myself accountable to do right by these children that I have committed to.
End of story. End of discussion.