I haven't done any research on "normalization", but I've recently been told by a psychologist that this is what our household is going through right now.
It's common for stepparents, but especially stepmothers, to go through a period of trying their hardest. They are either trying their hardest to repair the parent-child bond, to show that they too can be a parent, to create a bond with the children, or just trying to make the family work. I would say that I was trying very hard to be a parent and make the family work. And the psychologist said that this ends and the normalization process begins after the stepparent is either massively burned or after one too many burns.
I'm still trying, but I'm conflicted and backing down at the same time. Not only is this normal, but it's also healthy. Working so hard for something that wasn't working and was apparently worthless to the children isn't healthy for me. When everything was reversed in court, I backed down on a lot of the effort I was making. I stopped cleaning their room, making their beds, putting away their clothes, cleaning up after them, making as many dinners, making lunches for school, and buying them stuff- fun or otherwise, unless necessary.
The downfall of all of those efforts can be listed:
- I often cleaned up their room because I thought that this is what was happening at their other and past houses. I think I was wrong. Result: When I clean their room, they have no clue where anything is or even what they have.
- When I made their beds, they couldn't have cared less. They're barely in them anyways, and they seem to like dirty clothes and sheets anyways.
- I also assumed that others have always put away their clothes. Since I stopped, my husband discovered that in fact they always put away their clothes at their other house and nothing is folded for them. It's simply dumped on their beds. Result of my actions: I put away their clothes, so they didn't have a clue of what clothes they even had. I was always reminding them that they have other things, which they would then sometimes wear out of guilt or thinking it would please me.
- Cleaning up after them is just stupid. Sometimes necessary, but it's the fast track to resentment.
- I'm still struggling with the making dinner part. I made dinners to give them other options, so that they can eat with us at the table, and we often used our meals to teach them about healthy choices (like sauces, butter, fresh foods, etc. since I can't eat a lot of bad foods). Dinners were also my attempt to show them my capabilities, that I can make food they like, and that I am also fully capable of doing a mom-like thing. It also was to allow for a setting very close to a real family. And, it took the burden of providing food or cooking off of my husband, so I've been doing this since we were dating. I've been cutting back on that, because it sort of sucks to cook for them. I love cooking, and I like cooking for my husband and I. But the final sting was going out of my way (and price range) to cook them crab legs the night before court. They were so happy that I finally made them shellfish, which they knew I sometimes made and they wanted me to make for them. The next day they told the mediator that they didn't like being taken care of by me. I'm never making shellfish for them again, unless it's frozen shrimp. (If I want it, of course.)
- Making lunches for them was along the same lines as making dinner. Showing capabilities, giving them healthy options that they chose or claimed to like, and showing that we can provide, just like a real family. I even decorated the lunch bags. I've been doing this for years now, and after at least 2 years, we found out that their mother had told them to just throw away my lunches. She provided them with money or possibly brought them other lunches while she wasn't working. So now my husband gives them money or I pick up some pre-made lunchables. I just don't care. I wonder if they'll forget the years of decorated lunchbags?
- I made it clear that I myself often provide for them, with my own money, just for them. I took them to get things they needed, had them in mind all the time, and helped them plan for events or occasions. I bought them fancy kid-coffee drinks and smoothies all the time as treats during time with me and then anything else that they needed. I bought them and took them shopping for sports equipment, last-minute panic-need-items, school things, clothes, bras, shoes, food they want, and on and on and on. This obviously also helps my husband tremendously, lightening his burden. But I'm sick of giving.
Normalization is when the stepparent, usually stepmother, stops trying so hard. This then causes the kids to take on tasks that they should have been doing anyway, or normal family rules to be enforced more consistently when they should have been enforced all along. (Usually these things were not done because of fear of upsetting the children or pushing them away, because the other parent/household is more lenient by contrast.) Everyone adjusts to the stepparent being less a part of the picture and a new house order with more responsibilities for the children and biological parent.
I've been badly burned. My stepdaughter completely forgetting how close we'd been, the things we'd talked about, and things she'd loved- along with treating me like an almost stranger- was so hurtful, it repulsed me. I've never understood how parents can handle their children turning against them, but not being their parent makes this treatment similar to a betrayal by a friend you trusted. If you're in my shoes, it does not feel like "actions by an innocent child." It is a horrible, horrible feeling to bond with a child and then know that the child purposely or was convinced to either tear themselves from you or even tear you apart. It makes me doubt every other interaction and distrust every positive action. And then I feel sick and want to hide.
It happened in a different way with my older stepdaughter. She would report everything I said (or anything her dad said or did that she didn't like, turning it into something I did or conceived) to her mom in a twisted form, and then allow her mom and other family to twist it further, thereby embarrassing me and opening the door for harassment and confrontation by their mother. It created a distrustful chasm between my previously obsessed-with-me stepdaughter and I that still makes me nervous. She's now pulling away in general, hopefully from everyone, because she's a pre-teen and has learned how to work situations to please whoever she's with. Makes her more pleasant, and I go along with the mostly fake behavior for the sake of temporary pleasantness.
And this is how you become an increasingly distant stepmother, internally conflicted by the love of your husband and the messages you receive from others that "children just need love." I'm getting a whole lot of other messages that say they don't need love from me. Maybe there can be less blame and less hurt if the target stepparent just backs out of the way more and more.