Thursday, February 16, 2012


The honest truth is that one of my stepdaughters is just a girl, normal and all. She has moods, she has likes and dislikes, she sometimes tries to get out of trouble by lying or hiding something. But she reminds me of... a kid. She's just a kid.

My other stepdaughter reminds me of her mom. She embodies traits that I have always strongly disliked in others, that I then purposely avoid. She acts like one person sometimes, and other times you see the real her. She's one of those friends that you eventually decide to stay away from because you just can't trust them, and you're not sure who they really are.

My husband loves her to the end of the world, but he knows why I have major trust issues with her and why it's so hard for me to get past them. He respects that I don't share the same love and affection for her, based on her actions, attitudes, and choices over the years. He understands that I have been severely wounded by her actions and words, and that he shares many of those wounds. His heart for her is from her birth, though, and his love will be that of an unconditionally loving parent. It is absolutely different, though he does understand.

It's very hard to let hurtful individuals into your home. I'm sure all of you have experienced something where you weren't even sure about or comfortable with inviting one of your own family members into your home. If you haven't experienced that, you know plenty of people who have. Although you may care for a family member, you may not be in touch with them because of certain reasons. Or, maybe you haven't even talked to a certain family member in years or decades because of something that happened or because you are just different people. Or, you have a friend or family for which this is the case, if you yourself do not have this situation in your life.

When you have a personal problem with or a number of differences between you and another family member, usually you don't have to see them for a certain period of time. You can avoid until the next holiday. Let time heal. Let the anger subside or wait for an apology or your own forgiveness to set in. Or, simply deal with them for a couple of holidays a year. Or, if they live far away, send them the occasional card. Make the occasional call. It doesn't mean they have to come to your house every week.

My stepdaughters are my family. This much is true. I do not love them like my own children, but they are the closest to my own children that I may ever have. Who knows. It doesn't matter. They are my husband's children. And I love him more than anything in the entire universe, and by default I care for them more than any other child. When they hurt him, I am hurt by his hurt. When they are all 3 laughing together, I am feel so much joy to hear it. When they succeed, it makes me proud, but it makes my husband so much more proud, and that gives me joy. I want them to love him, I want him to see them, and I want them to be together. It's what I want, even if I technically don't want them, really.

When I am upset with my stepdaughters, usually due to ongoing, dragged out, life-suffocating drama of some sort where my husband and I are both severely concerned about their well-being and future, they will come over regularly. Not everyday, but nearly every other day. I don't get cool off time, like I do with the rest of my immediate family. Like my spouse, they will be in my house. I can't avoid them or let things settle down. And... I can't move away. They can't either. We all stay in this stew of mismatch.

I've found that although I don't unconditionally love them like their blood family members do, I can compartmentalize. Not always...I wish I could more and at all times. This is related to one segment of detachment concepts. Although I'd prefer to not hang out with someone as much as I do, I have to. I do my best to get along with them, or just co-exist, despite the anger and distance I feel inside over the latest set of lies, negligence, and disgraces. For the most part, I compartmentalize my real feelings. I'm not that comfortable with it, I've never been good at hiding my feelings, but I do it as much as I can. Some of their visits are short, so I just have to get through the time and keep myself distracted and busy. Still, I continue to take care of them like they are children in my home, like I am the mom of the house with all the jobs I've taken on for our family, and I function as an adult leader and guardian to them, whether I like them that day or not. I cook for them, help them, answer questions, participate in discussions and activities, buy them things they need. I function as their caretaker, and definitely as their mom when they're here, and I can't just quit, I don't turn into an evil stepmonster. I act like a regular mom...Though sometimes I hide or go on a whole lot of unnecessary errands.

The only time I completely lose ability to segregate my feelings with my actions is when they are rude and hurtful to their father and my husband, who is also my hero and best friend and heart. Which is, unfortunately, very often. I often can't believe what I'm hearing and seeing from his very own children, and any mom or wife would tell their children to not treat their father in that way. I'm sure he wishes I would defend him less, but I'm the only person who does. He's never had an advocate before, which is sad since  he should have at least had that in his first marriage.

It's a known theme of life for a stepmom to do a lot and be unappreciated, and although frustrating, it is also numbing and fits expectations. When they treat their dad in the same way, that infuriates me because he does love them without end. He is amazing, a wonderful father, but they have a mother who hates him and disrespected him for their entire lives. She is the center of their small worlds, and this rubs off on her children. They have "mom-glasses" if you will, and when they come off, they are normal kids who love their dad and act normal again. The nasty attitudes, distanced behavior, lies, hiding, shields, and defensiveness wear off, and sometimes very quickly these days. But with short visits, there's a lesser chance of the glasses coming off. (Dr. Richard Warshak explains how this happens in his books and articles, if you're interested or if you still believe children couldn't possibly be turned against their own parent without cause.) 

It's a very odd situation to have a home you run, where someone that you don't care for constantly comes over. Maybe some of you have this with a mother-in-law or your husband's ex, and it's time to enforce some boundaries. But I have no choice, and I do not have the right to ask her to leave (well, unless she did something truly exceptional). As a matter of fact, I wish she came over more. Isn't that funny? Although I wish we weren't "related" to this personal of a degree, I also know she would benefit from more time with her dad and vice versa. And we actually all work better together and are more of a family when we're together more. (The kids realize you and your husband are the authority, albeit temporary, and become more accepting of your home and rules when they know they're not reporting it all to their mother in less than an hour.) Another contradictory oddity of a stepfamily- Things can actually be less stressful and more smooth if you're together more. My goal is to help my husband and love him. Which means wanting my stepkids, caring for them as if they were my own as much as I can or am willing to, even if I also technically don't want them at the same time.


  1. I dont know you, and you dont know me.. but i was googling "how to step back as a stepmom" and came across this. I could of wrote these exact same words and it gives me comfort to know that i'm not alone in this feeling and these daily struggles.

  2. You are definitely not alone, Sarah! Every stepmom's situation is completely different, yet we all relate. I try to write about the unusual, or what other people don't realize to be the usual, for us. The complexity of our situation is just insane.

    I strongly recommend the book Stepmonster as an academic approach to our weird role. The author, Wednesday Martin, also writes a lot of articles that you might find helpful. Also, there's the StepMom magazine, which is a paid online subscription. It has articles on this topic, though they are not entirely in-depth.

    There are other articles out there for what you're specifically looking for, and they are usually labeled as "detachment". Detachment is a real psychological concept, though from reading what others are using it as/for nowadays, it has taken a couple of different shapes. Don't stop at one article. Find your own mix. We all do things differently, and have to.

    Good luck. Join us in Stepchicks or one of the other communities. =)