Late last night, something I'd been dancing around for years hit me hard. It was such a small connection to make, so I don't know why it took me this long. I also don't know why I haven't read this realization from other, more seasoned stepmoms. I haven't been keeping up with my StepMom Magazine readings, so maybe someone hit on it during the last few months. I kind of doubt it, though (since those articles are fairly short and laced with optimism). I have read articles or chapters in books that sidestep this, like I have been, though.
There should be no wonder that stepmoms don't like their stepkids or aren't the most crazy in love with them as everyone else. There should also be no wonder about how we became this "evil" and why we're not more accepting of them over time. There should be no question as to why I don't trust my stepdaughters more or "just have fun with them" like I used to. And there should be no confusion over why I'm not "better to them" or just "accepting them for who they are."
The kids are trained, by mom and others, to treat their stepmom like a bag of crap-ranging from horrible to subtle, albeit always consistently. So although in-laws, our own family, our husbands, and even strangers think our stepkids are wonderful little angels, we literally, directly see the absolute worst of our stepkids. They are not to us what everyone else thinks they are. They are what their mom, over time, has turned them into. And we have responded, over time, through years of exhaustion, frustration, and depression, in kind. The way I am now? They should thank themselves.
Yes, moms and often their families actually succeed in teaching their kids the worst of behavior towards another adult- and that adult is me. My stepkids are trained to respect teachers, coaches, adults, grandparents, others, others, and others. But not me. They were told for years to throw my food away, not listen to me, and argue with me. They learned to lie to me, because I don't matter. I am expendable. They learned that my gifts, possessions, and even my own person are not to be respected or cared about. They also know to value what I say lower than anyone who ever walked the planet. As my husband once told them, not that long ago, and they accepted, "You treat her worse than you would a maid."
You don't see it because you're not me. You're never going to be, either. So you will never, ever see these kids through my eyes. You are not the one person truly singled out in the entire universe by my stepkids' mom and her years of disparaging comments about the trash she thinks I am. And, you also do not have my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and shame that comes directly from the way I am treated by my stepchildren over the past so many years. Self-doubt, self-esteem, guilt... Those are not your feelings that come from two kids, unlike all the other kids out there, treating you the way I've been treated.
The only ones who fight this whatsoever are my husband and I, as thankfully my husband has seen most of what they do to/about/around me. At least I have a partner, unlike many of my fellow stepmom sisters out there. And, another bonus is we have friends who see and know it now, primarily because they are both moms and stepmoms simultaneously. They are fully aware, and can see the abuse from the kids and their mom. It's gratifying to hear one mom in the community tell another mom, right in front of me, about my stepkids and how they treat me when in their mom's presence. Or how their mom treats me. Or how their mom's family treats me. It's amazing to hear those very, very few that know the truth and know why I've changed over the years and know why I fight depression and heartache.
My husband's heartache is worse. He simultaneously fights the worst of the behaviors in his children, trying to instill some integrity and character before it's too late. He also sees and knows my pain, as I know his. He is split between us- myself and the girls- and his still abusive first marriage. I pity him over the kids. Unlike his childhood, they are lavished with gifts, love and attention from two different large families. Although they struggle, they will come out of it. They will grow from it and probably, I think, benefit from it. And my husband constantly says that they will also benefit greatly from my presence in their lives, whether they want to admit it or not. Still, he knows that they are different kids to me.
I tried. I tried and tried and tried. I tried over and over again. I'd fall down, brush myself off, forgive and forget, and try again. I've done it over and over and over. My husband believes I can keep doing it, out of love and who I really am. But in the meantime, my demeanor has changed, my anxieties have increased, my guilt and stress make me hide. I look for escapes and dream of the future when things can change. I am not who I once was to the kids, and I can't keep that up. I once played with them and wanted to care for them, and over time it's been beaten down inside of me. They don't remember who I used to be, either. They don't remember when I would play with them at parks (for years, not like a couple of months) or take them places. They just don't. That old me, the fun, young stepmom, is long gone.
So the only sliver of hope that I still hold is that they will grow up, realize I'm not so bad, and be normal to me, treating me like another human. And not their stepmom. Because this title and position? They can never be the angels everybody else sees as long as I have this role.