A Healthy Stepmother . . . is not alone.

I went walking with a stepmom girlfriend very early this morning. We meet up every now and then in the dark of the morning, before dawn, and walk until the sun is coming up. Our schedules just work out that way and it’s a great way to start the day. Even when I think it’s awfully early to be up and out, by the time we’ve gone a few blocks I’m always glad I didn’t stay home.

Today, my friend’s pain and frustration with regard to her stepdaughters was bubbling over. She has tried and tried but eventually she gave up the trying. There are three more years before the girls graduate from high school. Three long years to endure indifference, insolence, sullen looks, and disrespect. Three long years to argue with the husband about what is the best way to deal with their actions.

I’m betting we’ve all been there with our teenage (and younger) stepkids, whether they are boys or girls. While my situation has softened and there is less angst among all of us, we’re not completely through that phase. And, I look back and see how far I’ve come.

First, I tried to change the situation and establish expectations. And, I tried to be good enough and creative enough to do the just-right things that would make all of us feel good and happy and all get along. Then, I found myself pouting because I was used to my efforts yielding results. In fact, while I was pouting, I think I also exclaimed how things were not fair and how painful it all was. Indeed, I was in excruciating pain, not seeing an end to the situation of being ignored, insulted, and disrepected.

Tug of war contested at the 1904 Summer Olympi...

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Then, I disengaged and explored how that worked for awhile. It was better, but I didn’t get to stay connected to my husband and sometimes he really wanted to share those kid times with me. I found that sometimes I could be there with him and sometimes I couldn’t. I chose not to whenever I knew I would be crabby. Just knowing I had a choice was a huge, huge relief.

Finally, after I had disengaged long enough, I was able to realize that I didn’t care what the kids thought of me. It was clear that their dad and I were together and they could fight the idea or accept it, as they wished. I realized that if I didn’t need to be liked, then there was less concern for me about who said what and when. And, I let go of my end of the rope even more and ended the tug-of-war.

Fortunately, when I let go of my end of the tug-of-war, life did not end. In fact, my days became amazingly calm and I went around looking over my shoulder to see what was wrong. Where was the angst? Where was the feeling of enormity? Gone, it was all gone. I had let go and I was still in the family, still in my marriage, still involved with the kids. In fact, my relationship with them began to get better when I didn’t care and try so much. Now, every time I feel conflict, I look around to see what I’m hanging on to and I let it go. I set it down and move on to the things that matter to me even more.

As I listened to my friend this morning and her story of her stepdaughters, I made sure she knew she was alone. I reassured her that her husband was doing the best he could and that she was doing the best that she could. And, I reassured her that none of it was her fault. We’ve all lived through a teen who remains loyal to their mother and won’t let themselves get close to the stepmother. And, when there is a mother who can’t let go and who can’t let the child have relationships with others, then the situation deteriorates even more. Sadly, it’s going to be a long three years for my friend.

I will keep walking with her. But, I wanted to ask a favor. If you’ve been in this situation . . . if you’ve found yourself in frustration, gritting your teeth and agonizing over no end in sight, I wonder if you would leave a message so my friend knows that she is not alone. I know she is not, but I’d love to give her a tangible way of knowing that this is what we are all going through. You see, I’m pretty sure that all over the country, women are struggling with these feelings of frustration and pain and no woman is the only one going through this time. No woman is alone.

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34 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . is not alone.

  1. Hi Kim’s friend….walking beside you, as I am living with some of the same issues, and knowing we aren’t in this alone, that there is a fellowship out there of women living with parallel dynamics helps. Wish we could all gather on a sunny beach for that daily morning walk!! (As I wake up to a grey, mid-winter’s day!)
    Sending you lots of love and support.

  2. Hi Kim and friend! Wow I felt like I was reading my own story!!! It’s almost sad though to think that there are so many kids and parents out there suffering as we are (or were)……I had come to a point where I was losing myself because I was becoming so obsessed with how the girls acted or how they “should” act or the actions of their mother and the hurtful things she has done or said. I was becoming this person I did not like. With the help of Kim’s website and the StepMom Magazine and their forum – I learned how to disengage. Don’t get me wrong – you actually feel like you are “checking out” and you feel guilty – but I realized it was for my own good – which ended up helping the whole family. My husband was worried that I was checking out – so I told him the websites I discovered and he was happy that I was finding peace. Happy Wife Happy Life!! Ha ha! It will be and still is the hardest thing in the world to bite your tongue or to say – that’s up to your parents- or better check with your parents….. but it has to be done – – – – for your own sanity. Since I’ve learned to disengage – I find it helpful in a lot of aspects in my life and I’m my old self again – I find myself smiling more – laughing more. Be selfish – it’s ok!!

    They are teens – – believe it or not they don’t even know you are in the room with them or that you even said anything to them…..don’t take anything a teen says personally……my husband and I laugh – we say….we can’t wait to meet the real girls when they’re 30~!!!

    I wish you the best of luck and please know you are not alone – there is a whole pack of us walking with you at 5:00 a.m. in spirit if nothing else!!

  3. Thanks, Shelley, Jill, and Jean. When I first started this blog, I wondered if I was the only one who felt the way I do. It didn’t take long to figure out that we are all repeating one another’s lives. That doesn’t comfort me on some days, but on many days it’s enough to keep me in my sanity.

    And, correction to my post. In the second to last paragraph, I say I made sure my friend was along……but it should read that I made sure she knew she was NOT alone! And now, all of you have helped with that too. Thanks again for commenting.

  4. You are absolutely not alone. I’m in the trenches with you. Having survived stepmomdom with the youngest of my husbands sons, I’m now gritting my teeth & punching the stress ball in the garage as I trudge through the remaining 5 years of visitation with an increasingly angry, rude, condescending, and manipulative 13 yr old stepdaughter. Adding to my pain is bio-mom who’s not only fanning the flames of adolescence, she’s pouring gas on the fire on an almost daily basis.

    In late October I formally disengaged and my life got a tiny bit easier. In December, bio-mom decided life was too calm, so she started denying visitation & has dragged us back into court with her lies & manipulation of her daughter. Every visit is a battle of wills & whits but I refuse to allow my life to be controlled by either a 13 yr old, or her unstable mother.

    You are not alone. We, the army of unappreciated often mistreated step mothers are fighting the war with you. One hill at a time, one battle at a time, we are with you – now and always.


  5. I’m at a point where my stepkids are not with us yet due to the machinations of a really not happy bio-mom. It’s been so draining feeling like I’ve been set up for failure from the beginning, with all the genuine efforts I’ve put into building a positive relationship with my pre-teen stepkids -and their mom- viewed as some sort of evil plot aimed at bringing about their every unhappiness. And, of course, this is perpetuated by a bio-mom that is all too happy that her kids want nothing to do with me.

    I also have discovered, and early in the process at that, that I do have to disengage to an extent, just to keep my sanity. I focus on my relationship with the kid’s dad, which is great. And I know one day his kids will look back and be grateful that their dad found someone who made him really happy and that he was able to be a better dad because of it. That might be years and years from now, but I think it will happen.

    It’s tough to feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. And I’ve found it’s so much easier to do the right things by my step-kids -which is important to me- just not to the extent I’m so emotionally invested that the disappointments wreck me.

    Thanks for your encouraging post. I’ll be leaning on those like you as I get used to this whole “step” thing!

  6. First, oh my goodness, is your friend not alone! Hanging out in Stepworld is such a mass of networks and feelings, many of which we have absolutely no control over. (Maybe no one really has control in a non-Stepworld family either, but there’s more illusion of control.)

    Second, THANK YOU for this blog. I have been frustrated with the “just do this” advice, or the “I will now complain about my situation” that sometimes seems to characterize the stepmothering world on the internet. I love what you just said about “letting go” as opposed to disengaging. Also, Brené Brown rocks.

    • Thanks for commenting, Victoria. And, thanks for “getting” what this blog is all about. My mission is to shift that conversation for all of us to one that is respectful and good for our own hearts. Ahhh, you just made my day!!!!!

      I LOVE Brene Brown……did you see my post about her. I took her online class and got so much. She is a pioneer and our society will be better off for having had her work integrated into what we do.

      • I did see your post about Brene Brown, which is why that somewhat of a non sequitur comment showed up. I was thinking about taking her online class too– I may do just that…

        Rock on with your amazing blog (and self, I’m sure). I’ve just become a regular reader. 🙂

      • Sweet . . . let me know how the class goes if you take it. I know I combed YouTube for every single video of Brene that I could find and drank them in like a dehydrated sponge. And, regular readers rock, and rock on!!!

  7. Thanks also, Lola and Wonderful…..
    Means a lot that you are willing to say what it means to you to be where you are at in the process.

    Much respect to all who have come here to read and find support.

  8. It is truly a relief to know that there are many of us out there with these same feelings. I read each of these posts, thinking “yes”, “YES”, “Yeeesssss!”…. I feel like I could have written any of them. I have been living the gasoline fire and the evil plot. And now I have the guilty feelings regarding disengagement – even though I feel better and yes – smile and laugh more! I didnt expect support from a blog but am sitting here a bit relieved – tearful, but relieved. I had planned on skipping that glass of wine tonight……

    • Olga . . . I’m glad you came here and found some solace. The thing that has alleviated much of my pain in my most severe moments is to know that another woman has had a similar experience and I am not losing my mind. Keep walking, each step an even deeper healing of the wounds.

  9. Kim:

    Please let your friend know that she is part of a very big, very empathetic sisterhood. So many of us have experienced what she has experienced. For years I was the recipient of much vitriol lobbed my way by the stepchildren. I often wondered if I had made the right decision to marry such a wonderful man who had such seemingly horrible children and a very bitter, insecure ex-wife who held a lot of power over her children and by extension, us. In order to remain sane and not lose the best thing that ever happened to me, I involved myself with yoga, meditation, reading self-growth books, reading step-mother blogs, etc. I learned about the Buddhist concept of the impermanence of life from my meditation classes. That turned out to be a Godsend and became a truth in my life. Several months after moving out of bio-mom’s house, one of my stepdaughters has softened her heart toward her father and me. While our relationship has a long way to go before it heals, my mantra is, “It is good enough for now.” So tell your friend to hang in there. Someday she may also experience the impermanence of life!

    • I love your use of the word seemingly.

      We can definitely hold people in a certain light that keeps them away from us and different from us and unwanted by us. Then, it’s true that when something softens we can realize they are much more like us than they are different.

      And, LOVE the mantra. It is good enough for now. Borrowing that one for this week/month.

    • Far be it from me to suggest that every stepmother go immerse herself in Buddhist teachings– clearly everyone has their own path to follow and that might include lots of different things, but this concept of impermanence and change, and also of recognizing ourselves in what we push away from in others has been so important in my own journey as a stepmother, but even more largely as a human being.

      • Agree, Victoria…….there is much to be learned in studying the process and letting go of the clutching to something that may or may not be. I’ve dedicated my life to studying the undoing of old habits, reducing the clutching, and accepting that I can’t always know what will come. It’s been an amazing process and I’m glad I was already in it when I became a stepmother because I would have been even more lost from myself. I feel fortunate because after an adjustment period, I’m much more at peace regardless of the events that are coming our way. I hope every stepmother will find a way to do the letting go and accepting change, discovering her resilience, and recognizing herself in others.

  10. I am late to the show, but please know you are NOT alone! I survived two years of my stepchildren not speaking to me with the exception of an occasional hello or good-bye. NOTHING else! I disengaged and guess what? I am still here. Their poor treatment of me was due largely to their Mother who I am sure felt threatened. But, no more. I take care of me and my husband and let the pieces fall where they may.

    Please know you are in good company with the woman who posted comments on Kim’s amazing blog. We are good women who want to do the right thing, just sometimes prevented from doing so. Get involved in your life — I work two jobs, take classes, run and enjoy time with my girls and my girlfriends when we have the steps. Trust in yourself and God and hang in there. We are here for you!

    Hugs to you and all the wonderful ladies muddling through the muddy waters of stepmothering.

  11. Talia, it’s never too late to chime in. The topic never goes away and even when I’m are used to it, it’s my experience I can still use a reminder that I’m okay.

    Thanks, EVERYONE . . . for taking a moment to comment. I suspected that most of my regular readers were of the same mind as me and I appreciate the tone of the messages here. I don’t hear resentment, I don’t hear vindictiveness. I hear sadness, but also a lot of acceptance, and resolve. It means a lot to me that we can stay focused on our health and connect with the feeling that we are not alone.

  12. Good news! I thought I would pass on a conversation I had at work today to help all of us stepmothers feel better. We were talking about how stepmothers are always going to be “scapegoated” by their stepkids, as opposed to bio-dad getting “scapegoated”, when there is something going on that the steps don’t like. One of my co-workers offered, “I didn’t start liking my step-parents unitil I was in college. After that I liked them.” So hang in there, It’s a maturity thing!

  13. I hope I’m not too late to add this e-mail comment. I, too, put up with alot of crap from the stepdaughter when her Dad and I first married. She was 20 at the time. I can remember one particular Father’s Day picnic at our house (my house before we married) and she came in and sat herself right on her Dad’s lap, right in front of me! A whole new kind of “ewwww” for me as I had never experienced that type of RA in my life! She’s now 35, and continues to do this, only she does is more subtly in front of her Dad, and he’s like most men, clueless! But, after 15 years of marriage, I can tell you that at some point they are grown enough that you and your spouse don’t have to deal with them everyday – I hung on to that fact for three long years until youngest stepson graduated and went in the Army. Believe me, it was a long three years – but got so much better after he graduated. You just have to hang in there and take whatever peaceful moments you get and cherish them!

    • Nadine, very deep apology for not getting your comment up here sooner. I thought I had approved it and just now noticed that it was still in the pending file.

      I’m glad you commented, it’s never too late. Sounds like you’ve been through the trenches and have more space and peace in your life now. Always good to hear that!

  14. just stumbled across your blog and wow, I feel like I just found a much-needed support group! thanks for sharing!

  15. Is it to late to say that she is not alone? I feel disengaged and lonely. And what kills me, is that I have a great life – in the sense that I have struggled in the past and by comparison, my life is good. My husband also tries to include me in his parenting (good and bad) and it is hard for me to jump on board and try to feel the same way he does. I don’t have my own children, so maybe that makes it harder for me to participate and share these “family” experiences? I am by no means a “super-women” in fact, quite the opposite – a loner.

    • It is never too late to say that someone is not alone. Thanks for bringing your voice here and contributing to the conversation. It might be that being and feeling alone are the biggest struggle a stepmother faces. I’ve watched both my mother-in-laws, my husband’s mother and his stepmother journey through their particular way with this process and that tells me that the alone part is not new. It’s the depth to which a stepmother is pushed aside, or thrust in the middle where there isn’t space or acceptance. Your comments are exactly why I wrote the self-soothing series last summer. You might go there and see if there are some places you can begin to hang on to yourself. This isn’t an advice column, per se, but we can support one another on this journey and I do hope this blog accomplishes that.

  16. I am fairly new to this blog and so am reading through the archives. If it’s not too late: Your friend is not alone!!! No way, no how. I remember feeling EXACTLY as she has felt and then also realizing that I didn’t want to live my life waiting for the next few years to pass. I wanted to enjoy every day. So I disengaged as much as I could and then started to do more for ME. Also- a big help was that my husband finally got his head out of the sand and no longer repeated over and over ” I just wish you guys would get along!” I was ready to leave when he figured out that maybe I wasn’t just being selfish or overly sensitive. Family counselling did alot for us as a couple and we are still together now, stronger than ever. The kids WILL eventually leave. Communicate with your spouse, love yourself, and hang in there!

    • Thanks for commenting, Jenn. She isn’t alone, is she. For many of us, it’s a sad reality and one that can cycle in and out of “okayness” over time. Last I heard, she’s having a great summer, so that’s good news!!!

  17. Hi ladies, it is so helpful to read that I am not alone, and neither is your friend Kim! A little over two years ago I married a man with five children. They are now ages 11 to 25. I have one daughter, seven, who I brought into the mix and she, along with one of my husband’s children, teenage boy, live with us. The 11-year-old boy is moody, craving for attention, ungrateful, jealous of my child, throws temper tantrums and does whatever he pleases when over with us. The 20-year-old is still dependent on his mom, a high school drop out with a car my husband bought him, but no license and no job and a dream to make a living playing video games. (Y’all, I am not kidding). The bottom line is that I feel like my husband, a very uninvolved father, just took all his kids, wrapped them up in one big present and after we were married, said, ‘here you go honey.’ I am not used to a big family and when we were engaged, my husband and I agreed that when my daughter goes to visit her father, which is every other weekend, his kids will stay with their mother. This rarely happens. I just flat-out get overwhelmed and when I raise an issue about it, my husband gets angry and states that there is no such thing as a ‘kid-free weekend’ in this house. “If my kids want to come over, they can, whenever they want to.” Furthermore, he doesn’t plan things either. I am at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to needs being met. I am a bit introverted, but not shy. I have done A LOT with his kids and would love to continue to do so but when I am so overwhelmed and disrespected, I have nothing to give anyone, except to my own child. I am getting ready to disengage. If I have no say in who comes to my house and when, then I have no choice but to do so. I also realize that this is not the childrens’ fault. I absolutely adore my SS who lives with us and truly love them all, and believe it or not, my husband is not the braying jackass he appears to be in this post. I love him too. This is probably going to give us all a big break, or at least me, which is the most important. 🙂

  18. I thought I was alone… But I guess I’m not… I just want my best friend by my side. Instead he is trying to be my father. And not one to his kids. But if u ask him its Me all Me.

    • Nooooooo, Alana. No stepmother is alone. She might think she is, but right around the corner or even on the same block is another woman struggling with these same issues. Take care of you.

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