"As children, we are limited in our ability to comprehend what it means for our parents to separate..."
I speak so frequently about being a stepmom that I rarely go into detail about my personal experiences as a stepdaughter. The truth is that I have learned more about being a stepmom from my childhood than my more recent years of having my own blended family. As I sit here and write this, I reflect on my feelings from back then and how they affect me to this day. The first feeling that comes to mind is just how lonely it all felt. As children, we are limited in our ability to comprehend what it means for our parents to separate. We do better with consistency and stability in our lives. We are also more focused on the day to day, and as a result are more affected by sudden changes, causing increased anxiety, stress, and sometimes depression. For me it was the feeling of loneliness that affected me most as a child.
The Lonely Factor
The loneliness began setting in when I found myself in the center my parents separation. At age seven my parents, having had a tumultuous relationship, had a bitter and ugly divorce. My mother had begun drinking heavily, and my father began seeing another woman who would become my first stepmom. My mother was what we call the “high conflict birth mom.” She would speak negatively about my father to my brother and I, and how his new wife was not someone we were allowed to love. Truly our mother was hurting, and my father was doing the best he could, but what they did not realize is how impactful their actions were on us emotionally. Despite my mother resenting our stepmom, I still loved her because she was kind, consistent, and provided us with a stable family environment. Unfortunately she was not happy, and her and my father split soon after they were married.
It was not until 7 years later that my father remarried again, and we would welcome another stepmom into our life. At this point I was 15 years old, my mother was barely in my life at all, and my father had full custody of us. I had no contact with my mom or my former stepmom, the last thing I wanted was another mother figure in my life. I remember when my father had told me he was going to remarry, my reply was “you promised you would never get married again.” At age 15, hormones are raging, changes are occuring in your personal life, from your body, friends, boys, and school expectation, all of which cause stress. Nonetheless, my second stepmom moved into our house with her three children. I went from a quiet family setting, to living with four additional people that were strangers to me. My new stepmom was trying to deal with balancing her life between her children and stepchildren. I viewed her as very cold towards me, she blamed me for everything in the house, if lights were left on, if things were left out around the house, if food was eaten in the fridge that she bought, she came to me or scolded me for it. What I received from her was frustration, resentment, and coldness. My father was trying to hold it all together emotionally, but I felt completely alone, as if no one was on my side. By the time I went into my senior year and it was time to apply to colleges, I had my heart set on art school. I went to look at a few of them and thought that this would be my chance to escape and find myself.
Unfortunately, I was not supported by my father and stepmom. My stepmom’s response to attending art school was, “your artwork is not good enough to get you into art school,” my father sided with her on this issue. Despite my feelings of dislike for my stepmom, I was deeply affected by this statement. I dismissed my art teachers who told me my work was good enough, I quit my art portfolio project, and I fell into a deep depression and as a result, never finished applying to art school. One might wonder how this parent I seemingly disliked so much could have such an impact on me mentally. The answer is simple. Children look for validation from their parents and stepparents regardless of their feelings towards them and sometimes one negative comment can have the greatest impact.
How to Approach Your Relationship with Your Stepchild
If you find yourself struggling to have a relationship with your stepchild because they are rejecting you, do not give up and do your best to try not to distance yourself. My advice is to take things slow. Remember that while this is all very challenging for you, you are the adult and have a better understanding of the situation. Your stepchild may act like an adult, but he or she is most likely hurting inside and bottling it up. The last thing they want is a stepparent acting like a disciplinarian. I advise you leave the disciplining to your spouse, and be the fun more nurturing one. If you feel that discipline is not being given enough at the other bio-parent’s house and you have to over compensate, don’t. Let it go. It won’t work and it will only hurt your relationship with your stepchild. Instead, take an interest in something that they are passionate about and find a way to have some fun with them. This is not something that will be easy and it may take time. They may reject you at first but if you are kind and take an interest in them, they will eventually come around. This will not only benefit your stepchild but will also help your relationship with your spouse.