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If I could tell mothers of adult stepchildren anything, Part 2

16 years ago

It seems my five-year-old topic has reached its limit for comments, so I'm continuing it. This one seems to have a life of its own, largely because adult stepchildren have so few places to go on the Web for advice and help.

Original post:

My dad remarried last year, a year after my mother died. My entire family has tried very hard to be nice and supportive, but my stepmother makes it very difficult. In discussing the problems we've had with other adult children of stepmothers, a couple of common themes have emerged.

1. Your husband has a family who he loves and who loves him. They have a right to see him (yes, sometimes without you), spend time with him and talk to him on the phone. In no way does this threaten you or the love you share. You are not owed every single second of his life. If you are insecure and jealous of his family, you may temporarily or even permanently push his family out of his life, but they will hate you and he will resent you. My stepmother rigidly controls the amount of time we spend with my father. Prior to his marriage, I talked to him a couple times a week and usually saw him every other week or so. Now, weeks go by without him returning my phone calls and I've only spent 20 minutes alone with him in nearly a year.

2. Do not, under any circumstances, dispose of, give away or even sort through, personal items belonging to your stepchildren's mother. Do not empty out picture frames or photo albums, or give away clothes, jewelry or pictures of the children's deceased mother. It is not your place to do so. If you are uncomfortable having the items around AND your spouse either won't or can't deal with them, let your stepchildren have the opportunity to do so. My stepmother has done all of those things, from sorting through my mother's things (remember, she'd only been gone a year when the new stepmother moved in), to giving away various items to emptying out picture frames and albums. You may think you have the right. You don't. And they will hate you for it.

3. Don't talk about your stepchildren behind their backs, especially to the other children. Referring to your stepgrandchildren as "little brats" is not conducive to good family relationships.

4. If your spouse is a widower, don't think you have to "compete" with the ghost of his deceased wife. You can't anyway. Even if she was the wicked witch of the west, once she's gone, all her good qualities are magnified. My mother was a wonderful woman, but to hear my stepmother tell it, my dad's life with her was sheer torture. Totally untrue, but she somehow needs to believe it.

5. Don't come into the family home and immediately begin to purge it of any trace of the "other" woman. In my case, my stepmother not only tore down our family home, she bulldozed my mother's gardens, went through every box of mementoes and family treasures and has dismissed as "junk" everything that ever belonged to my mother.

6. Don't "diss" the children's mother to them, even if you think you're being clever about it. They can see right through you and again, they're going to hate you for it. My stepmother makes statements about what a "mess" the house was when she moved in. (My dad had been alone for a year.) What a terrible housekeeper my mother was (nothing could have been further from the truth, at least when my mother wasn't dying of breast cancer.)

7. If you're so insecure and certain that his children can "make" him stop loving you, you're wrong. They can't, but you can if you exhibit mean, self-centered, spiteful, jealous or controlling behavior.

I'm sorry this is so long. My stepmother has caused such intense pain in my family. I don't know if she even realizes how much or if she cares. If you see yourself in any of the things I have said, stop now and re-evaluate your actions and reactions. Don't let temporary growing pains become irreversible error.

I'd like to be my stepmother's friend, but she's making it awfully difficult. I started out liking her, have regressed into feeling ambivalent and am very close to hating her. And it's all because of her behavior.

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