Stepparenting: “Stepping” Out of the Shadows

I have lived the life of a step-mom and I thought I had a pretty good grasp on the whole thing up until recently. I thought since my step-child was a girl, and I too had been a girl that in itself was an advantage. Boy, was I wrong! I am almost positive that if my step daughter had been a step-son that my hair would be a lot less gray and that my life would have had a lot less stress and drama in it. I even thought that I had an advantage in the step mother fight because I had been in the shoes of the step-child and had been a child of divorce, but again it was proven that nothing can every prepare you for the battle known as step-parenting.

I am not going out there to say, that step-parenting is a horrific nightmare and that no one in their right mind should even consider the idea of becoming a step- parent. Okay, maybe I am saying it ever so slightly. The best advice I can offer to a prospective step-parent is to either run, run as far and as fast as you can, or wait until the child is an adult! But you know as well as I do, that is not how we think, especially us women. For some reason we have this ill conceived notion that love conquers all and that we can find away to make it work. Like they say, where there is a will, there is a way. But in the case of the step-mom, where there is a will, there is usually a stubborn step-child just waiting to prove you wrong and stake their claim on what has now become your life!

I was very much a part of my step-daughters life right from the beginning. I took on the role of a maternal role model in her life early on and I insisted that my husband become more proactive in the life of his daughter. It was a fairly easy transition early on, when my step-daughter was young. She had not developed that meanness that now runs through her like a bitter pill and she had not yet the fine art of manipulation, so for all practical purposes she was a sweet girl that enjoyed spending time with us when she was here. Of course things change and people change which is only natural. The families that my step-daughter knew and loved grew and she had new siblings and step siblings and there was so natural jealousy. But the jealousy soon became a crutch, just as the entire notion that she was a child that lived in two homes and had blended or step families became a crutch to her. When you have a child that has people around her that continually tell her “how rough her life is” or that continually blame others for anything and everything that make the child “less than perfect”, it is only logical that they will begin to see how they can use this to their advantage and that is just what my step-daughter has done.

As a step-mother I could see so many things that I wanted to help my step-daughter with, so many things I wanted to teach her and actually tried to teach her, and so many things that I still believe she is fully capable of. She could learn and do many of these things, if only others would let her experience life and quit minimizing and negating her experiences in order to keep her in a bubble of “the picture perfect life”. She has yet to learn responsibility, accountability, consequence, or respect. There are so many people in her life that have told her “oh that is okay”, “it’s not your fault”, or basically spoon fed her excuses from early on that I can see she will be ill equipped to deal with a real disappointment when she finally has to face one. I have watched her transform into a fairly sweet little girl that most people found to be adorable and innocent into a very malicious and spiteful person who has actually learned the fine art of manipulation and become very deliberate in her actions in order to hurt those that love and care for her.

Watching a child go through this sort of transition can be very traumatic for a parent or a step parent, especially if you are in a position where you know your impact and influence on her life is minimal at best. As a step mother I had to watch my step-daughter become vindictive and start to terrorize her brother to the point that I no longer felt comfortable leaving her unsupervised when she was at our home. I watched her become sneakier and more dependent upon lies and deceit and I watched her become a virtual spin doctor when she was called on her actions by anyone. I also watched many people in her life take these spins on the truth at face value and give her a free pass to continue with these actions and manipulations. I even had to question myself at some point that perhaps I was being too hard on her. But I came to the realization that it was not me, but that I treated her with the same expectations that I treated my own children and that I did not favor her simply because her life was not the same as everyone else’s. Being a member of a blended/step-family is only a disadvantage to a child if you let it be and if you allow them to use it as crutch or a control tactic to run the show.

I agonized over trying to keep her a part of our life even after seeing the negative impact she was having on our other children and the inner conflict she was creating amongst other family members by playing the devil’s advocate and stirring the pot of controversy with half truths and manipulations. I felt we could help her and I struggled to help her feel like she belonged in our family and to ensure that she and her father had a positive relationship. Suddenly one day I had an epiphany. I realized that I was working harder than anyone else to ensure that this girl and her dad had a relationship and that she fit into our family. She was no longer trying and my husband was no longer trying. The other family members and her mother were also complicating things and not helping her but rather hindering her quest to fit into two households. That is when I stepped out from being the step-mother, when I decided to disengage from being a step-mother and decided that the ball need to be in my step-daughter and my husband’s court.

I knew when I decided to disengage that my husband and my step-daughter may make some mistakes and make some choices that I may disagree with but, I felt confident that they were both old enough at this point to be responsible for their own actions. They both were able to know that the choices they make are now on them. I felt comfortable stepping back at the point where I knew that my step-daughter was old enough to be responsible and know that her choices are now on her shoulders as well. If she participates in the choices in her life, she has to also live with the outcome and know that she had a part in how things work out. I felt that this was the only way she may ever learn any responsibility in her life. I have had to bite my tongue from time to time and I have had to agree to disagree with some of the choices that my husband, my step-daughter, and her mother have made. But I finally realized that no matter what, I was not her parent and I could only do so much and the rest is up to them.

Stepping out of the shadow of being a step-mom has been very challenging for me. I have found myself wanting to be the “fixer” or the person that always seems to hold it together for the sake of my husband and his daughter, but I had to leave that desire to want to help everyone behind. I have 3 other children that were paying the price for all the stress and drama created by the entire situation. I was becoming physically ill when I was anticipating my step-daughter’s impending visits because I had no idea what step daughter would show up that weekend. Would it be step daughter Jekyll or step daughter Hyde? It was not a fun place to be. By stepping out of the shadows of being a step-mom I have found peace with what I have done and realized that I did all that I could given the circumstances and I know that I could do as much as I did because there are so many things involved in raising a child that is not your own and that grows up in more than one home. My children are happier and healthier and get more positive attention from me and I am no longer worried about things beyond my control. Do I still feel that there may be some issues to arise for my husband and his daughter down the road? Yes, and I will be there to help and support my husband, but ultimately the choices they make are up to them now. I am the step-mother that has stepped out of the shadows and decided to do what is best for everyone, and that is to allow the father and mother of my step-daughter do what they must and as of now they have all reached a mutual consensus on things, although I disagree with some of the decisions made, I know it is probably for the best right now.

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