No matter what I do, bio-mom still hostile. I feel hopeless & scared
I’ve been a stepmom for 5 years. I’ve been married to my husband for 2. I have two beautiful stepkids 8 and 9 years old a girl and a boy. I also have a beautiful biological son who is 1. My husband and I have made a great effort building our wonderful family relationships despite of the bio-mom saying I wasn't family and being negative about my husband. Despite of all that’s happened my stepkids love me and I love them too. There were difficult moments for them when they were younger as moving between two houses is tough. We have them 50% of the time, so one week with mom and one week with dad.
They are so big now that they navigate great and are perfectly happy with how things are going. Bio-mom is struggling more and more with it and since my son was born she has become more difficult and behaving as if I am competition. I feel very sorry for that because I am not trying to take her place at all but I am trying to be a nice stepmom enjoying my stepkids too.
In the summer everything culminated for her and she didn't want any communication with me at all, not that there was much....I never interfere with school decisions or other important things. I was trying to coordinate birthday gifts so we didn't buy the same stuff. I respected her decision of not having contact with me and I haven't had contact since.
In October she had another conflict with my husband and she tried dragging me into the whole argument bringing back what had happened in the summer. I realized she was expecting an apology for something I didn't think needed it but I don't want to be part of their arguments so I decided to give her that apology and keep myself out of that equation.
Now her conflicts with my husband are increasing and lately they had another one and again she tried dragging me into it. It didn't really work well as I have had zero contact and I am not involved in their discussions, just focusing on the 5 of us when we are together and doing what I can to make my stepkids feel welcome and being a family of 5. I am realizing that she is resenting it goes so well in our family. At times we see signs they like staying with us more, at other times it is neutral.
Now I can feel my anxiety is increasing because I am scared of her next step how she will try to blame me and I just want things to be ok and I feel really hopeless here. I cannot be a bad stepmom just so she feels more safe as a mom and I am not interested in taking her role but I feel no matter what I do she will pull me into this. I am taking it really hard and I feel so devastated because when I am so affected by her lying about stuff I did or things I do, I don't feel I can be there for my family the same way.
I talked to my therapist about it and her solution was do less with the stepkids and leave it all to her.....but we share the kids 50% of the time and we still need to buy them clothes etc and make sure things for school events are ok.....we can't leave that to her because it will emphasize the negative stories she already says about us that we don't care as much as her and besides that is not me or my husband as people. I feel hopeless because no matter what I will be blamed by her and I need a way to develop a thicker skin but don't know how. I hope you can help me out.
By the way your website has helped me so much at times......I admire your work.
Best, Stepmom Feeling Hopeless and Scared
I’ve read your letter three times and I want you to start by saying that I think you and your husband have been doing a wonderful job in ever increasingly stressful circumstances. You’re doing so many things in respectful, kind, dare I say “right” ways trying to make your stepkids and their bio-mom feel comfortable. This is a real gift to your stepkids. It would be a gift to their bio-mom as well IF she were willing to receive it and get along.
Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do to change the attitude of your stepkids’ bio-mom. The realization that you can’t change her upsetting actions usually brings up all the upsetting feelings you’re experiencing now so it makes complete sense to me that you're feeling as you do. Her impact can also trigger our unresolved childhood traumas and put us in survival mode which is usually guided by the childhood strategies we needed as a kid. From this viewpoint, you going to feel at her mercy and vulnerable to her cruel, unfair, restrictive requests, actions and accusations. This is a painful horrible feeling.
I’ve noticed that therapists without successful experience or training in how to help stepmoms whose stepkids have an adversarial bio-mom often give advice, like the suggestion you received, to back away, get smaller in our own life or give in to avoid bio-mom’s wrath—perhaps because it’s the only thing they can think of. Sadly these suggestions only reinforces our vulnerability and sometimes even our worst fear—that our presence is somehow the cause of the family stress. Reducing our involvement may be good advice if a stepmom is flaunting her role as stepmother, lashing out at her stepkids, trying to turn the stepkids away from their bio-mom or being disrespectful to the bio-mom. However, that’s NOT you so based on what you have written, I see the solution to your situation differently than your therapist.
I believe you will find relief and confidence and hope by changing the way you choose to look at this situation with your stepkids' bio-mom. What if you and your husband decide to view your stepkids’ bio-mom like severe weather that can pop up at anytime? What if you begin to imagine her future threats as a bad storm approaching? With a real storm, you know you can’t control it but you CAN prepare for and protect yourself from the storm in all kinds of creative ways? If you can embrace this metaphor, you’re likely to feel yourself stepping into your wise, very capable strong adult Self.
If you learned that a giant storm was approaching, the March 31, 2017 (today) woman you are today has all kinds of resources, skills and strengths to draw upon to take action to keep you and those you love safe. This weather situation can bring out the “mother bear” energy in women which is strong, kind and very powerful. Can you feel the shift just thinking about this in your imagination?
If you can decide to stop trying to change the bio-mom’s actions but instead mobilize all your adult strengths to deal with the approaching reality, I feel certain you’re going to feel a shift in your sense of safety and confidence.
When you’ve tried as hard as you have to get along as a respectful parenting ally and yet the bio-mom still behaves as your stepkids’ bio-mom is behaving, it’s an indication of HER issues, not yours. Because the bio-moms have tremendous impact on a blended family, the effective goal needs to shift from trying to change her so everyone gets along, to trying to self-protect and contain the damages caused by her and to keep you, your husband and stepkids as un-impacted negatively as possible.
From what you have written to me, you can do this immediately. Preparing with your husband for any anticipated bad bio-mom weather storms can also reduce your anxiety, keep you two strong as a team and help your stepkids continue to see you two as a safe harbor.
About your feelings from the past experiences: I do want to urge you to have a lot of compassion for the trauma you have already experienced. When we're doing everything we can and its still not working, it's going to bring up anger, fear and pain so please honor all those feelings. Lots of self-care will be helpful. Recognize that even if you face every future storm with great skill, the younger you’s have been unfairly treated, hurt, scared and naturally feel hopeless. The younger You's do not have an answers BUT YOU DO NOW! It’s a time for lots of lovingkindness, empathy and encouragement so those feelings can heal and the past experiences do not need to be repeated in the future.
There are several articles on the member site that will expand on ways you can respond powerfully to future bio-mom challenges. There are also many members, sister SMOMS, on the forums who understand how you feel and will offer you the empathy and ideas from their own journeys. Any woman in the role of stepmom can access the articles and forums for free for a month.
I’m so sorry for the pain and terror this bio-mom has brought into your life. It can be difficult to accept an adversary in our lives who’s unwilling to get along so matter how kind or accommodating you are. However, thankfully, you and your husband seem to have a strong connection and together you can find ways to contain her negative impact and fortify the joy and connection you share with your stepkids.
May you find some relief and ideas in this reply.
Kind Regards, Cathryn