My stepkids bio-mom treats her children like her friends and tells them inappropriate or inaccurate facts about their dad/my DH-Help!
Here’s some background. I was friends with my DH and his ex-wife when I was in high school. They were in their mid-20’s at the time. Then they moved away and we lost touch. They separated 10 years ago. My DH reached out to me after he left her and we have been together now for 7 years. My stepdaughter is 18 (SD18) and my stepson is 15 (SS15). We have them every other weekend and they live about 45 minutes away.
The bio-mom has told the children lies about the initial reasons for the divorce (including that their dad had an affair with me—which is completely a LIE) as well as other lies about our lives together.
I’m not sure why she thinks she knows what happens in our household when she isn’t around. When they were younger children (11 and younger) she started alienating the children from their dad years ago by not informing him about school events and telling the kids he didn’t care enough to attend when the kids commented on his absence. It has impacted their relationship with their dad.
My SD18 believes that her dad cheated and holds it against him. My SD even acts like her mother and blames my DH for all of the bad things that have happened in her life—which is completely immature and untrue. My DH only sees his kids every other weekend and tries to be involved in their lives but gets constant resistance from the bio-mom and children.
We aren’t allowed to have any more time than what is allowed in the decree even if the bio-mom isn’t available to be with her kids. It can feel hopeless at times as we can try and dispute the lies but it’s just “he said-she said.” How can we repair the damage that has been done for years?
Thank you for any advice you can provide, Anne
I’m so sorry to hear about what’s been happening to you and your DH. It’s also sad for your stepkids even if they are unaware and too oblivious to understand and feel it now. Being “forced” to disassociate from a loving parent to keep the love of the other is heart-breaking to kids but to survive they usually site with the bio-mom, at least until they are old enough to see more clearly. There are quite a few issues so let’s jump in and see if I can offer you something that makes sense and being your some relief.
It sounds like your situation includes some parental alienation and given the age of your stepkids, this is both a more difficult and a potentially more hopeful situation for you and your DH. Having people lie about something we do is upsetting and usually activates a lot of rage at the injustice of it all; potentially tapping into a warehouse of rage you may not understand. You’re facing several different issues all tangled up and re-tangled over time so it makes sense it is upsetting and stressful.
Let’s start with your DH and a tactical option. If he has recently (in last year) told his kids the truth about his divorce and the start of your relationship then there is nothing more he can do about that lie—for now. This is the kind of lie that is intentioned to perpetuate what I call the “Loyalty wars” and you can read more about that if you search those words on smoms.org. There is an entire chapter about it in my book as well. I believe that kids have an inner truth detector yet when they believe their emotional survival depends on them siding with a parent over the other it can get buried, hopefully temporarily.
The key thing about this kind of lie is that proving the truth of the situation, whether with a polygraph test, documents, witnesses or anything else that might come to mind will unfortunately impact your stepkids’ relationship with their mom—keeping them in an emotional dilemma. From my experience, it’s usually the parent who truly loves their kids more than they dislike their ex who suffers from the impact of lies. It sounds like you all know this. While it may be temporarily satisfying to you and DH to prove the truth, it can be devastating, emotionally, to the stepkids. Even at 15 and 18 they are probably not emotionally mature enough to manage the situation with their bio-mom…or are they? Is your SS?
One approach that has (and can) work well when the stepkids are teens becomes possible when the kids become aware of their mother’s delusions/dislike/intentions to badmouth their father (and Stepmom). The challenge to the kids may be not knowing how to manage “dueling parents.” Kids have been playing mom and dad’s against each other to get what they want since the beginning of time so you want to look for signs that your stepson understands and just needs help dealing with the situation in a way that doesn’t cause him more stress. He’s not likely to ever admit anything in front of his sister for that would be a violation of loyalty. He would pay the price for that with his mother. Sadly bio-moms who use this tactic are often not concerned with the long term emotional impact of their kids—if they were they wouldn’t be doing any of this.
Idea: Have you ever tried having the kids to your home separately? One at a time, perhaps there is a sporting weekend or some activity that you could use as an excuse just to give you and DH a chance to see if creating a safe space for your SS to have fun without getting in trouble might work. You would want to help him understand that telling his sister or mother that he had fun would NOT be a good approach. He has to appear to remain loyal and bio-mom may not allow this.
You can begin to teach him some “parenting street smarts” so he can have a good time and be himself in both houses while still having his mother and sister believe he is being loyal to his mom.
Suspect Narcissism? While not every bio-mom who uses these tactics has narcissistic tendencies, over the years I have worked with hundreds of Stepmoms who have encountered this situation. It’s helpful to know if you’re dealing with someone with these tendencies because once you know, there are different tactics to use that will bring you much less stress from her.
A quick way to know if you want to even pursue this info about narcissism is to listen to the first chapter of a book about this personality issue. You can do that for free by going to this link https://www.smoms.org/suspect-narcissism/ on my site. It is under the nav bar tab of “Free Support.” The link bring you to the first chapter of a book called, “The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists” by Eleanor Payson. It’s our go-book for practical tactics and a clear explanation of narcissistic behaviors and how to deal with them successfully. The voice you will hear if mine. I narrated the book for the author and it’s available in several forms via Amazon. If you and you DH recognize behaviors, then you’re going to learn how to help yourselves and your stepkids even if they don’t wake up, now or ever.
Teenagers, especially teen stepdaughters are probably the most challenging for Stepmoms and DHs. Between their internal struggle to feel like a grown-up along with the conditioning your SD been living under for the past 10 years, it makes sense that you all have felt the impact of her lashing out or withdrawing. The good news is that there are things you can do to help yourselves and your stepkids without ever interacting with the bio-mom. It may take some study, some restraint, lots of patience and emotional detachment. Having a conscious plan grounded in proven principles feels a lot better than feeling at the mercy of a hurtful SD and her hostile bio-mom.
Over the years, we have also found the book on teenagers by Anthony Wolf extremely helpful in tactical suggestions for dealing with teens. Perhaps more importantly is understanding the differences between teen boys and girls. It’s called, “Get Out of My Life But First Could You Take Me and Cheryl to the Mall.” For example, teen girls like to keep arguments going as long and as often as possible because it enables them to feel both grown up and also connected—noteworthy and not true for boys. This important awareness can help you and your DH when dealing with her. He has a new book out that sits on my credenza waiting to be read titled, “I’d listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up!” (Great titles right?!)
So, in terms of helping you, your DH and your stepkids, I urge you two to learn more about how you can help your stepkids with a situation they have no control over. In the process of learning more, you will also realize that there’s nothing you can do to stop the bio-mom from saying whatever she says. Thankfully there is a lot you can do to help yourselves and the stepkids.
I’ve been doing this work long enough to have Stepmoms return the site to report that by taking the “high road” most of their stepkids return to their Dads eager to have some kind of relationship as adult. It seems to happen earlier with the boys but many young women wake up after they get out into the world and see things a bit more independently. You and your DH can help them now by not taking the bait to argue, be hurt or angry at their choices and continually telling them the truth, minimizing any inner anxiety they may be feeling about the loyalty battle and showing them authentic kindness as the two ever-more-wise and aware adults you are. You can help yourself by doing what you’re doing and getting support to deal with the emotional impact of their actions in other ways.
By learning more about how to help kids under the pressures of the Loyalty wars, accepting the reality (with empowered awareness) that you are not going to change the bio-mom and taking care of yourselves and healing any negative impact they and their mother has had on you and your DH, you are going to feel so much better—surprisingly often right away. You’re going to look back on this time and feel good about how you treated them and that you gave them the gift of not fueling the loyalty wars that torment so many kids these days.
As far as you Anne, as a Stepmom in this situation, it can surely feel like you are being challenged on all sides. It’s a complex experience and the study you do to understand the situation will can help you feel so much better. So relieved. You will know where to invest your time and energy and when to step back and loving ignore their actions (including even the actions of the bio-mom.) Yes, it may seem impossible to imagine that doing all this can feel better AND…I can tell you from lots of experience that chances are very good that you will feel better.
Taking this approach will also increase the chance that going forward, your DH will one-day be able to have a closer connection with his kids. You didn’t mention your connection with them or their treatment of you yet from what you have said, you’re at a point where doing something different may just be the thing to give you and your DH an infusion of hope about the future.
There are two fronts upon which you can act in this situation. Helping yourselves heal from past stresses while minimizing future stress and helping your stepkids who are trapped between a bio-mom and a bio-dad and just trying to survive with the limited skills and resources they have. You and your DH can change the course of their emotional well-being (and your own) if you’re willing to turn away from what they are doing and look at the new ways you and your DH can respond as the true adults in this situation.
Hang in there. Your stepkids may not see it now but they are very lucky to have you in their lives seeking ways to help the situation. I’m guessing you didn’t expect homework and yet I hope this gives you some hope that there are things you can do to feel better, stronger and more calm about the future.
Wishing you and your DH lots of “ah ha” moments,
PS: At smoms.org we offer a truly free, no credit cards, no obligation, 30-day Guest membership on the membership forums. I encourage you to register, then copy and paste your question in the forums to gain the support, compassion and even more stories and ideas about your situation from the Veteran SMOMS who have been where you are and can share their perspective.