I’ve been married to my husband for almost 3 years. He has three boys from a previous marriage – 14, 12 and 8. Overall, the boys and I get along very well and my husband is extremely supportive of my position in the family. BM is in the picture; they share custody equally. Things with her could definitely be worse than they are, but we’re constantly walking on eggshells with what we say and do when it involves her. She and I do not interact at all, mostly by my choice. I figure that the longer I stay out of the mix, the easier it will be.
She’s a very manipulative woman who goes through phases where she feels like she needs to control something in her life, and that usually means jerking us around. She and I did e-mail at one point about how we both would like to be at a point where we can sit at the boys’ sporting events and talk to each other, but I got the cold shoulder the next day at a track meet. I told myself that I had extended the olive branch to her and it was her choice to not accept it, so I moved on.
A little more background – we have expectations of the boys at our home. They do chores, they have routines and they’re expected to follow the program we have in place. It’s the opposite at her house. Two weekends ago was a tough weekend. The boys weren’t following through with things, and it was a frustrating weekend for everyone. That next Monday when the boys were back with their mother, my husband got a text message from her that she was concerned about my behavior with the boys and that he shouldn’t be surprised if she requests a meeting. He responded back that if she had anything to talk about regarding me, she would have to talk to him. He told me that it was just an instance of her trying to stir the pot and that nothing would come of it. He was right. We haven’t heard anything since. However, my relationship with the boys has changed dramatically because I really feel a sense of betrayal.
I feel like we had a tough weekend at our house and the boys went back to mommy to complain about the wicked stepmonster, and of course mama bear’s life is in a transitional period right now, so she’s looking for something to assert power over, and that became me. But now I don’t even know how to relate to the boys.
I feel like they’re playing the game of complaining when they don’t like something and then expecting life to go on as normal when it’s good again. That next week after the text, our youngest tried to hug me goodbye at the bus stop the other day and I didn’t let him, and that tears me up. But I feel like trust was broken and that I’m supposed to just be a glorified babysitter or roommate to them.
It’s really starting to put stress on my relationship with my husband because he’s in the middle. He’s frustrated with me that I’m cold to the boys, but I don’t know how else to be when I’m feeling attacked. I hate that she’s having this power over me right now and influencing my relationship with the boys, but I just don’t know how to be “normal” with them any more. And it’s not like we can talk about the situation with them because we don’t want them to feel like they’re in trouble for speaking openly. I just don’t know any more what to do.
How do I go back to feeling love for the boys when I feel betrayed? Paula
I’m glad that you wrote to me. As you were writing I was remembering so many stories of others, including myself, who have walked in your shoes down this painful path. As we’re working so hard to behave as the adults in our families AND give the stepkids extra slack for their situation AND honor our own feelings and needs it is a complex and often uncharted journey. It sounds like you have done so many good, kind and responsible things. I can certainly understand why this would all be so uncomfortable.
It’s been a few weeks since I got your letter so I will be writing with the knowledge that you may have already solved your dilemma. I want to reply anyway because so many of us face similar issues. Here are a couple of ideas and suggestions that I hope will help you in your process. They aren’t in any order of importance.
1. Have you read my article about “The Loyalty Wars?” Even though I wrote it before the term Parental Alienation Syndrome was popular, it will give you some idea of what the boys MAY be going through right now. You may have already thought of all of this but just in case, take a look at it and see what you think. They are being put in a terrible situation AND the fact that your husband is willing to stand by you and not react to her is a HUGE (tremendous) advantage that you have over many others. That one thing can make a big difference for you all going forward.
2. Any chance that the boys wer just answering her “grilling” questions about their time with you (digging for some dirt) and they just answered honestly, revealing your rules or guidelines, etc and that SHE is trying to stir the pot and all they did was tell the truth? (you do have more boundaries and rules and they may even have pointed this out to her in a way that triggered her defensiveness. Like asking, “How come you don’t care about whether we X or Y?” Innocent question but very charged for bio-mom. Is it possible that SHE is the one, not the boys, trying to put a wedge between you and them?
3. You say you don’t want to make the boys feel that they can’t speak openly. Hmmm? This leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings. Are you open to a middle option? This is just my view and there are surely others (hopefully you are getting some support on the BB as well) but I feel that being authentic with the stepkids is the most important thing we can do for them, especially if their parents (either of them) are playing emotional “games” with them.
When they feel a change in you, they’re too young (unable) to figure out the true cause. This is a space for lots of misinterpretation and misunderstandings. I’m not telling you to throw them or their Mom under the bus (I get that you are doing everything you can to do the right thing for them) so what about talking with them about your feelings so they can understand the true cause of your change and sadness/anger/betrayal? What about telling them what actually happened, without filling in any blanks or assumptions so they can understand? Maybe you want to say nothing about the incidents but can address that you’re feeling upset-without any details, until you get to a new place about this?
What could you say? Here’s are some different examples for you to consider and/or customize if it feels right for you:
With all 5 of you in the room, so they all hear the same thing:
Very vague Approach: “Boys, I bet you’ve noticed that I’ve not been acting like my “happy” (You fill in the adjective) self lately. I feel badly about that because it’s affected how I act around you. I’m dealing with some upsetting personal stuff that has made me feel sad and hurt. I’m dealing with it, and just wanted you to know.”
More Vague Approach: “Boys, Have you noticed that I haven’t been myself lately? (interesting to note their response to that). I want to talk to you a little bit about it. Right now, I’m feeling hurt because someone I love is telling other people bad things about me. I don’t know exactly who or what is being said just that they’re not very nice things and that makes me feel sad and angry. I wanted you to know that that’s what’s troubling me and that I’m dealing with it the best I can.”
More Direct Approach: “Boys, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve not been myself lately. Remember how we had a rough time a couple of weekends ago? (look for their nod or give examples for them to remember tension between you) Well, something has happened since then and I’d like to tell you how I feel so you’ll know for sure what’s going on with me.
Seems your Mom has told your Dad that you all aren’t (weren’t) very happy with me. While I don’t know ANY details, you guys being unhappy matters to me. And I can’t figure out what to do about this. You know I love you guys very much. So when we’re upset or angry with each other, I want us to be able to talk with each other so we can understand each other and do something about it…together.
Whatever’s on your mind, I’d like us to talk about it here, as a family. What’s going on with you guys? What do I need to know or understand?”
Clean Slate, From this point forward approach: “Boys, you know I love you. You know your Dad loves you. I hope that if you ever have a problem with me, or with something I do or say to you, that you’ll talk to me directly about it so we can work it out together. Going forward, are you willing to do that with me?”
Sometimes we SMOMS have to make some very tough decisions about what to say or not say to our stepkids and their ages, emotional maturity will certainly impact our decisions. I believe that saying something…anything, honestly, to give them a way to understand your overall change in emotional energy is better than saying nothing. Kids are pretty good at recognizing the truth, even if they can’t admit it or don’t feel safe standing up for it.
About the stress between you and your DH—This is so hard, isn’t it? OH my goodness. I send you cyber hugs as this is such a painful place to be. Those feelings need a loving witness, even if your DH can’t give that to you now? Are you open to getting some help on processing the hurt, rage, anger and sadness that comes with feeling betrayed? Your feelings really need to have their “Day in Court” so to speak. They deserve to be acknowledged and honored BIG time, which I hope I’m doing here in part anyway. if you don’t want to say anything to the boys, can you at least give yourself a chance to heal those feelings so you can get back to being your loving self around them?
For some reason, I’ve noticed that Divorced Dads, in general seem to be able to make so many of their feelings roll off their backs, in a “get over it” kind of way. Because I don’t have bio-kids, this may just be a parent thing, not sure. However, if you DH could give you more X (kind of support he’s not giving you.) What would that be? Is he actually asking you to ignore your feelings? Is he asking you to pretend around them? (For the good of a greater cause?).
What would you need from him, to help you reinforce yourself and your value so that you can truly feel OK about being yourself around them? It feels to me that you are going to be the one to do something to help yourself as I can assure you that virtually nothing good cam come out of you feeling hurt, them feeling less love from you and not knowing why and your DH just being in the middle being angry at you, isolating you even more. This is the kind of thing that builds up over time-not what I’d recommend.
Here’s a thought…Would HE be willing to have a “man to man” talk with them? Could he talk about the future (avoids shaming) and tell them that he wants them to talk to him directly about anything that bothers them, especially if they are upset? Could he ask them to do this so that whenever he hears anything from their mother about their feelings, he will already now it and be prepared to discuss with her?
Could he talk with them about aspects of “The loyalty wars” as their dad, teacher, mentor to them, trying to help them find healthy ways to deal with the internal anxiety that it will cause them? It gives him (and you) a chance to state your position about this issue as well?
I’m so sorry for the emotional pain and anger you’re feelings. I hope something here (or in article) will trigger some ideas that feel right for you at this time.
Warmest Regards and an extra hug, Cathryn
PS There’s a link on the general BB about a very helpful site for tips on dealing with Parental Alienation syndrome if you want to get some tips and ideas for how to handle this IF it indeed gets worse. Good to know it will be there if you do need it.