“Biological” its not just a word
I have been married to my husband for almost 2 years. We have been together for almost 4. My husband has 2 daughters 12 and 16. And I have no children of my own. We are doing IVF in December for “Our” child. The Bio-mom has the youngest every other weekend and majority of the summer except the first 2 weeks and last 2 weeks of summer. Bio-mom does not call her my SD, is not involved with school etc. My oldest step daughter lives with (husband has raised her since she was 2) so that is dad he just didn’t legally adopt her. So anyways over the last almost 2 years, the youngest and I have been butting heads beyond belief especially over the last couple of months and I get the whole your not “biological” and therefore I don’t need to respect you/listen to you however I still expect you to buy me things and take me places but still give disrespect and thats just not how I roll.
I am having quite a difficult time with that word. I have never tried to take the role as her “mother” we told her she can call me whatever she wants as long as its respectful. And I just feel that she is disrespectful and just flat out mean. She flat out told me that that I am not biological and I don’t have to listen to you or respect you. but she doesn’t like the fact that my parents know what she said because that would hurt her heart” but you know those are my parents and I have the right to tell them what’s going on. And my husband fully supports me and tries to talk to my SD but she just doesn’t want to listen she is lying and being disrespectful to my husband(her dad).
Her Bio-mom has told her that she doesn’t have to listen to me blah blah blah which we expect but of course denies it.
I am just looking for ideas, support mainly because I am truly struggling.
Dear Sister SMOM, Thanks for bringing up something that happens to so many of us in the role of Stepmom. As I read and reread your letter I want to comment on three things:
- I want to give you some insights on why your SD12 might be giving you such a difficult time.
- I want to offer you some additional ideas on how to support yourself in the face of her rude/disrespectful behavior.
- A new liberating response to any form of the accusation, “You’re not my mother.”
If anything I explain here is unclear, please write back and I will do my best to clarify. OK Let’s get started.
#1. We’ve found, over the last 19 years, that when our stepkids use that fact as a weapon to justify their bad behavior it is a sign they have nothing else to say. Given that many women have no reply to this true statement, we Stepmoms are often left with the uncomfortable feeling that somehow society actually believes that just because we did not give birth to the children in our care, we have no rights and can be disrespected at will by the children we care for. Grrrr! This is indeed exasperating. In my third point, I have copied a tip for you that I believe will free you from that stress. HOWEVER, I also know that even once we have a grand response to their accusations, it is also helpful to understand WHY a child we are caring for would feel the need to be disrespectful.
I believe that many stepkids do this out of a sense of inner anxiety and guilt about possibly being punished for being disloyal to their bio-moms. I call it “The Loyalty Wars.” It is different from parent alienation. It is a situation where the stepkids’ bio-mom is not willing to “make it OK” for their own children to love their Stepmom. It is a deep and complex topic. I have posted the Chapter about it on my site for you (and anyone) to read. It is Chapter 28 from my book and I hope you will find it addresses your situation and offers you hope and relief. Here’s the link: https://www.smoms.org/articles/an-updated-copy-of-the-loyalty-wars-article-chapter-28-from-cathryns-new-book/
#2. I completely understand how upsetting it is to have a child in your own home treat you badly. It’s hurtful and enraging all at the same time. It’s particularly stressful when you fear having to be the recipient of her disrespect without recourse. I assure you that you have more options that you may now realize. Once you understand more about her motivations, most Stepmoms have found that they are able to look at their Stepkids’ behavior with a newfound insight.
However, even with insights and compassion, it is not OK for anyone to disrespect us directly. So what can you do? It is wonderful that your husband is supporting you on this issue (Yay to him.) As you reflect on situations from the past, I want to suggest that you look at what is triggering the disrespectful comments. Is it when you ask (or tell) her to do something? Is it when you are asking her to follow-thru on something her dad (or the school) wants her to do? Is it when you and her bio-mom’s beliefs about anything conflict and you are wanting her to do something your way, in your home? Does she initiate the rude behavior, out of the blue? See if you can reflect and identify what it might be that is triggering her need to lash out?
There are no wrong answers. This is not about you doing anything wrong! I ask so you can get more clarity on what part of the interaction YOU have control over (in other words) where could you be different in order to spare yourself the reflex of being treated badly? It is about seeing the situation, as if looking from above, and see alternatives that save you both from the unpleasant interactions. Again, this will all make a LOT more sense after you have read the chapter on the Loyalty Wars.
Finally #3—a reply to an age old, hurtful decree from angry stepkids. The following is from my book. It is Tip #5, from Chapter 37, “31 Tips to Improve Your Well-Being and Stepfamily Relationships. Here’s the tip, right out of the book. I hope that upon reading this, you will feel some relief, maybe even look forward to the next time she says it.
Tip #5: A Satisfying Response to the Accusation, “You’re Not My Mother!” (From “Stepmoms on a Mission: A Compassionate Exploration to Find Answers, Options and Hope” By Cathryn Bond Doyle.
When people are angry and don’t know what to do to maintain their power, they often resort to accusations that are intended to stop the conversation. This overt action makes them feel powerful instead of afraid, vulnerable or weak. That’s human nature.
When stepkids don’t like something we stepmothers may say to them, ask of them, demand of them or discipline them for, some stepkids may shout out, “You can’t do X! You’re not my mom!”
For those of us trying hard to do the right thing for these stepkids by giving them so much of our energy, attention, money, time and care, this can feel like a stab in the heart. Logically we know we’re not their bio-moms—yet until we’re resolved and at peace with this, that comment, delivered with a biting tone, can be hurtful and upsetting.
Since we can’t control what comes out of their mouths, let’s be ready with a new response.
Here’s a proven, empowering, diffusing and sometimes even funny way to respond the next time one of your stepkids shouts “You’re not my mom!” at you:
- Stop whatever you’re doing or saying.
- Look at them with as much of a smile as you can.
- Say calmly and with confidence, “You’re absolutely right!”
- Use an upbeat tone of voice as if they correctly answered a question you just asked them.
- Say nothing more, looking at them in the eyes, curious to hear what they will say next.
Pulling this off may require a bit of acting on your part. However, once you do this (and you may only have to do this once), your stepkids may understand he or she is “busted” with this retort. The Stepmoms I know who have used this technique have reported they’ve not heard “You’re not my mother!” again from the same stepchild.
Your calm, non-defensive validation of the true statement that you’re not their bio-mom takes all the bite out of your stepkids’ intended delivery and gives you, the wise, adult woman in the room, a chance to breathe and get as consciously awake as possible.
By addressing the comment in this way, you give your stepkids some kudos for speaking the truth. You’re happily (vs. bitterly or devastatingly) verifying their understanding of the situation without any other reaction and a gap is created in their tantrum. It can be fascinating to watch. Something in their faux-powerful-word-weapon-dispenser has failed them in that moment. Your past reactions to this declarative attempt to hurt you may have ranged from fury to laughter, depending on many circumstances. This new reaction is a great way to stand in your power, interrupt a tense situation and spare yourself some emotional stab wounds.
Variations from Other Stepmoms
Alternate Response #1: “You’re right—and your eyes are brown.” Smile. The stepkid stopped in her tracks and looked at her stepmother with a “what the heck” look. Stepmom smiled again and said, “Both are true, right? However, I’m not sure what me not being your mom has to do with what we’re talking about now.”
Alternate Response #2: “You’re right. You’re not my child either. However, what does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”
Alternate Response #3: “You’re correct.” Smile, look back and wait for the stepkid to say more.
This is an empowered approach because it does a few things at the same time:
- It gives you a chance to catch your stepkid saying something true and correct. At times, depending on your situation, you may find it difficult to find anything good to say about their behavior.
- It gives you two a chance to agree on something that you can smile about as a fact. You may even look sort of confused that he or she is deciding to shout out this fact when you’re talking about something else. One SMOM replied, “Yes, and today is Wednesday! What’s up?”
- By choosing to respond to the stepkid’s outburst with a calm, cheerful acknowledgement that they’re speaking the truth, it breaks the attack-defend verbal cycle. Being ready for this biting retort but not taking the hit is a powerful way to stay in your adult self.
- The fact that your stepkid used it on you tells you that he/she has run out of logic or leverage, so may be trying to stop the conversation or hurt your feelings with statements of fact to feel powerful. Rather than take the bait, embrace the statement and watch how it changes things.
The reality is you’re not their bio-mom, you’re their Stepmom. This is a fact that you can’t change. However, you don’t need to deny or make excuses for this truth. It feels much better to acknowledge it, move on and be your best self around your stepkids no matter what happens or what they say to you.
Copyright 2018, Cathryn Bond Doyle. All Rights Reserved.
Still there? I know this is a lot of reading and yet I hope you will find value in the words here and in the chapter about the Loyalty Wars. I have found that the actions of our stepkids and their bio-mom seem to point out all the places where we still have some yet-unhealed-wounds or some outdated beliefs that were never intended for stepfamily life. If you’re willing to reframe whatever happens, however you are impacted by the actions of your stepkids or their bio-moms as clues to greater awareness and empowerment, you will find yourself feeling invigorated and amazed at your ever-increasing brilliance and freedom from their behaviors. Yes Really! I promise you that this is possible because I have lived it personally and with hundreds of Stepmoms over the years.
Please let me know that you received this and if you have any questions I am happy to respond.
Hang in there my dear sister SMOM, Cathryn