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The loneliness in being a stepparent, for me, anyway.

just.breathe's picture

I don't know that I have anything specific that I'm seeking advice about... I think that being a stepparent can just be such a lonely situation, especially when one isn't getting the support they really need (and should have) from their partner.

I've been in my stepdaughter's life for 5 years. She is 12 years old, and she and I clicked immediately when we first met. She's a genuinely good kid with a warm heart, and unlike anything I'd ever expected, she welcomed me with open arms when I entered her life. Of course she has her moments, like all kids, but at the root of it, I got lucky in the step kid department. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and I hated anyone that stood between me and my mom, so I couldn't imagine myself getting involved with a man with a child. When I met my husband, I not only fell for him, but also adored his daughter, and we quickly became a family, however unofficially.

My husband and I got married two years ago, and our baby was born last year. While my stepdaughter was asking for a sibling for as long as I can remember, and she was excited for her sister's birth, and adores her, as expected, complications came along. My stepdaughter is especially possessive of my daughter, often overriding my parenting on the baby, while at other times she's very respectful and helpful. My stepdaughter has had to negotiate a lot of feelings and guilt surrounding her mom, as it's clear she feels being close with me hurts her mother in some ways. She is aware of the tension that exists between her parents, and by extension me (since I'm clearly on Team Dad), but I've done my best to be civil and positive where her mom is concerned, going out of my way to come up with special gifts and plans for her mom, etc.

Since I have known her, I took on an enormous responsibility where my stepdaughter is concerned. I do everything a parent does and more- I have planned her birthday parties, been up with her all night next the toilet when she is sick, been there for all of her school events, make all of her meals, taken her and her friends on special outings, planned incredibly special activities for her and I to share together, redecorated her room- the list goes on and on. I have treated her as though she is my own. When my daughter was born, I didn't want her to feel like I favored the baby over her, so I went above and beyond in making her feel special, creating special time for the two of us, even when I felt at times that I was missing out on key moments with my daughter. My stepdaughter was an only child until recently, and has a bit of an egocentric complex where she feels our world stops when she's not around. She gets upset if she thinks we're doing something fun without her- we didn't end up taking a honeymoon, but she was threatened by the idea. She was upset with my husband and I when we didn't want her spending our wedding night in our hotel room, even though she was of an age where she should have understood that. My stepdaughter loves the fun things we do together, but if she gets the slightest hint from me that I'm becoming authoritative (like when I tell her to clean her room, do her homework, don't give me attitude, etc.), I constantly fear the "you're not my real mom" comment that stings like no other phrase. I think as a stepparent, there's a desire to be liked, no matter how long you've been in the child's life, or how strong the bond is, and when you're clashing with them, it's a deep hurt and fear unlike anything else.

Going beyond all the things I do with my stepdaughter, I have also been a tremendous source of support for my husband. This includes spending hours upon hours multiple times working on legal papers with him as he fights for custody, working to understand his daughter's school issues so that I could help her when it's really his place to do so, helping him in communications with his ex, taking her to/picking her up from school, taking on an enormous amount of stress from situations with the ex and the custody issues, feeling trapped where I live so that we can be near his child, and personally managing the finances that surround all of the expenses related to child support and add-ons. You name it, I do it.

When my daughter was born, I had recently undergone a massive amount of stress related to the custody situation and losing a parent very suddenly. I was also having difficulty producing enough milk during breastfeeding, and needed support to accomplish something so important to me. I found myself suddenly becoming secondary in our home. My husband got such tremendous joy from seeing my stepdaughter with our daughter, that I found my daughter being yanked from my arms on several occasions, so he could admire that bond at the cost of my own. I felt like the compassion and consideration where I was concerned had gradually disappeared, and all that mattered was my stepdaughter's feelings surrounding her sister. My husband completely refused to engage in any discussion about the situation, other than to defensively and offensively dismiss me, and cast me out as a bad guy. Things got so terrible for a couple of months, I cried nearly every day, and felt so alone with my feelings and the treatment I'd endured, I didn't know what to do. I had no support, and no family or friends to turn to. I was too ashamed to talk to friends about it, and my family lived too far, and probably wouldn't understand anyway.

Although things never got completely right, they did get a little better over time, to the point where it was at least manageable. In the last six months, my stepdaughter has gone through a lot of changes where she's more like a teenager than the little girl we once knew, and this has come with attitude here and there, and more complicated issues from schoolwork to respect to selfish behavior. I've been losing my patience more than ever, and there have been times where it takes every fiber of my being to not explode on her. I've come close a few times. I'm not going to say that I've never yelled back at her- I have. My husband has too- far more than me, and far worse. But he gets to as the parent. However, anytime I feel disrespected or taken advantage of, he becomes very defensive, jumps to her cause, and tells me how I go too far or am too harsh on her, or he just shuts down on me entirely. Small issues that ordinarily would be over with in no time suddenly become monumental because he makes it out like I'm beginning to hate or resent her, when it's his handling that I hate and resent. Even when nothing has happened specifically, and I've come to him for support (something every stepparent needs- and by the way, my husband always concedes that he would never take on what I have), he will not hear it, and will instead point out how I am either wrong, too hard on his child, or he'll just get angry and shut down. I have begged and cried about how lonely I am, like this evening, and it's like he's not hearing any of what I'm saying. Every argument has been walking on eggshells as well, since he doesn't take too kindly to anything that could be vaguely perceived as the suggestion of divorce or an ultimatum. He whole-heartedly refuses to go to counseling with me, or to see a consultant that can help us navigate situations better with our kids. I am out of ideas completely- there is no handling my husband to get the bare minimum support from him, and it not only hurts, but it makes me very angry when I think about all that I have done for him and our family, and this is what I get in return. I don't want to even consider divorce- for one thing, I can't bear the thought of seeing my daughter only half time (and I could never have an arrangement with my husband that is anything but 50/50 custody, after what he's been through), and there is simply no money between us to support two homes. I feel stuck, like I am always walking on eggshells in my own home, or like an unwelcome outsider.

When I imagined growing up someday and having a family, I didn't think it would be one where my husband's ex lives next door, as I raised someone else's child. I envisioned having a baby with a man who would be sharing all of the same firsts that I did. I know I didn't sign up for the traditional family when I entered theirs. But I didn't know that I would be meant to suffer like this after putting forth so much effort, with such a lack of appreciation and support. I feel more like the (un)paid help than I do a valued member of my family. It makes me incredibly sad to think of how much of me my baby misses out on, simply because I'm exhausted, frustrated, and sad. I feel trapped, and I don't know how to make things better. I'm trying, but it feels like we both need to come together in this, and my husband is just not willing.

Has anyone else ever felt this lonely and unsupported by your partner? What did/do you do? Any thoughts would be helpful to me... I don't know many people who can really understand what this is like.

just.breathe's picture

Thanks so much, I really appreciate having someone not only actually *hearing* me, but putting forth their honest perspective. I completely agree- I may not be able to change anyone else, all I have the power to do is change myself, or the way I go about things. I often find myself scrambling for strategies where I can better cope with this. I've tried distracting myself, going out with my daughter and doing my own thing, basically shutting him out so I don't care that my husband is being a total prick. After going hours of enduring silence and not speaking to one another, sometimes my husband will come up to me offering a hug- not to say I'm sorry or admit any wrongdoing- but just for the truce. And I often resent it, because while I'd like to not be living in that tension, I know we'll be right back where we started, and I hate being set up for the roller coaster, where I let myself become emotionally invested again, and repeat the process. Then there are the rare moments where I will get a text that vaguely apologizes for not being more supportive or appreciative of me, but that is all but one text, and will be completely contradicted the following day, as though it wasn't said or wasn't real, just an appeasement. Alas, I just need to find my own way to be happy, and stop looking for something in my marriage that is no longer there. Thanks again, your response means a lot.

just.breathe's picture

Thanks Cat, your words mean a lot to me. Having mostly been dealing with this alone, it's really helpful to get this out there with another person.

I agree with you about counseling-- I've actually been seeing someone that I really like for six or so years, and it's been a topic that has come up for me a lot lately. Where my husband is concerned, my therapist seems none too pleased, and insists that we're in a crisis mode and we need a counselor, to which I say, yes, but how do I get him to go? At the same time, I think finding someone who can truly understand the perspective of a stepparent is rather rare. Anytime I have frustrations about my stepdaughter, my therapist tends to go to her defense because she is a child, looking for the cause of what she is going through, putting myself aside. I'm not saying that my stepdaughter isn't acting out as a result of circumstances, or is accountable the way an adult is. I'm not even looking for her to join me in resenting certain instances with her. I'm stating my frustration and feelings, rational or not, and it would help to have a little more support. I think for this reason, it might bode well for me to find someone who either has more experience with a stepparent situation, or someone who is able to identify my therapeutic needs a little better. It's difficult for me to disconnect after all of this time and progress with other things. Starting over isn't easy to do.

A year ago, I might have tried to convince you and myself that my husband is a good man. Today, I am over that. He has behaved in ways that are inexplicably selfish and cruel, as far as I'm concerned, and he is not the person I married (or at least the person he presented himself to be). I often feel like the insane have taken over the asylum. It's remarkable to me how someone can be so completely insensitive and ungrateful.

I do not want my daughter to grow up learning from our relationship by example. It is dysfunctional. I don't have the answers today for how to make things different around here. I'm not so much terrified of the notion that our marriage could be over at some point, but rather the financial repercussions this entails (we own a business together, as if we're not together enough), and the thought of not being with my daughter every day. People on the outside think we are so happy, with no one knowing just how miserable I am all of the time. I have to find some way to make every day better for myself and for my child. I guess that's why I'm exploring that here, as well attending a support group for stepparents next week.

Thank you so much again, your input and support (a foreign entity around here) helps so much. And yes, I could totally use that hug!

just.breathe's picture

I feel the same way- that I get my point across better in writing than in speaking. My husband is just completely impossible. I've tried the written form thing- writing an email in a non-threatening/finger-pointing tone-- he's just in his own world with defenses up at all times where I'm concerned. I feel like it took a lot to get him to read a neutral article on being a stepparent, I can't imagine he'd take to any of this where it directly relates to our situation. It's very frustrating.

Rags's picture

Wow, what a difficult story to read much less live. So, time for a solutions and action based response to both your Skid and your asshole husband.

You try very hard to convince yourself and us that your Skid is a wonderful little girl when obviously she is a manipulative, entitled, bossy little shit.

So ........

Buy a paddle or just use a big wide belt. Call your DH and your toxic SKid to the dining table, with full force smack the paddle or belt on the table with a booming WHACK!!! turn to SD, poke her in the chest with the paddle or your stiff finger and tell her "I may not have given birth to you but I am the only REAL mother you have. If you ever so much as roll your eyes at me much less ignore me or disrespect me I will light your bare ass up with this paddle/belt each and every time." Then turn to the table for one more very loud and forceful WHACK!!! Then turn to your DH, poke him in the chest with the paddle or your finder and say "As for you, if you ever forget for one second that I am your wife, that our marriage comes first, that I have cared for and raised our daughters with little emotional support or parental participation from you I will rekey the locks, you and your prior relationship child will be out of MY home and I will own your ass for piles of child support until our daughter is through with her 2nd Ph.D. Do not make the mistake of doubting me because I will own your ass for the next two decades if you make the mistake of testing me on this. GOT IT???"

Your SD is the poster child for what catering to a COD will result in and your DH is the poster idiot for what a ball-less man of no character will put his wife and family through because of his lack of testicular fortitude.

Were I you I would step up and take complete control, make it absolutely clear that for them to do anything but exactly what you tell them to do will result in absolutely unpleasant consequences and that they will both not only be without your services as wife/mother they will be without your presence or the presence of your daughter.

If he does not immediately catch a clue why on earth would you do anything but keep this asshole away from your child? He has proven himself to be an abject failure as a father and pushing failure twice as a husband. I would do everything in my power to minimize his influence over my kid were I you. Whether you tolerate him as your husband or not.

So, give them the message, give them no choice but to comply, or .... bring the pain. There is no need for you to sacrifice yourself or your daughter to a toxic Skid or a clueless DH on the alter of Sparental and spousal martyrdom.

You have given yourself a notable position of power by helping your DH get custody of SD. That means your daughter will have priority for CS purposes should you have to divorce his toxic ass.

Bring the pain!!!

All IMHO of course.

Ohsoconfused's picture

I would pick you for any sports team I was forming. Man those are fightn'' words ... Gonna memorize them. Smile

Strengthh's picture

I have a 3 year old son, and I understand staying not to lose time with your child.

I think you went too far trying to help him. The only reason he has his daughter in his life as much as he does is because of you. You did so much, even helping with the legal stuff for custody. I think you need to step back from doing so much for SD. I think your H will react, try to bully you somehow as he's been bullying you all along. But IMO, from what you have written, you need to be there for your daughter. Better to step back from doing for SD, get bullied, but hopefully have some breathing room to get a little clarity and have more energy for your baby.

The other option is keep doing for SD and get bullied anyways.

Also, I have 11 year old daughter. This is the age. She does stuff regards to my 3 year old son, plays little mommy. Like a trivial example mom I don't like these shoes on him, these other shoes are much nicer. Then I firmly check her we are going to the sandlot park. Then she may still continue I don't like him going to the sandlot park, he gets too dirty and that sand is dirty. At that point I get even firmer to shut her down. It's something he likes, we are going this conversation is over. Then maybe another smart comment. Then I say keep it up and I will take your iPod and Mac to the sandlot park and I don't know when you'll get them back. That's just an trivial example how you have to check these girls at this age. And if your H is encouraging and defending her, I get that you have big big problems. I also have a 12 year old SD. And my H is probably possibly worse than yours.

4ever's picture

I'm so sorry! This sounds really hard and I understand why you're lonely. My stepdaughter is 12 and our relationship has recently changed very drastically after 5 happy years together. I told my husband that I will be a positive presence in her life but I am taking myself out of the line of fire. I think the advice your getting to focus on your own happinessa nd your daughter is good. Take care of yourself!

Evil3's picture

Your AH (asshole husband) is not willing to change, because you are the one who keeps backing down and accepting things as they are. I've been where you are and for many years I thought I had no choice but to accept my DH and his fucking mini-wife or I'd be the one tossed out on my ass. My DH used that to get me to acquiesce and I finally stopped doing it. I had enough and declared myself Queen Shit of Turd Island and put a name to mini-wife syndrome. I believe that's what your SD is. Your AH is doing what mine used to do. You have more power than you think you do. Yes, it will get ugly and uncomfortable when you first start fighting back because your DH and SD will want you to succumb to their tactics and get back to your old ways of being the one to give in. You do not have to accept the dynamics as they are. You can change them. I know it's a lot easier said than done, but you can do this. Do not let him gaslight you or make you think that you are the one with the problem. The reason he refuses to go to counselling is because he knows damn well that he'll be told to buck up. Your counsellor is not the right one for you. You need to find one who has education and training in step families, because counsellors can often make you feel worse if they're not well educated on step issues. They always go to the defence of the poor coddled COD and say that the poor kid is only a child. Well, after dealing with my cold, calculating, manipulative, evil SD, I know that just because someone is young does not mean that they don't know what they're doing. They may even be coached by their vindictive BMs to act that way for all we know. I totally agree with Rags' response to you. However, if it's not your style to light up someone's ass, go ahead and do so figuratively and lay down the law. You can do it. It's a lot better than living the way you are for the rest of your life. If you don't do something now, you'll start to develop physical ailments soon. I did. Now go kick some ass and keep us posted so that we can support you through this.

QueenBeau's picture

I didn't finish reading, stopped at the part about your DH yanking your daugther from your arms.

I totally understand how you feel about the ONE TIME you needed your feelings and needs to come first, them still coming absolutely last. I went through the same thing post partum until I told my husband I would divorce his ass if he didn't snap out of it QUICKLY. Things changed immediately.

Just know you're not alone.

It seems like you need to do less for your DH/SD. They are taking you for granted.