You are here

How to deal with people (in laws) who don't agree with disengaging

Lilyofthevalley7's picture

I have decided after years of bad treatment and little to no support from my partner, to disengage from SD13. I have read up on disengaging, feel empowered and know I am not doing anything wrong so to speak. 

I have endured years, all of which people, mainly in laws, who I will referr to in this post, are aware of and have actually played their own part in disrespect towards me. 

OH is not happy about me disengaging, but after 5 weeks of me staying firm, he's read up and is now 'supportive', although last night did say 'you can't walk away from being a step parent' - I'm not het up.about that comment, he's just being an arse! 

OH has told his parents, my in laws about me not having anything to do with SD and their response 'she can't do that, it's part of parenting!'- clearly forgetting I am not her parent and have never been supported to be one! It was SD birthday yesterday, they all went out for dinner and I didn't go, I spent the day with my family. Not much was said about my lack of presence but his dad did ask him if things were the same, to which OH said yes. OH said his dad didn't look impressed. Normally his dad is the one I get on with and he isn't tolerant of bad behaviour from people, SD, BM etc. Mother in law is normally the one that gets under my skin the most with these matters. Both in laws have a lot to answer for as to how my OH is in a relationship- he's 40 and he's never seen them hug or kiss. It's very weird, they are not my ideal in laws and I don't have any attachment to them. 

Now I will at some point be having words with my in laws regarding this with SD. There is part of me that feels I need to justify but the bigger part feels I need to be heard- gone years not being heard! 

I would like advice, constructive adult advice and not unhelpful like 'just cut them out' etc that I've had in previous forums that are more toxic than supportive, in how to approach this conversation, get the point across and actually hopefully gain some respect. Any help would be really appreciated, this feels like my last heardle in disengaging. 



dragonfly878's picture

I was in a very similar situation to yours two years ago. I disengaged when SS was 12 (he's now 14). DH told my MIL that I was disengaged from SS and similar to your in laws she seemed put off by the whole thing. 

I did say, "so DH mentioned that he told you I disengaged from SS and that you seemed to not know what that was about (I was very matter of fact because I did nothing wrong by disengaging) would you like to know what that's all about?" 

Not that you owe anyone an explanation- it's more about empowering yourself with your inlaws. Unless your in laws are step parents themselves chances are they have no idea what it means to actually be in a step role. I like to toss out a real life example of what disengaging looks like. "You know last weekend when SS was acting like an attention seeking entitled slob- normally that would bother me. I'd bring it to DH's attention and he wouldn't do anything. Well as the step parent we all know that I can't parent more than the ACTUAL parent so I've chosen to step way back and let DH make his own decisions around parenting. After all- DH and BM are the parents and how they choose to raise SS is entirely up to them. My rule- if it impacts me directly/indirectly I get a say- otherwise it's not my circus not my monkeys."

Regardless if your DH or inlaws agree with your decision- that is YOUR decision and yours alone (and if you're anything like me it saved my marriage). 

Survivingstephell's picture

Lots of advice out there in how to do this.  I'm in the camp of not explaining it , just backing off and being unavailable.   Some people just don't understand that it's none of their business. I also disengaged from skids AND in-laws. Took a few years of DH having to suffer without his buffer before  he got stronger with everyone and put me 100% first and demanded they respect my role as his wife.   I slowly started to participate with holidays but on my terms.  That was years ago.  I still let MIL calls goes to voicemail unless I feel like talking to her.  Because I do this, she will call her son and DH will keep in touch better with his parents.   Disengagement isn't just for skids, it's for ANYONE that disrespects you.   DH should be ashamed of himself for letting his peeps disrespect you.  Maybe you should tell him that.  

Noway2b1's picture

Just understand that many of these in-laws are triangulating, enmeshed and enabling in all of their relationships. With healthy people, no explanation is necessary, because they usually allow people to monitor and execute their own relationships. 

Rags's picture

This may have to apply to your ILs as well. However, they do not define how you apply this or how you engage them on the topic. You define it.  

I think that rubbing the noses of those who have perpetrated the crap you have suffered in their behavioral stench is entirely your call. It is also the right one IMHO.  How you set that up and execute that discussion is entirely up to you.

I recommend that the message should be delivered in a face to face fact and truth based Come To Jesus session with your SO and his parents.  This is not a discussion, this is a notification. Map your script, sit them all down, make your statement and inform them that this is not a discussion that will occur any further unless they have definative solutions to present. If they do, then play the "great, don't tell me, show me" card.

"Make those things happen." is the call to action they must be given and demonstrate that they are implementing.  

Even if they step up you and only you have the personal authority to change how you are interfacing with the toxic failed family spawn and the abject parental failure perpetrated on your life by your SO and your ILs.

Never forget that all of this crap was in place before your arrival on the scene.  This is all on tem. Hold them accountable for the situation and for the solution.

Take care of you.

hereiam's picture

Why did your OH say anything to his parents about your disengagement? It's really none of their business.

If you feel that you must explain yourself to the in-laws, keep it short and simple. "SD has parents and since my role as a step-parent has not been supported nor respected, by anybody, I am opting out."

Like I told my DH many years ago when my SD was young, "BM is not dead, I do not need to "step" in and mother SD, she has a mother." Wasn't my fault she was a crap mother.

People think that just because you get with someone who has a kid, you are all prepared and willing to parent the kid. Well, you shouldn't have to parent someone elses kid. My DH was a good dad and didn't need me to parent his daughter. He wanted me to do things with her that BM didn't, like girl stuff, but he took care of all of SD's needs, taught her respect, made sure she minded, entertained her, all of that. He didn't put any responsibility on me.

What anybody else thought about how we handled our business, well, I just didn't care.

Winterglow's picture

Your husband deliberately threw you under the bus when he told them that you were having nothing to do with his daughter ... There's a difference in my mind between disengaging from her (where you put the responsibility back where it belongs) and having nothing to do with her (which implies that you ignore her completely to the point of not even speaking to her). Ask him why he did that (probably to try to guilt you back into the family fold by getting them to gang up on you).

I'm afraid that if you try to justify your decision to this kind of people, you'll just dig the hole you're in even deeper. In any case, they do not deserve nor do they have any right to an explanation. Why? Because it's none of their damn business what is decided in your couple. 


shamds's picture

Issues and are exact replicas of bio mum and although they acknowledge the disrespect, the shunning etc, there is still this bullshit "oh they're poor cod" and they blame stepmum.

its hard to teach and show them the disrespect you encounter at home. In my case, hubbys sisters all encountered the rudeness disrespect of skids and they knew it was due to bio mum pas but they also know my husband refuses to address it with skids as drama not worth it which makes my inlaws confront me about the issues.

they know i have disengaged and are at peace with it because they understand it. If your inlaws haven't experienced the shunning or have but excuse it as this is bio mums doing etc, they're gonna shun younand criticise you.

in my case, i have 2 young kids with my husband and made it extremely clear that cycle of dysfunction ends with skids. It won't continue through to our kids and if we need to disengage, so be it.

what helped also are my sil also mentioned things to my sil about ss, they must have known the crap i dealt with and shouldn't have been subjected to. My inlaws know about ss trying to paint me as a bad neglectful mum which is laughable to them because his mum is the worst of the worst. 

end of the day, if your in laws are too blind or refuse to acknowledge reality and how skid behaves and how that affects the harmony in your marriage & home, well thats their problem. Maybe if they spent a day in your shoes they'd open their eyes but some people as such a lost cause its better to just disengage and keep it simple:

"skid has 2 parents who are alive and who are solely responsible for his upbringing and care, anybody else- its purely voluntary"

ESMOD's picture

Unfortunately, you missed the FIRST rule of disengagement.. that is we do NOT speak of disengagement.. lol.  Seriously, the best way to approach disengagement is to "just do it".  And disengagement can take many forms.. it isn't an all encompassing icing out of a person that is in your home.  Really, one of the most important parts is that you mentally disengage from the outcomes that relate to that person.  (except with the outcomes hit you personally).  

You start to slowly step back from doing things with and for that person.. you develop "work issues".. other comittments that make it "impossible" for you to be the default caregiver or chauffer.  You stop reminding of chores and homework.. stop compensating for your partner's poor parenting and when things aren't done.. you say "oh honey, can you take care of those dishes.. they are piling up". and when he says" isn't SD supposed to do them? " you shrug and say.. "IDK.. but they need to get done"

By announcing disengagement.. most people hear "I hate your child".. and that is not even necessarily always the case.  The child may have behaviors that frustrate you and if the parent is not fixing them.. then as a stepparent it's dificult to deal with THAT.  Or ... you have a child without an interest in a relationship

But in the home. it may not even look that different to others because you of course are still CIVIL.. which mean speaking to that person.. at least in a surface way when appropriate.

Shoot, you may even do things for the child becaus ethey are doing your partner a favor .. doing it FOR your partner.. and not expecting a child to be grateful for things that a parent should be providing.. rides to school.. dinner etc.. 

But with the inlaws.. I guess you may end up having to also disengage from their reaction to your disengagement.  It's unfortunate that they were told.. as someone else said.. your partner did that to punish you and throw you under the bus... he isn't happy with your announcement (again.. putting words to it.. a bio parent will likely never truly understand other than "you don't like my kid)

lieutenant_dad's picture

If you can disengage from SKs, you can disengage from ILs.

I know you think "just cut them out" is unhelpful, but it's kinda the best way to handle it. I didn't disengage from my SKs, but I most certainly did my MIL. She tried triangulating me against my DH and her/BM (they have, over the years, formed various alliances). I put up with it for a while, but after a few phone calls making it out like my DH was uninvolved and it was my responsibility to make him involved and take hers/BM's side, I just cut her off.

I don't answer her phone calls. If she calls, I let it go to voicemail and tell DH to call her back.

If we have any sort of news or announcements, I tell DH to call/inform her. 

If there are any school events or other SK-related activities, I leave it to DH and the kids to inform her.

She is still invited to family holidays, which are now the kids' birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But, again, I leave it on my DH to invite/remind her. She's not "cut off" from the family, but she is cut off from me. And honestly, given her behavior and character at times, I do not care if she thinks I'm Satan. 

There is no way for you to reason with people like this, same as there is no way you can engage with your SD and make a difference. They don't like that you're not involved because now they have to deal with the failure in their own family. They can't blame you anymore, though they most certainly will. So just stop entertaining them. If you don't want a relaltionship with them, then don't have one. Be civil and polite if you have to see them, and leave the rest up to your SO.

Rags's picture

The shifting aliances crap can be infuriating.

For years my IL clan had this as a regular family dynamic. DW used to vent with me about it regularly.  I finally had to tell her that if she was not upset about it enought to actually do something about it that I could not invest anymore of my support bandwidth on her venting about it. If she is upset, I am upset and she did not want me to to address it because she was worried I would go all Rags scorched Earth on her family.

So, she finally confronted all of them on it.   It culmonated in a family meeting, I facilitated, and they all sat down, I outlined the rules, no rehashing history, no singling, out, etc... and the goal was to finish the rotating aliances and selection of a never ending rotation of one of them being put in the ShitBird seat by the others.

It took a few years but ultimately they have a much more positive family relationship dynamic.  I am sure the ShitBird seat still exists, as do the rotating aliances. However, they are not overt and as brutal as they once were.

lieutenant_dad's picture

I have the energy to confront it with my own family (sometimes). I just don't when it comes to my ILs. Not my monkeys, not my circus. DH keeps a pretty hard line with his mom anyway, so that's helpful. He snaps at his own kids when they say something slightly cross to me (rarely happens), so I can only imagine what he'd do if his adult relatives did the same. Scorched earth would likely be an understatement.

My Ex-ILs, though, made it known in subtle ways that I wasn't good enough, and I was too young to really stand up to it. One of my XSILs would make comments about how I needed a better skincare routine to avoid wrinkles and fix the rosacea in my face (dermatologically impossible, per my dermatologist). Can't say I'm overly surprised by their remarks. My XH wasn't much different in his thoughts about me not being skinny/pretty/polite/quiet enough.

And really, I think that is also OP's problem. Her SO should be telling his parents to mind their own damn business and stay out of his relationship. Instead, he runs and tells Mommy and Daddy everything that OP does wrong in regards to SD (or at least about the disengagement). What's his reason for doing that? The only reason I can see for it is to form an alliance with other adults to bully OP into engaging with SD again.

The effort SO puts into turning his family against OP could be spent making his daughter be less of an a-hole, regardless of whether OP ever engagea again. OP disengages from her ILs seems like a good idea, as does her very firmly telling her SO that HIS behavior is causing a rift between her and his family, and if he continues, she'll disengage from everyone.

Our SOs should be out protectors from their family, not the ones enabling bullying and abuse.

Rags's picture

we should fire them and find an SO that does.

I think that far too many in toxic marriages hang on so they do not carry the proverbial scalet letter (BIG D).  I know I held on far too long in my first marriage. I knew it was a lost cause the morning after the wedding.  I told my dad that very thing that AM when he and I met for a very early breakfast before he retured overseas.  

30 months later the D.I.V.O.R.C.E. was final.   29mos and 30 days later than it should have been over.  I should have told her to go on the honeymoon alone and immediately had the marriage annuled.  Ultimately she is the one who chose the divorce.  I am not sure I would have initiated it. Even with all of the crap she perpetrated during that blessedly brief nightmare.

As they say, hindsight is 20:20.

Loxy's picture

I'm all for being honest and upfront, however if you are going into this conversation with your in-laws hoping for understanding and respect I think you are likely to be dissapointed. They don't sound like open-minded or intelligent people so they aren't likely to understand and given they have not afforded you respect so far, that's not likely to suddently come either.

I think you need to have this conversation with them for you and you only. By that I mean, your motivation is simply to have your say and explain what disengaging means and how the situation has impacted you (ie the why) and then walk away and minimise all contact with them moving forward. Don't seek their endorsement or respect - you don't need it. 

Survivingstephell's picture

Yeah basically you set them straight so DH can't throw you under the bus.  ( although if it happens to throw him under the bus, so be it)  

ESMOD's picture

Honestly... why bother?  They will not take it any better coming from OP than they did from  her DH.  As I always say.. keep your disengagement decisions to yourself.  You simply begin working towards living your life without engulfing yourself in the drama.. and you start pushing back parental responsibility onto your partner.. for their own children.

this doesn't necessarily mean you ignore a person in your home rudely.. but you no longer get overly engaged in their lives.  It's a sanity saver tbh.. not meant to fix another person's's fixing what we can control.. our own behavior and reactions.

All his parents will here are the "negative hateful reasons" why you want to disengage.. they don't care about your mental wellbeing.

strugglingSM's picture

My in-laws are similar and the way I deal with them is to go to as few gatherings as possible and when I'm there never get beyond small talk. They have no idea that I hate them and it gives them little to criticize me about. I have shared some of BM's antics with MIL to "explain" how difficult it was or to give reasons why DH doesn't engage with BM and MIL pretends to be sympathetic and then goes back to meddling and colluding with BM. I'm probably more disengaged from MIL than I am from Skids. She periodically will share how she finds me standoffish or wished I called her more, but never with me, so I don't feel the need to do anything about it. Annoying skids and annoying in laws are challenging for sure, but the beauty of both relationships is that you have absolutely zero obligations to either and can disengage as much as you want. 

ESMOD's picture

I think this is probably the crux of the issue for OP. and while she may be feeling some moderate PERSONAL hurt.. she probably is having even a more difficult time given the fact that her daughter isn't being treated equally by his relatives.

DD sees the invites by SD's MIL and aunts.. the shopping.. the birthday parties.. and she isn't included.  It's hard to watch someone else go out the door to do some fun event.. when you are not being included.  And it's even harder to watch your child be excluded...even though those people aren't obligated to include your child.. that doesn't mean it can't be hurtful to be the one that misses out.

strugglingSM's picture

I can see that. My DD is MIL's grandchild and she is treated as an afterthought, while SSs are lavished with gifts and trips. We learned on Easter that MIL is taking each SS on a personalized trip this summer. Last summer she spent several thousand dollars to take SSs on vacation (we know she spent this much because she told DH she wasn't getting him a birthday present because she spent so much on taking SSs on vacation). She gets my DD used toys for presents or gets her nothing because "she won't know" or "she doesn't need anything". My DD is a toddler, so she doesn't notice, yet, but it drives me crazy. That's another reason I have essentially disengaged from my MIL. When we've said things to her (including DH asking her not to meddle with BM) she essentially acts as if we are the problem or plays the "I'm just a little old lady who doesn't know any better" card and I don't have time for either of those anymore, so I just smile and nod and mostly avoid her. She periodically will say that DH and I don't do enough for Skids or one or both of us is not involved enough (hence her perceived need to plan fancy vacations for them) and she can keep thinking that...I'll just ignore her. It's been years and lots of therapy getting me to a place where I can ignore her and she still drives me crazy, but it's really the best option for my own well-being. 

Rags's picture

If MIL wasn't full of shit, she would call you.

Good thing she is full of shit and does'nt understand how to dial a phone.

Stepdrama2020's picture

IMHO it is wasted breath explaining reasonable to the unreasonable.

You will end up even more upset , and not heard. Save yourself the aggrivation then the inevitable upset.

Your DH though deserves a big slap (figuratively) for tossing you under the bus with the in laws. To anybody, toxic or not, your DH worded your disengagement so poorly . I would be pissed about that. He should be supporting you to family . The toxic inlaws were just given more fuel for the fire.


CLove's picture

Your silent friend. Id recomend not saying anything to anyone, just put your actions on. They will forget that "whole disengagment kurfluffy", and move on and forget. I wouldnt say anything to the IL. Its a waste of energy that you should be spending on YOU.

When Ive disengaged, I took my $$$ and spent on ME. I started hiking and created and spent time on my friends and friendhsips. In my case Ive already been VERY disengaged from SD23 Feral Forger and sort of newly disengaged from SD15/16 Backstabber/Munchkin. I did help her with prom a little, but I did not do anything other than wish her well. Same with her other activities. When her grades came up for 3rd quarter and shows 8 absences, I just pass it all along.

She needs something - thats on her parents. She needs a ride -- organise with parents. Oh fabulous, your mother is doing xyz, great! Thats more money we can spend on ourselves. 

More time

More Money

More peace

More YOU.

Leave the IL to think what they want. "what is this disengagement thingy?" And as to MIL thinking you need to be SD's PARENT. Thats hooey. And you dont need to diagram it for her. No need of a Powerpoint presentation with flying bullet points and charts and graphs.

Its mainly you are re-focusing your energies. Not shunning SD, not actively against her. Just not ACTIVE in her life as more than a roommate (unless it affects you).