Woman experiences stepparenting woes

Annie Lane

Dear Annie: This is my 36th year as a stepmother, and I am writing in hopes of helping others who are taking the huge step of blending families. My husband, “Nelson,” had custody of his two children, a boy and girl, who were in their early teens when we started dating. Nelson’s ex lived far away, so there were no weekend visits with their mom. Nelson became sick within our first year of dating and relied on me to help with his kids and household so that he could continue to work.

It was apparent from the start that his children were damaged. They were resentful of me and acted out. Years later, after we were married, I found out that Nelson’s children had been molested by their maternal grandfather for several years and that nothing had been done about it. His children didn’t have counseling and never learned to deal with their feelings about the sexual abuse. Today they are grown adults with children of their own. They still refuse any counseling.

I feel that Nelson’s kids treat me the way they do because it’s easier than dealing with their parents. I recently decided that I am removing myself from my husband’s children’s and grandchildren’s lives. I am mourning the loss of eight people in my life but have determined that it is less painful to live my life without them in it than to feel the pain of never meeting their expectations.

Here is my stepparenting advice: Do not discipline your stepchildren. Be their friend — just because you can! When they’re small, keep them safe and report anything that doesn’t look right. Be a soft place to fall, because they will need it. If your spouse isn’t stepping up to the plate on their behalf, talk privately with your spouse about it. If your spouse is resistant to doing anything to change the situation, walk away, because it never gets better.

As the saying goes, “you teach people how to treat you.” I get that now! — No Longer a Stepparent

Dear No Longer: Though I appreciate your advice to stepparents — and that last bit is one of my favorite axioms — I can’t help but wonder whether your severing ties was a little too severe here. You seem to have a good grasp of the way abuse has affected these children and grandchildren. As long as they are not being verbally abusive to you, perhaps you could practice healthy detachment without completely cutting off all communication. You can build an emotional shield around yourself without having it be a wall.

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