The Stepmom Stepdaughter Relationship
Almost nineteen years into a stepmom stepdaughter relationship, I well know that this can be one of the touchiest – and potentially most difficult – relationships in the stepfamily.
In our stepmom stepdaughter relationship, we found our way through to acceptance and appreciation of one another, but it was a pretty circuitous route, and it was fraught with a number of mis-steps.
In Stepmonster, Wednesday Martin reports that to complicate matters, many books on stepmothering give bad advice that perpetuate two destructive myths: the myth of the blended family and the myth of the maternal stepmother. She summarizes this advice:
- Remember that his kids will always come first
- Leave the disciplining to him
- You will regret it forever if you lose your temper or say something nasty to your stepchildren, so whatever you do, don’t
- With patience and love, they will come around.
The truth is, after a divorce, the daughter often has her dad “all to herself” when they are together, and their lifestyle can often be dominated by her needs and desires. The daughter learns well how to get what she wants from dad, and the guilt he feels about the divorce often fuels his tendency to give, give, give and expect little in return.
It is often not a balanced relationship with regard to healthy parent-child relations, and she may not be getting the discipline and structure that are needed. The same complication can easily set in with mothers and sons, as well as dads and sons but this article is about the stepmom stepdaughter relationship.
Enter the stepmom, into an icy atmosphere of “daddy belongs to me; I don’t want to share him!” If the daughter’s father follows the first piece of advice “my kids will always come first”, then the stepmom stepdaughter relationship will be frozen, unable to flower, and the stepcouple will be beholden to the daughter’s approval every step of the way.
This will drive a wedge between the couple, and if allowed to build, another breakup is on the horizon. Certainly, the daughter’s needs are important, and her feeling of grief over losing her primacy in her dad’s life needs to be acknowledged.
But if her father does not in some way let his daughter know that, as special as she is to him, he is committed to his partnership, then the daughter has an unbalanced level of power in the family that will have a negative outcome for her in the long run, and for the family.
The second piece of advice, leave the disciplining to him, can also create tremendous havoc in the stepmom stepdaughter department. Commonly, in the household after divorce, the dad working to make ends meet, managing a household without help, going through his own pain after the divorce, and trying to be both dad and mom, has understandably put structuring the home life pretty far down on his priority list.
Expecting good manners, getting the family at the table together for nutritious meals, rules about homework, TV etc. might have escaped him as he tried to juggle single parenthood.
The dad’s awareness, on some level, of the need for structure in the home may well have been part of the drive to remarry to find a helpmate. And so he brings in a woman and expects her to structure the household at least traditionally, that’s part of what a wife does, isn’t it?
But how can it be done without her having any authority? If all the discipline is left to him, then the stepmom is completely stifled, with no power to do what it takes to make the household run well. If she does take over without his blessing, she becomes the wicked stepmother.
And, how is she to act when the stepdaughter misbehaves and her dad is not around? This puts her in an impossible situation. A plan for compassionate and effective discipline, developed by the stepcouple, and a gradual handover of authority to the stepmom must be done, and must be done by the dad. Then the stepmom stepdaughter relationship can take hold in a way that puts the adult-child relationship in an appropriate power position.
“You’re not my mother!” What stepmom has not heard that? It happens to be the truth. There’s nothing to take personally here. The calm response, “No, I’m not, and I’m not trying to be your mother. But in this house, we have a rule that TV watching comes after homework and baths” or whatever the rule may be. As long as she knows she’s gbacked up by her husband or partner, this will diffuse a negative cycle in the stepmom stepdaughter relationship.
It’s true that as a stepmom, you will sometimes say things that you will regret afterwards. But the last thing you want to do is hold in all your anger, resentment and frustration with no place for it to go. It will come out, and come out it will, either in your relationship with your partner, in your health and well-being, or in your stepmom stepdaughter relationship as well.
Feelings buried alive never die. It’s very important for you to find a release for your feelings, and to work through the issues involved – through counseling, through a course LINK, or a forum. It might be best to work through them to some degree before unloading on your partner, as it can be pretty hard for a dad to see his daughter objectively.
If the two of you have made an effort to understand what it takes to make a successful stepfamily, you will be better equipped to work through these feelings successfully together.
The last piece of advice, with patience and love they will come around, describes a successful outcome of the stepmom stepdaughter relationship – but not all stories end happily ever after. It is more likely to be the result if you have taken the steps to strengthen your own partnership, learned to listen to your stepdaughter’s feelings without becoming defensive, and expressed your own feelings constructively.
And it’s more likely to happen if you have forged a relationship with her by spending enjoyable time together, gotten to know and appreciate her, do for her in a balanced way, and been encouraging to her in her own unique strengths.
It was not until I sat side by side with my stepdaughter, encouraging her in the long process of applying to colleges and scholarships that I felt our relationship, truly flourish – finally, I was able to appreciate her for who she was – and this role (which I was best suited for among her three parents) had the effect of opening my heart to her.
Does it sound like a tall order to put all this into your relationship with your stepdaughter, with no guarantee of success? It is, and there’s no compulsion to do it this way; what works for you and your stepfamily will be your own creation.
The two of you may be more comfortable with a more distant yet respectful relationship – and that can be harmonious as well. The stepmother stepdaughter relationship, when successful, is one that will provide you with much joy and satisfaction and will nurture your relationship with your partner as well.
To get some help in understanding the role of stepmom with her stepdaughter, see the online course offered by StepmomSOS.