Would love your advice: I don't think step parenting is for me - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 5 Old 08-25-2014, 02:49 PM - Thread Starter
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Question Would love your advice: I don't think step parenting is for me

I'm so grateful to have found this forum. Thanks in advance to anyone who can offer some advice and thoughts.
I have been with my partner for about 6 years. We have lived together for over 2 years, and his daughter is now 8. She lives with us half of the time, and with her mom half of the time. The custody is split, and they have a co-parenting agreement. I have a good and healthy relationship with my stepdaughter (let's call her A), and am so grateful that her mom has been nothing but welcoming to me.

There are a few issues that I am having, that seem to not go away:

1) I do not agree with a lot of the parenting decisions that A's mother makes-- for example, she'll keep her home from school for reasons ranging from "I don't get enough alone time with her and I really want to spend more time with her" (this is the mother talking) to "she (A) said she wasn't feeling well, so I kept her home." (obviously A knows that her mom gives in to this sort of manipulation-- I don't blame A for trying to stay home! Clearly it works). She has watched an R-rated movie with her that has sexual content, and when confronted about it, expressed no understanding why we would have an issue with this, and has gone as far as making jokes about it since-- poking fun at our position on the issue, etc. Those examples are more extreme, but there are the handfuls of examples that just highlight our different styles-- the types of foods we want to feed A, what values we teach, what manners we teach... etc, etc... ETC. I feel like I can't be a parent in this situation, because for half of A's life (at least for a while), she is parented in a different household with different rules, and different examples being set. This is really hard for me. I feel like how the mom parents will always trump how I'd like to parent, because she's the biological mom. My partner and I for the most part see eye to eye on parenting choices, although there are some where we differ. When we differ, I think to myself "why am I choosing to be in this situation where I have to compromise not only with one other adult on how to parents, but with two-- one of whom (the mom) seems to have no interest in compromising."

2) I feel resentful of A. I feel like I am sacrificing a lot of what's important to me (time with friends/community, exercise, work, etc) to be in a parental role, but I don't really have the same rewards that I assume bio parents do. I feel like she loves me the way she would love an Aunt, except that I have all the responsibility of a mother. I also don't want to make it all about biological vs non-biological parents; I think the issue here is that A's mother is a huge part of her life, and she sees her every other week.

I know I'm not crazy to feel any of these things, but I guess my main question is-- based on how I seem to react to step-parenting, is it just not for me? Am I setting myself up for a life of being resentful and frustrated? I know so much of this is probably just my attitude, but I can't seem to shift it, and the feelings have been pretty consistent the whole time I've lived with them. I feel that I have good parenting skills, but I do not really enjoy being a parent in this way. I feel like what I teach A when she's here gets thrown out the window when she leaves. I put a lot of time and energy and love into raising a kid who is no reflection of me and who I am-- I know that sounds selfish, and I also know that it's possible to feel that way as a biological parent-- but it's how I feel.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Any advice is much-appreciated.
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#2 of 5 Old 08-26-2014, 09:07 PM
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Originally Posted by FrancesAnn View Post
I know I'm not crazy to feel any of these things...
Then good for you. Each reality you've mentioned - responsibility without authority; a sense of disproportionate return on your investment of time and effort; the difficulty of feeling parental love for a child who isn't in any way a reflection of you (due to biology and you not being one of her two primary influences) - can be tremendously hard to admit to oneself, much less acknowledge publicly.

If you can see these things so clearly and understand that your feelings are reasonable, maybe you're capable of changing your expectations of the relationship.

1) Obviously, you can't change that you have less authority in her life than her parents. Quite possibly, when she hits puberty (and starts really challenging even her parents' authority), you'll feel you have even less. But you might resent it less, if you took less responsibility for her. I'm not saying detach. Keep doing for/with her the things you enjoy, as well as basic courtesies for your partner. (Sorry for this bad analogy, but just as you would pick up his dry-cleaning if doing so fit into your schedule better than it fit into his; so you should drive his kid to school or to the dentist, if you're better-able to do it.)

But hypothetically, let's say it drives you crazy that neither bio parent makes your step-daughter take appropriate responsibility for her school work. You can detach from that. You're neither her paid tutor nor her mother, as you are subtly reminded, each time her mother - or even your partner - discounts, undermines, sabotages or otherwise counteracts your efforts to improve her study habits. Thus far, you may have overseen her homework during your partner's parenting time, out of kindness, caring and feeling that you have something valuable to contribute. But it's not actually your responsibility.

If your partner were to balk about you handing that responsibility back to him, you could be honest: As the parents, he and his ex have the right to disregard your input about their daughter's study habits; but you're not obligated to keep doing a job where your wisdom and authority are not respected. You may find that - once your partner stops relying on you to handle that area of his daughter's life (or whatever area is actually an issue for you guys) - he will rise to the occasion and handle it better. Probably not the way you'd like it handled, but better than how he handled it before.

2) If your step-daughter doesn't love you the same way she loves her bio mom - if her love is tainted by some resentment and role ambiguity - would anyone say "she's just not cut out for being anyone's step-daughter"? Of course not.

I'm not suggesting you stay with your partner, if you're truly miserable and think you should leave. But perhaps you're not ill-suited to being a stepmom. Maybe you just expect it to feel more like being a mom than is reasonably possible. And maybe you can let go of those understandable, yet unreasonable expectations; take on a more sustainable, fair amount of responsibility for your SD; and embrace whatever unique relationship develops from there, instead of holding it up against the gold standard of "how I'd feel, mothering my own biological child".

You said you wanted to avoid making this "all about bio vs. non-bio", but I think it is. You're in a deeply unbalanced situation - acting as a mother, but not receiving the "perks" that we instinctively understand ought to accompany all the personal investment of mothering. The most basic reason behind that imbalance is that you're not the mother. If you give yourself permission to act less like her mother, it may change your resentment.

3) Whether you stay or go should be about your relationship with your partner. Your SD won't be at home forever. In fact, you won't believe how the time will fly by, as she gets older.
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One woman in a house full of men:  my soul mate:    or... twin sons:(HS seniors) ... step-son:  (a sophomore) ... our little man:   (a first grader) ... and there is another female in the house, after all:  our

Last edited by VocalMinority; 08-27-2014 at 05:49 AM.
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#3 of 5 Old 08-29-2014, 03:10 AM
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Yes to everything VM said above.

You do not actually have to take on the responsibility of being "mother" to your sd when she is there. Of course you can and should continue being a caring and involved adult in dsd's life, but also remember that it is perfectly okay and even good to ask dad to take on more of the responsibility with his daughter, especially since/if you do not have the same latitude that he does to make parenting decisions.

I spent a lot of years feeling like an unpaid babysitter for the same reasons you listed-I was expected to perform parenting tasks (i.e. feeding, clothing, bathing, playing, homework, etc.) with dsd, but wasn't allowed to make any major decisions (i.e. what she was eating, how homework was enforced, behavior, etc.) It was very frustrating and made me very resentful, and then I felt guilty for resenting a child when I knew it wasn't really her fault, etc.

Dsd's dad and I are no longer together, and it's clear to me now that I took on way too much of the parenting when that should have been on his shoulders. (This was not even close to being the only reason we separated, of course, and I don't mean to imply that).

As for dsd not loving you like her mom...well that is probably true! But it is also completely normal and healthy I know my (former) dsd loves me, but certainly it is not the same as she loves her mother because it is a totally different relationship. Likewise, I love her very much, but it is still a different way than I love the children I have birthed and raised 100% of the time-and that is okay too.

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#4 of 5 Old 08-31-2014, 11:38 AM
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The previous posters summed it up perfectly. I feel the same way as you and most step moms in regard to having all the responsibility and none of the control, even moreso now that the stepson lives with us full time! Like you, I was and am struggling with if I am cut out for this, it is, by far, the hardest thing I've ever done....and I used to be a foster parent, lol.

Anyway, letting go of the "responsibility" part has helped a LOT. It's challenging for me to let things go, but it's better than taking on all that responsiblity, which is a stressful and thankless task. I basically handed over everything to my husband; not in a mean or dramatic way, but basically, it's his child, he and biomom need to be the ones doing the majority of the "work". Of course, I help out, but I'm no longer the primary "go to" person.

Good luck to you in whichever path you choose

"Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen." Ralph Marston

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#5 of 5 Old 09-02-2014, 12:21 PM - Thread Starter
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THANK YOU so much to all of you who replied. I carefully read each word, and am so grateful to hear of your experiences. It's amazing how helpful it is to feel like I am not alone in how I feel (this is why support groups of all kinds exist!). What all of you said makes so much sense to me. I think it's true that my feelings of resentment are a result of my amount of responsibility. Decrease responsibility in some areas (within reason), and I will likely be less resentful.
Thank you so much for your thoughts. They help a lot.
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