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

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#1 of 13 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 13 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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Last edited by VocalMinority; 08-27-2014 at 05:49 AM.
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#3 of 13 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 13 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
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#5 of 13 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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#6 of 13 Old 10-25-2014, 06:54 AM
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Response to FrancesAnn

I can relate to some of the feelings you are dealing with. I have learned from experience that if we think too much and too hard about ANY situation we are dealing with, it will only frustrate us more. I have learned to take a few breathes, relax, and self-analyze myself. The fact that you care enough about how your daughter is being raised says enough. You want the best for your step-daughter which is great. We will never be their 'real mom'. It sounds hard to swallow but let's not even categorize who we are or put titles on anything. That's not important. Your daughter will grow to love you anyway and as she gets older she will realize more and more how much you love and care for her. There will always be room in her heart for you, her dad and her mom. Step-parenting IS for you. Whether we realize it or not, sometimes we are too hard on ourselves. I don't know if you are religious or not, but God put you in this situation for a reason, and because you didn't give up confirms your abilities! I would talk to her mom and let her know how you really feel. It's hard to do, but communication is everything! It will lift that burden off of you. I hope every things works out for you and your family!
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#7 of 13 Old 06-15-2015, 12:31 PM
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Feel Same

I was glad to read that I wasn't alone. Feel the same here. All the works and no perks. I hope time does fly by. I love my boyfriend more than anything in this world - which is why I do not want to stop, but I get overwhelmed with the parenting thing a lot. We have his daughter every single weekend (my only days off) and all summer, oh and every single holiday night (she gets the fun holiday time, and we get stuck at home waiting for her to be dropped off). Totally relate to this original poster and your comments help.
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#8 of 13 Old 07-06-2015, 02:11 AM
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Hi, I'm a *long* time lurker, but actually just registered because I am in a similar situation and felt I had to offer a different opinion than most of the other mamas who responded...

Honestly, it does a disservice to both you and your DSD to "hope time flies". Because even though it does, it might get worse as time goes on. My own DSSs were both much more relaxed and natural around me when they were younger and even though, like you, I had a lot of different values than their mother they were still able to respect my values and more or less follow along with what we did at our home (eating healthy, not watching violent movies, not hitting each other, etc). Fast forward to teenage years and those differences are thrown in my face and the difference of values between their mother and our family are manipulated and exploited to the point where I am too exhausted of their attitude to try and enforce anything. They live with us full time because their own mother can't at all handle their tempers and their constant fighting. I am a *super* laid-back person and mostly just took care of them cooking every meal and serving it to them, driving them where they needed to be, and handling all their school supply shopping, homework help, you name it. I tried very hard to have reasonable rational dialogues with them about issues that arose with their father or mother or friends at school and yet, despite taking on the full-time mother-role from when they were young, even when we are really connecting, I cannot escape the fact that they just fundamentally don't share my values on respecting others, treating people kindly, taking responsibility for ones own actions, etc. As a step-parent, what you have to say and the advice you give is only ever going to be optional for them and if their own father and mother are not on the same page about parenting approaches then they will, naturally, align themselves with whoever indulges them more - in your case that sounds like her mother.

The differences might feel benign now, but as she gets older these differences might become more apparent, especially when you add teenage hormones into the mix. The situation becomes infinitely harder to deal with when/if you chose to have children with your partner. Because then it will be even more difficult to discipline your own child as they will constantly be seeing the example set by an older sibling who is taking her cues from the biological mom and whom you have limited authority over and responsibility for. I really wish the best to you, but if you are already finding this challenging now, then maybe it's something to think long and hard about. I know it can be ridiculously hard to leave a partner over these kinds of issues, especially as it is not "his fault" and he is also struggling with this, but, you have to recognize that for while she is with you, you have two choices; either distancing yourself from her a bit (which is a little unrealistic and unfair for her) or else continuing to sacrifice your priorities for a position where you will only ever be second-best.

All the very best to you...
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#9 of 13 Old 07-06-2015, 04:31 AM
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I wish my daughter's step-mother had defined for herself a more fulfilling role and focused on being a leader in her relationship with my daughter instead of focusing on identity politics among the adults.

I don't know what her marriage to my ex was like for her, how hard or easy that was, etc, but in my interactions with her things were unpleasant for no apparent reason.

She didn't seem to be able to identify and accept boundaries: either she wanted inappropriate authority or she was neglecting what authority she had.

I admire her very much as a woman. I saw that she has much to offer to my daughter and I even hoped we would be friends. I felt that she was a reasonable mature person with a good heart and a vibrant life that I was glad for my daughter to share.

The step-mom basically didn't invite my daughter into her life, she managed the situation at arms length and without being natural or enabling affection to grow.

These problems were never resolved though they diminished over time. Now as an adult my daughter has an acceptable relationship with her but isn't terribly fond of her and I feel sorry for them both. My daughter felt that this lady let her down, though she doesn't hold any grudges. My daughter just wanted to be her friend.

I'm glad to see people talking about this.

Just a perspective from a mother.

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#10 of 13 Old 09-01-2015, 11:55 AM
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I'm going to give you a bit of advice that I wish was given to me when I first came into the picture with my SD. Disengage. I went through years of battling DH in regards to how I wanted our house to run, what rules I expected, the fact that he gave in to SD's every.single.whim. It caused a lot of tension and hearbreak, and a general dislike of SD. A couple years ago I decided to disengage. I told DH that I would no longer do anything that a parent would do for a child, in regards to SD. When she is there, he is responsible for dinner. He alone is responsible for birthday and Christmas gifts, etc. I stuck to it, even though he didn't like it at all. It was liberating. That child is not your responsibility. The more you do the less you will be appreciated. You will find that you have no say in the important matters, but will be expected to help out when needed. I told DH, if I can't have the respect of a parent, then I will not have the duties of one.
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#11 of 13 Old 11-17-2015, 08:24 PM
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I Know the Feeling

I'm in the stepmom role with the exact same issues. It helps to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with mothering without benefits. And I've been told by others to disengage as well. But it just sucks. It sucks to be with the love of your life, and not be able to share the joys of being a parent with them. It sucks that there are problems with the kids that I know I am creative and motivated enough to solve, and their parents are not, but for all that work, it will not matter, because their parents will not help or enforce or continue it. sometimes I feel that I have a particular motivation and skill set and that I was paired up with these kids who need my help not coincidentally. But its all for naught. One parent would rather medicate and dumb them out than deal, and the other would like to ignore that there is anything wrong. And I want to see these kids grow up happy and healthy, even if they are not mine.
But i am miserable with this- this love for them and this helplessness that I am NOT their parent, that I CAN'T raise them like I would Like to. I'm afraid they are gonna lose out if I quit on them.
Disengage. I've got mothering in my blood, I'm not sure I know how. It sounds like I owe it to myself to try.
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#12 of 13 Old 11-18-2015, 03:10 AM
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I appreciate your honesty. I don't think that there is enough talk about just how hard it is to be a step-parent. I am a step-parent for over a decade; also a mom. It is a balancing act. I have a certain perspective on parenting and it is very hard to take a backseat with my step-daughter. I think you really nailed it when you said it feels like you have all the responsibility and not the reward. I understand. I say embrace the Auntie role. It's frustrating at first but it really will relieve some of the frustration of not having control. The truth is, she is "their" child. Nothing is going to change that. Yes there are things I would do differently and I do with my own. But I just have to remind myself that I can't control everything. I try to be consistent, loving, supportive but stay in a secondary role. Yes there are days that it is very frustrating but also days I'm glad to turn decisions over..
Over the years there are so many things I would have done differently with her parenting..trust me. Step-daughter drinking with a sippy cup until kindergarten, still using pull ups. Grrr...I could go on and on. But The more you worry about what you do not have control of you will become anxious, resentful. Make sure you do not give up too much of your own life; see friends, go out, just as an "aunt" or a secondary person you should not be doing everything. The freedom comes in saying "ask your dad"
Good luck in your journey
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#13 of 13 Old 11-18-2015, 09:00 AM
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Definitely detach alot of issues i, dh and his family had in the beggining was expecting too much from me. I had to raise the flag, sos.. youngest dd is in preschool partime which she was not the firsg 9 montjd.i still do a ton for sdds way more than most but there are certain things i never really did and dont plan to. Dh is home every night at 5:15, so nightly duties like bathing, homework, putting them to sleep are on him. Daily duties are generally mine since i am the sahp. But at the end of the day, they always ask for him, want hil and orefer him. I se my role as it is, a caregiver, secondary to dh and his ex, though hour for hour they are with me more, it isnt any different than daycare teachers or a nanny imo. I now that we all know my role and are okay with it. There is less tension in the house for everyone.
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