What is my true role as a stepmother? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 3 Old 12-20-2019, 02:38 PM - Thread Starter
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What is my true role as a stepmother?

Late last night, i stayed up with my husband while caring for his daughter(my stepdaughter). I made her a hot tea. She wasn’t feeling well all day.
This morning she came into our room to get something. I kindly asked her if she could close the door to keep the room warm with the heater. She walks out and leaves it open. After I yell out her name from the bedroom and get into an argument with my husband about it. She says she forgot I asked her. My husband just stands there with no words knowing very well she has an impecable memory.
During school she calls someone(not me) feeling sick from school. She gets dropped off at my mother in law’s. Nobody lets me know not to pick her up from school which I usually do. I guess I’m supposed to just figure it out when I get to the school. I feel like I’m taken for granted.
I try to get closer to her in other ways but I feel like my husband doesn’t try to help me out. It feels like he makes it easier for her to just brush me aside.

I make one mistake and it erases the last 50 nice things I did for her. I guess that’s how it is with step parenting: You’re not really parenting. You’re just a disposable driver, cook, cleaner, etc. I wonder if that’s how my husband feels with my daughter. It can’t possibly be the same since he barely interacts with her because he works about 10 hrs/day.

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#2 of 3 Old 03-17-2020, 06:55 AM
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I'm sorry no one responded earlier. The world's pretty hectic right now, I guess.

What you wrote sounds very common, from what I've read, and definitely from what I experienced personally. I frequently recommend the book "StepMonster" by Wednesday Martin. Don't be put off by the title.

When men work long hours and leave it to their wives to sacrifice more of their lives to care for the kids' needs - even when their wife is not the child's mother - I think sometimes it's just from habit and contenting themselves with what's comfortable and easy, but sometimes it's more malicious. Only you could know which dynamic is at play in your marriage.

If your husband leaves to you many of his responsibilities in raising his daughter, but doesn't give you a corresponding amount of support, in terms of expecting his daughter, mother, etc. to be respectful and considerate of your role ... and if he's doing that because his gut instinct (based on his childhood family, society, or whatever) says this is how gender roles should work, and he'd feel like he was messing things up and crossing into your territory if he were to, say, step in and correct his daughter when she ignored your simple request about the bedroom door ... then asserting yourself, discussing it with him, and stepping back from roles you don't want to take on should help.

I'm not saying that's fair. That would be yet another example of imbalanced emotional work: you're not only expected to figure out and meet his daughter's needs, but you also must figure out the dynamics between you and your husband about her needs, communicate with him about this in a way that doesn't make him defensive, and probably specifically tell him what you want him to do differently, and then probably follow up and remind him, as he works on changing his behavior. You should not have to do all that work yourself. It's not fair. Men are not stupid, and can make the effort themselves, to see that something isn't working, to examine it, and to participate less passively in improving it. Yet realistically, for generations upon generations this was not expected of men, and the weight of that precedent has inescapably shaped what men now tend to accept from themselves and expect of their wives, and what we expect of ourselves and accept from our husbands. Even if he ought to do more, if a husband is willing to hear his wife say, "You're giving me a level of responsibility for your daughter as though she is my child, but you're not behaving - with your daughter, your mother, etc. - as though anyone should respect me or be considerate of my role. I need you to either step up and take more direct responsibility for your daughter yourself, or step up and reinforce that it's not OK to ignore me when I speak, to not notify me about plan-changes that affect me, etc. I'm doing my part to make your daughter part of my family life. I need you to do your part, clarifying that I'm your partner, not just a babysitter or chauffeur," ... and if he will try to understand and be responsive, then that's probably not a man you want to divorce.

On the other hand, there are men who behave with the same apparent aloofness and cluelessness, for whom it's really more intentional. We're talking about narcissistic types here, that you can read about everywhere lately. They want to have as much parenting time with their kids as they can get, and often be the "fun" parent, when that fits into their schedule, but they don't instinctively get - and do not care to invest the effort to learn about - the hundreds of subtle, day-to-day, unglamorous tasks necessary in raising a decent, well-adjusted human being. They'd rather find a wife to take care of that stuff for them, and not burden them with the details, and never even have to recognize that it's a lot of work. The work they do is hard, important, and should be recognized and appreciated. The work they assigned to their wife isn't really work. She got the easy end of things. What is she complaining about? Her work seems overwhelming when HE has to do it, but that's not because it's really a lot of work. It's because he's already doing so much more than his wife that it's not fair to ask him to do more for his kid, too.

If a wife confronts this type of husband in the way I suggested above, his response would tend to be A) "You're crazy if you think I'm going to scold my precious, perfect child and tell her to be more polite to you. I'm not choosing you over my kid! I can't believe you'd even ask me to do that. If you and she have issues, you're the adult. You need to figure them out with her," and B) He'd look for ways to manipulate and gaslight his wife, so she'd feel guilty and get distracted wondering if she's actually the problem, or maybe if she just tries harder things will get better. That way, he doesn't have to make any additional effort, or do anything uncomfortable or that he's not good at. If you have that type of husband, any conclusions you might come to about whether this marriage will be a good fit for you, long-term, would be amply supported by other women who've been in your shoes!

I had a boyfriend once who, for whatever unfathomable reason, would sometimes drop his voice and mumble during conversations to the point that I couldn't tell what he was saying. I'd ask him to speak up. He'd deny that his voice had dropped, and it was just frustrating. Eventually, when he did this I'd slowly let my voice trail off, too, to the point that he couldn't hear me. Without realizing he was doing it, he'd speak up. It is perfectly fine for you to do this, regarding responsibilities for your step-daughter.

You can't, of course, expect your stepdaughter to feel about or interact with you as warmly as she may with her mother, and unfortunately she's entitled to a certain amount of resenting you. She didn't ask for her parents to marry other people. But if you're polite to her, she can be expected to treat you with basic - if not perfect - politeness, not to ignore you, and to comply with reasonable requests ("Please shut the door,") because you're an adult in her household. Your husband should be raising his daughter to be the kind of person who can think sometimes that she doesn't like you ... or a teacher ... or a neighbor ... and still be basically polite. If you can't convince your husband to support/reinforce this, you can step back from being the one who asks her to do things. Next time, leave it to your husband to ask her to close the bedroom door. When he gets cold and asks you to close it, sweetly say, "No. I'm cozy under the blankets. Why didn't you ask Katie to close the door when she left the room, honey?" Don't remind her to clean her room or do her homework. If your husband notices her room is a pit, or her grades are dropping, smile and say, "I guess you'd better tell her to clean her room, or talk to her about what's going on with her grades." If you showing up at school to pick up your stepdaughter, only to find out she has a different ride and no one bothered to tell you, becomes a recurrent issue, tell your husband something has come up in your schedule (create something in your schedule), and that you can no longer help by picking her up after school, so he'll have to arrange something else. And do not arrange it for him.

Yes, stepping back from parental responsibilities for your stepkids requires letting go of the ideal that, if you just try hard enough, some day you will feel like a happy, nuclear family. But you're not a nuclear family. You're not her mother. There is no blueprint for how your family should function, nor any agreed set of responsibilities you should have for your stepdaughter. Right now, it sounds like you guys are functioning based on what she needs, and what makes your husband comfortable, but it doesn't work for you. You are as important in your marriage as he is. If taking less responsibility for his daughter makes you feel less resentful of the low level of respect and consideration you're shown, regarding her - and if this makes your family life feel less nuclear and more like he is raising his child, and your primary relationship is with him - that doesn't make you a bad person, a bad woman, or less than maternal. In fact, you may even be setting a good example for his daughter of not being a doormat, and not contenting yourself with feeling increasingly miserable to avoid inconveniencing others.

And you may find that if you stop doing as many motherly things for her, she'll be open to having a different kind of relationship with you, that's more satisfying, if less maternal. That was true for me, and completely surprised me. When I finally reached a breaking point and started stepping back from parenting my stepson, in his late teens ... which basically meant that no one was parenting him ... I felt like a complete failure and I was heartbroken that our family had not, ultimately, come together the way I'd thought my husband and I had both wanted it to. And I was worried about what would happen to my stepson. But with my husband either looking the other way, or defending him and attacking me if I pointed out things that needed to be addressed, I was not actually able to do anything for my stepson anyway. For a short time, things were pretty miserable. But to my surprise, as he got a little older, and then suddenly my husband was no longer in the picture, my stepson matured, became SO much easier to be around, and he largely cut off contact with his dad. Although he seems to still be in contact with his mom, he chose to keep living with me (until he got an apartment with friends, recently). And I like our relationship now. It's not the same as the one I have with my biological kids who are around his age. But there's still love between us, and it doesn't have to be the same as the love he has for his mother, or that I have for the kids I gave birth to and raised their entire lives. It's OK to carve out your own, unique kind of relationship that doesn't have to look or feel like anyone else's, as long as it's balanced and works for both of you.
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#3 of 3 Old 04-28-2020, 11:51 PM - Thread Starter
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Thank you so much for your insight. Everything you said was so very helpful. Sorry for replying so late too I just noticed the post. I will definitely be reading Stepmonster.
Thank you again.

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