The disengagement creep.

6 01 2009

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know I had a child of my own nine months ago. Since I discovered I was pregnant, I have found that I’ve started the disengagement creep with my stepchildren. Here is what I am guilty of:

  • Instead of tucking them in and saying goodnight, I go to bed early with the baby. Sometimes I don’t even say goodnight at all, but just disappear upstairs.
  • While making the emotional transition to mother, I have wanted to turn inward. I developed tunnel vision as I nested and marveled at the experience. By doing this, I alienated my stepchildren.
  • Instead of making me feel a stronger bond with my stepfamily, having a child of my own made me feel the differences and emotional gaps between us even more.
  • I have become more critical of my stepchildren’s mother. Though I can identify with her in new ways, I have become less tolerant of the behavior I disagree with now that I have a child of my own.

Since it’s still within the first days of January, I think I’ll make myself a 2009 plan to combat my disengagement. 

  1. I will say goodnight to my stepkids every night they are here.
  2. I will spend time with each of them and show interest in their lives.
  3. I will not feel guilty if I mess this up now and then.
  4. I will allow myself to acknowledge the differences I feel for the children in our home without feeling guilty about them. It is what it is. But I will do what I can to avoid showing favoritism.  
  5. I will team up with my husband to plan fun activities for the entire family like we used to.

The good news is that emotional transitions are just that: transitions. They come to an end. I can already tell we are moving in a new direction because my husband and I were finally able to have a discussion about the fact that I’ve disengaged over the past year. My daughter is older and I am more settled in my new role as stepmom and mom. The kids are growing up and have accepted their baby sister into the fold now that she can play with them.

Soon I’ll crawl out of the nest I built and re-engage with my stepchildren and it will feel good. But I will always be grateful to my husband that he gave me the chance to have a little tunnel vision with my daughter without making me feel like I was turning into a wicked stepmother.




3 responses

7 01 2009

I totally understand the disengagement creep…and it really does creep up on you whether you’ve had a child of your own or not. I think every step mom has felt this (and if they haven’t, they will). For me, when the disengagement creep overwhelmed me, I realized just how distant, angry, frustrated, irritated I was with my step son. I was oozing hostility and once I was aware of what I was doing, I was able to PAUSE and ASSESS. I talked at length with my husband about what I was feeling and I was able to put things in order, regroup, and re-engage.

After reading one of Cathryn Bond-Doyle’s articles, “Hostility is Not FINE!” I realized that disengaging from my step son was a form of hostility – it was hurting him and me. I took the time to observe my thoughts and challenge the thoughts that I attached some kind of belief to. I asked myself a simple question, “Is that true” (see Byron Katie, “Loving What Is” Not one negative thought was actually true…so I found thoughts that were true and turned my own hostile poison into medicine.

See also my blog on “The Opportunity to Relinquish Hostility” at


8 01 2009

Jacque – Thanks for sharing this and for being so open with your readers!

8 01 2009

Don’t be so hard on yourself as a stepmother – I think that all mothers with multiple children and no stepchildren go through some of this with the addition of a new baby to the household. Not tucking in their older child/ren in the evening as much because they withdraw into spending time with the new baby. It sounds like some of what you’re feeling is unique to stepmothers (ie, changed feelings towards your stepkids’ bio-mom) but a lot of it is part of the transition that any family goes through with the addition of a new member of the family, namely a baby that is newly bonding emotionally and more dependent on parents for basic care than older siblings.
Congratulations on your family’s beautifully imperfect growth!

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