Your Questions Answered: Stepmoms who have Stepmoms

14 07 2009

Hi Jacque!

I’m an adult stepkid and also a stepmom. My question is about my stepkid relationship. When I call my Dad and stepmom to say hello and plan a short visit, there is always underlying tension. And being a stepmom myself, I’m very respectful of my stepmom’s feelings of (un-stated) stress around the visit. So I respectfully tip-toe through the conversation.

As a stepmom, I don’t want to put my stepson through this awkward situation when he’s older. And as a stepkid, I’m curious how other adult stepkids work around this. Does anyone have advice for smooth navigation?

I guess I should mention that the trip to see my Dad and stepmom is a 3-hour drive… so it includes an overnight stay.

What a fantastic question! Thanks for sending it in. As a stepmom and stepdaughter myself I can completely relate. I’ll tell you my thoughts on this topic but please, if any of you reading this have ideas to share, please do! The more wisdom we can gather for each other, the better. In the meantime, here’s my two cents:

  • If possible don’t triangulate the relationship. You won’t know why there is underlying tension from your stepmother unless you ask her. Instead of going through your father,  try having an open discussion with her directly about what you could do to help make visits less stressful for everyone. Approach the issue as one adult to another. (This is not always easy or possible to do.)
  • Let go of your own need to please. If your stepmother is tense and unwilling to talk to you about it at all or without a fight, then the issue is hers to deal with. Unfortunately, an unhappy stepmother affects everyone. You’ll have to do what you need to do to make your own family feel comfortable. For instance, I’m assuming that you stay at your father’s house when you visit. Perhaps instead of staying at their house, you could book a night at a nearby hotel.
  • Ask them to visit you. Space can be a touchy issue. Sometimes if you change up the location of family visits, it can help change the tone of an event. You can ask them to visit you or meet somewhere in the middle in a place that doesn’t have any emotional baggage connected with it.
  • Be a good house guest.When we are children, relationships are mandatory in most cases. When we’re adults, we get to choose who we will spend our time with–and that includes choosing whether or not we will connect as adults with our parents and stepparents. Make sure if you are staying with your parents that you help out. Offer to pay for groceries, show up with a bottle of wine, ask if you can help sweep the floor or take the garbage out. Your stepmother probably has a certain way she runs her household and as adult stepchildren we need to respect those boundaries even if stepmom and dad are living in our childhood home.
  • Have an open door policy. As for your own stepson, the best way to make him feel relaxed about visits to your house as an adult is to make him feel welcome. If you’ve taken over his childhood room and turned it into a den, make sure to at least have a bed made up where he can sleep when he arrives. Plan dinners and activities together so you can spend time getting to know each other as adults. And just like when he was a minor, find ways that he can spend alone time with both you and his dad so you can all bond one-on-one.



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