Your Questions Answered: From a Stepdaughter

21 10 2009

Dear Jacque, My dad and stepmom have been married for 15 years. I am now 30 years old and she and I still have an entirely broken and bitter relationship. Can you recommend any books specifically for healing adult blended families (particularly with a long history together)? I am on the verge of giving up.

Thank you for sending in such a great question. I have to give you major kudos for wanting to work on your relationship with your stepmother. I don’t know of any books that speak directly to your question but you might check out Making Adult Stepfamilies Work by Jean Lipman-Blumen and Grace Gabe. It’s more about what to do when families get together later in life so it’s not an exact fit. If anyone has ideas of other books, please respond to this post and help our reader out.

I’m guessing that your early years with your dad and stepmom were challenging simply because you were 15 when they got married and that is a tough, tough age. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) You raise an interesting point that not only do children have to come to terms and with and heal from their childhood, so do parents who live through a high-conflict time. Here are a few things I would offer you wearing both my stepmom and stepdaughter hats:

Compliment her. Pointing out the positives about her role in your life can have MAJOR healing power. Compliment what she did for you and the positive parts of her personality or her relationship with your dad.

Ask your stepmother and dad what that time was like for them. It can be hard for adults to accept that their kids and stepkids have changed as they’ve grown to adulthood. They hang on to what we were like back then. Your stepmother could be holding on to the girl you used to be. Asking her what it was like for her and listening to her with an open heart can have a powerful effect on relationships that need healing. And of course, if you haven’t done so, share with her what it was like for you.

Apologize for your part and ask for an apology. Make the past the past by apologizing for your part in the conflict. It’s true that our parents “were the adults” and “should have known” to do things that would not harm us, but the fact is our parents are human just like we are. So apologize for your behavior. Then ask for an apology back so you can all put the past in the past and move forward.

Find common ground. Are there things you both like to do that have already provided you with a sense of camaraderie or at least a sense of peace? For instance, a lot of adult stepchildren and stepparents are able to heal the wounds of the past when grandchildren are born. Playing with a child or doing something fun together like attending a play or having a cup of coffee at a favorite coffee shop can provide a new way for you and your stepmom to bond.

Spend one-on-one time. Get your Dad out of the picture. Spend time alone with your stepmother and talk to each other. Learn about her life. Tell her about yours. Even if you’ve heard all the stories before, you’ll hear them differently now that you’re an adult and vice versa.

I hope you’ll keep us posted on how things work out for you and your stepmom! It can take hard work to let go of the hurts of the past but it’s worth it.

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