Your Questions Answered: A Surprise Stepchild

19 11 2009

Dear Jacque,

A few months after I met my now husband, he discovered (through paternity testing) that he had a child from a relationship 9 years prior. The child’s mother waited for 9 years to seek child support and never established contact between my husband and her or the child (they lived 2,000 miles away).

This past year, the child’s (now 14) mother established contact with my husband and ultimately my husband has finally talked to his son online, over Skype and emails. Father and son seem to enjoy their talks and my husband is planning a trip to see him in the next few weeks. I don’t plan on going mostly because this boy hasn’t even met his father yet; bringing along an extra “mom-type” wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

I have done everything in my capability to be a good stepmom to the two kids that we share custody with with his ex-wife. In fact, some would say I’ve gone above and beyond the Stepmom call of duty. I love my stepkids and consider them like my own.

What perplexes me is that I can’t seem to wrap my head (or heart) around liking this third kid. I want to consider him part of our family, but I’m struggling with that. I admire my husband for stepping up and wanting to establish a relationship with this kid but I feel like a horrible person because I don’t want to deal with the new extension of our stepfamily.

Our custodial kids don’t know about their half-brother and we have no intentions of telling them at the moment. Both kids tend to have behavioral issues when confronted with major upheavals (as could be expected).

Any advice for how I can maintain my sanity while I warm up to an “extra” stepchild?

Dear reader: As a custodial stepmother you’ve already worked your tail off. It doesn’t seem fair that you are now faced with yet another emotional hurdle to jump, one that could potentially disrupt the hard-won stepfamily harmony you’ve already established at home. I do have some thoughts for you.

Allow yourself to have an emotional reaction.  Of course you’re going to react emotionally to such powerful news. Give yourself the time and space to cry or scream. Get it out. Embody your hurt or feelings of betrayal fully so that they don’t continue to sit in you and fester into something that will then leak out of you over time to poison you and your family. Search your heart for what is so painful about this revelation. If you can’t have children of your own, does it rub salt in an open wound? Does this make you feel differently about your spouse, as though you’ve been cheated on? React. And remember that anger often covers up the true emotions underneath. Be brave and seek out the truth in your heart. Be honest about your feelings with your husband. Get your feelings out on the table so you can look at them, deal with them, and move on with your lives.

Take it slow. I was glad to hear you didn’t jump on a plane and rush out to be part of yet another stepfamily structure the second you heard about this new development in your family. This really is your husband’s responsibility. He’s going to have to take it slow with the boy and you can take it even more easy. Allow your husband to figure out what kind of relationship he’s going to have with his son and then together the two of you can figure out what your approach will be.

Be open to unexpected gifts. In the classic hero’s journey recorded in the myths and stories of cultures around the world, there is always a moment where the hero faces a trial that she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to overcome. But she does somehow. And in the morning she finds out something amazing she never would have learned if not for the dark night of the soul initiation rite she passed through. Entertain this idea for a moment: What if this boy has entered your lives to teach you all a valuable lesson or give you a generous gift?

Be extra kind to yourself. I am serious about this. Time after time I coach stepmothers who promise they will make sure to include self-care in their daily regimen and don’t. They put everyone else’s needs before their own. (You know who you are!) So take out your calendar and schedule time EVERY DAY to do something that makes you feel good. Even if it’s only five minutes, or five deep breaths, you need to be gentle with yourself right now. If this is hard for you, listen to the Stepmom Circles Podcast in which I interview Pilar Gerasimo who clearly spells out the research-tested, doctor-approved reasons why we MUST include self-care as a regular activity.

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