What to Do When All Hope Is Lost

10 02 2010

I’ve had many letters recently from stepmothers who have hit rock bottom. So I wanted to write a post about what to do when you feel that all hope is lost and you can see nothing ahead but darkness. Most of us feel paralyzed when we’re in that hopeless place. We don’t know where to turn or what to do to start feeling better or to heal our families or our own bruised hearts. I am not going to pretend that I can solve this for you but I am going to suggest some actions you can take to help turn your gaze back to hope.

Protect your heart. Realize that you are worthy of love, you are loveable, and you deserve to be treated with respect. Handle your heart with care. Work to build your self-esteem like you build your muscles in the gym. What is one thing you can do today to protect your gorgeous heart?

Plan something to look forward to. The feeling of anticipation can help us quickly move from despair to hope. First plan something small that you can do in the next week or two that gives you that zing of excitement. Spend an afternoon at the coffee shop with a good book, head to a spa for a decadent treatment, or buy tickets to a show. Then sit down with your spouse to plan some bigger outings. For instance, you might plan a trip somewhere just the two of you next winter. Start ripping pictures of beach views or European cities or rugged mountains out of magazines. Make a file and then go out and purchase one small thing for the trip.

Stop talking. If you and your spouse have been around and around about something (money, sex life, the kids, the BM) then take a holiday for a week (or two if you’re really brave) from talking about anything challenging. Any time either of you are tempted to bring up a hot topic, have a code word or phrase you can say:  “This is the house of no fighting!” You have plenty of time to talk about your conflict later. Right now, be quiet.

Ride it out with gentleness. Sometimes you have to ride through challenging times. The first three years of stepfamily development, for instance, are some tough years when you have to create a strong marriage, bond with your stepkids, set boundaries with ex, get used to living with new people, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Remember that you will come out the other side of these challenging times. While you’re in this difficult place, be extra gentle with yourself, please.

Fill your well. For those of you who have read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, you’ll recognize this one. She maintains that an artist has to fill her creative well or she will be depleted and won’t be able to create new things. This is true of all of us. So take a break from your life and fill your well with things you love to do that make you feel light-hearted and glad to be alive. Do this at least once a week if not once a day. Filling the well can be anything from a trip to an outing to ten deep cleansing meditative breaths. It can also be as simple as stopping to look at the ocean or the snow-covered trees.

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14 responses

10 02 2010
Dayle

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I spent last night screaming like an out of control maniac one minute and then collapsed in tears the next. My relationship with my husband seems to be ok for a day or two and then step-daughter issues put us right back in the ring again. I don’t know what to do differently. I read to her, do craft projects with her, bake with her, do homework with her and then when I happen to spend time by myself on the computer and she’s in the house I am immediately accused of not being there for her. Last night I said something like stop saying things that make me sound like I’m a horrible person and he said “you are a horrible person.” That’s when I really started screaming. I mean screaming. Like out of control screaming. We went to bed without speaking but this morning he curled up around me and I think now we’re pretending nothing happened b/c we’re snowed in together. I am miserable. I feel like I’m losing myself and I know I need to take steps to care for myself (I at least started P90X yesterday so at least I’m taking care of my body) but besides that I’m feeling really really lost, lonely and hopeless. Do I really have three years of this before it gets better? Thank you for posting your advice…it really means a lot to those of us only married for 8 months and really struggling with these issues.

10 02 2010
SteppedinTrouble

Dayle,

I have had night after night after night of your exact situation. Honestly I could have written that reply. Hang in there. I’ve been working through all of this for almost 5 years, and it’s still hard, but we are doing so much better finally. What worked for us was to get into counseling. It only took 3 or 4 sessions before hubby and I learned to come together but we waited too many years before we went. Give you and you husband a few therapy sessions for Valentines Day this year. It will be well worth it!

10 02 2010
Dayle

It seems sad to say that I am glad there are others out there who are going through what I’m going through (b/c, truly, no one should have to go through this) but it is a huge relief to know that I’m not going crazy. My husband and I have been tiptoeing around each other all day (which is probably better than fighting I guess) and while I would love to start a conversation in peace time, I am afraid of lighting a fire again. I’m sure we need some counseling but I feel like I need some therapy again too. I feel like I am falling apart as a person and that all these demons that I’ve worked so hard to rid myself of over time are coming back again. It feels like the stress of the situation is making me revert back to my old ways (e.g., quick to anger, quick to be snotty, quick to doubt myself, quick to withdraw, etc.) and I’m so so tired. Again, thanks for being an ear out there – it really does help to know that I’m not alone! Hugs, D

11 02 2010
Stepmom

Fellow stepmoms – I hear you all and it does get better!! I’ve been married almost three years to a wonderful man with two teenager daughters, the older (just turned 18) lives with us, the younger (14) with her BM. When we were on vacation the two of us (and we took and take plenty of vacations with the girls) celebrating our first anniversary, my stepdaughter lied to us and had a party in our home. They drank all our alcohol, had sex all over the house (we found condoms), slept in our bed, ransacked our house and stole cell phones, ipods and $6000 worth of my jewelry. Talk about a dark time. But after much screaming, counseling, crying, we are a much stronger family and I’m actually quite close to my 18 year old stepdaughter. So this too shall pass, hang in there, build the relationships before they become teenagers, because that’s a whole new world. I say my prayers every week for me and my stepdaughters and I’ll keep this community in there too.

11 02 2010
MomofTwo

Dayle,

I could have written (many, many, times) what you wrote. I have two steps that, it pains me to say this, I can’t stand. I don’t like one thing about them. The way the walk, talk, eat…nothing! When it is our week with them, I feel like an outcast in my.own.home. It is so frustrating to live with people who have no respect for you and whom you dislike. The stepdaughter has stolen items and has gone through personal papers and the like. The trouble is – their father does nothing. I don’t foresee any relationship because frankly, I don’t want one. My husband and I have had more fights than I care to mention. We have even come close to divorcing and I wish I could tell you there aren’t times when the thought crosses my mind. This is not easy and I know I offered you no help/suggestions. Just know it isn’t you and you aren’t alone!

A big hug from one frustrated stepmom to another!

14 02 2010
Tamela

MomofTwo, I am sorry to read of your hardship but also glad that I am not the only one who has these feelings. My husband and I have been married for 16 months. He has two children, ages 10 and 15 that are with us every other weekend. I get along fairly well with the 10 year old boy but the 15 year old and I tolerate each other…barely. Like you, I can’t stand one thing about her. She’s a spoiled princess brat. Her father knows this yet does nothing to correct it. I’m just about at my wits end. I love my husband with all my heart which makes this even harder. Some days (like today) I am ready to pack a bag and get the hell out of here. In retrospect I wonder why I even started dating my husband. I have never wanted children and if a man had children I wouldn’t date him. Not that I hate children or anything like that; I just never desired that (this) type of life. Now…here I am. Smack dab in the middle of my worst nightmare! My husband is a wonderful, loving, caring man and tries his best to make everyone happy but he’s fighting a losing battle. I beat myself up constantly because I feel like a horrible person for not being happy. I mean, in the big scheme of things I have a wonderful life. I’ve been diagnosed with depression which I know was brought on by my situation as I’ve never been depressed before in my life. It’s affecting every aspect of my life: work, friendships, health, marriage. I’m really scared.

17 02 2010
Dayle

Wow Tamela, you are definitely not alone b/c I could have written “It’s affecting every aspect of my life: work, friendships, health, marriage. I’m really scared.” My step-d is 9 years old now and we too get along fine but I see the future teenager in her developing and am terrified that things are only going to get harder and that I’m soon going to look at her and see a “spoiled princess brat” as well (while her father sees a perfect princess, period.) As a childless stepmom myself, my husband often accuses me of not understanding or not loving her the way I’m supposed to (whatever that means) b/c I’m not a parent. He also often says that if it was my child I wouldn’t feel the way I do about things and I wonder how much of this is true. If it were my child would I find her as annoying? Would I see her as a spoiled brat? Maybe but maybe not. I think it’s really hard when these children aren’t ours and it’s easier to see their flaws than if they were our own children. I know I look at my nieces who I adore and while I see their flaws (and talk about spoiled princess brats!) yet I don’t care about their flaws nor do I judge them as harshly as I do my step-d. Is this b/c they are family and I thus love them differently or have a different set of rules? I’m not sure but it’s something to consider as we find ourselves with this outsider perspective that may be different if they were our children. I don’t know if this helps or not but I’ve been trying to focus on this and to be more mindful of my thoughts and other perspectives b/c I feel like I’m going to break if I don’t! Hang in there! hugs, Dayle

22 02 2010
Scottish Mum

Boy, do I know how most of you feel here!

My issue is that I really understand what my stepdaughter went through but at the time I was powerless to do anything about it. My husband’s ex was obviously poisoning his daughter’s mind against me (what 8-year old calls her Dad’s girlfriend, who she’s never met, a bitch/tart/whore one day then breaks down in tears the next time saying she really wants to meet her but “Mummy won’t let me”)

Sadly my husband did nothing as he didn’t want to upset his ex, so it went on for several years, me staying away, so we could never have his daughter to stay with us and at one point he had a lawyer’s letter from his ex saying he wasn’t even allowed to mention my name in his daughter’s earshot!

I tried to encourage him to keep seeing his daughter but he stopped, refusing to do so until he, his ex and their daughter all had counselling to establish what the daughter really wanted (but the ex refused). Poor little kid, I’d never met her and I could see she was being used as a weapon between her two parents.

So when she and I eventually met, some five years later, she clearly blamed me for her not seeing her Dad and made it pointedly clear she loathed me. I was fully expecting this but had a nasty shock when my husband didn’t turn a hair, basically giving her the green light to be openly rude to me. Now she’s an adult she feels the same. Though I’m the one who tried to get her Dad to see her and I’m the one that has to remind him to send her a birthday card, I still get the blame for him not seeing her enough.

So I think my case is pretty hopeless and I’ve finally decided (we’re now over 12 years on here) to give up and move on. Reflecting on what might have been would just carve me up – I used to get terribly upset as I wanted us all to get on and I think had we had the chance with nobody trying to cause difficulties, we could have got on. I’m sure she’s a really lovely person, but through her experiences, what her mother (who doesn’t know me at all) has told her about me she still really loathes me, or at best dislikes me. I can understand it but I don’t see how I should let myself be hurt by it any more.

I have a tiny glimmer of hope that one day when she’s a lot older she might realise that things are never so black and white as the Cinderella story, but to protect myself and my own children I have to accept there’s a very high chance it will never happen.

I think if the second marriage is strong then stepmums can get on very well with their stepkids, but they need a husband to support them and an ex-wife who doesn’t want to spoil things by telling lies about the new partner. Most stepmums understand that the poor kids are caught in the middle and are therefore going to have difficulty accepting them. I think what a lot of stepmums have difficulty with is the realisation that their husbands are not prepared to do anything about it.

To any stepmum out there whose husband is committed to supporting them and creating a happy blended family, you lucky, lucky people! You have a fantastic opportunity to be happy and to have a good relationship with your stepkids. Please grab it with both hands!!

28 08 2010
meg

ive been with my boyfriend for 3 years, ive known him all my life and i new he had 3 children, a 9 year old girl, 13 year old boy and 14 year old girl. but when we first dated they lived with their mum and stayed with us every other weekend, the thought of them living with their dad didnt cross my mind, but they now live with us full time, they are very rude to each other and to other people, they swear, punch, kick and call each other bad names. the dad tells them but they laugh and speak to him like rubbish. i tell them off but they dont listen to me either. i havent got children but i no that mine wouldnt speak and act like that. they havent had a bad upbringing and they always have things so theres no reason for there behaviour. sometimes i wonder why im here but then i realise im here because i love my boyfriend not them. i try so much to get on with them, i take them out, buy them things yet they treat me bad, they dont respect me at all, ive chatted with them and we get on sometimes but im going out of my mind with them. i dont want them around anymore and the thought of me being with them untill they move home is crazy. but i love my boyfriend and dont want to leave him, yet i cant see me staying with these kids. im stuck. can any one offer me any advice please

16 10 2010
Jessica

crazyadventureofunconventionalstepmom.blogspot.com

Calling All step mommys come read my blog, I think you all will like it, Ive been a step mom for three yr so I can help you new SM with advise and to all you SM who have been SM longer then Me I would really like to hear your advise

16 10 2010
Jessica

oh and thought this post was excellent 🙂

14 11 2010
Brasilmagic

If I could give anyone advice, I’d say avoid marrying men with an only daughter. My husband and his ex-wife split when their daughter was only 2. He had her every Wednesday and every other weekend, the classic set up. Because my husband hates cooking, they’d eat out together for years, just the two of them. He had a couple of girlfriends over the years, but the relationships never lasted beyond one year. So his daughter grew accustomed to having her Daddy just for herself again while the “other women” disappeared. When I came along, she was 7 years old. Very clingy and territorial with him, but I understood and was patient. It irked me though that even in later years, he and her would walk hand in hand together and leave me behind alone. I blamed him for not wanting to hold my hand and to avoid being affectionate with me in front of her. He seemed scared of showing her he liked me. It was very uncomfortable to be around both of them (better when my daughters were with us too), since he was very sweet to her (sweetie, I love you, honey) while barking at me. I once had an allergic reaction after eating shrimp fried rice in a Chinese restaurant after having dinner with both of them, with him being particularly cold and nasty with me while sweet talking her. They went home and I went back to my place only to drive myself to the hospital covered in hives and with difficulty breathing an hour later. That was a pattern for years. After she turned 16, she began to smoke pot and became more belligerent as she failed high school while seeing my kids succeed academically. Her father would hide his conversations with her and I stopped asking how she was doing. She is now 19 and started a campaign against me, clearly trying to throw her father against me and trying to break us up. Her mother feeds her even more poison. It’s awful and I’m relieved she lives 4 hours away by car and doesn’t visit frequently. She sees herself as the only woman in her fathers life, and I’m the intruder. I was always nice to her but now I want to ignore her after realizing her campaign against me. I also refuse to have dinner with them since my husband cannot be a husband in front if her, treating me badly to show her he only loves her. He forgets being a husband is a different relationship than being a father. You need to have a united front for stepkids and I actually blame my husband much more than her for this situation. I believe that even when she finds her own man she will still like to show me she’s the only one in his life. And he feeds off her hatred of me because of the guilt he must feel from the separation (and it was her mother who left him). So women out there, think twice before falling in love with a man with a daughter!

15 05 2011
Jessica C. Usnick

Oh man thats afoul you should tell your husband he needs to decide to pick you or her, meaning if he picks you his daughter can not come to the house if she disrespects you, after all his growing old with you not her!

I mean that might sound mean but you deserve happiness, and he is probably just picking the easy way because you are not holding his feet to the fire, but you deserve better and he needs to know that!

9 03 2011
Isabella

I got married to a wonderful man in 2009 with a 9 yr old boy. I am being petitioned by my husband so we have lived away from each other eversince we got married. In a couple of months we will be together finally! I know that I should be ecstatic about being reunited but I am overwhelmed and scared of the responsibility of being a stepmother. I am a single, career woman with no children. My husband had a previous relationship which bore a son. That relationship only lasted until the boy was about 1 and a half years old. So my husband became a full time dad and his son only goes to the mother every summer.

My stepson is wonderful, respectful and smart. But I feel that they both think of me as a positive “mother” figure for his son. That responsibility is so daunting and even when he calls me “Mommy” it makes me cringe. I know that I should have known all this before marrying a single dad but no one really knows except a fellow stepmother how it truly feels to be in that situation. Everytime I look at my stepson I see his mother for he looks exactly as his mother or his mother’s side of the family. I still have a hard time telling myself that this is my husband’s son because there is no trace of likeness at all.

They are both excited that we will all be together soon as a family. But I also emphasized to my husband that his son has 2 families now and he should spend equal time with them in order to be a complete person. My husband is patient with me so full of love and understanding. Whenever I feel overwhelmed with this stepmother stuff I feel so bad for I am lucky to have my husband and stepson who adore and love me.

Is this normal at all? Thank you to all amazing stepmothers! I just read this blog last night and I can’t stop it at all. It is so helpful and enriching to know all your stories. More power to us!

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