Your Questions Answered: Missing My Stepdaughter

8 06 2010

Hi Jacque,

I guess I should give you some of our history. My husband is from KY and was married to his ex for 1 year before she began cheating on him again. They had a prior engagement that he broke off once he discovered her infidelity. However once he took her back she was magically pregnant shortly after that. They married after my SD was born and like I previously said the marriage only lasted one year with many separations in between. I had met my husband, he was here in MD for subcontractor work, the weekend before he split with his then wife. (My stepdaughter was 16 months old at the time.) We were engaged after 5 months and married on our 1 year. BM was in the habit of denying my husband from seeing his daughter unless it was convenient for her etc. so a court order was put into place. My stepdaughter began coming home every other month for two weeks and then an additional two weeks for summer vaca and alternating holidays. My stepdaughter and I love each other very much and are as close as can be expected. Her mother is a tyrant and she would rather live with us but unfortunately there isn’t anything we can do at this point to make the change.

My stepdaughter started kindergarten last year and the transition was very hard for all of us. Another court order was put into place to address our time with her since she was attending school. BM remarried at the beginning of this year. So my stepdaughter has had many changes to overcome and through out it all she has always seemed to enjoy our nightly calls or at least would talk for a few minutes.

The last month or so has seen a lot of bickering from BM, who doesn’t want to follow our order, and there has been a drastic change in stepdaughter’s disposition on the phone. Most of the time she barely answers the phone before saying bye and hanging up. A few times we have gotten her to talk but I just don’t know how to deal with this rejection. My problem is that I miss my SD terribly when she is not home but talking to her at night has sustained me. Now I don’t know whether she is depressed and doesn’t want to talk or she is receiving hand signals to hang up the phone. BM only has her cellphone in the house and I know she doesn’t give my stepdaughter open access to it to call us.

Do you have any tips for me to deal with this sense of loss when stepdaughter is not around? Thank You

Dear Stepmom,

I want to thank you for loving your stepdaughter so much. The loving heart of an adult is a gift to any child of divorce. You didn’t mention how much time you get with her or what your spouse’s relationship is like with his daughter, so I will answer this with some of the clues that I sense here.

Maintain a vision of love. Your stepdaughter is going through some challenging times. One of the great difficulties of stepfamily life is that we simply have no idea what is going on at the other house. We have to rely on our observations, the things the ex says, and clues left by the children, but it sounds like this girl is caught in a loyalty bind. You were right to point out that your stepdaughter is going through some tough transitions: school, a new stepfather. That alone is enough to cause a child to act out. If Mom is badmouthing Dad and you to their daughter on top of the changes, that can have a dramatic affect on how she acts toward you. You didn’t mention if her treatment of her father has changed but that would be another indicator of a girl who is caught in a loyalty bind. (She wants to feel loyal to her mother and so she must cut ties with you in order to do that, for instance.) During this time, maintain a vision of love for your stepdaughter that encompasses the big-picture view. Hopefully someday she’ll be able to return your love. But for now it sounds like it is far too complicated and far too painful for her to do so.

Be consistent. Children respond to consistency in action. They pay attention to what we do. And over time that has an impact on their sense of selves and their world-view. If it’s possible, continue the phone calls but instead of asking her questions about her life (this could make her feel like she is ratting out her mom) instead share things with her about you. Chat about an age-appropriate movie or book or world event. Tell her about your best Halloween costume. Take the pressure off of her and she’ll thank you in the long run. And if she doesn’t thank you, I’ll do it for her. THANK YOU!

Educate yourself about childhood developmental stages. You didn’t mention whether or not you have any children of your own. If you don’t, then do a little reading on the developmental stages of children. Believe me, it makes it a lot easier to accept and understand a kid’s bad behavior if you understand why it’s happening. Sometimes a surly face is caused by their age and stage in life and not because they’re mad at you.

Protect yourself by understanding stepfamily dynamics. All of the stepfamily folks will tell you “don’t take it personally.” And they are right. This girl’s behavior is not aimed at you. Or if it is, it’s not because of you. It’s because of the situation she is in. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to shut off our feelings! Nor should we. But you need to protect your own feelings by educating yourself about stepfamily life. (Read Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt to understand children of divorce, for instance.) Work to develop other ways of finding validation and love besides your stepdaughter so that you feel like a whole, strong, lovable person NO MATTER WHAT. Even if she doesn’t want to talk to you (or can’t because it will hurt her mother,) you are still a glorious soul who deserves love and appreciation. NO MATTER WHAT.

Meet other stepmothers. Having other women to talk to can help normalize your experiences. Find a group of ladies who can help you brainstorm positive ways to overcome your stepfamily challenges. (The upcoming Stepmom Circles Retreat would be a great way to meet other stepmoms!)

Build positive experiences. When you do see your stepdaughter, have fun together! Work on ways to connect in the time you do have and she’ll remember those moments when she gets to make her own choices about who she is going to call or visit. And that day will come faster than you think.

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3 responses

8 06 2010
Kate

I know exactly how you feel. I miss my SD who we live far away from, and wish there were more ways to connect with her. I keep a blog of all the feelings I have and I post pictures of us and our lives for her to look back on some day and see how much we missed her. I get so down sometimes, but I try to remember that someday she will be able to call us on her own and be around us when she wants to. I am holding out for that day, and loving every second I get to be with her.

12 08 2010
Cindi

Oh, I can relate. My Step-daughter is 7 years old. I helped my DH raise her after his divorce when she was only 2. We got along so well and were very close. Then as her mother became aware of this closeness I had with her, she got very jealous and possesive of SD and wouldn’t let DH take her on the weekends if I was going to be around (this is before we got married). Since then, it’s been a legal battle from hell and in the meantime, her mother has been filling her head with garbage and lies about me! It’s awful. I’ve become the evil step-mother without deserving the title.

27 02 2011
Jessica

Cindy,
I can completely relate. My bf is currently going through legal issues with his ex and she constantly tells him and the children that it is MY fault they are here and having to go through this. Well they were divorced before I even met him so I am not quite sure how it is my fault. He is finally just past the guilty stage and not letting her walk all over him like he did before. I just pray she finds something better to do with her life than to make up stories about me and make everybody miserable. I hope your situation has improved since your post. ❤

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