Your Questions Answered: Becoming a Stepchild at 52

6 10 2010

Dear Jacque,

My Dad got married 10 days ago. I have lived with him for the past 25 years, part of that time taking care of my mom and then sharing the house with him after she died for 13 years. I am having a hard time letting go of my responsibilities in the house and I refuse to call my dad’s new wife my step mom. I should share with you that I an 52, and the house prior to the marriage was willed to me. Now that is all up in the air as well as my emotions. My question is do I have to recognize her as a step parent? I just want to call her my Dad’s wife.

Thank you for sending in this question! Your email illustrates something we can all learn from. The dynamics at play in stepfamily life happen no matter how old you are. Why? Because ultimately when a new stepfamily forms, it throws all sorts of things out of balance. It raises questions that family members have rarely asked each other before: Who are we as a family? What does family mean? Who is on the “inside” and who is on the “outside?” Will my father’s feelings change for me? What will this mean to my inheritance? These are all valid questions. And scary questions.

When there are end-of-life issues at stake, we don’t want our loved ones to feel like we’re being greedy, so it’s even more awkward.

My advice is almost always the same on issues where confusion has arisen due to stepfamily dynamics: Talk about it. As uncomfortable as it might be, it is important that you have a conversation with your father about how this is going to change the will. And it is only fair that he be open with you about it. Death is not something we like to talk about. And talking about what will happen to our assets when we go is not fun either, but it must be done. You are going to have to deal with this when he passes. And if your father’s new wife outlives him, you will have to work with her. You might use language such as, “This is not going to be a comfortable conversation, but this new marriage raises many questions for me. Instead of walking around wondering, I think we should have an open conversation about end-of-life issues.”

Change is difficult. As scary as it might be for you to contemplate a different kind of life, I will ask you this: What good can come out of this for you? If you don’t get the house or decide to move out and have to remake your life into something that looks very different from what you thought it would be, it will be scary. But sometimes the scariest things we face are the best for us.

As for the name question. You should call your stepmother what you feel comfortable calling her. You are both adults and this is a relationship of choice. She’s not going to be raising you or parenting you. Again I would advise having an open discussion about this. “You know what, it makes me uncomfortable to call you stepmom. How about if I just call you by your first name? What do you think?”

Eventually everyone will figure out what the new normal is in your family.  Best wishes to you during this tumultuous time.

Advertisements