Your Questions Answered: My Stepdaughter’s Wedding

4 11 2009

Hello –

I am at such a loss of what to do. I am a kind and caring person, when I remarried 6 years ago my world turned upside down. I am automatically the wicked witch of the west and nothing I do is right. I have never in my life been treated so poorly by other human beings AND they get away with it.

A little history, we have 9 kids between us. Husband has 5 and I have 4. He raised 3 of his kids, living with his parents. His ex-wife raised 2 kids, took them back to Iowa, remarried. End of that story. The two girls that lived with her basically hated it because they missed out on everything, plus they lived in an attic. The first year I married him we spent the whole year trying to get custody of the two girls, 24/7 that is all he was about.We did not get them, $10,000 later. I took my 3 kids out of their safe environment moved in with him and his two kids, what a nightmare. My kids and I were treated poorly by two spoiled brat girls.

Fast forward. Oldest daughter of my husband gets married, I am asked to handle EVERYTHING. From altering the wedding dress, making bridesmaid dresses, reception, food,etc. Had two months to plan it. Her mom pays $300 towards the wedding dress then writes a note to my husband that she cannot do any more than that.

Everything was planned around the mother, her comfort was the most important, the whole reception was moved to another town because she did not want it have it where the girls live, it made her feel awkward. So breaking my back I did everything I could in the time frame I had. Of course the mother comes and she is all that. I think my husband and I were in about 5 pictures, which we paid for and still to this day have not seen. Totally ignored by the daughters that day. My husband and I sit on the grooms side at the very end of the table because there is no room by the bride. My husband, my daughters and my husband were the only ones that stayed to help clean up.

Doing the wedding did not change anything about my relationship with his daughter, she still does not give me the time of day.I feel like any time doing anything for his children is a wasted effort and takes time away from my children. We just have my 13 year old at home now with us. Two of my children moved out months earlier than they should of because of poor treatment.

Fast forward again. Second oldest daughter is engaged a week ago. Wedding in two months. I am asked again by the daughter to do the wedding. Her mom calls the newly engaged daughter, I cannot do anything to help she tells her. Bypasses the dad because he called her and asked what could she do to help. But she will show up again and be all that.

So I am sitting here, how did I get to do this again? The grandmother mentions, why is her name even on the announcement, she never does anything. So I mention it to my husband, proper ettiquete is those who contribute, their names are on the announcement. The mothers name should not be on the announcement. So word gets to the daughter, I won’t do the wedding unless the mothers name is not on the announcement. Wow, I am the bad guy already and it hasn’t even started.

Important part of all this, my husband has been unemployed, just got a job a week ago, we have been on assistance from our church. We don’t even have enough money to pay our own bills. Christmas is coming…I am so overwhelmed at this time.

Another important point is that I have been in therapy for a few years off and on because of a lot of issues being remarried, being treated poorly and I have discussed the issue about the wedding and he says not to put myself in that position again. My husband says, it will make me look better than the mother. Who cares? I feel used and abused again, it is expected of me to do this and just let it be that. I can’t enjoy the holidays and just knowing that I have to be doing all this during the holidays makes me sick to my stomach. It doesn’t seem fair, and I do realize, being a stepmom, nothing is fair but knowing that I will do everything again and have the mom prance in like she did everything makes me very angry.

Help??? Any advice for a stubborn, abused stepmom?

Dear Stubborn, Abused Stepmom:

Before I write a word I want you to close the door to the room you’re in so you’re all alone. Once you’ve done that I want you to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your arms in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Then take five deep breaths all the way down into your abdomen. Seriously. Do it right now. Here’s a message to all of us stepmoms: STRESS CAN KILL YOU. It is impossible to think clearly and creatively when your body is in a flight or fight response. So take a walk, calm your body, quiet your mind.

Now. Here are my thoughts.

1. Start with what’s working. You are still with your husband. Why? What are your family’s strengths? What really works well between you and your husband? I ask you this question first on purpose. Research by pioneers including John Gottman and Barbara Frederickson has shown that if you have more positive emotions in your life you are FAR more resilient, creative, and energized to get through tough times. So what is going right at this time? What are you grateful for even in the middle of this painful period of your life?

2. Connect with your husband. Do everything in your power to get some alone time with your spouse. Before you share your feelings about the wedding, talk about a memory you both have that was really fun for both of you and made you both feel loved by the other. Then share with him how hard this wedding is for you. Share your hurt feelings and anger with him. Tell him that you are struggling to let go of the anger you have at his children because your feelings are hurt. Use the all-important “I” language. Tell him what you told me, that you don’t know if you can go through this again. Ask him what the first wedding was like for him. Be curious and open to his experience and opinions. Brainstorm TOGETHER ways to handle this second wedding so that you turn toward each other instead of away. Be a team.

3. Stop the rumination. You were hurt at your first stepdaughter’s wedding by her and the rest of the family’s treatment of you. (Understandably.) But this one event has fueled your memories of pain from past events as well and they have built on each other. So, I want you to try to let go of rumination, which is when we think about a painful thing over and over again until it builds and builds until it sucks you down into a spiral of negativity that is very hard to recover from. Focus on the upcoming wedding. That is the issue at hand.

4. Set up boundaries. You were hurt before. You don’t want to be hurt again. This makes sense. Your human! And stepmothers have it especially hard at weddings. If you are too hurt and angry to participate, then explain to your stepdaughter that you want to help her but you also don’t want to be hurt again. Before you have this conversation make sure you know what you would feel good doing for her and what you will not do. It’s perfectly okay to protect yourself.

5. Look at it from her point of view. Weddings are tough on everyone. Stepkids are usually stuck in the middle of some really tough situations on a day that is supposed to be on of the most special in their lives. They’ve got to worry about Stepmom, Stepdad, Mom, Dad, siblings, half-siblings, the groom’s family, and the extended families too! It’s enough to make a girl want to elope. Cultivate your compassion for her, even though she’s hurt you in the past.

6. Forgive. The anger you are carrying around in your heart is real and understandable. But research shows that anger is a killer. It does terrible things to our bodies and our mental health. It is in your best interest to practice forgiveness. Every time an angry thought comes up say to yourself, “I forgive you.” If you believe in God or a higher power, then every time an angry thought comes up say, “I forgive you and I wish the best for you. May God be with you.” Do it over and over again and eventually by choosing to let go of the anger with intention, you will feel so much better.

7. Be kind to you. Don’t wait on other people to praise you or thank you for all your efforts. That’s victim thinking. Instead, give yourself the comforting and pats on the back you need! Find ways to expand your self-confidence and self-love by spending time doing things you enjoy.

Your Questions Answered: Weddings

27 09 2009

Hi, I am getting married next April to a man that has a six-year-old daughter. We are all excited about the trip we are going to be taking, except I am feeling disappointed with some thoughts I have been having about a few things for the trip.

First, I’m not a bridezilla at all, in fact I am very laid back. But the few things I do care about are the things that I can not change. For one, my fiance and I obviously won’t be able to have our own room during the trip. I’m sure his daughter will be able to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple nights but mostly she will be sleeping with us….in our bed. That is one other problem we have been having, co-sleeping, which is a different topic all together. Anyway, I don’t feel like this wedding is as romantic as I’d like it to be due to that, which I see as a problem. I want this one time to be about us because we are always sharing everything with his daughter, which is fine and fun but, just not the bed.

Second, I feel that the time will be a little more stressful for me since I have a much harder time relaxing when she is with us. Whenever I do anything, she must do the same. I see this as a huge compliment but at the same time a burden. I can’t get away with anything, not even putting make up on without her wanting the same. Most times I don’t have a problem with it but it’s when I do have to say no, she thinks I am being mean and pulls out the “not very nice” card tricks. I feel that there will be many times like this during the wedding since there will be a lot of things that are special and different for a wedding and she might not be able to have every thing I have done. She’s an only child and is used to getting everything and she’s learning how to play it up too! ūüėÄ

How do I make us all feel together without having to feel mean during this happy time?! But how do I still make this feel special for my fiance and me and enjoy the one and only time something is about us!?

Can you please send me some thoughts on how to not feel like I’m the child during this whole process and enjoy our wedding day/trip?! I want a healthy and happy relationship with my stepdaughter, which I have most of the time, but I also want a relationship with my soon-to-be husband too! Thank you so much!

Dear Reader,

What you’re describing here are feelings many, many women who are joining a stepfamily have around the wedding. When you don’t have kids of your own the emotions¬†that having to share your wedding day with a stepchild are even more challenging. So thank you for writing in! There are several things you can do to make this easier.

Create time together.
The first thing you need to do is sit down with your husband-to-be to discuss how you and he will create the time alone together that you need during this trip. Because it is your wedding day, it is important that you feel connected to him on that day. Ask your fiance to enlist the grandparents or another trusted family member to watch his daughter the entire day of your wedding and your wedding night. Yes, stepmothers do have to compromise when stepchildren are in the picture, but it is critical that you at least have the day of and your wedding night.

Start setting boundaries now.
The co-sleeping issue is a common one. Setting a boundary around your bedroom is not unreasonable when there is a new stepparent but it is challenging for biological parents and kids, especially if your partner and his daughter were on their own for awhile. Start transitioning your stepdaughter out of your bed now by having your husband take her back to her own bed and reading her a story there or snuggling with her for a few minutes before he returns to his own bed. That way you will reduce the chance of a meltdown on your wedding night.

Imagine her feelings.
No matter how well you get along, your stepdaughter is likely going to have some tough feelings on your wedding day. At the same time that your dreams are beginning, hers are coming to an end. Research tells us that most children harbor fantasies that Mom and Dad will get back together. But on your wedding day, that all comes to a crashing end. Don’t be surprised if she acts out on that day. Even if Mom has passed on and getting back together is not an option, your stepdaughter might feel she is losing her father to you and that you will be replacing her in his affection.

Do your homework now.
The transition into new stepfamily life has wonderful moments and challenging ones. If you know what is normal when stepfamilies get together then you won’t beat yourself up as much or think that a child is being outrageous when really it’s just part of the¬† development cycle of stepfamilies. Make sure you read up on what happens in the first few years of new stepfamily life. A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmomtalks specifically about this transition and¬†gives information that is specific to single gals turned stepmoms. Books such as The Enlightened Stepmother and Stepmotherhood also do a great job of describing what life as a stepmother is like.