I Received this Heartfelt Email from a Stepmother…
With her permission, I’m posting it (with a few changes) and my reply. Here’s what she wrote:
I was married for 21 years to a man with two lovely children who were 6 (boy) and 8 (girl) at the time. I was the primary caretaker, and worked really hard on developing a loving bond with them. I did not have any biological children yet. The children were emotionally wounded, and I was only 20. I was way too young to take on such an enormous task.
I was successful, despite continuous sabotage from their borderline mother. My former husband expected me to be a stay-at-home mother to his children, as he had full custody for prolonged periods of time. I did, for a couple of years. He showed little support or acknowledgment of my challenges and hard work.
I was the go-to parent for the children. They sought and valued my feedback more than that of both their biological parents combined.
I eventually divorced him, after concluding I was alone in that marriage all along. He was angry and tried to punish me, by demanding his children’s loyalty and alienating them from me. They were already adults, by then. Unfortunately the lies about me and guilt did their magic, and they quit our relationship.
Their biological mother who continuously sabotaged me over the years also encouraged them to write off our relationship. I was no longer married to their father, so she convinced them there was no need to maintain a relationship with me.
I feel a profound sense of loss: it’s like a death in the family. To add insult to injury, my biological children (from that marriage) are witnessing my mean-spirited treatment, and are sad too.
Over the 12 years since the divorce, I have kept trying to maintain a relationship with my stepchildren. At times, it seems like they are open to rebuilding, but it’s inconsistent and ultimately exhausting.
Do I keep trying to reach out to my stepchildren, or do I give up?
Dear heartbroken stepmom,
I am so sorry to hear that your relationship with your stepchildren was sabotaged. The loss is not yours alone. Your stepchildren also experienced a loss: it seems like you were their anchor and nurturer in their formative years. They can’t grieve the loss of your relationship, because of the divided loyalties imposed on them by their biological parents. They instead deny themselves permission to grieve the loss of your relationship.
Parents with personality disorders such as borderline and Narcisism have difficulties forming healthy bonds with their children. Borderlines in particular are often angry and tend to be inconsistent and inappropriate in their parenting. They are emotionally unavailable to the children, sometimes starting at infancy. The children feel emotionally unsafe, and generalize that experience to future relationships.
While you may have been able to modify some of the damage done by their biological mother (and father), the healing for them needs to continue in therapy. A therapist who is experienced in attachment disorders and energy psychology, in particular, could help them heal from their early trauma.
As for you, I suggest that you allow yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship with your stepchildren. Therapy can help you heal. You need to figure out why you were drawn to take the monumental task of raising your stepchildren to begin with.
If you’d like closure, try writing them a letter asking why they chose to cut you off. Come across as curious, not judgmental. Write without expecting any reply, much less a satisfying one.
Let go! There is no point in continuing to subject yourself to their occasional acknowledgment of you. Set boundaries, and stick to them. That means that you don’t accept mistreatment of you. Demand respect and cordial treatment as pre-conditions to rebuilding the relationship.