Respecting myself and my step-daughter's mother

March 18 2010 | Guest post by Lily
parent and child
Photo by Flickr user skyseeker
We live in a world where being raised in a home with both of your parents is becoming a fairy tale. I am one of a rare breed whose parents are happily married and after thirty years are still very much in love. When I was a precocious teenager and acting out in school I found it funny to justify my actions with sarcastic coos of "I'm sorry, I'm having a difficult time right now. I'm coming to terms with coming from a two parent household."

We as a society have taken to condemning step parents who have chosen to take a step back and treat their spouse's children as just that… their spouse's children. We expect all step parents to come in and command the role of parent as readily as if they had spawned the children themselves. But is it that easy? Is that really a reasonable expectation?

After meeting the little girl who was destined to be my future step daughter, it took me seconds to fall just as in love with her as I had her father. In those first days when we would take her to parks and playgrounds, I never imagined how complicated the role of Step Mother would become. In the beginning, the decisions were obvious. No candy before meals, change the diapers, she gets time out when she won't eat at dinner. There are just some things you know as an adult. It wasn't until almost a year later that I found myself pinned helplessly between the walls of parenting and step parenting.

I've been a practicing Buddhist for most of my life and my step daughter Isabel has always loved looking at and touching the figurines and small statues on my prayer alter. She's never asked what they were for and I never tried to explain. Concepts as magnanimous as the vast universe, karma, and right contemplation are not meant for a three year old. I assumed that since neither of her parents were church-goers, the subject of a god and religion would be side stepped until she was old enough to pose her own questions.

You can imagine my surprise when one evening as I am putting her to bed she pulled the covers back and kneeled on the floor, her tiny hands folded, ready to say her goodnight prayers. This was the first time that I had ever seen her do this, but the unfortunate "time sharing" schedule of two evenings a week and every other weekend left us constantly unaware of her day to day developments … and at three years old there wasn't a day that went by that she wasn't changing.

As aghast as her tiny blessings had made me, I just stood there quietly, eyes wide watching this child barely more than a baby address a god she couldn't name. My heart nearly stopped when Isabel realized I was kneeling beside her as I suspect her mother must have done, and her little voice rang out to me "Lily… Pray…"

I opened my mouth to respond but no words came. As the seconds drifted she remained on the floor hands folded, waiting for me to sit beside her but still none of the responses flying through my head seemed appropriate. My first impulses were towards what ever actions would be least offensive to her mother, but these all felt too dishonest and almost unfair. Could I really be expected to bow my head and sing a chorus of Amen that contradicted every belief I had about the universe and the human path? I felt guilty enough just standing there silently allowing this child's mind to be corrupted with what I thought were unhealthy delusions and a morality intuned for every wrong reason.

No… I certainly couldn't encourage or participate in such games no matter who it may offend. At the same time I couldn't rationalize explaining to her that I believed god to be a fallacy. The subject had already been breached, I would only be confusing her. As much as I wanted to pick her up, sit her on my lap and explain to her that "God" was a choice. Some people {like me} didn't believe that he existed. That someday when she was a big girl it would be her responsibility to explore the world and the reasonings of faith, but not now. It just wasn't my place.

Who was I to contradict the ideas of her mother? To outlaw the religious practice of anyone. To insinuate to any degree that what her mother told her, is wrong. I know that if I were her mother and someone tried to implant doubt in her, or even worse confuse her about matters that I had already addressed with her, I would wage a war against them that they would never survive. The last thing I wanted to do was create turmoil between my home and her mother's.

I stayed standing there a few moments more, mouth open but no answers to provide. I did the only thing that seemed reasonable. I turned tail and ran. I left the room, Isabel still sitting beside her bed wanting to finish her prayers and be tucked in. I went into the kitchen and told my husband that his daughter would like someone to say her prayers with. He paused for a moment but then seemed to understand and he went to finish what I couldn't.

That was when I realized the difference between a step parent and a parent. The obligations are the same, but the liberties aren't. Clothing her, feeding her, bathing her, these tasks were mine to accomplish. I was allowed to hold her when she cried, and I was even awarded the smiles that came with her. Birthdays. Summers at the beach. Baking cookies. But the molding of her as a person wasn't mine to touch. There were boundaries and I was expected to maintain them even if it meant contradicting what I thought was right for her or any child. What I think is best is immaterial.

I love my step daughter. I maintain my relationship with her to the best of my ability with out violating the sanctity of a daughter's relationship with her birth mother … but I often find myself pulling back from her. Wanting to become one of those step parents that remains cold and mute. It would be so much easier to be unattached. How do you face a child when there are limitations on your love?

  1. In a bit of the same vein I understand but with my nieces. I am also a practicing Buddhist and they are Mormom. My sister and I came from a Catholic home but went different ways. My sister has been in trouble with her bishop when one of her toddlers was holding one of my Buddhist texts in a picture that he saw, I have made sure not to read them that kind of material when they are little ever again. If they get curious as teenagers then I share or usually give them a copy of Siddhartha by Hesse since it is considered Literature in most curriculum and more info they still want it.
    But as for my nieces when they are young (there are 5 of these Mormon ones so 3 are still young) I don't fake it but I enforce the rules. They need to be respectful and pray before meals like they do at home. When they learn to read I will work with them reading their scripture based books if that is what they pick. I even attend some "family/indoctrination" events if they want me there.
    They know I am not Mormon and get wide-eyed if they ever see me in a skirt wondering if I converted, but I am honest with them. I am Buddhist, they are Mormon, we can respect each other.

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  2. We have maintained the "this is what we do in this house, but you can follow the rules of whoever's house you're in." You are right that it is not easy. Because my exhusband isn't around much, it is easier for their step father to step in. Thank you for your post.

  3. I am glad for the comments I have gotten so far. The intention of the piece was to make people look at step parenting differently. If as a step mom I am distant from my step daughter I am accused of not loving her and wanting her out of my family. If I am too involved with her I get accused of trying to be her mother. There is little way to win with her. Most people try to tell me to just "Do what you think is best for you" and that no one would fault me for trying to do whats best. But there are a lot of circumstances where what I think her mother is doing is not best but its also not immediately harmful there for I have no right to intervene. These subjects are not even limited to things as major as religion. Some time its as simple as an appropriate punishment or how to best educate her. I am still learning how to be a baby sitter in my own home.

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    • Is it possible to open up dialogue with her mother and your husband? I know as a birth mom (My comment below as AccidentallyMommy before I realized I wasn't using my name here like I normally do,) I would have welcomed the chance to confer and air out/entertain suggestions on a neutral ground without my daughter present, so we could all look at the suggestions/concerns as adults. Her mom may not feel the same way, but I always acknowledge that I'm human and don't always know best, and if we don't accept suggestions and entertain change, then we're not just limiting ourselves, we're limiting our children as well.

    • I want to thank you for this story. As a step-mother myself, this story hit home with me in a very powerful and emotional way. I understand the struggle you are going through all too well. In my situation, my husband and I had been dating a month when we found out that someone he had dated off and on in the past and had a one night fling with around the time we met was pregnant. Learning your role when you are involved from the first trimester is a tough situation and it has been so hard to figure out how I fit into the puzzle that this situation created. It is so nice to hear a story and emotions that resonate with your own, to be reminded that you are not alone. Again, thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. Lily, I think you are being a bit hard on yourself. Just by being part of her life you are already making an imprint on her character.

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    • Its not a matter of being hard on myself. Its a matter of finding an appropriate place for silence. I am trying to create a congruence between my home and her mothers where as her mother feels more like our home is a regular babysitter that she is forced to use. And honestly…. I cant say that I blame her. I would be greatly uncomfortable with someone raising my child….

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      • Lilly thank you for this article. I am step-mom in nearly every way, except officially. Even though my guy and I both try to come up with ways to teach the kiddo our own offbeat values, I still feel that there is only so much I can do because she isn't mine. And I have to acknowledge that she has a mother(difficult as she can be) that has her own opinions on how to raise the kiddo.
        As for the recommendation to try to talk to the kiddo's mom – we've tried that ourselves but there too many ill-feelings between the Mom and my guy that things didn't work out. Now we just try to keep the peace as much as possible. We both hope that someday kiddo will see her mom for who she is and realize what we have tried to do for her. I just have nightmares that won't ever happen and the kiddo will just make the same choices. And I mean that in the least judgy way possible.

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  5. This is a great article! It really hit home with me. Though in a very different way. I'm dealing with a very christian Mother-In-Law while I'm more of a student of religious studies. She doesn't respect my spiritual beliefs at all, since they are not orthodox.

    I think it's great that you respect the beliefs of you're step daughters mother, instead of trying to force you're own beliefs onto your stepdaughter. And at the same time, I can see that you will probably be very open in discussing religious/spiritual matters with your step daughter once she starts asking them. I see this as a great opportunity for your step daughter to further explore spirituality. She's lucky to have different people to talk to when she gets to that stage in her life.

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  6. I think it takes all kinds. I cherish my husband (who is not my children's biological father) to jump in 100% with the kids. I love his values, his beliefs and I want him to feel free to impart them to my children. They know Mom is different from him, is different from Dad. My husband is very NOT the African American, smooth, athletic, charismatic guy their father is. He is the extremely quiet, reserved, data-loving, geek-tastic white guy from Cleveland. I understood that by marrying him, and placing him in my children's lives, he would shape their individual characters forever. I wanted that for him, and for them because I treasure his perspective and want for them expanded horizons.

    I think "the molding of her as a person wasn't mine to touch" is overly simplistic. You are quite obviously molding her as a person every day. Your very decision to walk away and not discuss religion is molding her as a person. Your influence on her father will mold her in many ways. Your choice to distance yourself from her, or maybe on another day not to be distant. All of those things will have a profound effect. Silence is a powerful thing, regarding religion as well as many other things. And reservedness is not always bad – it can also be a strong message. But you are very obviously shaping a child's character if you are in a parenting role.

    My parents are still married also – 42 years.

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    • Yes I understand that my mere existence in her life is going to change her. But the problem lies in what I see being best for her and how that would contradict her mothers. I am sure when she is older there will be more middle ground but as of now I stand as the women with the towel after a bath, and pancakes in the morning.

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      • It’s thrit karma to get you in to their lives. And vice versa. Teach them virtues no matter what someone else thinks. I guess when you say you would find it hard if someone would raise your child, that is what brings doubt in you. Why? Every person can influence our kids in many good ways and they do; teachers, people around, even bloody TV.

  7. thanks for this! i'm just beginning to get to know my step son- he is 9, I've been with his dad for 7 years but circumstances have kept us all apart. I do not parent like his mother does- sometimes that is ok and sometimes it isn't- i just wish the communication between the adults in this relationship were stronger :sigh:

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  8. I really love all the different perspective I get to read on offbeat mama! Thank you for yours! It was very thoughful and thought provoking. Perhaps it will get easier as your step daughter gets older and more able to understand your perspectives versus those of her biological mom.

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  9. "That was when I realized the difference between a step parent and a parent. The obligations are the same, but the liberties aren’t."
    How perfectly stated. I wish there were a way to explain this to my daughter's about-to-be-stepmother.

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    • Talk to the about-to-be step mom. Send her a link to this article. Trust me, I only wish DH's Ex was nice enough to even think of doing something like that for me.

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  10. I think you handled it as well as you could and that going to her father was the right thing to do. I had a stepmother that was very involved in our lives from the getgo, and I have a pretty good relationship with her but my sisters don't, probably the boundaries were blurred a little too much sometimes.

    So, I think you can find a balance and at the very least, you've recognized the major difference between a parent and a step-parent. Your stepdaughter is lucky to have such an insightful and sensitive stepmom.

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  11. Lily, first off I want to thank you. As a birth mother, my daughter's step mother is more of a step monster, with incidents of severe emotional abuse and physical abuse in the name of "love" and "raising her right" having ruined what had the potential to be a loving relationship with my daughter. She is no longer allowed to communicate with my child in any way. The thank you is for being a decent human being, and for being a good mother, step or otherwise.

    Secondly, I'd like to offer you this perspective: don't think of it as loving with limitations. While there are limitations on the amount of core shaping you are required or even expected to do, that has the potential to free you up to shape in other ways. Don't look at the differences in religious philosophy as something that will hinder your relationship with your step daughter. Instead, look at it as a way for you to teach her the things you value most in conjunction with the religion her birth parents are choosing to instill in her. Find the points that intersect and emphasize those. Teach her how to love fully and how to be kind. Consider yourself the sprinkles on top of the ice cream, since both are equally as important. 🙂

    Lastly, if none of that works, just remember that a child can never have too much love, and simply showing her how deeply you care for her is more than enough.

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    • I understand that the principle of love is still there, but its not as easy to love someone who is starting to reflect decisions and things that I am vehemently opposed too. Its really not as easy as it seems. It leashes the extent at which you can reach them.

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      • I understand this and I am my son's birth mom. My son was curious about church so I had asked my ex's christian wife (step-mom) to take him and show him, and all of a sudden I had a very very different little boy. Not to mention the army toys my son plays with while there (his bio father agreed to not allowing him to play with such toys…so you can imagine my dismay!) And as hard as it is there are certain things we as parents (both step and bio) that we have to just let go. Now that my son is old enough I tell him exactly why I don't believe in God, and why I'm abhorrently against those types of toys. It's especially hard when they're little, but little people grow into rational big people. I feel that same leash sometimes, and he's my kid. You're not alone in feeling that way, but you are just as important to her, but that won't be apparent until she's much older

  12. I would just like to say thank you to everyone who read and commented. Especially those of you who really understood that my point was not about religious parenting or religion at all. That is just the example that I used. It is about the restrictions of teaching, and raising that are put on a step parent while all the while still expected to take care of and protect like your own.

  13. Thanks for this very thoughtful article. I am not a step parent but I have two step parents and its interesting to read the sort of issues they would have come accross raising us. My parents also had different religious beleifs and the beauty was that they all stood back and said "this is what we believe, you can believe whatever works for you".
    I think anything other than that approach (specifically raising the child one religion where the other parents dont have the same faith) could be very damaging and confusing to the child.

    • I really appreciated your article and I totally realize that it not about religion, but since it is the example you used, and particularly in response to this comment, I have to ask: Isn't Buddhism a religion? And, aren't there many more than two different ways to believe? I guess I'm just thinking that these are issues that may come up with your step-daughter in the future, when she is old enough to ask such questions.

      • Of course Buddhism is a religion. But I didnt want to teach her about such things until she was old enough to comprehend them and feel like her mother should have done the same thing. She did not. There are lots of ways to believe. I dont think that a three year old is capable of making her own decisions about which of them is right for her.

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  14. Also I do realise this post was not just about the religious aspect. It must be very hard and I'm sure there will be issues like that raised often. I hope you are able to talk openly with the birth mom and step dad on most issues and come to compromises that work for everyone, and obviously best for your little girl.

  15. thank you for this, lots of food for thought!
    we're just starting out as separated parents, but i'm very aware that there will certainly be a step mother (soon) and possibly a step father at some point for my daughter. we've started out with putting her needs first, and plenty of communication (possibly something that 12 months ago could have saved our marriage, but thats neither here nor there!)
    its intersting to see where pitfalls can occur, especially with young children and religious beliefs since i'm a committed christian personally, and while my daughter comes to church its very informal and playgroup based for the children, as i'd rather she comes to her own decision, like i did!

    • Good luck to you. I often think that if I were to ever have a child of my own the most ideal situation would be for me to be an entirely single parent. I think I would find it difficult to relax my views on what is best even with my partner. I do understand where bio mom is coming from, it just makes my position in her life very awkward. There is always the mantra of "she is not my child". As uncomfortable as that is I dont think it is wrong. I wouldnt want someone else influencing my child in an opposing way either.

  16. I am such a fan of the Offbeat Mama posts on step-parenting, and I think this piece is really fantastic, Lily, both in terms of your honesty and your perspective on the matter. I am not a parent but I am a high school teacher who teaches teens of all types of family backgrounds: I am aware of the possibilities as well as limitations of my role in students' lives, but mostly I'm just honored that I can be part of their lives. In any case, I had heard many students' accounts of life with step-parents, and while it all depends on the people and the situation, I do believe that the students with step-parents who take on a role like the one you describe find the most harmonious relationships by the time the children have become teens. That's a pretty sweeping statement on my part but that's based on my experiences, and I understand that each person brings a lot of good points to the table; for example, it's obviously a different scenario when either home situation is abusive.

    This is just such a great quote: "That was when I realized the difference between a step parent and a parent. The obligations are the same, but the liberties aren’t." I am sure that, with time, your step-daughter will take interest in and appreciate your beliefs and traditions and probably even participate one day– and your not pressuring her and respecting boundaries is the very thing that makes that happen. 🙂 And all these experiences and perspectives will help her become an empathetic and open-minded person as she grows up.

    • I hope so. My fear is that because I am being respectful and staying quiet that my step daughter will start to mirror her mother, in the belief that there is only one way. I know that there a lot of those people out there, of all faiths. People who belief that it is impossible to be wrong. Sadly this doesnt just apply to bio moms religion, its more a complete statement of her parenting. Impossible to be wrong.

  17. Thank you for this post. I don't have much experience with step-families – my parents are still married going on thirty years this year, and my husband and I have a wonderful marriage. I guess I've never really thought about these challenges and how difficult it must be to have all that responsibility, while still maintaining the boundaries that are not even clearly laid out, but must be found. Kudos to you for not only accepting that difficult situation, but working with it and not being cold.

  18. As a stepchild to two very different stepparents, I really appreciated this article. My stepdad was very much like you. He was always aware, that, yes I had a dad and it was not his place to try to be that for me. He was there, just like you said – for softball games, birthdays, smiles, to listen when stuff went horribly wrong but he never tried to force his ideals on me. In fact, the first time I ever heard his ideas of God was when I was sixteen, and I brought it up to him.
    My stepmother on the other hand, was there to tell me exactly how I needed to live my life and to tell me that at eleven I needed to get baptized in her church because I lived with her and all the other eleven-year-olds were getting confirmed. And it was a nightmare. It just bred resentment as she tried to tell me how horrible my mother was and exactly what my mother was doing wrong.
    So good for you for realizing when to step back and know that it's not your place! And look forward to the day when your stepdaughter comes to you on her own and says "I really want to know more about all of this stuff you do." Best of luck to you!

  19. This really reasonated with me as I was in the car with my two step-daughters (10 and 6) and my husband earlier this week and the eldest asked me what church I went to. She is being rasied catholic by her mother (where she spends the vast majority of her time). This is an arrangement her father agreed to although it doesn't extend to our home as well. We mostly try not to interfere. Anyway, when faced with a direct question I responded with the truth, but it definitely caught me off guard.

    Regardless of the specifics, I completely understand the dillema you feel. I struggle every day with how to be a positive influence to these two amazing girls and understanding my position/place in their lives.

  20. lily – i really think the best thing you can do is show her your own example. she sees your altar, and as she gets older you can explain how you use it. children do choose belief systems; they aren't just little robots being programmed by their evil christian parents. i know many people raised christian for whom it just didn't "stick." i, on the other hand, was the first born-again in my birth family (and the first to jump ship from that religion once i got in my teens).

    i have a stepdaughter in her teens now. it looks like she is needing to heavily reject both me and her biomom, but some stepkids will rebel more against their same-gender bioparent at some point. (it makes sense, psychologically, with differentiation and individuation and etc etc.) it could be so valuable for your stepdaughter to have an example of non-judgemental, mellow spiritual practice if she goes through a rabidly anti-religion phase in response to her mother's rigid beliefs.

    • You are probably right, and as she gets older and is capable of posing her own questions I will be more than happy to explain to her. But at her age there is no way for me to bring up the possibility of something other than what she has already been told. Telling her that what her mother said is in my opinion wrong, would do worse than just disrespect her mother. It would confuse her.

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  21. Thanks for posting this. I have a step-daughter (well, my boyfriend's daughter) who lives out of state, so although we see her often for the circumstances, it only for a weekend or a week every month or two. I struggle with how involved to be or not to be all the time, not just when she is here. It seems that you always hear these stories of a new step parent falling in love with a stepchild and having it all be perfect immediately, but I can't imagine that is the reality for most people; it certainly isn't for me!

    • Well, I have had experiences with friends of my husbands, that are just a little traumatizing. One time a female friend gave her a tiny little lolli pop on our way to a barbeque. I wasnt opposed to the lollipop just her eating it while we were driving. It was easily small enough for her to fit into her mouth. How many times have you needed to slam on your brakes because of someone else, or magic traffic lights or things like that? A million? So the last thing we needed was her having a lollipop slammed down her throat. I took it from her and told her she could have it later. My husbands friend, I am sure felt slightly embarrassed and probably as if I was accusing her of being immature in some way, although I said nothing to her. Later that evening I heard her say to her boyfriend something along the lines of "She thinks shes her mother"…. I certainly know that I am not her mother. But I am still responsible for her… It gets aggravating. There is no way to win.

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  22. oh my goodness. thank you so much for writing this. i have been in almost the identical situation with my step daughter. i too am a practicing buddhist, and my step daughter's bio mum is raising her a christian. she too loves to find all the buddahs in the house and touch my alter (she once asked me "Buddha, you like that guy?) it had no impact on my life until now (she's just about to turn 3), and she prays, and sings songs from church, etc. and seems confused as to why my husband and i dont.

    my husband and i both have faith that if we keep our hearts and ears open and provide a house thats safe to ask questions in, she'll make up her own mind when she's older, and we hope we can support her journey through finding her own spirituality.

    it is that defining moment (or one of what i'm sure will be a lifetime full)that sort of makes you realize you, as you say
    "The obligations are the same, but the liberties aren’t"

    also, i wanted to thank everyone who posted positive messages about still having an impact (positive one) on step children. sometimes its hard to keep going knowing you aren't involved in making decisions on how they are raised, and trusting that you can still be shaping them just by being your loving self.

    many many thanks for this blog Lily

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  23. I am a step mother of seven. Thank you for writing my struggle. I am "allowed" in to feed, house, clothe, drive and re-arrange my schedule, but not allowed anything else. If I want to spend time with these children, I have to spend time with their birth mother as well. If I am good, and they all feel generous, I get to grandmother when other sitters are unavailable. It is far more complicated than this, but I want to say thank you. ~Kelly

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  24. Reading your post was really helpful to me today. Having yet another encounter with my fiance's ex, about her desired limitation on my step-parenting left me feeling quite raw. Your post reminds me that I'm not alone in this struggle. Thank you.

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  25. I get the added difficulty of being a step-parent and step-GRANDparent. (And I'm only 26!) The step-kid with the kid is only 21 and single; the baby is 3. There are so many times that the kid doesn't seem to act like an adult and I have to try to parent her and parent the baby all while trying to not over-step anything or having anyone resent me. And my man? He doesn't help by just telling his kids that they have to "do what Am says". He wants it to be my job to parent his (supposedly) grown children. Makes for an interesting life sometimes. O_O

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  26. Thank all of you for your comments and stories. I am still battling my step daughters bio mother on a daily basis. I am constantly being told that I dont "really understand" because I dont have any children of my own. I was unaware that rational reasonable thinking was dependent on whether or not my uterus had ever been distended. I am beginning to believe that being a step parent may actually be harder than being a bio parent. I believe that if a lot of the people out there had to go through what I do, in order to raise a child there would be a lot less parents in the world.

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    • why the bullying?

      is bio mom envious? angry? been undermined by anything you do/have done?

      i agree that you dont need your own kids to be a good parent and i suspect this is just an excuse to get at you because if you had kids, the excuse might then be: you have your own kids so 'you dont understand mine'

      get your partner in a room and talk through this. if you have a supportive mom/friend, get their take on the matter.

      i find that sometimes i do things unknowingly that may have upset someone and i just need a pair of eyes outside the circumstances to point me in the right direction; other times its a genuinely irrational individual who's stirring the pot and generating politics and rifts. either way, talk it out.

      dont let this simmer since it seems like its becoming a habit for bio mom to belittle you in such an unfair (and ludicrous) manner

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      • So good to read this.

        I'm a stepmom to a beautiful 5-year old who accepted me from day 1. She knew me as a friend of her dad's and when we announced we were in love, her reaction was "yes!!! kiss, kiss, kiss!!!". So now we're 10 months later and everything has been wonderful with her, except… the bio mom. She can't cope with the fact that her daughter has a connection with her stepmom and tries to talk her out of it. She is with us every other week, but bio mom is making sure she still sees her dad's place as "sleeping over". She literally said she won't give me permission to see her daughter when dad is not around (he sometimes has to travel for work), and snapped "if she wants kids so badly, she should make her own". This was talking on the phone to my partner, she would never talk about it to my face.

        I have done everything possible, sent her an e-mail in the beginning telling her that I understood it must be hard for her to see that her daughter is connecting to me, but that I would never try to be her mom in any way. I told her that I respect her a lot and would really like to talk to her about it. She just said she understands and is perfectly clear with my role. It has left me wondering what she thinks my role is…

        Reading this has confirmed my worst suspicion, it is harder to be a stepmom than a mom. There's really nothing I can do right. Definitely need to find people in the same boat to gather up some strength to confront bio mom.

        The worst thing is, her daughter is the victim, she is being manipulated and told a hundred times over that I'm not her mother. Up until now she has taken it quite well but I'm worried what it'll do to her in the long term.

    • I can say with absolute certainty that being a step parent is eons harder than being a bio parent. As a new mom to a six month old, and a stepmom to a 6-year-old little girl, the intricacies and delicate nature of walking the rope between being an overall parent, and then recognizing your boundaries with the individual child, are daunting and exhausting at times. I love my six year old, she's a sweetheart. But because I'm 'not the parent' (although my spouse is 100% supportive), sometimes I feel it is not my place to implement certain values that I have – that I certainly will raise my six month old with. But this is a very long conversation for another day. Now to get back to my original comment!

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    • I am very late in here, but I am also a step-mom in all but name. I wonder, does your stepdaughter's bio mom also feel that women who have adopted children don't 'really understand' because they didn't give birth? Being a Mom is in action and deed; it's in how you address their very real concerns when they ask you the hard questions; it's letting them into your Master Bath at 3am to wash the spaghetti barf out of their hair while poor Daddy cleans up the other bathroom (even though you have a massive vomit-phobia); it's making sure that Mommy gets a card on Mother's Day from the kiddo even if you don't get one; it's making sure Daddy has a present from her to open because Mommy might forget and our girl would be so upset if she didn't have one to give. Just know that bio-mom is wrong about that. We're in a silent battle with bio-mom about discussing puberty and how life changes. Our girl is big for her age and is somewhat heavy, so she's developing early. I feel that she needs to learn what is going to happen before it does happen and she is terrified. But, bio-mom doesn't want to admit or deal with the fact that baby girl is growing up, so she is refusing to allow a discussion. I am so worried that our girl is going to have her first period at school or somewhere away and not have any idea what's going on. But, I have stayed quiet other than voicing my thoughts to my beloved. But, if our kiddo asks me a question, I will respond honestly. I owe her that. Good luck, dear! Just keep swimming!

  27. This is so interesting…I am a new stepmom, and my stepson is Jewish, whereas I am agnostic, and my husband is an atheist.

    I have no problems with my SS's choice of religion (as long as it remains HIS choice) but when talking of arranging time for him to go to shabbat this summer, I made it clear that I would not lie to him about what I believed.

    Then again, I am a very relaxed agnostic, and am more concerned with him developing critical thinking skills and reaching his own conclusions. I am more concerned with pressures dealing with his bar mitzvah in 5 years, as the ex has, I think, different ideas of what an appropriate budget for that will be.

    I am dreading the inevitable argument about the financial obligations she feels we should have towards it vs. what we think is slightly ridiculous amount of money to pay towards something, when we would rather be saving for college. Or even a guitar or robot parts, or something. (Yes, we are big geeks.)

    The whole idea of obligations vs. liberties is something I think I will continue to struggle with. I have no desire to "take the place" of his mom — nor can I! — but as a responsible person, and as a stepparent who has a genuine love and concern for this child, I don't feel that I need to put my beliefs on the back-burner because I am a step.

    And I think I would be doing a disservicesto him, as an adult role model, if I did so.

    Then again, I am an educator, so I am pretty comfortable with the practice of saying to kids that there's room in the world for lots of different beliefs, and that my main concern is not really what he chooses to believe, but that he learns to make intelligent, informed decisions.

    And I may disagree with his mom on some things, but I think that this is something we both agree on.

    It's a learning curve.

  28. Everyone chooses to handle situations different I suppose. While I do feel like my role as a step-mother is leaps and bounds different from being a biomom there are some things that I do take responsibility for with my step-children. I don't believe I should be expected to worry about their health, safety, etc.. But keep my nose out of what they learn and the people they grow up to be. I'm quite proud to say that three years ago I was the first person either of my step-children had seen with facial peircings, visible arm tattoos, or wild colored hair. Today, they just know this as being part of who their step-mom is. I know that when my step-kids grow up they will know that some people just look different, and while I can't control weather they judge people on their looks, I think knowing, loving, and caring about someoone who looks different is starting them on a good path to being accepting adults. I feel the same way about religion, despite both being raised as Christians, they know that their father and I are not Christians and while we love to go to church when the kids are in plays, we don't participate in prayer or go for the purpose of any faith, we only go because we love them and they wanted us to see them do something they were proud of.

  29. "limitations to [your] love". i would have said the opposite.

    you love her so much, you would allow her to be whom she wanted to without compromising her, your relationship with her mom, yourself as a parent, step-parent and your integrity as an individual.

    your strength (because i can't imagine it was easy to hold back your opinion/judgement) is invaluable. something i'm sure she will grow to acknowledge and appreciate.

    glad your partner was understanding and supportive, but it definitely sounds like something you as a family need to talk about so all adults are on the same page

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  30. I would hesitate to label anyone's religious beliefs as "wrong", even to myself in my head, because this effects how you act and react to situations containing these beliefs.

    "Different" is a much more inclusive and less judgmental way to approach such beliefs. There are many paths and they all offer something of worth. In my family (my immediate nuclear family, parents and siblings and siblings' partners) there is a Mormon,a Catholic, 2 types of Christian, 2 Jews, and 2 Pagans. I don't agree with all the beliefs of all of my family members, but I respect and acknowledge them.

    I use "that's not how/what I believe but I respect your way" a lot, in both my internal and external dialog.

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      • You don't have to believe in another faith to respect it and its practitioners.

        I respect the beliefs of my spouse, my parents and my siblings even though I do not share them and they are in some ways diametrically opposed to my own.

        My mother respects my beliefs despite them being very different than her own and those I was raised with. Neither of us believes in the others' religion, neither of us is threatened by the other's choices.

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  31. Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I have been struggling lately with this new role as a stepmom.

    My situation is also quite complicated – I had just gotten out of a 5+ year relationship, was with my new spouse (wanting to 'take things slow' – oh Universe, you are a silly one!) for exactly one month before we found out we were expecting our little girl, despite using protection.

    As the past year has culminated and we have moved in together, I have become not only a mom, but a stepmom — our baby is now six months old and we have my stepdaughter every weekend.
    As much as I love her and want to be an influence in her life, sometimes I find I just need to 'disengage'. My partner is an amazing father but tends to overcompensate and allows his daughter to control him and make decisions that I feel adults should be making. She regresses and he can sometimes baby her. I have been able to step in and do the best I can, but even then — sometimes I find resentment and frustration building. Sometimes I don't know if I'm really strong enough to do this. I hate the feelings of disgust I feel growing within. It worries me to no end =(
    If I can be brutally honest, there are times I wish I wasn't a stepparent. It is just so damn hard. It creates such complications. I love both of my girls but feel the family dynamic completely change once Friday hits. Suddenly it's a big fiasco, running around, the house is a mess and come Monday.. I can breathe again. I know this is just a taste of the coming years with my six-month-old…but at least I will have time to adjust as opposed to experience the whirlwind.

    I'm sorry to unload all of this. It has just been in the forefront of my brain for the past couple of weeks, and I have been struggling with how to cope. I've found a few stepparent forums/message boards and am dismayed that most of them are stepparents saying how much they hate their stepkids, how they are entitled, spoiled brats (which my stepdaughter has tendencies of), how they get these angry, resentful feelings…and I hate that I can relate. That I feel that way.
    And it's funny, because I've thought to myself "I'd love to read an article from offbeat families about their take on this. They would be so balanced. So honest, and yet mature."
    And you touched base on many of the same things I feel.

    Okay, I will finish up this little novella I've written!
    Thank you for the post and I hope to read more, and to find more positive and yet honest connections with other stepparents like this. Thank you Lily! (And I agree, you did amazing with your stepdaughter, and she is lucky to have you!)

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    • The reason so many step kids act poorly around step parents is because they get to. You are the person who is not allowed to genuinely punish them. You might be able to send them to their room but you arent able to make them feel bad. As step parents we also have the tendency to want to make our step kids "like" us which changes the hand we use with them. Parents KNOW their kids love them. We dont have that security. We have to work harder.

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    • I can understand – I came into my relationship and our girl was just seven. She is Daddy's Girl and, as an only child and only grandchild, she was spoiled. It was an unusual dichotomy, a very polite and kind girl who was very used to getting her own way. She opened a birthday card from a friend of her father's and shook it, looking at me and my Mom to ask, "Where's the money?" But, it turns out, she had never received a card without a check or money in it. She also had her Daddy wrapped around her finger. Thankfully, he was willing to listen to me and I tried to present it objectively….'I've noticed that, when you begin to scold or correct her, she comes over and headbutts your belly until you cuddle her and stop scolding. It seems like she isn't benefiting from the correction because she can immediately negate it.' He didn't believe me, but agreed to keep an eye out for the next time. When she did exactly what I said she would, he did open his eyes a little at a time. She's still Daddy's Girl, but he's not letting her run the show. I wish you good luck!

  32. It's always hard when your belief system butts up against that of somebody you love, especially a young child. I don't claim to know much about Buddhism, however, I don't think the divide needs to be a wedge between you and your step daughter. You both revere the creator universe in your own way. I'm actually amazed that she invited you in. (Most kids wouldn't think of it really.)

    Perhaps let her know that you "pray in your own way", but that she is free to be who she feels she ought to. As long as she is growing up in a healthy way, and harming no one, she should be free to express her love of her creator as she sees fit.

    I applaud you for realizing that it isn't really your place to shape her faith. In the long run, it isn't her biological mother's either. One day, she will have to find her own route. Be open about yours without being judgmental about others, and the Universe will take care of everything else.

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