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Distancing Yourself From Stepchildren

How to do it so no one gets hurt by Emily Somma

Some topics are tricky. If you're a stepmom and cannot stand your stepkids, that would qualify as a tricky topic. But since you're reading this article for advice, let's dispense with formalities and get straight to the point.


According to past statistics, sixty-seven percent of second marriages in the United States end in divorce. With over twenty years of experience in child and adolescent psychology, Dr. Mark Banschick explains there is a lot less glue holding second and third marriages together. Unlike in first marriages where staying together for the sake of the kids is commonplace, a desire to preserve the family is not as strong in second marriages.


Numerous studies have shown that children from a previous marriage or partnership can be a true source of problems in a relationship. If your stepchildren are driving you up the wall, and you're thinking if the situation carries on for much longer it may eventually land you in a divorce court, maybe it's time to put some distance between you and them.


Is that going to land you in the Bad Stepmother Hall of Fame? Maybe. But for the sake of your health and your sanity, not to mention for the sake of your marriage, if distancing yourself from the objects of your disaffection is the best route to go, you may be wondering if there is a way to do that without hurting anybody's feelings. That's a discussion we're going to have today. Let's start by looking at what pushed you to the point you're at right now.

Related articles: Dating Someone with a Kid


There can be many reasons why a stepmother may not like her stepchildren. Sometimes it's because the children are rude and disrespectful to their biological parents. Are your stepchildren spoiled and demanding? Maybe you just don't like them as people. Even if they'll all be out of the home in the next five to ten years, are you going to survive that long?


THE DISENGAGING ESSAY

These days links to an article called the Disengaging Essay are being shared all over social media. In it—aside from calling it a sanity saver—the author suggests true disengaging comes from a place of love. From the outside looking in, people who don't understand the situation may think distancing yourself from stepchildren is something that is done with malice. That’s a reaction. When they have time to think about it, they may change their minds because, in reality, distancing is a means to further connect the family. How so?


When you first came into your stepchildren’s lives, you probably wanted to help your partner with his kids. Does that sound familiar? Blended families are a complex mix of different parenting styles, and so many other influences that listing them all would be impossible. Sometimes, children feel guilty and conflicted, believing that they are being disloyal to their natural mother if they bond with their stepmother.

If you take on the role of nanny and housekeeper, cooking and cleaning for your partner's kids, and they don't show sufficient gratitude, it would hardly be surprising if you end up feeling resentful and angry. Here's a question you can ask yourself: who did all this stuff before you arrived at the scene? Did your partner have a cleaning lady or a housekeeper? Maybe a parent or sister helped with the child care? Seriously, how did your partner make it work with his children before you came into his life?


Right now, you may be asking yourself why he married you. Are you his romantic partner? Or is having you around saving him money in terms of cooking, cleaning, and childcare?

To solve the problem, you need to consider what the problem is. Did your partner automatically expect you to play pseudo-mama to his children, you accepted the role, and now you’re finding it’s not bringing you the happiness and satisfaction you hoped it would? Well, guess what? You’re allowed to change your mind.



Throughout history, women have often been used as an unpaid labor force. Taking care of someone else's kids is nothing like taking care of your own kids, particularly if those kids or young adults are rejecting or hostile, as retired psychology professor Mavis Hetherington discovered most of them to be at some point, according to her Virginia Long Beach study.


You aren't the glue that holds your partner and his children together. If you distance yourself from them, their relationship isn't going to fall apart. So how do you do that without hurting anybody's feelings?


HOW TO DISENGAGE WITHOUT HURTING ANYBODY’S FEELINGS

Whether you want to call it stepping back, stepping away, or redefining your stepmom role, it amounts to you deciding to stop settling. Disengaging is a two-step process. You won't disengage from your stepkids in a single action but through a series of actions. What you need to do is sit down and make a rational, calm, and organized plan to address the problem. Like many women, you need to decide whether you want your relationship to become increasingly tangled and complicated, or if you are ready to set boundaries and stand your ground. Do some self-reflecting and step back from tasks and parts of your role that cost you your peace.


What to Read: Even My Hair Is Mad


It might surprise you to know that the hardest part of disengaging is starting the conversation, not with your stepkids, but with your spouse. You need to explain to him that you'll be spending increasingly less time with his children. Explain to him why you’re doing this. You will enjoy your family more if you're not exhausted and resentful, and they'll enjoy you more, too.


Disengaging isn't a decision you made selfishly, but one you made for the health and happiness of the entire family. You’ll no longer play the role of housekeeper and nanny to his kids. When they are with both of you for dinner, he can cook or order in. When it’s time to clean up, let him deal with them and their mess. If they need to be picked up from school or dropped off for hockey practice, let him handle the arrangements.


After you’ve communicated your new role, give your partner time to adjust, and then only show up in a role that feels right for you.

 

Sources

“The Disengaging Essay: Disengaging from Your Stepkids.” n.d. Blended Family Frappé. Accessed May 30, 2021. https://blendedfamilyfrappe.com/disengaging-essay.

‌The High Failure Rate of Second and Third Marriages. (n.d.). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201202/the-high-failure-rate-second-and-third-marriages

“Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do: Martin Ph.D., Wednesday: 9781517071387: Books - Amazon.ca.” 2021. Amazon.ca. 2021. https://www.amazon.ca/Stepmonster-Look-Real-Stepmothers-Think/dp/1517071380

‌Noble, Barnes &. n.d. “For Better or for Worse: Divorce Reconsidered | Paperback.” Barnes & Noble. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/for-better-or-for-worse-e-mavis-hetherington/1100880339

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