Stepchildren add stress to childless marriages

In last Friday’s post, I asked whether having stepchildren made you a mother. For me, it’s part yes, part no. Fred’s kids have been in my life for almost 30 years, but their biological mother is the one they think of as Mom. And that makes sense. If my father remarried, his new wife might be the most wonderful woman in the world, and we might love her very much, but she could never take the place of our real mother. That’s just biology, plus family history.

If your partner has children from a previous marriage, he will always have a connection to them that you can never have. They are his kids, not yours. When a conflict arises between you and the kids, who is he going to side with? The new wife may find herself competing for her husband’s time and attention, as well as his money. This can put a real damper on a marriage.

When he (or she) has kids and you don’t, that can add to the stress. As several readers have commented here, it gets even worse when his children grow up and have babies of their own. Now he gets to be a grandparent and you don’t.

Now some couples have no problem with any of this. They and the kids become one happy family, and they don’t even think the word “step.” They’re all “our kids.” They are blessed. I hear from plenty of people for whom having stepchildren makes a painful situation even more difficult.

How is it for you? Does your partner have kids from a previous marriage? Do they live with you or with their other parents? Do you get along? Does having them make your childlessness more difficult? Let’s talk about it.

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75 thoughts on “Stepchildren add stress to childless marriages

  1. Thank you for posting this! I am a 35-year-old soon to be first time mom, and my stepmother does not have children of her own. I know she is really excited to be a “grandma”, but it brings up a lot of confusing feelings for me, especially since my mother died 13 years ago. My stepmom means well, but I guess I just feel like I constantly have to set boundaries with her because I know she envisions some kind of “mother daughter” relationship (she's been with my dad since I was 9) that I do not want. I have finally accepted that she is here and in my life, and all that I can do is continue to be kind but also keep setting boundaries. It is working, but I guess what I really wish is for her to just go away. But that's not going to happen, and she makes my dad happy, and I know that all she wants is to be loved and included.
    Her deep desire to express her love (she used to send me lots of “I love you” text messages but has stopped since I stopped replying to them) comes off as not genuine and I often think she only wants to be so close to me so that she can talk to all her friends about “being a mom” and “mom stuff”. To put it simply, she annoys me and I know that I judge her because she has no idea what it means to be a parent.

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    • Wow Anonymous May 28, that is heartbreaking, and downright cruel.

      The reason I am responding is because I am currently in the position your stepmother was. I am about to get engaged to a man who has a 9 year old daughter and I do not have any children.

      I spend hours studying my butt off trying to do the right thing: understand my role, show the right support and the right respect. I am also trying to understand the viewpoint of someone who has a stepparent. I talk to as many people in similar situations as I can because I can’t think of anything more AWFUL than a post like this.

      The line I take issue with is that you judge her so harshly for trying to be a good parent to you. It sounds like her heart was in the right place and did the best she could–what she was EXPECTED to do. But I have the feeling if she was detached instead you would complain about that too because you are taking out frustrations you have in life on someone who doesn’t deserve it.

      She may have no idea what it means to be a parent (she does–you selfishly withhold giving her credit), but YOU have no idea what it means to be a stepmother.

      Whatever trauma you are dealing with is not HER fault. Do you honestly think she wanted to come in and ruin your life and take over as a mom? You yourself said she just wants to be liked and included, yet you kick dirt in her face. Why doesn’t she deserve your respect? Why doesn’t your FATHER? Can you imagine how heartbroken the man would be to hear you say such mean and nasty things?

      A person who accepts the role of step motherhood is a SAINT. She is a person who knows she will be expected to love the children as her own, to care for them as a mother would, and for her finances to be affected by people she has no obligation to, to feel marginalized and excluded and accused of doing things she hasn’t. After a lifetime of sacrifice, THIS is the thanks they get. What the hell is wrong with you?

      After reading comments like this, I am seriously doubting that marrying a man with a young daughter is a good idea. I can only hope you learn some things about life you have missed before you pass on this pattern of hatred to your future child.

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      • Wow, a little harsh, Ms. Jones. Every situation is different. But you’re right about how hard it can be to be a stepparent. The kids rarely understand that, as you said, usually the woman (or the man) just wants to be liked and included. They want to be part of the family. I wouldn’t give up on your potential marriage yet.

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    • I guess this is the truth. But even my feelings are hurt for the woman who help raise you. There is probably some deep seated reasons why you feel this and the comment section is no the best place to detail them.

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    • Hi Anonymous,
      I just want to speak from the side your stepmom is on. I am 36 myself and will never be able to have my own children. I have dreamt of having children of my own for as long as I can remember. It hurts so deep that the pain of that never truly goes away. I am a childless stepmom myself, and it is very hard. She may really love you as much as she says, which is the very best that she knows how. I know I love my stepchildren unconditionally, and would die for them. They have their mom, and I respect that, and don’t ever try to take her place. I have reiterated that to them time and time again. I just want you to try to understand how hard this is for her, and maybe try to give her a chance to love you how much she would like to love you. I doubt that she wants to take your mothers place. I think she just wants you to see that she will always be there for you no matter what, through thick and thin. She loves you. Could you try to give her a chance to be the best stepmom and step grandma to you and your child? That’s probably one of her deepest desires. Especially since she will never have an opportunity to know or feel what the love is like as a biological mother or grandmother.

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  2. Wow, Anonymous May 28, my own stepdaughter could have written this. Thank you for sharing this point of view. I can't help identifying with your stepmother, and I can see how she wants to claim all the goodies that come with being a mother. If sheet you when you were nine, she probably feels she earned them. But I see your side too. She is not your mother and never will be. It's hard on both sides. I wish you all the best with your baby.

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  3. Wow, Anonymous May 28, my own stepdaughter could have written this. Thank you for sharing this point of view. I can't help identifying with your stepmother, and I can see how she wants to claim all the goodies that come with being a mother. If sheet you when you were nine, she probably feels she earned them. But I see your side too. She is not your mother and never will be. It's hard on both sides. I wish you all the best with your baby.

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  4. Hi. I have to agree with a lot of you.

    I read the blogpost and all the corresponding comments, and you are all mentioning some very true feelings that
    most of us step-parents feel from time to time (or a lot more than that!). I can also identify with these feelings in
    regards to my own relationship. In contrast to most of you I am a man, and my wife
    has a 13 year old son from a previous marriage. Im 24, and my wife is 33 years of age.

    She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer when she had her baby, and had to have her thyroid removed
    after her child was born. We have been trying to get pregnant for the last 2 years.
    She had a misscarriage about a year ago, we have been recovering emotionally ever since.

    The funny thing is that I grew up in almost the exact same situation as I am in now.
    My mother married my younger step-dad and they had 2 kids of their own. He was an emotionally
    abusive step-dad, so I never really felt the same connection with him as I did with my real dad,
    so I totally understand where my step-son is comming from. I rejected and hated my step-dad as a kid,
    and I honestly belive that nothing he did would have made the relationship anywhere nearly as special or
    connected as my relationship with my real dad.

    Still, I find it very hard to deal with the thought of perhaps never having children of my own.
    When we have an argument or a fight, and I get to hear things like “your not my real dad”, or
    “When me and MY DAD did this or that” , or Its OK mom, don`t get upset, he is just my step-dad”
    It hurts, and cuts really deep…

    I just hold it in, because I am tired of my wife not understanding, getting upset and telling me
    that I should be less selfish, not receiving much understanding or sympathy from my wife, as she can never truly
    understand exactly how I feel or how much it hurts. She already has a very close relationship with her real
    biological son. I get angry, frustrated and find myself drowning in silent despair whenever the thought enters my mind.
    After countless arguments with my wife about it I stopped bringing it up. Just end up holding it in while trying
    to deal with it myself. Most of the time it ends up with me being seriously depressed for 3-4 days,
    then slowly getting over it, until the next time it happens.

    I don`t know if I can handle not having children of my own, as I can`t stand the thought of my step-son
    having children and me not being able to.

    I don`t know how to deal with this in my life. I have very conflicting feelings about it and the time
    passing by, month my month does not make anything better. Any feedback is appreciated.

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  5. Mr. Anonymous June 4, Thanks for sharing this. It helps to hear from people in different situations. I sympathize. Stepchildren aren't easy, and when you don't have your own kids, they're twice as hard. You are only 24, so I wouldn't give up on anything yet. By the time you're the age your wife is now, your stepson will be an adult, and who knows, you may have your own kids. I hope so.
    But right now, don't bottle up your feelings. It's not healthy. Talk to someone. If you can't talk about it with your wife, find a friend, a family member or counselor with whom you can let it all out.
    I hope it all works out for you.

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  6. Hi was wondering if there was anyone I could talk to that has remained childless but has a step child and what was your experience?

    I have an absolutely wonderful relationship with my step daughter and she feels like I am more of a mother to her than her biological mum (she loves how she can). I had always wanted children but now am having serious doubts about having more.

    I would love to talk to someone who has been in a similar situation to offer some advice. I am surrounded by friends and family with children and I think if I hear “its different with your own” I might scream!
    Thanks

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  7. I’m in a conundrum right now. Before we got married my husband told me he had a kid from a previous relationship, but never met the child. Wasn’t sure if it was a boy or a girl. Ex-gf didn’t want him to see the baby because he asked her about getting an abortion when she got pregnant. So he told me before marriage that he had no interest in ever having kids or even meeting that one. I also at the time (I was 20) didn’t want kids either. So we agreed no kids. Here we are 14 yrs later, hubby decided to get a vasectomy. I was a little hesitant because even though I’m pretty sure I don’t want kids, it felt like I was being cut off from the option. He went ahead with it. Pretty much just told me the date & that I had to drive the car. Well as luck would have it, 8 mos later his child from the other relationship sent him a letter. Saying he didn’t blame him for having never met him and he want to get to know his father. I kept quiet & pretty much let my hubby dig his own grave while he was gushing over the letter. He was overly excited which seemed weird to me based on our previous conversations.
    He even started making plans about buying tickets to this & that. (keep in mind when I wanted to go to one of those things–we couldn’t afford it). We had plans for traveling up to my brother’s wedding (which is in same state as child) which was going to be stressful enough bringing 3 large dogs on a 6 hr trip, plus the next day another 2 hrs to the venue, 2 hrs back & then drive home the next day. He wanted to see the kid then–when, I have no clue due to the over loaded schedule as it was. The whole time he was talking I just kept quiet, after an hour he finally asked me if something was wrong.
    I told him I was confused as he told me before we were married that he wanted no kids, had no interest in that one, & even went so far as to get a vasectomy so I wouldn’t get pregnant. Now I’m definitely sure I don’t want to be a step parent. I lived through that mess growing up with my own mom & dad & step mom. It was an utter disaster & nothing but stress. He never had to deal with custody battles, & arguments over child support–which I lived though as both of my parents didn’t hesitate to tell me about everything & their hate of each other & what the other did wrong. So having been a part of that my entire youth…I just can’t do it again.
    Plus as selfish as it sounds I really don’t want to split time with him. From the start of our relationship it’s been the two of us..talking about how it’ll just be the two of us when we’re old & grey. That’s not what I see anymore.
    So I told him just to be straight up & honest, that I can’t be a part of any of that. And that while we’re still young-ish, maybe we should get a divorce now & save the trouble later. We can end on good terms now, vs when he actually has a relationship with his kid & I start to get resentful. Because I will, I know me.
    He started by saying he doesn’t have to respond to the kid now, it’s been this long it can wait a little longer. I said I can’t even do this in the future. He then said that he doesn’t want to lose me & that he won’t contact the kid at all. End of story.
    Here’s the problem, a couple of weeks later I had to put something in our safe. Which is in the closet, as I was doing so he got overly interested…almost suspiciously..asking what I was doing & watched me. This is odd. He’s never done that before. So when he went out on a couple of errands a day or two later, I went into the safe & went through it. There it was: the letter from the kid.
    What do I do? I feel like he thinks I’m going to change my mind in the future so he’s holding on to the letter which has all the contact info & kid’s whole name. I haven’t told him I found it. And he still acts suspect when I go into the safe.

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    • Dear NeedH

        elp, you may not like my comment, but here goes. People have a right to change their minds. If you love your husband, you will support his efforts to get to know his son instead of being a bitch about it. Try it. Maybe you’ll like the kid.

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      • I think his lying is the real issue here & not my feelings on the matter. Glad you could see that…

        I’ve changed my mind on things before but it was never in less than 2 minutes & never on something so important. Which tells me he was probably lying when we met. I’m sorry that I was straight up truthful from the get go & have known who I am from a young age. I’m not a kid person, nor will I ever be. I’ve stated that many, many times. My family knows that, his family knows that, friends know that. It has never been a secret. Some people just aren’t kid people and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why they get in relationships/marry people of like minds. That’s what I thought I did.

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      • NeedHelp, you’re right. Lying is the issue. If you were always clear about not wanting kids, that’s totally unlikely to change, but some of us keep living in fairy tales. Thanks for sharing this.

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      • NeedHelp, you’re right. Lying is the issue. If you were always clear about not wanting kids, that’s totally unlikely to change, but some of us keep living in fairy tales. Thanks for sharing this.

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  8. I am feeling the absolute weight, stress, sadness, devastation of my situation today, and having a difficult time coping. Thankful to have found this blog, it is helpful to have a place where our feelings are validated, but also brings attention to the brutal reality of being a childless stepparent.

    Today is my boyfriend of over 3 years’ youngest son’s 10th birthday. He has 3 total, 10, 12, 13. Same story as so many, we have a 13 year age difference, him 45, me 32. He doesn’t want more kids, I have realized over the past 2 years that I very much want to be a mother.

    This is THE man for me, and the much used ‘to stay or to go’ is ever-present in my thoughts. I know I cannot live with the regret, so I have come to terms with leaving if the answer is a no. But waiting for him to determine whether no is his final answer has been difficult to say the least.

    I’ve found even more pain in feeling like I’m trying to talk him into something he doesn’t want. It feels so unnatural and it ends up picking at my self-esteem.

    We are in counseling, working on sorting this out, but today I am just riddled with so much heartache.

    Both sets of grandparents, his entire family, including mom herself for a short while will be at our house for birthday dinner and celebrations in 4 hours. I have fought the urge to sob since the alarm went off this morning. And I know its not a good day to burden him with my feelings, because he deserves to enjoy his son’s birthday.

    I feel like my thoughts aren’t my own. I imagine the reminiscing he is doing of the day his youngest entered the world, the cute moment shared among the biological parents of this child as they chatted on the phone this morning, and how his entire family knows I want a child and that he doesn’t, but I’m supposed to put on my happy face and love playing hostess tonight, while everyone avoids the elephant in the room.

    I know my boyfriend can tell I’m sad today, but he is playing ostrich with the head-in-the-sand approach, which isn’t helping. I tiny bit of acknowledgement could likely go a long way.

    Some days are great, but today feels like a knife being twisted in my heart. Encouragement desperately needed people.

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    • Drue, so many of us know how you feel. It’s so hard when he has kids and you don’t.i hope it’s not as bad as you expected and you can find at least one person who gets it. Remember, it’s not the kids’ fault.

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  9. I found this post while looking for information on what to do when a stepchild is competing with you for attention from his father. Anytime my husband will give me any sort of attention – talking to me, showing me a affection – one of sons has to be right there cutting in between us. I understand that having dad to himself and then having me come along must be difficult for a child, but I’ve now been around for almost as long as he had dad to himself and this whole thing is starting to become almost comical (my husband even jokingly comments on it every time my stepson tries to push in between us). A few weeks ago, we were all watching a movie. My husband joined us after the movie had started and decided to sit next to me. All of a sudden, his 10 year old son, who was happy and content sitting where he was came up and sat on my husband’s lap (which I’ve never seen him do). I don’t say anything about it, but I think it sums up the stepmother’s existence because would a child always be trying to squeeze in the middle of a hug between his parents or compete with his mom for attention from his dad? It is an awkward relationship, for sure. I’m expected to give up my time, my money, and my privacy in my relationship with my husband. I’m also expected to show my devotion to two children who while they are polite to me, do not see me as a parent and don’t show me any affection or appreciation. We recently went out with my husband’s family for my birthday and his two children ignored me. I don’t fault them for feeling that way, they didn’t choose to have me in their lives, but I also didn’t envision having a marriage where I have two children who are essentially like houseguests to me (I prepare their food, make sure their clothes are clean, plan activities for them, pick up after them, all with maybe some passing conversation), two children who often come before me, who often treat me as an interloper in their lives, and who really just want to spend time with dad (again, I don’t blame them for that, but dad expects me to want to spend time with them and gets mad at me if I make other plans to give them alone time, accusing me of not wanting to spend time with his children). These are two children who my husband loves dearly, so I have to be sure I’m being motherly toward them and sacrificing for them, because I’ve committed to partnering with him and that’s what he wants; two children who bring their high conflict mother into my life, who again, I have to bear with grace and dignity, because she’s the mother of the two children who live in my house and society loves to sympathize with a divorced mother who is after all only stirring up trouble to “protect her children”. When I read the first comment about the stepdaughter who tolerates her stepmother but ultimately could do without her, I think that will be my situation in a few years. My stepsons might invite me around because that’s what their dad wants (although not if their mom pitches a fit and she very well might), but won’t genuinely want me around, just like she doesn’t genuinely want her stepmother around. Society (other than fellow stepmothers) will sympathize with them for feeling this way, but would also vilify the stepmother as “cold” if she wasn’t trying to build a mother-daughter relationship or eagerly awaiting the arrival of her step-grandchild. It’s difficult to feel like I should invest in anything more than being polite and marginally helpful to my stepchildren, because I know what I’ll get in return. Yet, society would vilify me if I ever said any of this out loud. I think this is the very reason that being a stepmother is so difficult. Society expects, almost demands, that you will be a mother to your stepchildren and treat them as your own, even though it’s very rare that your stepchild will ever view you as a parent and even if everyone (especially their mother and often the stepchild) feels that you’re overstepping if you do in fact, try to act like a mother. It’s disheartening to sacrifice repeatedly for a child, only to have them at best offer a perfunctory thank you and at worst, bring undue drama into your life. As anyone who is married to a divorced parent knows, your stepchild will often try to exert their own power in your relationship with your spouse and relatives of the stepchildren (including their father sometimes) will often assume your intentions are not as pure as loving as they would like them to be and judge you for that (even without any evidence to back up their claims like the stepdaughter who posted above, who thinks her stepmother is only acting interested so she can talk about “mom” things with her mother friends). I know that my mother-in-law has already spoken to my husband about insuring that his children are protected in his will and how he should make someone other than me his executor to make sure the kids get “what is rightfully theirs” (even though my husband literally has nothing to leave in his nonexistent will, at this point and even though, God willing, managing his will, will not be anything we have to manage for 40-50 years). Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would have married someone with children if given a second chance to decide. I love my husband dearly, but being a stepmother may be the most thankless job there is and facing a lifetime of this, it’s difficult to know how gracious I can be, before I crack. It’s hard to fight the urge to totally disengage, but I feel like disengaging gets you into the situation where everyone says you deserve to be treated like a non-entity, because you disengaged, even though you actually disengaged because you were being treated like a non-entity. It feels like a Catch-22 if there ever was one.

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    • Struggling, so much of what you say mirrors my experience with stepchildren. Now that their father is gone, they act as if I never existed. It’s a thankless job that occasionally turns out well but not often. Thanks for sharing this.

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  10. I am not legally married yet for financial and other reasons, but have been living as husband and wife for the past 2 years (call each other as such, etc.,), anyhow, we have his 3 children 24/7. They are 9, 5, 4. I am not childless, but my child is a young adult and is engaged herself and pregnant. I am 10 years older than my husband. The children’s mother is a drug addict and is incarcerated and then will be deported in less than a year from now.
    My husband works pretty late most nights (home in time from 7:45pm – 9pm) and only has Sunday and one other day off during the week. I work from home a full time demanding job during regular hours. The children are VERY messy and except for the older one, they have no manners. I am constantly working them with simple things that they should have learned, but before I came along there was only a Nanny who just did the minimum and nothing else. Nanny had to go early on b/c I could not stand her laziness and hearing the children whining and fighting non-stop while I was working.
    I am now the mean evil stepmother b/c I have to discipline them or nothing happens. My husband gave me permission long ago to spank them and the younger two do get somewhat frequent spankings. Mainly for destroying the house (breaking furniture, peeling off wallpaper, etc) and fighting. I also have to do their laundry and basically everything. I am trying to teach them, but still after 2 years it is work every day. Sometimes just easier to do it myself.
    I hate to admit this, but the boy is difficult for me to have positive feelings towards. He lies about everything and is simply not that smart at all, but is not special needs, just not very bright. Cannot follow even very simple instructions and then cries about it. I feel so guilty for all of this, and lately I have been feeling so depressed and really rethinking if this is the path I want to take in life. Is it even fair to these kids? I am angry so much of the time and yell so often and hardly recognize myself in the mirror. I just so much older and I have gained weight from the stress.
    My husband is very sweet and I love him, but he does drink a little too much once he finally gets home from work and then it is competition for his attention because of the children. We never have any time to ourselves except for when the children are sent outside to play or are in bed, which makes for an exhaustive next day. Saturdays and evenings are also hard sometimes when it’s just me and the kids. Sometimes I take them places and have fun I guess, but mostly I feel like a babysitter with no time to myself except for when I make them play outside while I hide on my computer or try to read a book. I feel so guilty for being sad about all of this and no that they have no other mother. Nothing seems enjoyable in life anymore. I can’t even get motivated this week to clean the house which is a huge huge mess. I just look at it all and cry lol. I keep having thoughts of just packing up and moving away with my pets. I make more money than he does, but it’s a struggle to live alone. I always wanted the nice house and nice family and nice happy life. I still try to have visions/hope where the kids are all behaving, my husband changes his work schedule a bit (been begging him to switch careers) and I have a clean organized house with well behaved kids. They don’t have to love me. In fact I feel awkward when my husband tells them to give me hugs and kisses at night time too. I was a single mom the whole time my child was young, now I am an outsider taking care of someone else’s children and feel very lonely and sad.

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    • Rethinking, this is just my opinion, but I think you need to get out of there. At least take a couple weeks to yourself to figure out whether you want to do this long-term. Are you just the babysitter? Is there a real relationship worth all this misery? I hope you can find peace.

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  11. Please do not send email to confirm comment posted. My husband gets notifications of my new emails on his phone. also, please forgive the typos/errors. I was just venting and typing and didn’t proof read. It felt good to vent a little. I would never dare to admit these things otherwise. I feel like a terrible person

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  12. I met my husband when I was 17 and he had a 4 month old son (he was never married or dated his mother). I formed a connection with my step son from that very young age and we share split custody 50/50 with his mother.
    We raised our son as if we are all equal parents -although I find myself actually doing more then the biological parents. I do parent teacher conferences, make treats for the school parties, plan the friend birthday parties, tuck him in each night, make doctor appointments and take him to appointments(although this is because my job allows my to take time off that my husband can’t-I run a home daycare so we didn’t have to have our son be bounced to another place as he already is). He is now 6 and he has no memory of me never being in his life. We have a great connection as if he were my own.
    My marriage has been rough for the last 2-3 years and we have considered divorce-however I cannot leave the marriage because I would be leaving my step son. Since I do most of the day to day parenting-and he has had so many changes throughout his life (boyfriends in and out with mom and changing homes) this would break him. He also has special needs which Truthfully I think is because of inconsistency in his life. When my husband and I were married I promised my step son I was never going to leave him (as one of moms boyfriends recently did and it took almost two years for him to get over that change.)
    I feel stuck in this situation since legally I have no rights. Most would say a bad marriage is worse for the kids, but that’s with biological where they would just go back and fourth between two homes. I have been trying to make it work as just as any parent you would do anything for your child. I just have others telling me to put myself first.
    Sorry this goes away from the topic as most of you do not have that connection, but as step parents I wondered if anyone has been in a similar situation before.

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