When my dad first started dating my soon-to-be stepmom, I was overjoyed. He had been so lonely and untrusting of people for so long that I was starting to think he’d never find someone to spend his life with—and while I wished he and my mom could have worked things out, I knew that was never going to happen.
When I first met her, she was sweet, attentive, and eager to get to know me. We seemed to share a lot of the same personality traits, which made it easy for me to open up to her. I was excited to have a new addition to our family since I had only seen my mom and dad separately since high school.
It felt like a new beginning: a complete family rather than broken shards of a family.
And then . . . they got married. And suddenly the warm, compassionate woman I thought I knew began to show her true colors.
It started off slowly. If there was a choice between spending time with me and my husband or with her family, her family always got first priority (and while we suggested spending time all together, that very rarely happened). When my husband and I spent time with them, she would find reasons to get annoyed (for instance, my dad would talk to me too much instead of her), and she would devolve into a passive-aggressive silence.
I shook it off at first. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she thought we wouldn’t get along with her own family. But surely she would come around and realize that nothing but good could come out of our blended family . . . right?
We took two family trips to the beach. But by the end of day one, each time, she went into her passive-aggressive sulk—and by sheer willpower, I suppose, made sure she kept it going for the entire week. Both times.
We all made an effort to draw her out. What do you want to do? Would you like to go here? Eat here? Would you like to watch this movie? All answered with a sullen “Whatever you want to do” or, “I’ll just stay here and take a nap. Don’t worry about me.”
After that, things continued to unravel.
While we lived right next door, we weren’t invited to Thanksgiving celebrations because her family was there until we made a point of saying we were hurt that we weren’t invited. The day of, my stepmom coolly ignored me while her family actually went out of their way to include us.
The final straw for us was that Christmas. While Dad and my stepmom’s family received several gifts, my husband, child, and I received none at all—made all the more hurtful because it was my son’s first Christmas and because my dad didn’t seem to argue about it.
So. What do you do when you have a stepparent who suddenly doesn’t want you around because it disrupts their picture-perfect idea of what a family should be, and your parent won’t advocate for you?
Here’s the short answer (and the harsh answer): Share your concerns and your feelings with your parent, and ask if there’s anything you can do to build a stronger relationship with the step-parent. If that doesn’t work, no matter what you try (and if your parent’s efforts on your behalf fall short), then take what you can get to maintain a close relationship with your parent.
Here’s the long answer.
Sometimes no matter what you do, things won’t progress because the other person simply doesn’t want to.
This is made all the more gnarly when they have a close bond with the other person you love—and sadly, this puts your parent in a very unfortunate position that they wouldn’t otherwise choose to be in.
It’s really easy to get angry and resentful of your stepparent when you’ve put in the time, effort, and love to build a relationship only for them to switch courses and treat you like . . . well, an unwanted appendage to their ideal family. Especially when your parent doesn’t seem to step up to the plate.
I have spent plenty of time being furious at the rift my stepmom drove between me and my dad, and it hasn’t made anything better. That’s why I’m trying to work on forgiveness and accepting the relationship I can have with them both. I’m still nowhere good at it—but at least I’m trying.
Keep trying with your stepparent. Just because it seems like nothing will change, doesn’t mean it won’t. If nothing else, you can make things easier on your parent and hopefully keep them close to you.
I made this point already, but it’s important enough to repeat: Tackle your feelings of resentment and try to turn them into understanding. You can’t change people—but you can change how you react to them. And sometimes, that can make all the difference.