Stepmoms, your feelings matter too

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Stepmom feelings matterHave you ever had a difficult situation with your stepchild and thought to yourself “Well, I shouldn’t really complain. It’s harder on my partner because it’s his child, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut”? Like somehow you weren’t allowed to be upset because you’re not the mom or dad? If so, you’re not alone.

When there’s a serious situation going on with a child – mental or physical illness, addiction, serious behavioral issues, etc… – stepparents’ feelings are often invalidated or ignored because they’re “just” the stepmom – or dad’s girlfriend.

Sometimes this is truly how others are treating us, sometimes it’s just our perception of how others feel about us and other times it’s our own self-imposed “rule” we didn’t even realize we had.

It’s Not a Competition

There seems to be a belief that because you’re not the biological parent, you can’t possibly be suffering as much as they are, therefore you should just keep your chin up and mouth shut.

I believe in most cases this isn’t an intentional diss by others. In fact, it can be quite subtle. It can be in the way that an extended family member might ask you how your partner is holding up, or states “it must be so hard for him,” but doesn’t ask how you’re doing with it. Not acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, it’s been difficult for you too.

And sometimes it’s our own beliefs that prevent us from acknowledging our pain. Our internal dialogue telling us to be strong and supportive, that now is not the time for us to acknowledge or process our feelings. And then before we know it, the crisis is over and we’re moving on to the next.

Honoring your experience

Just because someone else’s pain seems to be more intense or they are biologically closer to the person having/causing the issues, it doesn’t mean your experience doesn’t matter. Maybe their suffering is for their child, and yours may be a combination of pain for what their child is experiencing, but also for the effect it’s having on your life; the intrusion, the upheaval every time he has an episode.

You may not even realize you’ve been holding it in, until one day someone sits down with you, looks you in the eye and says “Wow, that’s got to be incredibly difficult for you. How are you holding up?” And then it hits you, “Um… yeah, actually, it’s been horrible.” And you realize no one has ever said that to you before.

Your experiences and emotions are real. And they deserve to be acknowledged and processed in a healthy way. Even if your partner is too busy with his own pain to be there with you in yours, at the very least take some time alone for this. Or find a good friend (or community) who understands and can be there for you as you express your resentments, anger, pain, hatred, etc… without invalidating you by stating that the parent’s pain must be worse.

Sharing your experience with your partner

Although he may not have the bandwidth to handle it while in crisis mode, when the dust settles, have a conversation with your partner and let him know that you just need him to listen to your experience of the situation and how it affects you. Because it does. If there’s something he can do to make it better for you, ask him for that. If not, tell him you just want him to listen. Remember, his default thinking is probably “how can I fix this?” So if there’s no fixing to be done, let him know that.

For example, “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you and I’m happy to talk about that. But right now I’d like you to listen to how I experienced the situation – what it was like for me. I understand you may not want to do anything differently and that you’re doing the best you can – but I at least need you to have this information.”

If you don’t take the time to really work through your emotions and process your pain, you’re basically invalidating your importance and you run the risk of repressing powerful emotions that need to be released. And we all know those repressed emotions like to surface at the most inopportune times. A dirty dish at a holiday dinner ends up eliciting a reaction that’s really the result of all the crises you’ve endured in the past few years.

How to Honor and Move Through Emotions

There are many ways to acknowledge your feelings and experiences. Below are a couple of ways I’ve found that work really well for most people.

  1. Journal. Write down all your thoughts about the situation. Write down everything, even the thoughts you’d be too ashamed to speak. If you’re worried about someone finding your journal, burn it afterwards. What’s important is to let out what’s been festering inside of you. And of course be gentle with yourself. No judgments here. There’s no good or bad, just honest thoughts and feelings.
  2. Notice your emotions. Are you angry? Sad? Frustrated? Resentful? All of the above? Let the emotions flow. If you need to hit a pillow, do so. If you need to cry until you have no more tears left, do it. Those are healthy expressions of healthy emotions. Then bring your awareness to your body and notice how and where these emotions show up. Maybe a pit in your stomach, a headache, a backache, an aching in your chest, a lump in your throat. Then gently place one hand on that spot and take a breath. Imagine you’re breathing into the tension where your emotions are sitting. Do this until you feel the lump/ache start to dissipate. You can do this for as long as you wish.

What’s important here isn’t that others are validating your feelings (since we can never control that), but that you are validating and honoring them.

It’s great to be a supportive partner, but you must find the balance between supporting others and supporting yourself. Regardless of what any outsider thinks, you ARE affected by the actions of everyone else in your family. And your experience deserves to be acknowledged and tended to with love.

© 2016 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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12 thoughts on “Stepmoms, your feelings matter too

  1. Thank you for this article! I’m thankful for my good relationship with my SD but dealing with her mom has been overwhelmingly horrible at times.I did not expect so much conflict and anger and drama, and even though it’s usually my husband she’s targeting, it’s exhausting and so stressful. People do not understand how bad it can get or how much it can affect our family and home life.

    • You’re very welcome, Amber. It IS so difficult and the stress can really does add up if we don’t find healthy ways to release it.

    • Amber – I have it in my life too and yes, it is overwhelming. If you are like me and unaccustomed to such anger, this step mom life can feel overwhelming. I am glad that you at least get to enjoy a good relationship with SD. I have a nice relationship with SS but his sisters hate me. Count your blessings!

      Jenna – thanks for this. Maybe a journal will help.

      • Katherine, I’m sorry that’s the kind of relationship you have with your SS. Writing in a journal does help 🙂

  2. It really is not easy at all, both my SD and SS are very hard work, to the point that my house turns into a screaming match because of the stress it puts us under.. My partner is a real softy with the kids and always threatens but nothing comes of it. It is extremly hard to keep quiet when i know that would be the best thing for all. BUT when my SS is screaming, kicking and making everyones life a living hell in that moment or for those hours. He can sometimes scream, cry and shout at us for 3-4 hours non stop. I find it hard to walk away and say nothing. My own children suffer just as much as i do.

    I love my partner to the moon and back and find myself saying it will get better. give the kids a year or two. But until then i dont know what to do..

  3. I have grown to love my SS. a lot. he is six. Yesterday he asked his aunt why she lived in randomtown. She said laughing, “I don’t know. Why do you live in othertown?”. SS replied, well my dad cheated on my mom…” My Husband says what? I never cheated on your mom. SS cries. I was told my husband was in a relationship with bio mom, fought all the time. He admits he started talking to women online and admits that it was stupid of him. So bio mom finds out and takes SS FIVE STATES AWAY.

    Also, 6 year old stepson began to ask how many ways you can lose consciousness, and what are all the names of alcohol. Said he can tell when its fireball. Then proceeded to tell us about waterboarding and how you could drown someone with oil too. He said his moms bf said he was going to waterboard him. BMs BF was in the military.

    My husband is not reacting as strongly as I am. I want to scoop that child up and take him home NOW. Otherwise I feel like these mouthbreathers are going to ruin him and dump him on us in ten years when he’s already been traumatized. I was not prepared for this.

  4. Thank you for this article! I struggle with the decision of keeping my mouth shut or telling my boyfriend my feelings or opinions when it comes to his kids. We have gotten in many fights because of it and the drama that comes along with his ex doesnt help. I’m thinking of online journaling to help me deep with my anger and frustrations in those stressful situations. I look forward to reading more from you!

    • Hi Kate, there are definitely times when it’s best to NOT give your opinion about his kids or his parenting. But you can still acknowledge and honor what feelings those situations bring up in you. In fact, I think it’s crucial to do that. This doesn’t even have to be shared with your boyfriend. It’s more about not burying the truth of how these situations affect you, the truth that they’re extremely challenging in almost every way. Definitely try the journaling and see if it helps. I know for some, journaling and blogging has transformed their experiences. 🙂

  5. I love that you ask us to recognize our own feelings!
    So often we take on unnecessary feelings of neglect just because we weren’t honest with ourselves and others about what we are feeling!

  6. Thank you for this article, I wish I could have read something like this over 13 years ago. I have always felt I needed to be quiet since day one. It has been a very difficult journey, and I have become a stronger person. Unfortunately I have also learned to conceal my own feeling in the process to be the better person. Well fast forward to today and I finally found my voice. I clearly made it known that I could not accept everyone’s lack of respect for me BM SD and my spouse. Once she tried to push me, I realized I could not live this way anymore. She is now 18 and all I hear from my spouse is that since she doesn’t listen it doesn’t make sense to speak to her about what she is doing wrong. I am always at the back burner, until today. I told him to just listen and understand where I have been coming from. I explained I wasn’t upset at him but disappointed in myself not taking a stand sooner. I should never disregard my feelings. Thanks to you I don’t feel guilty anymore. It is ok to live on happiness, and not walking on eggshells everyday.

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