Why don't I matter in the family?
I am running out of options in my stepfamily. I have read books and talked to other step-parents. I come from a step-family myself. Needless to say, I don't know how my mom did it. My problem is with my husband and stepson. We never seem like a family. My stepson is sweet as can be when my husband isn't around. He is 3. Once my husband is around, I don't exist anymore. The same thing goes for my husband. When his son isn't with us, he is a husband but when his son is with us, I might as well not even be here. No one would notice my absence. I am just the maid when his son is here. When they are playing together, no one thinks to include me or anything.
I just don't know what to do. I am extremely unhappy in the situation. I have tried to talk to my husband about it and he just gets frustrated which makes me feel even worse. He doesn't try to validate my feeling or make me feel better at all. How am I suppose to live in this family if no one even sees me as part as the family?
What can I do? Thanks, Nina
(NOTE: Cathryn wrote back with a couple of clarifying questions and Nina reply is below.)
PS We have his son roughly every other week so a total of about 2 weeks a month. His bio-mom and I get along actually. We are what I like to call surface friends. It wasn't always like that but I made some changes in my behavior to make it happen. I have told my husband how I feel but he never seems to get it. I end up telling him sorry for how I feel. He just seems to get frustrated with me and doesn't ever really say anything.
As for my childhood, my bio-mom left our family. I felt abandoned but I have resolved the issues with her and hold no grudges. I have explored the possibility that those past feelings might exacerbate the current feelings.
I’m sorry to hear about the pain you’re experiencing. It’s certainly understandable that you would not want to be left out, feel rejected or be treated like a maid.
Because I only know what you wrote here, let’s start with your comment about feeling like a maid. This is a noteworthy comment. Usually when we say that it means we feel resentful. Resentment is something to pay attention to. It’s a wonderful clue (as upsetting as it feels) that the exchange in our relationship is out of balance. In this case, you are giving more than you feel you are getting back. There are 2 ways to get this situation into balance. Sounds like you’ve tried getting your husband to increase his appreciation and that’s not working.
The other option is for you to reduce the energy you’re putting into any relationship or situation that makes you feel resentful. This can be a challenge, especially with such a young child who needs help in so many areas. It’s also going to bring any unhealed wounds from your childhood, up to the surface. I know hearing this can be frustrating. Why does everything have to come back to our past? This personal growth stuff takes guts and courage. I find that so many SMOMS (women who are here) have invested so much time, energy and love into their skids and husbands, that they are strong enough to handle the rigors of emotional wounds.
The good news about this is that as we uncover, acknowledge and heal our emotional wounds from the past, there is an immediate shift in how things impact us. Things that used to drive us crazy, upset us, hurt us, anger us, etc are no longer charged. So, in hopes that it inspires you, this short term emotional work will give you a life long reprieve from the pains you are feeling now...as you resolve them. Make Sense?
Back to looking for ways to balance your relationships:
It can also be hard to pull back from helping your skid and in your home because you probably have certain beliefs about the ways you want to care for a child, the way you feel a child should be cared for, the way you wished you were cared for and this can compel us to do things that ultimately make us feel resentment. Not because we don’t want to do something but because we don’t get the appreciation, connection or reaction that we imagined and/or believe is the appropriate.
Let me interrupt myself to say, this is NOT about right or wrong. This is about what works and doesn’t work for you. This is about making changes that lead to balance for you. It’s also about becoming aware of what you need so you can find some ways to receive and replenish the energy you give out.
Take a look at all the things you’re doing for your husband, his son and your home. Pay attention to what happens when the 3 of you are together and pay attention to the moments that makes you feel uncomfortable. Becoming aware of how you feel from moment to moment is going to give you lots of insights.
Pay attention to how you feel when your energy is directed to them and away from yourself. Are you doing things that you don’t “want’ to do but feel you should or need to do to be a good stepmom, good wife? These would be the first things to look at. Are you giving yourself enough attention or giving yourself away to them? Again, as a natural care-giver, with a small child in the house, it is very understandable. Not about right or wrong, just about what works for you and how things impact you. Take a look at my article about “overfunctioning” for clues to helping yourself get more into a balance that feeds your needs.
As you mentioned, you had major childhood trauma, many of us, maybe most of us have. Having a young skid (stepkid) in your home is bound to bring up any and all of your abandonment issues. It’s the way our psyches work. This can become a transformational time for you to heal, in a deep way as well. I’m a firm believer that being a stepmom is the way to get our PhD’s in personal growth.
While it’s a very good thing that you and your mom have come to a peaceful place as adults. That doesn’t mean that you (and all the little girls you used to be) don’t have some unprocessed, unacknowledged feelings about what you didn’t get as a little child. This is too complex for this letter but you may want to read one of my other letters about what being a stepmom can bring up for us. Also see “Drama of a Gifted Child” by Alice Miller for more about this-if/when it feels right for you.)
Little kids are often willing to soak up love from anyone around and then turn instantly to a parent (turning instantly away from anyone else) when the parent enters the room. Over the years, so many SMOMS, including myself have noticed how the personality of the skid can change when the dad enters the room. The Young skids are like sponges for love and leaky buckets for needing unlimited attention from their Mom and Dads.
It’s not conscious in the little ones. Yet this can be very hard for a stepmom naturally wanting to be included in the love fest, offered to the dad. The allure of the happy family is so strong for many of us and so painful when it’s so close and ripped away from us.
Add to that the lack of compassion you are getting from you husband and it compounds the pain. I get that. The key is what can you do to help yourself?
One place to start: Have you read pages 47-61 in “The Four Agreements” about not taking things personally? It may help, but this is still a hard thing for most of us.
While it’s understandable that your DH would want to focus his attention on his little son while he is in your home, it seems extreme that you’re being ignored or left out the whole time the 3 of you are together.
At this point, I’m wondering how much of your upsetting feelings will be eased if you reduce your efforts, step back even a bit and but your attention on you and your needs? What if you gave yourself the loving appreciation, positive self-talk and feedback that you are looking for from your husband? (I’m not letting him off the hook at all, it’s just that I’m working with you now so we’re focusing on things you can do for you!)
What if you looked for something YOU REALLY LOVED to do while the “guys” do their thing? A class you’ve been wanting to take? A hobby you’ve been dying to try? A skill you’ve been meaning to acquire? Something that you couldn’t do while you were with them. Not for all of the time, but some of the time. It is a chance for you to give yourself something else to focus on that nourishes you in a special way. It feels to me, like you’ve been experiencing a lot of emotional pain and sometimes that so depletes us that we just need a break from the painful moments.
I wrote an article about that too. “Are you at the end of your emotional rope?” you may want to check that out, just to give you some ideas on ways to help yourself feel more like yourself. This is deeply painful stuff you’re experiencing. Finding ways to create emotional space, peacefulness, well-being, even if just for a few hours can do wonders.
About your husband and how he’s reacting to your requests for more compassion and understanding. That’s not a small thing. It’s also something that is more complex than I can address here. However, I will say that I’ve noticed so many husband’s get defensive when we ask for “more” from them. Defensiveness is not a made up feeling. People who get defensive, like dogs who’ve been beaten, do not shrink away without previous cause. When people get defensive, they either close down or lash out (or both) because whatever’s happening makes them feel inadequate or about to be hurt again. Many men take our pleas for more support as criticism (even though we’re merely expressing our needs) and once they do that, they can’t really hear what we’re saying. Sometime, when they don’t know what else to do, they make us wrong because they fear that saying, “I don’t know what to do” makes them less than of a macho man. It can be crazy making for everyone.
As you learn more about the situations that are making you feel uncomfortable or out of balance, take some time to find out what you do need from your Beloved. Could it be more attention after your skid is in bed? Could it be giving you a role in the bedtime ritual? Could it be sharing more instead of dividing things up? Give it some thought.
Many times, it’s easier to talk about what we don’t want. However, this rarely leads to a joyful, love-filled offering from the one feeling critisized. Even if it feels like a reasonable request. When we ask for what we do want it can be an almost miraculous new process. Try starting with a comment like, “It would really help me so much if you would….” Or “Honey, when X happens, it triggers some of my old stuff and while I know it’s my stuff to deal with, it would be so great if you would be willing to….” Generally, people are more open to offering help, rather than changing from a criticism and/or giving into a demand. This is not logical, it’s human.
When we ask for what we need and do so from a loving, thoughtful place, it’s less likely to trigger our beloveds emotional wounds, guilts, shames, fears, etc. It gives them a chance to feel like our hero. May sound silly, but it’s often true. Give it a try if it feels right for you.
As you begin to become more and more aware of what you need and realize that you CAN change what you do, what you give and how you help yourself, the situation is going to change. This is a complex process. Kind of like untangling a knot with many strings of the same color. It is about being patient with one string at a time. In this case, I’m suggesting you start with your string of needs and choices.
Finally, please, please be very very kind and loving with yourself while you’re looking into how to help yourself and your situation. Watch your self-talk. Be very patient! Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a bunch of little girls coming to you for help. Be as compassionate to yourself as you would be to your best friend showing up at your door in tears. This will make a huge difference in your process. Some part of you needs lots and lots of TLC right now. While it would be great to get all this loving attention from your husband right now, it is NOT your only option. This is important and empowering for you to understand. When your husband is loving his son, perhaps it’s a chance for you do the same for the little girls you used to be. What do they need right now? When you’re feeling left out? This is a powerful endeavor you’re about to embrace. This is a chance, an opportunity to heal.
You’re issues are complex, your feelings are valid. These are just a few paths to explore on your journey. I wish you many insights and revelations...and some really lovingkindness and self-care along the way.