Stepchildren are rejected by their Mom

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Q: Almost 4 years ago, my husband’s ex married a man who admitted to lewd and lascivious acts with a minor (his own daughter). He got 3 years probation which is over but because of him she lost all visitation with her two children: a daughter 18 and a son 16. Both children have learning disabilities and are overall great kids. The problem is they still care about their mother; however, she has told them she doesn’t want to dwell in what happened in the past when they lived with them and wants to move forward. She also wants them to realize she has her life is with her husband and she doesn’t put them first. She doesn’t check on them consistently. She had to have her wages garnished to pay child support. She never believed her husband did what he was convicted of and that is why she stayed with him instead of divorcing and moving back to our home state.

My problem is the children in the long run. Will they ever get past the fact that she will never put them first and that she chose someone else over them? I want them to be happy and I would adopt them but the mother refuses to give up her parental rights. I don’t want my stepchildren to have any regrets and I am trying to be as encouraging as possible. Our counselor felt that their mother has several personality disorders all that are not treatable.

She hasn’t see the kids in over two years but made sure she drove all the way to IL from TX for the daughter’s graduation and didn’t even to speak to her. She has missed out on proms and confirmations. Maybe I need help in how to let go. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: These kids are fortunate, indeed, to have a stepmom who cares so much about them that you would ask these questions. Yes, this is a difficult situation for kids. Just when they are at an age when they should be working on separating from their mom, she went and separated from them! They are probably mad and confused and sad about it. They may wonder what it is about them that their own mother couldn’t love them enough to stay involved. Don’t look for this to be rational. It’s not. All kids want their parents to love them, even when the parent is obviously unable to do so.

Can they get by it? Yes. How it happens depends on the kid. Some kids find a way to make sense of it and make peace with it on their own. Others have a much more difficult time of it. It’s a matter of both temperament and how they are supported by other people who love them. If these kids seem to be struggling with it, you could offer them the option of seeing a family therapist. It might be easier for them to talk with a third party than to talk to you or their dad at this point. Many kids worry about being “disloyal” to the absent parent so won’t talk about their feelings with people who are close to the situation.

One other thought: One of the kids is already legally an adult. The other will be there soon. You could let them know that if they wish, you are happy to adopt them at age 18. How you present the idea is very important. You want them to know that you love them enough to be their legal mom but you don’t want them to feel that you are making them choose between you and their mom. The offer may be just as important as following through on it.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Sep 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Stepchildren are rejected by their Mom. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/09/01/stepchildren-are-rejected-by-their-mom/

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