Parenting Stepchildren/step-family dynamics


Dear Mr Gerlach:

I have a question regarding the family dynamic of step-families.  Specifically, whenever there is a family occasion…(wedding, funeral, etc) my father’s wife has been EXTREMELY rude to our (my sister’s and I) mother.  She (my father’s wife) is not a particularly nice person to begin with…self-centered and narcissistic.  However, in an effort to give her the benefit of the doubt, I have noticed that this is a fairly common phenomenon…IE that current wives are resentful, and rude towards former wives. Thus, despite my personal feelings toward my father’s wife ( I do not like her…for obvious reasons) I am attempting to understand this phenomenon. The nastiness she exhibits toward our mother is so blatant and over the top that It’s seems almost cartoonish…like a caricature of nastiness.

I should note that my mother doesn't care…or even seem to notice…She is virtually oblivious.  I should also point out that our father has a narcissistic personality disorder, and thus lacks the ability to empathize, and read people effectively…IE to see people for who they really are…So his current wife can stroke his ego, and tell him how wonderful he is, and he does not see through the façade. She (his wife) can pretend to care about his children, and he cannot read her true intentions. I suspect his wife also has a narcissistic personality disorder…My understanding is that this condition presents itself differently in females than in males. Which is to say that his wife is not particularly abusive, as far as I can tell, but she is extremely snobby, and haughty…needs to stay at fancy hotels, and eat at fancy restaurants…and be “served” by those she considers to be “inferior.”

That being said, as I stated earlier, I have observed that this is a fairly common phenomenon…that of current wives being rude and resentful toward former wives, so I am attempting to understand this phenomenon before making a final decision regarding how to feel about it.  Our mother is a genuinely nice person, and has not given our father’s current wife any reason to behave this way.  She has never wanted our father back, and is thrilled to be rid of him.  IE She has never been a threat to our father’s current wife.  My parents have been divorced for over 25 years…Our father has been with his current wife for over 20 years. Yet this behavior persists...and has persisted for the entire length of her marriage to our father.

In point of fact, our mother has a dependent personality disorder, (which I suppose is why she’s so completely oblivious to being treated this way.)

I any event… I suppose my question is this…This:  Is this an underlying psychological need that some women have…IE Should I be more understanding of our father’s wife’s need to be “the only woman” in our father’s life…or is she really just a nasty person, deserving of disdain and contempt?

As I noted earlier, her nastiness…and more particularly selfishness is not limited to our mother, bus this seems (to me) to be the most disturbing aspect of it, and most evidentiary feather of it.

Thank you for your time,


Hi Lee - In my experience, divorce is often a sign that both mates have inherited [psychological wounds + unawareness] from their ancestors via early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse. This inheritance promotes most "personality disorders" like "Narcissism." My experience is also that divorced "Grown Wounded Children" ["GWCs"] usually pick another GWC as a new mate. That seems to be the case you describe. Your stepmother's "nastiness" and rudeness are common symptoms of these wounds. I suspect she is a shame-based GWC living in denial, as is your Dad.

To better understand this, see these:

new and former spouses can range from friends to one-ay or mutual "enemies," depending on many factors, so what you describe is fairly common, but not a "norm."

If I'm right, then you kids and any of your children are at risk of inheriting these wounds. To assess this and protect your kids, see this free online "lesson":

Also see lesson 7 for info on your stepfamily:

If you have questions on any of this, please ask! - Pete

Parenting Stepchildren

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Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about remarriage preparation, stepparenting, stepchild discipline, child visitation, grieving, stepfamily norms and myths, mission statements, stepparent job (role)descriptions, communication skills, loyalty and values conflicts, stepfamily identity problems, common pitfalls, ex mate and relative problems, stepfamily merger and adjustment tasks, name confusions, choosing an effective counselor, resolving money disputes, co-parenting support groups, and the family effects of court (legal) battles. I can`t answer questions about medicine, family law, legal stepchild adoption, or financial planning.


I have studied and worked with stepfamilies clinically since 1979, and I have been a "step everything" personally. I was invited to be on the board of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA) by it's founders, Drs. John and Emily Visher; and later was re-invited by president Margory Engle, PhD. For more detail, see this.

Former Board member, Stepfamily Association of America (SAA)
National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)Experts Council

Hundreds of Web articles on ; I've uploaded over 150 self-improvement videos on YouTube; and have self-published 6 books. My ad-free Web site offers a unique, practical 7-lesson self-improvement course.

Stanford University BSME (1958) George Williams College MSW (1981) Hundreds of post-graduate seminars on a wide variety of "mental health" subjects

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of appreciative emails and comments on my Web site and videos from people all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked clinically with over 1,000 midwestern divorced and remarried family members, and have had over 800 stepfamily students in various seminars and courses since 1981

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