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Parenting Stepchildren/Daughter more loyal to step mother and father than biological mother

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I seriously don't know what to do.  I share 50% custody of both my bio-logical daughters 13 and 10 years old with their father and step mom.  We have been living with this arrangement for the last 7 years.  It has been very difficult.  Their father bought a house 30 minutes from my house and the girls school.  He has been driving them and sending them in taxis for the last 7 years to and from school.  I certainly didn't want this for my kids but I can't do anything about it.  

My pain - For the first 5 years of this arrangement, their father didn't acknowledge me as the girls mother, put up a huge boundary between the homes and continued to be hurtful and abusive over the years - narcissistic.  I did not respond well to this and suffered emotionally.  My self esteem took a huge beating and my humility is front and centre in my daily life.  I went from being over confident to I'm not worthy.  I did some counseling and thought I was doing better but I still have my work cut out for me - I have started counseling again.  The root of my pain is loss  and I struggle with recovery.  I've had so many losses in my life - orphaned, marriage, loss of family and kids 50% - abandonment issues.  

We made a lot of progress in the last 2 years and are trying to spend time together as a blended family and I felt strong going into this phase.  Now that my 13 year old is choosing her father's family more than me, I am heart broken.  My daughter continues to confide and defer to the authority and advice in her father's home.  Her step mom and dad have a major influence on my daughter and I feel that they have manipulated her into believing that they are "better" people and as a result, my relationship is becoming strained and my daughter is pulling away.  Her father and step mom are arrogant, only talk about how great they are and have few friends.  My daughter doesn't see through any of this and it seems like school yard behaviour.  All of my beliefs are breaking down and I thought that if I provided a good home and loved my daughters there is no way that bond could be broken.  My daughter is choosing to be with her father more, her step sisters more and texts with her step mom often when she is with me.  My daughter is frustrated with me that I am not more supportive about her relationships with her step sisters and I can see that I look like the bad guy.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to support this dynamic.  My 13 year old daughter wants to go to the high-school attended by her step sisters - a 30 minute drive from my house.  My daughter knows I don't want this and had asked that she evaluate the high school 2 blocks from my house before making a decision.  She said she would but her behavior is leaning towards the step sister school.  Academics, clubs, sports and band are amazing at the school 2 blocks away and all my daughter cares about is going to school with her step sisters.  I am not the kind of person that can get up every morning and drive my kid to school adding an extra hour to my day.  I considered moving to the neighborhood but my 10 year old wants to continue to attend school grade 5-8 in our neighborhood.  I told my daughter I fear that when she is settled as a teen, she will not want to make the trip back to my house for the week I have custody because of school and friends.  

I don't know if I should continue to hang on tight to my daughter or let her go and let her do what she wants.  I am getting counseling and know I have work to do.  These next few months will set our family on a course that I won't be able to change.  I feel like a failure, like my daughter doesn't respect me and when she chooses them, I am reminded of my failures.  I don't know how much fight I have left as recently, her father sent me an email of a few topics he'd like to bring up with me and all of them relate to my daughter wanting me to support her choices but those choices take her farther away from me.  I resent that he has this information from her and I don't.  How can I support this?  What advice do you have?  What does the evidence say in these situations?  If I give my daughter support - will she come back to me someday?  I have had so many losses I have no faith that a mother's love for her daughter will prevail.

Answer
Hello "Mama" - I'm very familiar with the complex situation you describe. You and your girls are experiencing a cluster of stressful problems like these:

http://sfhelp.org/sf/problems.htm

Your biggest problem, I suspect, is accepting that you, your ex, and the stepmom each inherited psychological wounds from early-childhood trauma. Divorce is a common symptom of this All you adults are at risk of unintentionally passing on these wounds to your respective kids. See these:

http://sfhelp.org/gwc/gwc.htm  /  http://sfhelp.org/gwc/means.htm,  and

http://sfhelp.org/fam/cycle.htm.

One common p4rogl3em to typical Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) is difficulty admitting and grieving their many losses. That often means their kids don't know how to grieve well either. See http://sfhelp.org/grief/quiz3.htm  and  http://sfhelp.org/grief/qa.htm.

Your daughters and their stepsisters have a daunting array of normal and special needs. They need ALL you adults to understand these needs and work cooperatively to fill them.

http://sfhelp.org/parent/d_needs.htm  //  http://sfhelp.org/sf/co/kid_needs.htm

http://sfhelp.org/sf/co/qa_sc.htm

You and your kids are experiencing stepfamily loyalty conflicts. There I)S a best way to manage them:  http://sfhelp.org/fam/lc.htm

If this all feels overwhelming - it IS!

I respectfully suggest for ALL your sakes: 1] study and discuss online "lessons" 1, 2, 3, and 7 here:  http://sfhelp.org/site/course.htm. and [2] hire a veteran stepfamily  therapist to help you all.

NONE of you adults are "failures," for you've done the best you could without being taught what you needed to know.

Questions - welcome, "Mama." - Compassionately, Pete  

Parenting Stepchildren

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Peter Gerlach, MSW

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

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

Publications
Hundreds of Web articles on sfhelp.org ; 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.

Education/Credentials
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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