after all these years...
Hello all. Im PJ from Sydney Australia...avid gardener (succulent fancier), sole parent and adult stepchild. Amongst other things ï This is a bit of long post, apologies.
I could really use some advice with some messy and painful ÂissuesÂ that have arisen between my stepmother and I this year.
Both my parents remarried 20-odd years ago. My Mums second marriage, DadÂs third Â he left when I was 5, and his second marriage lasted about 5 years. My brother and I didnÂt see a lot of my Dad for those 5 years, in large part because my former step mother (KK) was very young (20) at the time and found it hard to accept my brother and I (5 and 3 yo). We were raised strictly, were good kids, and I can say objectively that she was cruel.
Fortunately for my brother and I they divorced and my Dad remarried a lovely woman Â JR. She was the fairy god-mother compared to our former wicked step mother. Friendly, fun and kind....not affectionate or loving like a mother, but nice like a friend or teacher. Coincidentally my Mum also remarried that year, my wonderful step dad HB, who has been an excellent role model for myself and my brother.
A few years later my Dad and step mum had my little brother BR. Tragically my first brother died in a accident when I was 15. My third brother DR was born the following year.
I have always had what I thought was a great relationship with my parents, step parents and brothers.
My step mum works with developmentally disabled people, and I have always admired her caring and compassionate nature. Through the years our relationship has been very good. Friendly. SheÂs 12 years younger than my Dad and I have other friends her age.
Anyhoo, to cut a long story short, following my brotherÂs death life went a bit pear-shaped. Mum wasnÂt coping, Dad and JR had babies to raise, and I was very depressed. I finished school then went off the rails for a few years, culminating in the death of my fiancÃ© when I was 21. At the time I had been living with him and his 5 year old daughter, whose mum wasnÂt able to care for her. So I lost both of them. She now lives with her grandparents and we are still in touch.
In the succeeding years I fought tooth and nail to get back on my feet Â get clean, put myself though college, postgrad study and into a great job. The postgrad study and work I have done whilst raising a child on my own (after coming out of a domestic violence situation) and battling clinical depression (for which I have long received treatment).
Finally my life seems to have worked out after years of struggle, and I feel proud of myself for overcoming my difficulties. ItÂs not been easy!
But it would have been impossible without my Mum and stepdad. TheyÂve been a huge support in every way, especially emotionally. IÂm very lucky to have that because many people donÂt.
My Dad and JR have offered a little support. Since IÂve been back in my home town theyÂd take my daughter a few times a year to give me the night off. And let me tell you, solitude is like gold when youÂre working, studying and raising a child on your own! However, over the last two years the support all but vanished. At the same time my JR started to make odd remarks when weÂd see her or speak on the phone. Little criticisms about my home, lifestyle (somewhat unconventional), personal taste, parenting etc etc. I kept thinking to myself...if I didnÂt know any better, IÂd say she was jealous. But after years of her being nothing but kind and friendly, it didnÂt make sense.
Well, it turns out she is jealous and has told me as much.
It started with me asking about her offer to have my daughter stay for a night in the January holidays. MY daughter had only visited them two in the preceding 18months, and was asking when she could go.
I asked JR, and the response floored me. I have never heard anyone speak with as much resentment and outright loathing as she then went on to speak about my child. DonÂt get me wrong, my daughter can be a handful, IÂll be the first to admit that, but she stays with my Mum and stepdad and at many of her friends places without issue. SheÂs a quirky kid, but the way JR spoke about her it was as if she was describing a serial killer let loose in their loungeroom. Not only was my daughters behaviour that bad, she was no longer welcome to stay the night in their home. I was rendered speechless, absolutely flabbergasted, and spent the next two days confused and balling my eyes out. It just seemed so out of the blue and unprecedented...or was it?
The more I thought about it, the more sideways remarks, criticisms, weird ÂvibesÂ and my daughters anxiety at family events involving JR came to mind. I thought about my own experience as a stepmother, and remembered how jealous and threatened I felt at first towards my partners ex, and to a degree to their child, and how much effort it took to confront my jealousy, own it and do my best to love through it. After all, how could I be jealous of an innocent child who saw me as a second Mum? Still, I had had those feelings, and it dawned on me that maybe some kind of reverse jealousy thing was happening? Maybe buried jealously was coming out after all these years and being directed at my daughter?
Unfortunately my interpretation of events came out in a not very constructive way. I was upset about what JR had said about my daughter, and she knew this. When they called a few days later I tried to express my feelings in an honest way, wanting to be open and talk about how hurt I felt by what sheÂd said, but before I could get more than a few words out, JR became defensive and began listing all the reasons why having my daughter to stay was too big an ask. They had too many responsibilities, were too busy.
I tried to explain how much that odd night here and then meant to me and my daughter. Maybe I am being selfish, but the odd night off is something I really value. For my own sanity. I also want my daughter to spend time with her grandfather, uncles and JR...although from the day my daughter was born JR has made VERY clear she did not want to in any way be a grandmother, or be called anything but her first name Â no granny or nan. NO WAY! My brothers used to joke about it calling her nanna-JR, because it got her real riled-up for some reason. Maybe because she thought she was too young to be a grandmother? I donÂt know.
Anyway, my view that she had some jealousy issues came blurting out. Not in a nasty way, but it a strong way. I explained that IÂd been a step mum too for awhile, and strong feelings towards first families (exs and kids) was common and natural.
What I got in response was weeks of nasty text messages.
IÂve lived a fairly unconventional lifestyle relative to my Dad, JR and my brothers. We donÂt have a TV, I spend a lot of time in the garden, I listen to ethnic music and used to have dreadlocks and smoke pot. There were times I suspected JR saw me as a flaky hippy moocher. After my fiancÃ© died I moved home for 6 months and didnÂt work. When things went sour with my daughterÂs father years later, again I stayed at my Mum and HBs until I got back on my feet. There were times JR said things that gave the impression she thought I was lazy, a slacker.
Well, it turns out she also sees me as, and I quote, ÂimmatureÂ, ÂselfishÂ, ÂsickÂ and a ÂtakerÂ Â amongst other colourful pejoratives framed within lacerating text messages, including that I chose to be a single mother and hence cannot expect others to help me, and that I blame other people for my problems .
More, apparently it is an unforgivable crime that I have not invited her over for coffee Â although this is not something I do. Ever. Being a sole parent and often wrangling with my depression, IÂm something of a hermit and donÂt have the opportunity or inclination to socialise on a regular basis. Come the weekend IÂm quite simply exhausted. I wasnÂt able to stay home and raise my child while my partner worked, as I had no partner. JR returned to work 2 years ago, and doesnÂt seem to realise I have been studying, volunteering or working since my daughter was 2.
More, apparently she didnÂt know I was depressed, and thinks I lead a life of luxury sponging off my Mum and HB and lazing around the house.
ItÂs like JR has a picture of me based on the person she thought I was at 18, or the times IÂve moved back home when life has been tough, and that I have let my Mum and HB pay my way. The overwhelming evidence to the contrary seems not to have been noticed. The years of study, the jobs, the volunteering, the violence, raising a child on my own, the grief, the sheer effort and focus IÂve used to get where I am today. I thought that, overall, she was proud of me Â as my friends are. As my Mum, HB and I assume my dad is.
Nup, apparently IÂm irredeemable. A bad person.
JR continued to send text messages saying unkind things and I had to stop being immature and talk to her, but she was so aggressive I was terrified. I didnÂt want to end up in a screaming match. I was so upset and emotional I wanted to wait till I had collected myself before we had a discussion. She was beyond angry that I had said she had strong feelings, including jealousy, it was a volcanic fury.
JR had also involved both my brothers and presented the situation to them in such a way that they also texted or called furious at me for this Âevil, disgustingÂ thing I had done to their Mum. I really didnÂt think sheÂd bring them into it, and I refuse to enter into any kind of ÂI said, she saidÂ discussions with them. They did nothing wrong, and of course they will want to defend their mother from perceived attacks. I know that in time the truth will come out, though it may be many years. ItÂs not easy ignoring the untruths they are repeating to me.
I know in my heart that although I dropped a bomb and was angry, that I spoke my truth. I think that is why there has been such an explosive reaction.
Finally (three weeks later) I couldnÂt handle the upsetting text messages anymore, so I picked up the phone and called her. I wanted so bad for her to not be so angry, to not hate me, that almost all my resolve to be compassionate yet assertive evaporated, and I ended up grovelling Â I took all the responsibility and gave an unconditional apology. I just couldnÂt take the stress of the hate any more.
So desperately did I want it to stop that I didnÂt even react to some strange things she said in our conversation. I asked her if she really thought I had chosen to be a sole parent, and she said Âyes, you made a poor choiceÂ. I assumed she meant my ex, who was, it is true, a dirtbag. But no. She didnÂt mean my ex, what she meant was that I made a poor choice having my daughter, as in, the right choice would have been to have my daughter aborted. I was dumbstruck. Surely I had misunderstood. No, she made it crystal clear. I made a poor choice by not having an abortion. How can she say this? Say this about an 8 year old little girl? That she shouldnÂt exist? Why in the world would I have considered an abortion to begin with Â why on earth would she say this?
And the really unsettling thing is, she said it as if it was the most normal thing in the world. She also said matter of factly that she was still angry at the way my daughter, at 4, would tease her uncle, then 12...as if this was a capital offense. She spoke about a 4 year old little girl as if she were an adult molesting her son. It was weird.
I think because I offered an all-out surrender she felt safe to divulge a few things Â including her own belief that maybe the Âevil stepmumÂ stuff was coming out on my daughter, that she had harboured an enormous amount of resentment because she had long thought I expected her to babysit every weekend (she was angry at me for making her feel guilty), and that there were times she wished sheÂd married a man without kids from a previous relationship.
I never had any such expectations.
She offered no apologies or remorse for any of the things she said in the text messages, but did say sorry for not taking my daughter in the holidays when she had offered to.
The more I thought about that conversation, the more I realised how weird and hurtful some of the things JR had said were, and how much I had let myself down by not standing up for myself.
Dad called a week later and could tell I was upset. I didnÂt want to talk about it anymore, but he pressured me for answers and I told him what JR had said, word for word.
Half an hour later, another text message. JR denied saying anything of the sort, and said that I have done was unforgiveable, a range of hurtful things about my character, and that she never wants to see or speak to me again.
I knew she would be angry if I told Dad what she said, but I really didnÂt think sheÂd lie about it.
I know I should have spoken to JR about it all, and that was my intention, I shouldnÂt have caved to Dads insistent questioning. He just wants everything to be OK, but what really breaks my heart is that now heÂd rather believe IÂve misinterpreted or outright lied than that JR has some strong unresolved feelings towards my daughter and I. It seems JR is using my past as a wild-child, and ongoing battle with depression, as a stick to beat me with ÂIÂm crazy. IÂve misinterpreted it all because IÂm sick.
IÂm wavering between depression, sorrow, grief and anger about it all. Part of wants to try and talk with her, but I have been advised not to. A family friend is of the opinion JR needs help, but because of her values she would probably never see the need or be able to reach out.
IÂve known her for 20 years, have never asked for much or had high expectations of JR or my Dad, yet I am being painted as an evil, incredibly selfish immature person, and told my child should not exist.
JR speaks as if her and my Dad have done the world for me, but the reality is theyÂve never supported my daughter and I in any kind of significant sense. Am I selfish to expect a few nights respite and for my daughter to be able to spend some time with her grandfather?
Why do you think that this all seems to have started when I became a mother and returned to my home town? Do I represent something, or could I really be this awful person and I just canÂt see it?