after all these years...

persephoneApril 21, 2009

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 Âissues that have arisen between my stepmother and I this year.

Both my parents remarried 20-odd years ago. My Mums second marriage, DadÂs third  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  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 fiancé 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  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 Âvibes 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  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 fiancé 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, Âsick and a Âtaker  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  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  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, disgusting 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 said 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  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  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 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  including her own belief that maybe the Âevil stepmum 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?

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You are not wrong and not crazy. Some stepparents (I won't say all, there are some fabulous stepmoms here btw) use the same things that put a child of divorce in such a precarious position, to persecute them with later.

My first Stepmom sounds very much like your JR. She does have mental health issues and has said much of the same things that JR has said. And some of the very same situations. When I first had my daughter, she offered to watch her, but if I didn't let her...I was so rotten. When I did take her up on it, she let me know months later that she was so resentful that she felt that she had to even offer to babysit. There was no winning there and nothing I can do.

I can only assume that she felt like she had to offer being my father's wife, but never wanted to to begin with. And when I would turn her down, it was another (perceived) slap in the face because I wasn't respecting her as my fathers wife.

And those are only some minor examples, I've been through hell and back with this woman and it was only mind games. I do not think she has ever been honest with herself and therefore, cannot be honest with other people. She never really wanted to be in any type of mother role to me, but felt she had to as my father's wife. Instead of being open about it with my father, she didn't and will STILL proclaim to the world that she raised me but is STILL quite unhappy about it.

The only thing that truly bothers me to this day was my father's lack of involvement, insight or caring. It seems that he just wanted someone to mother me and he didn't care how it got done or who it was. He didn't care the effect on me nor the effect on her. He also believed her so many times over me that I quit saying anything. To this day we still have a very fractured relationship. While I do believe a good chunk of the blame falls on him, I still have negative feelings towards my stepmother for lying for so long. She could've at anytime said she was not the person to be my stepmom.

I still have not come to an absolute peace with everything. The only advice I have is to not dwell on this. Do not let it define you and don't let it get into your head. There's nothing you can do when someone has issues like your stepmom has.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 3:54AM
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I think many things are happening at the same time.
Yes , your SM does picture you the way you were at 18, pot smoking etc.etc..
Over the years of you 'fixing' yourself, she didn't see this improvement so off the bat she will be defensive of you returning into her life.
BUT it also sounds to me, that she did have pent up frustration over he years, maybe at you, maybe at your dad and its all surfacing now.
I dont believe you are bad, that you did anything wrong. I think the JR has fixed view of you when you were in your 'bad' time and sees no change. PLUS she maybe going through her own issues nver know maybe she is depressed or going throuhg menal pause. or having marital problems with you dad that you are unaware of.
BUt its obvious her anger has focuses on you and your daughter.
I also had a 'evil ' stepmother wheni was young after my mother died. The second SM was great. Just like JR. Friendly like a school teacher and friend. I'm friends with her too.
BUT i also went through a bad stage in my life and also had a falling out with my sm. There was a 7 year lapse between my sm, dad and me. I didn't call and if i did they would be angry and hate me...etc...
It took a few years for both sides to rekindle a relationship and alot of coffee talk etc...
So do not be discouraged with your SM. I think she feels resentful about your daughter because you were with a man who was violent and in most cases woman choose to end their pregnancy because of that. Were you on drugs during that time as well? did your sm or family know this?
She is fixed on your past, she needs to see and hear all the good stuff , all the change you have made.
In the end, ifyou truly value you relationship with her, i think baby steps are in order, the way i did with my SM. I liked my sm alot. I was hurt to tears for many years by her when she turned around and also said hurtful things like you are going through. Though i never did drugs i was a loner and aggressive etc..etc..Misunderstandings did occcur between me and her and as i said it tooks years to rekindle a relationship.
My advice to you is to not let this consume you. i think speaking to both your dad and her will help. Sure, you had a kids she doens't agree with , its wont make your daughter disappear. She is a woman has to accept that but you daughter should not be punished for your 'poor' judgement. i think that is very important for you to convey this to JR.
Basically saying, yes i F up in the past, but my daugther should not be crucified for my wrong doings and solo parenting.
Maybe you sm does have an issue being called grandma...dont knw..But you both need a break from one another and you both need to take baby step to rekindle a relationship, IF that is what you want. You could also cut her off....but are you will to also cut your brothers off...and your daughter from her grandfather?
You cannot force JR to love your daughter. That is her own issue here. BUT dont expose your daughter unsupervised anymore there if she shows little concern for her either.
Visit as a family but for the meantime, dont leave your daughter for those one day breaks for yourself. Depend on someone else now until things can be resolved.
And nivea, i know how you feel about father's lack of father first marriage with 1st sm was very much like that....marry a woman to 'raise ' me but he had no concern of me...And we had a family meeting and he admitted that he married to have someone for his kids. We told him our mother is long gone and he should marry someone for himself. So..second marriage was MUCH better....i've had my ups and downs with her but now having my own family i see i have more respect and understanding with her position and we've rekindled a friendship.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 9:34AM
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Sounds like there's a LOT of baggage burried under all of those heated words. Years of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, resentments. Possibly also hormones (is StepMom menopausal?) and mental health issues.

I'd agree that it needs sorting out -- But NOT by the emotionally volotile players involved. If there was ever a time for family counseling, this appears to be it. You need an impartial referee to help sort things out and keep them from exploding while you do. Ask your Dad to support you on this.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 11:08AM
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Am I selfish to expect a few nights respite and for my daughter to be able to spend some time with her grandfather?

I don't think you are selfish at all, but you are wrong because there is no one you mentioned in this entire scenario to expect it of. Whatever their reasons and however deep-seated those reasons may be, they cannot be expected to give you a baby break.

Spending time with her grandfather is up to him and his wife. Invitations should be extended by them. Your requests that they babysit once in a while do not have to be granted.

Even if you erased them, text messages can be retrieved. The police do it all the time. Find out how they do it even if it costs you some money. This is your only proof that I can see and without it, you will be caught in this awful whirlwind forever. Your father will never believe you over his wife so unless you can prove these things she said and texted to you, I would drop the whole thing and refuse to discuss it anymore. They are only going to continue to blame you unless you can prove something. No point in counseling because JR is just going to continue lying about her feelings and everything she stated in the past because you cannot prove otherwise.

Honestly, I would drop the whole thing anyway. I don't grant license of judgment to people. They can think whatever they want. They like me or they don't. I would be bothered in the way you are if I did something to this woman, but you did nothing to her, only to yourself. Now, you like and enjoy your life for the most part. You can count your blessings and accomplishments. And, which is more, you have no regret and nothing to defend. So what is the problem here? Sounds like it is on her end, not yours. Wash your hands. Unburden yourself. Move on. Give her a hug and drop the emotional charges. This is exactly what she wanted. What could it possibly matter if she thinks you should have aborted your daughter? What in your life or her psyche gives her permission to make that call? You do, by responding and falling into her trap. You do not (or should not) live your life by her approval, and she certainly cannot go back all those years to repair anything. She didn't take it when presented the opportunity. So, what could possibly be the point now? You giving her exactly what she wanted.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 3:01PM
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It sounds like thermometre gave some good advice.
Let the baggage go.
You win some, you lose some. It's never perfect.
You don't need the approval of such a vindictive woman.
Your father needs to make his own mind up about seeing his grandchild.
You have your mum and step dad and your beautiful little girl. You have the inner strength born from mistakes and experience. Let go go of the bad stuff. Rejoice in the positives and move forward with your life.
It's not a reheasal.


    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 5:59PM
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WOW, thankyou all so so much for your excellent advice and compassion. For relating your own experiences. It is warmly appreciated. This whole thing has just been draggin on, and I'm emotionally exhausted.
Your words have really shone a light on everything, and I feel reassured. Often in my life I have felt that it is my responsibility or duty to fix things (including other peoples judgements!) - the idea of unburdening myself of this heavy weight feels like...release, relief.

Thankyou again for the support and sage advice. Food for thought!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2009 at 7:29PM
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