I need to talk about my adult step-daughter

rob5August 27, 2010

I am in my 60's, second marriage for both of us, living together 28 years(!) with 2 adult step-children ages 33(SD) and 31(SS).The BF was discovered to have been sexually abusing them and did some jail time for it. He has had no contact with them for 26 years. Our family life has been probably as dysfunctional as any other step-family. Both are now out of the home with their own families. It was difficult but I tried hard to be a good father to them both.

My problem now is the very difficult relationship I have with the SD. My analysis of the situation is that she is resentful towards me for not being a better father for her as well as displacing her anger for her BF onto me since he is not available. I don't know her husband well but they say that "sons marry their mothers and daughters marry their fathers". So if he has some resemblance to me then he can't be easy for her to live with. Also, my wife, her BM, has a lot of her own resentment towards me for not being a better father and also feels very guilty for the sexual abuse that occurred during her first marriage. And I bring my own problems: longing to be special, difficulty recognizing and expressing my needs for fear of hurting someone. Of course there is a lot more to this.

Right now, I am very disturbed by not seeing my (step)grandchildren. My SD never calls me and I never have anything to say to her anyways. All of our communication is through my wife. She calls my wife almost daily and get any news from her. She seems to have a lot of problems with her 3 children: they are sick with colds way too much, problems at day care and school, problems with husband's work, needing babysitter. And my wife is enabling and too quick to clear her schedule (she is self-employed with a small consulting practice in our house) to go and spend the day (it's a 1 1/2 hour drive each way) to help her (rescue her) besides her weekly visits.

My wife doesn't seem to understand my difficulty with SD. She feels sorry for her, says she (SD) loves me and wants me to come and visit and see the grandchildren and I need to solve and get over my problem. My wife and I have had therapy up to here.

I hurt so much for how this is ruining my marriage. It is so painful trying to talk to my SD on the phone or in person. I dread my birthday and fathers day and the other holidays- I expect them to be difficult and they always turn out even worse.

I am missing out on my grandchildren growing up, but I just don't have the courage or strength to go over and "do the right thing", "let by-gones be by-gones" and get on with life.

But if I don't do something, the next step is to separate from my wife.

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You have analyzed why SHE does what she does, analyzed what she may be feeling, transferring her feelings for her dad onto you, etc. What is missing? How about analyzing why YOU hold her at arms length? What are YOU doing to contribute to the distance that is keeping you from seeing your grandchildren?

Anticipating bad things usually results in bad things happening. It's what you are prepared for, so you are ready for it. It's easier to fall into that routine than to deal with a positive outcome.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2010 at 2:09AM
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Perhaps you are expecting too much from your SD. Being a SF, you are only a friend to them. So just let things happen. If your sd chooses not to talk to you then so be it. Just live your life the way you want.
Don't let your ego interfere with your life. You are hurt because you think you have all the rights to see your step grandchildren. You don't. The more you act or feel hurtful, the more you fall in the scheme of revenge of the SD, if there is any.

My philosophy is I just live my life fully the way I am, with or without anybodyelse. Then whoever comes along then it is a bonus.

To your SD, you are just a man who is married to her mom. That is just normal human reaction. Just let go of your hurt, let yourself be free. If she wants to talk to you, it is ok and if she does not then it is Ok as well. I am sure you have plenty of things to do in your life.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 11:13AM
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Shakti, I have to wonder if you have ever been in a stepfamily! Rob says he has been the father figure to his stepchildren for 28 years! That's hardly "only a friend." Would you tell an adoptive parent that they were "only a friend"? It sounds like he stepped in when their biological father had done them some pretty awful physical and psychic harm--that's not "just a friend" stuff, either. Sure biology and genes are important, but the day to day raising can be almost as powerful.

Rob, I am closer to your age probably than some of the other wonderful posters here, and I might be able to offer some insight? Wish I could be of more help. One thing that occurred to me reading your anguished words is that you are at the age where we start to think more about our place in the world, what we have done, life review and all that. And seeing where we are peched on a family tree is so important to us all of a sudden.

Whereas the young people in our lives are intent on making their own families, making their own way in the world--it sometimes feels like they have no time for us, like we are no longer important in their lives. And it sounds like although you feel your SD strongly prefers your wife over you, it also sounds like she is "buying" the favor, making herself indispensible by providing all those practical services for SD. (Didn't mean for that to sound negative--it's the way of the world.) Is there a reason you don't go along to visit your grandkids? (I didn't say "stepgrandkids" because I know so many stepparents who would never dream of calling their SKs their "children," but for some reason are comfortable without the "step-" with the next generation. Maybe because the grandkids never knew a time without them--or maybe because grandkids already have four grandparents, why not add another one?)

Here's something else I discovered as I was thinking these things through in my own life. With my SDs, I am more quick to perceive slights and insults. But when it is my own children I find myself thinking "oh they're just kids." I try to apply that test when it seems like my SDs are ignoring me or not as receptive as I would like to an activity or something--I say "what if it was my biokids" and then it doesn't hurt so much--I find myself in the "they're just kids" place.

Have you talked to your stepdaughter about missing her and the grandkids? Do you and your wife ever babysit? Your relationship with your grandkids will soon grow on its own, apart from their mom.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2010 at 4:57PM
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I wonder what truly happened and at what point your relationship went bad? Were you difficult, controlling, abusive? Any of that?

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 9:42PM
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It can be difficult for some people to openly share their true feelings, especially in person. It can be very scary.

When you say your wife talks to your SD everyday, that is fine, but it seems unreasonable for your wife to expect you to be the exact same way. You remind me of my husband, he has the same communication problems with his own biological kids. He is shy, and reserved.

It might help you to WRITE letters to your SD and let her know how you feel in writing. It doesn't mean you have to write long letters, with flowing poetry, but notes in cards, etc... once in a while. ADMIT to her (this will require you being open and honest and vulnerable to her) in writting that you realize that you may appear to not love her, but that you truely do. You just have a difficult time saying it in person. Send her flowers on her birthday (possibly every year), but definetly a CARD! Make it a point that YOU remember to do this, not leave it to your wife! ;)

When you state... "All of our communication is through my wife. She calls my wife almost daily and get any news from her. She seems to have a lot of problems with her 3 children: they are sick with colds way too much, problems at day care and school, problems with husband's work, needing babysitter." Kids get LOTS of colds, and the other issues are VERY common! Please try not to be too judgemental. Your wife MAY need to learn to not be so enabling though.

The cards you send her, she will have them to remind her that you DO truely love her, and care.

You can't be held responsible for what someone else did to your SD or wife in a previous marriage situation. It is unfair for them to try and hold you responsible to heal all their wounds. There are certain things that we need to do on our own. Others can't be held responsible for making us happy.

Take heart, it is NEVER too late to start letting your SD know you love her. You may just need to do it in a novel way.

Ask your wife to set up a time for you both to go see your SD and step-grandchildren. Just by being around them without having to really talk can be a first step to getting to know your stepgrandchildren better. Take BABY steps, but make an honest effort to move forward into being more communicative as time goes on. They shouldn't expect you to totally change your personality though. ;)

Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 3:57PM
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