Step-Mom Encounters Perfect Storm

Straight Talk

The Question:

Recently I got married to the love of my life and he brought his fourteen year old daughter to live with us. I have had previous experience with teens but she showed me the first mood that I had never seen before and I didn’t know how to handle it. Things got way out of hand and now my husband and she have moved out and gotten their own apartment.

I should have made arrangements for her to visit friends. He had full custody of her but never wanted to spend the time with her or me. It was my job to be the mother and take control of everything with her. I just wanted him to participate, but he didn’t. He is very protective of her for all the wrong reasons. I wish I could turn the time around and say the right things but now it’s too late and my husband is going to file for an annulment. Can you help me find a way to find some sanity and move on with my life? I’m very sad and lonely.

– L. from Dallas, Texas

The Answer
Part 1: Realistic Expectations
Part 2: Moving On

Realistic Expectations (Part 1)

In October of 1991 a storm hit the North American eastern seaboard which was labeled by meteorologists: “The Perfect Storm.” A book was written about it and a movie made detailing the combination of factors and conditions which created it. Six members from a swordfish boat were tragically lost when the converging elements made survival impossible.

When I read your question I thought of that storm. I thought to myself: with the convergence of all the elements mentioned, what possibility of success existed? It seems to me you went into this marriage totally unprepared and without resources. I’m not saying this to make you feel badly. Instead, I would like you to understand what happened so when you move forward in life, it won’t happen again.

So, let’s discuss with frankness what you should have seen going in and what could help you in the future. Marriages with step children are filled with land mines and need to be approached carefully and with much prayer. Ideally, you should have known this daughter long before she moved in with you. Not just a few meetings or a couple of lunches together but you should have formed a relationship with her. Both your husband and you should have worked to receive her blessing and “buy in” for the marriage.

Her father may be the love of your life but understand that from her view, she was stuck with whoever her father chose to marry. Step children usually have to deal with rejection and abandonment issues which are deep and legitimate. Her “mood” which you did not anticipate or know how to handle may have been her own way of rebelling against a life situation she didn’t choose or desire. She has a point.

You say you should have made arrangements for her to be at friends. Wouldn’t that have simply increased her feelings of being pushed aside? If your husband has full custody, you couldn’t leave her with friends forever.

Your husband had a false expectation that you would take over as mother even if you were willing to do that. You are not the mother – you are the step-mother. He has the primary responsibility to raise his own daughter with you only in a supporting role. Think how you would feel if someone arbitrarily decided on your behalf who was going to be your mother from now on.

Marriages with step children can be successful but the most successful ones have realistic expectations about the difficulty and struggles involved. Your husband is bailing out pretty fast; did he really have any understanding of what was ahead when he said; “will you marry me?” Did you?

Moving On (Part 2)

It does not sound like you see any hope of reconciliation. In the event that possibility presents itself, please don’t go back blind again. Instead, find a pastor with a counseling background or some Christian professional help before you proceed because too many things need to be sorted out first.

How can you find your sanity again? God is your helper. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) You may have made a bunch of mistakes but you have done nothing that God cannot redeem. You can learn a heap of lessons and go on a stronger and more mature person. Jesus is in the business of taking our weakness and substituting it for his strength when we turn to him.

I would suggest you repent for any areas where you know you were wrong, directly to your husband and to his daughter if appropriate. If they won’t speak to you, write a letter and sincerely apologize. Also, tell the Lord you are sorry and ask for forgiveness. Begin a regular daily prayer time where you can pour out your heart to God and listen for him to guide your next steps. Call on any support system of family and friends who love you to see you through this time.

Don’t ever get into a boat again which is sailing away to the “Perfect Storm.” Proceed in any new relationship with extreme caution. You will get past this. This may be a season of sadness and loneliness but every season ends and something new comes. Be ready for God’s best because that’s what he wants for you.