The Ties That Bind: How to Navigate Loyalty Conflicts in Stepfamilies By Heather Hetchler, MA
A few weeks ago, I received a frantic call from a stepmom. We met the next day for coffee.
Through shouts of anger and a flood of tears, she shared her hurting heart. It was visible that Debbie was in deep pain. She’s been Sarah’s stepmom for the past 10 years and has physically and emotionally taken on the role of “Mom,” as Sarah’s biological mother floats in and out of her life.
This is Sarah’s senior year of high school and the mom is currently in the picture. Debbie is fighting anger, bitterness and hurt feelings—because Sarah asked her mom to go prom dress shopping with her. Not Debbie.
“I’m the one who has been there all these years,” Debbie spoke, through pursed lips. “I’m the one who goes to parent/teacher conferences, who has chaperoned the field trips, who was there when Sarah’s heart was broken by that guy. You remember that guy, right? Oh, and don’t get me started on John. I can’t believe he doesn’t love me enough to make Sarah choose me!”
John is Debbie’s husband.
“Yes,” I replied. “I remember that guy and I know how you have always been there for Sarah and your family. I see the pain in your eyes and I hear it in your voice. Can I share something with you, Debbie? Something you may not want to hear—but something I believe you need to hear, in this moment?”
“I guess,” she muttered, gulping down the last of her latte.
“The exact reason you give for why you should be prom dress shopping with your stepdaughter,” I shared, “is exactly the reason she asked her mom instead and why she wants her mom to go with her. You are always there for her and her mom isn’t.”