Disengaging Stepmoms: 5 Signs It’s Time to Step Back

disengaging stepmomsBy Brenda Snyder, LCSW Originally published in the July 2013 issue of StepMom Magazine.

Many stepmothers begin the commitment phase of their relationships with an engagement ring. Women who love men with children hear the statistical improbability of successful remarriage and dismiss it, knowing in their hearts that theirs is the love that will beat the odds. They excitedly embrace their new family and put every effort into making their inner reality match what is actually happening in the home they are joining.

Often, after some amount of time has passed, the disillusioned stepmother finds herself wondering what the heck she was thinking. The magic of the engagement has dissipated and a stepmother finds herself thinking of the exact opposite. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to take a step back.

Here are five signs it might be time to disengage: 

You feel angry and resentful a lot of the time. When your sincerest and most loving intentions are met with an absence of enthusiasm at best, and apathy or scorn at worst, bitterness can seep into all the places where love used to live.

You are more invested in changing your stepchildren’s behavior than their father is. Even if you and your partner agree on most parenting points (and chances are you do not), when you are the parent spending the time and energy required to enforce rules, require hygiene and instill discipline, a dynamic often occurs where your partner abdicates his parenting responsibilities.

You frequently realize that you’re requiring things of yourself that are not appreciated or desired. Stepmothers often run themselves ragged trying to fill what they see as their appropriate role. Unfortunately, the expectation they have of themselves is often very different from what their stepchildren want, and so angry and resentful stepchildren result and already fragile relationships suffer.

You’re spending more energy on being a stepmother than on being a wife. Ultimately, your relationship with your husband is the most important one you have in the stepfamily. It is the one that will be left when the kids are grown and starting their own families, and if your marriage is to survive it’s imperative that you prioritize it appropriately.

Your self-esteem is wrapped up in your relationships with your stepchildren. Overinvestment in your role as a stepmother your stepchildren’s behavior or in how others perceive you in your family role is a sure path to a disintegrating self-image, anxiety or depression—and a broken relationship.

“Disengaging isn’t some nasty, hostile tit-for-tat. It isn’t, “You let your kids treat me badly, eff you, I’m not doing anything for you or your kids anymore.” Disengaging is a thoughtful, planned strategy in which a woman who is partnered with a man with kids hands parenting and caretaking responsibilities back to him in an attempt to improve herself, her partnership and her relationship with his kids.” –Wednesday Martin, PhD

One definition of the word disengage is “to break off action (as with an enemy).” In your darkest moments, your stepchildren probably do feel like the enemy. The good news is that appropriately disengaging can eventually improve these relationships.

First and foremost, disengagement requires you to step away from the responsibility of raising your stepchildren. Many stepmothers believe that they must buy into the impossible dynamic of loving stepchildren exactly as they do or would love their own offspring. This fragile premise, then, should dictate a stepmother’s loving willingness toward all things parenting. Once a stepmother is hooked into this flawed thinking, the perceived or actual tasks and investment inevitably ensue. The problem, obviously, is that the stepchildren don’t have a similar paradigm and do not expect themselves to love or even like their stepmother. The stepmother is stuck with the impossible assignment of attempting to “mother” children who already have a mother.

Stepmother DisengageWomen often want to come back in their next lives as husbands. Holidays happen, schedules are kept, groceries appear in the refrigerator and meals on the table, bills are paid and life just clicks along—with no apparent effort at all from the man of the house. Having usually been married or partnered before, husbands are often used to having their lives handled for them, and it just doesn’t occur to them that the role their former wife had in the household is not also appropriate for their current wife. Our culture has not yet developed a healthy perspective on a stepmother’s role, so the husband’s point of view, combined with the perception that a good stepmother is one who behaves exactly like a mother minus any expectation of reciprocal positive feelings from her stepchildren, results in a stepmother redoubling her efforts at every sign of inevitable failure.

Refusing the responsibility of raising your stepchildren starts with an internal shift. You won’t successfully disengage until you change the way you perceive yourself in your family. When you become able to be invested only in matters that directly involve you, peace of mind follows. You can divest yourself of the concern that your stepchild’s bad behavior or lack of hygiene reflects on you. You can require respect without needing affection. You are able to return your focus to your marriage and other things outside of it—career, friends and hobbies—that defined you before you took on your stepmother job.

Your disengagement will result in your husband picking up the ball. When a stepmother is doing the parenting job, it allows her husband to step back from the responsibility. It might not happen as quickly as you would like, but if you quit doing the job he will eventually pick it back up. He won’t parent they way you would, or even the way you would want him to, but a disengaged stepmother has the ability to tolerate it.

Disengaging means you give yourself the choice to opt out of certain tasks. If you really don’t want to go to your stepchild’s 64th softball game this month, don’t. If you don’t want to spend your entire vacation with your stepchildren, make other plans so your husband and his children have time together. If you hate cooking but have felt obligated to provide the evening meal for the 543rd night in a row, go out to dinner with your girlfriend. They won’t starve. I promise!

⊲ Your stepchildren are not your children. You are not responsible for the kind of people they are or the kind of people they will become.

⊲ It is not your responsibility, nor is it within your ability, to overcome perceived or actual flaws in your stepchildren’s mother’s parenting style.

⊲ Your stepchildren are your husband’s responsibility. Unfortunately, he may not parent them the way you think he should.

Um, yeah, he probably won’t. Why would he? His life goes along really well when you do all the work!

Lovingly explain to your husband why it is necessary for you to step back from your current role in order to strengthen your marriage. Don’t make it about his shortcomings or your stepchildren’s behavior. Talk with him about how your negative feelings are impacting your relationship with him, and that your desire is to carve out a role in the stepfamily in which your marriage can thrive.

Empathize with him about the adjustments that will be required. Be supportive of him as he takes over certain tasks and responsibilities. Be appreciative when he is willing to try out new things in the family.

Keep the lines of communication open. Regularly review how things are going. Make sure you tell him when you start to feel better. When you are able to be more positive about his children, act on those feelings by complimenting them or by praising them to your husband.

Be clear about your need for his support in requiring respectful behavior toward you. You might not be trying to be the kids’ mom any more, but you are worthy of every bit of respect that your husband’s wife should get, and he needs to ensure this happens. Work on gently pointing out times that your stepchildren don’t acknowledge your presence or are blatantly rude, and ask for your husband’s support in putting a stop to it.

Remember that you are still an adult in the household. You and your husband need to agree, behind closed doors, about rules and expectations. You are a 50/50 partner in all facets of your relationship—except parenting his children. Work out ways for you to maintain expectations without engaging in arguments or discipline. Having clear consequences for rule violations is a good way to avoid fights. If your husband won’t enforce the rules, stay out of it to the extent that it doesn’t affect you. For example, if a stepkid forgets a vital homework assignment at your house, it’s up to your husband to either take it to him or let him get a lesser grade; you don’t even need to be involved in the discussion.

Decide with your husband about how much to tell the kids. Depending on their ages, it might be appropriate to let them know that you won’t be doing certain things for them anymore, but that other arrangements are made for them to still get their needs met. Your behavior will reinforce it more than a discussion, though. If they ask you about a ride to or from some event, or wonder where their clean soccer uniform is, simply and politely refer them to their father.

Disengaged stepmothers are ones who take pride in things they can affect and don’t beat themselves up about things they cannot. They find ways to be positive influences on their stepchildren, just by being themselves. They are loving wives who are hugely invested in their marriages and less identified with their stepchildren. Disengaged stepmothers are in a win-win situation because in “caring” less, they feel better about themselves, and, paradoxically, they usually end up in better relationships with their stepchildren.

Disengagement is not an act of desperation, and you don’t have to be on your last nerve to give it a try. Emotionally healthy women who are committed to their partners often eventually realize that disengagement is their best bet for lasting happiness.

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87 thoughts on “Disengaging Stepmoms: 5 Signs It’s Time to Step Back”

  1. How is a stepmother disengage when the father of his kids works the opposite shift than myself. I definitely love this idea, but not sure if it’s right for us because of the opposite work schedule.

    1. Can the mother have them for the time or a close family member? My step daughter isn’t with me after school she is with her mom a few hrs 2 days a week per court order and the other 3 days after school my mom in law keeps her until my fiance gets off of work and picks her up and comes home to me and our 2 children we have together. I love my stepdaughter and she loves me but her mom has taught her to lie and her mom just lies and my job is to protect MY CHILDREN. If her mother seemed more mature and could talk to me like an adult I’d maybe keep her but I don’t have the time.

    2. Took on the youngest full time at the beginning of this year and realized when he left for a month to be with his mom how much he has consumed my life with his needs, especially emotionally, not to mention the constant attention and loads of laundry per week he requires. With him gone I sleep better, had time for myself, my husband and my daughter. I made the decision to step back and had a conversation with my husband about disengaging. He doesn’t like it and doesn’t understand what I mean. He sees it as me emotionally abandoning his son. I told him it’s his job and the BM job to make sure he emotionally sound, I will be supportive but it’s not my place to make sure they do what they need to do as parents. I’m not the one who destroyed his family or moved away from him like his mother did.

    1. Stepmothers need to realize they are just modern day nanny, maids, chauffeurs for men who can’t take care of their own children.

      You are performing free services under the guise of called “stepmother” when really you are just the “help”. Stepmothers are harming children in the process.

      Stop the free labor!

    2. Thank you!! I have been struggling with this for a few years. I don’t know how to disengage myself cause I have always done it for 8 years. Now his oldest thinks he is calling the shots!! This step mom is not playing the game didn’t with my kids not with his. I guess I have to stop and relax and stop needing anyone’s approval. The problem I have it’s all a game he was with is for 8 months cause he wanted nothing to do with his mom. He decided to go back and now I’m an issue!! I’m done being the punching bag.

      1. Im right there with you. Took the words out of my mouth. Have had my stepdaughters full time for about 9 months and they are doing remote learning and I’ve been the one home with them the most. Im losing my mind and I honestly feel like a punching bag. I feel like I’m dealing with so many bad habits of theirs that I’m not giving as much attention to my children. They don’t understand that they are 13 and 14 so I’m going to be treating them differently then my children that are 8 and 2. Im sick of trying to make everyone happy all the time and losing myself and hurting my marriage in the process.

  2. This was a great read. I unfortunately just got into a heated argument researching this topic. I told my husband I am going to back away because tge pressure and psycho rollercoaster of his Ex and the terrible thoughts she pours into my 4 and 8 yr. Old stepdaughters heads us just sickening. They are confused. I live then and they live be but of course don’t want to feel their mom isn’t being truthful in heret lies. It has taken a toll on me because I am to be silent while my 8 yr old comes to me and says the nasty lies her mother tells her and my husband treks me It’s NOT my place to discuss the truth with her yet he doent’t because he starts “it doesn’t matter!” Well yes it matters. These girls are his and they don’t have a false perception if him they have a false interception if f me! They ask me questions a lot and it’s die to things their mother has said to them. It’s such a sad situation to be in. Its overwhelming emotionally. I’m just done. My step daughter 8 acts up and there’s no discipline yet the 4yr old act out and there’s discipline (time out) if I tell my husband to follow through with what we have discussed than he gives me a eye to trek me back off. So that’s what I’m doing baking co inherent OFF.

    1. I am a step mom myself… I believe that its your husbands job to give you your place and sit his daughters down and let them know the ground and rules in your home. Yes you are not the mom but in your home You are the one they have to listen to and respect. it sounds like your husband lets things slide to not have to deal with the drama when in reality its better to deal with it and fix it than to keep having it pile up and get worse… I still on a daily basis have to deal with what bio-mom telling my stepdaughter of 10 nasty things about me, I do not let it get to me. I tell my step daughter ” If you see me doing such a thing than believe it. you are the one living under my roof not mom so she has no idea what happens, Just let her say anything about me that she wants, if it bothers you ignore it, as long as you see and feel how you are being treated under our roof is all that matters…” Children will get old enough to know and see the truth of it all… keep being positive and do not beat your self up about something that is not true you are a great person and you are not to blame… Its all in your husbands hands to make a change. That’s what I went though and for us it worked. its a thougt

  3. Any advice how to start the conversation when you are pretty sure your husband will not like this one bit? Or, in that case is it better to start the disengaging and have the conversation once he notices it?

    1. I love this article and truly believe this is the way to do it….after being a step mom for 7 years now, my “buddy” is 14 now and….I’m done! I’m done being blamed for over mothering, under mothering, being too nice, being mean being this, that, and the other. I also believe that the term step mom should be reserved for the ladies with step kids that have no mom. I now believe that if the kids has a mom in their life, however wonderful or horrible she is, that they should depend on them for the necessities and guidance required to make it through life. I want to start a revolution in this….there should be NO USE of the term step mom or step dad ( even if you’re married and have the kids half time or more) you should not have to take on the role of parenting. It only causes confusion, and chaos for all parties involved!! I like using the phrase “not my little monkey, not my circus”, simply because he’s not my monkey, and this is not my circus. That being said the kids do need to respect you as an adult, but otherwise, a “step parent”, is simply an adult co- habitating with the child, and is not responsible for the child’s upbringing, necessities etc. Just have fun with them! You have no obligation to bring them up! You are only responsible for being a good example…and that’s it!! let me tell you….it is liberating, and has removed any power the bio mom and child have over me. I’m no longer running around with my head cut off. He hates me cause I’m trying too hard, he hates me cause I don’t do enough, he doesn’t like my job, my car, my furniture, my hairstyle, my eyelashes….lol not my eyelashes, but you get the point. I’m dropping the mike, I’m walking away, I’m disengaging cause, well, I 100% do not need to be verbally abused any more by him or his mom. I personally did not inform my “buddy” of the change in my role, i just started referring him to his dad, and I have only told my husband that I don’t want to be responsible for this that and the other thing because it’s making my “buddy”hate me. This had gone well as my husband wants us to all be happy. As far as what I do for my buddy….well I cook dinner every night, and if his stuff did make it to the laundry on time, I do it, but he puts it away….and well that’s about as far as I go now….woohoo!!

      1. Hi there! I love your comment and even though I’ve only been in this role a short time I have already come to this conclusion myself. But even though I feel all this and I’m there, I still find it difficult to listen to the guilt trips of you’re not spending enough time with me, etc. it’s a real annoyance. I’m trying to reconcile these emotions or lack thereof. There’s this expectation that you’re supposed to love these kids you barely know and seem annoying most of the time. It’s ridiculous and unnatural.

  4. You nailed exactly where I am right this second with my soon to be step children. Thank you for the insight and supporting my decision to take a step back!!!

    1. It’s hard, so hard. I have stepped back and feel like I have failed, but I am not me anymore, reading this has helped me.

  5. It is so comforting to hear the community here I have been struggling balancing 2 SS that are 7 and 9, very high energy boys, for 2 years while my husband started a business and is either never home or not engaged. Our daughter is almost 1 year and the stress and guilt is so overwhelming of feeling burnt out and needing a break, as he brings the same lack of support to my daughter and I. I have been starting to step back but didnt realize this was a real thing, I honestly thought I was weak and “couldn’t handle it” as my husband says to me. Things have started to change in our household and after reading this it gives me hope for a better future that could be possible with our family, but needs to have some new boundaries. Thank you for writing, is so helpful!!

  6. I needed this. I’m at a point where i don’t know what i’m getting back from my relationship or step-daughters. I give and help out but i feel really unappreciated. Hopefully disengaging a bit helps my depression go away and it can better my relationship.

  7. I Just printed the stepfather version of disengaging to my fiance.
    as my eldest son is so rude and ungrateful to all his efforts to being a god stepdad.
    he wants my son to be the best he can be but all my son does is call him names behind his back saying
    that i am the one supporting them not my fiance, while in truth my fiance gives them what ever they want.
    But as soon as he tries to lay down the rules he is not good enough. I had enough of this abusiveness.
    So i told him to step back.
    If my son, now 14 needs anything, he can ask me. I say no more often that he does.

  8. This helped me a lot. I have honestly fallen into a type of depression over my disintegrating relationship with my step child-10. And have been thinking of leaving the man I love because of my guilt and depression. I feel guilty cause I don’t like his kid and am starting to resent him. I’m mentally exausted.
    My step child has a 50/50 custody split between two parents who are high conflict. The bio mom is a nightmare. False claims of abuse which were unfounded, coaching which a counselor pointed out, lies. My step kid resents everything I do. I do a lot, I am responsible for his mornings before school and evenings until his dad gets home. And I work 40 hpw. Has told me his mom says I’m a horrible person. And has repeated lies about myself on several occasions. I’ve tried since day one to be a family, a mom. And it breaks my heart that I’m never going to be his mom.
    But I’m not, and he resents me for trying, even though his mom is a toxic monster.
    He has sincere emotional issues, has cried in front of his dad saying I’m mean to him and then literally as dad walks away stopped crying and said, let me tell you how it is. Crazy. and he has the most negative outlook of any child I’ve ever seen. My child, nearly an adult, sees it too and pointed out to me that he is actually pretentious. He doesn’t get along with other kids very well and won’t “play” with them when they are doing physically challenging activities like baseball or volley ball ect because he’s got some sort of superiority complex. His mom has convinced him he’s better than everyone else, even though his actual abilities are quite short. So he doesn’t play for fear of being exposed and instead stands on the sideline and banters other kids pointing out their inabilities, essentially bullying. When he fails he blames others. I stopped playing with him 3 years ago at the park because he was running and tripped over his own feet and screamed that I pushed him. I was yards away! He’s stated his teacher is letting the kids who get better scores than him cheat because they are not smarter than him… His mom Told him this! He says everyone at school hates him, he can tell by the looks in their faces what they think of him… ok Norman Bates?
    I’m always trying to enforce positive thinking but I’m met with bitterness.
    I try so hard and am exausted. We just had an outing with other friends and at the end of the day, he had another emotional outburst toward me.
    I had asked him to do a couple things, trivial, like pick up your trash, put your snack back in the back pack, and each time was met with attitude. His father would ask and he’d then do it. I at this point have already stopped trying to be any kind of athority. At the end of the day he blew up crying after I asked him to pick up his jacket and put it in the pack. His response was to pick it up angry, and place it on the open pack and start violently punching it over and over. I was blown away. I said stop doing that and he walked away in rage. His dad called him back and he was in tears crying and said I had been mean to him all day. He was bawling and shouting she’s always mean to me and keeps yelling at me all the time..This was In front of a ton of people. I was so humiliated and embarrassed. I looked like a monster I was devestated.
    I had honestly tried all day to be as nice as I could! I never yelled once, he was dilusional? His outburst was completely unwarranted. I was so defeated at that point.
    Since this I have been extremely disconnected. Because of his moms coaching in counseling that was discovered and brought to his dads attention and his bitterness towards me and mental issues I’m afraid to be around him and I don’t trust him. His mom has turned the dads relationship and my relationship into a battlefield. I’m a mess, I’ve even considered getting meds to help my depression or end this relationship.
    There are still So many things I’ve left out that are causing my strife..
    I will disengage. It’s my last option before I leave.
    I’m heavy hearted every day. I hope this works.

    1. This sounds like a very difficult situation. Please seek the help of a qualified stepfamily counselor. There are several licensed therapists who write for the magazine and offer stepmoms professional counseling via phone/Skype. You’ll find them listed here: https://www.stepmommag.com/our-writers/ (Mary T. Kelly, Brenda Snyder and Christina Roach are all excellent.) There are solutions to everything you describe. Good luck.

    2. I know your pain. Went thru the exact thing for 20 years. Kids are now in their late 20’s and I still feel like an outsider, still depressed and live with a lot of regrets. I love my husband but should have left him years ago. The kids are takers and always will be. Would have been much happier!

      1. This is what I need to do. My husband treats his 8 Yr old daughter like his wife. She is here only every other weekend but he let’s her do exactly what she wants, when she wants. He never follows through with any threats he makes if she doesn’t clean her room up, so she just ignores him and does what she wants. She even gets to plan out the meals for the weekend that I have to make, and it has to be only the meals that she likes and nothing in the way of flavouring can be added to it. They walk along the High Street holding hands and touching each other with me 6 paces behind feeling like Prince Phillip, they even forget I’m there, and this weekend I walked in to find her stroking her fathers legs just stopping at the top where his groin started. She rubs his chest and back, jumps into bed with him as soon as I get out in the morning, and has now decided what type of dog and campervan we are going to have. If I say ANYTHING, I am in the wrong. I have been told I am not allowed to discipline her as only him and her mother can do that ( neither of them discipline her at all). She interrupts conversations, is rude, still wets the bed, cannot use a knife and fork, her food falls out of her mouth when she eats as she wont close her mouth when eating…its a living nightmare.

        1. Wow, that sounds like an odd relationship between your husband and his daughter. Stroking his leg? So inappropriate. Sounds like his daughter rules the roost in your home. If your husband can’t even validate your wants and needs, and opinion, what is your marriage doing for you at all?

        2. This sounds very odd. Touching is add. Wetting the bed can be a sign of sexual abuse. Are you sure something like this isn’t going on? Sounds like maybe she gets all the perks because he wants to keep her happy. I’d definitely look into it.

        3. OMG! U just described my situation, word for word ! I can’t believe how many other families /step parents are going through the same issues as I am ! Thank you for this, I don’t feel alone in this whirlpool called step mothering anymore. Sending u hugs 🤗

    3. I have 3 stepchildren with emotional issues and behavioral issues. If you ask me…at least one has a personality disorder. Their mother and grandmother are very controlling people. These kids have been kept under lock and key and not allowed to be kids. I tried for 3 full years to help them, schedule play dates, teach them how to swim, buy them nice school clothes so they can feel good about themselves. After 3 years, these kids are no better than they were and not acclimated to my home they way I thought they would. My husband and his ex share 50/50 but my husband works a lot and his ex just doesn’t want the kids if it’s not “her day”. She only works part time from home but was a stay at home mom during the marriage. I work 40hpw but in healthcare so I have a day off during the week which I always have them. I’ve been struggling with them so much and crying all the time. I’ve suggested to my husband for months that these kids are better off being cared for by their mom or dad (not me) and he’ll text his ex and ask her to keep the kids til he gets off work and she’d say no and it falls on me again. 8 hours straight of glares, stomping, door slamming, crying… Mind you these kids are 13,11, and 8. But emotionally and socially…about 9, 6 and 4. Nevermind that my own children are being neglected due to the fact that his kids require constant care and supervision. I finally told my husband that he needs to stop giving his ex a choice. She’s their mother and the primary custodian. She can keep them for the day. It’s her responsibility to care for them. Finally, he did call her and she wasn’t happy but agreed that with all the issues the kids are having maybe it is best that mom and dad handle them. The next day (which is usually my day but since I put my foot down), she promptly took the kids to her mom’s house and left them there instead. I was glad to get the day without them but then I was consumed by guilt. I did a lot of soul searching that day and decided that I did the right thing. These kids have a mom, they have a dad, and I need to just back off and let the two of them handle however they need to. It’s really not my business or my problem. I need to just focus on being a great mom to my own 2 children.

    4. Bella, your story really hit me. You should be so proud of yourself. Don’t ever ever let anyone treat you in that way. Disengage and put your mental health first.

    5. If you still have to take him to school. Make his father get up make him breakfast and have his lunch set out. Then get him up and tell him to get ready before he leaves. That way all you are doing is the driving. Me and my boyfriend both have kids and we both do the disengaging with each other’s kids. He does take my daughter to school but I make sure she is 100% ready. Also everything for after school is ready too I make her snacks and give her stuff to do and tell her to do her hw and not bother him until I get home.

    6. This was heartbreaking to read. Partially because it’s my life. But now my 12 year old (whose life I’ve been in since he was 2) is now getting violent and has physically assaulted me in three separate occasions. The most recent was yesterday after he punched a hole in the bathroom door. I’m not sure what to do.

      1. Please seek professional help as soon as possible. This is abuse and it’s unacceptable. Contact your lawyer, a counselor and the authorities if necessary. If your partner isn’t willing or able to make changes to ensure your safety, please remove yourself from the home immediately.

      2. Good lord! Please dont put up with physical abuse! Call the cops on him. He needs to see consequences for what he does

    7. I don’t know if you’re still active on this page, but I am dealing with much of the same. Where are you know with everything? Were you able to disengage without other aspects of your world falling apart? I mean, I feel like that is what’s happening for me and I haven’t even begun trying to disengage. I would very much like to learn what you found to work and what did not. – Anness
      Aislinn26 @hotmail.com

  9. i was just trying to find somethig to read for stepmothers that dealing with disrespectful, hard headed, stubborn stepkids. i have 3 stepkids 1girl and 2 boys, my stepdaugther is opposite of my stepsons behavior. my husband and i married for 2 yrs now, im from Philippines, and in my culture respect is highly given to others to young or old, people you know or to a stranger, local or foriegner, whoever people around Me thats my upbringing and im so proud of my parents and my culture for that, as what my parents told me i will not be in trouble as long as i know how to show respect to others.
    before i came here my stepsons always call me on Skype whenever they are with their father we play and talk for long time and have good start and i fell inlove more and more with them even though i dont met them yet. my eldest stepson was 8 and youngest was 6 now, they are bold and getting bold as they also try to hurt me physically in front of their mother. but sometimes when its just them and i alone in the house they listen, they’re quiet and i jst play with them, make them food and do things with them that i can do, and when my husband left for work when he have overtime at weekdays he didnt wake up the kids and bring to their mother because it was too early for them to wake up so they stay with me. ill make sure they are clean ready for school and have breakfast and have their medicines and ready to go but as soon as their mother showed up they turn into wild trouble maker kids, they yell at me they go back n for into their bedroom and gets things and yelling at me that those things are their mother and they will take it weather i like or not i even try to call my husband all the time they acted like that to stop them, both of them will start telling me how they hate me in front of their mother!!! while trying to stop them on what are they doing, recently i jst didnt have the filter to ask the ex wife i ask her like “where your kids attitude came fro. as sokn as you showed up they start into wild disrespectful kids” she didnt say anything. my husband came home im trying to tell him how hurt i felt with his kids behavior it seems like he doesnt care he told me to stop! i jst end up broken hearted and now i feel like im done and i feel like if he didnt do anything for his kids to straighten them and discipline his kids like i want to get out of this marriage. i dont feel like my husband see my effort for his kids, the love and care ive given to them… it feels like i make a biggest mistake of my life. being stelmother is not an easy task.!

    1. You poor woman. In this case I would say it’s the ex-wife. She doesn’t want her kids to like you, and the kids do not want to show their mother that they like you and care for you.
      If your husband refuses to care about how you feel or is willing to stop the behavior than you need to get out. Run.

  10. This truly has been helpful, I’m at the end of my rope with my step-son. I have 7 biological children and raising them has been so joyful and rewarding. I had been a single mom for years before I met my fiancé. He has one son who was only 8 when we met. I was truly excited to have him in my life. He is now 17 and it has been so miserable. It has been a rollercoaster with him. I came home today of him accusing me of breaking his laptop, He then preceded to cuss me out and degrade me. He called his father and as usual his dad believes his lies. This is only one of many many incidents with him. He is always blaming someone else for everything wrong in his life. I’m just completely over him and my resentment is so great I’m not sure what to do. I’ve never been so angry.

  11. My husband has 2 sons (my step sons-SS). I have 2 children from a precious marriage. None together. My SS mom is mentally unstable, self medicating with drugs and alcohol and no longer has physical or legal custody of the boys as of 1 year ago. She is supposed to see them under supervised visits but hasn’t set that up yet. Every day for the past year it has been argument after argument, yelling, screaming, name calling, constant comparing themselves to my children. My SS are 11 & 10, my bio kids are 6 & 3. Huge age gap. I have tried to be a mom to them cuz they never really had one so I stepped up but this past year has been HELL (excuse the language) I have given up and no longer want to be here but then I feel guilty cuz I feel like I’m leaving them. But at what point do I need to step up for my own children and be the protector that I am to them. I need to protect them from my SS behavior and I hate what that means but I don’t think I have a choice anymore. I need some advice please. HELP ME

    My husband doesn’t do anything to punish them or follow through on anything either so I am essentially the one who does everything including the punishing and the rewarding. I can’t do everything and I’ve told him that and he goes “don’t let it bother you” !!! How can I not when I have 3 children of my own to raise and think about!!??

    1. You’re in a tough spot. You say “I have tried to be a mom to them cuz they never really had one,” but they DO have a mom. She may not be a very good one in your opinion, but she’s still their mom. Often, when stepmoms (out of the best of intentions) try to “step in” and be mom, our stepkids resent it. They might be grieving the fact that their mom isn’t there for them. Your involvement might trigger their anger at her. We recommend you get support for your role as a full-time stepmom: Read books, subscribe to this magazine, join our online support group. Look into counseling with a qualified stepfamily therapist. Learn all you can about stepfamily dynamics. It will help you understand what’s really happening in your home and deal with it in the most productive way possible. Wishing you all the best.

  12. Wow reading some responses I am super grateful for my step kids. Although this article did help me put my own control issues in check. My question is what does a step-mom do when she is the only mom. My step-kid’s mom passed away and I am all the kid has of a mom, but it can be a struggle. We fight, but I think she loves me and I love her….any thoughts

    1. Every situation is different. When kids still have a mom and dad who are active and involved, or when a stepmom is non-custodial (not full-time) disengaging is usually easier to do. But there are levels of disengaging. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Disengaging can be something you do only on the days when you start to feel any of the warning signs listed above. If you’re interested in learning more, you might want to check out “A Stepmom’s Guide to Disengaging” and “A Stepmom’s Guide to Marrying a Widower.” Both are available here: https://www.stepmommag.com/product-category/best-of/ Best of luck to you!

  13. Thank you! This article just confirmed that I am human. As a stepmom, I am currently going through this disengaging phase – after years of trying, I finally am at peace. I know that there will be many more challenges, but by disengaging – no more stress – be proud of who you are and love your husband and own children even more!!

  14. Disengaging seems hard to understand.
    For instance, if your step child and bio child do something wrong, do you only correct your bio child? If you have family rules (like clean up after yourself when you’re done eating) and your bio kids do it but sk’s dont do you say something? I feel like this could easily become so unfair for the bio kids if the bio parent of the sk’s doesn’t step up and say something to the sk’s.

    1. This is my exact problem, as we have 2 children together (9 and 7) and my SD lives with us full-time (rarely seeing or hearing from her bio-mom). I recently started giving our younger ones an allowance, with the hope that my SD would straighten up, but she hasn’t. She lies all the time and tries to play me and dad against each other. SD is 12 btw and we’ve been married over 10 years. When we started dating, back in 2008, I didn’t see an issue because she was barely a year old…we got married a year later and she’s been with us ever since. I’ve had a LOT of problems over the years, but I feel it’s getting worse and she doesn’t even care about being on punishment. Like, I’ll rebel and stay in my room and not allowed to do fun stuff. I’m 9 months pregnant now, and she literally just stands and looks at me if I’m cleaning or having a hard time getting up or pretty much doing anything…whereas, my kids are always looking for me to struggle doing something so they can come to my rescue lol. What breaks my heart is that I’ve “mothered” her longer than I have with my own children and she has no reason to act that way because I’ve always treated her like my own.

  15. Does anyone have any experience with sk’s having “anxiety attacks” I put that in quotes bc it hasn’t been confirmed. And just being a ball of sadness at your house. You notice it is very much triggered by her phone and talking to BM. She’s always on it. What do you do? Your Bio idolizes sk’s and is younger and tends to also take on sk’s sadness. How do you disengage from this?

  16. This article is not helpful to most mature adults. What if we as the SM are a better mother than the BM?! Words right out of DHs mouth?! But yet, actions speak louder than words, right? I didn’t sign up for this role and marriage to disengage. I see SKs, especially if you met them when they were young, as your own children. Why wouldn’t you remain engaged? Why is it any different than an adopted child? The BM in our blended circus now won’t talk with me. DH is not a planner or effective communicator. I can’t support that or encourage it. If it were work, I’d ask to be on a different team. He also doesn’t support standing up to BM due to threats of court. I fear my disengagement is changing the need to even be part of this social support network and cutting bait.

    1. Angela: If you can’t fathom disengaging, then it’s clearly not for you. Disengaging is not right for everyone, however for many stepmoms it is a way to restore balance to a dysfunctional stepfamily situation. Not all stepmoms see their stepchildren as their own, and that’s perfectly OK. In fact, many kids feel uncomfortable when they sense a stepparent is “stepping into” the role of their biological parent. And when mom doesn’t appreciate it, a stepmom’s involvement can create additional problems. That’s not to say that kindness and respect go out the window. We can treat others lovingly without `assuming to be a third parent. The bottom line is that every stepmom has to do what’s best for her and her family. If your stepkids appreciate your involvement and you don’t mind stepping up where Dad isn’t, then good for you!

      1. I completely agree. I had to come to the decision to disengage not only for me and my relationship with my SO. But for the SK’s. I had to be the mature responsible parent in the dynamic between myself and BM. BM wants a power struggle because SK’s have become attached to me. She doesn’t want the responsibility of parenting, but she doesn’t want anyone to take her place as “MOM”. The SK’s who have always wanted nothing more than to be loved by BM are being manipulated for her purposes of creating parental alienation. Out of love for them, I have decided to disengage. To try and fight back would be futile and would only cause harm to them from both sides. Knowing the outcome will cause them emotional harm is a situation I cannot control. I know in the end the result will be the same, BM will bombard them will affection, attention and gifts and then without warning or reason disappear from involvement in thier lives. Any attempts to interfere from me will only cause them to push away from more and since at this time I am the targeted individual because BM says so. The most appropriate and kind thing to do for them and myself is to take myself out of the equation when it comes to anything parental.

  17. Thank you for this article. I am currently in the process of disengaging and it is difficult on me and our relationships. My stepdaughter is 12, I have been in her life since she was 3. My husband and I have three of our own kids now too, and I don’t like my stepdaughters bad influences on them. Both mom and dad dropped the ball on parenting and I was left to do everything and be the bad guy all of the time. My stepdaughter has ADHD, anxiety and mood disorders and I was the only one trying to help with the therapists recommendations and without any help. Dad is afraid of making his daughters mom mad because she likes to fly off the handle- so he would not even ask her to help bring her to her many medical appointments. My stepdaughter and I used to have a decent relationship, but I don’t like the person she is growing into- she is mean to me nearly all of the time without apology, and then expects me to just forget about it when she acts nice- like nothing ever happened. I have been slowly stepping back over the last year, but mom and dad have not been stepping up until dad had to recently step up because I put my foot down that I didn’t want our kids around her violent behavior, and either they step up and she gets help, or she will not be allowed around the other kids. I am hoping my stepdaughter will now get the help she needs to deal with her emotional issues, otherwise I don’t know if my marriage can make it through this. I have had a lot of guilt disengaging because I have always felt a responsibility to try to pick up the pieces and give me stepdaughter a better life, and I worried what would happen if I stopped keeping up on school and medical appointments and discipline- but I think I need to let go of that because a lot of it is out of my control, and I ultimately must protect my own kids.

  18. I am going thru this with 2 adult stepchildren. The youngest came up with The motto ” let’s don’t bring up the past, and just work on the future.” So that’s what I am doing. The past contains a lot of drama on her and her brothers part. So I am bringing up no drama and choosing when I want to be in the company of the drama makers. And refuse to be forced into it.

  19. Sounds like there’s a lot of desperate women out there trying to do their level best. I guess I’m one of them if it lead me here. I feel like a rat trapped in someone else’s cage… My husband is a beautiful man and does his best also. However, it was me who encouraged a paediatric appointment to deal with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant youngest step-daughter. It was me who set up regular child psych appointments and tried to take his advice. The kids (14,12,11) mother dumped them via text over 10 months ago. We’ve been living in survival mode ever since. Unfortunately she’s a chronic hypochondriac (e.g. a period=haemorrhaging, a headache=lead poisoning, lightheaded=‘meningitis like symptoms resulting in temporary brain damage for about 6 months’) She had tried to pass on responsibility for the youngest twice before via text. She’s left them at bus stops refusing to drop them home, ignored their calls for ‘her weekend’ and told the youngest she couldn’t care if she ever saw her again. It breaks my heart but also strengthens my resolve not to lose myself in this. My responsibility is to my mental health, my daughter and my relationship. I will endeavour to disengage from the youngest but am afraid it will reinforce her Attachment Issues as diagnosed by her psych. I’ve come through my own struggles and am clutching at anything that will help me understand how to manage this situation better. I love my husband and our blended family but how much is too much? At what cost? I have the choice. Sad but true.

  20. Thank you for this article. This weekend was the straw that broke the preverbal camels back.
    My husband has his three kids every other weekend, & it’s seemed to be getting better which was great! For two years I was a marching band chaperone with my son, which I loved. Not only was I around amazing band kids & music, but it got me out of the house & away from the “every other weekend” struggle. My son has since graduated, so I’m home a lot more. I’m starting to realize that the reason we got along ok is because my time was limited at home when my step kids were here. This weekend has been a disheartening, glaring reminder. My step daughter looked at me sneering & said “I thought you weren’t here this weekend.” My two stepsons did anything and everything they could to upset me. My husband said nothing. They talk back to me, make snide comments, and are disrespectful but only if it’s out of earshot of my husband. My husband completely changes how he acts towards me and then says it’s my problem bc I seem to be causing issues. I’m vapor and don’t exist EOW. Yet we’re perfectly happy and fine when they’re not here. I’m about at the end of my rope. I’ve done everything i can to be accommodating, helpful and out of the way and I’m still losing. I’ve felt so guilty for not wanting to engage but now I’m ok with my decision. It’s best for my mental health and stress and leaves the ball in my husbands court. THANK YOU!!!

  21. I wish I could disengage, we have stepkids full time. Biomom has nothing to do with them. I’ve became mom. I have a 19 yr old adult baby that has blown up our household to be full of anger, fights, hate, disrespect, and feels he is entitled to everything. Works a fulltime job, yet eats all our food, expects us to buy all his personal items or just takes over ours.
    I refuse to engage and be a part of any of it anymore, but have no choice in anything because husband refuses to kick him out. I still have 3 kids that live at home. I’m to the point I just can’t do it anymore.
    I’m sick of feeling like i have no say so in my own home.

  22. Disengagement works. The stepkids refused to live here because there are rules – like pick up the dishes in your room. They choose to live with BM and they blame me. Yes their father moved into my house and its a very expensive one that I do not want ruined since I go to work for it everyday. I do not attend any function they have – graduations, birthday etc. I am FORCED to have them here for Xmas and Thanksgiving (they are: 19, 17 and 15) and its brutal. They get my husband a gift and nothing for myself or my own son. My son and I have class and always get each of them a nice gift. Yes, they all work and have jobs and can afford to buy us a small token but they don’t. My husband doesn’t seem to care that they treat me like this. My son and I politely have dinner that I pay for and my husband prepares, then my son and I wash the dishes. We then discreetly disappear to our bedrooms and they have their “visit” with their dad. Today was Christmas and it was very painful for me to be treated like this once again. After they left I told my husband that next year my son and I choose to not be disrespected again and we were going away for Xmas next year and he is welcomed to join us. My husband was obviously hurt and apologized that his children treated me like this again. What bothers me the most is that he won’t discuss it with me or with them – its just accepted. Well I don’t accept it and I’m going on vacation next year. Hopefully they won’t ruin my beautiful home and better yet – hopefully my husband agrees to leave with me. I literally can’t stand those kids and their mean heartedness. BTW my husband has been divorced for 13 years when I met him – go figure how I’m to blame?

  23. I’m so grateful for this article.. It’s a confirmation to my decision to fix the issue by stepping back. Every time I speak about this , people try to make me feel like I sign up for this assignment. The SK are 14 and 15. Their mom is deceased. They are mentally 9 and 10; partially because their dad treated them like babies and they expected the same treatment from me. I assist in providing food, clothes, hair done, nice place to live,
    utilities, guidance, and disciplinary regarding school grades and personal lhygiene. I upgraded their living status and I had began to take on full responsibility while my hubby takes it easy. I began to resent them and I began to feel stuck. My Biological teens are independent and earns their own money therefore my husband is not required to do a lot for mines. I know this article is conformation for me to disengaged I was just searching for clarity and I found it.

  24. I am a step mom of two now adults. I disengaged after four years of marriage as a conscious decision long before I ever read a article like this, but out of sheer desperation from the struggles described by readers here. I was plagued by guilt and felt like a failure for years. Was unsupported from the beginning, by my now former spouse and his extended family. I did make mistakes along the way as I’m not perfect, but I did my best with good intentions. I think we need to allow ourselves some forgiveness here as it’s an extremely challenging role, and extended family members and friends and even your spouse have no idea what you’re going through. Until they’ve walked a mile in your shoes, they just don’t and can’t get it. However I think disengaging worked well for out family. I felt my mood get better, and as such, our relationship got better. Plus the step kids were more at ease as their step mom became ‘more chill and cool’ and less grouchy and unapproachable. My step kids today are not close to me as have never been, but we have a mutual respectful relationship and I didn’t lose myself along the way. We hug, exchange the odd text message and I do care about their lives albeit from a distance. I know they care about what happens to me as well. So allow yourselves some forgiveness ladies. You’ve got one of the toughest jobs on the planet. And give the step kids a break when you can too. Regardless of their circumstances, and their behaviours that make your jaws drop, they didn’t ask to be in this either. So disengage! It sure helped me.

  25. I have just ended the relationship with my fiancé over his children. Their BM has roller coaster emotions dependant on her relationship status (it’s like a revolving door). Unfortunately, she then projects her unhappiness onto her two daughters (7 and 10) and tells stories to turn them against me and my children. Whilst it’s hurtful to me, my daughter is grieving the loss of her BFF (7 year old) who unfriended her nastily. My fiancé has stood back during these times and reconciled that he can’t help the situation.
    Ultimately I’m responsible for my children and their well being, so I could see no option other than removing ourselves from the situation.

  26. I need advice on how to disengage when my husband has full custody of his four kids because their mom didn’t want them and she has since passed away. I have already raised my children and wanted to be of help to my husband.

    I have tried to be a partner with my husband, but I always end up being blamed for overreacting or being too harsh or not picking my battles when I try to enforce the rules and consequences we agreed upon. If I leave the room and go to do my own thing when my husband isn’t supporting me in front of his kids or when his kids are breaking the rules without consequence or if they are being disrespectful to me, I am blamed for abandoning his kids and being worse than their mother.

    I am at the point that I don’t feel safe being around his kids in any situation. I feel I need to disengage not only mentally, but physically as well. Is there any way to still have a marriage and disengage in this situation?

  27. This pin points exactly how I feel especially as his ex makes the kids hate me by telling them lies or adult content! My issue is that discipline is set for his two out of three but his oldest just doesn’t have boundaries. Feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. I’ve caught his oldest doing and saying things that I haven’t told his dad as I think he feels I pick on him or whatever. I just feel stuck and this article is on point. Disengagement must be the way.

  28. I live with my fiancé and his daughter, 17 y/o. He has had custody since she was 3y/o. She chooses not to see her mom due to ‘too many rules.’ This is a fact.
    He and I were gone in a trip and the daughter brought a guy hm to stay the night. The dad found out and grounded her for several months- no ph, school activities only and do chores. It has only been 6 wks and the daughter is getting to go out, have her ph and does not do any chores. I’m infuriated bc he isn’t following thru on his word. She talks back to him. It seems as if he is her friend and not her father. He tells me stay out of it bc we are on the verge of breaking up due to my comments and the constant arguing over her. I’m mentally exhausted and depressed over this situation. Any comments or advice is greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance. 🙂

  29. I’m glad I ran across this read. Today was the first time I attempted to “show love” by celebrating my future stepdaughter’s birthday (in a way like I do my own). I felt completely awkward, out of place, and unappreciated. I concluded that I would step back and let them do or not do for their child and only participate when asked and/or needed. This affirms my decision, and I can move forward. Thanks

  30. This is a wonderful release, and what a relief it is. Being a stepmother is the most difficult and unfulfilling thing I’ve ever done, because my husband knew I’d take the helm and make the household run after we added his son to it. What has worked for me is detaching very gradually, but I haven’t talked to my husband. He is a bit of a bully, and has quite a temper. So I have quietly removed myself from his 5-year old son and he has picked up the responsibilities that should have been his all along. He has asked a few questions, and I try to answer honestly, but we haven’t had a lengthy talk and it’s worked. He thinks I just don’t like being around his kid, but that’s not it as much as I was fed up with my husband using me as free labor for his child. My own son requires my time and attention.

  31. So, I just want to share my experience for those who are considering disengaging to add to your thought process. I never had trouble with my tween, and then teen, stepdaughter over the course of seven years until she was 16 years old. In fact, she had been living with us probably 75% of the time by her own choice, and she regularly came to me with requests, chats, and homework help. I had been the only adult to notice when a serious health concern worsened temporarily, and she had even suggested that she would like it if I would chaperone her school trips. Since she was in my house most of the time, I took responsibility for getting her places, keeping her fed, doing her laundry (which I admit she had said she would do herself, but never did, and after it started to stink, I talked to her mom and said I was thinking I’d just do it, which her mom said had been her own experience as well). A couple of times when she needed a check for something at school, I wrote it. I ran things to school when she forgot (frequently). I got a login for her grades because nothing ever made it to her dad at all and he wanted to know.
    But when she was 16, I got pregnant. She turned on me hard. She’d very much enjoyed being an only child at our house and angrily stated that we should’ve consulted her before doing that. It really wasn’t something we’d quite planned, and I’d never wanted children, but we opened ourselves to the possibility because we were already operating as a family unit and thought it might amplify our experience. My husband had often opined that he would like more children once he had a partner to really share the experience. But it happened fast. Her reaction had all the hallmarks of jealousy, but it all came crashing down on me. Suddenly I was enemy number one, and “desperate to be her mom” (see no desire for kids above) “invading her privacy” by doing her laundry and taking photos of her at family and school events, and this one took the cake — “Controlling her dad.” (If you knew me, you’d know that was nonsense.) When the baby was born, she refused to come to the hospital to visit, and spent several months ignoring him and being wantonly nasty to me. So I disengaged. I stopped buying her birthday gifts and cakes, taking care of her nasty smelling clothing, running her forgotten items back and forth, and deleted the school app on my phone. I know all of my neighbors and her friend’s parents probably thought I just got too busy with the baby, but it was a conscious decision. The idea was that my husband would have to step up. He tried, but his communication with her mother is so bad; he doesn’t know about anything that’s going on. And now she no longer comes to our home except to grab things from the storage unit (her filthy room with months worth of dirty laundry all over the floor) and relies on a boyfriend to get her around. Ironically, she seems to like him because he lets her push him around. It’s not better, and it upsets me just as much as it did when she was being nasty to me all the time, because my husband and son are the ones who suffer. I was hoping today to find a path to a happy medium, or maybe just some support in maintaining a disengagement. The truth is I never did as much for her as I would have for my own child, or even for my nieces and nephews. And I was occasionally even ashamed of my quickness to deny her as my own. Now I’m at the point of suggesting no one marry someone with kids, ever, because there will never be a good solution. I hope my pessimism on this will not seep into the other parts of my life.

    1. So sorry for your situation. It sounds like counseling–both for your stepdaughter, and as a family with you and your husband, could help. Disengaging is a strategy that can help alleviate stepmom burnout and resentment. This situation is clearly more about her than you. We highly recommend a therapist who is well-versed in stepfamily dynamics. Here’s some info that might help: https://www.stepmommag.com/2014/03/23/how-to-find-a-good-stepfamily-therapist/#.XqnZhJNKhTY Wishing you all the best.

  32. This article was amazing! Thank you! I have been with my boyfriend for about 3 years and we have lived together for 2. He has three kids and I have none. We talked about having one child together, but he said with his 3, we wouldn’t be able to afford it. His youngest also said he REALLY DOESN’T want us to have kids and wrote us notes about it for weeks after we casually had a conversation with them all about what they would think. This is not a big deal for me (usually?) as I have always wanted to adopt. I KINDA thought this would be similar.. haaa. haaa. My boyfriend has a very high conflict relationship with his ex, which has caused a whole bunch of issues. She has berated me almost every time I have come in contact with her. Always around the kids. Transfers with the kids she has not allowed me to close my car door, athletic events she has called me names, she bumped into my shoulder at the Christmas concert even?, you name it… This is all after I asked her for coffee 2 years ago, when my boyfriend and I first moved in together. I did this out of respect, so she could perhaps let me know if there are things that she wanted me to be mindful of around her kids.. WELLLL, that did not happen.
    The kids and I got along realllllllly great at first. I was not doing caretaking or anything, but we had a tonne of fun. At their Moms, they get gifts and play in their room. Here, we play games with them, go on walks with them, draw, paint, etc… Doing all of these activities was actually super fun for me! Then the lies started… then the wild versions of things to their Mom became ridiculous… ex. My boyfriend and I were having a discussion, not crazy fighting at all (we save the heated stuff for when they are gone!), and we get an email from the kids Mom the next week telling him that “When we FIGHT, to please protect these times from her children as it upsets them and scares them.”… I was LIVID. His girl told her Mom that we had been fighting and she couldn’t sleep because she was scared. I felt angry, betrayed and REEEEEEEALLY struggle with trusting the kids at all with my personal life and information. They ask questions about everything and then report to their Mom. I am very vague now, where as before, I would share appropriate things without thinking too much. Now, I have more of a role of helping out in their lives as their previous childcare while he was at work has changed…. So, I am now more responsible for small people I don’t really trust or like. Sometimes I DOOOO like them, I just have many moments where their behaviors are INSANELY disrespectful to me, their Dad and their Grandmother and others…. I had a rule of no bad talking their Mom (they used to mock her all the time and I said it’s not ok), now I just say nothing, as they do it anyways…. There are days (more than I like to admit) that I seriously CAN NOT STAND THEM. My boyfriend works alot and I am with them a lot more than I care to be. Driving them, feeding them, talking to them about their meltdowns (one has them all the time over nothing)… Disengaging angers my boyfriend as he wants us to be a “family”… How do we create boundaries, without conflict with our partner? This is my issue…

  33. My stepson says no one helps him at home (mother and stepfather) with homework. When he comes here we get the work done and if corrections are needed it’s probably 2 PowerPoint slides from his online homework (covid-19, school closed) but when he’s back home and the assignments are assigned either nothing is done and he’s behind or he has all these corrections. This weekend I got an email from his teacher that he needs to correct over 10 slides. Seems like I’m the one who always puts in the work and yet mom and stepdad don’t pick up the work! What should I do. I always get walked over and tired of feeling like
    “o sherry will fix it” Where should I start? What should I say? There’s so much more to this but that’s for another day. Please help

    1. I’m in a similar situation. I’ve been homeschooling my partners 8 year old during the pandemic. His mum does do the bare minimum of the work with him and all the big bits are left for me. I’m a teacher so i didn’t actually mind this, until she had a go that i was overstepping the line this week because i got him to correct a piece of work he’d completed at hers. Also turns put that he’s been going to her and saying everything i say to him but with an untrue twist to make me look bad. I’ve decided that when he comes over this week I will no longer be helping with his school work and will be taking a step back. This will be hard as i have him for 2 full days on my own each week, but I can’t keep going if it all gets thrown back in my face. This lockdown is hard enough without having to deal with untrue accusations and spending hours each day helping someone else’s child do something his parents should be doing with him. I’m glad I came across this post as it’s made me feel a lot less guilty for disengaging.

  34. I’m at this point in my relationship with my husband and stepson. My husband has physical custody of his son and we have always lived by family so even when my husband was at work if the kid wasn’t in school there was someone else around to help out with him. I took on most of the “mom” responsibility of this kid and now 6 years later I completely wish I did not do this! My husband does not believe that I am “allowed” to step back without getting divorced bc he feels a stepmom is a mom and should love their stepchildren. My stepson is a nightmare to me… he refers to me as she not by my name… hes 11 years old and has temper tantrums still… cries at the drop of the dime and really makes our lives a living hell. I had 2 babies recently one in March 2019 and one March 2020. I am consumed in my children as they are babies and feel I can’t continue to be the responsible one for my stepson. My husband works full time 6 day’s a week and with this pandemic there is no school (homeschooling is happening and I do not have time or energy for it) my husband will not revisit the custody or visitation schedule even with me saying I am at my max and the bio mom saying that he can go back to live there for the time being due to no school and me not being able to contribute to his upbringing any longer. When I tell you he makes my life a living hell I seriously mean it. I’m petrified my 1 year old son is going to have anxiety from watching his older brother scream cry and throw temper tantrums all the time. It literally makes me want to throw up at the thought. My husband will not budge on the visitation schedule and he will not let him go back to his mothers house bc he says his son wants to be here with him, but he’s working!!!! It’s on me! How and what do I do here? I need serious advice especially bc the words divorce seems to keep coming up if I don’t act like his mother and accept that he has a son and if he has to leave me he will bc his son lives with him and that’s it.

  35. Interesting article. My stepkids are older and I have one younger son of my own. Right now because of quarantine my stepdaughter wants a job. I’m a big believer in education first and jobs can wait until you’re out of college or at least high school. But hubby thinks differently. Although we normally leave the major decisions of our children to each other with their respective children, I strongly feel that this decisions affects me and my son… but my hubs doesn’t care for my opinion. He would rather have his daughter work. We can’t come to a solid agreement for many large decisions with our kids which is why we have the agreement we have. Do I just suck it up? I’m very angry.

  36. I am at this point but struggling and would love advice. I have been a stepparent for 6 years and my SS and I have always had a great relationship. He has always said and even told his friends when they ask that I am not his step mom I am his mom. He lives with us one week on one week off. His mother does not parent him and doesn’t even know what’s going on in his life at all so I have always done all the parenting. I broke down recently and said I feel like I’m always the bad guy and he told me I am not the bad guy, I’m doing what his mom and dad should be doing and he knows that I love him and only am trying to help him be the best he can be. My husband helps where he can, but it in general an extremely adhd make and horrible at communicating so he simply doesn’t notice things or remember to check up on things the way I do. Many times this leads me to be the one to remind or enforce rules and consequences. Now that my ss is 14, I feel like this is ruining our relationship as he has hit the teenage attitude and sees the rules as stupid and that I am the only one truly enforcing and expecting anything. Things have begun to blow up and then my husband and I end up fighting. I am Angry resentful and heartbroken often at the role I have to take on and the resentment it’s causing me towards my step son and husband and the way my ss is constantly lying and breaking rules and I’m the only parent parenting and then I end up the bad guy all the way around. Maybe it is time to disengage, but that effects me and my house so how do I do that? If I don’t enforce that he clean his toilet there will be pee on it every week he leaves. If I don’t enforce that he clean up after himself then I will constantly be doing it. My husband is very bad at stepping up in these areas. I am afraid if I disengage, He will still act the same but there will be no consequences so I will end up cleaning up all the messes. I am now pregnant too so I do not want to continue this stress or add more stress but I don’t want to lose my good relationship with my stepson. But if I disengage and he and my husband both just remain the same, then I’ll be forced to clean everything on the backend myself. and the choices he is starting to make scare me that he will end up getting a girl pregnant when he is 16, then I’m left to pay for that child and my own baby too? His choices and Actions impact my life as well and my husband doesn’t handle them (he does try he just isn’t good at it but he is trying to work on it) so how do I disengage without there being further stress down the road for the things I am no longer preventing?

    1. A love letter to all the “step” parents out there,

      What makes anyone think we should love or claim someone else’s child as our own? They are not ours. If you love someone with kids, you probably believe that your love for your spouse is supposed to magically transcend to his/her children. That somehow you will automatically love and adore a child that has no connection to you other than both of you knowing and loving their bio parent. This ridiculous idea sets “step” parents (especially women) up for total failure. A spouse’s expectation that you become a co-parent to a child that is not yours is the very definition of dysfunction. Here is what no one ever tells you:

      The relationship that exists between biological parents and their offspring is just that….biological. So, the strong drive by children to have both their mother and father be together under the same roof, to act in love towards each other, to raise them with that same love and acceptance, discipline and safety is the desire of all children. Divorce/separation destroys the chances of this no matter how amicable. Divorce is terribly hard on children. Even though adults understand the reasons for the divorce, kids don’t. No matter how old they are, they struggle because it’s biologically driven for them. It is complex, it is sad, it is trauma, it is pain.

      Then one or both parents moves on to a new relationship, which is further loss for the child, no matter how wonderful this person is…it cements for the kid(s) that the relationship between the parents is truly lost and their need to have an intact family is gone forever. It is also a rejection, of sorts, for the child. Children would rather have the parents to themselves, even if those parents live apart. Can you blame them? They don’t want to share time or affection with you, no matter how great you are. Then you, the new spouse, becomes a “step” parent…something kids just can’t fully accept or wrap their brains around as they still reel for the loss of their safety in a home with their bio parents. It’s not personal, it’s just the reality. These kids fall all over the spectrum of dysfunction…some adjust well, but many do not. If one or both parents are a mess, then you’ve got even more problems. This dynamic then causes all kinds of problems within the “new” family. Kids didn’t want a “new” family…they still want their “old” – their REAL family. So, they struggle to accept the “step” parent, they rebel against their parents, and they self sabotage. All of this disproportionately falls on the shoulders of the “new” mom. The “step” mom.

      What is a “step” anyway? A step up? A step down? A step aside? Where are all the blogs and articles from grown kids whining about their guilt over not accepting their step parent the same way they love/accepted their dysfunctional mom or dad when they were children? News flash: they don’t exist and never will. So, why are all these people looking for answers to alleviate their guilt and worry when this new family situation is failing? No one else is struggling over this.

      Yes, occasionally, you may hear about or read about a family where they live in total bliss like the Brady Bunch, but I don’t believe it’s true. Yes, for some it works ok, but that is the minority and I believe ALL new families struggle to some degree. Women, especially, fall for the ridiculous criticism and accept as truth that they are somehow failing if they aren’t masters of “step” parenting, if the kids aren’t ridiculously bragging about their happiness with their new and glorious non-biological overseer, and their home is not all rainbows and unicorns. Stop falling for this trap. The kid down the street isn’t your responsibility, either. Are you as wrecked about that? Of course not, because you’re not in love with the kid down the street’s parent, and that kid isn’t living part or full-time in your home.

      Here is the truth: I would give my life for my daughter. I cannot and will not say the same for my husband’s son. That’s not mean of me, it’s just reality. I could never love him as much as my own flesh and blood child. Why are we made to feel horrible about that? I have nephews and I love them. But I cannot and will not ever love them as much as my child, and they are blood related…and no one would ever say I’m horrible for saying that. So why do we (society) give the message to “step” parents that they are somehow mean failures if they admit this? These children are totally unrelated to you. You are an outsider to the original family unit of which they are always going to be a part and you never will. Why would you be a mother or father to this person?

      I could write pages about my husband’s son’s behavior and how it has affected us over the years. I could write pages about my perceptions of my husband’s failures as his father, and about this child’s egg-donor. There’s no point in it. The choices I make, sometimes on a moment to moment basis, are about the best interests of our daughter. My marriage is all but over because of his unwillingness to do the right things about his child, but my daughter doesn’t deserve the heartache divorce brings and my choice, for now, is to stay. I struggle with my animosity towards both my husband and my husband’s child. I, like many others, tried to be a loving pseudo-parent to this kid and it is nothing but heartache for me. I sometimes go onto pages like this and I read some of the comments to women (sometimes men) who are so sad and desperate and I see all these people just tear them to shreds (thankfully I don’t see that here). It’s wrong, unfair and women should really knock that off.

      Yes, be kind to your spouse’s children, just as you would to a house guest or his/her other family members. Kid pee on the toilet seat? Go hand the cleaning wipes to the father and lovingly tell him to clean it up. Yep, he won’t like it, but you’re not the house maid. Spouse not disciplining? Get a hobby…gardening is nice. Or something that gets you out of the house. Get it right in your head that this is NOT your responsibility. And be prepared for your spouse to not like it one bit. Realize that if your spouse is not supporting you fully, you’re in for a long haul. I can’t emphasize enough, GET A HOBBY. Get friends. Get an outlet for your energy. Don’t let this situation be the center of your life. SET BOUNDARIES. Get busy with new things. If you’re off and running for your own kids, your spouse has no choice but to step up and parent his own kids. See what I did there? Step up. That term should belong to the bio parents, not the new spouse. The “step” up needs to come from the people who failed to provide the proper family environment for their child, not some new person on the scene.

      We are all different and many of you see your spouses trying to parent their kid in some ways, but failing in others and you see your spouse as a good person whom you love. That’s great. Try to build on that for your marriage…but do not enable your spouse to abdicate their role as the only biological parent in your household that this child has. You cannot and will not ever fill that role, so ask yourself why are you trying?

      And also ask yourself if this is really about control for you? If there’s pee on the toilet or dirty dishes left on the sink or clothes not being washed (complaints in other posts), why do you care? Yes, it is gross, but if your spouse doesn’t care, why do you? You may realize that the reason you end up with all the house work is because you struggle to leave things dirty (yep, huge struggle for me…but as soon as I started giving it to my husband, he grumbled but started doing more). He does his child’s laundry. He cleans his child’s pee on the toilet seat. He takes care of all schooling, etc. I do all these things for our daughter, and I focus on raising her, and if my husband’s son leaves dishes behind, pees on the seat, leaves laundry on the floor, I just let my husband know, “little Johnny did that, babe.” And now he is the one yelling at the child or having to do the work. Yes, the house is not perfect and sometimes these issues are a major pain in the butt (I once left a mess for three weeks until my husband finally took care of it. It was torture)….so, I go engage in my hobbies, call a friend, do something with my daughter. I try to have fun times with my husband’s son, but when his behaviors are causing me to become angry…that’s my cue to step out. See what I did there? Step out. That’s the only stepping us new spouses should be doing.

  37. “The problem, obviously, is that the stepchildren don’t have a similar paradigm and do not expect themselves to love or even like their stepmother.”

    That’s it! We are expected to love them as their mothers, and they feel zero obligation even to be kind to us. No more. 2 years suffering and counting. An almost broken marriage. No more.

  38. When I first met my husband’s kids things were great. The kids were obsessed with me and loved me. Then the mother caught wind of it and created distance. It’s not nice, but I’m ok with that. The problem is the lies she tells the kids about my husband, and I have to watch them cause him a lot of stress. They have been so manipulated they believe he is mean to them when he does SO much for them. He tells me to stand back but it’s so hard to watch them hurt him. I hate them for it and dread every single thing about them. He tells me I need to be the nice one they feel they can talk too. I have a lot of anger towards them and just being near them bothers and irritates me. All they do is complain, consume and demand. How do I deal with that? Should I stand back? They want to be friends with me but I find it hard…they are constantly hurting the man I love…

  39. I’m not married but have been in my boyfriends daughters life since she was 1. She is now 6. He works during the day so I take care of her. When he gets home he sits down and and practically falls asleep or gets on his computer. My stepdaughter (SD) continues to come to me instead of her father when he gets home. Is it wrong for me to tell her to go ask her dad, or why aren’t you asking your dad? And how am I supposed to disengage when I’m with her all day until he gets home? I have to enforce rules, and when she doesn’t listen or talks back to me, I get extremely frustrated and raise my voice more often then I would like to. I feel like SD is always so excited to go home on Fridays to her mom’s because I’m mean and her mom is not. I feel like sometimes she doesn’t want me around either. Help me!

  40. Reading this thread has just reinforced the fact that I don’t feel like I will ever love my partners kids and I am ok with that. Not married but been with the kids dad for almost 3 years and living with them for over 2 years. Kids mother hasn’t seen them or spoken to them in over a year and just randomly appears on the scene when she feels like it to cause anxiety, anger and frustration. Kids are 11 and 7. Both kids are overly emotional, very needy and manipulate their father with crying or telling him I’m mean, a liar or hate them for disciplining them. Especially the 11 yr old and tonight was just another occasion of that happening and now I just don’t want to deal with it anymore.

    Their dad says he doesn’t expect me to love them (although he does) but now the 11 yr old has noticed I treat my niece and nephew differently which lead to him telling his father yet again that I am mean and hate him. Tonight, father even knew 11 yr old was listening to us discussing problems and didn’t do a thing about it which lead the 11 yr old to come and challenge me on things I was saying in what I thought was a private conversation between myself and his father.

    I just feel like I am so done with trying to address bad behaviours in this house and being told I am mean, hateful and have to watch my tone every time I speak to the kids because they might cry and over react. Don’t know where to go from here because I just don’t want this to be the rest of my life. I don’t have any kids of my own (I’m 36) and it is something I do want. He has 3 kids already, married twice and isn’t keen on going there again.

    Perhaps there is only one thing left to do now if I can’t see this situation getting any better.

  41. I love this idea and having been doing this for a while for my own sanity. It works in my situation, and I feel at peace with it. Thank you for sharing and being real. Life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect, my perfection is in Christ.

  42. My husband has taken from me for 7.6 years
    I do everything in the house and his 14 years old daughter lives with us 1/2 the week was fulltime last year.
    I fi all the
    Cooking laundry shopping bill laying decorating gardening clothes buying diy
    I even brought all SD clothes for 6 years as her parents wouldn’t out of my money and my time
    SD is rude to me tells me infront of her dad she won’t do anything I tell her as dad doesn’t discipline me ! She lied all the time , even last week she lied her mum was ill so she got to stay off school as Covid risk – she annoyed this to her dad and me and he doesn’t punish her.

    So I’ve told him I will not cook for her wash her clothes etc I just did her bedroom up completely decorated it new bedding storage curtains th took me a week all my money and she comes back and trashed it and again he does nothing.
    So for the last 4 weeks I said enough I won’t be cooking for her again he can
    He refuses gets angry with me and makes me feel I have ti as I’m cooking for myself my 20 &15 year old and him.

    I’m now considering divorce but all my moneys wrapped up in a hiuse we are having built together if he goes I can’t afford to live as work isnt to grata as Covid.

  43. Thank you for this article. I hope that many will read it and live healthy lives because of it.

    I have been with my spouse for 21 years, and no, I am not going to tell you 21 years worth of stories, but I will share some insight into the truth of this movement. My spouse’s daughter was 5 when I met him. By the time she turned 12 we both disengaged from her, me fully, but he still kept contact and spent special occasions with her and continued to be her dad. Disengagement was for the better, since the brainwashing and torment from her mother was too much for her and ourselves, not to mention her personality and attitude did not line up with our morals and trying to teach them to her 4 days/month was a losing battle (we got her every other weekend because we lived almost 2 hours from her). Also, in the 7 years that we were engaged with the child, nothing changed and nothing got better. What I can tell you from my experience is that disengagement is sometimes the only way that you can stay sane. Your spouse’s family members and society as a whole may not agree with you, but if they become a problem about it, well, disengage with them too.

    So, now my spouse’s daughter is 26. She just had a baby and so we have been “around” a bit more. Her attitude has not changed. Her personality is the same as her mother raised her to be and the same games she learned as a child are still played. Now she just thinks they can be played with us as “grandparents.” She won’t stop mentioning to her dad her mother’s opinions, reactions and actions on things even though they have been separated for 24 years. She holds and shares a photo album of her parents from even before she was born, and mentions videos of him that her mother’s family took before she was born (they separated when she was 2 and my spouse was trying to leave before that…and the mother got married to another man within that year). Truly, I feel sorry for her and the ideals her mother taught her to believe.

    So, my point of telling you the details is to let you know that it doesn’t get better just because your “step-child” matures. Disengaging is the only way to stay sane in the moment. Leaving your spouse is the only way to end the torment, but he too may wish he could run away, so if you can be there to support him then do that…but do not do it out of guilt.

    As for what I am doing now that there is a grandchild…disengaging of course. I have no (grand) maternal instinct towards the baby, nor should I feel guilty of that. I know it is better not to bring another child into the dysfunction of this step-society.

    My spouse and I have been happy. We raised two lovely children of our own. So I tell you, disengage and hold in there, beautiful women (and men). The choices you make are yours and yours only to hold onto. Stand firm in your belief and kick guilt out of your life.

  44. Like many other stepmothers here I had enough. Same…my 3 adult stepsons are disrespectful, they don’t acknowledge me, one of them wants to keep borrowing my car every time he visits. They get a clean room when they visit and within a week those rooms look like dumps. I cook, clean and used to pick up after themselves but no more! I have talked to my husband so many times I get nauseous and he keeps getting more and more upset every time. He accuses me of not liking his children. I’m his third wife, him and his second divorced due to her “not liking his children”??? Hmm…
    The children ended up leaving their mother due to her doing drugs, drinking her butt off and beating up on them. I came into the marriage with the best intentions but I’m done…my husband just won’t listen and frankly I’ve been thinking about divorce…as much as I love him. His mother babysat the 3 boys and she didn’t teach them anything either. I was raised and tought to be respectful towards others and to pick up after myself. Those boys put their feet on the table, leave trash everywhere, so it on my clean kitchen sink, have yelled at me and insulted me. But I am so relieved I found this article…since I started disengaging, my husband is not liking much but I think he’s starting to get it. I really hope so, I’m starting my own business and are working from home.
    I am his WIFE…NOT the maid!

  45. I am so happy I found this.
    What a life saver. For four years I have been trying to make such a big effort with my step son. I never wanted to take over the role of mother to him but I have definitely tried to help wherever I felt he was falling behind. I’d try to make sure his homework is done, try to discipline him, make sure he got a birthday party, organise play dates, make sure he is enrolled in extra curricular activities, be emotionally supportive. I felt so sorry for him that he doesn’t have any self esteem. But he is mean. Mean to my kids, putting them down constantly, saying awful things about their other parent, rude to me when he feels like it, acts entitled and superior to everyone.
    His father never puts up with it but he is very manipulative and sneaky about how he goes about it and I’ve poured so much energy into trying to help him that it has affected my relationship with my own kids. They feel betrayed by me. He treats them horribly.
    Sometimes we don’t even know what has been going on. It will be a nasty passive aggressive comment here and there that doesn’t sit well and then it escalates. It is so hateful. He is only 8. His mother is an alcoholic.
    My kids are far from perfect, but they have empathy and manners and basic respect for people.
    I worry about his influence around my kids and how he might be damaging to them. To their own self esteem and self worth. They are so frustrated they can’t escape it or sometimes it is hard to even say what the problem is because what is being done is so subtle but constant. It’s hard to pull a child up on their behaviour when it is that way and not right in your face and obvious.
    My partner works internationally for periods of time and then comes home for a period of time. I thought that maybe the child was feeling rejected and finding it hard to adjust all the time to different households and rules, so I took on even more responsibility and the disrespect was disgusting.
    I have told my partner I am disengaging from any parental responsibility and he can leave my parenting, of my kids, to me.
    I feel so sorry for the child but it isn’t my responsibility to guide him through life and teach him what the world is going to expect of him. Not at the expense of my kids and my relationship and I am actually happy to show my kids that when something in life is bringing you down, having boundaries to protect your own happiness is the most important priority.

    I am not rejecting my stepson. I don’t feel bad about it. I will still treat him in a loving way and I wont hold grudges against him, he is a child. I’ll be an adult about the situation, without a doubt. I am just stepping back and contributing in a more appropriate way, that is in my control.

  46. I have told my husband that from today going forward I don’t exist to his child nor does he exists to me.

    I will not wake him in the morning to prepare for school, I will not be making lunch for school, I will not do any of his child’s laundry.

    Heck I will not be driving him to his extra classes on Saturdays anymore.

    I am Done!!!!!

  47. I come back and read this article from time to time. I disengaged after way too long. My eldest stepdaughter had a baby and suddenly her mother was her best friend and was the only person who knew how hard being a mom was. I tried disengaging with my youngest stepdaughters wedding arrangements and received an email with backlash about how I must be upset about something yet she hopes I can help pay and help with the wedding like I did with our eldest’s. I feel as though I have only been a babysitter for the younger years and now that they are on their own, I don’t matter. I reach out with texts and calls once in a while but only hear from them when they need something. I feel like I wasted my time and should’ve been more concerned about my own children rather than treating everyone equally. I know this isn’t how I should feel but I guess I have some resentment now. My husband doesn’t see it because he’s been so hurt in the past, his emotions are always hidden. I get upset with myself for feeling this way. Being a stepmother is so much harder than being a biological mom. No one realizes that until long after you’ve been one. My advice, don’t give your whole heart to your stepchildren, they can stomp on it in the end.

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