Outsideritis: And the Woman With Stepkids By Wednesday Martin, PhD
Do you ever feel like you’re living on the periphery of your own stepfamily and peering in? You’re not alone. Here’s why you have a case of Outsideritis and what to do about it.
When Talia (not her real name) came to a support group for couples with stepkids in New York City recently, she was, in her own words “at the end of my rope.” A laundry list of dissatisfactions tumbled out in rapid-fire succession:
Her husband’s teenaged kids were disrespectful and out of control; her husband’s ex was undermining, angry and a source of constant stress in their lives and marriage; her husband was permissive with his kids, tacitly condoning their mistreatment of her by refusing to acknowledge it and failing to back her up when she tried to draw lines she found reasonable, even regarding issues as simple as decent table manners.
But more than anything else, Talia felt left out. “They show up and I’m shunted to the side,” she remarked softly, as the group members all turned toward her. Even on the third day of their stay, Talia went on, the kids and her husband only wanted to be with each other. Talia’s only alone time with her husband was in bed at night.
Talia continued to explain that the kids often made inside jokes or told stories about their lives with dad before her and would then say, “You wouldn’t understand, Talia, it’s a family thing.”
Talia sighed and concluded, “I’m embarrassed because this sounds so petty, but I dread the kids showing up now because I know I’ll feel pushed to the sidelines. I resent them and I feel mad at my husband. And then I feel childish and stupid and just like the wicked stepmother!” Talia burst into tears.
All around her, women were nodding now and men were looking curious and intrigued. It seemed Talia had spoken a deep and taboo truth about step “family” life— which is that, more often than not, we are not families in the first-family sense of the term. In many cases, the woman with stepchildren feels as if she has been “tacked on” after the fact because, in some sense, she has. In order to combat what I call Outsideritis, we have to first understand its root causes. …To read the rest of this article, log in and download the July 2018 issue. Don’t have an account? Click here to subscribe.