Dealing with a Reluctant Stepmother

Q. My wife and I have been married for almost five years. I have a sweet, nine year old daughter from a previous marriage (I share custody with her mother). My wife has no children, but very much wants them. Unfortunately, we have had no luck in this endeavor. It seems to me that with each passing year, my wife has gotten more and more frustrated with this fact and she’s been taking out her resentment on my daughter. It’s not a blatant thing and she’s not abusive to her at all, but she never wants to be around her. When they are together, no matter how hard my daughter tries to win her over, my wife acts very cool and aloof toward her. I’ve discussed this with my wife a few times and she’s told me she can’t help the way she feels. We both travel a lot for work, so we spend a good deal of time apart. When I’m home, I want to see my daughter as much as I can but always feel uncomfortable knowing it will cause a problem with my wife. Therefore I try to spend as much time with my daughter when my wife is away as possible. Any suggestions on the best way to handle this?

A. Take it from a stepmom who has endured her share of heartache from her three stepchildren (thanks to their hostile mother): being a stepmom is no picnic in the park. However, in your case, your daughter seems to be very accepting of your wife and it saddens me to think she’s being rejected through no fault of her own. I beg to differ with you regarding your assessment of what constitutes abuse. When a parent figure acts cold and aloof to a child who clearly wants a loving relationship, that is a form of emotional abuse. Your wife should be grateful to have a stepchild who wants her love. So many stepmoms suffer through the exact opposite situation. Aside from this, she knew going into a marriage with you that she was getting a part-time stepdaughter in the bargain. If she didn’t want to deal with that fact, she never should have said “I do.”

Your wife’s issues, frustrations, etc. have nothing to do with your daughter’s personality or actions, so as the adult in this equation, she should know better than to misplace her feelings on an innocent child. She may not be able to “help the way she feels,” but she can surely help the way she acts. Wanting a child of your own and not being able to have one is heartbreaking, but hurting a child who is already here because you haven’t dealt with your feelings productively, is inexcusable. Quite frankly, her actions and attitude make me doubt she would have the emotional maturity to be a good mother to her own children.

As for you, it’s great that you spend lots of time with your daughter when your wife is away, but that relationship shouldn’t revolve around your wife’s travel itinerary! Your wife needs to deal with her irrational feelings, jealousy, and heartache in a productive way if your marriage is going to be a healthy one. You haven’t mentioned if you two have consulted a marriage counselor or if she’s been in therapy, but I recommend both in this case. If you have the financial means, ask her to go to marriage counseling with you because what has been going on is detrimental to the family as a unit. I’d also suggest she see a good counselor on her own to work out her personal issues. If she refuses these options, then you have to decide whether living with this damaging situation is something you want for yourself and your child—or if ending the marriage is the best answer for all of you.

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Please leave a comment

  1. anneli Says:

    Great advice, Bonnie. This wife should be glad the child wants the step-mom’s love. So many times it’s the other way around, as you’ve said. This wife seems pretty shallow and selfish, based on the information we have. Unless there are other things going on, I’d dump the wife if I were him.

  2. Nicky Wells Says:

    Love your feature, Bonnie, you always offer great sound. I think it’s a tricky situation and am reluctant to pass comment here but I love what you do. 😉

  3. Sheryl Browne Says:

    Difficult situation but sound advice, Bonnie. 🙂

  4. Ana Says:

    Hi. I saw your article on the #parenting daily. I was a stepmother for a short time and sometimes was cold to my stepson without realizing it. His father mentioned it to me. The relationship was very bad. I was on the verge of depression. I ended the relationship. I was 27 at the time. I’m a mother now. If I got separated, remarried again and my new partner behaved like the woman in your article I would terminate the marriage if she didn’t seek mental help and treated my daughter properly.

  5. Stephanie Keyes Says:

    Great advice, Bonnie!

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