I’ve been in a stepfamily situation for ten years now. My husband’s first wife passed away at a very early age and left him with six children. When my husband and I married, he only had one daughter still at home. All six children are now happily married. We have almost 20 grandchildren and the majority of them have been born after I married into the family. I consider them my own grandchildren. In the beginning of our marriage, I expected it would take time to combine families and become a happy stepfamily. I guess on the outside it appears we are one big happy family. However, I have had friendships that are much more fulfilling than those I experience with my stepdaughters. While they do accept me as a grandparent to their children, that’s about as far as they’ll let me in. Maybe it’s because the six children all have each other and don’t need me. I have often felt like it is a club that I’m not invited to. If anything good happens from both my husband and me, my husband gets the recognition. I know I am not ever going to get recognized for Mother’s Day, but I would hope I could get recognized for my birthday. I give a lot and get very little in return. It is a very lonely place to be even though we have such a big family. Do you have any suggestions for me?
I can only imagine your sadness as you watch your family share something you worry you’ll never be a part of. You mentioned some important dynamics I want to explore that might give you the support you’re seeking.
First, you’ve identified a true, though difficult, reality of blended families. The fact that you joined the family when the five older siblings had already left home is a significant detail that shouldn’t be overlooked. The familiarity and closeness family members experience in those formative years forms a bond unavailable to anyone who wasn’t there during that time. Chances are, they simply don’t have the relational instincts with you they have with each other.
However, this isn’t to say that your efforts over the past ten years haven’t meant anything to them. It sounds like you are valued as a grandmother, which is a role you have created with them since joining the family. The bonding that happens through shared experiences is real and you can trust it. Just because they don’t have the same bond with you as a mother figure doesn’t mean they don’t value you as a grandmother.
It’s important to reset expectations about how things should look between you and the six stepchildren. The relationship you have with them isn’t going to look the same as it does between them. They’re not doing anything wrong, and neither are you.
It’s not to say there won’t be improvements over the years. Chances are, you’ll have experiences with the individual children that will give you a chance to create new memories and bonding experiences. Elder Neal A. Maxwell encouraged us to “do what we can within our allotted acreage,’ while still using whatever stretch there may be in any tethers.”[i] There is still room for you to grow connections with your stepchildren, even though it may not look how you hoped.
Perhaps you work with your husband to spend time with the different children and their families in an effort to get to know each of them more deeply as individuals. While you can’t do anything about missing out on their formative bonding years with each other, you can actively work to build a personal relationship with each of them.
They will likely always have a group dynamic you won’t be able to join. I invite you to step back and appreciate the fun sibling connection they have with each other. They are peers and share a bond different from a parent and child. They will also appreciate you respecting and celebrating their special sibling connection.
And, don’t forget your relationship with your husband. He was the reason you joined this family in the first place. Sometimes the challenge of wanting to bond with stepchildren can blind you from the most important relationship in this family. Everyone benefits when the marriage is strengthened. Even though you may not have membership in the sibling club, you belong in your marriage and are needed as a grandmother. You have plenty of ways to connect, belong, and bless in this family.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at:
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[i] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Content with the things allotted unto us“, Ensign, May 2000