Step-mom Overstepping Boundaries?

Updated on June 18, 2016
J.K. asks from West Chester, PA
19 answers

Hi all, I have read some similar posts but nothing 100% on point, I could use some advice or at least some perspectives especially from step-moms or bio moms in the same position. I had an amicable relationship with my ex for about 8 years and then he got remarried. I was excited because I thought that a woman in his household would only help with the kids and be a positive force. Our custody had been 50/50 but once my ex got married the kids did not want to go to his house so started staying with me almost 100%. of the time. She has 3 kids and then they had one together and we have 3 kids as well, lots of kids in the equation obviously. I only have 1 daughter, she means a lot to me and I would have said that she was my best friend. Unfortunately, I have recently seen some messages passed between my daughter and her stepmom. The stepmom seems to me to be asking for attention, saying that it hurts her when she sees my daughter posting messages on facebook about how close she and I are. Also, the SM said she dreams of the day she can take my daughter to NYC shopping for her wedding dress, she says that my daughter can pick out whatever dress she wants and that will be their contribution to the wedding. She essentially manipulated my daughter into calling me a bully and other pretty awful things in these exchanges. She was very happy at the end of the conversation because my daughter basically gave her what she wanted. My relationship with my daughter is now fairly wrecked. She is heading off to college and after reading a whole host of nasty things, I do not know what to do with her. I do feel betrayed. I frankly, do not understand why a stepmom would try to break apart what has been 18 years of a close mother-daughter relationship. By the way, the step-mom has two daughters of her own. The only thing I think I can do is back-off and let them have each other. I am not much of a fighter and do not care for the drama that the SM seems to bring. I guess I need to figure out what to do with the shipwreck of a relationship with my daughter but is their some reason why I should have to fight for the right to take my one daughter wedding dress shopping? This and other mother-daughter events I would like to have, selfish I guess but I am not sure the rationale for being joyful about ruining what was (I thought) a solid relationship. Anyway - constructive feedback welcome:) Interesting answers from the moms that have replied. I am not stressing over the wedding dress shopping, I think you missed my point here. The stepmom brought that up (which is weird to me because it is a decade off, I hope). Just not sure why this is so important to her to get out on the table now. I am just asking if you see that as a normal thing, a step-mom asking to own those special mother-daughter moments (particularly when she has two daughters of her own). Also, as I stated, my daughter just a few months ago said we were best friends, so in truth, it is exactly this mess of emails I just read that have driven a major divide between my daughter and me. I think my questions and points have been missed by the moms that answered thus far. No need for your skepticism, there were no fissures in the relationship until the SM decided to create some. She even wrote she was hurt when my daughter posts nice things about me and what a great mother I am...

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answers from Boston on

I am a stepmom to 2 daughters, and a mom to 1 son with my husband. I understand the challenges.

Here are my thoughts:
1) This is an insecure stepmom who needs to buy your daughter's affection and loyalty. Your kids don't want to go there, and you allow them to stay with you, which makes the stepmom try even harder. She feels rejected by your kids and she's trying to buy loyalty and affection in any way she can.
2) Your daughter is getting ready to leave home. It's totally normal in ALL families for kids to start to make the break now - it makes it easier for them to do what's so scary, which is to go off to college. It's easier for your daughter to give in to this woman and say you are the bully, because she is trying to bide her time until she leaves. If the stepmom is relentless, she's wearing your daughter down.
3) It's impossible for another person to destroy a healthy relationship. A 3rd party doesn't break up a healthy marriage, and a new stepmother doesn't trash a healthy mother/daughter relationship. You have to stop appearing to be as needy as the stepmother is.
4) Your daughter isn't engaged and doesn't have a wedding date. Why are you sweating out the purchase of a wedding gown that isn't even on the horizon? Let it drop and the whole thing will go away. Stop thinking about your "rights" and think about your daughter's predicament. If and when she gets married, it will be her wedding and your job will be to support her. She will see, either through the etiquette books or the wedding planner advice or the brides' magazines what a role her mom should have. And besides, I helped a friend buy her wedding gift because the mom couldn't come, and the mom still had a huge role and a place of honor as the Queen Bee at the wedding! But you're not there yet, and you're getting upset because of a silly competition. Don't. Your daughter needs a role model, and the needy, bribing stepmother is not it. Let the whole thing die down - you'll be glad you did.
5) Your daughter and you are NOT best friends! At least, I hope not! You are her mother, and she needs you in that role. She does not need you to be someone she takes care of. You need to show her that you are strong, confident and independent. You both need best friends in your own age groups. The surest way to push her away is to be so needy that you become her "job"! My stepdaughters' mother is like this, and it's just awful. They are afraid to do anything without taking care of her first, and it has turned them into dependent young women who don't know how to stand up on their own two feet, even against the men in their lives. They are in abusive relationships because they think women are weak and there to get beat up on.
6) Your daughter will miss you a lot when she goes to college, and she will appreciate all you have done for her when you aren't there every day to do it. She might not tell you this, but you will see it in her eyes, in her attitude, when she comes home at Thanksgiving or winter break. Let it dawn on her gradually and don't keep picking at her to tell you how much she misses you. Be patient.
7) Send your kids to see their father and stepmother. Don't turn this into a competition or show that you are jealous of her. Insist that they have a relationship with their father, whom you seem to think is a good guy in many ways. Respect the woman he married, hold your head high with your position as mother, and encourage the kids to have a relationship with their step siblings. One day your daughter may get married and it will be truly awful if there is dissension or a bunch of adults she has to worry about.
8) Take the high road here. Show that you are strong, not petty. Repair your relationship with your daughter if it needs it, but don't blame it on the stepmother. See #3 above. Whatever problem there is, the stepmother didn't cause it.
9) Have a life beyond your kids. Do some adult fun things, with girlfriends or maybe a date! Show your kids that you are a full and complete woman, not just a mother. That is the vision they need to have in their heads.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

It sounds like you feel very insecure in your relationship with your daughter. I wonder if you've told her that she's turning against you by talking with her sm? I suggest that your neediness may be an important part of her pulling away.

I suggest that you ignore the stepmother and rest in the knowledge that you are her mother, that you've had a good relationship with her, and the stepmother cannot take that away from you.

I suggest you find a way to let go of jealousy. I suggest your daughter has a hard time dealing with it. In essence, you're telling her to pick sides, feeling she's already chose her stepmother over you.

I suggest that you stop reading your daughter's posts to and from her. Your daughter may be upset that you became involved in her personal life. If I were her, I'd block you so that you couldn't read her Facebook posts.

You've chosen to be hurt. You can say the sm is manipulative. She may be. However, she cannot manipulate you if you choose not to be manipulated. Whether or not she's manipulating your daughter does not matter. What matters is your relationship with your daughter. I suggest you are pushing her away by being hurt and angry at the sm. You are asking that she reassure you that your relationship with her is good. The only one that can reassure you is you. Being so needy for reassurance is difficult for most of us to deal with.

You are her mother. Reassure her that you love her and will not let the stepmother's words interfere with your relationship. Do not ask her to stop talking with the stepmother. Do not insert yourself into their relationship. Have enough confidence in yourself and her to let this go.

I suggest you get help in counseling so that you can feel confident. As other mom's have suggested, you've left out helpful information. One piece of that is why you've let this woman upset you? Why do you not feel confident on your relationship with your daughter? I suggest that there are reasons for you to not feel confident. Those reasons have nothing to do with the stepmother and may not even have anything to do with your daughter. Get professional help to sort this all out.

When reading your post after writing this I registered that you said the sm is overstepping boundaries. Because you don't talk or spend time with her she is not overstepping your boundaries. Because your daughter is 18, her boundaries are not your responsibility. The sm is involved with your daughter, not you. This is the beginning of learning how to let go and let your daughter make her own decisions. That's very difficult, I know.

I also suggest that the more you insist that your daughter not accept emails from her sm, the more she's going to be defensive. Growing up is difficult for both mother and daughter.

I suggest part of the difficulty is you wanting her to be her best friend. Parents cannot rely on their children for emotional support. One cannot be a best friend and an effective parent at the same time. Do you have adult best friends? If not, I suggest becoming friends with adults will lesson your need to be best friends with your daughter. I suggest better boundaries for you and your daughter will also help. Perhaps she's pulling away because you are overstepping her boundaries while she's trying to be more independent.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

How did you see these messages? Does she know that you saw them? When you say your relationship is wrecked, does that mean she treats you badly? Are her father and step-mother paying for her college education, or are you? (Or is your daughter paying?) Is she asking you for money that you aren't giving her? Will she be going off to college, or is she staying home and going to college? Is she talking about the mother-in-law to you? Is she spending time with her now that she didn't used to spend?

Lots of questions about your post. It would help to know the answers.

One of my family members had the same issue with her father's wife. From the time she was in her tween years and went a few times a year to visit them, that woman would always say ugly things about this child's mother. She would hint that the girl would be better off with their family. She would say things that made the child think that she might try to take her away from her mother. When she was 17, the woman gave her a brand name purse (I think it was a knock-off) and quipped that the girl's mom didn't have the good taste to purchase something like that.

Here's the thing. This girl always saw through this woman. Your daughter may not, but maybe one day she will. It's not normal for a step-mother to say that she's hurt that her step-daughter says nice things about her mother on facebook. At some point, your daughter will know that.

If your daughter doesn't know that you are aware of this stuff, you should go about your business as usual being her mother. You should also understand that when she goes off to college, she will have new-found freedom and she will want and need to exercise that. It means she won't call you very much and you won't see her all that often. She won't spend a lot of time with her step-mother either. She wouldn't be a normal college student if she didn't spread her wings.

The step-mother is way out of line with the way she is trying to get her to badmouth you, but you need to ignore this. Be the adult and hold your head high, without resorting to badmouthing the step-mother. If you badmouth her, she will tell the step-mother and things will just be worse.

I know that you are hurt, but please try to remember that she is still young and is being pushed by this woman. She very well may figure this out after she goes off to school. Try not to look at this as a competition. Try to look at it as interference on the the part of the step-mother. As far as the wedding dress is concerned, by the time your daughter gets married, things may be very different. And if this woman truly wants to buy the dress, perhaps your daughter will pick out a $5000 dress. And then ha ha on the stepmother!!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think your daughter will go dress shopping down the road with whomever she wants to. I don't think either you or step mom 'own' her special moments.

I find the whole thing odd. Sounds like 2 girls fighting over a best friend. Why focus on the step mom. Focus on your daughter. Your daughter needs you to be a secure, stable mom presence.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I know your post is already long, but could you clarify who sent emails to whom? Were these private emails between your daughter and her stepmom? If so, you had no business reading them.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Nope, this pretty much sounds like every other step mom is stealing my baby question. Wahh she is stealing my baby, turning her against me.

Sorry but as a mother of four, two girls, there is no way in hell a step mom could change a step child's opinion of their mom unless mom is doing something off or not to nice. My kids get mad at me from time to time but that doesn't change anything of substance in our relationship.

Here you are, she changed out relationship so I guess I will just let them have each other. No mother in the history of mothers has ever said that. No mother in the history of mothers would give up on even one of their children. So if this is real perhaps that is why your daughter is choosing the mom who apparently cares.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

Honestly, I think some women .. . rather than accept that their DH has children and a past and trying to effectively blend the family . . . choose to try to come in and erase the past. I am a stepmom and I've witnessed this sort of behavior before. SM tries to come in . . . . take over as "mom" . . . alienate the kids from their biological mother . . . and, if successful . . . . voila . . no ex to deal with. Essentially, they try to turn the situation into a typical nuclear family at the expense of the mother. I'm not sure this is exactly what is happening here as I don't know the people involved but I've seen it before. Of course, I'm wondering where your ex is in all this. Have you spoken to him about your issues?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

There must be more to this story. One conversation between your daughter and her step mother can not undo 18 years of a mother daughter relationship. Something more must be going on. It sounds like your daughter has become closer to her step mother and pulled away from you. I'm not sure how that could happen if you say your children stopped going there and spent 100% of their time with you.

The bottom line is your daughter is 18 and can make decisions on her own. Who she chooses to go wedding dress shopping with is up to her. Is your daughter even engaged? I don't know how to tell you how to repair your relationship with her because there is a ton of missing information here. What did you do that could be viewed as bullying behavior towards your daughter? You say you haven't been a saint either, so something must have happened. I'm sorry you are going through this, but more info is needed to give you constructive advice.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

The stepmom is truly irrelevant here, as it doesn't really matter what she says or does, kind of like blaming another woman for stealing your husband, you know? This is about you and your daughter, no one else. If your daughter is moving away from you there must be a reason. I have two girls, and the relationship with my oldest one (now 20) has never been easy. She has sometimes gravitated to her friends' moms, and even one of her aunts, when she and I weren't getting along. I get it, growing up and becoming your own woman isn't easy.
And maybe you need to back off on these WAY in the future expectations, your kid hasn't even gone off to college yet and you're stressing about wedding dress shopping? Isn't that (hopefully) like ten years away?

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Something is off about this post. I can't imagine grown women fighting over a teenage girl on social media. This all seems very immature and made up to me. And your daughter referring to you as your "best friend?" Maybe that's part of the problem, maybe she's looking for a parent not a friend. I don't know but there's at least two other sides to this story.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Just pay attention to the relationship between you and your daughter. If it is as strong as you say it is, it will withstand this glitch.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

What a lousy situation. SM is way over-stepping her boundaries. You have to maintain a delicate balance here. Does your DD know that you have seen the messages? If she does, you can address them head on. If she doesn't, then you have to weigh whether or not to come clean about reading her messages without her knowledge so that you can address this.

If she knows that you've seen the messages, I would approach this from the perspective of asking her how the situation feels. Sometimes with my teens, if they're not opening up, I throw out how I would feel and they either agree or disagree and that moves the conversation along. In this example, I might say something like "if I were in your shoes, I would feel like I'm in the middle of a tug of war and I wouldn't like it. I would want to please SM and tell her what she wants to hear, but I would feel like I'm not being loyal to my own mom. And part of me would be pretty flattered that she wants to do all of this stuff with me in the future and would like that she wants to feel close, but part of me would be uncomfortable and want to say 'back off, I have my own mom' but I don't want to make waves." My guess is that if you are non-confrontational, your daughter may be as well and figures that just telling SM what she wants to hear will put the issue to rest, and probably feels that at the end of the day there's no harm in just smiling and nodding and saying "sure, sounds nice" while knowing she has no intention of sharing those moments with her in the distant future.

So at this point if I were you, and you can have that conversation with your DD and get to a place where you both know that she is just humoring SM, I wouldn't really do anything else but feel sorry for this woman. If it makes your SD uncomfortable though or there is lingering conflict, etc. you need to talk to your ex and have him talk to his wife. I'm sure that if the shoe were on the other foot and you had a significant other who was trying to take ownership of significant father-son milestone without his knowledge, he would be pretty hurt and could understand how this boundary-trampling isn't OK and most importantly, puts your DD in an awkward position.

FWIW I have a SD who lived with us FT from ages 13-17 after her mom abandoned her, moved out of state and never looked back (no contact at all after the first year). SD and my soon-to-be-ex moved out of our house at the beginning of the school year and she's heading off to college in the fall. Our relationship is more distant now because they moved out, but I'm still the closest thing to a mom that she has had for many years and still consider her one of my kids. All that said, I would never presume to be the one to take her wedding dress shopping, etc. Hopefully that milestone is at least 10 years away and I have no idea how her relationship with he mother will develop. It's entirely possible that they end up re-establishing a relationship and her mother truly fills the role of mom in her life and if that happens, great! If they still have no contact though and SD wants the "mother of the bride" honor to go to me, then I would be touched and grateful to be able to do that for her.

SM is coming across and needy and insecure. If you DD is mature enough to see this for what it is and not take it to heart, then you might be able to ignore it. But if it's really affecting your relationship or making DD feel bad and feel caught in the middle, your ex needs to tell his wife to step back and knock it off.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

First, please re-read Marda's excellent post.

I was the daughter in a similar situation, and I have to say, it sounds like there are boundary issues here, mainly yours.

You are looking through her messages with her stepmom. At 18, that should be private. Unless there is a health issue (eating disorder, doing drugs or excessive drinking, cutting, self-harm), there's no reason you should be reading her messages.

My own mother had issues with boundaries. She was very emotionally dependent on my sister and I because she did not have adult peer friends. It was a burden to be so relied-upon to make her feel better about her life...

That said, even when my stepmom gently pointed some things out which should have been red flags to me (and only because my stepmom was put into a situation she would not have chosen, but acquiesced to out of her love and concern for me)--- even then, my loyalty to my own mother was very, very strong.

Please consider talking to a counselor about this. The whole "The only thing I think I can do is back-off and let them have each other." seems pretty much like you view this as a battle. There is a lot of anger in that statement. Find out what it is that you are truly needing from relationships and figure out how you can move that need from your daughter to other experiences outside family. Kids aren't supposed to be our best friends, they are supposed to have their own best friends. We owe them that. My son is one of my favorite people in the world to spend time with, but I should not be best friends with him. We should have mutual respect and love for each other, but I should not be his best friend. That's for a peer, someone else, to fill that need.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Not trying to be rude, but this just seems like so much drama on face book. If I was in your position I would back off on the face book till you can except your grown daughter can make her own decisions. Your mom! A bond that can't be broken! Face book is not the greatest (unless you like drama and stress)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I guess I kind of see this question as you being threatened by the SM.

People have close relationships outside of their more intimate relationships without threatening them all the time.

I think you need to ask your daughter why there is a change in your relationship. I suspect she is trying to distance herself so that it is not so hard to say good bye to you when she leaves for college.

The SM can say what she wants to your daughter. It doesn't mean your daughter believes her or will want to do these things with her.

But she is now an adult and can have relationships independently of you.
You need to stay focused on your relationship with your daughter, who is becoming an adult, and not feel so competitive with SM.

You have no idea what type of family dynamics happen at your ex's house and reading into it will only cause more problems.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Your daughter may very well just be trying to placate the SM. I would not base the level of your relationship with your daughter on these texts. Actions speak louder than words. So if she has not treated you differently or acted differently towards you, I would not give these texts a second thought with regard to your mother-daughter relationship.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Your daughter is the culprit more than the step mom. There is no way a step parent could feel that she/he could get away with bad mouthing a parent unless the child allows it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

Did your daughter show you these messages or where you invading her privacy? If she is mad that you invaded her privacy just give her time and she will get over it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

How did you get to see these messages? If you were snooping? You destroyed the relationship on your own.

My daughter is 30 years old. If I went through her facebook, she has every right to be upset.

What would I do? I would apologize for snooping. Then I would wish her well and let her know I'm here for her. Your relationship wasn't as strong as you thought if she was that easily manipulated.

Stay in communication with your daughter. Don't bad mouth the step mom and keep looking forward. It's a shame that your daughter can be so easily manipulated and bribed.

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