Stepfamily issues..this Is a Long One

Updated on July 21, 2017
S.T. asks from New York, NY
10 answers

I am a 50 year old woman. My parents had me when they were teenagers then divorced in their early 20’s. I have always been a carbon copy of my mother, who is a hard-working, get the job done type. We lived on welfare and in low income housing. My mother worked very hard to get everything we needed and we were happy.

My father has not been a model parent. Physically abusive to both my mother and myself (when we were younger). He was cruel and had a hatred for my mother, which turned on me as I got into my teenage years. It sounds crazy but I still considered him my family. He did give me some positive traits that I am grateful for.

Fast forward to when I was 19, he married a woman who was 5 years older than me. I was fine with her and she seemed like a positive thing in his life. They started having children and I really embraced my little brothers and sister.

I am vastly different from his new family. I moved to a big city (they are still living in a very rural town). I have an advanced education. I was very self-sufficient and I married a man just like me.

My stepmother really, really dislikes me. I realized early that she seems to have a lot of emotional problems but I have tried to overlook them, work around them, ignore them etc…….10 years ago, I was coming home for a visit with my husband and children and it was very obvious I was not welcome so I decided not to try so hard with them. Be aware that they do not visit my home or call unless they need something and that is very rare as well. It is and always has been up to me to keep in touch and when I do not it is then an evening/discussion of ridicule (quietly and with smiles on their faces) about how I have life so easy and how I am just too “busy” to do anything.

My stepmother (30 years now) has an extreme temper. I now believe my father is in an abusive relationship not unlike the one he created for my mother and me years ago. I am virtually excluded from all family gatherings yet see them on FaceBook, usually titled “So nice to have the whole family together.”

I always knew there were problems but really thought I was dealing with them well until the 1st of my 2 much younger brother got married 5 years ago and I walked into the wedding to find I was the only one in the family not involved in the wedding in any aspect---it was a bit shocking. Followed by the 2nd little brother one month later with the same effect---I was not involved at all again but noticed that each and every other family member had involvement. I, of course, was invited to all the showers, came, and brought very nice gifts.

I believe I have tried to stay in touch with my family with interaction on Facebook, sending emails, trying to call, all to realize that no one really wants to interact in return so I just stopped and to this day am shocked that they are all seemingly angry at me for this.

My true issue and the reason why I am writing is because my little sister is now getting married and I am still in shock about being so very excluded from all the events once again. I was invited to the engagement party where I sat there as the only one in the room not included in the wedding. I know this because I got to watch everyone receive their invitations/gifts to be in the wedding. By the way there are 5 bridesmaids and 5 junior bridesmaids, which I find in itself odd.

I am really questioning why I have any contact with dad’s family at this point yet it is someone’s wedding and I really do not want to give cause for me to be blamed for ruining her wedding. I honestly feel like they are waiting for me to ask questions and invite myself to “help” with the wedding but I just cannot bring myself to do it. I know my sister is wondering why I am not asking about her wedding (we have seen each other at family functions) but I just cannot bring myself to ask about something that I may burst into tears about when I hear I have no place in.
I am driving my husband crazy with all this worry---which I totally understand in my logical mind is ridiculous. I would like to know if these kinds of things happen to others or am I the only one.
I have a great relationship with my mom and stepfather----who actually has been the best dad to me. I have a very close relationship to my stepbrother and sisters and their spouses yet I am made to feel like I am the problem in my real father’s family. I have close personal relationships with many, many people, we own our business and have employees who have worked for us for decades yet I am made to feel like I am the problem in my dad’s family.

I have brought the issue of no communication to my dad’s family about 20 years ago and was told it was up to me to keep in touch since I choose to move away. It also deteriorated into an argument that made me realize that they do not do well with discussing issues they are not comfortable with and believe they are not at fault. My husband is supportive with whatever I choose to do. He believes in boundaries which are what I believe I have set up but are still confused about how everything still gets twisted around onto me.

I am very open to other people’s perspectives and opinions.

What can I do next?

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More Answers

L.U.

answers from Seattle on

"Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you" - Steve Maraboli

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H.W.

answers from Portland on

Without upsetting my own kettle of fish regarding my own family, let me just say that I can empathize and relate to much of what you are saying.

For myself, it was helpful to get counseling around this issue. A big part of how I perceived myself at that time was wrapped up in how I was being treated by parts of my family.

Some things I have taken away from those experiences and learning:

1. It's up to me to create my own community and support, because I cannot expect it from them.

2. Their baggage and feelings are theirs, and theirs alone. Just because I happen to be around when someone is unkind or petty or demanding doesn't mean it's my fault. (Another way of perceiving this: their dysfunction is their own; it exists without me. It's more like being caught in a storm instead of being the *cause* of a storm.)

3. ****Zero expectations are the way to go.*** You drove 9 hours, passed us, but didn't stop so you could go do something else and then you complain how you never see me? Not my problem and not a reflection on me. (We do make an effort to see them at least once a year.)

4. I'm not included in 'family', nor am I subjected to the chaos and dysfunction. (See #2 again). Yes, it's hurtful, but A. I can live with that and B. with no expectations, it really doesn't hurt much any more. Like an occasional twinge, not heartbreak.

5. I can be proud of who I am and what sort of life I have created for my immediate family. Just because others do not appreciate it or seem supportive doesn't mean I'm doing anything wrong. Those are their perceptions, not mine. They have had the opportunities to make their own decisions, even when it meant conflict with their own families. I have those same opportunities and do not need to apologize for being happy without them.

6. I can be supportive without being enmeshed. In short: in a situation like the weddings you described, go, love your siblings, and know that just because they don't 'need' you, it doesn't mean they don't appreciate your outside support. I have one sister who I didn't grow up with; we have good communication and while we aren't in each other's lives on a daily basis, we have become good friends. A big part of this was carved out by making our own efforts to stay in touch. When she had a surgery recently, I offered to watch the boys (not necessary) and help with housework. What she really needed was peace and as little disruption as possible. So I ended up sending a gift card for a 'take and bake' pizza place, enough for a few dinners. That was what worked for her, better than having more people around. In short, I was able to meet her where she was at and in respecting her space, I didn't ask her for more than she could give back at that time.

It's all very complicated sometimes, how we take the opinions and thinking of others and impose them on ourselves. Please, stop trying to please them because it's likely never going to happen. Do what feels right and good in your own self. Counseling is a great way to process something like this, with old hurts (you were abused, I was abandoned and left with an abusive parent-- we do carry a larger load of grief and baggage than some, and your feelings ARE valid).... the point you want to get to is forgiveness and acceptance of the situation. Then, when these slights are pointed at you, you can be able to observe them without being emotionally triggered and know, you are okay, just the way you are.

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M.G.

answers from Portland on

Well, you are the odd one out. You're the step sister. Your stepmother clearly doesn't care for you (don't take it personally) and I doubt that will ever change. Her loss. She has tainted the others - think of it this way. She's a bully and no one wants to go against her.

The best thing you can do (I think) is go to the wedding, be positive, and then just move on. If they reach out - great. If they don't, they don't. If this was a friend, would you be doing this? No - you would just let it run it's course. What advice would you give your kids if they were going through this? I doubt you'd say to keep trying.

Don't try to make sense of it (how everything gets twisted around onto you). You can't make sense of dysfunctional stuff.

When I've been involved in weird stuff like this (with my husband's family) I just realize that I would rather focus on the positives (my family) then his. They sometimes get under my skin and it is so negative - I have to consciously remind myself I cannot change how they behave. I can only change how I respond. I've learned not to take it personally. I also can't change their views, so I don't want to waste any time trying.

It does hurt. I would let yourself feel that hurt - really feel it (it sucks) - then move on. You did your best. Know that.

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J.C.

answers from Anchorage on

Repeat after me: "It is okay to cut toxic people from your life". It took me way to too long to realize this for myself but after years of being the one reaching out I finally realized my dad just doesn't consider a relationship with me important enough to put any effort into. When I realized that he doesn't even ask about my children the few times a year I was reaching out to him I finally gave myself permission to let him go. This father's day was the first time I did not reach out to him when I usually would have, and my step mother blasted me and my sister (she stopped trying years ago, guess she caught on faster then me that it was pointless) on Facebook with a post about how cruel it is for kids to ignore their parents on special days and how parents are not perfect, but nobody ever asked him for perfection, just a tiny bit of effort.

My advice to you, go to the wedding but after that don't worry about reaching out to these people, focus on the family and friends in your life who care as much about you as you do about them. There really is a wonderful peace that comes with accepting that some people are just toxic and have no place in your mind or life.

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E.J.

answers from Chicago on

Both my husband and I come from toxic families.
So we decided to cut ties with toxic members.
What help me decide who to cut was the question "How does this person/relationship enrich our lives or my childrens' lives?"

If there was no enrichment, we cut ties.
If the negativity/ work to have the relationship outweighed the enrichment, we cut ties.

I don't miss the drama, not one little bit.

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

First of all, you're not the only one. That doesn't diminish your pain at all, and it's not meant to. It's meant to tell you that not everyone is family material.

You sound very strong, confident and accomplished. But in this one area, you are allowing yourself to be manipulated and punished. But no one can make you feel guilty without your permission. Your stepmother (and perhaps your father) is involved in an elaborate effort to get everything she can from you (you say they call to ask for stuff, and they certainly issue invitations to get gifts) and to make it clear that she is in control of her family, of which you are not a part. There is no reason to set you aside as not a member of the family except to hurt you. She thinks you had it easy, perhaps because that's what he told her. Who knows? She either doesn't know or isn't interested in the fact that you grew up on welfare with a strong mother who made things happen for you. So I think you have to stop putting yourself at the mercy of people who can hurt you and, apparently, delight in it.

It's not the fault of your younger siblings, though, that their mother is like this. They have no idea. So I suppose I wouldn't cut back on any wedding gifts for her (I guess I'd keep it comparable to the other brothers), but that doesn't mean you need to attend the shower or even the wedding and pretend to be a member of the family when you are clearly ostracized.

Meantime, what about your own kids? What are you showing them about the value of family and how families behave/show love? I don't know how old they are, but I question exposing them to people with whom they happen to share a little DNA but few, if any, values or connections. I'd concentrate on your mother and stepfather, and the quality relationship you have there. I'd also surround myself and my kids with people who aren't related by DNA or legal means but who are wonderful, nurturing, giving and welcoming.

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B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

After reading all that - I've got to wonder why you want to have anything to do with your family.
You didn't choose your parents, step parents, or siblings.
What ever they do and what ever drama they generate is not your fault.
Your problem is not that they don't include you.
It's that you WANT to be included.
To a degree it's natural - but they are idiots and basket cases to be blunt about it.
And you are better than that.
If you're looking for permission to dump them and never have contact with any of them in any shape, form or manner ever again - you have mine!
Unfriend/block them all on Facebook, don't look back and don't feel a single iota of guilt for doing it.
Please see a professional therapist so you can vent your feelings and not drive your husband nuts anymore.
Life is too short to waste time on idiots - relatives or otherwise.
Spend time with people you like and enjoy who like and enjoy you.
You're going to be fine!

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C.C.

answers from New York on

You seem VERY wrapped up in "the children of a woman your dad married when you were a legal adult".

Sorry to phrase it that way, but that's what it is!! Imagine if your dad ever gets married again?!?! To a woman who has other children?!?! Will you get wrapped up like this in that group, too?

Family is great, but your dad's second wife (your "stepmother", as you call her - but seriously, she is almost your age, this isn't exactly a Cinderella story) and her clan do not seem to want to act like your family!!

Leave it alone. Walk away. You are too old to spend so much of your life wrapped up in this nonsense.

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M.D.

answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm having trouble distinguishing your relationship with your father from your relationships with your siblings. It's clear that your father was and is abusive - you may need a therapist to help you work through that. But the rest - you use a generic "they" and I don't know who you mean. Did you tell your sister that you wanted to know more about her and she said no, it's all on you? Or was that your dad and/or stepmom? I suspect it's your dad/stepmom and that you don't really know how your siblings feel.

About this wedding and your sister - do you have a real relationship with her, adult to adult? Do you consider her a friend? Do you visit with her or chat on the phone independently of whole family events? If not, then you are not close. Why would you expect to be in the wedding of someone who you don't have a close relationship with? This doesn't make sense to me. Let it go.

If you want to try to develop a relationship with her, go to the wedding and then wait AFTER the wedding, see if she wants to have coffee or lunch to actually get to know each other as adult women. You might end up friends. Or you might not.

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A.D.

answers from Minneapolis on

I feel your pain as being the only one in the family who moved to a big city, with some relatives back in the small town who feel the responsibility for communication and visiting is one hundred percent mine, because I moved away, and then will guilt me about it. But it IS a two-way street in any relationship. The phone works both ways, is what I always say.

As far as the weddings, I do think you have to be blunt, step up and talk to your sister about your wishes to help in planning if you want to help. They may have just not thought it practical or logistically possible for you to be included in planning events if you aren't living close enough to one another. However, if everyone in the room is being asked to be in a wedding party and you're present, but not asked, that's pretty thoughtless. Perhaps it's just being clueless, and not meant to hurt your feelings

Regardless or whether or not you get planning involvement, I would just go to the wedding have try to have a nice time of it. Focus on celebrating the couple getting married, and not lumping her in with your stepmother and everyone else.

After the wedding you can have a blunt discussion one-on-one with each of your family members. I would ask point blank, in a matter of fact way, leaving out any kind of emotion, "Do you like me? Do you want to have a relationship with me?" If you get a big argument or a lot of defensiveness, that's your answer. It really just calls them out on some of the passive-agressive ways they've been treating you. But now matter how the conversation goes, it will make them think about it.

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