Could I have been wrong?

It is a reflective time of year. Reflection is good for the soul, so they say. My reflections have taken a different tack this year, due to my changed status from divorced single mom to married woman, mom of 4, step mom to 3.

I had a step mother. Now, due the some issues I have faced / am facing with my own step children I am rethinking everything about the relationship I had with her.

I was seven years old when I was first introduced to her. We had travelled to Israel to spend the summer with my father, with whom we spent a few weeks every summer. It was the only time during the year that we spent with him. We didn’t even speak on the phone in between visits. This was my normalcy. It was just the way it was since I remembered.

That summer we were introduced to her. It was a casual thing, from what I remember. No one said the “marriage” word or anything close. We all went away for a few days to a hotel – I am not sure where – all I remember is that I got sick with the mumps while we were there and while they were all out having fun and chasing snakes my grandmother nursed me back to health.

I don’t remember thinking anything negative about this woman that was hanging around. From what I recall they were not overt in their affection for each other, but that could also be that I was too young to even have it make an impression on me.

Within a year or two (my chronology is hazy because I was a kid back then…) they were all living in the states, and we came there to spend our summers. The first summer we visited them in the states they had had a baby shortly before we arrived. From what I remember, we had not been informed of nor invited to their wedding, nor had we been told there was a sibling on the way. At the time I guess it didn’t bother me, it’s not like we were all major parts of each others’ lives. But as I got older I was resentful that I hadn’t been important enough to my father for him to include me in all these changes. However, as a 9 year old I was thrilled with my baby half-brother. I changed his diapers, rocked him, totally enjoyed him. I did the same when his brother came along 4 years later.

My step mother and I, and my grandmother who lived downstairs, were the only females in a male dominated family. There was my grandfather, my dad, and my FOUR brothers. But we didn’t hang out. I preferred my grandmother’s company over everyone else’s when I couldn’t hold the baby. I felt that my step mother tolerated my presence but really wished I didn’t exist. I cannot recall any specific incident that made me think this, but that was how I thought. I am ashamed to say I hated her. I cannot put words as to why as she never did anything to me that would have hurt me. But her mere existence seemed to hurt me.

Looking at things from a different perspective now, I wonder if I had totally misjudged her. It’s too late for me to sit down with her and talk it through. She has passed on already to join my Dad in the big palace in the sky. I would love to have had the chance, as a grown up, to sit down with both of them, and talk through everything that is going through my head right now.

So, with the benefit of my newfound wisdom this is what I now think. I didn’t hate HER so much as what she represented. By marrying my father she put the final seal on my hopes and dreams for my parents to reconcile. Every child of divorce wants their parents to get back together, deep within their soul, even if they know it wouldn’t be right. But they want to be part of a nuclear family. As a “step mother who married my father so he couldn’t reconcile with my mother”, everything she said was suspect. If she asked me to make my bed, well, that’s because she was mean and wanted me to work. If she told me to eat supper like a lady, she hated me because I was the other woman in my dad’s life. If she gently told me off because I was too loud, she wished I was dead. See the pattern here? There was nothing she could have done right. I was predisposed to hate her.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, we only spent time with them once a year. So there was not really any regular contact for us to improve on our relationship. Any headway that had been made the summer before disappeared and we were back at square one the following summer. It had never occurred to me that she might have wanted a relationship with me. To be an important figure in my life. I just thought she would rather me out of her life completely. I thought that if she wanted me as part of her life she would have encouraged my father to be in regular contact with us, to see us more often. I saw it as her fault that he didn’t call us. In hindsight, yes, my father could have made a lot more effort – maybe she did encourage him, and he ignored her? Who’s to know?

I am sure I said many mean and hurtful things to her, teenaged girls can be vindictive and cruel. I never gave her a chance. When my father died in 1993, we all sat shiva at their house in Monsey. (yes, small world) I didn’t give one moment of thought to the hell that she was going through, having lost her husband. I had lost my father, a man I barely knew. I was 19 and life sucked. Big time. My half brothers were young at the time, not yet barmitzvah, and my heart hurt for them. I looked at my grandparents and saw their pain and sorrow at having to bury their only child way before his time – and my heart broke for them. For her? I couldn’t have cared less about her pain. I am sure some part of me blamed her for his death, which obviously is totally nonsensical.

I am by nature a caring person. I cry for people who are hurting, I feel their pain and suffering. Yet to this one person, my step mother, I was cold. Growing up I told myself it was because she hated me, so I was just giving it back to her. Now looking back on it I cringe. How could I have been so cruel and mean and just plain hateful? Her only sin was that she existed. She could have been the sweetest gentlest person in the world, cooked and baked and been a mix between Martha Stewart, Betty Crocker and Mary Poppins, and I still would have hated her. I never took the time to get to know her as a person, and that I will regret for the rest of my days. I should have been happy that my father found himself a second chance, someone that he could potentially grow old with, though, sadly, neither of them had the chance to grow old. But that is a mature attitude, and I was a kid.

This year I pray that I can start somehow to develop some kind of bond with all my step children. I love their father so much – he is the air that I breathe. He is so necessary to my every day life. His kids are an extension of him, and I love them too. I want so much to have a decent relationship with them – I don’t want to be their mother, they have one who loves them very much, but I don’t want to be their friend either – I do have a parental position. There are house rules, for all the kids. How does one find the right balance without over stepping boundaries? I know it will take time and a lot of effort and frustration and major patience from me and the KoD but I am up for the challenge. I don’t want my step children to have the same regrets that I do, 20 years from now and I don’t want them to hate me just because I exist.

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19 Comments

  1. What a great post!! I have a step-father who raised me from infancy. During my childhood, there were lots of issues around domestic abuse and my mom died when I was just 20 (she was 40). I didn’t speak to my dad for 15 years! Now we are very close but we relate as adults and not in the child/parent relationship we had. My therapist says he’s my “psychological” father as opposed to my “birth” father who gave me away when I was a baby. That’s very true…despite all the bad and including all the good, he IS my psychological father. I am more like him than not. I hope the same things you hope for in your relationship with your stepchildren. It can be a wonderful relationship. Now that my mom’s gone, my dad is all I have left. He is my past and my memories as I am his. I am glad it turned out the way it has. I have had to forgive and forget a LOT of hurt and pain and trauma. But it’s been worth it to have a psychological father. It meant the world to me that he moved heaven and earth to be with me when I had surgery in June. That was so unlike him when I was growing up. It meant everything that it was important to him now.

  2. Susan says:

    Another beautiful post, Hadassah. May you forgive yourself for being a hurting child, as you have forgiven your stepmother for being your Dad’s wife.
    And may you and your KoD have MANY joyfilled, loving years together with all of your children!

    • hadassahsabo says:

      thank you Susan. as a grown up child i forgive the judgments i made as a child, but the grown up part of me hurts for the unnecessary pain that child felt. thank you for your bracha.

  3. Martha Stewart???

    Just like you understand your stepchildren’s feelings, your stepmother may well have understood yours and did not take it personally.

    • hadassahsabo says:

      you are quite right, MII, but i will never know.

      I like Martha Stewart – she sets a gorgeous table and knows how to do home stuff.

  4. Jack says:

    It sounds like you are doing the right thing here. It is a complicated situation.

  5. Chanief says:

    I’m sorry for the regrets you have with regard to your step mother. You may very well have been wrong and it’s a shame it’s too late to find out. However, with any mistake or regret, it’s what you learn from it that really makes a difference. I have no doubt you will use your own experiences and regrets as a stepchild constructively in forming your relationship with your stepchildren. It certainly isn’t easy but all you can do is your best (both as a child and a parent.)

  6. Z! says:

    But how does this excuse her bahaviour towards you and your siblings later on? Are you questionning if it was she who was behind the exclusion of yourself and your siblings from your step-sibling’s choices?
    And perhaps your step-siblings can help to shed some light on the topic?

    • hadassahsabo says:

      Z! i was specifically talking about when i was a child. the issues to which you refer are complex and not for discussion here.

  7. Z! says:

    Yup. Which is what I phrased it the way I did.

  8. Welcome to my world, I am the stepmother that cannot do anything right, no matter how hard I try. Can I send this post to my step daughter? Probably not – it will make things even worse.

    Thank you for telling the world the truth about stepmothers and their struggles.

  9. JewishMomma says:

    I think it’s great that you have found true love and that this love includes your husband’s children. I am happy for ALL of you. I’ll bet you will have a great measure of success in blending your family because you started out with this intention and you seem sincere.
    The father’s role in being loving, encouraging, and open with his kids cannot be overemphasized in fostering a good a step parent/child relationship. I also believe that the relationship between the dad and the bio-mom is important too. If the child lives most of the time with the mom and knows there is tension or even animosity between his/her parents, that will make any step parent an easy target. Much easier for the kid to point their anger at a ‘stranger’ than at their own parent.
    Does any of this ring true for you?
    I hope everything works out wonderfully for you.

    Shana Tova to you!

    • hadassahsabo says:

      Shana Tova! thanks for stopping by. I think no matter the relationship btw the bio-parents, the step parent is always an easy target for everything. she/he is the new person on scene, therefore if anything goes wrong its his/her fault…

  10. Suzannah Luchins says:

    Wonderful post! My parents divorced when I was 3, relatively amicably, and my dad remarried when I was 4. I was very fortunate that he married a wonderful woman, who in most ways, has been a better mother to me than my biological mother. My mom died when I was 17, now almost 20 years ago, and my stepmother walked me down the aisle with my father, has met my children, and been a part of all of the milestones that my mother wasn’t here to see. I don’t know what I would have done without her. It is wonderful to see you say that you love your step children and their father (I was always very aware of how much mine loved me and my dad), and therefore, your step children are very lucky to have you!

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