You Will Always Be Just a Step

05 January 2015
Once upon a time in a land far far away, in a psychologists office for a previous marriage, we were dissecting all the drama and damage adult step 'children' were causing to the marriage, and the psychologist turned to me at one point and said "Mark, you will always be just a step to them, and they will always have an issue with that. And you will never be good enough for them".

She went on to explain that no matter how much you do, how much love you give, or support, for some not having the same genetics will never be enough and they will always have an issue with you as a 'step'.

When step children really are children, it's much easier. Children aren't so judgmental and are open and easily form a real bond with those they know care for and love them. If you come along at that stage it is so much easier all around. If they've reached teenage, or older, it gets so much harder and complex.

I've had more than a few teenage step children myself along the way, I've given them a home, fed them, clothed them, helped them with homework, taken them out to shows and restaurants, on holidays, to hospital when sick, given them lifts, worried over them, sat and talked with them, loved them as my own and supported them in every way I could. One I even showed enough trust to teach them to drive in my new car, and then put him on my own car insurance when he was refused his own due to his age. But in every case, as soon as the marriage breaks down, as a 'step' you are dropped like a rock. Cut-off and forgotten about overnight with no thanks for all you did for them, and never heard from again. It's as though 'now I'm not going to be getting anything out of you anymore I have no interest in you', even though at the same time they would still jump at any chance of any contact with dads who had deserted them and their mothers many years ago and never cared for them. Genetics. It's that genetic based hypocrisy kicking in again in some kind of drug inducted trance. I like to try and take the positive view that with teenagers it's probably more about them being in that self-obsessed stage that they all seem to go through, and maybe years later they might remember you were there for them, it's just the communications are long severed by then and so you will never know. If they said 'thanks', even just to themselves, that's enough, the universe will hear.

The worst problems I've experienced though, and met many others who have too, are with adult step 'children', and particularly with those who employ subtle passive-aggressive behaviours. Sometimes I would suggest, 'hey, let’s do or buy this for so-and-so', a step child, or their partner, for a birthday, or Christmas, or wedding, or no reason at all. We might have bought something on my suggestion, with money I had to go out and work hard to earn, and often at times when we probably couldn't really afford it, but I'd say 'lets anyway' and push our credit card debt further into the red. Then almost inevitably when the present was given, or delivered, it would be just 'Thanks Mum'. It's even happened even right in front of me when I've been standing right there, as though I didn't even exist, as if I had nothing to do with it. The number of times I've heard the prompt '...and Mark'.

So what is going on?

Personally I think it's a combination of many things. I believe nearly all children with separated parents harbour a secret dream of them getting back together one day, somehow, as impossible as it may seem at times. Not all, but many. In which case, every other partner (step parent) that comes along, male or female, however nice, will always be an obstacle to their secret dream. Many selfishly don't truly think it's wonderful for their mom or dad to be happy in a new relationship at all, even though they may give the required lip service, if deep down they are still holding out an olive branch for a genetic reconciliation one day.

In other cases, particularly when the step is a male, and a strong one, it's a resentment towards another dominant person arriving on the scene. In one of my prior marriages, my wife was told by her two adult daughters in their mid-thirties that she should stop dying her hair, stop wearing flowery frocks, stop dating anyone and just stay single and be a grandmother when they called on her. They ruled the family, and dictated all the decisions about family occasions, where and when and who (even in my own home). They even had keys to our home and would just let themselves in, we had no privacy. When I came along and occasionally didn't just go along with their plans, they would be furious. They had been so used to always getting everything their own way and their mom having a new relationship was a spanner in the works. They would play little games to factor me out or repeatedly omit acknowledging me in any way to try and drive a wedge between their mother and myself, a little bit at a time, in the hope that it might help break the relationship up. They actually failed on that count, as I always turned the other cheek and was just love back to them (and in this case they eventually resorted to a really nasty piece of outright lying to directly try and break the marriage up ...and succeeded). The psychologist picked it up straight away when we went through explaining what had been going on. She said they had issues within their selves, and the only real way to resolve their problem was for them to be honest and confront their own issues, which clearly they weren't going to. So in that case, the only way to deal with it was for their mother to make a stand, and demand her partner be acknowledged and respected and treated as an equal in the family, even if they had issues with that. She said if you ignore that sort of passive-aggressive behaviour and don't make a stand, it will just get worse and worse (and it sure did).

I have known, so many men and women, who have told me they were going through the same situation, or very similar, situations and have gone for a coffee and talked with them to let them know they're not alone and try and help them.

It's becoming a common situation today with so many marriages breaking up, and separated parents eventually moving on and forming new and serious relationships. It's actually hard to take on children that aren't your own, to overcome that genetic biasedness, and love them as you would if they really were your own. It's even harder when it's not welcomed or appreciated, it makes you wonder why you even bother. Just remember you are not alone. All you can do is be who you are, and be love towards them, however challenging it may be at times. If it's not appreciated that is their problem and one day, one way or another, they will eventually have to face up to.

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