I always wanted children but wasn’t able to have them. Imagine my happiness when I married a man who had three children, the youngest a girl aged five. You could say “instant family” but for me there was a quick and growing connection and I felt, and continue to feel, very invested in the lives and happiness of my step kids. The problem is the kids’ biological mom is crazy with a borderline personality disorder — meaning she lies, prevaricates and makes trouble whenever possible, which is most of the time. If I buy a nice dress or pair of sneakers for my stepdaughter, the mom will tell her the clothes don’t fit and make her look ugly. Anything I say to the kids, she says is wrong. We have the children half the week and every time they arrive at our house, they’re in a state of confusion caused by the birth mom who tells them ugly stories about me and how terrible I am. Her words don’t hurt me, but of course I worry about their effect on the children. I’ve been their stepmom for three years now, and the bad behavior of their mother hasn’t abated. My husband does his best to rectify the situation, but there’s not much he can do and we don’t want to get in the way of the kids’ relationship with their mom by letting them know how crazy she is. What to do? I love my stepkids and cannot stand to see them unhappy.
Stepmom Who Loves Her Kids, Minneapolis
I very much fear there is no simple solution to your problem. Being a stepmom is almost always difficult, and I’m sure you were aware there’d be difficulties at the outset. The best is for you to have a kind and loving influence on the children, to make a home for them they enjoy where they feel comfortable and secure. You can’t buy them with gifts or toys, but I’m sure you already know that. If you are honest and consistent with them, they most likely will honor you with respect and love — and that’s your best solution no matter what else happens. If their birth mom’s relationship with them is filled with lies, distortions and inconsistencies, they will instinctively know you’re the one to rely on. But ideally they should be able to trust both moms, and so a concerted effort on the part of you and their dad to help them understand and build good feeling toward their mom, who may have issues with mental stability, would be optimal. There is no reason not to gently explain to them what it means to have a personality/mood disorder. I’m sure there are books on the subject geared to younger ages. If the birth mom suffers, as you say, from a borderline disorder they need to learn how to interact with her no matter what, and it’s high time you help them understand what’s going on. A few visits to a family therapist would definitely be beneficial. Whatever you do, don’t confuse them and their loyalty to their mom by discounting the things she says or being too strong and emotional in your defense of yourself. A statement such as this: “You can love your mom without necessarily liking or believing the things she says,” would be easier for them to hear than a blatant attack on her beliefs. Practice wisdom and loving detachment when it comes to the birthmom, and you will be okay.
Best of luck, CD Knowles
REACTIONS TO FLATLINED IN SEATTLE
My heart goes out to you. Depression may not mean much to those who’ve never experienced it, but to those who have, it’s a debilitating killer. Once you’re in that darkness, it feels like you’ll never get out. I’ve found that time itself is the best healer and that one has to relax, knowing that depression, as horrible as it is, is not permanent. I wish you luck.
Margie K, Los Angeles
I suggest you find the best anti depressant, get on it, and stay on it. Depression is often a hardware problem that can’t necessarily be fixed by talk therapy. Look at your genetics. You might learn something.
Good luck to you, Geoffrey A, Boston, MA
I find the best way to combat depression is to tell oneself a story, or act as if you’re someone else, someone you admire. I, for instance, have a difficult and depressing job that could, in some ways, have a negative impact on people. Do I let that bring me down? No way! Instead, I focus on the plusses, such as high pay and a little bit of fame, even if at times it’s negative fame. The most important thing is not to overthink your situation or do too much soul searching. Take it a day at a time. Enjoy your family, your work, and the good life you lead.
Best, Sarah H. Hope, AK
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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.