Why I Suck as a Step Parent – An Open Letter

Why I Suck as a Step Parent: An Open Letter l mum-bo-jumbo.com

Dear World,

I have a confession to make. I really suck as a step parent. Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t always sucked and have done a relatively good job on the most part however a recent pivotal event made me realise just how much I have sucked at being a step parent lately.

When it comes to being a parent of any sort – biological, foster, adopted or even step, there is no room for naivety or ignorance. Parenting requires vigilance. In fact, parenting requires much more than vigilance. Solid investigative skills, a psychology degree and the patience of a lioness stalking it’s prey would also help.

As some background, my step daughter came to live with my husband and I around three and a half years ago. At the time, she had just turned 13 and had little experience with a normal household routine but was very life wise, well beyond her years. Unfortunately her mother passed away a couple of months after she moved in with us and I quickly took the main female role model in her life.

My step daughter thrived. She turned her life around. Her grades improved. She was selected to represent her school in leadership opportunities. She got herself a part time job. She was driven, motivated and was developing into a mature, young adult. We had a good relationship and I never had any major issues with her behaviour – ever. She respected me and I trusted her. Life was good.

Around 12 months ago, I found I was struggling in the roles of a (FIFO) wife, a step mother to a grieving teen and as a first time biological mother to a (now two year old) boy. The adjustment from working full time for over 15 years to becoming a full time SAHM, particularly when my husband worked away for weeks at a time, started to prove too difficult for me.

I withdrew from people. My friends. My extended family. My husband. And to my shame, my step daughter. This wasn’t a deliberate move on my part, more so a coping mechanism. As the year progressed, I found I was falling deeper and deeper into depression. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. I had no reason to. I had a loving and supportive family, friends and a great life. What was there to be depressed about?

After a conversation with my husband about how I felt sick and tired all the time, he urged me to see a doctor. I made an appointment and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Instead of feeling like a weight had lifted, I was devastated. In my mind, this diagnosis meant I had failed at being a good wife and a happy stay at home mother. I withdrew into myself even further.

I started taking medication and the first few weeks were awful. I almost gave up but after around the six week mark, for the first time in almost a year, I went an entire week without feeling sick, tired or anxious. In the meantime, my step daughter helped out a lot with her little brother and this made me trust and respect her even more. What would I have done without her?

Within a few months, I noticed that although I was feeling much better emotionally, I hated what I saw in the mirror. The medication had made me gain a significant amount of weight in a short period of time, yet my diet hadn’t changed. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my appearance. I started to withdraw again. Each time I withdrew, I would pay only basic attention to my family and their needs. I didn’t do this intentionally, it was simply my way of coping, if I could even call it that.

I don’t know whether to feel more ashamed that I did this to my family in the first place or the fact that I didn’t know I was doing it. I let my entire family down through my withdrawing, especially my step daughter. I was barely there for her emotionally for almost an entire year and I didn’t even realise until it was too late. I was the most important female influence in her life and what did I do? I let my own issues take over the entire family and forgot that my beautiful step daughter was blossoming into a young woman and that she would need advice about becoming an adult and life in general.

I stopped taking the medication without seeking medical advice all because I hated the way I looked. Stupid, stupid idea. There is no other way to describe this process other than it sent me absolutely crazy. Off the deep end crazy. It was the worst week long mood swing  I had ever experienced. No wonder my step daughter wanted to go out with her friends. No one wants to be around a lunatic. Not even I wanted to be around me.

So while I spent all this time wrapped up in myself, I somehow missed one of the most important things to happen in any young person’s life. Although my step daughter decided to keep it quiet and I respect her privacy on that part, what I couldn’t believe was the months and months and months of lies she had spun to me about her whereabouts.

I trusted my step daughter entirely and had no reason to question her. She had never done anything to make me question her so why would I start now? I thought we had a close relationship. I couldn’t understand why she felt she had to lie to me once, let alone hundreds of times? Why would she take advantage of my trust like that? She had no need to. I was mortified at my own ignorance particularly after recently writing a post about The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Teenagers.

I Suck as a Step Parent l Trust l mum-bo-jumbo.com

I was furious and we had our first major argument. Instead of me being there for her as a good parent should, I was so blinded by my feelings of hurt and disappointment by her lying to me, that I pushed her away. In fact, I pushed her so far away that she moved in with her maternal grandmother and older brother. The brother she so often lied to me about being with…obviously without his knowledge.

Although I am not condoning my step daughter’s behaviour, I need to remember that she is a teenager after all. As the adult, I have absolutely no excuse for pushing her away like I did. I am ashamed of myself and mortified by my selfishness. Believe me, no one can ‘bash’ me anymore than what I have already done. I ask that you please keep your comments constructive and useful.

This situation has taught me more than a few things about being a step parent. I can now see clearly where I went wrong and why. This is what I found out after some self discovery:

  • Ask for Help

I should have admitted to myself early on that there was a problem. I knew the triggers and the signs. I knew when I needed help but was so wrapped up with justifying why I needed the help that I didn’t ask anyone.

I know I should have spoken to someone much sooner and gotten the help I needed much earlier than what I did. I wish I didn’t withdraw into myself for so long. This made life for my family very unhealthy and I was too blind to see it. Early intervention is the key.

  • Inexperience

I was a step mum long before I became a biological mother. I was completely naive and lacked the experience that other parents do. I didn’t know what it felt like to be lied to by a child. I had never experienced the hurt or disappointment you feel when a child does something you thought they were never capable of. My trust in a child had never been broken before.

Instead of dealing with the lying in a rational manner, I was so caught up in how it made me feel that I didn’t take the time to get to the bottom of it properly. I was so blind sided by hurt, my actions and reactions were nothing but selfish.

  • Don’t Believe Everything

It’s unlikely I’ll ever believe anything a teenager says to me again without me confirming it myself. I hate being a helicopter parent as it isn’t my style, however when it comes to teens, biologically mine or not, I’ll take everything they say with a grain of salt.

From now on, I will also be discreetly double checking everything myself.

So world, you now know the truth. I may not have always sucked as a step parent and I may not suck in the future but right now, I really do suck. It was a failure on my part as I didn’t do my job properly. Simple as that.

Will my step daughter read this post? Unlikely.

Will I ever be able to trust my step daughter again? Maybe.

Will my step daughter ever speak to me again? Probably.

Have I learned from this? Without a doubt.

Will I let this happen again? Absolutely not.

Thanks for reading,

From A Sucky Step Parent

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  1. I admire your courage for sharing this. If you only knew the dark place I was in an hour ago, and how much this post spoke to my heart and inspired hope. First off, you don’t suck. You did the best you could with what you had at the time. You didn’t set out with bad intentions. We all fall short sometimes. You are able to acknowledge your shortcomings and take steps to mitigate them. There are so many people who are unable/unwilling to do that. I hope that you cut yourself some slack because at the end of the day, you’re only human.

    • Thanks for your support Yanique! You have no idea how hard it was for me to post this but I realised I needed to own my part of this dreadful situation. I felt that by sharing my experience would be the first step in acknowledging where I went wrong.

      I understand there were many other contributing factors to what happened however the one thing that was in my control to change was my own emotional well being. Although hindsight has made me realise I left it a little too late, I will never make the same mistake again and can only hope that this post helps someone to get the help they need early on!

  2. What an emotional roller coaster you have been on. None of us were born with the ability to be the perfect person, parent or step parent, unfortunately we make all mistakes along the way . Depression is also a horrid curse that can invade our lives at any time, so glad you sort help! Your letter to the world was brave and well spoken, I am sure that you & your step daughter will speak again! Good luck.
    Jennifer Abel invites you to read their latest post: Turkey & Sage Sausage RollsMy Profile

    • Thanks Jennifer, it certainly has been a time of trials and tribulations but I would not have been handed this if I couldn’t deal with it! Thanks for your kind and supportive words

  3. Lynette bramman says:

    Hi Kelly, I have just read your story. Please don’t be to hard on yourself. Life is a learning experience. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. I too a stepmother but they are much older as I am. My granddaughter suffers depression and my husband doesn’t understand how she can be like this. He is the step grandfather. I am sending you some big hugs and know others care. Good luck and hope all will be okay down the track. Xx

    • Thanks Lynette. It’s really nice to know that I have the support of my crafting friends! Thanks again Lynette, I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your wisdom and kind words

  4. Don’t be so hard on yourself, it is extremely hard to be a step parent I know, and even to have the respect of a step child is a huge feat, so you obviously treat her well. Teens will be teens (and now I guess I see why a certain teenage girl has her parents thinking she is lying to them before she even is just so she doesn’t get the chance, while I believe her). You are an amazing woman just to be there as a a full time mother to her and now have your own son… I have some days where it’s all so full on, you are so brave to admit how you were handling it to the world.. I hope things are turning around for you now. What I have learnt from the many arguments I overhear with a teenager and her parents.. They don’t usually hold a grudge after they are spoken to about it nicely later that day and your point of view is explained and apologies are made.. I don’t know how strong headed she is or exactly the situation but maybe owning any mistakes you feel you have made to her face will help repair your relationship faster..

  5. It takes courage to share something so personal. Parenthood is a difficult road, fraught with challenges and mistakes. Thankfully there is always a tomorrow, to try again! Peace to you and your family!

  6. Oh boy,

    Guess what being the step parent or the biological parent to a teen sucks. On top of that you have a toddler, yep that sucks too, oh and on top of that you have been dealing with depression, that really sucks.

    Our oldest went through depression, and I withdrew from everyone in order to save myself and her. I finally realized that withdrawing was not the answer, and that I needed a circle of close friends that would be there for me, her and the family. With no judgement, with love and understanding.

    Take it one day at a time, even one moment at a time. You have had so much on your plate.

    With regards to the teen, take her to coffee, long drive, look at my post on conversing with a teen. Take it one step at a time and build it back up. Trust is the foundation of all GOOD relationships, build the foundation again, I think it will be worth it. From what you have written about her, she sounds like a good kid.

    I think you are an amazing, strong, woman…. You were eloquent with your words and so very brave too.

    Bravo, and welcome to being in the midst of being a parent.

    Also check you http://maniacmom.weebly.com she rocks as a blogger and a mom…. Check out her blog, oh and tweet me any time mate!!!!!
    BritishMumUSA invites you to read their latest post: Conversing with a TeenagerMy Profile

  7. It is sad that she felt the need to lie to you, but hopefully with time the relationship can mend. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Julie S. invites you to read their latest post: The Fourth Trimester is the HardestMy Profile

  8. Hang in there! And seek grace for yourself and grace for your sweet step-daughter who probably deep inside feels as guilty as you do!

  9. You brought the most insightful post to our party! Thank you. Pinned and tweeted. We feel honored that you take the time to stop by our party. I hope to see you on Monday at 7 pm. We love to party with you! Happy Sunday! Lou Lou Girls
    Lou Lou Girls invites you to read their latest post: New Beginnings Welcome IdeaMy Profile

  10. Cathy Heritage says:

    Hello Kelly,

    I have just read your story and I want to say how much I admire your strength in being able to post this and the way you took on your stepdaughter, I have my own story with that situation but it was my son and my partner who didn’t and still after 30 yrs together don’t get along and its very hard. Life is full of unexpected events that get thrown at us and we handle them the best way we can at the time, hindsight is a wonderful thing and a lot of the time when we look back and see the things we have done there are many we would like to change. However its been already happened and theirs nothing you can do to change it so now you have to look forward and with knowing the problem do the best you can to repair the relationship and with some help and time hopefully you will succeed. I wish you all the best and know you are never alone good luck with your journey. Xx

    • Hi Cathy, thanks for stopping by! I appreciate you sharing your experiences with me. I can only imagine how hard it must be especially after 30 long years. Thanks again, I can’t express enough gratitude for your support

  11. All moms are inexperienced. While all of my kids are biological, I’m still a first-time parent. I’m the first time parent of a pre-teen boy, despite the fact that I have raised him for 12 years. I’m the first-time parent of first-grade twin girls, despite the fact that both of my boys have been there. Every child is different. All of us are lied to for the first time. We all fumble our way along, and anyone who says they have it all together isn’t seeing the whole picture.

    For some reason, kids hold step-parents to a different standard, even though the love is the same. I did it to my step-parents growing up, my boys do it to their step-father. There are good step-parents and bad ones. And from the sounds of it, you are one of the good ones.

    I love your honesty.

    Keep up the good work.
    Heather Hart invites you to read their latest post: Real Life, Honest, ChristianityMy Profile

    • Hi Heather. Thanks for popping by! I hadn’t thought of it that way before but you are right. As parents, there is always a first time for all our experiences. Thanks for your words of encouragement, they really help!

  12. Great post to share, because there are so many who have been in the place you have! This can help others find hope!
    Robin invites you to read their latest post: 7 Ways to Build Your Childs Self EsteemMy Profile

    • Hi Robin, thanks for popping in. I hope this post helps others, it was really difficult to write but I felt I needed to be honest to myself and everyone else. Thank you!


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