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To My Stepmom

Updated: Mar 21

Dear Stepmom, I’m Sorry. 

Insights from a stepdaughter. 

I just turned 68. It’s allowing me to look back at my younger years with an incisive perspective. 

One of the areas I ponder is my relationship, experience, and view of my relationship with my first stepmom. 

I was almost nine years old when my parents divorced. My younger brother and I lived full time with my mom and visited my dad on weekends. 

I was around 11-12 when my dad introduced us to his girlfriend and her two sons. She was nice, and I remember my dad asking me how I liked her. They married in a private ceremony shortly thereafter. 

As I consider the subsequent years and some of the things I said or did regarding her, this is what I’ve discovered about myself, my dad, and my stepmom. 

  • My mother hated her—and my dad. I didn’t want to hate her because I loved my dad. I was happy that he was happy. But his happiness made my life more difficult in several ways. It increased the tension in my home. If I absent mindedly mentioned my stepmother’s name, it got ugly. And I regretted being so foolish. 

  • My mom had a right to be angry. My dad is the one who left their marriage and broke the vows. I’m not implying it was acceptable for my mother to show her anger and to take it out on me. But now, as an adult, I understand the betrayal she experienced. And why she was so spiteful. Everyone grieves differently.

  • It wasn’t easy for my stepmom to have an ex-wife in the picture, especially one that was bitter. She tried not to show it, or put me in the middle, but I could feel the angst. 

  • After my dad’s marriage to my stepmom, it felt like we “lost him”. I never felt like we had any time with just him. We would go to their house and she and I would talk, but he seemed far away. And he was tired. I missed my dad.

  • My dad adopted her kids. This is when everything felt different. Now my stepbrothers had my last name, and my father, 24/7. My brother and I became the outsiders and the four of them were a family.

  • They added another baby. This sealed the deal. It clearly communicated to us that our dad belonged to them. And it felt like my stepmom had created the family she wanted. I don’t think she did it maliciously. I believe she just wanted a family of her own. And now she had it. We were outside their circle.

  • I was getting older and started dating, so I leaned on a boyfriend to fill the daddy gap I was missing. Even though my brother still spent time at their home with dad’s new family, I believe it left my brother with a tremendous sense of not belonging. 

  • I don’t believe either my dad or my stepmom did anything intentionally or to be neglectful. I think they didn’t know about forming a stepfamily or what we needed. 

  • I do believe my stepmom was jealous about my father having a first set of kids before she entered his life. Many stepmoms tell me they struggle with this, that they didn’t experience all the “firsts” in their husband’s life. I think she struggled with it.   

  • They both ignored the red flags. I was very depressed during my adolescent and teen years. I thought of suicide constantly. One time I wrote about it in a school newspaper disguising the story as fiction. I overheard my uncle asking my dad if he was concerned that I had written such dark thoughts. My dad and stepmom blew it off. I was crushed. I wanted someone to see how deeply I was hurting. 

  • One Christmas when I was 17, I bought my favorite cousin a really nice present, and I could tell my stepmom was hurt that I had given her just a box of candy. The following year she wrapped the same candy and gave it to me. When I looked at her, she had a coy smile on her face. It was a—gotcha! I never forgot that look. Although I felt badly that my gift had hurt her feelings, I didn’t feel I deserved retaliation. It taught me not to trust her. But I did feel terrible that she felt snubbed by me.  

  • My main resentment with my stepmom is how she wouldn’t let my dad spend money on things we needed, or special events. I’m sure she thought his child support should be enough, but it created a huge problem. When I was planning my first wedding, we went out to dinner together. When my stepmom went to the restroom my dad folded up a few $100 bills and slipped them under the table into my hand and whispered, “just between us.” He wanted to help me pay for his only daughter’s wedding. She didn’t. I think she felt I should have included her in all the planning. The thought never even crossed my mind. Without her knowing he had to give me the gift in secret. I resented it because I was certain her kids were getting all kinds of financial things from my father that I didn’t. 

  • I have regrets. Although I wasn’t a brat or rude, I wish I had been kinder and more understanding of my stepmom. I was a kid. I didn’t understand that she was probably hurting and feeling tension or rejection too. I realize that now. I would have extended more grace to her if I knew how.

  • If I had it to do over again, I would have tried harder to have a relationship with her and get to know her as a woman, not just a stepmom. My dad left her when I was 29 and going through my own divorce. I wish I had reached out and comforted her. I’m sure she was deeply hurting. 

  • I know she loved my dad. He was very talented, handsome, and charming. And I look, act, walk, talk, and have my mother’s mannerisms. I was probably a constant reminder always in her face that my dad had an ex-wife, and kids with another woman, before she came alone. 

I get it. And I’m sorry.

I’m considering these emotions and thoughts because I've been a stepmom for 38 years, and I work with many stepfamilies. I want them to understand that just because your stepchild may act distant, ugly, or disinterested, there are many big emotions swirling in their head and heart. Stepkids, young and old, have conflicting emotions about stepparents. 

She and my dad both went on to remarry again after their divorces, I didn’t see her again until my father’s funeral many years later. Both are deceased now. 

Because I’m coming closer to the end of my own life, I see things through a different lens. I didn’t have that perspective as a kid or young adult. 

I only had feelings. And they were a muddled, wounded, and perplexing mess.  

©2024 Copyright. All rights reserved. May not be duplicated without permission. Laura Petherbridge

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Laura, I always read your blog, but have never commented before. I think this is one of your most powerful and transparent pieces of writing. Thank you for articulating the complex’ messy and confusing feelings, so many of us can relate to, with such self-introspection, vulnerability and honesty. You are such an inspiration, blessing and role model on this journey!

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thank you so much. That means more than you will ever know. Blessings over you, Laura

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