How does a stepmother survive her partner’s parental alienation?
The answer: with enormous courage, and a stepmother crew which knows what they’re going through.
Or, in my case, a lot of be-heeled over-compensation – late nights on espresso martinis.
Living a fabulous life, darling?! “Don’t know what it is to be a stepmother. Didn’t want to anyway. Sod the lot of you.”
We all have coping mechanisms to get through the challenges, but surviving parental alienation as a stepparent is unique in that there really is no other scenario in life which can prepare you for it.
More than that – it’s something which a stepparent has little or no control over, has previously had no part in, and yet it impacts every single area of their life.
My heart to heart with a stepmother superhero
I have been speaking to stepmothers who I wish I had met four years ago when the excrement was hitting the proverbial ventilation device in my own life.
This delightful soul has very kindly answered some questions for me, and her answers were so good that I wanted to share them with you in their entirety.
It demonstrates just how strong you have to be to go through a prolonged separation from your stepchildren – both for you own sake but also for your partner’s.
There are a few thoughts in here which squeezed my little, black, shrivelled stepmum heart; the things she’s said are true, raw and hideously relatable. I’m very grateful to her for being so honest.
At the bottom of this article I’ve also included my own tips for surviving your partner’s parental alienation.
Part of surviving parental alienation as a stepparent is knowing that you’re not as alone as you feel. I know she hopes as much as I do that this helps you.
Going periods of time without your stepson must bring up so many different emotions, maybe some you didn’t expect. What are the overriding ones for you? And did any take you by surprise?
At first I felt the common ones: anger, frustration and guilt. I felt that being around probably didn’t help the situation and that if I left then things would magically be fixed. Ridiculous really. This situation has, actually, been almost 7 years in the making.
[Note: This couple recently went through the first anniversary of the last time they saw their little boy. The threat of losing access had hung over them for years, with periods of separation being inflicted on them every now and again. This period is the longest stint of separation yet.]
Now my partner and I have grown to accept it and be at peace with it because there is absolutely nothing we can do to fix the situation. We’re embracing the new-found freedom.
In fact, these days there’s a real sense of relief and freedom. Nothing is being held over us anymore.
The ability to slow down has been difficult though – this took me by surprise. We went from having to constantly have stuff ready and prepared in every aspect of life to just having two of us to worry about, and that has been a struggle.
This is not the first time we’ve gone through [a period of parental alienation] – but it has been the longest.
“Going through old clothes and toys – I’ll do all of that.”
How do you support your partner through those periods of separation?
I like to think I’m good at knowing my partner’s triggers, and making sure he knows that it’s okay to feel any type of emotion that he does.
I do my best to minimalise those triggers. Going through old clothes and toys for example – I’ll do all of that.
I remind my partner that he is an amazing dad and that this is no reflection on him as a father. If anything it is a positive reflection because our loss of access stemmed from good discipline. [Clashes in parenting styles and priorities between him and his ex.]
I like to write him little love letters so he can have a physical reminder of how much he is loved, how he is a good man and to let him know that he can process those emotions in private if he chooses. We also came to the decision to go through my stepson’s toys and clothes that will no longer fit or be of interest to him anymore, and we’ve given those to family and friends that will get plenty of use out of them.
How does your partner support you?
He is also very good at knowing my triggers. Sometimes I have probably commanded the need for more support than he has with trying to conceive and my miscarriages; I can feel a big hole in the mama part of my heart.
We talk openly about his son if we’re thinking of a memory that involves him. We also often talk about the future and how we would tackle certain situations, as I am someone that likes to be prepared for every scenario.
Whilst we have the chance, we are just enjoying each other and being able to give the other person whatever they might need while we figure life out.
“I think society’s view of step mothers has also massively contributed to how I view myself and feel about myself. It sometimes feels that I am the root of all problems and everyone hates me just for having the audacity to date a man who has a child.”
I know that the separation makes you feel like less of a stepmother sometimes (which isn’t true). Do other people make you feel this way, or is it something that comes from you do you think?
People, out of love and malice, have made me feel less worthy.
They say, or imply, that I don’t know the love of a mother because I’m not one. They try to make out that this period of separation is not a big problem because it has been a long time coming. That doesn’t make it any less painful.
I have also made myself feel less worthy; I’m no longer providing for my stepson or physically making a difference in his life so I am no longer a positive influence for him. Therefore, I have no role. And yet, despite having me taken from her when I was a child, my mother was still classed as a mother and a parent.
I think society’s view of stepmothers has also massively contributed to how I view myself and feel about myself. It sometimes feels that I am the root of all problems and everyone hates me just for having the audacity to date a man who has a child.
Do you have any stepmother friends to help you through?
I actually don’t! All of the stepmums I know have been through Instagram. I do, however, have an amazing stepmum myself. She really is an inspiration and all round fantastic woman.
In the last couple of weeks I have had women come to me and tell me that they’re a stepmum too. I never would have guessed if they hadn’t told me and I guess people wouldn’t know I am either! It’s not information I always readily share for fear of judgment.
Surviving Parental Alienation as a Stepmother – So How Do We Do It?
The thing which struck me most about this stepmother was how strongly the situation and wider societal pressures affected how she felt about herself and her role, and yet how downright likeable, rational and practical she is as a person. It’s a crying shame, and it is not at all unusual.
Working on our own self esteem plays a massive part in coping with parental alienation as the partner of a parent going through it. These circumstances affect us in ways which often only become clear after the event, and it can take a long time to right the internal damage caused.
Unfortunately, parental alienation is a problem which shifts and u-turns on a regular basis (and doesn’t only involve a lack of contact, of course). It’s nigh-on impossible to predict how, if or when it will right itself. Looking inward is therefore the only real answer, and here are some concepts which I hope help you with this.
- Hold fast in your conviction that a lack of contact or stepmum-stepchild love does not make you any less of a stepparent. (Need more convincing? Meet me here.)
- Know that, although a stepparent’s role is usually different to that of a parent’s (and because of this it is not easily defined), it is no less vital to your stepchild’s wellbeing. When you see them again, your presence will matter – whether they tell you that or not.
- Spend the period of separation focussing on yourself and your partner instead. I also have some resolutions for the anxious stepmother which may well help – not just for a New Year You.
- And on that note, you have permission to enjoy yourself. WHAT?! Yes. Because, although it’s painful and awful and dark and hideous, it cannot define you or your relationship. “You are more than the high conflict situation in which you find yourself”.
- Find me on Instagram and Facebook. I have women on there who are in the same situation as you, and they love to talk.
- This article from Stepparent Magazine gives a run-down on the important elements of parental alienation, from the perspective of a stepparent.
- This Australian blog with some interesting insight.
And if you have your own tips for surviving parental alienation as a stepparent, please do feel free to comment below. A problem shared and all that!
In other news – I’m thrilled to announce that Stepmum In Stilettos is now featured in FeedSpot’s top 30 blended family blogs for 2021. Check out the list for other top notch blended family blog recommendations, and share some love.