I do encourage comments and friendly debate on this blog, but I have to admit I was surprised to receive a comment this summer from a reader nicknamed Daisy:  “I came here for comfort, and instead find an outrageous display of selfishness.” 

Daisy, who is herself grieving the loss of her adult son, felt that the stepparent comments were reflections of those “who still want to maintain their false status as centerpieces of the universe .. e.g. finding it ‘annoying’ to have grieving step-children who have not transferred their adoration of dead parents onto the stepparents.” 

I thought this was a good opportunity to reiterate my purpose for our discussions.  I believe that stepparents have good intentions and yet the stepparenting journey has many emotional twists and turns.  I like that I meet each reader where he or she is, as opposed to judging where he or she “should be.” 

Each stepfamily member is going through a grief and re-integration process.  For some stepparents, the skies clear quickly and the sun illuminates the healthiest path for stepparenting grieving children. For me personally, this process has taken more than ten years. I have had my selfish moments, yet I’m also learning from my own challenges and successes. 

The bottom line? The model stepparent will behave only in ways that are the healthiest to assist and honor the grieving child.  In reality, we all go through a zigzag evolution toward stepparenting nirvana.  (A shorter way to say this might be: nobody’s perfect!) 

I  know now how I can share a bigger heart for kids who have lost their parents. But I surely didn’t understand these concepts after one, two, or even five years of remarriage.  I’m openly sharing this journey on my upcoming audio, which is a preview to my book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child. I feel that even my selfish stepparenting behavior was part of growth work I had to do to realize I had to become better educated about how to be more beneficial in my stepkids’ lives.

What do Daisy’s comments or my commentary stir up in you?  Let us know. 

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado.  Watch this space soon for information about my preview audio for Stepparenting the Grieving Child.


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11 Comments on A Reader Writes: Selfish Stepparents

  1. C4now says:

    “I believe that stepparents have good intentions and yet the stepparenting journey has many emotional twists and turns.” I agree wholeheartedly 🙂

    I saw Daisy’s post and feel deeply sorry for her loss and sorry for the pain she is enduring at this time in her life. My relationship with my Step children is not a quest to REPLACE their Bio-Mom… however in reality… I am doing just that! It’s such an oxymoron and yet I am A OK with that. I don’t request they call me MOM or disparage their parent in any way. HOWEVER, their Mother was INCAPABLE of being a Mother in every sense of the word. Her drug problem, her diagnosis with paranoid schizophrenia, her inability to be emotionally available, her financial situation, ect. would make ANY replacement look better than her. (Sorry, but this is the truth.) Now that the kids are older they see her for what she truly was…. HUMAN. She had her faults, her misgivings, and various other familial issues that were passed on from generation to generation. Being from a loving and stable home just as my NOW husband is… we BOTH can’t begin to understand her path in life. The children are seeing this too. They recall the men in and out of her apartment when they lived in another state away from Dad. They remember her tenancy to talk to herself and take them to Toys R Us after beating them to a pulp to make up for her abuse. THESE THINGS KIDS REMEMBER. So for her to be idolized by the kids is natural… but mark my words, as they become older and rationalized all that had gone on in their young and tender lives… Princess Diana… she was NOT. This does not mean they love her any less!!!! This means they understand her limitations and that’s OK. I know this much, I am sooooo lucky to have them in my life and I thank GOD every day that I can be the MOTHER FIGURE they NEVER had in their lives and still call me by my first name 🙂 They can call me ELMO for all I care just as long as they know my depth of love for them is as deep as the core of the earth… I thank God the feeling is MUTUAL! As for their Dad… oh, yeah, I hit the jackpot too! 🙂 Ironically, I knew him since I was 4 years of age anyhow… we were neighbors so technically we have known each other all our lives. Divine intervention brought our paths together to help raise his beautiful children and make a loving home. Daisy God bless you and I hope you can work through this pain, anger and frustration you are feeling. I sympathize and empathize with you… I really do.

  2. C4now says:

    PS “I feel that even my selfish stepparenting behavior was part of growth work I had to do to realize I had to become better educated about how to be more beneficial in my stepkids’ lives.” Hits how I feel right on the nail. I won’t even mention my selfish behavior being a SINGLE WOMAN WITH NO CHILDREN OF MY OWN to start with… my oh my how I have changed financially, emotionally, and spiritually! And if you ask me… it’s getting for the better. Please bear with my evolution and every woman in here who feels the way I do when we vent Daisy because newsflash… I am far from perfect myself! I am learning every day and willing to have my heart open to this experience when MOST WOMEN would have headed for the hills!

  3. C4now says:

    PSS… I know now how I can share a bigger heart for kids who have lost their parents. But I surely didn’t understand these concepts after one, two, or even five years of remarriage.

    Ironically… I lost my Bio-Mom when I was 4 only to be adopted at 5 so I UNDERSTAND PERSONALLY what my Step Kids are going through. Guess what my Mom had died from? A heart attack due to taking LITHIUM for her PARANOID SCHIZOPHRENIA! Yes, I too had suffered from the effects of a Mother who had the disease and died from it! That could be part of the reason I have such a STRONG bond with them because I have been there myself and gotten through just fine.

    Anyhoo… I’m done… lol!

  4. i feel strongly compelled to reply to daisys’ comments regarding stepparenting children whose parent has died. i have ben a stepmother for one and a half years to 3 lovely children now ages 6, 12, and 13 whose mother passed away 4 years ago. nobody knows what to expect when they take on this rare situation. i have no bio children of my own but have always loved kids. however, even though the kids are doing very well they are still kids
    and parenting in this unique situation presents challenges that many times you find yourself unprepared to handle. you are given full parental responsibilities yet many times find yourself dancing around issues that you know you would handle differently if the kids were your bio kids. many times frustrations occur as you try your best to raise these children properly while earning there trust. i found this website to have been a godsend, not so that i can feed my “selfish self”
    but so that i can find that i am not alone and that there are other people who understand and can offer ideas so that all of us in our family flourish and bond in the special family that we have created. my sympathies to daisy, but please do not be judgemental until you walk in our shoes.

  5. C4now says:

    Kudos Paula!

  6. Diane/Mama J says:

    Thanks for all the great comments. I am convinced there are some facets of stepfamily life that someone who is not a stepparent doesn’t fully understand, and no amount of explaining can really get it through. That’s even true for my husband, and I think he would support my statement.

  7. Mary Ruhe says:

    There is one element that stepparenting and “birth”-parenting share, and that is that suddenly a child is thrust into your life, and you must do everything in your power to meet that child–where ever that child is–with unconditional love. I didn’t say limitless patience, boundless grace, or absolute perfection, but with unconditional love. Or, as C4now said, your children/stepchildren must “know [your] depth of love for them is as deep as the core of the earth”. It is selfish, and frankly unconscionable, to love them less than you would your biological children, or to compete with them for their father’s affections, or to allow yourself to spend years learning to love them. My daughter was born with a disorder that caused her to scream for her first two years. She certainly wasn’t what I expected, and she most definitely was not what I wanted. My dream was gone, and I could choose to be petty and selfish, or I could give myself over to loving this child who needed me; isn’t that the essence of stepparenting? Stepparenting even has an advantage in that stepparents know what the child is like that he or she is signing up to parent; a birth parent doesn’t have that opportunity. I really think you need to revisit the idea that it is okay to spend years withholding unconventional love to a child, and even sanctify the process by giving a name to it–zigzag evolution. Yes, it certainly is hard to decide to love a child you don’t love, but that is what parenting is all about. I agree with Daisy–take a hard look in the mirror and face the selfishness.

  8. Diane/Mama J says:

    Well, this is certainly a good discussion. I think “learning to love” and “withholding love” are two different dynamics. Anyone who knows me would say that I showed love to my stepchildren early and often…in fact I tried TOO hard! However, it still took me years to accept that the type of love I showed them was in fact not what they wanted from me. The fact that I was disappointed shows I was missing the mark as to what they really needed — a friend, not a parent, and a friend who would encourage them to continue to have a relationship with their deceased mother.

    This isn’t really about me. A key factor that none of us have brought up is the feelings of the child. Most bio children instinctively love and need their parents. Most steppchildren are initially wary of their stepparents. Is this person going to take my mom/dad away from me? Is this a person I can trust? If I love this person will I destroy the special love I have for my deceased parent? Bio kids aren’t asking these questions. In my opinion, you just can’t compare stepfamilies with bio families this way.

    By the way, the term zigzag evolution is not mine; it was coined by psychologist Patricia Papernow in her foundational book, “Becoming a Stepfamily.” Hers was the first book to recognize that stepfamilies have unique rhythms and opportunities, and is highly acclaimed in re-marriage and family counseling work. One of those rythms, well-documented in case studies and research, is zigzag: “one step forward, two steps back” dynamic where relationships seem to be going well and then suddenly someone in the stepfamily goes through a new phase that seems like the relationships are headed backwards. This can happen in any set of family dynamics, but it seems more complicated in the families where kids experience loyalty conflicts.

    Mama J

  9. Claudette says:

    I have found an incredibly helpful book on this topic. It is by far and away the best book I’ve read (and I’ve read many)on being a stepmom. It’s called Stepmonster by Wednesday Martin. I suggest anyone who struggles with these isses read the book. I was in tears by page 63. Over and over I found myself shaking my head and saying “YES!, somebody finally understands” …

  10. C4now says:


    I was reading this on Salon.com WOW. The response from the readers of this woman’s post is PAGES LONG! Seems she was crucified.

  11. C4now says:

    Claudette, I am going to pick up a copy of Stepmonster! Thanks for your post… it sounds good!

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