‘Why did my parents break up anyway?’ It took me by surprise. I wanted to be honest.’: Stepmom caught off guard by stepdaughter’s ‘tough questions’ over dad’s relationship with ex

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“Most mornings are pretty straight forward in our house. We get the kids up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and fly out the door. However, breakfast took a turn on this particular Monday morning. As I put my stepdaughter’s plate on the table, she looked at me and said, ‘is being a stepmom really hard?’ It took me by surprise, so I paused and thought about the best way to respond. She’s 10 years old so I wanted to make sure I was being honest, but not too heavy. After thinking about it for a minute, I decided to keep it simple by saying, ‘Yes, it can be very hard, but it’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I wouldn’t trade being a stepmom for the world.’ Then came the follow up question, ‘What makes it so hard?’ All I could think was, ‘we don’t have enough time in the day, let alone before the school bell rings, to cover that!’ I could tell the wheels were really starting to turn in her little brain, so I braced myself for more.

Photo by Stephenie Kern

I told her that it can be hard because sometimes a stepmom doesn’t know where her place is in the family. There are also situations when the mom is uncomfortable with the stepmom being around, so that can make stepmoms feel very hurt and sad. I ended by telling her, most stepmoms just want to help and love their stepchildren, but that’s not always welcomed right away. I wanted to tell her more, but I thought that was the best way to sum it up. I left out the part where I was so stricken with anxiety over my husband’s relationship with his ex in the beginning. I had very little experience with blended families or parents that didn’t stay together so I didn’t understand it right off the bat. They were so young when they had my stepdaughter, I thought they would want to be together eventually. My insecurities were overwhelming when we first started dating. I couldn’t grasp how they wouldn’t want to try again or get back together for their daughter, because that’s all I knew.

I left out the part where arguments between the ‘two sides’ are inevitable and extremely hard to navigate. You would love to give them a piece of your mind, but you can’t. Stepmoms have to hold in a lot of their emotions and if they’re anything like me, feeling out of control of a situation is hard, to say the least. I didn’t mention that being a stepmom is hard because it can feel like you’re not even living your own life. You are often catering to someone that otherwise wouldn’t be a part of your world, constantly explaining yourself, defending your actions, documenting every day, and sticking up for your husband. I left out how the back and forth of court proceedings takes a toll on you mentally and physically. Stepmoms are in thick of it all, but we don’t have a voice. Nope, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to tell her the whole truth, so I kept it there.

Courtesy of Karyn Liebler

As expected, there were more questions to follow. Next, she said, ‘But you and my mom are friends so that makes it easier.’ It gave me a sense of relief that she sees us as friends. That is clearly not always the case, but she doesn’t realize it. She never has to hear either side talk poorly of the other, so why would she think differently? My husband and I are committed to never giving her the slightest clue, if possible, that something is off track with her mom. My relationship with her mother is good, but we would both tell you we’re not always friends.  I’m not even sure if ‘friends’ is the right word to describe us. Friends come and go and when things aren’t good, or someone does something the other doesn’t appreciate, you can cut them out of your life. If things get toxic, you don’t have to have anything to do with them again, not so much the case with the mother of your stepdaughter. So, I really consider us family. Do we always get along? No. Do we say things to hurt the other? Yes. But in the end, we always work it out and get back to our ‘normal.’ My relationship with her mom is about as ideal as it can get when it comes to blended families, but that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging on both ends. My stepdaughter doesn’t see that side of our family dynamic and that’s how we like it.

Courtesy of Karyn Liebler

She sat for a minute, eating her eggs and fruit, so I was thinking I was in the clear. That wasn’t so bad, she was just a little curious, I thought. Wrong. Here came the hardest question to explain. ‘Why did my parents break up anyway?’ she asked. ‘Uhhhh… Uhhhh… Uhhhh…’ is all I could think. I started to answer her about three times before I said, ‘You know, your parents were pretty young when you were born, and they tried really hard. In the end, they realized they were better parents if they weren’t together. Both of them love you so much and they did the best thing for you at the time.’ That’s big concept for a 10-year-old to grasp, but I couldn’t give her all the dirty details. I believe most kids default to wanting their parents to be together, so I tried my best to answer her in a way she felt loved regardless. She didn’t really say much after that and was playing with her sister at this point, so I asked her, ‘I know that was a lot of information, how does that all make you feel?’ She shrugged and said, ‘It just makes me feel normal.’

I sent my husband a message telling him about the interesting morning. I was hoping that what I told her was how he would have wanted it to be explained. We are usually spot on with things like this, so I wasn’t too worried. He was happy with how it went too and glad she asked what was on her mind. My stepdaughter has never known a life with her parents together. They made the choice to split when she was only 1 year old, then I came into her life when she was 2, but she thrives in her not so normal, normal. A lot of the kids around her don’t have two homes, but it makes my heart happy knowing our blended family is okay with her. I love that she felt comfortable enough to ask tough questions, even if it was on a crazy Monday morning.”

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Courtesy of Karyn Liebler

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karyn Liebler of Missouri. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read Karyn’s backstory of becoming a stepmom, and the jealousy she felt:

‘I was okay with him having a daughter. NOT an ex. When I met her, she said ‘hi’ and walked away. Hi? That’s it? She hates me!’: Stepmom recalls jealousy, insecurity over husband’s ex-wife

‘If you do that one more time, you’re going in TIME OUT.’ As soon as that door shut, she ran over to the couch. I thought, ‘Please get down. Don’t you know I’m the fun parent?! I do books, not time out!’

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