The Hardest Thing I’ve Done as a Childless Stepparent

by childless stepparent

I’ve faced many challenges as a childless stepparent. I’ve made peace with the fact that the part of myself I thought I would give my child – as a mom – has nowhere to go. I’ve learned how to be a balanced, positive presence in my stepchild’s life. I’ve decided to ignore my husband’s former wife, who often intrudes into our life. Those things are hard but they are all things I can change within myself.

Without a doubt, the hardest thing I’ve done as a childless stepparent is this: accepting that my husband will handle his former wife in his own way.

It’s hard because from my vantage point, she treats him with disrespect. She takes advantage of his generosity and gentleness. She often neglects the needs of their daughter, but she demands that her needs are met at all times. Common behavior of a person suffering from NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

I get outraged on my husband’s behalf. I want to protect him. I want him to protect himself. I want him to protect his daughter. I want him to protect me. I want him to be direct with his former wife and hold her accountable for her thoughtless behavior. And I want him to do it my way – with force.

Thing is, my way is not necessarily the best way, no matter what my ego tells me. Since disengagement is a well-documented tactic when dealing with narcissists, my husband’s quiet approach is often the wisest course of action. As long as he gets the result he is after – peace for his daughter – he doesn’t really care how he gets there with his former wife. The end justifies the means.

Most importantly, this is not my battle to fight. This is not my relationship to manage.

I have made the mistake of inserting myself. I have let my anger at his former wife spill over into our time together. I have criticized his way of dealing with her. I have pushed him to take stands with her that made him uncomfortable. There was a tense moment when he told me he sometimes feels trapped between two controlling women.

Whoa. That was all I needed to back off – way off. I don’t want that for him. I don’t want to be that person. In many ways, that moment was the impetus for this blog, the inspiration for my manifesto.

Our marriage is our sanctuary, and we both deserve peace. I recognize that I must own my peace. I must put my manifesto into action.

Despite that tense moment, my husband has told me many times that he values my perspective and has benefitted from my input. He has told me that the information on NPD I gathered for him is very helpful. He has told me that based on what he’s learned, he will change the way he communicates with his former wife.

But after 13 years with a narcissist, change will take time – and mindful commitment. Old dynamics persist. Old power structures are still in place. Old coping mechanisms still work.

My husband says that he wants to disengage from his former wife’s controlling behavior. He says that he no longer wants to be her narcissistic supply. He says that he wants to empower himself and his daughter. Maybe so. Or maybe he like things with his former wife just the way they are. That is his choice. This is his journey.

I can listen when he needs it. I can give my opinion when asked. Rather than feeling frustrated with my husband – when my ego convinces me that my way is the right way – I will apply lovingkindness compassion. I feel empathy for him. He’s in a tough spot. He’s doing his best.

I must step back. Breathe. Let go.

Manifesto #4 | My husband chose his former wife to be his child’s mother. He must take responsibility for the consequences of that choice for himself and his daughter.

Manifesto #5 | Whatever dynamic exists between my husband and his former wife does not involve me. They must work together for their child’s benefit.

EDIT: Thanks to a thoughtful comment from reader Anne, I want to add something. As she points out, there are tangible things – most of them involving financial and schedule arrangements – that directly impact my life. Those things I do get involved in. I share my thoughts with my husband and he takes it from there. Even then, it’s hard sometimes to speak my peace and then let it go. But I’ve learned that’s the best thing for my family, my marriage, my self.