Stepmother in Doubt

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Dear Hoopers,
I am married to a man that has three teenage daughters between 15 and 19. We get along fine but they are very sheltered girls who he spoils rotten. Their mother uses them as pawns to show her control and this is taking a toll on me. He is a puppet to his daughters and I get thrown to the side. I try to keep the peace and go along with everything but lately I am having trouble with that. I made plans for a weekend in July to celebrate at our weekend home since it is my birthday. But I just found out that his ex-wife made plans for us to bring two of their daughters and boyfriend to a concert and didn’t consult me. The girls don’t like going to the weekend house since they are supposed to be with their mother on the weekend. I am so hurt over this. Am I overreacting?
-Stepmother in Doubt

Dear Stepmother in Doubt,
You’re in a tough spot. It sounds like you were trying to wrestle with everyone for the weekend that you wanted and lost out. I’m not exactly sure what happened with communication leading up to this weekend decision or why things happened the way that they did. If your concerns are right, your husband seems to be putting his children and his ex-wife before you and this is eating you up inside. You seem to feel helpless and betrayed in this situation.

Part of the challenge for your husband may be that he is unsure how to set appropriate boundaries with his children. He may be fearful that if he stands with you on a decision he is betraying the love for his daughters. He may be concerned about the implications of putting you first and how the other women in his life might take that news. I do hope that there is a way for you to get out of the wrestling match with your family, but I must be honest that I have my doubts based on what you stated in your question. I do believe that clear communication will be key to moving forward.

He may be fearful that if he stands with you on a decision he is betraying the love for his daughters.

-Dr. Ryan

One tool that may be helpful for you and your husband in decision making is a Yes-Maybe-No list. When making important decisions with your husband each of you can brainstorm a list of outcomes you definitely agree with, a list you might agree with, and a list you definitely don’t agree with.

Regarding your birthday weekend, maybe the most important outcome for you was to get away from home. Perhaps you also would have liked to have the girls with you and you would have also liked to go to the weekend home. By using a Yes-Maybe-No list, you and your husband could have found a compromise that works for everyone. The goal isn’t to win, the goal is to make your marriage work.
-Dr. Ryan

Dear Stepmother in Doubt,
You knew when you married this man that he had children. Was he a “puppet” to his daughters then? It seems unlikely that his affection and investment in his daughters has changed dramatically in this time period. He is their father. You married into having step-children for better or for worse.

Have you tried to invest in a relationship with these young women? Whether you wanted that or not, by signing up to this marriage, you also signed up to be an integral part of their lives. Even if that is through an extension of your husband.

Have you tried to invest in a relationship with these young women?


You don’t have to be best friends with his children, but to make your life easier, I would make more of an effort. Who knows, you may actually end up really enjoying them. I understand safeguarding your birthday. Birthdays are special and being surrounded by people who love you, make it all the better.  So let your husband know that you’d like some one on one time with him before or after your birthday and try to enjoy the concert surrounded by family.