Often times, this is not because she is evil or wicked, but rather mentally unwell. She may be suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, depression, addictions, a narcissistic personality, or unresolved traumas.
Whatever the cause, a toxic biomom will likely make your life as a stepmom difficult, and your stepchildren’s lives even more difficult. The kids may be suffering from a loyalty bind – feeling like the can’t love (or even like) the stepmom because this feels as if they are betraying their mother. They likely live in perpetual discomfort, guilt, and borderline emotional abuse (or worse).
*Disclaimer* If there is abuse of any kind, please seek appropriate support and make sure everyone stays safe.
It’s important to remember that the children are innocent victims to this dynamic, although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. It may feel like they have it in for you, like they are plotting against you, and like their intentions are far from innocent.
Even if they are treating you or your partner badly, remember that it is a symptom of biomom’s disregard for their feelings and desires. She may not disregard their feelings and desires 100% of the time, but the times that she does it can be quite damaging for the kids, especially if it happens on a regular basis. Have sympathy for their situation. That doesn’t mean you allow for bad or abusive behaviors, but you may need to ignore those behaviors for a while to dissipate the tension and build trust.
Allow me to explain. When children feel they need to take care of their mother, it’s because she portrays a “victim” mentality, and they step in to be her rescuer. Biomom likely teaches the kids (either by outright telling them, or by playing the ‘poor me’ card) that you and/or your partner are the villain, and as long as everyone plays their part, the drama triangle continues (read more about the drama triangle here).
So the best way to stop it?
Step out of the drama triangle. Stop being the villain. This means disengaging.
Disengaging means you don’t react to their bad behaviours. It doesn’t mean you act cold or indifferent (this would still be villain-like). Instead, you lovingly detach. Don’t yell, punish, or lecture. Step back, and let-go (another form of disengaging is stepping back emotionally while still being involved, and letting go of the outcome… but more on that another time).
But the compulsion to act can be strong, and just lovingly ‘letting go’ can seem like an impossible task in the heat of the moment. You want to defend your partner. You want to stand up for yourself. You may even want to stand up for the kids. You’re appalled by their words and actions, how can you just let that go? How can you condone that behavior? You need to do something about it!! This is hurtful and you won’t stand for it.
But in doing something, you are just playing into the same old drama triangle. Your angry reaction will be perceived as ‘villain-like’, and you’ll be labelled as mean, evil, or wicked. Nothing will change.
Quite frankly, if this approach has worked for you, you likely wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
Disengaging and ‘letting it go’ - it’s not easy. Trust me, I get it. But it is possible.
That’s where your own inner work comes in.
When you feel a compulsion to act, it’s likely because something is being triggered inside of YOU. This reaction comes from somewhere, and once you explore where that reaction comes from, you can learn to overcome and control it.
You can remain silent. You can be comfortable among other’s discomfort.
And in your silence you break your part in the drama triangle, and lead by example for others to do the same. You become a stable source of love and peace, rather than a reactive source of more anger and perpetual drama.
The bad news is… the drama pattern is often strong, and someone will likely step in to replace you in that ‘villain’ role. Maybe it will be your partner, maybe it will be one child versus another. The fact that you step out doesn’t always mean that everything will magically fall into place and become better. Sometimes it needs to get worse to get better.
But it will give you the opportunity to see the situation for what it is, and from that place you can teach your partner and stepkids what is happening. It may take time, and will take plenty of patience, but when you step out and stop being cast into the villain role, your stepkids may just warm up to you. You can be the safe shelter that they seek, you can be a trusted source that they come to for guidance, but it won’t happen overnight.
Heal yourself first, then begin to heal your family.
I’ve been where you are, and I’m here to show you a way out. I empower you reconnect to yourself, heal your own past traumas (we all have them), and be the light you want to see in your blended family. You can get over the drama and chaos that may be happening around you and live a purpose-driven life of peace.