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Relationship with stepparent after a parent's death
April 29, 2012 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Did you maintain a relationship with a stepparent after your biological parent passed away? What was it like?

Aside from breaking up my family, Stepdad has always been kind to me. He's been married to my mother now for longer than my father was; his child and I rarely talk but our relationship is cordial when we do see each other.

Still, I didn't grow up with him in my home, and quietly resent him on a level that will never go away. He lives states away in a place I rarely travel to aside from visits to my mother; we never speak on the phone and rarely email.

Complicating matters is my own sibling, who was younger when the divorce happened and has much fonder memories of both Mom and Stepdad than I do. I don't want to foster any bad blood there, either between Sib and Stepdad or between Sib and me.

The whole thing seems so incredibly, imposibly awkward. What will we be to each other without Mom? What are my obligations here? How do people handle this sort of thing?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You're not required to be any closer to him than you feel like being. You can keep track of his health and his other activities through your sibling and send him off a Christmas card and a birthday card each year. When your mom is no longer around you won't magically feel closer. Don't feel guilty about that.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:14 PM on April 29, 2012

Sorry about your mother passing away. You sound like a very caring person stuck in an situation where you are concerned about how your reactions will affect not only your step father, but especially your sibling. Kudos to your thoughtfulness.

I believe the thought process you need to go through to reach the decisions you want to make could very much be helped by a good therapist. I believe you need to discuss your family history, relationships and feelings with someone who can help you make the right decision about this for yourself.

A good therapist helped me make a decision about one of my own dysfunctional family relationships. Now I'm quite happy and comfortable about the relationship decision I made, which could not have happened without a professional, disinterested third party helping me understand my own personal mental hang ups about the situation.

Good luck - for me, it was easier than I thought it would be to sort it out - hoping the same for you.
posted by walleeguy at 6:21 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

So my dad's lady friend of 20 years is someone my husband and I talk with on the phone several times a week. She was never a stepmother to me, but she was part of my life, and I imagine we will keep in close touch for the rest of her life.

My cousins talk with my late uncle's wife a couple of times a month. (Similar situation in terms of timeframe, though my father and his lady friend never married.)

My friend G. sends her stepfather a card at Christmas and on his birthday, and when he is in her city he takes her out for lunch. She has a brother who is much closer with the stepfather, but nobody seems to find it odd that she and her stepfather have a different style of relationship.

My friend A. invited his stepmother to his wedding, and then to his son's bris several years later. I'm not sure they spoke or exchanged letters or email in between. She attended the first, and sent a nice gift for the second, and they send her pictures of her grandson every few months. If she did come to A's city, I imagine they would visit with her, but she's not traveling much anymore.

I think there are a lot of ways to do this, and you and your stepfather will find your own way. Which doesn't have to be the same as your sister's way. I think occasional greetings cards is fine, if that's what works for you; your stepfather won't be the only one in his peer group to have that relationship with a stepchild.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:57 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your relationship with your stepdad is kind of like my family's general relationship with my dad's siblings - we're just not that close, not that comfortable together for whatever reason. We all used to get together every year for Xmas and other occasional family gatherings when Grandma was still around and us grandkids were little - we came together to spend time with her, and make her happy. Not really to see each other. Since she died, we hardly see any of them anymore.

To try to continue the familial bond, my parents have persistently extended invitations to them for family dinners, sometimes a few will come on special occasions like milestone birthdays, but most of the time it's just not a priority to them. It's disappointing but understandable, and so we don't take offence and appreciate the occasional time we see them nowadays.

I simply suggest being agreeable regarding your sister's relationship with Stepdad, and let your own aversion towards him be subtle at best. They know how you feel about him. Maybe once in a blue moon your sister might make a reasonable case for a visit, and out of respect for Mom's memory you could go and be your charming self. I'm sure neither of them will really find fault with you for it being low on your list of priorities to "stay close" to him otherwise.
posted by lizbunny at 7:15 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a home with my stepmother who married my father when I was five or six. My father passed when I was in my early twenties, and my stepmother and I made a halfhearted attempt at a relationship for a few years, which ended at about the same time that she remarried. In the end, all we really had in common was my dad. We hold no hard feelings, but we don't keep in touch.
posted by msali at 7:51 PM on April 29, 2012

My father passed away last year. My stepmother and I remain close; she is a lovely woman and is the mother to my sister (who she adopted with my father).

Perhaps my situation is not common, but it's important to all involved--my, my stepmother, and my sister--that we remain close.
posted by dfriedman at 9:16 PM on April 29, 2012

I think I'm right there with you and lizbunny and msali. My dad married his second wife when I was in my late twenties, a solid decade after my parents' divorce. I wasn't ever terribly close with my dad, much less so with his wife. She has grown children of her own and years of history that I couldn't possibly catch up on. It all seemed so foreign - here's this otherwise perfect stranger that is ostensibly related to me. (You'll note I say "dad's wife" and not stepmom. That's probably as illustrative as anything as to the shape of our relationship.)

Dad passed away late last year, and while I think I wanted to be there for her, I had no idea how to since I felt I barely knew/know her. I've spoken to her only a few times since his passing, mostly to divide things up at her request. Each time was awkward and weird - friendly, but forced. It's now been since Christmas probably that I talked to her except by email. I don't really get the sense that she's all that interested in anything larger than that, either.

Moral of the story - I think it's entirely possible that your relationship with your stepdad could end up the same as mine above. Cordial when in each other's rare company, but not much more from either side. Note well that there's no judgment involved there; you didn't have much of a relationship with him before, so aside from possibly helping him pick up the pieces after your mom's passing, I'm not sure you're compelled to be closer to him afterward. Your reasons for not wanting more of a relationship with him are valid regardless of your mom's passing.

Final note about a parent passing: I've been there. It's hard. You'll get through it.
posted by OHSnap at 11:45 PM on April 29, 2012

I think there's value and comfort in remembering a person you loved with another person who also loved them. If your stepparent is alone or socially isolated, there's also kindness in it.

But there are no hard and fast rules, and you should do what feels right for your soul.

When my mom's stepdad died, his children let their ties with my grandma (their stepmom) gradually fade out. My grandma had other kids, grandkids, friends, a real network to turn to, though, and she didn't need her stepkids -- who she did not raise -- to be there for her.

When my mom's father died, his wife had no other living relatives and few surviving close friends. My mom and her stepmom were not particularly close, and never became close, but my mom did make a point of inviting her stepmom to family events and visiting a few times a year. She mostly did out of generosity toward her stepmother and to honor her father, but I believe my mom also got her own rewards out of the interactions.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:08 PM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

"You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave" - In my family once you're family you're always family even if you don't keep in touch.

My mum kept in touch with my step-grandfather, we keep in touch with my aunt's widower, we keep in touch with my grandfather's last wife. Another uncle chose not to keep in touch afterwards, but we still consider him a family member. It may just be phone calls now and then, or a card here and there, a lunch, a cup of coffee. You don't have to be in each others pockets. Keep in as much contact is comfortable for you.

My condolences on your mother's passing.
posted by deborah at 9:42 PM on April 30, 2012

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