Wicked Stepmothers Never Die
March 22, 2011 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Went through a very ugly divorce about four years ago. Blindsided by a cheating husband who remarried less than six months later. Following the divorce, I lost all access to my stepdaughter who is turning 16 next month.

I have sent Stepdaughter holiday cards and birthday cards every year that I have known her (I've known her since she was two. Was her stepmother from ages 3-12). I have not heard from Stepdaughter or seen her since the divorce. Stepdaughter's mother and I were generally polite while I was married to Stepdaughter's father, but never friendly and not particularly comfortable with each other.

When I was married to Stepdaughter's father, she lived in our house only for about four weeks in the summer and over Christmas break. Her mother lived (and still lives) several states away and mostly we spent time with Stepdaughter by traveling to see her at her maternal grandparents' house.

So, I don't really know what sort of relationship I have with Stepdaughter--it mostly seems I don't have one. I'm not really okay with that--which is why I still send her letters a couple times a year--but I don't appear to have a choice beyond leaving the door open, should Stepdaughter ever feel moved to talk to me.

Which brings me to my actual question: I have a box of photos, mostly Stepdaughter and her dad, but some of her and me, or her by herself, or with his family, and some home videos. I'd like to send them to her, rather than throw them away. (I have a selection of special shots that I intend to keep--this pile of photos are mostly Stepdaughter and her father or duplicates or not as special as the ones I've kept. I will be clearing them out of my house, whether I send them to her or not). I don't know where her father is--I have no contact with him, don't want any--I know he moved when got married again and that's all I know. I know where Stepdaughter's mother and maternal grandparents live. That's the address I have always used for correspondence with her. I was unable to find an address for her paternal grandparents in either my files or on the internet.

Is it okay to send this stuff to Stepdaughter? What should I say? Am I an asshole to even think about this? How wrong is it of me to even send one birthday card a year?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's wrong. Until and unless you've been told not to and you're not being a nuisance, I think it's fine.

But it's impossible to know where her head is with regard to this. You don't really know what she's been told about you in the aftermath. But as long as you've not been told to send a birthday card, I say go for it.
posted by inturnaround at 1:33 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that would seem kind of hurtful to a kid of sixteen, and maybe even an adult. She might still be sorting things out.

I think continuing to send her a birthday card is nice.

I think you should hold on to them or make a good faith effort to find your ex and mail them to him. You don't need to include a letter or anything.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:36 PM on March 22, 2011

I don't think you're an ahole for wishing a young woman well in her life. You had a relationship with her and I think you're the one who is the better person.

I would send it to her with a note about your feelings. Nothing too serious or mushy but more of a "I thought you would like these. I always cherished our time together and wish you well. If you ever want to keep in touch, here is my address."

And leave it at that. Remember she is 16 and priorities may be skewed. But you never know her maturity level, what's going on in her life, or years later when she does mature.

I think it's very sweet of you to think of her!
posted by stormpooper at 1:37 PM on March 22, 2011 [20 favorites]

I would urge you to hang on to the box for another few years, and then drop a note asking if she would like to have the box. Sixteen can be a rough ride for some people and what she may want to scissor up right now (if there is any bitterness over the way things were handled, or over her father) might be cherished in just a few more years.

I am very sorry about what happened; I think that's terrible that you were shut out like that, and the lack of response doesn't say nice things about the other adults involved.
posted by kmennie at 1:45 PM on March 22, 2011 [13 favorites]

I'm not really in a position to write up an entire long response right now, so feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to talk more.

I've been in Stepdaughter's position. I have two stepfathers, one of whom disappeared from my life for a decade after (but not directly after - about four years after) his divorce from my mother. It was the most heartbreaking thing that has ever happened to me. Two years ago, he got in touch after the prolonged absence and explained that he'd had his own issues to work out and I was just so grateful that he did get back in touch - we have a fantastic relationship now, but I do still mourn a little bit for the lost time.

Absolutely send these things to Stepdaughter. She will appreciate it. Even if she doesn't appreciate it now (though I imagine she will), she will one day be very glad to have these photos and such. Don't push her to get in touch beyond just wishing her well, but absolutely send these on to her.

Again, feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to chat from someone who has been on the other side of this very situation.
posted by sonika at 1:49 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

And leave it at that. Remember she is 16 and priorities may be skewed. But you never know her maturity level, what's going on in her life, or years later when she does mature.

This seems right. I had a stepmother for a shorter time, from when I was about 7-9, but whom I saw more frequently. I was fortunate in that after the divorce, my dad and she were civil and he even took me to visit her a few times for dinner or a sleepover before she moved to a different state. We kept in increasingly sporadic touch when I was a teenager, and then I went to college near where she was living and looked her up again. I went over to her house once for dinner when I was 19, after having not really communicated with her for several years. We looked at old photos and talked about all kinds of things.

I haven't seen her or heard from her since, and it's been about ten years, and I honestly feel pretty neutral about it. But I'd be perfectly happy to meet up with her again if she got in touch, it's just that in the grand scheme of things, she wasn't that big a part of my life, though I have fond memories of her.

It's true that you can't do much beyond leaving the door open, but you should definitely do that. When she is older, she may want to be in touch with you again. I don't know what to say specifically about the pictures: if someone is convincing her to toss all your mail, it would be kind of sad to have her get rid of the pictures. But if you're sure you don't want to hang onto them any longer, you may as well send them to her.

Do you have confirmation from her mother/maternal gpts that she is actually receiving the letters? Of course, even if she is, she may mean well but just not get around to writing back because she is a teenager. Or she may feel conflicted. Either way, leaving her the option to contact you someday is a kind thing to do, and not inappropriate at all.
posted by little cow make small moo at 1:51 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you can send them. If she’s 16, she has the right to decide her relationships for herself. But make sure you write a note explaining the sentiments behind sending them, eg, because you think she’ll like them.

My father recently got an envelope full of old photos from an aunt that I guess he and his siblings had become estranged from over the years. My understanding is that their aunt felt that they had not made enough of an effort at a relationship, Jewish guilt, etc. He and his siblings interpreted this gesture as a sort of disowning, like she never wanted to look at these pictures of them again so she mailed them away to wash her hands of them. My father and his siblings were very hurt and assumed that the aunt was hurt and felt guilty (but still didn't contact her -- I don't know the history there).
posted by thebazilist at 1:51 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would write the girl's mother:

"Dear Firstwife,
Blah blah very short social stuff
I am in the midst of cleaning and ran across a group of photos and videos of Stepdaughter. Most of these are duplicates or contain group shots with her father or with her other family members that have no meaning for me. I would like to send them on to her but as her mother, I would like to ask your permission before doing so.
If you feel that these would be upsetting to her or that she would not want them, I would certainly not send them on.
If she would like them, please let me know by X Date and I mail them to you or her grandparents house.
best regards,

If you don't hear anything back by X Date (and make it a month or so down the road), toss the media and don't worry about it anymore.
posted by jaimystery at 1:52 PM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd call her mom and ask for her advice, even if it's awkward. You want to be sensitive to your stepdaughter's feelings and don't know the best way to handle the situation. Her mom will almost certainly have insight.

I'd also make clear to the daughter, if you do end up sending the photos, that you're keeping some of your favorite photos. You can ask if she'd like copies of them. Basically, I'm thinking you want to avoid making it sound like, "I'm getting rid of photos and mementos from the part of my life that included you--want them?"

Regarding the birthday card, I have a couple friends who have relatives or step-relatives who send things like a birthday card that reads, "Happy birthday--I love you, even if you don't care enough about my feelings to call me..." Don't do that (obviously). But a carefully chosen card that just says, "Happy Birthday!" and keeps the line of communication open should she choose to reconnect is fine. She (or her mom, while she's still a kid) can tell you if the cards make her uncomfortable and she'd like you to stop sending them.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:54 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would go ahead and send the stuff to her mother with a note explaining to Mom that you want Stepdaughter to have this stuff, but that since she knows what is going on in Stepdaughter's life, you want her to be the one to present it to Stepdaughter at an appropriate time. Unlike jaimstery's suggestion, this would not put any pressure on Mom to contact you by a deadline (not a terrible idea, but this gives her more time to mull it over) but would allow her to properly gauge her daughter's situation. Then I would include a note for Stepdaughter emphasizing, as Meg_Murry says, that you are not getting rid of her from your life but that these are extras you think she would want to have.
posted by jenlovesponies at 2:07 PM on March 22, 2011

I'm confused why anyone would think getting photos of herself and her dad from a particular time in her life might "upset" the former stepdaughter. WHAT DID I MISS??

OP is divorced and no longer a stepmother, yet she has done the polite gesture (albeit maybe a little too much per year?) of sending cards on holidays.

OP - I think it is fine to send on the photos to your former stepdaughter saying you found them and believe it is appropriate she should have them. Period. No mention of keeping in touch. No other overtures. Just keep it simple.
posted by jbenben at 2:11 PM on March 22, 2011

I'd check in with her mom. For some people, getting a shipment of photos like that might feel like you didn't care about the photos and that you were dumping a portion of your time with her, erasing her from your mind - no matter how kindly you worded the message. You can say to her mom that you treasured your time with her and you want to keep the door open, but you also want to give her daughter time to heal and grow. You can give a few options, including that you'll hold on to them for now. Doing this allows the mom to know what your intentions are and keeps her from also fearing that you've just dumped the girl.

I'm a mom and that's what I would hope someone would do if it was my kid. But it depends on the mom and the kid.
posted by acoutu at 2:20 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've gone through multiple stepmothers (including one twice!) and it may be that your ex is applying pressure on the daughter. My father expected us kids to treat stepmother as if she was our real mother right up until he got a new one.....after that we couldn't mention them again....because there was a new one.

The one time I tried to maintain contact with an ex-stepmother, my father found out and did not speak to me for three years.

My situation was probably extraordinary, but stepdaughter may feel the same conflict because there is a new stepmother.

Were it me, I'd consider calling stepdaughter's bio-mom and trying to coordinate delivering the pictures through her. (My mom always seems to tolerate ex-stepmothers after they have gone what she went through).

Good luck.
posted by GoodPuppy at 2:23 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

And to answer answer OP's most important question directly...

Yes you are wrong to do this as a way of maintaing contact with a minor!

Send the photos along because it will give YOU closure on this episode in your life.

It's wrong wrong wrong for you to try to leverage a sliver of a connection with your former stepdaughter into something it isn't. I'm not sure if that's what you meant by writing this ask, this extra answer is just in case it's what you meant by "not being OK" with a lack of contact.

Send the photos to the grandparents' house and move on emotionally.
posted by jbenben at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2011

Put me in the camp of holding on to the photos for a few more years. While I understand the need to move on, as someone noted above 16 is rough age in a lot of ways and your desire for her to have the photos could be easily seen as you not wanting to have anything to do with HER.

Re: the yearly birthday card, I see nothing wrong with that and everything right. Good on ya for keeping the door open.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 2:43 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm confused why anyone would think getting photos of herself and her dad from a particular time in her life might "upset" the former stepdaughter. WHAT DID I MISS??

My thinking on it was that it might send the message that their time together wasn't important to the OP, that the OP had moved on and no longer cared about her and didn't want any memories of her sullying up the house. Also, her dad has kind of moved on twice now in her life, and it might make her feel like 'well easy come, easy go. I guess that's how it is for everyone, forever'.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:58 PM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

If you send them, are you sure she will receive them? Are you sure she has received any of your letters? I sent birthday cards, party invitations, etc. for years to my kids' cousins on his father's side (through their father, who also got cards and invitations) and nobody ever replied. I am positive now, looking back, that they didn't receive them.

My kids are 17 and 15 and have been through a lot with their adults, I think if they received a box of their stuff with a note that said have a nice life they'd be pretty solidly crushed. Please hold on to the box until she's old enough to get sentimental & want things like old photos. And seek her out on facebook or somewhere else you might have a direct line to her before giving up on her. She may have no idea you still care at all.
posted by headnsouth at 3:15 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

Expressing sincere love and kindness is NEVER being an asshole.
It sounds like you are reaching out to her because you genuinely care - and in that case, all is good.

Being an asshole is when expressions of love become a manipulative tool.

One thing to keep in mind, your ex might be spinning what you send to make it seem like you are being manipulative. You are acting in good faith, and therefore you should act. However, keep in mind, you have no control over how it is received.
posted by Flood at 3:51 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Expressing sincere love and kindness is NEVER being an asshole.


Write her a nice letter wishing her well and tell her of the things you have and that you would like her to have them if and when she is ready.
If you hear from her you have an answer, if you don't just tuck them away for a time when she might be more receptive or more sentimental for things from her past (16 yo's probably are not).
She may not be receiving the letters you write, but might in the future, so keep sending cards if you feel you can.... in which case keeping them safely will give you an opportunity at a later time to make your offer again.
I am a stepdad whose stepdaughter of 11 years was plucked away from me when her mom left me for another man. Luckily she and i have a good relationship, and she has grown to see my contributions to her upbringing.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:08 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that your instinct to keep the door open to a relationship with your former stepdaughter is an incredibly loving and generous one, and that you are showing significant respect to her autonomy by not being demanding or more forward than sending a card twice a year. It is never a bad thing to let a teenager know that there are adults out in the world who think fondly of them, regardless of whether they have the grace or maturity to express appreciation at this particular point in time.

This is, of course, predicated on the assumption that you are truly being undemanding and unmanipulative, and that you have no hidden agenda.

As to the photos, I think there are two great ways to go about this. One of those ways would be to send them to her grandparents, with two letters. One of those letters would go to the grandparents, explaining that you cherish your memories of the time you spent with your stepdaughter, and that you thought she might enjoy having copies of the photos that you have. The other letter would be to your stepdaughter, making it clear that you have saved photos and momentos of the time you spent as family, and thought that she might enjoy having the same. Sending them without explanation does risk having your stepdaughter interpret your gesture as a sign that you're "done with her," as others have suggested above.

Another way to go about it might be mentioning the extra photos (as described above) in your next birthday or holiday card, possibly enclosing a few, and telling her that you're saving the rest for her if and when she ever wants them. If you take this route, however, be prepared to hold on to the photos for a few years to come. She may not realize that they matter to her for another 5 or 10 years, and would likely be very hurt if at some point she did want to take you up on your offer and found out that it had expired.

But please, please don't just send them with a "thought you'd like these; have a nice life" letter. That would suggest a huge rejection; it would be a message of "I don't want to think about you any more so I'm getting rid of all of my reminders of you" to any teen with the slightest tendency toward melodrama (i.e., all of them). And that would taint the photos with the pain of a perceived rejection, so that she couldn't ever really enjoy them.
posted by amelioration at 5:25 PM on March 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Can you just send them to her mother with a note that says, "I came across these and thought of Daughter. I hope you both are doing very well. Though Father and I are no longer married, please let Daughter know that I would be pleased to hear from Daughter anytime. All the very best to both of you."
posted by anniecat at 6:00 PM on March 22, 2011

Nthing that she may not be receiving your birthday cards or may not feel comfortable responding, that 16 is a tough age for the box o' photos gesture and it'd be maybe better to wait a couple of years, to make sure when you do send the photos that she doesn't think you're sending them as a means of discarding them, and that yearly birthday cards with no strings/guilt are totally okay.
posted by desuetude at 10:25 PM on March 22, 2011

Make her a photo album as a birthday gift or otherwise make the box of photos look gifty?
posted by salvia at 11:56 PM on March 22, 2011

How can you be sure she's been receiving yourletters/cards? My only hesitation in sending the photos is that they may be intercepted.

Nthing waiting a few years. When she's an adult, there'll be fewer implications to being in touch with you.

Keep sending letters and cards!
posted by vitabellosi at 4:25 AM on March 23, 2011

Maybe stress that you are sending her copies of the photos, photos that you still enjoy looking at fondly, etc.
posted by thebazilist at 9:02 AM on March 23, 2011

I was the stepmother who continued sending gifts, cards, etc even though I never heard whether they were received or not. Until... they were adults and came back into my life and told me how much that meant to them and how they looked forward to them.

You don't know what kind of influence the smallest thing might have. I vote to keep it up.
posted by JaneL at 9:38 PM on March 28, 2011

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