Disengaging is a strategy used in many stepfamilies, but it can have a negative impact on the family dynamic as well as your relationships with your immediate family.
- separate or release (someone or something) from something to which they are attached or connected.
- remove (troops) from an area of conflict.
Disengaging in a stepfamily is the act of stepping away from the situation and handing over all or most of the issue to your spouse. It is a sad attempt at holding your spouse accountable for the lack of parenting or lack of enforcing rules and backup for yourself.
There have been so many times when I was so frustrated in my role, and if you have those feelings, too, and considered disengaging then you are in the right place.
Being a stepmother is single-handedly the hardest role I’ve ever had to play. It’s the hardest job. You are loving someone else’s baby and just hoping for some appreciation in the end. You are hoping you don’t completely screw up this child. It’s rough, in the trenches kind of love, but all of that is what makes our roles so powerful.
With any family, blended or not, there are rough patches and times where you will not like or get along with your spouse or kids, but it’s the love that keeps you there. Even when you feel unappreciated or unaccepted.
I’ve heard about (mainly) stepmothers “disengaging” from their stepkids and/or husband because things in the household aren’t going according to plan: the kids aren’t behaving, husband isn’t enforcing rules, the stepmom feels unappreciated or taken advantage of…the list goes on.
While I see precisely why you would want to throw in the towel over the drama and frustration, I encourage you to stick it out.
Reasons for Disengaging as a Stepmom
Let me be clear: I respect the reasons for disengagement. But, I believe the results of disengagement are far more detrimental to the family dynamic and the kids’ psyche than the bad behaviors.
I do believe you have a right to be frustrated, but if there is a clear expectation on the family dynamic before marriage, whether to disengage or not will never be an issue.
Here are some of the most common reasons stepmoms disengage:
- Stepkids are disrespectful and treat the stepmother poorly.
- Husband does not enforce the rules or back up the stepmother.
- High-conflict biological mother.
Anyone would want to disengage from these situations, but removing yourself from your role when these issues flare is like saying, “sorry, I don’t feel like dealing with this.”
Why Disengaging is Damaging to Your Family
When stepmoms choose to back away and remove themselves from their typical roles or duties, it’s confusing to the kids.
For example, if I were tired of the picky-eating obsessions from Nikolai, so I disengaged by turning the cooking duties and meal planning over to my husband, Nikolai would still be asking me about dinner and mealtimes. It would serve me no purpose to back away. I would still be frustrated and be the point of contact, and he would be confused.
It’s an oversimplified example, but the general idea is there. When you back away from your roles, you are telling your family that it’s ok to do the same.
Biological parents can’t “disengage” when it hits the fan, and you’ve been fighting for the same rights as bio parents, right? So is it really fair that you can throw in the towel and pull the stepmom card, because you aren’t getting your way or have feelings of warm fuzzies constantly?
Disengaging is selfish, passive-aggressive and incredibly damaging to the relationship between you and your stepkids and your husband. It will drastically affect the dynamic between everyone in the household.
What to do Instead of Disengaging
If you didn’t have a thorough conversation about the expectations and roles in the home before you were married, I would suggest beginning there.
When there is a clear picture of everyone’s “task” in the family, rarely will things go sideways. This means you need to speak with your husband about discipline, communication, etc. Every teensy detail should be confirmed – right down to who checks homework. These roles should become so clear that there are never any questions about accountability.
Because, when you are firmly rooted in your role, it is impossible to disengage.
Your husband should be backing you up 100%…unless you are acting crazy. Now, if you are overreacting at every incident, do some soul searching with that person in the mirror, and get yourself right before you implement disciplinary action. You can’t expect your husband to cheer for you when you are way over in left field.
If you are communicating with a high-conflict bio mom, STOP! Frankly, the stepmother has absolutely zero business communicating with the bio mother. The arrangements and conversations should be handled by your husband. If he can’t handle it, find an attorney.
Disengaging causes a lot of confusion and miscommunication between family members, and can really damage the relationships of the home. If you need support and have found yourself in a difficult situation, please join my free Facebook Support Group. We discuss all things “step” related and we can help!
Remember: Tough times don’t stick around, but tough people do.