Distancing Yourself From Your Stepchildren (7 Golden Rules)

While most blended families strive to be a happy, cohesive unit, circumstances don’t always permit such a development. Expectations and emotional fatigue can bog down even the most energetic people, and there’s only so much you can give before it starts taking a toll on you.

In these cases, it might be wiser to distance yourself to recharge – or perhaps even extricate yourself from the situation altogether.

You might have doubts about where you stand, what you value, and how happy you are in this blended family. It’s okay if you’re exhausted, and there’s no shame in recognizing you might not be fit to care for others in your current state.

There are no wrong answers here, and whatever choice you make doesn’t have to be a permanent one, so don’t feel guilty about doing what’s best for yourself!

Sometimes, distancing yourself from your stepchildren is necessary for everyone’s betterment. You can’t be there for others without tending to your own needs first.

This Choice Doesn’t Have to be Permanent

man looking out the window

A lot of people think that disengaging from one’s stepchildren is tantamount to abandoning them. They might view it as an emotional amputation – something permanent, irreversible, and painful.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the weight of this decision, but the choice to disengage is nowhere near that binary or absolute.

Sure, it might change the dynamic in your blended family, but there’s nothing that indicates the decision can’t be changed. Nothing is stopping you from coming back after you’ve taken a break to better your emotional well-being, and even if you decide to leave nothing is tying you to them!

It’s less “quitting” and more a “leave of absence”. The fact that you’re considering either means that it was already long overdue for quite some time.

Disengaging doesn’t mean that you stop loving the family you’ve chosen to join. You’re just taking a step back to get your bearings, figure things out, and reorient your goals for the better.

Brief Your Partner First

man and woman looking at their coffee

The first thing you need to do here is to get in touch with your partner. Broaching this topic can be tough and scary, but the discomfort of the conversation is better than alienating them by leaving silently. Talk about why you feel the way you do, along with how you’re considering fixing this.

Make sure your partner understands that this disengagement isn’t due to them or their stepchildren, but your own emotional health being jeopardized by the current situation.

They might not be receptive to this and insist otherwise, so just bear with them and allow them time to process your words.

They might try to convince you to stay, or that they’ll change to suit you better, but remember that this problem isn’t about anyone’s shortcomings so much as your exhaustion.

Disengaging is just what you need right now – don’t let them talk you out of it with promises that won’t address the main problem!

Your partner doesn’t need to agree with your choice here. They just need to understand that you need to make it and that they’d respect those feelings without holding them against you.

Discern if You’re Happy with Who You Are to Them

mother and daughter looking sad

Being a parent is exhausting, demanding, and challenging at the best of times, but it should ultimately be a fulfilling experience.

When you get to care for them – when you provide them with your time, effort, and support – do you feel happy doing so? Or does it just wind up feeling like an obligation?

Does caring for your family feel like an opportunity to succeed or a duty to fail? If it begins seeming like the latter, your current caretaking mindset isn’t a sustainable one.  

Personal Authenticity

While your stepchildren’s appreciation might feel nice, it won’t be enough if they take you for granted the majority of the time you spend together. You might end up dependent on their words for your own personal validation, or you might find yourself changing into someone you don’t recognize to be the person you think this blended family needs more.

Good relationships are built on trust, communication, and acceptance. The only person you should ever be is who you truly are. Anything less than genuine is less than what you deserve.

If you think that your stepchildren or partner won’t accept you for you who you are, disengaging from them – even for just a short while – would ultimately be for the best. The absolute worst thing you can do here is lose yourself in a vain effort to meet the expectations of others.  

How Do You Feel After Spending Time with Them?

Family is something you ought to find strength and comfort in, especially after a hard day’s work. If you find yourself constantly fatigued or irritable after spending time with them, you need to figure out just why that is.

These spoiled moods could come from anger, exhaustion, or any number of things. The solution in all of these cases will come with proper scrutiny – why do you feel that way with your family?

You don’t have to enjoy your family’s company all the time, and sometimes these off moods are out of our control. Sometimes you might even feel like you hate your stepchildren, but don’t take your own feelings personally.

All this indicates is that there’s something you need to address here. The current dynamic needs amending before someone in the family gets hurt. While you could try communicating with them to figure out a solution, your current upset state would likely get in the way of that.

Instead, it might be better for you to disengage for the time being. This way, you can approach that problem with greater objectivity and less addled thoughts. It’s okay not to be okay here, but it’s not okay to push through regardless – it’ll be to everyone’s detriment here. 

Consider How Your Partner is Participating

As a stepparent, you’re meant to be helping this blended family dynamic work. Do what you can where you can, to the best of your ability, but don’t overburden yourself.  

The bulk of that responsibility still falls on your partner’s shoulders – those are their kids here!

Unfortunately, they might leave you to bend over backward to hold the blended family together. As they say, if you do your job too well some might not know you did anything at all.

There’s nothing wrong with working hard to keep your family together. Just make sure that your partner is matching your commitment and drive to make things work here. Anything short of that is less than what their children deserve and much less than what you deserve!

There’s a thin line between reliance and dependence. Your partner should be able to trust you to be at your best, but they can’t expect you to handle their baseline duties on their behalf.  

For example, let’s say your stepchildren had to be dropped off somewhere. It’s okay to fill in for their ride if you’ve got free time and a car ready.

If your partner could have done the same – and was, in fact, free to do so but chose to ask you instead – it’s just exploitive, even if it wasn’t done consciously.

Are you raising a family with them, or are you raising a family FOR them? You’ve got enough to deal with, and if they’re depending on you to handle their responsibilities it might be time to disengage and give those boundaries a long, hard look again.

Don’t Let Feelings of Obligation Compel You

man carrying a baby

Being a parent shouldn’t feel like a burden. Care, love, and affection are choices you make. They’re done to nurture – not out of necessity!

You aren’t the family maid or butler here. You’re a stepparent going above and beyond your duties! Your stepchildren deserve care, but not when it’s provided because you feel that you must.

It’s not just about the love you give, but where it’s coming from. If it’s not being sourced from the right place, you’ll just be deluded and tired by your sacrifice. Being a parent is a choice, and if it starts to feel anything less than that you’re allowed to step away and consider your situation.

Remember That this isn’t a Selfish Decision

The choice to disengage from your stepchildren is understandably a difficult one to make. It demands a level of awareness, maturity, and self-reflection that a lot of others wouldn’t realize on their own.

Remember that disengaging is NOT bailing on your stepchildren. You’re recognizing that you won’t be a positive force for anyone while emotionally burned out.

You’re accepting that you can’t deal with those responsibilities without putting those kids at risk. No one else has the right to begrudge you for making that decision.

Think of it like a surgeon clocking in overtime. Eventually, there’ll come a point where they need to power down and recuperate, no matter how many patients are waiting at their door. You won’t be any good for anyone dead tired and emotionally unavailable.

There’s no point insisting that you’re fine when you’re anything but. Doing so anyway puts your stepchildren at risk from your agitated state of mind. You aren’t a bad person for realizing that you need to step away from the current pace of things – it’s better for the family in the long run.

Final Thoughts

You’re a person, not a commodity. Your perceived value should never take precedence over your emotional health. You aren’t any less of a person for wanting to disengage from your stepchildren.  

Disengaging from your stepchildren can feel wrong to do – especially when the family feels like they’re relying on you. You deserve better than to keep sacrificing your own health and happiness just to preserve a problematic family dynamic.