I absolutely cannot stand my mom’s new husband. He’s 12 years older than her and somehow, he always has something negative to say, or he is always the victim. This is my mom’s fourth marriage. Their marriage has ruined my relationship with my mom because he is a hard person to be around, and I do not want to put myself around him. My mom asks why we can’t just be happy for her because she’s finally found the love of her life who treats her so well. I have a brother and sister who also do not like him.

The sad thing is my mom is an amazing grandmother better than she ever was as a mother and I no longer want to bring my kids around her.

I’m the oldest and have always been in charge with a lot of responsibilities placed on me, including caring for my younger siblings because my mom wasn’t there for any of us. I go into defense mode when her husband has strong opinions about how to handle my siblings and other family issues. I don’t always agree with my siblings, they’re still my siblings and I will defend them.

My mom and I got in an argument about my brother and I told her she wasn’t a good mother. I understand her husband just wants to protect her and her feelings. I tried to speak with her husband face to face and apologize for some feelings between us then he started to belittle my brother and running his mouth. I get sick to my stomach being at her home. I feel once more she’s putting a man in front of her children again. I don’t like who my mother is since she has married him, and it has torn us apart. My mom said I’m so sorry for the terrible mom I was, but the past is the past all I can do is move forward and live better. But what about the hurt from the past that still hurts?


Your mom’s new husband is tough for you. I’m guessing the other ones were tough for you as well. Your dilemma here isn’t about the husbands, or even your mom. It’s about you completing a task that was never finished. You’re working hard to hold onto your mom while also wanting to let her go. This is a normal developmental task that you were never invited to complete. Let’s talk about how you make the shift.

When children are put in a parent role, it’s usually because they have parents who are compromised and have abandoned their post. As the oldest child, you saw what needed to happen and instinctively took over in the parenting role. This is called “parentification” and it’s hard on kids, especially as they grow up.

I’m guessing there was never a time when your mom pulled you aside as a child or teenager and said, “Thank you for all you’ve done for your younger siblings, but I’m back and you don’t have to be the parent anymore.” What usually happens with parentification is that the child continues feeling responsible for the younger siblings even after everyone grows up and has their own families. It keeps you overinvolved in the family system playing out a role you never asked for but can’t easily give up. You don’t respect your mom and her choices, so you likely feel you’re the only responsible adult in the room.

This is a good time to ask yourself if you want to continue in this role. You’ve never been able to relate to your siblings as an equal. You don’t relate to your mom like her child. It’s not your fault that you never were allowed to be a kid and experience the protection of responsible parenting. However, you now have an opportunity to move out of that role and set things in order.

The good news is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to do this. You were put in an impossible situation as a child, but this isn’t impossible to change as an adult. You can begin relating to your mom and siblings in a new way that doesn’t keep you in the parent role. You don’t have to raise your mom or your siblings anymore.

This isn’t going to be easy, so I recommend you seek help from a qualified therapist who can help you sort through the roles and rules you took on as a young child. You’ll likely have blind spots because you took these responsibilities on at such a young age. Parentified children have difficulty giving up the role because it feels like life and death. It is traumatic for a child to be put in a position of parental responsibility. Children don’t have the resources of an adult parent, so they often feel anxious, hypervigilant, and powerless. Letting go of parentification is going to happen through healing the wound of parentification.

Your strong reactions to your stepfather, mother, and siblings is coming from a fiercely protective part of you that had to step up when you were a child because you were the only one paying attention. I encourage you to do your healing work so you can give your best energy to your own children. Trying to be a parent to adults who don’t need your parenting will only leave you feeling resentful and afraid. Your children need and want you to be their parent.

As you shift out of this parentification role, you’ll think more clearly about how to relate to you mother, stepfather, and siblings. If you try and make decisions before you’ve shifted out of this role, your decisions will be reactive and rooted in traumatic patterns. You’ve been taking charge of things since you were little, so now’s the time to take charge of this unhealthy dynamic, set it down, and allow everyone to occupy their proper roles.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at ge***@ge**********.com  

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About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

The advice offered through Geoff Steurer’s column is educational and informational in nature and is provided only as general information. It is not meant to establish a therapist-patient relationship or offer therapeutic advice, opinion, diagnosis treatment or to establish a standard of care. Although Geoff Steurer is a trained psychotherapist, he is not functioning in the role of a licensed therapist by writing this column, but rather using his training to inform these responses. Thus, the content is not intended to replace independent professional judgment. The content is not intended to solicit clients and should not be relied upon as medical or psychological advice of any kind or nature whatsoever. The information provided through this content should not be used for diagnosing or treating a mental health problem or disease. The information contained in these communications is not comprehensive and does not include all the potential information regarding the subject matter, but is merely intended to serve as one resource for general and educational purposes.