Dear Positive Way,
I need some advice about how to handle my first meeting with my stepmother. The background is that I have been estranged from my father for the last 6 years. I have made attempts to maintain contact but it has been difficult since he is very emotionally and verbally abusive. He married my junior high principal 4 years ago. I was not invited to the wedding because it would have made him ‘uncomfortable’. My parents had a difficult divorce and have still not separated the assets. My mother died last February from terminal cancer. Everyone says he waited for her to die, so that he wouldn’t have to give her anything. My mother raised me on her single income. One of her big accomplishments was that she was able to move us out of that environment and she provided me with more love than I think most children receive from both parents.
I am working on bring peace into my life and rebuilding after losing my mother. It has been really difficult. My decision to bring my father back into my life may have been a poor one. I wanted to get it out of the way before I start university again in the fall. I decided last week to mend some fences with my father. I still as the executor of the estate have to handle their separation. Now, my new stepmother called to say that my Dad is out of town but that she would like to have lunch. I agreed. I have no idea what to do or how to handle this situation! I have no one to turn to for advice.
The meeting is on Thursday! So soon! How do I have lunch with this lady? What do I do if she asks my why I limited contact? What if she is as manipulative as he is? What if she makes me feel worse? Any advice? Signed, Peggie, age 20.
Dear Peggie, growing up as the child of divorce in such a difficult situation as yours is very hard to deal with. It sounds like you are making great strides in coming to terms with the issues. It can be a lifetime process of healing and self-development. I’m sure the loss of your mother has been especially difficult and mourning can be a long process and you will probably forever miss her. You are fortunate to have her in your very being as she shared so much with you as you grew up. You asked four specific questions so I will address them in order.
- How do I have lunch with this lady? You have judged this as an opportunity to mend some fences with your father. I would guess that you have limited expectations from this meeting with his new wife (a stranger to you). Perhaps the best thing to expect from lunch would be just to get to know her a little and see if she is interested in mending fences as well (remember she is a third party). You have the opportunity to tell her what you want (exploring the possibility of creating a new relationship with your father). And you can ask her what she hopes to gain from this meeting. This should put things on the table so you have clarity about the purpose of the meeting. Doing this early in the meeting puts you in control. If you don’t like what you hear then or at any time, you have the power to excuse yourself (I’m sorry but this is not going the way that I would hope.) and leave. You have no obligation to stay in the conversation just because it’s lunch. Consider some of the communication methods on our site.
- What do I do if she asks my why I limited contact? By now you will know what she has said about why she wanted to meet you. You can respond according to that. The simplest response is to say that your father has a history of being emotionally and verbally abusive toward you. Be honest but there is no need to go into any more detail than you wish this person to know at the moment. If she presses for details ask her why she insists on knowing. Ask her what her motives are. Then you can decide if you want to go further or save the information for later if ever.
- What if she is as manipulative as he is? Remember what I said in answer number 1 about control. You have the right and obligation to end the conversation at any time that you choose. It takes two people for manipulation to occur the manipulator and the object of manipulation. As you chose to distance yourself from your father to minimize his manipulation, you can do with others. At the very least, you can say “That makes me uncomfortable” to end or redirect the conversation.
- What if she makes me feel worse? She can’t make you feel anything if you don’t let her. Obviously you have strong feelings around this whole situation but those are your feelings. Feelings cannot be imposed on you. You can, however, be put in situations or told things from which you will derive strong feelings. It’s up to you to control those situations and then monitor and refine your resultant feelings.
- Any advice? My general advice is that you continue your journey of bringing peace into your life and rebuilding. There are some great books on the subjects of being a child of divorce and grief. Also be open to the opportunity to bring other advisors into your life. Most universities have counseling groups and some have self-help organizations. Please consider availing yourself of them. A university, church or non-sectarian grief support group in your university area would be a real benefit for helping you grieve the so recent loss of your mother.
You may be only 20 but you’ve had more experience with difficult situations through this divorce and life in general than most people have in a lifetime. Use your inner strength and strong desire to rebuild to continue to go forward. Seek to associate only with people who share your vision of a better personal future. We wish you the best on your journey.
Please understand you have free will. This advice is given only in the realm of personal growth and self-help. This is not to be considered a substitute for therapy or professional counseling. We wish you well.