My sister, Sarah, is married to James. James has three children with his late wife, Zarah: 9-year-old boy/girl twins and an almost 8-year-old boy. Their mom passed away six weeks after the youngest was born. Sarah and James met a year later, moved in together a year after that, and married five years ago.
Sarah gets along really well with her stepkids, and they love her. However, Sarah is very insecure about her place in their lives. She wanted to adopt the kids, but they weren't interested. None of the kids call Sarah "mom."
Nevertheless, it's evident that they love her. There's no "you're not my mom; you can't tell me what to do" scenario. They just reserve the term "mom" for their biological mother.
The kids bear a strong resemblance to Zarah. They love hearing about their mom and especially light up when people mention how much they look like her. Sarah dislikes this. She has tried to suggest that the kids look somewhat like her, but they find it amusing and have gently told her so.
The kids spend time with Zarah's family, and occasionally, James and Sarah join in. However, it bothers Sarah that Zarah's family isn't more enthusiastic about her. She is also troubled that they never refer to her as the kids' mom.
Instead, they'll ask the kids how "dad and Sarah" are or instruct them to get "dad and Sarah." Sarah has made efforts over the years to integrate into Zarah's family, but they haven't embraced her. Sarah doesn't like that the kids attend the school where Zarah was a teacher because the kids' teachers knew their mom.
Zarah wrote cards and letters for the kids, covering every birthday until 18, as well as other milestones like graduation, marriage, and having babies. She even wrote letters for times of struggle.
The kids love sharing these with people when they receive a new one. Sarah, however, dislikes these letters. The kids have picked up on Sarah's discomfort with their mom being mentioned. They mentioned this to me.
Sarah is now pregnant, and the adoption topic was brought up with the kids again. James explained that it would mean if something happened to him, they would stay with Sarah and their new sibling—something they are excited about.
However, the kids still didn't want to pursue adoption. Afterward, Sarah had a disagreement with one of James' friends, who told her she needs to stop competing with Zarah.
Sarah then came to me, ranting about how unfair that was and how people should be more understanding of what it's like to live in Zarah's shadow. I pointed out that the kids love her, and isn't that enough?
She found that a weird thing to say and asked if I agreed with James' friend. I told her it does seem like she's competing with Zarah, and that may not be healthy. My sister lost it and told me I'm supposed to be more supportive and understanding. AITA?
Here are some of the top comments:
NTA (Not the A#%hole). It's been 7 years, at this point Sarah should have figured a healthy path forward but I think it's likely something that has grown.
I would have a non-judgemental conversation with Sarah about this as she says she feels like she's in Zarah's shadow. She obviously knows and feels that those kids would trade her for their biological mom and that can be a hard feeling when you also feel like those children are your's.
She's really the only mom they've ever known and to feel like you're never going to get that place can be hard. Her step-kids feelings on Sarah are not something to be negotiated, so Sarah needs to come to terms with this well before the new baby comes.
Agreed. You can be “supportive” and “understanding” and still point out where things are going off the rails. I would even say that you’re not really supporting someone if you’re just blindly agreeing to everything they are saying.
Does your sister want a rubber stamp for her feelings or to find a constructive way of addressing the issues? Sounds like she wants the former, which not will not accomplish the latter or otherwise end well for her. NTA.
She wants things to fall into place the way that would make her happiest. But she definitely doesn't want a constructive way of addressing the issues. I know she wouldn't consider therapy for herself to help her through this.
Refusing to consider therapy is really unfortunate, because she could absolutely benefit from it. I think you are right not to sugarcoat things for her. The worst part of all of this is how her behavior can/will continue to affect the kids. Her behavior is selfish and unfair to them.
Every time she pushes for what she wants, she actually pushes them away. They will protect themselves by keeping her at least at arm’s length. If she doesn’t wisen up, one day she’ll be crying about how they never spend time at the house or talk to her anymore. And that will be entirely on her.
Or she will turn them into people with a lot of anxiety. They love my sister and right now they really don't want to upset her or make her mad.
So they try not to say as much around her. But then they also worry she'll feel left out if she's always excluded from them talking about their mom. That is heavy for young kids to carry.
What do you think? Was OP right to agree with James' friend?