How to cope with SC who prefer to spend time with me (SM) than DP?!

(29 Posts)
orangemog Sat 12-Apr-14 22:09:13

Hi Ladies,

Long time lurker on this forum, but I've only just joined. I apologise in advance for the long post, but I've had nobody to talk to about this, and I just need to get it out of my system! To be honest, even if nobody reads or replies, it's a catharsis just saying it 'out loud'.

I've been with DP for almost 2 years - he has two kids - SD 8 and SS 5 (nearly 6). I don't have children of my own, and I don't want them. I'm not a child hater! However I was responsible for my much younger siblings as a child myself, and had a difficult relationship with my own mother. I'm 38 now and I can honestly say I've NEVER regretted my decision to not have children. I met DP on a dating site (I know, I know - but it worked for me!) and though my profile clearly stated I would prefer not to date a man with children, I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he messaged me, because in every other way he seemed my perfect match, we went on a date, and we hit it off.

I kind of buried my head in the sand about his having children - at that time, he lived about 35 minutes drive away from me and 10 minutes away from his kids. He's a photographer and his work hours are all over the place - at that point he was picking the kids up from school one night during the week and dropping them off there the next morning. He and I would spend weekends together if he wasn't working, and he'd stay at mine some nights during the week. I met the kids about 3 months in to our relationship, once I knew we were likely to get serious. Everything went swimmingly, they're absolutely lovely children, a credit to their mum.

Since day one, after the initial 'getting to know you' phase (about 10 minutes!), the kids have preferred my company over DP's. I don't want to sound arrogant, but though I don't particularly like being around children that much, they don't know that. I am good with them. I spent a lot of my youth looking after my younger siblings, and a lot of my early adulthood childminding (for the money, not the job satisfaction!). It was fine when he just had them during the week, because I only saw them about once a month, but then their mum moved about an hour away with her new man and since it wasn't fair to have them spend hours of their little time with him driving each way before and after school, the arrangement changed to him having them every Friday from school and taking them back Saturday, as long as he wasn't working. This means I started spending more time with them, in order to spend time with DP. And he would pretty much just leave me and the kids to it, while he did his own thing - mostly sitting on the computer. If we went out somewhere, they'd be all over me and wanting to hold my hand while he trailed behind us and played on his phone.

I've always made it clear to him since day one that I'm not reponsible for his children. I'm not cooking for them or cleaning up after them, I'm not putting them to bed or getting them dressed in the morning. I made a conscious choice a long time ago that I don't want that life, while he chose to have a family (which to be honest he should never have even considered in that relationship, but hey ho). But I could never ignore children when they're desperate for some attention, and I can't just sit back and watch when he does something stupid and irresponsible, so I ended up spending half my weekend entertaining the kids and nagging him to do the stuff like feed them on time.

He's not a BAD dad, he loves them to bits, but he has NO CLUE when it comes to children. He talks to them like they're idiots, especially the younger one, because he doesn't know how to have a conversation with a child. He wants to be 'fun daddy' so he basically feeds them junk food the whole time he has them (at completely random times of the day - absolutely no mealtime routine) and lets them stay up as long as they want, meaning they're evil the next day because they're knackered. They spend the majority of their time with him playing on the iPads while he sits on his computer.

Even though I had misgivings, we ended up moving in together last summer. He moved closer to me, but is still the same distance away from the kids. To be honest it was more about practicality than a romantic gesture - the travelling was getting annoying, and I didn't like keep leaving my cats alone all weekend. The trouble is now, I can't just choose not to see them if it's getting too much. I'm stuck with them, regardless of how crap my week at work has been and how much I want to just chill out when I get home on Friday. I would NEVER stop him seeing them, I leave it entirely up to him and his ex when he has them - be it Friday/Saturday, all weekend, or during the week in school holidays. Or not at all, if he's working (his job comes before anyone). Course, that means that half the time I'm not even sure whether I'm going to get time off or not because he leaves all the arrangements till the last minute (which must drive his ex mad too).

Shortly after we moved in together, my Mum died. We were estranged, but it was a horrible time all the same. DP chose to work rather than come to her funeral with me, and it knocked me for six, I went through a really rough patch, I honestly couldn't see any point of being with him any more, but I'm rubbish at confrontation, so I just withdrew, from him and from the kids. It got to the point where I'd go to the cinema or something straight after work on Friday so they'd be in bed when I came home. I'd sit in the bedroom with the door shut reading or watching TV, or in the bath rather than have to spend time with any of them. I know it was horrible for the kids, after they'd basically got used to spending their time with him mostly with me, but even though I knew they couldn't understand what was happening, I couldn't help it, I was in a bad place. One good thing that did come of it was that DP HAD to spend more quality time with them, purely because I wasn't there as a buffer. Eventually, (months later, I'm ashamed to say) things came to a head, and DP and I had a big talk. Which mostly consisted of me breaking down. We cleared things up, decided to work on it, and things have been a LOT better recently.

It took a while for the kids to open up to me again, but we're gradually getting back to the way things were before. The trouble is though, I don't WANT things to be the way they were before, not entirely. I'm not their parent, they're lovely kids, I don't mind spending one day a week with them (not even that much really because they sleep for half the 24 hours he has them), but if I don't seem them for a month, I'm not going to miss them. They're lovely kids, but they're not mine. I have a hard time feeling an emotional attachment to children I'm related to, never mind ones that are a constant reminder of his 14 year marriage (which incidentally I was nothing to with the ending of). When SS tells me he loves me, it makes me really uncomfortable. I can't say 'i love you too', because I don't, and I don't want to lie to a child. I have to change the subject, but eventually he's going to ask me why I never say I love him too. SD has never been as affectionate, other than wanting to hold hands when we're out, or sit next to me on the sofa, so things aren't as awkward with her, but it's getting back to the point now where as soon as I get in on the Friday, they crowd me, and DP has started leaving me to it again. Last weekend he actually had the audacity to sit on the other sofa with his bloody headphones on while I entertained his children!

What do I do? How do I stop them becoming so attached to me again? How do you tell a child "I just want to be friends, not a step parent"?! I want to have some kind of relationship with them, of course, I don't want to ignore them and I don't want them hating me (I'm already dreading the teenage years!) but I don't know how to level things out.

OK, so that was long, sorry. But as I suspected, I do in fact feel better having got it all out :-)

MrsRuffdiamond Sat 12-Apr-14 22:23:59

though my profile clearly stated I would prefer not to date a man with children, I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he messaged me, because in every other way he seemed my perfect match

Well there's the rub, I'm afraid!

Sorry, but I don't think you can be in a relationship with someone who has young children and expect them not to be a huge part of your life, too.

PourquoiPas Sat 12-Apr-14 22:32:32

I'm sorry, but I don't see how this could ever work.

He has two small children who need to be parented when they are at your house and he can't be bothered to do it.

You don't want to have any children of your own and don't want to be responsible for someone else's (which is fair enough)

If I were you I would cut your losses.

To answer your question, there is no way to stop small children from needing an adult to give them attention and interaction, and since their father can't be bothered unless you are willing to be horrible to them (and it sound like you are lovely with them to your credit) this situation is not going to resolve itself.

KepekCrumbs Sat 12-Apr-14 22:38:36

Actually I don't think he is such a great dad. You need to find a half way place between shutting dsc out and being the one who takes care of them.

Could you try organising your time into three main chunks in advance: when he takes them off out, when you do something all together as a family and when you have them yourself for an activity to give him some time out. The last chunk should be the shortest.

He is being lazy and uncaring - he should know how to speak appropriately to his own children and he should limit his screen time when he's with them. He's taking advantage of you to do the parenting he basically can't be arsed to do himself.

NatashaBee Sat 12-Apr-14 22:44:18

I don't think you can stop them 'forrming an attachment'. But i would try and make myself busy (out of the house) for at least some of the time they were there there, and tell him he needs to manage them for the rest of the time. They do need time alone with their dad.

orangemog Sat 12-Apr-14 22:57:07

It's not so much that he's lazy and uncaring, he's just kind of oblivious to everything around him, very focussed on his own needs. To be fair it's not just when he has the kids, he's like that when it's just the two of us as well, but obviously as an adult (who's lived alone most her adult life) I'm fine with that. If I MAKE him get off the computer or the phone, then he doesn't moan or anything, he knows he's being an arse, but it's kind of like he gets sucked in and blocks the rest of the world out. And when his attention is on the kids, or me, he's very loving - fun daddy - he just isn't great at actual conversations with them. And it doesn't seem to matter how much I nag him, he's incapable of being organised, I can tell him 20 times a day that children need a routine, but he still faffs and farts about and doesn't get anything done.

I know I could just cut my losses, but I do love him, and like I say, I don't mind spending one day a week with the kids, it's just hard being their main focus. They're too young to be able to sit down and have a whole conversation about how they're not my children so although i'm fond of them, like a friend, I don't love them. Well, DSS is. I think DSD would actually be OK, she's quite emotionally mature for her age.

MrsRuffdiamond Sat 12-Apr-14 23:11:33

Re-read my post, and I didn't mean to sound unsympathetic!

It's just that young children are likely to want, and need, to form a close relationship with their dad's dp, and I think it will become unworkable if you feel unable to fully reciprocate the obvious affection they have for you.

I think many in your position would envy the ease with which you seem to have become part of their lives!

In the long term, I would think it is going to be untenable to keep the dc 'at arms length', in the way you seem to want to, especially if your dp is the sort of passive, hands-off dad you describe. They have to feel there is someone who is going to look after them when they are away from their mum, and it's you at the moment!

Children are very open about their feelings and very perceptive, and I fear it will become awkward, if the disparity remains between what they want, which seems to be a loving relationship with you, and what you want.

FWIW, when the 5 yr old says 'I love you' he probably means 'I'm very fond of you', but doesn't have the words to make the distinction. They both know you're not their mum. I don't think it would be the slippery slope if you did just parrot 'love you too' back!

WooWooo Sat 12-Apr-14 23:17:53

Could you put your past behind you and love these children?

WooWooo Sat 12-Apr-14 23:18:47

Why do the children "have" to me kept at arms length?

WooWooo Sat 12-Apr-14 23:19:13

Me = Be

orangemog Sat 12-Apr-14 23:33:35

It's ok MrsRuff, you were quite right. I got myself into this situation knowing full well that I'd never be 100% comfortable with it! but unfortunately I'm cursed with having a "won't worry about that until it happens" type personality. Obviously in retrospect I should have thought about how the children would feel about me once I had a place established in their life.

I think it's going to be more a case of training DP to step up rather than withdrawing myself from the kids. I don't want to be a nag, but it seems to be what he needs, and as the kids get older hopefully they'll not crowd me so much anyway.

@Kepek - I've already started working on your suggestion in a way - I signed up for a national trust subscription so we can take the kids out for the day, I'll make him leave his phone at home! I don't see why I should have a chunk so he can have a break though to be honest - he only has them for 24 hours most weeks, and being self employed (and not in a mad busy 20 hour day kind of way) he gets a LOT of time off to himself during the week! To be honest I feel really sorry for his ExW because she just had a baby with her new man so now she doesn't even get those 24 hours break.

orangemog Sat 12-Apr-14 23:45:08

@woowooo That would be great, if it was possible to turn emotions on like a switch. Of course I would love to be the maternal type, honestly my life would be a lot easier if I were, but I can't change the way I feel.
Sorry, that sounds like I'm being sarcastic but I'm really not - if I could make myself a 'warmer' person, I would, but like MrsRuff said, children can be perceptive and if I try and force fake feelings they're going to pick up on it. And I just don't feel comfortable telling DSS I love him, whether he knows what it means or not.
I think all I can do is be myself. I'm very forthright, and I don't believe in talking to children like they don't know anything. I guess I'll just carry on the way I am, I'll be nice to them, nag DP to spend time with them, and when they ask, I'll tell them. We got through the whole "when are you and daddy going to get married and have a baby" conversation ok, so we can get through this one I hope!

lunar1 Sun 13-Apr-14 06:40:26

He is a crap dad if he can't even be bothered with them for one day a week.

I would find someone that wants the same from life as you do. What would you do if something happened to their mum and they came to live with their dad full time?

orangemog Sun 13-Apr-14 07:29:23

I'll be honest lunar, I've considered that. We're not married and no mortgage - we rent privately and the tenancy agreement is in my name (as well as all the bills). If the kids had to come live with us I would ask him to leave. Which I guess means we'd probably split up (though I'd be happy enough just living separately so I could have some space from the kids).
Harsh I know - it does make me feel guilty thinking about it as obviously they'd all be in a bad place and I'd be making it worse, but I also know I'd be miserable if they were here permanently, which the kids would pick up on, and that wouldn't help them at all.
I'll just have to hope it never happens!

JumpingJackSprat Sun 13-Apr-14 07:50:51

If you're having these doubts now I wouldn't take it anyfurther. You do sound like you're trying your best but you have years of this to come yet. Don't tell the children you don't love them they don't need to have that talk. I was open and willing to having a relationship with my dp and his child and it still took me a long time to love my dss and there are some days where he severely tests my patience and it's only because I do love him that he doesn't drive me totally crazy. This is with a fully supportive dp who does all of the childcare and I mainly just have to play with dss and the occasional chore.

Without some kind of feelings for these children you are seriously going to struggle. But I think this is all stemming from your dp being unsupportive in every way. If a dp of mine failed to support me over something like your mum's funeral I don't think I could forgive him.

swissfamily Sun 13-Apr-14 09:37:40

Honestly, I think I'd leave him now OP.

You can't realistically say to an 8 and 6 year old "I just want to be friends' - maybe to teenagers but as far as they're concerned, you're a loving adult in their lives, esp if you're being regularly left in sole charge of them. What I'm saying is, you can't go on with this relationship and not be a step-parent. It's inevitable. Actually it's already happened.

I've been a SP for a few years now. It hasn't got any easier. I'm still at a point where if I don't see my DSD for a month, I don't miss her. I struggle to say "I love you" to her. She's 8 and I have actually had the odd chat with her about how I'm not her parent when she's been demanding my attention over her younger siblings (my SC) and I've told her to go and find DH. The difference is though, my DH IS available AND very happy / good at parenting her.

If your DP is referring HIS children to you, that's a situation that's just going to get more and more ingrained I think. The children will always see you as their primary carer when they're at their Dad's house and you will get more and more frustrated / resentful with the situation.

Have you had it out with your DP properly? Does he know how you feel?

orangemog Sun 13-Apr-14 10:04:42

Swiss, he does actually do all the 'chores' relating to DSC. I made it very clear from our first meeting (me meeting the kids that is) when I could see immediately how passive he was, that I won't be feeding them, putting them to bed etc. He is their parent and to be brutally honest he's had it VERY easy their whole lives, so I don't feel guilty at all leaving him to do the 'dirty work' (though I don't seem to be able to train him to tidy their rooms, or more importantly show them how to keep them tidy) but I can't just sit by and ignore small children when they just want to engage, which is how I ended up with them being more emotionally attached to me. At one point, before everything with my mum, DSD was actually making little presents for me whilst she was at home during the week but made nothing for daddy. Don't get me wrong, they love fun daddy, when they have his attention, but like I've said to him - eventually they're going to realise that he's putting everything else before them and won't WANT to see him (and I don't think their mum will push it, she's put up with a lot from him and I think quite honestly she'd be relieved) , and I don't want that for them or him.
I have tried talking to him about it, but he's absolutely rubbish at conversations like that. In our two years together we've literally never had an argument, because he won't talk properly about anything negative. He wants everything to be happy happy, so if I tell him he needs to change something, he just says "yes babe, sorry babe, I'll change babe" and for a month or so things will be different, but then he'll just revert back to his old ways.
I know everything sounds very negative, and people are saying I should walk away but honestly I don't dislike the children, I will happily spend a day a week with them, and from reading others posts on here I can see that I'm VERY lucky to have landed myself with two great DSC's . I guess writing all this down has made me truly realise that it's not the relationship between me and DSC's that's the problem, it's the DSC's with DP. If he stepped up then I wouldn't feel so overwhelmed every weekend, and maybe then I don't know, I would love them one day. I

swissfamily Sun 13-Apr-14 10:31:59

Sorry, I made a typo above - the younger siblings are my DC, not SC.

I had a similar situation to you in the early days with DSD when she 'preferred' me to DH. I think it was because she raised from birth by her Mum (DH and his ex split before she was born) almost exclusively and DH didn't get regular access until after we were married, by which point I just don't think DSD had had much interaction with men, so she automatically came to me to have her needs met. Perhaps it's a similar thing for your SC - if your DP was as distracted / distant as he is now with them while he was married, their Mum has probably mostly raised them therefore they see you as a second Mum instead of seeing your DP as a second parent. Like you, I insisted DH always put her to bed, did her homework with her etc but she still came to me first until she was 4 / 5. As she got older, she's become happier with DH - he genuinely is a great Dad and does a lot with all of his children.

However he often worked long hours and there was a period where I was often on my own with DSD, day after day. I got very resentful of being regularly left in sole charge of a child that I didn't feel was my responsibility. Eventually, DH did step up and get a different job. It hasn't altered my feelings towards my DSD in that I don't love her anymore or less than I ever did but I'm not as resentful as I was. If DH hadn't changed jobs, I think we would have split up, I was quite literally becoming consumed by resentment.

orangemog Sun 13-Apr-14 11:51:53

Yes their mum has most definitely been the biggest parental influence in their lives - obviously I don't know all the ins and outs, but when she and DP were together, he had a different job with really long hours (not to mention was off having affairs), then did his photography most weekends. As far as I can tell he barely saw any of them, then they split when DSD had just turned 5 and DSS was 2. I think even when he was home, he played the fun daddy role and let ExW do all the work.
I don't know her well - just a few awkward conversations whilst exchanging the children, but I know the way the kids have turned out - stable, smart and affectionate, is entirely down to the fact that she's a really good mum.
Also swiss, I'm never left solely responsible for them, he's always in the house, he's just disassociated. I told him I'm not a babysitter in the early days - it's one thing if it's an emergency and he has to take one to doctors or something, but you don't arrange to have your children then make other plans so they won't even see you. He did try it once - arranged to get the car serviced, on an evening he knew in advance that he had the kids, in a town an hour away rather than somewhere local, then expected to just leave them with me to do tea and get them to bed while he dropped the car off and picked up courtesy car. And didn't even tell me till I got home from work that night! I refused and made him take them with him, and he's not tried it since!

Kaluki Mon 14-Apr-14 12:36:21

Your post is a contradiction though OP
On one hand you want to disengage and don't want any responsibility for these dc, don't want to do cooking, bedtimes etc for them which is entirely fair enough but then on the other hand you say you don't like him feeding them junk, letting them stay up late etc.
IMO you can't have it all ways, let him do it his way or help him.
It seems a bit unfair that you are telling him how to parent his dc but won't get involved yourself.
He treated you appallingly over your Mum's death and its no surprise you have little respect for him now. Is this really the right relationship for you?

NoSnotAllowed Mon 14-Apr-14 13:20:10

I have a Step Dad who blows hot and cold in his relationship with me. Sometimes he's very paternal, other times he doesn't want anything to do with me. He may have perfectly 'reasonable' reasons for acting like this like you do, but please do not under estimate the effect it has on the children. I'm 27 now and it still upsets me, even worse he has started doing it to my children which is awful to watch.

Please re-think your relationship - it is not just your feelings involved.

CalamityKate Mon 14-Apr-14 13:51:18

You sound very together, sensible and honest.

He sounds awful. He is NOT a good father. He can't be arsed with his own children. He puts headphones on and lets you get on with entertaining his children. He plays on his phone rather than interact with them. He CHOOSES to do those things.

He sounds useless and unpleasant (sorry to hear about your mum) and I don't understand why you're with him.

brdgrl Mon 14-Apr-14 14:07:38

Orangemog, you sound lovely, actually, and you are very self-aware which is a good place to start from. If you don't want kids, or even if you don't want these particular kids, that's absolutely fair enough.

I do think that you have to decide what your role is going to be though, and like Kaluki says, it can't be a mixed bag. If you want to disengage and just be 'dad's partner' rather than 'stepmum', that's possible, but in a way, you - well, you and your DP - have already led the kids to expect more and it might be impossible to change that now.

I agree that your DP isn't really acting like someone who wants a positive relationship with his children OR his girlfriend...I know there is always more to it than comes across in a thread, but he sounds really selfish and maybe a bit immature - like he wants to carry on living as though he didn't have children. It only gets tougher...and you will feel more and more taken for granted and more and more resentful, I fear, of being burdened with the responsibility for their needs.

Does your DP know that you'd ask him to go if the kids came to live with him? What does he say? Does he 'get it'?

croquet Mon 14-Apr-14 14:55:10

A really tricky one -- I didn't think he sounded that bad initially. The stuff with going on his computer around them and not knowing how to feed them may have been to do with not having been around them / ever in charge and just a lack of confidence, and even a lack of bond made with his own kids. Not that that's not his fault but I think it can happen in a bad relationship/breakdown. Does he pay for their upkeep (give money to their mum)? If he does, and sees them regularly, then I reckon he's probably ok on that score. Is he older than you? He may be more of the parenting school of benign neglect whereas perhaps you are more of paying attention/listening. I know it is very hard when kids (esp. needy, insecure kids) are looking for attention and the other adult in the room doesn't notice. You feel almost abusive not giving it to them, and furious at the other person too. It's almost like a refusal to engage.

And really, as much as they like you, they should gravitate towards him first. I think some men engage with the kids through the mum and then when that goes... and you're the new mum-in-effect at his house.

But I really balked when you said about him working when your DM passed - that's too much and totally crap after all the stuff of his family you've taken on. Do you know why he split with his ex?

At this rate you're likely to end up with the kids either saying they don't want to come to dad's or developing a very 'buy me this please' relationship with him in their teenage years.

croquet Mon 14-Apr-14 14:57:41

Just read your last post - yes, it's his relationship with his kids that's the problem. This would be a red flag for you if you wanted kids with him but luckily you don't.

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