Crisis of Confidence(15 Posts)
I suppose I feel very alone and need to get stuff off my chest.
I moved in with my boyfriend and his children nearly a year ago. We have them 50% of the time (almost – we both work full time so their mum/her partner have them after school until we get home from work on our week nights, so maybe 5/6 hours more per week). He has a 9 year old daughter and an 11 year old son.
I am incredibly lucky. The children seem to have accepted me really well, and I feel genuine love for them both. Their mother is friendly and supportive, telling the children that me and her partner are co-raising them and need to be listened to and respected.
But I still find myself struggling quite a bit. I feel like I do all aspects of parenting but don’t get the full benefits of being a parent. I suppose I’m finding it hard that I do as much as their dad but they don’t love me. But how could I expect that? It is just so hard to give as much as yourself as I do and knowing they’ll probably never really feel the same. It would be nice to get a hug now and then, though.
I’m also having a few problems with bf’s daughter. Sometimes when I speak to her she flat out ignores me until her dad makes her respond. Sometimes I go into the living room and she doesn’t look at me. She seems to enjoy finding little ways to “beat” me or get one over on me (like trying to prove me wrong about things) and she’ll do little things I find a bit mean (like saying she was only joking if I agree with her that something is cool).
Other times she is lovely, wants to teach me loom bands or watch tv with me etc…and if I pull away by giving her space she will then come up to my bedroom and try to engage with me. I also have a load of girly stuff I found in various boxes from my teens which I’ve passed on to her, and she loves it when I find something new for her!
I’m just left feeling emotionally confused a lot of the time, and quite hurt!
I know she is a child and I am a grown up, but being totally honest she does hurt my feelings a lot. I don’t try to be her mum (although I will discipline sometimes, it’s my home after all! And I take care of them by myself sporadically as well so I have to be able to be in charge. I do all the morning school runs on our days for example, and if my bf has plans I will look after them).
I suppose it’s all compounded as I moved away from my home town to be with their dad, got a new job, and don’t really know many people where I live now.
I know objectively that this has gone really well and I’m lucky. But I’m worried that there is a personality clash with me and bf’s daughter that is going to make me miserable for the rest of my life…sometimes it even makes me question whether I did the right thing.
My relationship with bf’s son is brilliant, exactly as I’d want it to be. But his daughter’s current behaviour is crushing me. I wish I could properly explain how insidious her behaviour can be…I believe she is fully aware of what she is doing.
However, she also seems to have a few social problems with other people, and she is shy. So not only am I worried about us having a good relationship, but also her ability to have real friendships and relationships outside our home! I want her to be happy and well developed.
We want to have our own baby next year, and maybe once I am a mum myself it will all feel different. But right now I feel like I’m drowning a bit. I went from 0 children in my life to 2 half of the time. It was a lot to take on at once, and I feel totally exhausted. But I’m desperate for one of my own, and bf is such a great dad, he is the only person I could contemplate doing it with.
I just feel like I’m floundering.
First of all some of what you say about your partners dd is quite normal behaviour. I was a nightmare child as I was growing up with a step parent. Some of what you describe is what I did.
With regards to your role in the home. I personally would say by the sounds of it, you need to step back from taking on such a 'parenting' role. Whilst it's lovely that you enjoy it I do feel that it sometimes can muddy the waters a bit.
By no means a great 'step mum' and I am still learning and struggling, but at the end of the day, my partner is their parent and not me. Whilst I will do dinner, make sure they are clothed etc, I don't really get hands on with the parenting role as such. I don't do bath time with them and perhaps only occasionally do bedtimes - as these are precious moments for my oh. When my oh has his children I often leave him to it a bit so that I am not intruding.
Thank you so much for your thoughts
Maybe I should take a step back. I suggested that to my bf and we both felt upset by the idea, and also I'm not sure how we'd make it work logistically if I took a less hands on role.
But maybe if I was less invested in the relationship I'd feel less like this. I just find the idea very difficult! I always said if I was going to go into their lives I was going to go all in, because being with my bf means being a huge part of their lives and they deserve it. I also have always taken the view that by entering a serious relationship with their father I also entered a serious relationship with them and I want to honour that.
I want to do my best for them, and maybe I'm going about it the wrong way. And I want me to be happy, too!
I expected it to be hard, but I wasn't prepared for all the emotion!
BF is very supportive but unsure what to do to help - he is worried about his daughter's behaviour but also her social skills.
His daughters behaviour is normal for her age, and while not great for you it isn't unusual.
This won't help now but it can work. Growing up I had a tricky relationship with my step dad. Now I'd say he was my favourite parent. He's my family and when my (step) grandma became ill she moved in with me until the end. So it can work, but remember it's your choice, be with them if it's what you want. But if you need to step back or take time out to reflect on everything you have every right to do that.
I know she is a child and I am a grown up, but being totally honest she does hurt my feelings a lot.
I think you are setting your expectations way too high. I'm a mum of a daughter and a son, we have a great relationship, they are great kids but I still can't tell you how many times they've hurt my feelings!
Sometimes, I feel that SP think that if their SC or their relationship with them is not perfect, something is wrong. Parenting is not all full of love at all time. Most parents will go through time when they doubt what they are doing, worry about being rejected, feel unloved and taken for granted.
As stated, your SD is entering her teenage years and that means all the above at its worse.
My advice is firstly NOT to do as much as their dad. Why should you? This comes from a mum of two whose working FT in a stressful job who has been in a new relationship for 8 years. I have never expected my OH to take over my role as parenting. As you've said, it is his home too, so some rules have changed, but I am still the one cooking for them, taking them to their activities, medical appointment, school events, who discipline them, wash their clothes, deal with crisis etc...
I don't think it is right that SP should do as much as a parent, because as you've found out, kids can respect you and grow to love you, but that love will never be unconditional like it is for their parents, because if you think of it, you could walk out on their dad tomorrow and replaced soon after, their parents will always remain so.
I'm not sure how we'd make it work logistically if I took a less hands on role.
That is not your problem.
If you need to step back for your own emotional wellbeing then the DCs parents have to work out how to fulfil their responsibilities.
Just to add, not advising to stop ALL the help you are providing as that would be unfair especially if there is high reliance on it, but there must be things you are doing that dad could very much do.
Don't stop anything without discussing and agreeing though as that would be the clearest way to resentment and even though you would be in the right, you also have a responsibility for the fact that you agreed to it all in the first place.
Thank you so much for your responses. Sorry I haven’t replied quickly – I have had so much to mull over.
While it comforts me that SD’s hurtful behaviour is normal, it also worries me. It feels like (emotionally) it’s one thing to deal with that from your own child, but another to deal with it from someone else’s.
I also feel like my whole view of step parenting and what it means to have this relationship with my partner’s children has to be challenged. I really went into this arrangement with the perspective that I was going to give it my all, and that being a step parent was literal – I would be another parent to these children. And that’s what I’ve been doing; earnestly and wholeheartedly. But it’s taken its toll on me – sometimes it feels like pouring yourself down a drain.
I don’t know how to do this in a lesser capacity. I don’t know how to care about/for the children without being all in. I don’t know how to naturally step back without allowing the children to feel like I’m distancing from them. And I don’t want my partner to feel like a single parent; we’re a team in everything else, I don’t want to be separate from the most important thing in his life. How can I keep our relationship as good as it is if I distance myself from the raising of his children, which is everything to him?
I haven’t come up with any answers yet, and the only thing I know is that I need to find a way to stop feeling so lost. I can’t keep letting myself feel hurt by their indifference. My friends who are parents tell me “that’s what parenting is like,” but what they can never understand is how much harder it is when you aren’t their actual parent. The concept of having to build this relationship, rather than having it naturally since the child’s birth, is totally alien to anyone who isn’t doing it.
I have so much respect for all of you doing this, because I have never found anything harder. I’m divorced, and I’m finding step parenting to be comparable in emotional turbulence to that chapter of my life, only sustained. Step parenting has a lot more benefits and good times and breakthrough moments and happiness than divorce, but it’s so up and down that I feel as tired and adrift as I did when my (short) marriage ended.
I have to hope that it gets easier and more stable the longer you do it! I feel like the key is a perspective shift, and I just haven’t managed to find the mindset that lets you do this and remain emotionally intact.
Aa a step daughter, step parent and mother of step children I think it would help if you re visited your idea of what a step parent entails.
In my view, it is another family member with their own unique role, like an aunt, or cousin, rather than an extra parent. I think it can only work like that when one parent is totally absent. Not to play down the importance a step parent can play in a child's life, but I just think that more often than not, "extra parent" is not a useful way to frame the role.
The model I had of a step family (from my mum and step dad) was that my step dad had a supporting role but my mum made the rules and did the majority of the hand on work. I remember vaguely being a bit of a cow to him when I was a teenager, but I really did respect him, as an extra support for my mum and I loved him as a unique family member, rather than as another dad.
I follow that model now with my DSCs, as does my partner who is step dad to my children. We are each the "boss" of our own children and make the rules for each (it works because there is a 8-10 year age gap between mine and his DCs). We are each a supporting act for the other parent, functioning as a whole family, if that makes sense? For example, I step in at bath time/ bed time etc but only when he's busy and he has brought my older daughter back home from uni when me and her dad were both busy.
You can be a full on parent to your own DCs in the future. Being a step parent can be tough, but it can also be a very rewarding, unique role, often with the advantage of having a much lower workload than parenthood!
You absolutely need to take a step back - it is not your job to share the parenting equally with your DP and there is nothing to feel guilty about by not doing so. You may be a team with your DP in other aspects of life but when it comes to his children he and their mother are the team leaders so to speak. I'm sure that at work you accept the concept of managers getting paid more because they have extra responsibilities...you wouldn't offer to take on more duties without extra pay to make things "equal"!
In the same way your DP and his Ex naturally receive more out of their relationship with their children than you do e.g parental autonomy, unconditional love etc. If you carry on as you are it'll only get more and more painful when you're not "rewarded" by the same love your DSCs give their parents. I've learnt this the hard way! Your DP should be with you primarily because of what you offer as part of an adult relationship with him, anything else you can offer with regard to his DCs should just be a bonus. You sound lovely but you need to look after yourself too.
I really went into this arrangement with the perspective that I was going to give it my all, and that being a step parent was literal – I would be another parent to these children. And that’s what I’ve been doing; earnestly and wholeheartedly.
And I think that's why step-parenting so often goes wrong. You meant well and thought that the more effort you'd put in, the more rewards you would get, and when the rewards didn't come, you felt victimised.
However, your approach was not the best one in the context of step-parenting. Believing that you were going to be another parent was a failure from the start because it is rare that step-parents become so, at least certainly not for many years of building trust.
Unfortunately, it means that you are now struggling to find how you can back-step without making things even worse. As you say, you are a team with your partner, so withdrawing yourself might help with your relationship with your step-kids, but won't with your partner.
There is only one way about it, tackling it with him. After all, he encouraged you to act as a parent, so he is as responsible for where things stands and how you feel. You both will need to work on finding the middle ground and appropriate compromises and that might need to involve going into the detail of your involvement.
For instance, you might agree that you will be the one to take one step-child to an activity, because having one to one time in the car can be a good time to encourage kids to open up and talk. I have found this with my kids, maybe it is because they know I can't do much more than listen to them, am not as easily distracted (beside concentrating on the road!) and they don't have to look at me in the eye!
Then you can agree that he will be the one who takes them food shopping because they can then also have a say on what is being bought, if not for the main meals at least for snacks? Many kids associate food with comfort/pleasure, so having a say can go a long way!
These are a couple of examples amongst many of things you could decide between yourself that would mean that you can take a step back without them feeling you are rejecting them and your OH still feeling you are supporting him but with him getting more involved with chores.
I think it sounds as if you're doing brilliantly, your DSD is being exactly what she is...a young girl required to share her father with another female, and scoring points off you one minute, then wanting your attention the next, is pretty straightforward behaviour! I'd agree that maybe, if it's possible, step back a bit, but as long as she's still young and has to share her daddy, there will be little moments of hurt and upset for you...and her also no doubt! So chin up you're doing well!
It sounds like you are doing great, and I don't see anything wrong with how you've approached things in terms of giving it your all.
It could be that because she is so comfortable with you that she is testing the boundaries to make sure that no matter how she behaves you will continue to love her, because she wants that to be the case. Or it could be that she does feel close enough to you that she can act up at times - so exactly in the same way as she will act up at times with her Dad or her Mum.
You've had a massive adjustment to make, and if you are feeling totally exhausted perhaps it's that that leads you to worrying about things more than you might when you aren't feeling exhausted. Are you able to have some relaxing time to get your energy levels back on a more even keel?
It doesn't sound like anyone really has any issues with each other in your set up, so from what you've said here I'd say look on her behaviour more as a positive and that you are actually getting it right, not floundering. The other thing is, if you are finding it difficult maybe she is too. It doesn't have to be a biggie, it might just need a bit of time for everything to settle for her.
It is a tightrope to walk and there are bound to be wobbles along the way, and a year isn't that long at all in terms of building a relationship with a stepchild. I think to step back at this point would be detrimental.
You sound to me as though you're doing brilliantly and over thinking it a bit.
My DSS is 9, and sounds very much like your DSD. His dad & I have lived together for 3.5 years, and DSS lives with us about 40% of the time. DSS is for the most part lovely, now, but in the beginning he was often unacceptably rude and deliberately clumsy with my things. He is still occasionally spiteful and insolent (also with DH's dad, interestingly).
I tried a number of approaches and eventually I discovered using a combination of my teacher voice and "look" (not a teacher but it seems to be a hereditary skill) he winds his neck in and returns to his usual charming self.
DH also backed me up with gentle fatherly lectures about being kind and polite etc., and I try to be in a kind of auntie mode as much as possible.
Obviously this will all need renegotiation when he hits his teens, but it's working OK at the moment!
I suppose it does help that I have a 25 year old DS of my own who, despite being argumentative, messy and lippy when younger, is now a wonderful young man (yes I would say that!) who has established a good adult relationship with my DH.
So I feel less anxious about my parenting approach than I would do if I had no experience. And you have two to deal with!
Well first off, it actually all sounds pretty positive! I know that it is not easy, so you've done the best thing and started to be open about it.
It's OK to recognise some of your feelings. It's OK to step back a bit, probably important otherwise your step daughter will have too many expectations put on her. You won't get quite the same affection back and will be tested more as a SM. She doesn't know how long you will be in her life. At times she may feel you take a bit of her Dad from her. There may be clashes where you will not listen to you, but take her Dad/Mum's view instead.
It's all normal!
One of my DSCs was 9, and spent a year 'testing' me but now trusts me, several years on.
You are probably feeling a little vulnerable as you have done all the adjusting, all the compromising, you moved to be where your DP is. Start getting out and about more if you can, form your own friends, outside interests and support. If your DSD says mean things, then it's OK to challenge her, a quick 'Don't be mean please' or 'That was unkind please say sorry' - even if she sulks, she will have heard you, you don't need to labour the point but you can let her know that you do expect from her as you will be in a her life for a long time.
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