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Disengaging - MUST READ!

(27 Posts)
berkshirefem Wed 20-Jul-11 16:11:11

This must have been on here 100 times before but in case everyone hasn't seen it - have a read!!!

1. Your SKs are not your children.

2. You are not responsible for overcoming their previous "raising."

3. You are not responsible for what kind of people they are.

4. You are not responsible for what kind of people they become.

5. You are not obligated to become an abused member of the household just because you married their dad.

6. You are not responsible for raising your SKs.

7. All the responsibility belongs to your DH.

8. Your DH is not a mother.

9. Your DH is not going to raise his children the way you want him to.

10. Your SKs are not going to turn out the way they would if DH supported you.

What all this means is this: You must stop parenting your SKs. You must stop telling them what is expected of them. You must stop disciplining them. You must turn over all responsibility for them to your DH. You must allow DH to make whatever mistakes he makes.

But first, you must explain to DH & SKs what is happening. This is what you say: "Everyone is unhappy, our home is miserable, & I'm completely frustrated & angry all the time. You kids are angry & frustrated with me, & >it's getting worse. Someone has to do something about this, & I decided that it will be me. I have decided that I will no longer be responsible for getting you to bed on time, or getting you up in the mornings. I will not tell you to wash your hands before dinner, & I will not tell you to brush your teeth or take a bath. (You must list all those things for which you have assumed responsibility, whatever they are). I am no longer going to do anything that will give you the opportunity to treat me with disrespect. In the future, if you need anything, you must ask your dad. I will no longer take responsibility for (whatever, getting your school supplies, shopping for your clothes, doing your laundry, taking you to basketball practice, etc.) What I hope to accomplish is for us to begin to get along with each other, & the only way I know to do that is to let your dad be the parent."

Many of you may be saying, does all this mean I have no rights? Absolutely not. You must choose your battles, & to disengage, your battles should be about those things that DIRECTLY affect you. For example, you have a right to keep your home with the degree of neatness & cleanliness that you desire (just leave the SKs rooms alone & concentrate on the communal areas). You can say, "From now on, I expect everyone to put their stuff away by bedtime. Since I will no longer be asking you to do it because I don't want to argue with you, anything that is left out after 9:00 will be disposed." Period, no discussion, just do it. If it's important to DH for his kids to keep their "stuff," HE will parent his children, or do it himself. "If you don't clear the table after dinner, I will not set a place for you at the next meal." Period, no discussion, just do it If it's important to DH for his kids to eat, HE will parent his children, or do it himself. "If you leave your dirty clothes on the floor in the bathroom, they will be disposed." Are you getting the idea?

You see, the REAL problem is not between you & your SKs, it's between you & your DH. These children are HIS responsibility, & if he wants good things for them, he will parent them. If he doesn't care (believe me, he really does!), why should you beat your head against the wall?

My son ALWAYS had a bedtime, my SSs NEVER had a bedtime. Now I tend to my son, & let DH tend to his. If he wants them to get a good night's sleep, he will parent them. If it's not important to him, I don't make it my concern.

My DH goes to work at 5:30 AM, which leaves me the task of getting everyone up & ready for school. It used to be a nightmare getting my younger SS up, he would growl & yell & scream, & roll over & go back to sleep until I was screaming my lungs out, jerking the covers off. Every day started like that, & I was miserable every evening, thinking about my next morning's task. So....I just stopped. I told DH to get him an alarm clock. And I told DH that if he wanted to help his son start his day well, he might consider making sure that SS goes to bed at a reasonable hour, but that I would no longer make it my concern. SS missed 2 days of school because he wouldn't get up, & I refused to make a second trip to take him there. DH decided to parent his son. He did it without being home by using consequences if his son did not get up in time to get ready for school.

The point is this: DH must decide what is important to HIM. You must be willing to put up with some degree of inconvenience to "allow" him to parent his children. But whatever inconvenience you suffer will be minor compared to the conflict that might be part of your life right now. My DH stepped up to the plate. Your DH might not. But that's HIS decision. Don't expect him to agree with your "new position." He doesn't agree with your current position. Don't expect him to like what you are doing - or to be more precise - not doing. The less YOU do, the more HE must do, & that will not make him happy. You must remember that he has no right to expect more parenting from you than he is willing to do himself.

You may be thinking, this is nuts! We agreed to be "parents" to each other's children. Yes, but he also agreed to be a parent to his OWN children. None >of this means that you can't do ANYTHING. It's very likely that DH will need your help. That's OK. The issue here is that DH must ASK you for your help, instead of what you've been doing - assuming the responsibility & being unappreciated for it.

When DH needs something done that he can't do himself (a ride for one of the kids while he's a work, for example), first, you have already told the kids "Go ask dad." So DH is REQUIRED to become involved in his children's lives. He now must THINK ABOUT what's involved in raising his kids, & we all know it's a lot of work. And you can agree to help out, only if DH asks. BUT, to disengage, you must be willing to withdraw your agreement to help IF the kids, between now & the event, treat you disrespectfully! And you must refuse to assist next time if DH & the kids don't say "Thank you." You also have a RIGHT to have your efforts appreciated.

When you begin to value yourself in this whole relationship by expecting to be treated with respect & appreciation, you'll feel a lot better. When I say "to value yourself" I mean that if your efforts are not appreciated - don't do it! Sometimes the SKs will think, "Well, we're in the car on the way to the ballgame, now I'm home free to be disrespectful!" BAM! They smart off to you! Well, turn that car around & take them back home - don't raise your voice or act insulted or point out how ungrateful they are. Just say "I'm sorry you've decided to treat me disrespectfully. I must withdraw my offer to take you."

BTW, these are also good methods of getting your OWN children's respectful behavior!

I know, from my own experience, just how hard it is to "let go." But it's up to you to make the choice - "Am I going to continue to live in this awful situation, or am I going to do something about it." While you fear what will happen to everyone when you "disengage," as if the family will fall apart, you will be surprised at the change in your own life. I can't guarantee that everything will turn out the way it has for me, but I can guarantee that you will no longer feel angry, frustrated, resentful, & hurt. The HARDEST part is giving up the need to straighten out these kids & "change" them into the children YOU want them to be.

GoodDaysBadDays Wed 20-Jul-11 16:23:56


berkshirefem Wed 20-Jul-11 16:25:57

Sorry, I don't understand why the hmm there are lots of SMs on here talking about the stresses of being step parents/ disney dads/ detaching and managing their roles... it struck a chord with me and thought it might help others.


Message withdrawn

GoodDaysBadDays Wed 20-Jul-11 18:03:06

It is hard work but being married to a man (or woman) with children means you do parent their children in some way. You may not be mum or dad but telling a sdc to ask dad every time they want something is not exactly including them in the family is it?

If you don't want the responsibility don't marry someone with children.

If your dsc is with the half the time, as I believe yours is then you have to do some parenting.

berkshirefem Wed 20-Jul-11 18:55:58

Hmm, I don't know. I guess I may be nearer the end of my tether than you guys!

theredhen Wed 20-Jul-11 19:13:01

MJ - "DH and his ex saw parenting as a "popularity" contest"

Oh yes, that is EXACTLY what DP and his ex are like!

Berkshirefem - I think your OP actually makes a lot of sense. Some of it is unrealisitic, but I think we can learn something from it. I think the bits about simply not doing stuff instead of ranting and getting upset makes a LOT of sense.

GoodDaysBadDays Wed 20-Jul-11 22:09:29

My tether was reached and smashed to bits a long time ago berkshire grin

but do you know when it got slightly easier? When I stopped fucking about trying not to tread on anyone's toes and just got on with the job of parenting.

The not doing stuff bit is not really about step parenting though is it? It's just another parenting technique.

NanaNina Wed 20-Jul-11 23:09:34

Very interesting and thought provoking post Berkshirefem - my SP days are all in the past (thank god) they're grown with their own families, as are my own kids. Could have done with reading that post about 40 years ago!! There was nothing like MN though and very little recongition of the problems of SPing in those days. It caused years of unhappiness in my family and I was lucky enough to have a loyal friend in whom I could off load and that gave me the strength to carry on.

WkdSM Thu 21-Jul-11 10:20:09

Interesting post!
I was advised to emotionally disengage from SS2 when he lived with us by a family councillor as certain things he was doing were so damaging that if it had taken place within any other family scenario it would have been termed abusive.
SS had (and has) no thought of consequences and so although we did do the not cleaning up after him, making him responsible for washing his own clothes and getting himself up and out to school - he could never relate this 'punishment' to things that he had done or not done. He just said we were being horrible and not good parents.

Lasvegas Thu 21-Jul-11 10:31:09

Berkshirefem thank you for posting your technicniques. I am printing it out!

When I think about it I have already been practising what you advocate, mainly because I don't believe that DH or skids mother parent properly in a certain aspect and they are not preparing a child for independent life. I had to disengage as I am a perfectionist and I have to either do things really well or not at all.

My DH when I first starting disengaging was cross as I no longer came home from a full on job and long commute and prepared food for his kids because he was too lazy to buy food and prepare it.

allnewtaketwo Thu 21-Jul-11 11:26:55

From a personal perspective, I think I actually employ a lot of those techniques on an ongoing basis. I think dis-engaging provides the most effective way for me to be able to cope with the situation, without causing constant aggro and rows. I guess a bit like the "give me the grace that I accept what I cannot change" mantra

feckwit Thu 21-Jul-11 11:29:31

I disagree with the sentiment that stepchildren are not the responsibility of the step parent. When you marry somebody with children then you DO have a responsibility towards the children, you become part of a parenting team.

allnewtaketwo Thu 21-Jul-11 11:58:19

feckwit are you a SP? If so what proportion of time do you DSCs spend with you?

Petal02 Thu 21-Jul-11 12:04:46

Allnew – I agree that dis-engaging often reduces friction in the household, which is surely better for everyone?

Feckwit – most of us step-parents would be happy to assume some parenting responsibility, however I think most of us have tried, only to find ourselves banging our heads against the brick wall called “Disney parenting”, and you’re then faced with two choices – fight a continual losing battle, or dis-engage. I’ve chosen the latter over the last month, I simply couldn’t cope with any more rows, and I have to say it’s made things a little easier.

kaluki Thu 21-Jul-11 12:37:11

Berkshirefm that is so helpful smile
It is hard though to discipline your own dc when they see the SKs getting away with murder because their Dad lets them do what they like.
I am fairly strict with my dc and DP is the typical 'Disney Dad' - its a battlefield at times but I hope think we are getting there bit by bit.

iamsamiam Thu 21-Jul-11 12:59:13

hmm I don't know about this. I can see where the OP is coming from but IMO it can cause resentment among the DC's. DSD's SD took the OP's approach and it has lead to great resentment between them and their sister (XW and SD child). They say that they felt that she was treated differently and that it felt like he didn't care. It also meant that they could play XW and SD against each other because they would pull the "but we don't feel like we are part of the family" card whenever things didn't go their way at XW's.

We made a conscious effort to make sure that DSD's and our DC's were treated equally and not let them try to play us off each other. There were times when I did have to walk away take a deep breath but I'm glad that we persevered. We still have our momentshmm but now that DSD1 has a child of her own she has told DH that although she thought we were being too strict and unfair (as all teens do grin) she always knew where she stood in our house and it made her feel safe. I have to be honest, there were times (and there still are) that I could have quite cheerfully strangled DH and DSD's but I think on the whole they aren't the worse in the world (feeling benevolent atm grin)

The only person I actively disengage with is XW because she's a nutter she has the knack of raising my blood pressure grin

brdgrl Thu 21-Jul-11 23:26:32

I guess this approach must work in some households, but it wouldn't in mine...and I would never want to live like that, either. I guess I agree with gooddaysbaddays - at least in my case, "not parenting" the kids is not an option. I wouldn't have stayed in the relationship if I'd intended to take (or my partner asked me to take) that approach.

berkshirefem Fri 22-Jul-11 09:55:39

Sorry if I wasn't clear, the info in my OP isn't necessarily my method. I don't know if i agree with all of it. But when i read it it really struck a chord with me.

I spend a lot of time worrying about DSD's eating habits, homework, bed time, whether she's washed her make up off, whether she's keeping her room tidy etc etc. She hates all my nagging, naturally. Then i fall out with her and things are even worse.. I often find myself thinking "hang on, if no one else (i.e. her mum and dad) canbe arsed to fight these battles - why the hell am I giving myself a migraine??!"

Naturally it is my responsibility to make her feel loved and cared for and safe when she is in my care. But I needed to understand that she is not my child, and ultimatly her behaviour is not my responsibility.

I have been putting some of the things in to practise and already I'm seeing positive changes. Nothing as drastic as sitting everyone down and saying what the advice is OP suggests, but small steps.

brdgrl Fri 22-Jul-11 11:09:04

yeah, i see what you mean. I dislike/disagree with the '10 points' in prinicple, but in practice, we do divide up parenting duties. I mostly get directly involved when it is something that impacts on us as a family and changes the quality of life for others in the home, or when it is something that seems dangerous (literally or emotionally) in the long-term. (My sister once said to me, about her own husband, that he was good at the short-term aspects of parenting, but not great at long-range planning - I now know exactly what she means!)

I wouldn't really say anything to the kids about their personal hygiene. If DSS needs a shower, I'd tend to wait until it was downright offensive, and then mention it to DH and let him pass it on. If DSD has too much makeup on, I don't say anything, because it would seem over-critical, and also - it just doesn't seem to matter enough! On the other hand - if I felt like DSD were regularly wearing inappropriate clothes (she doesn't!), I think I'd talk to DH about it, because I'd at least want to make him aware of the ways it might make things tough for her - he wouldn't notice some things on his own.

With their bedrooms, I don't care how messy they are as long as there are not stacks of dirty dishes or food packets (cuz of bugs!), and as long as there is a reasonably clean path through the mess (cuz of fire!). Having said that, DH and I do make them have a clearout occasionally, usually when they have asked to have friends round (as in "not unless your room is clean").

Mostly our tactic is that DH and I discuss and decide things, but DH presents it to the kids. If it is a Big Deal, we sit them down and present it together - like recently when DSD needed to make some changes around his schoolwork - we did that one together. My stepkids were 10 and 13 when I came along - if they'd been smaller maybe I would be involved more directly in more aspects.

kaluki Fri 22-Jul-11 12:32:45

I think it also depends on if the SKs live with you full time.
Mine are only with us every other weekend and one night in between so it is easy to 'let things go' that you wouldn't put up with on a day to day basis.
My dc are very understanding and realise that SKs time with their Dad is like the fun time they spend with their own Dad and that my rules are only stricter because I have them all the time and also that I don't discipline them like my own dc because they have their own Mum to do that sort of thing..

TheFeministsWife Sun 24-Jul-11 00:28:27

"1. Your SKs are not your children.

2. You are not responsible for overcoming their previous "raising."

3. You are not responsible for what kind of people they are.

4. You are not responsible for what kind of people they become.

5. You are not obligated to become an abused member of the household just because you married their dad.

6. You are not responsible for raising your SKs.

7. All the responsibility belongs to your DH.

8. Your DH is not a mother.

9. Your DH is not going to raise his children the way you want him to.

10. Your SKs are not going to turn out the way they would if DH supported you."

I disagree. I see DSD as mine. When people ask how many kids I have I say 3 (DSD and my own 2 dds). I treat her exactly the same as my own 2. I worry about her the same way I worry about my own 2, she pisses me off in the same way as my own 2. I am responsible for the type of person she's become and I'm proud she's a very well rounded mature young woman now. I am responsible for raising her, in fact I have probably had more input in her upbringing than DH as I've been a SAHM since we got custody 11 years ago. My DH will raise OUR children the way I want him too as we discuss our parenting. My DH does support me.

I'm sure in different situations they may apply. Ours isn't a comman scenario though as DSD's mum is bloody awful and abusive, so I took on the mother role to try and make up for this as best I could.

berkshirefem Mon 25-Jul-11 09:13:52

Naturally if you have custody it's not going to apply, I would never undermine the hard work that custodial step mums do as I think it is an amzing feat. Although, I suppose on one hand it may be 'easier' for want of a much better word. Because you are the authority.
Being a step mum without custody (whether that be 1 night every 2 weeks, or half of the time like i have my DSD) is tricky as you're kind of expected to take the responsibility but you don't really get the respect.

theredhen Mon 25-Jul-11 09:54:40

I agree Berkshire. Being a full time step parent really means you have no choice but to parent the child and I agree that in some ways it is "easier". When the children are treated as visitors by either the PWC or the NRP, then a step Mum simply has far less control over her situation.

chelen Mon 25-Jul-11 10:23:28

Hi, I guess like all parenting, what I don't have probably looks 'easier'. On the days when my resident SS won't eat my cooking, glares at me, argues with me, hates his brother, hates the world I think 'oh it must be so nice for those stepmums who only have to see their SKs at weekends'!!! On the dark days I hate that I have no choice but to engage with my SS's behaviour. And of course on the days when my own toddler is being a little bleep I envy my husband who gets to go to work while I'm stuck at home scraping porridge off the walls .

I was interested to read this piece because I think I can over-engage and obsess about things, so I got something from it. But I couldn't take it to the extent described, as it would just make me too angry with my partner as the root problem seems to be in their parenting decisions.

I totally agree though that as stepmums we are not responsible for how the kids turn out. We are responsible for what we provide - good food, safe house, good role model (I do try..!), clear rules. But we can't control either how the kids respond or how much their parents mess stuff up.

I think the worst thing about step parenting, the thing I hate so much, is we can't moan about it very often or openly. If my toddler is being a bleep I can rant to general amusement and understanding. If my SS is causing me grief, I've learnt to keep it to myself as generally I get little support or understanding, and often get open criticism or hostility. Being a stepmum is lonely sometimes sad

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