Not cut out for step-parenting or have I not given it long enough?(65 Posts)
Please can I have some advice on this situation? It might be quite long but I'll try to be brief.
The background is that I've been with my DP for 18 months. He has one child aged 7 and I have three, a teenager and a 7 and 5 yo. When we met, I was living in my current home, a fairly small 3 bed. DP was living with his parents following his relationship breakdown with his DC's mum. DP and I clicked almost immediately and we each met each other's dc after around 5 months which in hindsight, I'm not sure we didn't rush things.
Initially the dc got on extremely well and so we began to spend all our time with the DCs all of us together. Eventually the novelty wore off and they began fighting a lot. My middle dc began having some emotional difficulties which got worse around this time and she was often violent towards DPs DC. This has improved for the last few months however.
Due to DPs living arrangements he started spending more and more time at my house to the point that he more or less lives with me. He offers to help with bills but I won't let him because I don't want to move into officially living together territory. He would like us to save a deposit to buy in the next couple of years a house that will accommodate all 6 of us and he would also like us to have a child in the next few years. However, I'm confused because at times I would also like this but at others I feel resentful about the situation. He usually brings his DC to my house when he has weekend contact which coincides with when I have my dc so we are all cramped into a house which isn't big enough. I think my DC in particular really struggle having to constantly share their space and stuff and also me I guess. It leads to a lot of arguing between the DC. He will also bring his DC on his ad hoc contact, ie. when I don't have my own DC so this eats into my child free time.
Added to this, mine and DP's parenting styles differ quite a lot. Generally he is much stricter than me and I am laid back for the most part but I would say he's quite slack in some areas, spoiling his DC with junk food, sweets and toys is the main one. The other area of contention for me is that DP is a bit of a show off generally (I prefer modesty quite honestly) but is a massive show off when it comes to his DC. You would think the child is a genius going by DPs account. Sometimes I feel he lives vicariously through his 7 yo, viewing his achievements as an extension of his own greatness as a person and a parent. In contrast, I'm very proud of my DC but I generally keep that pride to myself and do not like gushing about them to other people.
The other area where we differ is discipline. DP will happily tell my DC off if they're not behaving whereas I really struggle to discipline other people's DC (not just DSC but my friends' DC too) so if I am left with all the DC on my own, I find it incredibly stressful and feel torn between treating DSC as a guest and not wanting to treat my DC as if they are the problem all the time (and they're not - it's often 6 of one, half a dozen of the other but I will tell mine off because I feel uncomfortable disciplining someone else's DC, even a simple no).
The whole situation has led to me quietly detaching from his DC. Initially we got on very well but I just don't like how things are when he's here. He's a nice kid for sure, impeccably well behaved for DP but has obviously picked up on my reluctance to discipline and takes full advantage (not blaming him, kids do this and I know it's normal). DP is a little blinded to his DC's less than best behaviour, partly because he just doesn't see it.
One example of a frequent source of contention is the TV. DP has a gaming console at my house. His DC is computer mad and it's literally the only thing he ever wants to do at my house. My DC are used to being able to play with their toys and watch TV in the living room. More often than not, DP will put the computer on for his DC and mine will play with their toys. But the living room is tiny and my DC will get in the way of the TV. His DC will then constantly tell mine off in a very whiney voice and it gets on my nerves. Even when the computer isn't on, his DC brings his DM's iPad (which is a source of arguments for the DC as I don't have one) but still complains when my DC are in the way of the TV - he essentially wants to play on the iPad AND watch TV. DSC very frequently takes on the role of discipliner over my DC which they naturally don't like. This is only when DP isn't there. This is just one example but it's this kind of thing that makes me not want to spend time with or be alone with all the DC. I feel a bit awkward 'grassing' on DSC to DP so I rarely say anything to DP about this. On the rare occasions I've voiced my annoyance with this to DP, he has kind of sided with DSC saying, well they shouldn't be in front of the TV. As he was a step child himself (and he didn't get on with his step brother) I think he's more sympathetic to his DC's position. I've tried to explain that it's probably very difficult for my DC to have to share their space constantly and pointed out that his DC would probably similarly struggle if the situation was reversed. DP doesn't agree though because apparently he has friends over all the time and happily shares his stuff . I don't think that's comparable at all and as his DC is an only child, he gets more opportunities to enjoy his own space at his main home.
I know that if you just look at the bad stuff I've talked about, the obvious answer is to get out of this relationship but that doesn't account for the fact that DP and I are extremely well suited. Overall DP is an incredible partner and treats me very well (something I've never had before having only been in abusive relationships). I know he loves me totally. He's also pretty good with my DC aside from some niggles I have that relate to differences in approach to parenting.
So what, if anything can I do about this? Do I just need to give it more time for everyone to gel? Or is this unlikely to improve in others experience? I know one solution would be for us to get a bigger house so we all had more room and space to ourselves (the DC mainly) but this won't be possible for over a year and I'm worried that if I commit to a house purchase, I'll be stuck if things don't work out. I also know I need to be more honest with DP about how I feel re the DC but I just can't bring myself to do it, despite us having a very honest relationship overall. The other thing is how do I bond with DP's DC in the current situation? I'm withdrawing more and more and I'm starting to feel resentful every time DP starts gushing about his amazing DC! Sorry this was so long but I don't know which elements are the driving force behind my feelings so have included a lot of info. Any advice would be very welcome and most appreciated. TIA .
If he's not officially living with you yet, can you not ask him to enjoy his time with his Ds back at his parents house on the set days and any ad hoc days he gets, pop to yours for tea then return home? If you slow things down it might get easier.
The games console in the front room would be a definite no, its just begging to cause conflict in any house! No ones needs should take priority in the main living space or every ones bound to get the hump.
I also wouldnt consider moving in together for more space, its boundaries and different expectations thats causing the issues not the lack of room in your house. If the situation is irritating you now when you are technically in a position to walk away, it will be a thousand times more suffocating if you are stuck with a joint mortgage and no way out.
Im trying not to project my own past situation but I would try and talk to your DP about how you feel, dont let it fester, it will only get worse with you getting more resentful
Thank you for replying floppy. The living situation is a little complicated in that DP's DM is unwell at the moment and so wants him to limit the time he spends there. DP also prefers to bring his DC to mine, partly because he hates not being with me and partly because my house is way more child friendly. In an ideal world, I would postpone buying together for several years or just rent initially but DP is desperate to get on the housing ladder and would also like a child. Due to my age, that would have to be in the next 3 or 4 years ideally. When we're alone, we get on incredibly well and at those times, I want all the things he does. When we're mid way through a contact weekend, I find myself thinking I just can't do it. DP absolutely wants another DC so if I'm not willing to do that, then the kindest thing to do would be to separate.
I agree about the computer thing. I think thats mainly arisen to avoid the DC arguing but in some ways it causes different arguments. Often we'll set each DC up with a phone or computer to stop them fighting but one or more will lose interest and then the bickering over the TV starts. DP wants me to put a TV in my youngest two's shared bedroom to get around this but I personally feel they're too young to have a TV in their room. It's hard to find activities to do at home that they all enjoy. My DC enjoy crafts and baking but DSC only wants to play on the computer or tablet. We take them out a lot to get around this but it's costly when the weather is bad.
I know I need to talk to him about this but I find it very tough to be upfront about my feeling on this issue. That's in large because it will necessitate some form of criticism of both DP and his DC which I know he doesn't take well at the best of times. He's often paranoid that I don't want to be with him anymore and so gets quite upset if I admit I'm anything less than perfectly happy with everything.
I've never been in a blended set up before and it's so much harder than I thought it would be.
You and DP might be very well suited but at what cost to your children if it's making them unhappy?
Not saying you should be single but in your case it's not just that the DC are uncomfortable with the notion of their parents moving on - I don't agree with children being allowed to dictate their parents' lives in that way - but the practical difficulties are making their lives miserable along with your DP's attitude towards them. Think about how you find yourself withdrawing from your DSS yet at least you have your relationship with DP which makes it worth the hassle for you. However the children on both sides have no upside in this scenario, from your DC having to share their already small space and DP disciplining them overly harshly in your eyes, to your DSS suffering violence from your DD.
You will absolutely need to be honest with your DP if you have any chance of agreeing to a set of house rules so that everyone is treated fairly - in the meantime I'd be stepping back to a dating type relationship so his DS doesn't live with you. Keep your weekends with DP to when you're child free, at most all meeting up together for "family" outings on occasion, at least until things settle down.
In the longer term even if you get a bigger house I don't think you have much chance of resolving things whilst you and your DP are so different in your approach to discipline. If he's harsh on yours and Disney with his then it's a recipe for disaster which will only get worse as the younger ones reach their teens. If your DP insists on treating his DC as the golden child then given the ages of your DC you will all have a very long and resentful road ahead.
Having said that does your DP see it the other way as you favouring your own DC? How did he react to his DS being physically hurt by your DD?
If you're going to be in a stepparenting situation, especially when you have your own DC, too, then you do need to be comfortable disciplining the SDC, not necessarily doling out big punishments or anything but the day to day enforcing of the rules - definitely.
Do you think it would really be difficult to get on top of this? I wonder if it would become more natural in time, especially after you have a child together, but of course you can't take a gamble based on the fact it might be easier, when it might not be. I think though that it would be worth trying really hard to make yourself start doing this. Just start with basic things. Presumably if you saw them doing something dangerous, you'd stop them, rather than waiting for your DP to notice? Try to extend that issue to other things slowly, just be firm and reasonable and don't feel bad. It will feel awkward and strange at first but you'll get better at it. How do you manage when your older DC have friends over?
Secondly you NEED to talk to him and create a game plan so you know you're on the same page and there isn't this vague sense of tiptoeing around the issue. You don't have to decide immediately what to do about every single issue but you need to be able to throw out ideas for the screens etc (My suggestion would be a total ban on screens between certain times. They whine and moan initially but then they do find things to do, and they can have unlimited access at the allowed times.) If this discussion breaks the relationship, then, sadly, there is your answer - he NEEDS to be able to talk about it, if his paranoia gets in the way, then maybe he's not ready for a relationship. That's pretty rubbish, but you need to be able to talk about things. Maybe just put it out like that, bluntly. The issue is, you won't ever have a chance of working this out if he won't discuss it.
One thing jumps out at me- I find DP wanting another child given your current finances and situation pretty alarming. Already you have four children to finance and care for between you and as you know teenagers are expensive and need a lot of time spending on them. Soon you will have four teens. Is it fair on the existing children to bring another child into the family? Is it fair on you?
Cross posted with your latest reply - you are not there to be used as a solution to your DP's housing issues whether that's giving his DM some space or getting on the property ladder. If his primary motivation is genuinely to be with you then he should accept renting for a couple of years until you can both be as sure as you can be that things will work out for everyone in the family.
I think you need a big discussion about house rules, and make sure everyone adheres to the. Your house, your rules.
Thank you to everyone for the further replies and insight. I'm on my phone so can't nane check but will answer a few points:
I very very frequently ask myself 'what's in it for the DC?'. I think I may have actually posted that question on here several months ago. I'm not sure what the answer to that is. Their father is EA and continued to try and control me through the DC. At least with DP, they have a good example of what a caring partner does as an antidote to their mysogenistic father (they're both girls too so I do worry about them picking a man like their father when they're adults). Otherwise, it just seems like sacrifice - for all of us. Is that always the case though?
It's hard to describe the parenting situation in writing. DP more or less follows my rules when his DC isn't here. He's just more willing to discipline mine than I am his. He's very very strict on his own DC but slack over things like junk food and computer time. But then I'm slack on mine in other areas that he's strict. When DD was being violent, it was horrendous for all of us. I told DP not to bring DSC anymore but he wanted to. Although the violence has been resolved, I feel my DD is now scapegoated a bit and blamed more than the others as her reactions are more outwardly noticeable (tantrums). Because DSC is so well behaved for DP, I think he genuinely doesb see his ba behaviour which is more insidious and manipulative. He enjoys winding my two up but DP only notices the reaction from my two, not the initial behaviour. So, it's not a true 'golden child' scenario but something like it as he will discipline for behaviour he notices or he thinks warrants it.
DP really wants me to get on board with disciplining his DC. I just can't do it. It feels wrong. If his DC is misbehaving, I will collectively tell them off, not just his DC.
I haven't really talked much about finances but we both have ok jobs. I'm renting from a family member cirrentju so my tenancy is secure. Large rental properties are scarce in this area and also expensive so either way I'll be giving up some of my security by moving. But it does feel like it would solve some if the space issues. My two youngest share the biggest bedroom and his DC sleeps on a pull out bed in true room. They wake each other up incredibly early and then the fighting begins.
I think I woujd like to slow things down a bit and spend less time us a together but in some ways it feels counter intuitive and I wonder if I will ever build a bond with DSC.
All of us, me, DP and the DC, set up house rules at the beginning, although it was more basic like no hitting etc. It didn't improve things though. I'm not sure if that's because I have a hard time enforcing them on his DC.
I think the biggest problem for me is identifying his DC's unacceptable behaviour. A lot of it is him either winding mine up or trying to be the discipliner. Which is normal child behaviour? The net result is that my two get upset or angry so I will invariably discipline them for that instead of saying to his DC to stop it. I just don't feel like it's my place. And I worry that if I were to say something, DP woujd think I was being harsh or unfair even though he's much stricter. I think it's because he doesn't notice the same behaviour that I'm seeing.
it all sounds very convenient for the children's dad, to have you, and your house there....................................
I'd tell him that he has to sort out something else.
Another thing I think is important to point out is tat DP believes wholeheartedly that loves conquers all. That just because we love each other, all this stuff can be resolved or worked on. I love that he thinks like this but I'm much more of a realist and I know that even petty squabbles can lead to relationship breakdown if unresolved. His attitude sometimes makes it difficult to bring up problems.
We both would very much like our relationship to work, but for me the question is about balancing my DC's needs with my own, DP's and dsc's.
He needs to spend a lot more of his contact time just with his children, not at yours or with your DC around. Tell him that's not rejection, that is him doing what's best for his own kids. As it is, he's taking the easy way out. He may miss you, but that's tough: he is not parenting as well as he could be and needs to step up and be a full time dad by himself for that contact time.
I do think though that you should take him at his word and discipline his DC when they misbehave at your house. Even if they're not yours, it's your house your rules. I would do it to visiting kids who aren't mine, because I'm in loco parentis. Same for you. Step up and stop singling your own kids out, or avoiding telling off the ones actually causing the problem.
And yes, games console needs to go somewhere else. Preferably back to your DP's place.
At least with DP, they have a good example of what a caring partner does as an antidote to their mysogenistic father.
But they also have a bad example of his DS getting priority over the TV so they can't play with their toys and your "caring partner" telling them off because he won't have it that his do-no-wrong DS is winding up your DC till they snap. Your DC also get you telling them off collectively i.e. when they've presumably not done anything wrong just because you'd rather upset your own children than your DSS because of your reluctance to discipline him when he deserves it.
Being an independent single parent until you meet someone on the same page as you could also show your DC a brilliant example.
I just want to thank everyone again - this is really helping me to get to the bottom of this situation which is causing me a lot of stress and upset.
I feel like for balance, I should also represent DPs views. From his perspective, my DC are very badly behaved and it upsets him to see me being 'walked all over' (sometimes they are quite hard to manage but I don't expect total blind disobedience from them, I think it's natural and healthy for people, including children, to challenge authority and not blindly accept what they're being told all the time. I follow a natural consequences method of parenting. I'm not claiming to be the best parent, I'm just doing things my way and want my DC to be happy. They're very well behaved at school fwiw). I guess he would see getting his own place as a step backwards and also a waste of money that could be put to a deposit. From my pov, DP just loves being in a relationship and whilst he is more domesticated than me and would manage his own house very well, he wants the security of a 'family'. I also suffer from an illness (incurable) that leaves me extremely tired and sometimes like I can't cope. He desperately wants to help and make my life easier which is why he wants to be around so much and pick up the slack with the DC. His help is very much appreciated but if he wasn't here, I would cope ok and actually, when it's just me and DC, it's more relaxed and we can all do our own thing. When DP and also DSC are here, we have to constantly occupy them so they don't gight, which I find both exhausting and stressful.
He definitely means well, which is why I feel so bad for complaining. I'm also a natural people pleaser and don't want anyone to feel that my home is not also theirs and that they must stick to MY rules, even though logically I know that's probably more sensible.
Sometimes things can work.... just not yet.
And by rushing things you can end up blowing them for the future.
Doesn't matter why, ir doesn't have to be all or nothing. You can say "I need to take a step back, the kids and I need more space and time"
But don't leave it until it is too late to do this
You know, you don't have to force the things or rush into the next stage (be it finish it or getting even more committed).
I believe that a huge part of the problem is that although he is great with you and your children, he is not bringing much into the equation (mostly because you don't want to allow him to contribute financially), so it becomes your house and he becomes simply a guest with children.
I suppose that even if he is not "officially" living there, the fact that he spends so much time at your home is calling for an agreement on a set of rules that would apply to ALL the children (and not only when his are around).
But if what you want is to be in a better position to decide, with a cold head, whether this SP business is the right thing for you as it is at this stage, you may benefit from reducing contact for a while so he and you focus on your DC. Would it work for you both to spend a day on your own with your respective children (ie Saturday) and then get together on Sunday to do something as a family? It may help to make the transition easier for all involved.
There is also another point to consider. It may be that you are not "Not suited" to be a step parent, it may be that this family group is not the right one for you. I have been in your situation a couple of times (we didn't live together but we spent most of our free time together). With the first family group, dad had a very similar parenting style as mine, and we got on like a house on fire. I absolutely adored his children.
With the second one, it was very frustrating, he was a good man and lovely with DS, but when it came to his own child he took Disney parenting into unsuspected levels, as a result DS and I were always walking on egg shells when his child was around, and I can say that despite trying hard for several years, I really couldn't warm up to his child that much. We still see them from time to time and I adore his child nowadays, but I know that we wouldn't have managed well at all if I had to put with such drama and misbehavior in a day to day basis.
Paperchaindoll , i just need to afew questions of the situation before i give any advice. How long have you been together and how long has this set up in place? I get impression its been a quick process?
It doesn't really matter whose approach to discipline is right or wrong - if it's causing conflict in your household then you either need to resolve it between you or remove the source of the conflict as per the first paragraph of TendonQueen's earlier post while you work out where to go from here.
Your DP doesn't sound like a fundamentally bad partner, but maybe he's not right for you at this time and his keenness to get on the property ladder is preventing all of you from having the space you need to step back and have a breather. Renting his own place is not wasting deposit money, at the very least it's an investment in the future of him and his DS so he can ensure as much as possible that he's blending families for the right reason - after all love conquers all not convenience, right?
Thank you Tiger, your post has made me consider things from a different angle. And Toffee, you have raised a valid point about things being rushed.
Adele, we have been together 18 months and the spending all our time together probably started about a year ago.
I think this is definitely a key 'strand' to the problem. DP and I are always talking about the 'future'. He is convinced that I am 'the one' and fairly early on we talked about marriage and children. DP was honest from the get go and made it clear that he was looking for someone to have children with. Ideally he'd like two, I have agreed I would have one in a few years. When we met, I wasn't looking fur anything in particular. I had been dating for a little while but was more or less happy on my own. I honestly wasn't expecting to meet someone I'd want a long term future with.
I guess there's been that pressure and expectation that we would be working towards this shared future since the beginning and I've been swept along with it without much time to decide if this is right. As I said before, these are things I would do but it's not a yearning for marriage and more children like it is for DP. However, I love him and would be happy to have this future if the problems can be resolved.
I'm just not sure at this point what would make the probkens easier to manage. I suppose at this point I feel like my withdrawing from DSC is the biggest issue as i think I would be happier spending time all of us together if I felt more of a bond with DSC. But that issue is also dependent on other factors, some of them I haven't raised yet, like the fact that I feel things are unequal between our dc. Because DP doesn't have as many bills as I do, he is free to blow money on things like fast food a couple of times a week and I'm financially supporting him to be able to do this. My DC definitely don't go without but I am less able to spoil them like that. Again, just another side issue.
Interestingly it sounds like you and your DP are quite similar to me and DH - DH is into the whole obedience thing and is quite strict with high expectations but not on junk food or screen time. Whereas I would like more of a balance on those things, I don't expect obedience and sometimes DH does think I am a soft touch. It's easier because there is only ONE child so there isn't as much to clash, but we've definitely had differences over it. But overall, it works pretty well - DH does his thing and I do mine, we back each other up even when we don't agree and talk about it later. We just have different things which we bring to the table. But I've had to get a bit more tight on things I don't really mind and he's had to loosen up on some things. It's about leaning into the middle rather than straining on your own side.
With the deposit and impatience issue, DH has been a bit like that, too. He doesn't want to do something which he sees as illogical. So it's about basically persuading him that there is logic in the decision, that not everything is based on finances. It's a personality clash. If you can sort it out and communicate, then that will bode well for the future but if you can't, then it's the opposite. 18 months is a really short time when there are children involved. It really doesn't make sense to rush things. Why not work out a 3-5 year plan for the relationship and go over different scenarios together?
We did, a few months ago, agree to only spend one weekend day together but we don't always stick to it. Sometimes the DC are getting on ok for the first day so we push our luck. Other times my illness has flared up and DP has stuck around for the second day to help me. I think it books down to is enjoying each other's company so much that we abandon the rule about spending less time together. More often than not though, it is DP pushing this and I just go along with it because I love him and also because I'm a people pleaser.
Wow - lots of info, OP.
Some waffly thoughts, in no particular order:
Agree with others that your home is way too convenient to him for contact with his DS. What would he do if could not bring him to yours and not have him at his DMs while she is ill? Do not let yourself sleepwalk into getting a place with him because of these circumstances. It sounds like you all need to break the routine/expectations.
He seems very keen to move fast - buying somewhere together and talking about a baby - when there is loads of stuff that needs fixing first. Is he a bit of a romantic/ideallist? The 'love conquers all' approach is great in theory and late at night when you are curled up, just the two of you. But in reality, as you have seen, it does not solve the day-to-day issues you face and it does not take into account the four other humans involved. He sounds as if he has a fantasy about your life could be together which is not really grounded in reality. All very seductive but as a single mother of three, you know life is not that easy.
Differing styles in parenting and discipline is probably the one single thing which is talked about on this board as the cause of problems on a short and long term basis. This alone would be enough for me to put the brakes on. Also, he's only had/got one child to focus on and has no idea what it is like to parent three, as you do - he doesn't sound like he is learning and understanding or trying to see things from your/their perspectve - he's just telling you how he would do it.
It doesn't sound like he - or you - have any one-to-one time with your DCs. Even if he doesn't want it, I am sure you and yours would benefit from it. Equally, it sounds like you really value your time completely alone on non-DC weekends and he is eating into that. Also, do you ever see each other without your DCs now?
Your posts have a lot of negativity about him - his whiny voice when talking to your children, his ad-hoc visits etcetc. Is he just too comfortable and takes too much for granted in your relationship (ie almost living together)? It sounds like he's bugging you quite a bit!
If you really think the relationship has potential, can you not just step back and slow things down for a while. Get the focus away from your house and all being together all the time? Go back to making plans for every third weekend or so to all go out for the day? He may tell you this is going backwards from where you are but it really sounds from your posts that you need it.
Without being too cliched, DH is more logical and I am more emotional and that is what causes the disconnect sometimes in what he thinks is a good idea/the right thing vs what I think is a good idea/the right thing and I think that's happening for you, too.
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