Why does nobody ever talk about the role of the father in a blended family...(14 Posts)
...all the advice out there seems to focus on what the stepparent (step-mother normally) can do to help bond with her partner's children, but little out there to advise the other parent (usually the father). Therefore, is it any great surprise that there are zillions of resentful stepmums out there trying to behave lovingly toward there DSC and making them feel welcome and have everything they need when the biological parent isn't doing his share of the heavy lifting (or even realise there's heavy lifting to be done!)...
I know what you mean. Good dads want their DC to be happy and adapt to change in a realistic way, and good partners/boyfriends/husbands want their new partners to feel part of the new unit, to bond their children in their own time, to keep doing the bulk of the parenting and have the step parent enjoy the good fun bits.
Where it quickly goes wrong is when men assume their new partner will step into unconditional-mum-love immediately, whether they have and want DC of their own or not, do the bulk of crappy housekeeping/parenting stuff, then step aside knowing instinctively when to make themselves scarce to accommodate what the DC and/ex want.
I've been very lucky with a considerate DH and wonderful DSC who've accepted me and seem to value the part I play in their lives. But even then it's been incredibly difficult at times! I've also learnt that I make my own decisions about how much I want to be involved with, while trying to balance everyones needs. I wash clothes, make endless meals, arrange days out and holidays, read stories, patch up knees, dole out calpol, have time with them alone so the other can have time with DH. But it's my choice and I get the benefits of lovely, kind children and a happy husband. He'd cope fine without me. He's a brilliant dad. He'd happily do it all alone. He's let me find my own way of being in our family.
I don't understand why some women allow themselves to end up as general pot washer, cook, cleaner, babysitter, dogsbody, while their partner sits back and doesn't parent his children, clean up their mess, pay for them, discipline them when needed. But it's easy to say how these women should be different, when it's their partners/the parent who should be better!
Men who were useless husbands and fathers aren't going to be any better with a new partner, though some men might become better parents when they split with the other parent purely out of necessity as they're doing it alone.
In a way it's easier to get together with a man who's parented alone as he's capable of doing it on his own and hasn't got used to having another adult to share it with. But you also hear plenty of stories where post split either/both parents doing it alone develops dynamics with their children which then doesn't easily allow another adult in. Epic Disney parenting where they only want the good bits, won't deal with bad behaviour, let the DC rule the roost to the exclusion of anyone else in the household.
What advice would you give men/parents on how to make life easier for the step parent coming in?
In a lot of ways I think the role of a Stepmum is much harder than the role of a Stepdad, mainly because of the fact that she is a woman and he is a man. Being a woman you're expected to do all of the caring duties, cleaning, organising uniforms, cooking as well as the daily grind such as school runs. Oh and also work. All the dad needs to do is go to work and he's done his bit.
Whereas a stepdad goes to work and the children's own mum does everything listed above. Which being their mum comes naturally and resentment is much less of an outcome.
I think my DP hides from the problem with his kids. If anything he’s probably talked to his Ex which will give him a biased and unhelpful view.
I’d love him to use forums for advice. As really, it’s his issue. He’s the one who has entitled resentful children who are making him feel conflicted about our relationship.
I dragged us to counseling and interestingly enough he avoided in the extreme talking about it. Partly because I think it burst his bubble - talking about it with a third party made it so obvious even to him that I wasn’t the problem. He visibly hated that. It would then mean he had to look at himself, his kids and ex dynamic. Their parenting. Their making me a scapegoat. That’s where the conflict comes from.
Exactly what LongWavyHair said. Let's face it, in the vast majority of cases it's women who bear most of the mental load of running a household (whether they're a parent or not) so under that remit when they become a mother they end up doing the school runs, appointments, birthdays/present buying, fewer hours in paid employment, etc etc. Therefore when a woman moves in with a man who has children those household tasks tend to get taken on by her and will invariably encompass stuff relating to her step DC e.g. shopping, cooking, cleaning. However because this new set-up mirrors the dad's previous "together" family dynamic he will assume he's pulling his weight because he's doing, say, 50% or more of the child related chores, forgetting that he actually owns 100% of those tasks because they are his children, not hers. Cue massive resentment if
when the step mum's contributions become taken for granted. Stepdads simply don't face those issues.
It's comforting to read these; my partner was badly affected by addictions in the early years of our relationship when dss was only 5 meaning my idealistic view of doing stuff as a family was completely destroyed. Despite best efforts at the time to bring us altogether including my extended family all that happened is I ended up feel responsible for all the drudgery and none of the joy (as well as the enormous grief that comes with living with the jeckyll and Hyde personality of someone with addiction).
12 years on we're more than ok but I don't think me and my stepson will ever be close due to the resentment (and loneliness) I felt at the time. DSS has been fairly well protected from the worst of his dad's behaviour (thankfully) but I sense he understands more now and even respects me for standing by. However, even now it's easier for DH to let his son see me as the bad guy in the past rather than admit he could've done more. We have a child of own now and although dss says the right things there's a detectable envy and distance that I don't really blame him for as it must be hard, not just seeing us all do things together, but seeing his dad being a much more attentive father than he ever was when he was little. It's hard and I find it sad when I think how it could've been.
I can't change what's happened to me but when searching endlessly at the time for some good advice in step-parenting books there was never a single mention of what men could/should/must do to help their new wife/girlfriend to love their child when starting a new relationship. It just strikes me that there's a cultural barrier there where once again women are taking responsibility for things that rightfully sit with men. And when sadness and resentment set in, they're sat scratching their heads and wondering why!
AnneLovesGilbert you really are very lucky to have such a supportive husband
Biglettuce certainly sounds like your DP is badly in need of the wake-up call
I agree with everything that's been said, but I do think that new partner do need to take some ownership of the responsibility in finding themselves in a role that they then start to resent. I've seen new partner offering to take on these responsibilities, even sometimes insisting to do so, in a view to make a good impression with their new partner, to then throw it back at them when they are in a committed relationship.
My OH was honest from the start that he would be respectful towards my kids and take on a financial responsibility, but that he wouldn't be doing any babysitting, taking my kids places, let alone look after them for a day or more. That doesn't mean that he has never helped, but when he has, it's been because I've asked and he said yes (and sometimes no, although of course with reasons) so the expectations were clear from the start.
I find it hard to understand why so many women rush into relationships with crap men who aren't doing their fair share of parenting.
The signs are usually there.
Sadly, many women seem to ignore this and chase this 'ideal family' dream even when the dad is doing nothing.
My dp has always been a hands on dad with his own two and took on the father role with mine when we moved in together. He no longer sees his youngest (14) and his oldest and my oldest are both adults now and living independently/at uni. He's brilliant with my 12 year old though. She has recently been diagnosed with autism and is at that awkward pre teen stage but he really has been so patient during the meltdowns and anger outbursts.
Initially we had no expectations of our blended family but we kind of survived ok for the first couple of years albeit with a lot of attention seeking behaviour and lying from his youngest. That did causes issues between us, his ex got very involved and wanted to come over and change all the sleeping arrangements over and quite frankly had far too much to say about our home life. DP felt torn and also felt that his DD wasn't capable of lying. So I did take the brunt of the shit during the tough times but eventually his DD got caught out massively in her lies and he eventually saw that she wasn't the perfect child. I had been trying to tell him for three years that no child is perfect! You just love them, imperfections and all but try to get them to stop the bad behaviour.
I think my dp had it easier with my kids than he did with his own. His oldest was kept away from him for a few years by her mum and he missed out on a huge chunk of her childhood, but he has a good relationship with her now. His youngest had been used to being the only child in a huge extended family where she was deferred to for all decision by her parents. So food, days out, bed time, tv choices, shopping - absolutely everything was deferred to her to make the choice. I don't think they realise how they were raising a 'princess' and that it would backfire eventually. Having to share her time with the older sibling was only on weekends and some weeks during school holidays and as there was a big age gap, she was still the 'princess child'.
So while my dp was capable of parenting one child at a time (or two in a short period) he wasn't really prepared for having 2 full time plus an extra two on weekends. It was like a fucking tsunami of noise, bickering and chaos. He just didn't know how to cope with being a fair adult in a situation where your own children were involved. Whereas I've always had two at home and was used to being referee and dishing out the telling off where needed.
Blending a family is never easy. Not for anyone. It's probably harder than bringing up your own children. But I would say my dp is one of the good ones, he never shirked on the washing, ironing, school runs, cooking etc where any of the four kids were involved and still doesn't.
I really like some of the comments here, and the particular one that caught my eye was Anne's.
My dp is amazing with my children, whose dad is in the picture but useless and has willingly taken on an almost full parenting role. My girls need that, and I couldn't ask for anyone better for them.
He is an amazing father to his son with his ex too.
What I struggle with his is expectation on me in terms of his son. I really like dss whose six. We have a good time when he's here, we do things together, he gets on with my girls really well (esp considering the ages of them all) and I happily do the cooking cleaning etc as I do with the other children anyway. My dss has his mother very firmly in the picture and doing a great job too (even where she takes a different parenting approach to me, it's just that, different not necessarily any worse). My dp would like me to be more involved, more affectionate, more of a Mum to dss.
However, what he sees as me pulling back or struggling I see as respecting dss Mum, my dp's limited time with his child, my dss himself who shows signs of guilt when he spends time with just me and a slower steadier way of integrating in dss life. He doesn't need another Mum and frankly, I don't want to take on such a role for him, I have my hands full already! I wish my dp could understand that I'm just different to him, in a different situation with a different child and rather than assuming I don't like his son enough, respect my approach! He puts pressure on me to recreate a family for his son when he's here and I don't feel comfortable doing that. Some guidance for my dp about his guilt at not being there 100% for dss, how to blend families and the different types of roles would be useful, I think it might help him see that I don't have to force myself into a role dss doesn't need in order for us all to be a happy (blended) family!
All fantastic responses.
I personally feel the onus is on us as dms & sms to put our foot down & state in ALL relationships that we will not be household doormats!
I was becoming a doormat in my first marriage & when I started to 'rebel' - well then the marriage hit the rocks. After we split I gladly took on the majority parenting as my ex was having a bit of a 'crisis' & the kids needed stability. Things have settled now but he still Disney dads (that's the guilt thing) & is involved with a woman who seems quite happy to do all running around for both him, my kids & her kids.
When I met dp (whose kids are all teens & similar ages to mine) I made it very clear what I would not be taking on a mum role. I would be their friend & support but like you Candy, I would be respecting their mum & not muscling in. I've also had 20 years of rearing my own kids and I'm not prepare to rear any more. Dp did initially see this as a lack of interest but I stood my ground & he now fully gets it. He never wanted me to be a dogsbody (he parented alone for years & it does make a difference) but he did want to recreate family life. He now sees that that's pretty impossible for us logistically & has relaxed about it which means his kids are more relaxed.
He has a lovely relationship with my kids - a) because he sees them more & b) because they're different kids - more open & less bothered about family dynamics as they've learned to negotiate all types of family relationships at this stage.
Like Swing, I have never asked him to parent & never will. If he's in the house & someone needs a lift he'll do that, or if I need a fresh perspective on something he'll give it to me but he's here because he loves me & I just happen to have kids & vice versa.
I do think the nature of separation & divorce means the kids spend more time with mum which means stepdad becomes more of a fixture in their lives. Sms have it harder here in that they see dsc's less & it's harder to create a nice bond. I know a lot of separated couples do 50/50 which may be better - but I know that was not an option for me initially & by the time it would have been my kids were very happy in their routine.
I think the main issue here is a wider societal one whereby as women we are taught that our role is to do it all & expect no help & in truth no one can change that but us.
I used to battle my ex on sciving off & leaving our kids with his dp - not because I didn't want them spending time with her but because I didn't think it was fair. I don't bother any more as she seems quite content (at the moment) to let him get away with murder & I've realised it's not my job to save her from herself or him!
I think the reality is that in blended or regular families, women/the mums hold it together. They do majority of the primary caring/homework/extra curricular activities.... almost everything child related.
So if we'd have divorced when the DC were younger, a new partner may have felt.. just like me that he didn't pull his weight in relation to the DC.
He was excellent with having fun and playing with them... holiday activities.. teaching them how to ride bikes etc ... but not the hard work.
I'm not saying all fathers are like this, but when speaking to my friends in the past they say similar things.
In a case like yours OP , your partner may not have been ready for being a dad back then.
There are many men who become great dads in the next relationship and the Ex feels very resentful that their child got a raw deal.
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