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Disengaging

(71 Posts)
Blendingrock Tue 25-Sep-18 01:52:39

So, I notice that a lot of us have struggled with/are struggling with step children who don't listen, are disrespectful, take advantage, or flat out seem to hate us; and DH's who are making the situation worse by refusing to back their partners and/or see what's going on. I went through it, and found an article on disengaging which was really helpful so I thought I'd share it ... This is the updated version blendedfamilyfrappe.com/stepparenting-resources/the-disengaging-essay/ and this is the original (I think - it's been a long time since I referred to it) .....
www.steptogether.org/disengaging.html ..... I know it's controversial and not for everyone, but for me, it was one of those "lightbulb" moments and it really helped. If you're struggling, like I was, hang in there, you're not alone, and it does get better flowers

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swingofthings Tue 25-Sep-18 07:37:58

Very interesting post and I agree with a lot of it. My advice would be: don't engage in the first place, much easier than disengaging. Another statement I picked up on is when the blogger talks about 'pointing out to their dh what is wrong'. I think matters start to go wrong at this point. As the writer explains, it's a matter of different focus and seeing different things. The fact that women - in general- are more focus on manners and discipline doesn't mean that when the kids don't adhere to these expectations something is wrong. There is nothing worse to do but to point to a parent that there is something wrong with their kids. They won't listen and go on the defensive rather than consider that they are other aspects in bringing up kids to consider. It goes both ways though. Discipline, manners etc... are not the only or even possibly the most important part of bringing up children and shouldn't be the sole focus of attention.

Faerie87 Tue 25-Sep-18 10:00:55

@Blendingrock - I can relate to a lot of what that article says, it’s bloody difficult feeling like the interloper in a family. It’s also difficult I think to disengage when you’re very much involved in family life. If I stopped making DSD dinner, Cleaning her room and putting fresh bedding on and hoovering (she has bad asthma so we have to make sure her room is dust free) and just generally stopped with the family activities, I get painted as the bad guy, who then does not make DSD feel welcome, I’ve tried disengaging when my OH has been Disneying it up, I’ve tried being the one to tell her if she is being disrespectful and I feel you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t when it comes to step parenting! Now DSD is a great kid she has been through an awful lot for a child of such a young age, but it’s my honest opinion that even good kids need rules and boundaries and it’s easy for NRP to spoil them, something my partner freely admits unashamedly to doing! The only thing I can advise is bite your tongue (although sometimes I’ve not taken my own advice) and try to be a good example, also remind yourself you’re doing a great job! Step parenting is not easy and it’s not for the faint of heart!

Spanglyprincess1 Tue 25-Sep-18 10:26:47

I've disengaged recently. I now no longer do luncheon, school runs, cooking, cleaning for DSC and do does it. Been less than a week and it's chaos but it's better than me being angry and treated disrespectfully. Dp is annoyed as he is tierd and I'm making life difficult in his eyes but I've started just saying you can't have the benefits of my help and not let me have a say. It's sad as the kids are suffering but if he wants to let ex dictate what happens in our house it's his choice and I'm out. I have our son to look after and he is my priority.

Bananasinpyjamas11 Tue 25-Sep-18 19:53:38

Interesting article and can be good. I’ve disengaged now however this had bought more criticism of me from DSCs! Which DH unfortunately takes on board. Even though they ignored me in the first place!

I couldn’t disengage for the first five years. They were living with us and teenagers. Disengaging then would have been moving out, as I financially and practically provided for them. They have to eat!

HerondaleDucks Tue 25-Sep-18 22:07:14

It wouldn't work in our house as they live with us full time. Dp needs a deputy to be a sheriff as it were. I can see relevance though and I do disengage in some ways to ensure I tread the line carefully. It seems to work though.

Blendingrock Wed 26-Sep-18 02:51:08

Ours were living with us pretty much full time too, and I was supporting them financially and emotionally (still do come to that!), so I didn't disengage totally, the basic necessities were still provided, but the discretionary's stopped until the behaviour improved.

Another thing that worked was if the bad behaviour of one impacted on the others, then as a group I got them to sit round, with me, and I said that I was tired of being the bad guy who imposed the punishment, as this affected all the kids directly, then they got to choose the punishment for the one that wouldn't tow the line. They were quite gleeful until I pointed out that when choosing the punishment they had to bear in mind that next time it might be them on the receiving end, so it was in their interest to be fair, and I got to veto any punishment that I thought was out of line. I only had to do it twice, they got the message.

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Bananasinpyjamas11 Wed 26-Sep-18 10:30:44

I’m really glad that it works! It’s good to share strategies. I like the sitting them around as a group too! Really pleased you are getting to a more positive place I know how tough it is.

For me the discretionaries were the ONLY thing that gave me any power / visibility at all, my step kids would only speak to me nicely (or at all) if they wanted a cake / for me to take them out etc.

DP tried to reinforce some behaviours by getting them to ask me if they say, wanted extra dinner instead of just through him all the time. They would usually ask their dad to ask me. My DSD would ask me as if I were mud on her shoe! So when one day I asked her to a)stop totally ignoring me at least say hello and b)I wasn’t going to give her anything unless she could ask me nicely she screamed at me, ran and told her Dad that I was getting at her, said I wasn’t her mother, and moved out the next day to her mothers house and hasn’t talked to me since. She was 18 at the time.

So I agree, disengaging can be useful, but sometimes it does bring to a head if a step child is never ever going to like you - they will up the ante and punish us. However in a way it’s better to have this than seething resentment from them and an unhappy house. At some point the DSCs have to decide either to see us as a human, or part human, or to totally withdraw themselves.

Blendingrock Wed 26-Sep-18 22:09:29

I'm hearing you. I've had the "You're not my mother so stop acting like it" and "I hate you" (and she meant it) yet still expected me to run round in ever decreasing circles after her. She was also 18 when she decided to go and live with her mother (because we expected her to get a job/do some housework/not sit in her room all day), and even that was my fault because I "kicked her out" and "was mean to her". The really sad part is that because she made life so difficult for everyone and caused so much stress and tension, everyone was relieved when she left, including her siblings and DH. He misses her naturally, and she knows the door is always open should she need help, but as you say, total withdrawal has been much better than an unhappy house.

Now of course we only have the youngest left at home, and they will be flying the nest in the next few months themselves as they are off to university etc shortly. Be a bit like having a 2nd honeymoon having the house to ourselves!

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Bananasinpyjamas11 Wed 26-Sep-18 23:49:44

It’s a strange coincidence that your DSD left at the same age under the similar circumstances. My DS was pretty relieved too, the tension was stifling. However my DP unfortunately did not see it that way and blamed me and resented me for it, along with her mother who wanted her to return to us after a couple of months of enjoying all the anti SM gossip. So I was terrible but everyone was trying to bully me to be her main parent again (DP works long hours and I’m sahm).

DSD has acted like I’m a monster ever since, she won’t talk to me directly. She coyly whispers to her Dad and makes it really clear how uncomfortable she is around me. I actually looked after her full time for 5 years! She’s now 22, dropped out of college now, works 4 hours a week and still lives at her mums. Her mum doesn’t speak to me either now as I think she’s mad at me for not taking her back. Very sad affair really.

It must make a huge difference if your DH has his eyes open. And hopefully better for your DSD, as if her own siblings and father aren’t buying the terrible SM routine, then she has to face up to herself a bit more. Which will hopefully guide her decisions in a better way in the future.

Blendingrock Thu 27-Sep-18 01:43:00

That's awful, and really unfair of your DP to blame you. Sadly some parents are almost wilfuly blind to their kids faults, and I suspect it's because if they admit it, then they have to do something about it, and it's easier to be an ostrich and bury their heads in the sand/blame someone else.

Before she left I'd got to the point where I only spoke to her if absolutely necessary, and ideally only when her Dad was present. Otherwise she'd run to him in tears saying I was picking on her. Tears were her "thing" for a long time. When it was pointed out to her that it was a form of emotional blackmail and a cowardly way of trying to get your own way, we'd get the silent treatment, with the old sniffle and martyred sigh thrown in for good measure. It was exhausting.

She's been at her mum's for 3 years now, and is only just beginning to realise that staying in her room all day is no way to live. Whether she is able to get herself out of the rut she's in now remains to be seen. I hope she does, for her sake.

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Spanglyprincess1 Thu 27-Sep-18 04:15:30

I hear everything. Dp spoils his daughter but not his three boys (ones mine). It's soo frustrating as he's setting himself up to fail when she turns teen. I do mean spoil, and her mom's the same, chocolate and pudding despite not eating or even trying food but boys arnt allowed, treats when demanded, boys tidy their room but not her and the boys are actually made to clean her room for her!. She's seven and her brothers only just eight - perfectly capable of doing it herself.
I get annoyed and her brothers behalf as it upsets them that's she's the favourite
Any attempt to have rules gets tantrums and demands to stay with mom as we are mean. So do folds.
It's really letting her down imo as she is a lovely girl when not behaving badly.
Dp let's his ex dictate what happens in our house, dispite us having them 50%, including food etc and it's one of the reasons I'm disengaged now. I will not be made to have all the drudgery to do with parenting but not have a voice in my own home.
It's sad but ultimately easier

KeiTeNgeNge Thu 27-Sep-18 04:35:32

That sounds really challengig

Bananasinpyjamas11 Thu 27-Sep-18 15:53:22

It’s just such a relief to offload sometimes isn’t it @spangly blendingrock and others. The way you describe it blending feels much healthier than my situation. She could see that you were a partnership, and wasn’t getting in the cracks between you both. Even though she’s at her mums in her room, just by setting the example that relationships like you and your DP and parenting is about being fair but constant, rather than manipulation winning the day, must give her some good examples to fall back on.

It sounds really strained for a while. It’s impossible to have a happy house with one child accusing you of being awful. My DSD ran to her Dad in tears too saying ‘she is doing x again’ while I would be in the same room. She didn’t even refer to me by name. Tears are often emotional blackmail.

The only thing that partially gets through is when I tell people the bad impact it had on my older son. He saw me be repeatedly ignored, glared at, snubbed, day after day in our home and it really impacted on him. It made him feel that neither of us were welcome, which was true we weren’t.

Spangly your situation sounds more like mine, DP let the Ex dictate too. Even though no one is admitting it. Sometimes we choose the wrong step family! I think you’ve got to have a fairly emotionally mature DP?

Blendingrock Fri 28-Sep-18 01:49:39

It sure is good to offload, and to know it's not just you!

I'm really really lucky in that my DH and I are on the same page. Having said that, we weren't always and it was a little rocky to start with, as we had quite different parenting styles, and for a long time he bent over backwards not to upset his ex. Thankfully that stopped after a while, but it took years. She'd done a real number on him and his self esteem was in tatters. He'd got very good at putting his head in the sand and hoping the ikky stuff would go away. With the kids he had to learn to step up, and I had to learn to let go/leave it to him more (aka disengage). One thing tho is that we have always presented a united front, even if we disagreed (ok had free and frank discussions!) in private.

When we first got together he told me his kids were feral. I thought he was joking. Nope. His eldest (who was 8 at the time) was often in her own little world and everyone danced to her tune. Once when we were all seated at the table for dinner she came in, knelt on the chair and proceeded to eat the food off her plate with her mouth. I asked her what on earth she was doing and she looked at me as if I was stupid and said "I'm a cat". I replied that if she wanted to be a cat she could put her food on the floor next to the cat's bowl and eat there. Girls ate at the table with proper manners.

Another instance, around the same time, again at dinner, I had an big roasting dish full of oven chips (there were 7 of us). She put most of them on her plate. I told her that was greedy and to put most of them back so others could have some too. She threw THE biggest tantrum, crying, screaming... it was unbelievable. I said if she wanted to act like that she could go outside and stay there until she could behave. It took about an hour, and the others being told to ignore her (including DH who wanted to go and give her a cuddle - effectively pandering to the her) before she came in and apologised. For a while, once the initial dust had settled, I thought she and I might actually have a chance at a reasonable relationship, but that didn't last and I'm back to being the font of all evil. Water off a duck's back now, in fact, I seldom even think about her these days.

So yeah, DH and I weren't always on the same page, but we learnt. Most importantly we both worked at it and as a result we are closer now than we were when we first got together, and I think that's pretty rare. It also means that when we get blindsided by stuff (and boy, it comes out of no-where sometimes) we are able to handle it better.

Spangly you are absolutely doing the right thing. Your DP has to step up and grow some scoats with this ex, and parent his daughter. Hang in there.

Bananas your situation sounds hideous and you should be really proud of being able to be the bigger person and rise above it. You're right, you do need an emotionally mature DP.

Unfortunately some DP's are terrified that if they put boundaries in place/stand up to their ex, they will somehow loose their kids, and it's not until the kids are in their teens that they realise the damage that's been done, and by then it's too late. They've made a rod for their own back, and everyone else's too, and often along the way they've lost the one person who could have made their lives easier, their new partner.

Blended families are damn hard work and I think that everyone who takes it on board deserves a medal.

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Mum2OneTeen Fri 28-Sep-18 02:36:29

thanksginwinecake for all the "evil step mothers" out there. It's a thankless task and this thread should be compulsory reading for any Mumsnetters thinking about cohabiting with men who have children.

Been there, done that; think the only reason I didn't go mad was that I never tried to engage in the first place and didn't try to "parent". Even so, there were unpleasant moments/hate from the ex, and my advice to anyone contemplating having a long term relationship as a "step" would be not to do it. It's not worth the hurt and hassle, there are plenty of unencumbered men out there.

Blendingrock Fri 28-Sep-18 02:58:01

Mum2One it sounds like you had a rough time, are you ok now?

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Spanglyprincess1 Fri 28-Sep-18 04:39:51

Thanks , I love them really but the amount of rows it causes is just silly. It isn't the kids fault and I really stress that, most of the time it's how dp and his ex co parent and I imagine that's the same in 90% of situations.
When we got together I had two weeks break to think of it was really what I wanted to take on three step kids long term. Dp was shocked as didn't see the issue (eye roll). I explained the sheer impact of three kids if you don't ahve kids of your own and are not used to them. It genuinely seemed to confuse him!

HerondaleDucks Fri 28-Sep-18 08:29:59

That's a huge red flag Spangly!! He didn't get it at all?! My dp always thanks me for staying with him as he knows how hard dss is. I think it's very good advice to have a step back to know it's what you really want though. I've done it twice. Now I accept the challenges of my choice to be part of a step family and hope one day I can have a child of my own. I am definitely seeing the pay off now though. My dsd is a delight these days. Love to all the step mums. We deserve it.

Bananasinpyjamas11 Fri 28-Sep-18 20:26:44

Unfortunately some DP's are terrified that if they put boundaries in place/stand up to their ex, they will somehow loose their kids, and it's not until the kids are in their teens that they realise the damage that's been done, and by then it's too late.

Sometimes I wish that Dads who have kids and then form a new relationship should be made to read some of these threads too!

OP that child was out of control! It makes me sad, thinking of a girl eating off her plate or tantruming for an hour. That’s not a great way to be from her POV either. It sounded like your DP let you take charge here, and it did work. If I’d done the same my DP would have turned on me and defended his DSD. Something so simple but so fundamental, harmonious relationships in a household, do need to be tackled.

My DP has to cope with his kids never coming around while I’m at home. The older ones constantly moan about me to him which really stresses him out. They also don’t treat DP well either, he gives them daily lifts, money, sorts out problems, but they didn’t even send a card for father’s day. Pandering to them and his Ex has backfired on him most of all. He thought it would make him the nice guy but it’s made his daughters treat him like a servant. And it’s broken his relationship with me. I’ve got a great relationship with my kids and like you have disengaged with his. I wondered why they even bother to moan about me, as they ignore me anyway, but I think deep down they are missing a relationship with me as a SM, or at least from a huge part of their Dads life. I hope it doesn’t happen to you Spangly. Mum2one me too! I would advise anyone in their 30s/40s to steer well clear!

Livedandlearned2 Fri 28-Sep-18 20:41:11

This thread is interesting, disengaging from my step children certainly saved my marriage. In fact I really wish I'd had my eyes open before I got involved as much as I did.

Everything has worked out so far, although there have been some inevitable highs and lows, involving a dsd who moved back to her mums, aged 16, and has very little to do with dh and 'his horrible little family'. Delightful and ungrateful grin

Bananasinpyjamas11 Sat 29-Sep-18 10:08:06

@livedandlearned
So at least three of us in this thread have had a step daughter move back to their Mums! Between the age of 16-18. And now have very little to do with us? I have to say that makes me feel sad but relieved too, relieved that it’s not just me going through this. I was totally blamed for my DSD going to her Mums, and it was awful. Now everyone wants me to continue to be nice and welcoming to her even though she says she hates being in the house while I’m there. DP and his family suggested I had a problem and to go to therapy! angry

Never again!

Livedandlearned2 Sat 29-Sep-18 12:28:39

I was relieved when I saw you two had said the same had happened to you. The way I saw it was that her mum had offered her a better lifein the short term. In fact to quote her, " she's like a perfect mum when the other two aren't there".

The other two being her own siblings, who still live here, aged 16 and 18. The one who moved out is a jealous, manipulative, toxic young lady, who could have been a wonderful person, and hopefully still will be. I felt hurt when she said that about her mum as I had tried so very hard. But I couldn't help feeling that the house felt better without her, she left us all in peace for once and it was lovely.

Don't ever let them get you down, stay being you, that's what I have tried to maintain through my step mother 'adventure' grinflowers

HipsterAssassin Sat 29-Sep-18 15:33:57

Really interesting thread. I love the article.

Absolute kudos to you all, for what you have tackled/are tackling.

Bit sad atm because I’m wondering if our relationship will end because while his 17yo continues in suspended animation (she has no qualifications doesn’t go to school or college, doesn’t do any chores, only bakes a cake if she feels like it) I will not blend families (I have teens of my own). We live 45mins drive from each other, I work FT and it’s so tiring living life in compartments. Only seeing each other when one set of dc are elsewhere. It feels like a life in stripes. But she may stay like this forever.

Will I ultimately (am I starting to) become resentful, and will I end it with him. I love him loads. He is a lovely guy. Just more like an uncle than a dad.

Bananasinpyjamas11 Sat 29-Sep-18 15:40:26

I don’t blame you @hipster kids who are not growing up and becoming independent are going to be the toughest to move in with. We can’t really. However then your relationship is totally on hold. My DSD is 22, plays computer games all day at her Mums, i guess in one way I was lucky she moved out!

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