Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Stepparent Thing

I don't have the greatest perspective on this, so please bear with me as I try and organize my thoughts.

I grew up in a family of six.  Four kids, two parents.  My parents are still married after all these years (their 50th wedding anniversary is this summer).  As a kid, there were many times when I hoped/insisted that I was adopted, and many times that I wanted to trade my parents in for others.  Pretty sure they felt the same way about me and my siblings.  Lol.  Such is life.  For better or worse, we are family and we are stuck with each other. 

Needless to say, I have not had to endure a divorce.  I have not experienced my parents dating or marrying others.  I can't even imagine what THAT is like.  Not easy.  Not easy at all.  But I know all marriages don't work, and families often break up.  Such is life.  These things happen.

My boyfriend was married to his ex-wife for many years.  I think eleven years.  They had three kids together.  Their marriage ended several years ago, and it wasn't easy on any of them. 

When the boyfriend and I first started dating, the fact that he had three kids made me a little nervous.  But the boyfriend was brutally honest with me from the get-go -- he told me I would never be a mother to his kids -- they already had one.  Gulp.  True enough.  But his kids are great, and we seem to get along and genuinely LIKE each other, so that has been good. 

The kids' mother has a boyfriend.  The same boyfriend she has had for several years.  I hear things about this man, but I don't know him.  The things I hear are not always nice (the kids don't seem to really LIKE him), but they are coming from my boyfriend and his kids.  Who knows what is really true -- we all have skewed perspectives.

My own skewed perspective is that this man took on a lot.  He accepted a woman with a couple of failed marriages under her belt, and her three kids. He bought a house, and the girlfriend (my boyfriend's ex -- god this must be confusing) and her kids moved in with him (the kids are there part-time -- my boyfriend and his ex share custody 50/50).  To me, he made one hell of a commitment.  He has lot of pressure.  He took on an instant family with baggage.  And lord only knows what kind of baggage HE has.  

This guy also knows he will never be considered a "father" to these kids; they already have one.  I hear he is strict.  Sometimes not so nice.  Sometimes mean.  I am not sure what to think since I am not directly involved in the situation.  I'd like to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, but my loyalty lies with the kids.  But I still want to be fair.  You know? Not an easy situation, but one that millions of people have to deal with. 

I would imagine that things get awkward when the mom's boyfriend tells the kids what to do.  Or when he tries to discipline them.  Or when he and their mom fight.  Or when he tries to show them love.  It all must be so awkward.  He must know that he is not 100% accepted, and that the kids talk shit about him, and that the kids oftentimes resent him.  That can't be easy.

I see the kids most weekends.  I am friendly with them.  No pressure.  I try to make them laugh, and they definitely make me laugh.  It is an easy relationship, but perhaps not a DEEP relationship, or one that has great meaning to them.  I think they like having me around, but I know they don't tell me their deepest/darkest secrets.  I don't try and boss them around.  I tread lightly, as I think their lives are already complicated enough.  They probably see me as a sidekick.  But at least they don't see me as any kind of threat.  At least I hope not.

Last year I was watching an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians (shameful admission, I know) when Bruce Jenner (at least I think it was him) said that being a stepparent is a thankless job.  Sadly I think that is oftentimes true.  

Last night there was an incident between the kids and their mom's boyfriend.  Mom's boyfriend was angry.  Kids were very upset.  My boyfriend got a call in the night from crying kids and had to pick them up.  Nothing terrible or abusive happened, but there definitely is tension in that household.  And when these kinds of things happen, the kids worry their mom's boyfriend might kick them and their mom out if he decides they are too much to deal with.

Do you have any experience with this?  Any perspective on it?  This is basically yet another post without a point to it -- just thoughts that are swirling around in my noggin' giving me a headache.  And I'd love to get the perspective of others. 

Side note: A friend of mine (aged 43) lost her father a few years back to illness.  My friend's mom lived alone after her husband passed away, and did not date for several years.  She randomly met someone, and they hit it off.  Really hit it off.  He asked her to marry him, and she accepted.  My friend and her brother recently met their mother's new husband, and really didn't like him.  Not much.  Not much at all.  Their new step-dad must be seeking approval, and he may not ever get it. So far, he doesn't have it, but the kids want their mom to be happy, so they are just trying to let things be.  Afterall, this man won't be raising them or telling them what to do.  But what a situation.  The whole thing makes me wonder how I would handle it if my parents decided to date another person someday.  Yikes.  Yikes, indeed.


MD said...

First off, I might not know jack, but I have lived. I was in a relationship with a man for 7 years who had three kids...all but two were adults and on their own. I personally think the relationship you have struck with your boyfriends kids sounds just right. As for the ex-wife's boyfriend...I don't agree that he made one hell of a commitment, since he didn't marry the woman...(don't judge me, I've lived with two different men and was married once for only a short while and I'm super fine with anyone living together and also I don't have kids)...but if I DID have kids, I don't think I would move them in with someone if I didn't marry him and have a legal commitment. It's just wouldn't be stable enough for me, IF I had kids. And I think it's a fine line, because he's not really a step parent.

Jane Droll said...

MD -- you make a very valid point! it is all such a mess. i worry about the kids. the mom loves the boyfriend, and wants to make it work, and the kids wish the boyfriend would just disappear. it is all a mess and gives me a headache. and i have no magical solution. NOT GOOD>

Amanda Bennett Lance said...

Hey lady.
Well, I've been doing some form of the step parent thing for nearly 12 years now. It sounds to me the relationship you have with them is good and while I agree, you're not their mom, if you love their dad, you love them. You protect them, you be a person of significance in their lives. I'm not getting the feeling ex's new man truly gets that.
My step kids have give through a live in boyfriend (who we were supposed to love, until he split and all we then heard were negative things) and a step dad who turned out to be a total prick. (I was not surprised)

Even though I am closer to mine, than you yours, mine were younger and we've got a lot more time under our belt. But still, I'd describe our vibe as more Aunt to niece and nephew, than mother to child. More than a friend, but I've shown them I would lay down in traffic for them, put them first, and be a safe sounding board when their other home life is hard.

You're doing great. Hang in there.

Lorena said...

I don't have kids, have not divorced and never dated someone with kids.
However it's part of the package- I think that even though your relationship with them is not a deep one, you have one and it's positive.
I think you should not get too involved in it but maybe you can have your boyfriend try to look into it a bit more and just offer guidance.

GFS said...

It's not easy... That's for sure. I'm gonna link this post to my post.

KaH said...

Lucky me... I had two sets of step parents at one point, before 2nd divorces. I didn't like either one of them very much. It wasn't anything they did - it was my age and my bs from watching my parents get divorced. I think you are doing all the right things. Be a friend/sidekick... I think the issue on the other side it is this guys house and they probably feel like he is the rule maker(probably even the exwife). It has to be hard on everyone.

Caroline said...

I am divorced with 2 kids…holy hell this stuff is hard! Right now I am single and have dated a few men that I would never introduce my kids too. I just hope I will find "the one" again and be able to create some sort of family life for my girls. The good thing is that my ex and I are very close and have created solid (albeit separate) homes for the kids. They are happy and that is good. My parents divorced and I was lucky…my step father was pretty awesome. All of this is hard...

Trissta said...

Having step parents on both sides, I can tell you it's hard. My step mom has never been a mother figure to me, and often times tried to be more of a friend, but she was really hard on me. I was the 'issue' when I lived with my dad and her and her two younger kids from the time I was 14 and in high school. She had had an eating disorder growing up and would project that on to me, which was doubly hard. My mom's boyfriend on the other hand... well, I can't even go so far as to call him my step dad anymore. I have not trust or respect for the man. I think he's loony. But that's my opinion. I see what he's put my mom through and it makes me angry as hell. And then my mom... don't get me started. My family is my life and I love them over anything... but man, we're pretty messed up. But what family isn't, right?

Much Love,