New to being a stepmom, advice needed

elle493February 1, 2012

Hi! I'm a divorced mom of 2 girls (13 and 16) who live with me fulltime. I've been dating a guy for 9 months now. He has 2 kids, boy 11, girl 8, he has them only e/o weekend (and one eve a week). We've been spending our weekends with all 4 kids together for 4 months now, at my house only (his "home" is his grandma's old house, long story - so he doesn't have a proper "home" setup like I do).

The trouble is his daughter. My girls are very active, social, lively, fun-loving, independent, confident girls who of course do older teen-type stuff, though they will play with his young girl - except for her issues. His son is a stereotypical "annoying" active boy, though he has ADHD. He is a fun, spirited boy that we enjoy having around. But his daughter is odd, to say the least. The best way I can describe her is that she acts "like a little old woman," not at all like an 8 year old. She follows us around literally on our heels, won't play with toys or entertain herself for even 20 minutes - just wants to follow us around, listening and watching our every move. She is hyper-sensitive to bumps and bruises, terrified of her dad getting hurt/criticism of him - even mild teasing - which we all do at our house to each other in a loving way. She worries about how much everything costs, asks who pays how much for everything, is fixated on time as well. She asks odd questions that seem inappropriate for her age (example: "I assume that's alcohol you're drinking?" to me as I poured myself a club soda). She is fixated on death - drew a picture of my 16 year old IN A COFFIN for Thanksgiving - which freaked my girl out. She is not at all active and resists/wants to leave when we do things we love like rollerskating, ice skating, visiting museums, family festivals, etc. The most childlike thing she does is fixate on our small dog & 2 cats to the point of obsession (she has never had any pets before, so I understand this to a point), but she stalks them, harasses them and wants us to help her walk them 5+ times a day. She is also highly manipulative regarding her dad, will lie to get out of doing things, copy us relentlessly, won't relax or be "herself" to a huge degree. Basically, not one of us 3 can relate to her, and she honestly unsettles us with her odd, adult behavior. I feel awful for saying these things, but it's true.

Part of the issue is that her dad kind of "checks out" when they are with us, so I end up doing 85% of the planning, caretaking, mealplanning, etc. I have addressed this with him, he tries a little harder, but it has gotten to the point where the 3 of us are absolutely dreading the upcoming weekend. I know this is part my fault, because I feel I allowed us to rush into blending our families too quickly - I thought his girl would "normalize" to our lifestyle and home quickly (I knew she was odd and has several issues she needs help with). His kids basically are damaged from trauma in their early lives - their mom was seriously hurt in an accident, their dad had to care for her and them at the same time, then left them as soon as she was able to manage on her own (they were in the middle of a divorce at the time of her accident, so he resumed it). He feels horribly guilty for giving them to their mom without a fight - he regrets it and is seeking visitation and custody changes, but that is going to be a dramatic battle as well. Their mom is in a new relationship - also going warp speed at the detriment of these kids and her man's - but that's another post.

Basically, I'd like to get feedback about ways to help this girl, but to know what I can and can't do/expect, etc. Their dad/my boyfriend needs to step WAY up, and I don't want to be their mom, but I don't want MY girls to suffer through these weekends any more. My girls know she is different and needs patience, but it's getting harder instead of easier. (My girls are not perfect or saints - I'd like that on record!) I also get that his girl idolizes me and my girls, because she has never seen so much love and laughter in a home. But when my girls want to hide out all weekend to avoid his girl, and I find myself barricading myself in the bathroom to escape - during an only 40 hour visit - something needs to change.

My boyfriend will be crushed and angry if I tell him we need him to stay at his not-so-homey house this weekend - but I don't know what else to do. This is causing me such anxiety as we approach Friday, that I'm seriously considering breaking it off with him, though we get along/adore each other so much in every aspect but this one. I obviously can't say something like, "I love you, but can't handle your child." (This is the first man I've been involved with who has children - I've been divorced for 11 years) Any advice will be very appreciated!

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Has the daughter received any counseling to help her through all the feelings she's had (BM's accident, long recovery, Dad then leaving)? That's a whole lot for one little girl.

I would not be surprised to hear the little girl had to 'be an old lady' during some of that. Obviously not a lot of being able to go and do normal childhood activities and likely expected to perhaps overly behave and not allowed to do things most kids do...something as simple as having a houseful of laugher and lightened atmosphere (BM is seriously injured and then recovering).

Why do you all have to spend every weekend as a unit? once in a while can't Dad stay home without seeing you/your kids and just be in his home ( he can fix the home up if it's not homey and comfy). I'd think if she has friends her own age she might even invite one along for an afternoon. She needs to spend time with 'normal' kids her own age (your kids are 'normal for their age but it's a big age gap when she is just 8). Maybe a bit of space between the households. You can still see each other, but does it have to be 40 hours a weekend?

Someone, hopefully Dad, needs to help this little girl open up and become active and interested in things of her age. She'll learn it's ok to laugh, joke and have fun...but for now it does not sound as if it's been a routine acceptable part of her daily life. Yeah, she sees you and your kids like 4 days a month, but she's a visitor in your home and you all (your kids too) are light years away in age and maturity than what the kids she goes to school with. Of course she is curious in your every move and word, she's not living that 'lifestyle' the other 26 days a month nor has she likely lived it at all until 4 months ago. When you stop and think about it that way, it's what? a bit more than 16ish days overall? You can't expect to see huge difference in such a short amount of time...especially when she goes right back to the 'other life' right afterwards. Turning the little girl around (if it can even be done) may not be impossible, but it would take someone willing to really take on the challenge.

If you tried to take on too much of her and her situation, you could end up rocking the boat so to say with her BM. She could begin thinking you're trying to replace Mom or don't approve of this or that about Mom. Sticky situation.

Has her father had interviews with the child's teachers/school to see how she is doing there? Does she have friends? Do they have concerns of any kind about the child?

On the otherhand, she's not your problem and if cutting her father loose and moving on is something you feel is best for you and your kids, then do so. If you don't think the relationship is going to work, don't drag it out. It's ot fair to the gentleman, you or any of the kids. Perhaps you might think about going back to casual dating the father. Simply tell him you enjoy his company but are not sure you're ready or willing to take on a full committment at this point.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 3:21PM
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"I know this is part my fault, because I feel I allowed us to rush into blending our families too quickly"

I do agree with this...but it's too late to do much about it, and at least you didn't move in with each other after a few weeks of dating like some idiots do...

Anyway, I think the important things to remember are not only do you gain nothing by "comparing" her with how well-adjusted and active your girls are, but it really is unfair to her, and might really be the cause of a lot of your problems with her. Don't get me wrong, I totally understand how this happens, and I know it's probably not a conscious thing, but it can really set you up for unrealistic expectations. I know this because I have to watch myself from doing this with my GF of 4 years' son...he's 12 and a good kid, but there are definitely things about him that when I compare him to my own son (11), it shocks me how "baby-ish" he can be some time. At first I was like "OMG what did you do to this kid?"...but over time I realized he's just slow to "growup" I think...I am sure part of that is from being raised basically since he was two by a single mom, but I am sure a lot of it is just in the DNA. But there are traits about him that I WISH my kids had...very kind, compassionate, eager to help.

But likewise, my ex has this issue too....she has been dating a guy for like 5 years who has two girls the same age as my kids (14 / 11), and from what I understand they are perfectly behaved little angels who never curse, speak out of line, lie, eat the last cookie and deny it, etc.....all things my kids will (unfortunately) do with regularity. It has definitely caused some friction in their relationship too, from what she tells me.

I know when you see a kid behaving worse than your child does, its' easy to just "blame the parents"...but it's not always that simple, trust me (of course a lot of the time it is). All kids are different, and I am learning to accept the fact that kids just don't always turn out exactly how you plan. I was incredibly active as a kid in sports, clubs, after school programs, etc. My 14 year old daughter has resisted every attempt we have made to get her "involved" in's so frustrating to me...but I've come to accept the fact that she is not like I was, and is still "figuring out who she is" will all come together in time.

One thing to keep in GF and I have been together 4 yrs now and have decided not to "blend" our families (I have my kids 50% of the time...probably a little more actually, and she has her son full time). There are soooo many odd dynamics involved in blending families that people don't think thru....we've elected to keep it like it is for the foreseeable future. From what you describe, I hope you do the same. You will figure out the "weekend" dynamics eventually, keep in mind the child is only 8 (sounds like an old-soul, though).

Good luck.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 3:26PM
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THANK YOU "just me too" and "mkroopy" - everything you both said is the exactly the kind of stuff I need to hear! I'm so glad I posted on here. I know my perspective is skewed - and I know I'm comparing, even tho I try so hard not to. You both hit many nails on the head and have given me a lot to think about. I'm going to digest what you both have said. Thank you so much for taking time out of your days to share your perspectives! I will be studying responses thoroughly!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 3:50PM
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It sounds like the little girl has more going on that just some difficulty adjusting to your presence. Some of the behaviours that you describe are consistent with an autism spectrum disorder, which wouldn't be surprising because the brother has ADHD. It is a huge undertaking to take on a child with one of these syndromes, especially if the biological father isn't doing his share of the work. In fact, he may be "checking out" in order to give himself a bit of a break. However, that's not fair to you. You are very right to ensure that you and your girls get some breathing room and spend some weekend time alone together. Your relationship will be doomed very quickly if you overwhelm yourself and your daughters. Far better to go slow, give yourselves plenty of space, and enjoy the best of your boyfriend and his kids. BTW - he should be the one to create "homey" home for his kids. That's not your job. Your job is to make sure that your girls have some fun relaxing weekend time. After all, high school is stressful too!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2012 at 9:01AM
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Hello- I'm back with an update. The replies I got to my original post really made me think. We have backed off considerably, much to my boyfriend's dismay. I have decided our biggest issue overall is that he honestly is not an engaged parent, and I can't fully cope with it. It frustrates and angers me to watch him be the kind of dad he is. It is so odd because he is wonderful to and with me and my girls. Who he is with us is very different than who he is with his own kids. ??? When I made a list of our relationship pros and cons, his parenting was the biggest (and almost the only) issue. Has anyone else had similar experiences? Any advice?? He claims to want more visitation (even custody of) his kids, but I know I couldn't cope with that (if we were to ever live together, etc) -- if he were to stay the same type of dad he is now. ....also when I stepped back and reevaluated, I realized that even he seems to not be able to relate to his daughter. He seems annoyed by her too, but he doesn't do anything to try to redirect or guide her. It's obvious they all are damaged, and it isn't my job to fix them. He has to step up and work to heal them all. I agree with the last poster too, that possibly something along Autism spectrum may be involved, but I was completely shot down by my boyfriend. His kids see A therapist 2-3 times a month, but allegedly "they r fine except for some anxiety and the boy's ADHD." ??? Sad to say, I don't think he is up for changing. And I'm not willing to stand by and watch, or take it over like I think he is wanting me to do. Blending families is so much more complicated than I was expecting. I will never date so naively again!!! Please comment- it's so nice to have other opinions and perspectives, even if they aren't what I want to hear. .

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 5:32PM
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"When I made a list of our relationship pros and cons, his parenting was the biggest (and almost the only) issue. Has anyone else had similar experiences?"

*Raises hand*

I dated a guy for two years that had an 8 year old son. Because he only had him ever other weekend and on Wednesday evenings, he spoiled his son and let him get away with a lot because he "didn't want to spoil the time he had with him". I tried working with my BF about his son, but he got defensive whenever I said something to him about his son's behavior.

You are right - it's not your job to fix your boyfriend's children. You did not make them that way or allow them to become that way. Granted, the daughter may be on the autism spectrum, may need counseling, or just some firm parenting, but it is NOT YOUR JOB to fix.

The one thing I learned from my experience is I will not wait so long to meet a man's children. I waited a whole year before getting to know my BF's son, and by that time I was already in love with the father, so it was hard to break it off once I started seeing the issues with my BF's parenting. I tried working on the issue with my BF for another year, but eventually I realized that unless he was willing to step up and parent his son, there was nothing I could do. Plus, you have to realize, with step kids your hands are tied behind your back You can't properly discipline them the way you would your own. Unless the dad is willing to step up and properly parent his children, you are only signing yourself up for a life of misery.

Sure, his poor parenting may be the ONLY thing wrong with him, but that ONE thing will grow into a monster. There are many things in a relationship that the two of you have to argee on, and one of them is parenting.

Of course your BF is upset you want to back off, you are the one doing all the heavy lifting in the relationship. I think I know why he's better with you and your kids. It sounds like you have raised your kids to be respectful, polite and well behaved. It's EASIER to deal with kids that have been raised right. It's a lot harder to RETRAIN kids that have been allowed to misbehave their whole life. And you probably don't get defensive if he tells you something about your kids, or go into denial about their behavior, which is what your BF is doing.

And the fact that he wants more time with his kids would make me run for the hills. My BF did the same thing, we were talking about moving in together, and I thought I could handle it since his son would only be there every other weekend and on Wednesdays, but then the BM let the son stay with my BF full time. I knew I could not handle living with his son full time and I told my BF I could not move in with him. He got upset as well, and that was only another indicator to me that the relationship was in trouble (although at the time I didn't break up with him).

I remember I once asked the ladies on here if they knew what they did now about step families and all the problems they would go through, would they do it again, and many of them said NO. That was what convinced me that I needed to break up with my BF. It's been three months since I've broken up with him and I don't regret my decision. Sure, sometimes I'm lonely, but a visit back to this site reminds me of why I broke it off and how happy I am now that I don't have to deal with all that mess!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2012 at 8:43PM
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Elle - you have made the right decision. Not only is it not your job to "fix" the kids, it's completely impossible for you to do so. No stepmother can sweep in to a situation and fix all the damage that's been done to the kids since they were born. You will end up pushing their father constantly to make changes, which will make you feel like a nag and the bad guy all the time.

My stepchildren (twins) both have ADHD, although one (a boy) is much worse than the other (a girl). They both live with us fulltime. The biomom doesn't want much to do with the boy, and lost most interest in the girl after the child support stopped. We've had some very tough times over the years, and I've often felt exhausted and worn out. If I had to do it over again, I'd have stayed with my husband, but I'd have deferred getting married or moving in together until the stepkids were old enough to deal with their mom, and their schooling, more independently (probably around age 15). By moving in too soon, I poured way too much of myself into solving stepkid and biomom problems, and I didn't leave enough time and energy for myself and my daughter. I'm trying to fix that now.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 12:45PM
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Update: yesterday I started a conversation with my 2 girls to see what they think. My 13 year old: "Mom, if you ever told me you wanted them to move in here with us, even if the kids were only here e/o weekend, I would go live with my dad full time. Becuz they are not normal and it would ruin our home. I really REALLY like [my boyfriend] but he's a bad dad to them and they are not going to change unless you become their mom. But you can't be their mom becuz you are MY mom so it's not going to help." !!! My 16 year old: "He's great alone, and fits in with us really great when it's just us, but everything is off with the kids. It's terrible to say that but it's true. I love him and how he is to us, but it's so off when he's with them. It's been 9 months and it's not getting any better, they just want to live with us - that would make it better for them, but not for us...." !!! (His kids have started constantly saying how much they want to live with him - at my house!)
Needless to say, I am not sacrificing my girls for anyone, EVER. And the conversation made me realize that I am the primary parent when they are with us, that all the advice and predictions you all have given is ABSOLUTELY TRUE, as much as I don't want to face it. :(
As I think of options, obviously there is NO way I will let them move in EVER, but I can't quite imagine living like "Mkroopy" above for the next 10 years?! Mkroopy, I'm actually so curious as to how you and your girlfriend make your relationship work. I guess I've never had a relationship without fully enmeshing into eachother's lives? I can't imagine what the boundaries would be in so many areas... I am staying in back-off mode for now, will see where this ends up. I'm getting frustrated by his lack of insight and action. It's only a matter of time before I'm single again, I'm afraid. This is very hard and sad, but I've learned a ton, thanks to everyone who's replied!! Please post more - I really appreciate the conversations :)

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 2:05PM
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Could you cut back to alternating e/o weekends (so about one per month) with all of you together? He could spend the other weekend getting to know the kids on his own, while making a home for them. It's not clear if he lives with you the rest of the time or not, or the state of grandma's old house.

Your 13 yo will be 18 in only 5 years. His 8 yo will change as she ages, for better or worse.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 10:28PM
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elle - I guess if i had to describe how we "make it work", it's this...when we met (online), we had both made it a point of stating in our profiles, and in conversations that followed, how (and this is a much overused phrase in the online dating world, but really we both meant it) "my kids come first", or was it "my kids are my world". Whatever it was, in our cases, with me having 50% custody (actually more in reality) of my two kids, and her having full custody of her son, we both really meant that in all honesty, raising our kids came other words I am going to put the highest priority on the physical and emotional well-being of my kids...before my want/need/desire for some "fully immersed" matter how close I am to the person.

My kids are 11 (boy) and 14 (girl), and let me tell you, while they are both basically "good kids", underneath the surface there is soooo much going on. More with my daughter than my son, but it's starting with him too. The last two years with my daughter have really been crazy....the last thing I want to do is introduce a "step monster" into the picture. While I don't thing my GF is a 'monster' by any means, even in the limited time my daughter and GF have been around each other...there have been many conflicts. I have made the conscious choice that i do not want to add to her existing stress/confusion of teen life by adding a step-parent and step-sibling into the picture.

I look at it like son is 11. In 7 years he is out of the house and either off to college or if he messes up in school, just out of the house to start his life. After that, me and my GF have the rest of our lives to live together, run around the house nude and do whatever the hell we want. In the mean time...we are both ok with what we have...weekends together, vacations together, etc.

I really think we are just doing the rational, mature thing to do...putting our kids before ourselves. More people should try it actually....

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 12:30AM
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