ex-in-laws and stepkids

PirataFebruary 4, 2010

Hello! New here.

I'm the stepparent, 3 years into the marriage. My relationship with out 7yo SD has been wonderful--I've felt totally accepted as a parent, and we were even starting to wonder how much she remembered about life before her parents' divorce.

She spends 1/2 time with her BF and came home after this past weekend with him a complete wreck, all worked up about the divorce for the first time since the first year. Saying things like

"I'll never have a normal life now!"

"You [her mom] promised me my life would be perfect! Now it'll never be perfect!" [Of course her very sensible mother told her no such thing.]

"Did you think we would be happy when you told us you were getting a divorce???"

She told her mom that she likes me but wishes I weren't part of the household.

These aren't the kinds of turns of phrase she ordinarily uses--even if she were trying to express these ideas, she wouldn't do it with sarcastic rhetorical questions or the phrase "a normal life." So it's pretty clear she's been told or overheard nasty stuff that's put her into a tailspin, and that she's now repeating.

Her BF is basically well-intentioned but a very weak and self-pitying person w/o a good support network. So he dumps on the kids a lot, and they end up taking emotional care of him and not vice-versa. So he might have been on a "my life is ruined" jag in front of them (awakening thoughts that daddy can only be happy if he's with mommy, and my being the big obstacle to the reunion fantasy).

More likely is that it was his poison-spewing mother, who hates us and would like nothing better than for the children to hate us too. (The BF is financially dependent on her and totally under her thumb.) The style of the comments is very much hers.

It's heartbreaking to contemplate our girl exposed to this ugliness. For the moment, there's nothing to be done about the custodial arrangements, and we (with very mixed feelings) are trying to be as supportive as possible of her relationship with her BF.

So here are my questions:

Any recommendations on how to make it as easy and comfortable as possible for my SD to talk over and vent the feelings that are getting stirred up--without us badmouthing the "other side"?

And any advice as to how to be there for her while she's rejecting me as a parent? (I haven't actually seen her since this all came down because I've been away on business--will return on the weekend.)

The rejection has really come as a shock because we've been so close and happy as family for a couple of years now--I'd very much appreciate hearing from people who have been through something similar.

Thanks very much!

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From what you've written, overhearring some adult conversations sounds really likely. And it's so unfortunate that this happened -- but sadly, pretty darned typical for kids to somehow come to this conclusion at around this age.

If I were BioMom (your wife?), I'd calmly sit her down and observe that it sounds like she heard some pretty upsetting things at Dad's. Then wait for her comments. (Too many parents talk too much!) The big thing should be listening to her daughter, then maybe asking some probing questions to help her process her feelings. (It's OK for her to be angry that her life won't be a fairy tale -- though probably smart to ask her if she knows anyone whose life IS a fairy tale?)

I'd probably try to work the conversation around to the question of Was she really kind of happy before she knew how miserable she was supposed to be? Then cross your fingers! ;-)

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 8:10PM
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"Was she really kind of happy before she knew how miserable she was supposed to be?"

This is the best line I have read in a long time thank you Sweeby ... wish I would have had that one years ago!!!!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2010 at 11:00PM
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Original poster back again:

Thanks so much--I agree, what a wonderful line and good advice. In the event, my SD didn't bring up the issue or seem distressed after the first two days, so the opportunity has passed this time, but BM will be prepared for the next one.

When I got home yesterday, SD was all over me, wanting me to see everything she'd done all week, read with her, etc. Same as always, except maybe even a little more enthusiastic. And we've been having an extra-nice weekend with lots of family time.

So we'll try to be ready when the cycle starts up again, as it probably will. (I actually had a dream in which the BF turned up and hung around while we as a family were preparing a big festive meal, and then finally burst out, "Doesn't anyone care how unhappy I am?" Which pretty much sums the situation up.)

Even grownups have a hard time reconciling liking things as they are and missing things as they were, much less little kids.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2010 at 1:32PM
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We went through something similar, only it was X bad-mouthing DH (then boyfriend). DS was 3-4 when X and I split and DH and I (and X and his GF) started dating.

X would say terribly nasty things about DH and it would upset DS very much. DS genuinely liked DH so it hurt him to hear these bad things about someone he liked.

DH decided to "back off". In other words, he disengaged from DS to the point where DS rarely even saw him. He didn't disengage because of anything DS said or did (DS was never mean to DH), but he disengaged so DS wouldn't have to hear the bad things from X. This hurt DS even more. Basically, X caused DH to all-but abandon DS. This FURIATED me because I was expected to still be engaged with HIS daughter (attend school and sporting events, etc.), but he has an excuse for not putting any effort into DS.

After about a year of that, I quit trying to get DH to care about DS and DS quit asking about DH or expecting to see him or SD. In turn, I quit caring if I saw DH and SD. DS and I had things to do and they had things to do, and slowly (over about 3 years) we were so busy with our separate things we didn't have time for things together.

Finally, 4+ years into our relationship, I ended things with DH. It had been a long time coming. He wasn't happy with that (I'm still not sure what he was holding on to), and started re-engaging with DS. DS would be so excited to see DH and SD at his sporting events, and I could see a change in DH, too. He looked like he was enjoying them.

Now (we've been married for 6 months, but together for 7 1/2 years), DH and DS have the coolest relationship. DS respects him, and DH genuinely likes DS's personality. I am still DS's parent, but DS respects that DH is a parent, too, even if he isn't his own. They have common interests that don't include me.

And DH is seeing his re-engagement pay off. Just the other night, DH told me (for the first time ever) how proud he was of DS. I told DH he could take a little credit for himself because he's worked with DS and DS listens to him.

I guess my point is don't back away, but don't push, either. Stay as involved as you always are so she can see consistency. Kids need consistency.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 12:57PM
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