Stepfather issues with mother

chicagostepfatherJune 8, 2010

Help! My wife and I married one year ago. I loved the opportunity to share life with her and her 11 y/o daughter. I am so lucky that I have loved this young lady like a daughter and she has responded in kind. Wonderful relationship. My issue is that, although her Mom wants us to share this relationship, the Mom continues to treat me as an outsider. I've tried to institute family traditions: dinner together, Friday night family time, evening prayer. When M. had H1N1, I was the one to stay up all night. I take her to school each morning, do her homework with her. etc.

The Mom tells me by her daily actions, "She's my daughter, not yours." I have little say about their time decisions. For example, when we agreed that I would take the XMAS holiday week off to be with M (who was out of school), Mom decided last minute to have her stay with her cousins, leaving me with a week off to myself and my plans dashed.

I have embraced all the responsibilities of parenthood but there is always the implicit,"I AM THE MOM and I have the right to do with her as I please without consultation (as to how it affects me, what I may have already planned). I have requested to Mom that we discuss and come to agreement on family plans but I am consistently given the feeling that my input is neither requested nor desired nor heeded....just keep loving my daughter like a real father.

Mom relishes her daughter having a loving male figure in her life, but pulls the Mom card at will with little consideration of my feelings. She is not given to introspection that brings about personal change, therefore discussing it nicely has been unproductive.

It's a true double-standard. There are many mothers that disenfranchise father's involvement with the family. it's almost as if they say," Go make the money to support the family's comfort, but don't really expect to be a true family member..but you can join us at times and pretend to be part of the family unit."

I've worked too hard at the relationship with this little girl to be treated like a distant step father. I feel like telling Mom that I can play the role of caring, but slightly detached, step father, but I know that we'd all prefer that I continue acting as the loving father.

I'd rather feel like a parent with the level of input commensurate with the level of involvement, caring and love that I've shown. I feel as if I've earned it and I keep getting the Mom card pushed in my face.

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I hear you -- and can empathize with your feelings in the matter, which sound very reasonable to me. But as a mother, I can also understand your wife's conflicting feelings. Sure, she wants all of the benefits your love and commitment bring for her daughter -- but she doesn't want to 'lose' her primacy as her daughter's 'primary' parent... It's hard to acknowledge that there's a conflict there and that something's got to give.

Any chance you two could work this through on a therapist's couch? You express your feelings well, which can only help --

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 3:59PM
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The actions you describe sound overwhelming at best, scary at worst:

Since you're doing all this stuff, when does this child's mother get to mother her?

You stayed up with the little girl when she was sick?
My mother was one of the top ten worst mothers in the universe, & when I was sick,*I wanted my mother*.

not even my father, & he was a loving person, much less a stranger who had just married my mother a short time ago.

& I wonder about the agreement on how you would spend the holidays;
who agreed?

That last-minute dash to the cousins' sure sounds like flight from a suffocating situation.

You've been married only one year, nowhere long enough to even know your wife & her daughter individually or as a functioning family unit.

Yet you're "instituting family traditions", setting up huge structures, picking up daughter at school, doing homework with her, even sitting up with her when she was sick.

You'd do well to listen when she says, "I am the mother."

because she's the mother.

Suffocating people, controlling people, insinuating yourself into every aspect of their lives, leaving them no chance to relax is...scary.

There are stories upon stories about women who marry men only to discover that the man they thought they knew is a control freak, abuser, or pedophile;
how do you think your behavior makes you look to this girl's mother?

Relax, back off, loosen your death grip on this, & let things grow rather than forcing them.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 5:09PM
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This last message is grossly presumptive, angry and accusative. You need some counseling.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 5:19PM
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I think you haven't been married long enough to act like a parent, I see that you love this girl and it is great but it all seems rushing a bit, how many years do you know this girl? does she have a father?

I don't think you need to be distant, but I think you might be pushing a bit much.

you are new here, sylvia is never angry or accusative, she speaks her mind and she is usually right. listen to her.

I'd be honest with you... if any man was that all over my daughter at 11, wanting to babysit, sit by her when she is sick, institute his traditions with her, i would be very apprehensive. and I am not paranoid type of mother.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2010 at 5:35PM
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I think that there may be two separate issues here. First one is whether you give the appearance of spending too much time with or trying to be too controlling of your SD. Unfortunately, as you are aware, there are men who do some horrific things under the guise of being "loving stepfather". Perhaps your wife is concerned because you seem too good to be true, if you know what I mean. She may know that you are a great guy, but then have sudden moments of doubt and panic as to whether or not it is all a facade. I know it must be really hard to feel that you may be looked at with suspicion but I'm sure she's just trying to protect her daughter.

Also, I'm not sure where bio-dad is or how long wife and daughter lived with just the two of them. If Dad is not around much, and if it was any significant length of time at all, then Mom is so used to being the sole caretaker, the sole authoritarian, the one who stayed up late at nights worried and alone; that is going to be hard for her to suddenly stop doing. My DH had a difficult time in the beginning realizing that he didn't have to be there all the time anymore; and I mean with such minor things as going to bed early if he was sick with flu and allowing me to do bedtime story without him!

The other issue is the making or changing plans that will affect you without your input or consent, and that may be more serious, to me. Is it just in regards to SD and does it involve other things too? If it just is with SD, then try a different approach. Is she feeling pressured into "agreeing" with your plans and that is why she is changing them? When DH and I discuss things regarding SSs, I always say what I think and why, and then give him time to think about what I've said. Sometimes he agrees, sometimes not, but ultimately it is his decision, and a lot of the time he will agree with some of what I've said but not all of it. It took me a while to adjust to the fact that with kids it is all a work in progress, and there are so many modifications, changes and tweaks to everything!

I think it's just going to take a lot more time to adjust to a level with which you are all comfortable. Try not to be impatient or rush things - I know a year seems a long time to you but it is less than 10% of SD's life! And I agree with sweeby; counseling would probably be very helpful. You're all going through a lot of adjustments right now and a neutral place to work through them might do wonders. Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 9:16AM
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Nicely explained Mattie --

I can see why you were offended by Sylvia's post, Chicago, but please know she has a long and illustrious history here. She's a straight shooter whose advice is right to the point and very often very good. IMO, Sylvia sometimes perceives clear signs of abuse when many of the rest of us see ambiguous cause for concern -- but then, I'm generally in the ambiguous camp anyway...

Please re-read Mattie's post above, because I think she nailed how Sylvia's perceptions might fit into your wife's behavior... She may not even realize it, but just feel vague warning signs in her Mom-radar and not know whether to listen, how much to listen, how much to rationalize, how much to trust, how much to trust but verify... Those kinds of vague anxieties would lead to exactly the types on inconsistent behaviors you're seeing and feeling the brunt of.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 9:50AM
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I think all postings so far have made valid points/observations to consider being at root of what OP terms double-standard.

And while it sounds in posting that Chicago may be pushing/overstepping mom's role, what was not clear is the whys. Why did OP stay up with child? Because he wanted to be the one to do it, or because it was necessary that mom sleep to work and/or could not afford to get the H1N1 herself. Chicago and schoolkids were pretty hard hit and early.

The holiday vacation. Why was it decided mom work and OP take off? Did one have the time and one did not? Why the change in plan? It could be as simple as mom thought daughter would have more childhood fun spending the time with kids her own age to an last minute invitation. A child given the chance to do kid stuff with kids may have been more tempting than just doing fun stuff hanging with stepdad.

Again, the driving to and from school by stepdad. Is there a reason behind this that helps the family out such as mom can't due to worktime/travel? Does it avoid the necessary bus trip for daughter if stepdad can and is willing to do it? Chicago transit system can be a nightmare for a kid and many parents have long commute time added to actual work time.

Family dinners does not sound so out of line, but again, depending on mom's work and getting to and from mom may have little time for daughter at certain times(thus stepdad helping with homework instead of her)...I can't blame a busy working mom for maybe wanting to swing by pick daughter up and just the two of them go to a movie and a quick bit to eat alone on occassions. Mom needs time to just be mom to her child during the times she can be.

Alot of Chi-town families, whether blended or not, face shortage of lots free time. It's not uncommom at all to just see a mom and/or dad with kids out. Could it be mom just wants one on one with her daughter during the hours she can get them...child already has spent time with you. While 'family' time is important, so is personal one on one. OP gets that one on one, nothing wrong with mom wanting hers.

Lots to think about. I'm the MOM card does not necessarily mean mom wants you to play the cold detached distant stepdad. Could it be that OP is seeing slights and rejection that does not really exist in the nature that he is seeing them?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 11:11AM
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First, I'd like to thank everyone-with clear exception of Sylvia's caustic, sexist rant to a sincere plea for insight. I take issue with the claim that I just don't understand Sylvia's ways. Rude is rude, mean is mean, sexist is sexist despite any lack of 'understanding' on my part. The other responses offered a lot of food for thought and reflection.

To offer some fill-in-the-blanks. Mom has been a single mom for a long time and has longed for a loving influence in her daughter's life. Mom has totally welcomed the excellent relationship I share with her daughter. I have taken on many natural parent roles by mutual agreement for our busy lives (Mom works). Since Mom leaves early for work, it's my pleasure to get SD ready. Then Mom, who's schedule is flexible, can get home early after school. Since I am a physician and mom really wanted the sleep, I stayed up with SD when H1N1 struck. I do Mary's homework with her because my wife just blows up at her (lots of history and frustration there). I am used to the single-parent role as I raised my two, grown boys (by their mother's preference due to her depression)from the time they were small. I love and miss my role as a parent and hated having an empty home when they grew/left.
The biggest insight was finding an explanation why I was rushing things. My younger boy was troubled- terribly- his whole life and died suddenly exactly two years ago. Part of my overzealousness in having strong family structure, was perhaps to atone for the guilt I feel for not being the uber-parent that may have saved my son (a ridiculous, but hopefully understandable, thought). I now understand that this is my personal issue and I shouldn't make SD the focus of this atonement.
Mom has strongly encouraged and welcomed the loving relationship I share with her daughter. It has been in no way forced by me. I have had a longstanding love for children. They were always in an exalted position in my family. My SD is a sponge for positive male affection, given a distant father. I guess I need to add that SD is actually adopted, which may affect the dynamics.

SO, I am hoping that,through the passage of time, that things will evolve. I am trying to chill. I DO take issue with my wife for the unsettling habit of generally focusing solely on her goals without looking around to see how her actions affect others. It is not her strong suit. So, when she asks me to take the XMAS week off to be with SD and, last minute, she changes her mind to send her to her cousins, that strikes me as inconsiderate. If it had been her initial desire to do so:fine. But not after I had made all the arrangements to my busy schedule.

Thank you again for the responses. They have been helpful. Initially, I worried that I had walked into the hornet's nest of a 'girl's club.' It was nice to see some measured, well-considered and compassionate responses.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2010 at 6:03PM
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Chicago, your situation sounds like mine in reverse. I am the mom who gets up early for work, and has the flexible schedule to come home early. My DH is the one with the flexible schedule to work at home, thus he stays home with DD when she is sick.

When his DD comes over and gets sick she wants me. Her mother insists that it "should be Dad" who sits with her. So we have a bit of the same....

It sounds like the biggest issue you have is with mom not taking your time/needs into consideration. Can you talk with her about that? When I first married my DH I often didn't think about his input/time needs as much as I should have. Just recently I didn't tell him about an awards ceremony for DD because I assumed he wouldn't want to go. Oops. He was pretty upset. It's hard to be the Sparent because one is expected to be 100% there, but not be *too* interested in the child, not overstep etc. It's hard to find balance, and just as each intact family is different, Sfamilies have to find their own rhythm that works for them.

My SM is by default my DD's SGMA. Should she back off and let GPA do everything? When DD is sick, is it GPA's responsibility and should he be the one to be with her even though he will be working the next day and SGMA will be at home, plus she knows a heck of a lot more about illness than he does? Who are any of us to look at the surface of an issue and immediately start assigning roles and judgement?

Sylvia, I think you may be off base here.

"You stayed up with the little girl when she was sick? My mother was one of the top ten worst mothers in the universe, & when I was sick,*I wanted my mother*. not even my father, & he was a loving person, much less a stranger who had just married my mother a short time ago."

Everyone is different. My SD didn't know me very well at all but wanted me instead of her dad. When I was a child and sick I would have taken my uncle E over my mother any day. But fact of the matter is sometimes the kid doesn't have a choice. If there's a willing adult to take on the responsibility it makes more sense to have the more able one do the duty.

I take umbrage to people on this forum throwing around the term abuser and pedophile (and on the marriage forum it's "troll/fake/multiple personality") right out of the gate. We should all be very careful before slandering people in this way. We've been on this forum long enough to know that rarely is a person able to clearly state the issue and often ideas/words get misconstrued. I think giving the benefit of the doubt is respectful.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 12:29PM
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For many years I tried to "force" a family structure on my skids. I initiated parties, gatherings, picked up my SS when he was a teen, gave money, gave unwanted advice, picked up his child when he had one taking here and there (zoo, Disney, movies etc etc etc.) I received huge resentment for all of that from my skids and their mother. I started posting on this board because during the holidays recently my skids blew off the elaborate Xmas gathering I planned but still wanted gifts.

I come from the school of thought now that if you have been very giving in the right spirit and your giving is not appreciated then to back off. Not for the reasons some of the others gave above but because you are not being valued as a partner. And maybe that's it, in your wife's frame of mind you are not a partner, yet, in raising HER daughter.

So back off. Although you love your stepdaughter, your wife is not ready for you to father HER daughter. And maybe it is a little too soon. Let MOM resume things as she did while she was single for a bit. On your relationship with your step daughter, some of the fears the other posters wrote about are rampant. Be careful.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 4:56PM
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OP, your behavior sounds a whole lot like the stepfather's behavior in finedreams's thread about her student.

A normal, healthy man would be able to grasp the idea that he's at best suffocating his new wife & her daughter, to understand their feelings, & to respect their boundaries;
he would have no trouble backing off & giving this woman & her daughter some space.

You need to do some soul-searching;
instead of focusing on the reasons for your intense demands & expectations, you repeatedly attack me personally, as though discrediting the person who offered the scenario will discredit the scenario itself.

That doesn't work.

For the sake of your own mental health & your own future as well as the future of your marriage & your wife's daughter's entire future life, please find a counsellor to help you delve into your behavior, your demands, & your rage.

because you aren't angry at me, you don't even know me;
you're angry because my suggestions have struck a nerve.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 6:49PM
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I understand that sylvia does not suggest that OP is actually having unhealthy intentions. Am I right? I think she is trying to say that it is understandable that mother does not want to encourage that much closeness and that fast. Loving male figure is great, especially if there is no father in the picture, but too much too fast come across as creepy.

Chicagostepfather I understand where you are coming from but please see it from the mother's eyes.

My DD is 22 but I still need mom/daughter time and our own traditions. And maybe there was a reason for mom to change school break plans. maybe it is more beneficial for her daughter. Please see it for what it is. She is the mother.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 7:18PM
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ChicagoStepfather: My condolences for your loss. It is good that you are self-aware enough to be able to understand sometimes why you act the way that you do.

That said, I think some of the difficulties may be due to lack of understanding between your wife and you. (Please don't take offense if my phrasing is poor as I am not trying to be rude or cruel.) I think your wanting to be super-parent is completely understandable. However, when you say "I think we should have evening prayer; that's what families should do" - and you are thinking "If I am the world's best stepdad nothing can ever go wrong with my family again" - but your wife may be hearing the "This is what families should do" part, and she is thinking that you are saying that she was not a good parent, because it is something that she and SD were not doing.

On top of that, since you already are/were a single dad, there may be a tiny bit of resentment when you are talking about some tradition that you and your sons had; your wife may not have been able to do have such a tradition even if she wanted to because of time or expense constraints, and again, feel hurt.

Patience and clear communication will work most of these things out, I think.

There were a lot of times with DH where he would say something, and I would hear exactly what he said, but to me it meant something entirely different than what it did to him. I think the issue with changed plans is going to be the same thing; just tell her (and repeat as necessary) that you don't like last minute changes in plans, that it makes you unhappy, that it's just the way that you are... don't make it an "I'm right and you're wrong" thing. Some people are not bothered by last minutes changes; I am not one of those people myself so it's something DH and I have had to try to compromise on as well.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2010 at 12:41PM
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I am also sorry you lost your son...I missed it in a previous post.

I hate when plans get changed last minute, can't stand it. i think that maybe mom agreed to this plan just to avoid confrontation. She might be the type to avoid conflicts, yes she should discuss plans ahead of time. And she should explain what is the reason for changes.

as about religion and prayers together, i agree with mattie, it could be interpreted wrong. religion is a private matter. i wouldn't be too happy if someone tells me that i have to do prayers with DD, we do what we need to do. If stepdad wants to pray, there are plenty of options.

I think because we are multicultural family we allow everyone to follow their practice the way they see fit.

when DD lived at home we attended services diligently, but we never do praying at home. i wouldn't be too happy if someone would tell us now we have to pray together because that's what families do. I could see how mom does not take it too well.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2010 at 4:37PM
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