Hi, here's a brief history:
My partner and I have been together about two and a half years. He has three kids, I have four. Both of us are custodial parents, him all the time. We don't live together, but are neighbors in an apartment complex. His kids' mom has sporadic contact with them, so for all practical purposes, I am their "mom" in daily life.
We are both students. When I'm done with my bachelor's degree, I'm planning on applying to dental school, which means moving at least two hours away (if I get in there), otherwise to another state. I've been pushing hard for us to move together, because I don't think it's at all realistic to consider having a family two hours away, as a dental student. I feel that mothering is a daily job, or at least several times a week. Plus, his kids have been through enough with their own mom- I don't want them to be abandoned again, especially not by me! He agrees, and we are planning to move together in a year and a half.
Ok, but slow down. As much as I love those three, they fight SO much, I am having serious second thoughts about subjecting my kids to that level of conflict in their own home. We rented a house for Christmas weekend, and just seeing the seven(!) of them together, it really hit home what this would be like. DP's kids require constant intervention and attention. They tease each other, hurt each other physically, scream, call each other names. Not only that, but they are extremely disrespectful to adults, too. They whine, scream, throw tantrums to get what they want. They will not follow instructions, demands, polite requests, anything. They laugh and jeer openly at my partner when he tries to discipline them. They do not go that far with me, because I will take them by the shoulders, look them right in the eye, and use my stern voice to tell them that I will not tolerate that behavior.
DP, bless him, does not have a scary, I-have-a-limit-and-you-just-reached-it mode. In fact, he generally ignores their awful behavior, which is, of course, why it persists. He thinks their fighting is normal, and the noise just doesn't bother him. He hates their disrespectful behavior toward himself, but he doesn't do what it takes to stop it. I've tried to share my own strategies that have worked with my kids (they fought like that when they were 3-5 years old), but he thinks my kids get along because they're older. He refuses to believe that he could be doing anything to encourage their behavior. At times he has gotten really offended by my attempts to influence his parenting, and I have backed off.
When we are together, I play the disciplinarian. Not a great role for a step mother! It doesn't work very well- they improve, but I just don't have the same influence I would with my own kids. At Christmas I spent so much time redirecting, calming, correcting, disciplining, entertaining, and comforting his three, it was really noticeable to me that I didn't interact that much with my four. I hardly spoke five sentences to my 13 year old! This isn't fair to my kids, and it's just not going to work.
I have to bring this up with my partner, and I'm not sure how to put things so he won't just hear "your kids are monsters and you are a terrible parent". This is doubly hard because his kids are always with him, and they won't leave him alone for more than about five minutes.
I don't know if it goes without saying, but I should add that his kids have been through a lot of tough experiences, and they have a lot of personal issues that contribute to their behavior. However, DP does not think this is the case, either.
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
... DP's kids require constant intervention and attention. They tease each other, hurt each other physically, scream, call each other names. Not only that, but they are extremely disrespectful to adults, too. They whine, scream, throw tantrums to get what they want. They will not follow instructions, demands, polite requests, anything. They laugh and jeer openly at my partner when he tries to discipline them. They do not go that far with me, because I will take them by the shoulders, look them right in the eye, and use my stern voice to tell them that I will not tolerate that behavior.
DP, bless him, does not have a scary, I-have-a-limit-and-you-just-reached-it mode. In fact, he generally ignores their awful behavior, which is, of course, why it persists. He thinks their fighting is normal, and the noise just doesn't bother him. He hates their disrespectful behavior toward himself, but he doesn't do what it takes to stop it.... He refuses to believe that he could be doing anything to encourage their behavior.
Your DP sounds just like my DH. My situation is a little different, as I didn't realize this until AFTER we were married and had a LO together. I have moments of "if I knew then, what I know now - things might have turned out different", but we are married with children, so it is what it is.
I would strongly recommend trying to communicate with your DP and figure out a solution together. If not, you should step back and seriously decide if you can live as a blended family the way things currently are with his side.
IMHO - different parenting style is a HUGE issue to over-come. It might come to a point where your LO's realize they are treated different than his and start acting like his LO's. I think its hard when his LO's can be "brats" but yours are expected to behave.
Sorry I don't have any advice to offer on HOW to handle this discussion. Good luck!
DS ( 9/2010) and TTC #2
It sounds like how you phrase things, to him, is less important than you first defining your own goals.
IME, people mostly are who they are, by the time they reach ~30. It's unrealistic for you to expect fundamental change from your partner (unless he's closer to 20 than 30, which sounds mathematically unlikely, given the number of children).
So, if you feel committed to staying with him and ensuring these children don't feel another parental figure has abandoned them...but, in exchange for your commitment, you feel entitled to have him become a different type of parent (and person), then you are almost certainly laying the groundwork for frustration, disappointment and a sense of martyrdom that will make you resentful. You could wind up on a merry-go-round of telling him what changes you need; potentially having him promise to make them; having him fail; then gearing up to re-state your expectations of change and start the ride all over again...until you feel justified leaving and he wonders why you ever hooked up with him, if you don't seem to think he's good enough for you. (I am not saying that's how you feel. I'm saying, if your expectations of him are unreasonable, he could easily wind up thinking you feel that way.)
If you have decided, "Unless there is change, I must break up with this man (and his children)," then:
#1 - It is very important that you not mince words, when you tell him that! With three troubled children to raise, and having become fairly dependent on you as a co-parent, he deserves to know what major life-changes he may need to prepare for - no matter how hard it is for him to hear, or for you to say. It's not fair to surprise him, in a year, by breaking up with him, if you're already considering that, right now.
#2 - You need to prepare yourself, emotionally. Clearly, you feel some responsibility for these kids and compassion for their situation. You recognize that, in many ways, you have filled their maternal void. You also know they need more than half-hearted involvement, from you. You can't break up with their Dad, or move two hours away without them, and mitigate their loss (of you), by coming back to visit and check in on them, every so often. They need a total commitment, or for you to own the fact that you're walking away. That won't be easy for you to own. A voice inside will ask, "Why didn't I consider all their behavior problems and the effect on my kids, before I got so involved and they got attached?" Walking away would require acknowledging the irresponsibility of that, even as you recognize that removing your own kids from your partner's chaos may be the best choice. If your original decision (to build a family life with this particular man and his particular kids) has turned out to be a poor one, perpetuating it will not retroactively make it a better decision.
I'm not saying you should leave! I'm just saying, if you're considering it, do not imagine there will be an easy, clean way to do it; or a way to spare your partner, his kids and yourself from being hurt. And don't avoid committing (to either leaving or staying) with pipe-dreams of your partner transforming into a more effective parent; or your step-kids transforming into less damaged, better-behaved children (at least, not without a lot of work on your part).
HOWEVER, if your goal, in confronting your partner, is to ensure he will support you (and not be offended or defensive), as YOU start reining in his kids, THAT could be a successful conversation! You have the temperament, instincts and experience to guide unruly children to behave better. He does not. He does seem willing to let you do a significant amount of parenting them, already. You'd be asking him to tolerate you correcting their behavior toward - and in front of - him, when he fails to correct it himself.
And it's possible that if he sees you in action - and sees it working - he may start copying aspects of your parenting. It's one thing, to tell a passive person, "Crack down and get your kids in line." He may have no earthly idea how to do it, even if he wants to! It's easier to copy behavior you see (and like).
But, again, don't expect to find an easy way through this. Having enjoyable family time - with a manageable level of chaos and noise - requires a lot of work (and little relaxation), on my part, with our 4 kids. Double that, with 7 kids, when 3 of them have "issues"! It may not be "fair" that you do more of the child-managing work than your partner does. But it sounds like you're more skilled at it. Hopefully, there are other areas of family life where he's more skilled and he bears more of the burden?
One woman in a house full of men: my soul mate: or... twin sons:(HS seniors) ... step-son: (a sophomore) ... our little man: (a first grader) ... and there is another female in the house, after all: our.
Thanks for your replies!
I realize I can't fundamentally change the way he parents. And I have been parenting his kids right in front of him for a while now! It doesn't bother him- maybe he's glad to have someone around to be the bad guy? It's sort of workable while we live as neighbors, but if we lived together, this could be a disaster. First, they already laugh at him when he's at his scariest. It's not going to help if I'm constantly there making them do what he says. Second, they require so much hands on parenting, I'm afraid my kids would really lose their mother because they don't make as much trouble. Third, it's exhausting and I am seriously questioning whether I can be the main parent in a family with seven kids, and still be the kind of parent I want to be to them all.
I know there are many creative ways for us to work out our problems with the kids, and I feel certain he's willing to be on board, in theory. But I feel a lot less sure that he would actually be the one to interrupt a fight and enforce rules, day after day. If he was willing, he would have done it by now. I feel like I have to go into this, sure that I can handle it if it turns out in the worst possible way. I'm a pretty tough bird, and I can handle a lot- but I owe my kids a safe, sane home life. I just do. I want ALL the kids to feel safe and loved and relaxed at home. Honestly, I don't know if one parent can make that happen for seven kids without the help of the other.
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
I am going to be more open about my previous situation on here than I usually am.
In September I just ended a 3 yr relationship with my now-ex that sounded SO much like your current situation.
My partner had 3 kids from his first relationship. Currently 8, 13, 15. Mother was very in the picture, very controlling, too woo for my liking. Woo and unresearched. I have 2 kids, currently 10 and 17. And WE have one together age 2. She was unplanned completely, IUD failed for NYE. 99.98% effective... my 0.02% is at her Daddy's house today. I was a widow, he was divorced. We were friends through our UU church.
I wrote out a long post but I deleted it and I will just say this. It did not work. I tried SO hard and I was exhausted at the end of it. Dad was soft on guiding the kids, enforcement (I know it sounds mean to say that but these kids needed BOUNDARIES. One has medical/ emotional/ neurological issues that Mom refuses to allow treated, one is ADHD, has NO impulse control and the teacher contacts the parents daily to update them on his status (none good, all excused by Mom as he is "exhuberant") and daughter is in manditory corrective lenses to correct her eye which we have dragged from 50% blind to 85% good... We have been through the mud. Dad is easy going, doesn't "see" what is in front of his face, his stern voice works for 5 minutes and then they are off and running doing something else...etc. VERY VERY difficult.
I did it for almost 3 years. I started out gung ho, then realized without the backing of the parents there was nothing I could do. Mom and Dad would both admit there were amazing behavioural changes, progress, school work done, etc... but they would be without me for a weekend while I was gone and NO reinforcement of the rules/ boundaries/ expectations was done and BAM it is back to square one.
(ie) I taught the kids, after we finish our meal, clear the table. Wipe your hands and faces. Dishes get done.
Yesterday, Ex and I were out (we are still best friends) and came home and all 3 kids had pizza sauce on their hands and faces, pizza boxes and dishes and crumbs all over table, floors and chairs, no dishes removed, no one ready for bed, movie cranked on high, 13 yr old NOT wearing her manditory glasses (huge issue, she takes them off and neither parent realizes it but I notice right away) and and and... I said to the kids "What the heck? I taught you better than this! We are gone for 2 hours and we come back to THIS??? and they shrugged and said "we don't have to clean up at Mommy's house". (FYI Mommy's house looks like a mild episode of Hoarders and her house is filthy but nothing CPS worthy). And I told Dad "WTF?" and he shrugged and said "What am I supposed to do? I wasn't here to make them do it. Umm... training.. consistancy. These things should be done enough that it would be second nature... but oh well.
What I am saying is... it doesn't get better. I tried. 3 years I tried. I tried extra hard b/c one of the children was a shared child.
It was so hard, so awful. Really. I was exhausted, frustrated and angry at the end. I resented the kids for wrecking my home, damaging things, (it was my house) and overshadowing my kids w/ the noise (OMG the noise) and screaming and yelling and OCD about Lego, all of it. It was TOO MUCH.
Think long and hard, honestly. It was so hard, he didn't change and towards the end our relationship suffered because I had a hard time respecting him when Iw as doing all of the work.
Trust your instincts. Your babies should be coming first, not his. If you need a calm, relaxed home for you and your brood, then by all means create that! If it means he's not there with his chaos and his brood, then that's what it is. For so many children, you can't be the only parent. If he's so chilled and non-committal about discipline and boundaries and that makes you uncomfortable, then trust your gut that you can't do that. Personally, I think it would be WAY too much to take on. Especially while attending school and working towards your career and being the type of mom you want/need to be for your babes. There are other fish if you decide to leave. Only YOU can take care of YOU and YOURS - no one else. It is NOT your job to teach/train his kids to be respectful adults, that's HIS job.
Those are my thoughts...
Do some journaling and serious soul searching. Write how you see yourself in 1 year, 5 years and then 10 years. If you see yourself dealing with all this and accomplishing what you want then knock yourself out - but if you have ANY doubts at all trust it and don't go forward with it. Parenting requires consistency. My DH and I parent differently, but the rules are the same. I tend to be more PD and he is to a certain extent, but his fuse his shorter...we have a very polite LO and another who is too little yet for lots of discipline but LO knows what he's expected to do that's for sure!
Loving wife to DH mama to DS1 3/13/09 , DS2 4/20/11 and expecting baby #3 in January!
Professional and attempting to while
Does anyone have any resources to recommend about blending families? I'm really trying to sort this out, and I don't know what is workable, and what isn't.
Like Harpy, my step kids have improved noticeably since I've been with them. However, when I met my partner, he had just gotten sole custody of the kids. So it's not like it's all me or something. I have a hard time convincing my dp that I have actual skills and strategies, which I find frustrating and insulting. He thinks my kids don't fight because they're older, but I also spent many years helping them learn to work things out fairly, and gave many lectures about love, cooperation, looking for common ground, building up people's positive qualities, etc etc. My kids like to make each other happy- that's the bottom line. This is the kind of family I've worked to build, and it's the kind of family I want for my kids. So, yeah, this is a leaving issue for me.
But what I'm talking about are principles, not specific behaviors. I want a family where we are on each others' side, which means a million different little gestures and choices every day. I want a family where people build each other up. I've always worked in principles, not rules. So where do I begin talking about this with him?
DP does not behave like his kids, I mean they aren't imitating him. Their mother used to leave them at her parents house a lot, a very toxic place. They haven't been there in over two years, and they don't see arguing, hitting, screaming, teasing, put downs- any of that stuff, from us or anyone else currently in their lives. So it's not as if he disagrees with me on basic stuff. I do think there's a good chance we can get on the same page about laying down some ground rules for our future family.
But I know I need some change from him to make this work- like following through on discipline, getting off his butt to intervene- is that a hopeless cause? Is there a way for me to approach this conversation that will maximize my chances of getting him to commit to making some changes? If your partner wanted you to make an effort to change something about your parenting, would you consider it seriously? How would you want him or her to approach you?
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
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