Quick summary... I've been with my partner for 3 years or so. He's got 3 kids from a previous marriage aged 5, 7 and 10. I'm 29 and he's 41. I have no kids and am trying hard to fit in with his. We don't live together yet but we'll probably move in together in the next few months. My partner has them every second weekend and goes over to spend an evening with them once a week, goes to their sports events etc etc. He's a fantastic father and absolutely adores his kids. I'm slowly integrating into the routine with the kids.
We're taking things easy. I don't want to put any pressure on the situation. I go over for dinner or a movie on Saturday evenings when he has them and it's all gone pretty smoothly so far until this weekend.
It's Father's Day today in Ireland so last night, I baked some biscuits and brought over some coloured icing / chocolate chips etc so the kids could decorate them for their dad as a present. They loved it - there was sugary mess everywhere!!
After that, we decided to take a walk and the 10 year old ran into some nettles. When I was rubbing some doc leaf on the (small) wound, he commented that his mother told him how to make an ointment to heal it. I said that although I didn't know how to make an ointment, we could look it up online and see or put some lemon juice on it back at the house. He said "My mom would know how to do it". His attitude generally changed. He seemed suddenly upset and irritated by me. The conversation went on to other things he's interested in. I was talking about different things that I know fascinate him but when I asked if he'd like me to get him more information on it, he got quite short with me. 'No' was the answer. This kid is usually absolutely lovely. He's well mannered and polite and chatty and friendly so it was a surprise to say the least when the mood changed.
When we were alone, the 10 yr old turned his back to me and said nothing at all. It's out of character for him but he's obviously upset that I'm on the scene and the connotations of that.
I know this isn't a big deal and kids will (and are entitled to) act out sometimes. I also know that when kids run into nettles, they want their mom to make it better. What's bothering me more is that I didn't know what to do or say. I don't think I handled it very well. I told my partner that he was upset and what was said and I said I was going to head home and let them talk. Perhaps I should have reassured the boy immediately that I'm not trying to replace his mother and ask him how he's feeling about the new set up. But then I'm not sure if that's my place or if I should leave it to his dad. Himself and his dad have a very strong, open relationship and he has talked to him about it. I know he's arranged to keep his son for an extra night tonight so they can talk some more in private without the younger siblings to distract.
Again - this probably isn't a very big deal but I'm new to the whole kids thing and finding it a bit upsetting. None of my friends have kids and I can't really talk to my parents about it. I will talk to my partner about it but wouldn't mind getting some other opinions from women.
That does sound tough-try not to put to much pressure on yourself to handle it perfectly. Like you said, kids are entitled to their feelings and while I know it is tempting to try to keep them happy all the time and feeling like they "like" you, just rolling with the punches and letting them have their moods is a good thing too.
If he makes comments about the things his mom knows how to do that maybe you do differently or not at all, I would just try to respond positively, maybe asking where mom learned it or commenting on how interesting it is that she knows things like that. Maybe he won't want to answer or talk about his mom, but just keeping it positive will hopefully make him feel comfortable knowing that you are interested in his life and comfortable talking about his mom too (i.e. that you are not in a competition). Say something like, "Oh great, let's let your mom know what happened and then she can have it all ready for you when you see her. For now, let's just put this lemon juice on it..." This will hopefully remind him that he still has his mom to take care of him even if it is not immediate and that you have something helpful and different to offer as well.
I think asking him directly how he is doing with the set up might make him feel awkward or put upon, but that probably depends very much on the child. I would probably leave that to dad for now since they have that relationship already. Maybe just saying that you know it is hard for him to miss his mom and asking if there is anything you can do to help would open the door to him? I know dsd was thrilled to make cupcakes for her mom once at our house when she was especially missing her and I think it made her feel very secure that her dad and I would help her do that without making her feel guilty about it.
If you feel like he is pulling away, I would give him that space, but leave it open for him to come back and join you in conversation/activity when he is ready. You can gently ask him if he needs some time/space if you think it wouldn't put him on the spot, but otherwise I would just make it a peaceful silence instead of an awkward one if you feel him kind of drifting away from a conversation.
Good luck, it is a tough spot to be in, but it sounds like you are trying hard to make it work!
Thanks so much for your reply - I really appreciate a bit of reassurance. I've relaxed about this now and decided we're doing ok.
Although I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, I just found it a bit of a shock to be honest. I'm not a parent and I'm trying hard to find my way with this whole thing so I suppose there are going to be a few downs as well as ups on this adventure!
Thanks again. x
10 year olds can be a little up-and-down emotionally, and can start to be a little more of a puzzle (at least to me!) than younger kids. Sometimes kids that age shut down when they aren't sure how to handle something, or when they are embarrassed. And to me that seems to be an age when they start to be embarrassed more easily. My step-daughter, who is almost 10, gets embarrassed by things she would have just laughed at or brushed off a year ago, but I think developmentally they are more in tune with what other people think now, so they worry a little more about appearances and how they are seen by others. Sometimes my step-daughter reacts with embarrassment if she gets emotional about something, or if she has a reaction that she feels is "babyish." I could definitely see her getting embarrassed if she was hurt and wanted her mom, and if talking to me about it made her start to get teary... and I can see her reacting in a similar way-- just shutting people out, or walking or turning away before they notice she is, in her mind, reacting like a little kid.
It's a delicate age, it seems-- wanting to be a big kid, but still sometimes needing to be a little kid. I've talked with my step-daughter recently and told her that different people handle being upset in different ways, and it can be hard to guess what other people want when they are upset because it might be different than what I would want in the same situation... And I encourage her to ask or tell me directly if she needs something (time alone, a hug, time with her dad, something to take her mind off whatever is wrong, etc), so that I can help her in a way that works for her. I've been step-parenting for almost her entire life, so I was able to have that conversation with her, but in your situation, I might talk to your partner about it and talk about encouraging the kids to be up front about what they need because this is a new and potentially tricky situation for everyone... and modeling the same with them and with each other.