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#1 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 12:15 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I've seen this referenced in many threads and kind of wanted to explore the concept a little further without digging into other people's personal situations too much.

In my world, "detaching with love" is a concept out of Al-Anon that refers to dealings with alcoholic adults - spouses, adult children, etc. I'm confused about how and when people feel this is an appropriate response to a child, especially a younger (pre-teenage maybe) child. To me, the concept seems to take for granted that the party you are detaching from is an adult with full responsibility for his or her behavior and well-being. I have never heard it advocated for a young child, and I have a hard time understanding how a child's behavior could call for "detachment."

I guess in one sense of the word I do understand it - when we decide to realize that the child's behavior is arising from their life circumstances or developmental level, and therefore we reasonably decide not to take their behavior personally (not to take their disobedience as a sign that they are of bad character, or hate us, or are out to get us). But I've seen detachment used in a different sense here - where one basically "goes on strike" from a child and refuses to care for him/her, or essentially cuts off a relationship, even one of long standing.

So what's up with this? Is it an established therapeutic recommendation? A last resort before abusing a child?
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#2 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 01:00 PM
 
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I think in stepparenting terms it means refusing to be a doormat and allowing (or in some cases forcing) the biological parent to handle the issues relating to their child without having the stepparent be in the middle. It is used to preserve the family and maintian some sense of normalcy in a relationship. (this is in personal experience)

It's so hard to parent someone when their parent(s) are telling them that they are not required to listen to you, you are not an authority figure, etc. It's used to protect the step-parent from unwanted and malicious attacks by the biological parent as well. Stepparenting is hard enough without the constant reminders that you have no rights, no worth as a parent, and are really expected to be little more than maid, cook, and chauffer to children who do not have to listen to you, mind your family's rules, or even treat you with basic respect or common curtesy.
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#3 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 03:06 PM
 
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:

I couldn't have said it better myself.
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#4 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 04:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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But, we're talking about children here. What happens to assuming positive intent, and understanding their developmental abilities, and not taking their behavior personally, and loving guidance, and all of those things that make up the core of gentle discipline? It seems like this is based on pretty harsh character judgments of kids, little kids....

It seems like a way of taking out inter-spouse conflicts on the child. I agree that working out boundaries in stepparenting relationships is an ongoing process. But even as a parent I sometimes feel unappreciated and disrespected. If I felt my spouse was not backing me up, that would be something for me to work out with him....but I can't imagine refusing to care for the children, or deliberately withdrawing affection, being an option.

I am a stepparent, have been one since before I was a parent, so I'm not coming at this from an angle of ignorance - at least I don't think I am.
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#5 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 04:13 PM
 
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Sounds like you have a really good realtionship with your dp/dh and his ex. Step parenting isn't always difficult however ( see above ) sometimes detaching is the only option.
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#6 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 04:18 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm not sure what I was supposed to "see above"?

So what do you mean by detaching, or not being a doormat, in practical terms?
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#7 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 04:25 PM
 
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I think in stepparenting terms it means refusing to be a doormat and allowing (or in some cases forcing) the biological parent to handle the issues relating to their child without having the stepparent be in the middle. It is used to preserve the family and maintian some sense of normalcy in a relationship. (this is in personal experience)

It's so hard to parent someone when their parent(s) are telling them that they are not required to listen to you, you are not an authority figure, etc. It's used to protect the step-parent from unwanted and malicious attacks by the biological parent as well. Stepparenting is hard enough without the constant reminders that you have no rights, no worth as a parent, and are really expected to be little more than maid, cook, and chauffer to children who do not have to listen to you, mind your family's rules, or even treat you with basic respect or common curtesy.
Sometimes step parents/mamas get in the middle of the conflict between the two bio parents. Disengaging and allowing the bio prents to do their job is the only way to retain any kind of sanity sometimes.
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#8 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 04:27 PM - Thread Starter
 
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So what do you mean by disengaging, though? Does it mean that you ignore the child? Refuse to interact with the child? Is it about your relationship with the child, or with your husband?
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#9 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 04:34 PM
 
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I don't know why you would think one would ignore or refuse to interact with a stepchild completely. One can have a relationship with a child without being their parent. That's the point.
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#10 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 06:03 PM
 
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Originally Posted by ccohenou View Post
So what do you mean by disengaging, though? Does it mean that you ignore the child? Refuse to interact with the child? Is it about your relationship with the child, or with your husband?
My understanding of disengaging would not include ignoring or refusing to interact with the child, although I know some extreme cases where it might be the only way to deal with the situation. Those situations were for adult stepchildren, though, and not for a child living in the home.

And you hit upon an important point: detaching is an extreme measure, and it has MUCH more to do with the stepparent's relationship with his/her spouse, the biological parent, than it does to do with the child. Most often, the child is just being a child, and needs to be taught to be courteous and respectful.

In healthy relationships, the stepparent is an important part of the parenting team in bringing up the child.

However, when the stepparent's spouse does not require the child to respect the stepparent, and either passively or actively undermines the stepparent's ability to be an authority in the child's life, sometimes the stepparent decides to just stop: stop trying to teach the child acceptable behavior, stop caring for the child's physical needs that the spouse/biological parent can reasonably meet, stop being taken for granted.

When I have seen it done well, detaching is not a malicious act, but an act of self-preservation. It is done, not in an "I'll show him!" attitude, but is often an act of desperation, of trying to keep a marriage intact when conflict regarding the stepchildren is bringing the marriage to the brink.

An example: a friend has been married to her dh for 10ish years. He has 2 dd from his first marriage, ages 15 and 13. About 1.5 years ago, the ex gave primary custody of the older girl to my friend and her dh, saying that she couldn't handle her any longer. Since moving to their home the 15yo girl has been outwardly compliant, but sneaky and lies about her activities. (Normal teenaged issue.) She has repeatedly given out information online,and been on some very questionable websites. (Also a normal teenaged issue.) My friend and her dh would agree upon consequences for these activities, only to have her dh not enforce them upon his dd. My friend got tired of constantly being the "bad cop", and the continual arguements she and her dh would have over the issue, so she no longer is involved in disciplining her sd.

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#11 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 08:46 PM
 
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Let me give some personal experience, you do not seem to be getting that sometimes detaching is best for ALL involved, including the children. You cannot provide gentle discipline and model appropriate behavior with children you see every once in a while and who have a parent who *actively encourages* hostile behavior toward you and other members of your household.

Some reasons why I chose to disengage from my husband's children rather than outright refusing to allow them into my home.
-one child smeared feces throughout the upper level of my house and was told by biomom that it was DH &my fault.
-one child pulled a KNIFE on their sibling and mother refused to get appropriate treatment and mom and babysitter were playing the "poor kid has had such a hard life" card for why it happened.
-child routinely STOLE from our home
-child repeatedly stole while in public
-child threatened suicide and biomom did nothing (WE did though and forced counseling)
-child repeatedly called county sheriff's on other child while left unsupervised in the home (not our home)
-biomom refused for YEARS to seek appropriate testing and treatment for child she knew had a disorder b/c she did not want to "label" the child but she also did not want to actually DEAL with the behavior either
-child threatened to call PS and try to have the children IN THE HOME removed b/c we were "forcing" child to follow rules. (ie: no video games 24/7, must bathe regularly, change clothes, do not touch things that do not belong to you <see stealing issues above>)
-biomom threatened to beat the child with a belt IN MY HOME for some of the behaviors listed above
-children telling Dh and I that "we don't have to listen to you" and "you don't get to tell us what to do"

This is just the TIP of the parenting nightmare that DH and I have gone through regarding these children. I got to the point where it was them or me and rather than force that decision on my spouse (who would have had to choose between 2 sets of children) I chose to set some basic ground rules and step away from the situation. Our dynamic went from a war zone to calm. DH had to think of ways to interact with the children once I was no longer "in charge" of that.
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#12 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 08:54 PM
 
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FTR: I still interacted with the children, on a limited basis. I would not ignore them by any means and I still provided the same type of care in terms of gifts and meals that I had been. I was just no longer in the middle of the war between kids, DH, and biomom. He handled the discipline when needed, he supervised the children, he planned the activities, etc.

However, when DH had a life-threatening injury I was the one to call biomom and arrange for her and the kids to have unlimited access to DH in the hospital, I was the one to transport for visitation while DH was unable to drive as a result of the accident, etc. Just because I have detached from the situation does not mean that I stopped doing the right thing. I didn't *want* to interact with DH's ex by any means, especially when I didn't even *know* if he was going to survive. But it was the right thing to do and she needed to know both for her own self and the kids. DH needed to know that his *entire* family was aware of his condition.
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#13 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 09:46 PM
 
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I never knew that "detaching" was a loaded term. I think the point is that we are looking at the same word and reading different things into it (?)

I think detaching on this forum means either:

* First meaning: I do not discipline the child. I play, and laugh, offer a shoulder to cry on, help with homework, take the kid places, and cook and smile, BUT when the problem arises I allow her biological parent to work through the problems. (The reason for this might be the fact that the child was too old when you met him/her, and does not recognize you as a parental figure, while enjoys you as an adult friend).

* Second meaning: I do not discipline the child, and I do not engage with a child, unless prompted by the child. I still cook, smile, wash the laundry, get the medicine, do everything I have to as a responsible adult has to do with a child in their care. The reason for this might be the fact that not only the child doesn't recognize you as a parent, but also shows you no respect for whatever reason (your husband is a hands off kind of dad that doesn't support you, and doesn't really parent while the child is aggressive towards you or your kids...)

* I suppose the third meaning will go right alone the lines of what you thought: I throw my hands up in the air and do bare minimum for this child, if that. The reasons for this is total frustration with the child who wants nothing to do with you in combination with unsupportive or clueless husband.

I understand the first two, and am I very certain that if it ever came to the third description I would probably not be in that relationship by that point. I would never advise or understand someone who simply goes about their life ignoring a child who is growing up right there in front of you.

I think when you say "not taking things personally", it's so hard sometimes... DSD and I get along fairly well, but when something comes up I am an emotional mess! And trust me, it's not because I don't care for this girl, or don't understand that she's been through very rough few years of divorce. It's just because I care, and because she is not my child, it's so much harder for me to believe that she didn't mean things she said or did out of anger, kwim? Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with people mistreating kids (or "detaching" in a way you describe), all I'm saying is that step parenting doesn't seem to lend itself to "not taking things personally".

I don't know if I succeeded, but I tried. My point was that I think we understand the word differently, and I would never advocate "detachment" in the sense you described.






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#14 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 10:03 PM
 
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The detaching I see around here seems pretty healthy. I see it as a realization that you don't have control over everything and you can't let other people's actions (be it the stepchild or mom or stepmom or partner) have that much power over your emotional life. You do it for yourself, so that you can be happy. And the effects of it can be quite positive for all involved. Letting go helps.

I don't think that just because you have always made lunches you need to keep making lunches. Changes can be made in ways that are not cruel. There was some venting involved too. Sometimes people need to get things out.

And if the situation continues to decline, I'm sure that the OP will get appropriate help or make some hard choices.
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#15 of 41 Old 07-27-2008, 10:37 PM
 
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Disengaging for me has mostly to do with acknowledging that I am NOT my SS's parent. I am married to his father, and as such I have a parental role in his life, but it's limited. I give and expect to receive respect from my SS, I treat him as I treat my other children, but I don't get caught up in parenting him. If my DP and SS's mom have a conflict, I do not get involved (except that I may tell DP in private my opinion, but ultimately it's up to them). If I think he needs to go to the doctor, I mention that to DP, but I don't make an appointment, call SS's mom, whatever. I don't do any significant discipline of SS; if something happens when I'm home with him, DP deals with it when he gets home.

It doesn't mean I disengage from SS the person. It means I carefully define my role as his stepmother as something quite different from mother. It is in no way a rejection. In fact, SS and I have a warm, loving relationship now, where before I disengaged it was strained and difficult because I had inappropriate expectations of pretty much everything about blending a family. Ditto my DP's relationships with my eldest children. In some ways, disengaging is a simple acknowledgment that we are not a traditional nuclear family. Pretending that we were certainly never got us anywhere!

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#16 of 41 Old 07-28-2008, 12:05 AM
 
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I just want to step in and say that this kind of relationship ("I'm married to your father, I care for you, but I'm not your mom or in charge of raising you") can be there from the start. My dad's wife has always gone that way, and as my brother and I were teenagers when he remarried, it worked very well. But I've also seen women do that when young children were involved (noncustodial), and again, it worked very well.

If the kids have two functional parents, whether or not you like both parents, I think it can be an excellent way of avoiding problems from the get-go. I do think it's a good idea to think about it ahead of time.
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#17 of 41 Old 07-28-2008, 11:55 AM
 
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This should be a sticky. This issue has come up before. It would help and give some understanding.
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#18 of 41 Old 07-29-2008, 09:39 AM
 
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For me, it took a while for me to detach. In our family, there are 6 children total - 2 from my first marriage, 2 from DH's first marrigae and we have 2 (very young!) children together. The kids are great, the main problem was between DH and me.

What I found happening is that I ended up being too involved: I was making visiting arragements for DH, emailing/calling his former spouse, planning activities for the weekend, making sure that everyone got a bath/shower, doing laundry. Sometimes he actually would go to work on the weekends his two girls would be up. I really was doing everything and it left me feeling hurt by DH and some of that resentment started to carry over into the relationship with his two girls.

Now, I don't make the arrangements. DH and I discuss the plan and it's his responsibility to call/email his former spouse. I do plan some family activities/make suggestions to DH, but if he and the girls choose to watch TV all weekend, well that's their choice and I won't take it personally. They are 9 and 7 now, so if they decide not to take a shower after being asked, again I don't push the issue, that's DH's job. Ultimately, DH is thier father and needs to be the parent on the weekends. I can be there for the girls to have fun, if they need help with a girl problem, I care for them (as someome before me put it) as a responsible adult would with any child in their care. However, I do not take responsibility for them as a parent. Now, I enjoy and look forward to when the girls are coming over, where there was a time when I really dreaded it because it was, frankly, alot of work for me.
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#19 of 41 Old 07-29-2008, 02:44 PM
 
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I've never had the urge to detach from DSD. But then, I don't attempt to take on any parental responsibilities for her. I think this is because her dad is very good at taking on those responsibilities himself. I think this is a key point in why some step moms find themselves getting too deeply involved. In my situation, there is no need to make up for a lack of parenting on my husband's part.

Though DSD is very vocal about our blended family (calls me her step mom, says she wishes she could have two real moms so she can drop the label) my relationship to her is most similar to that of an Aunt or a close family friend. In that she is expected to respect me as she would a relative and elder, and yet she knows she can always feel at home around me because she is family.
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#20 of 41 Old 07-29-2008, 03:13 PM
 
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Keep posting mamas this is a great thread!

Sticky ?
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#21 of 41 Old 07-29-2008, 03:37 PM
 
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My Dad was my 4 half-silblings step dad. They were 13, 16, 17 and 18 when he married my mother. He was called by his first name and he said he took his role more as mum's co-parent than their other parent. Their dad was more or less off the scene, especially for the younger 2, who still lived at home with mum, which made things somewhat easier for him, but he was still treated with disdain sometimes. He once walked the streets all night looking for my (type 1) diabetic brother who had gotten drunk, into a fight and then gone hypo and was semi-conscious in an alley. Dad gave him sugar syrup and carried him (a near-grown man) home. When my brother woke up my dad said "you could have died! We were worried sick" and bro replied "You're not my father, what's it to you?". My dad basically said he went to the extents he felt my mother needed him to - he tried to take on half her load, but he didn't get half her rights or respect. SOme of that was down to her, some of it was down to the kids. My sister, the youngest, was inhis care for 4 months at 13 when my mum was in hospital on bedrest during her pregnancy with my full brother. She HATED him and was terrified of what would happen if mum died since her dad never saw her after the divorce and she was alone in the world bar my mum.

My dad was never detatched emotionally from the kids, he was just more of a responsible adult person than a parent - like the difference between a parent and a sitter i guess. He did what he did for the kids out of love for my mother, but after a few tentative attempts he kept any independant affection for them he felt under wraps until they were through their teens.

My sister now calls him "dad" and considers him such, 30 years on.

I have learned from watching him that if DP is to parent DD (and i hope he will) i need to be clear with them both that he is as much a parent as i am and she must respect him in exactly the same way. I don't foresee XP being a problem as he knows DP and is a good enough father to realise she isn't a pawn, and also i am repectful of his role as Father.

This was a big ramble, but i can definitely in my dad's case, he was removed from the emotional involvement of parenting, but not emotionally, physically, financially, any-other-ally distant from the kids themselves.
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#22 of 41 Old 07-29-2008, 05:53 PM
 
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Just wanted to say, GoBecGo, I really enjoyed your story.

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#23 of 41 Old 07-30-2008, 12:36 AM
 
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I think that it is easier to detach when the child in question is older. Young children depend on on adults for so many things. DF depends on me to be there for DSD. He works very hard for our family, and if I were to leave all parental things up to him, we would have to have a completely different family structure. If we had to put DSD in before/after school care/summer care, we couldn't afford to have me home with DS during the day.

I have thought about detaching when things have become difficult. However, we have designed our lives *so* carefully to allow for maximum working/school hours and avoidance of day care. Our whole five year plan would go down the tubes. If DSD was older, we would have a lot more freedom. I could step back and it wouldn't affect things like it would if I took off my parenting hat now.

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#24 of 41 Old 07-30-2008, 11:05 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pinksprklybarefoot View Post
I think that it is easier to detach when the child in question is older.
I just wanted to comment, that I'd probably say that it's more necessary when a child is older. I wouldn't want to make it sound like my choices are driven by the fact that I want to have it easy... My choices are driven by the boundaries of my relationship with DSD, where she doesn't see me as a parent, and therefore I can't behave as a parent with her, as we'd disconnect, kwim?

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#25 of 41 Old 07-31-2008, 08:14 PM
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I have to agree...not being treated like a doormat by the husband or the kids. It also means making dad be a dad rather than you taking up the slack for him. It also has to be age appropriate to the child though too. What you expect from a 12yo is different than what you expect from a 3yo.

Two things that explain it a bit better:

http://www.stepfamilysanctuary.com/2...of-rights.html

http://www.stepfamilysanctuary.com/2...ing-essay.html

What it boils down to, to me, is respect. If dh respects my time and my opinions, he's golden. If the stepkids show me respect, they're fine too. If dh expects me to {insert task here} - chauffeur his kids around, cook for them, do their laundry, shop for them, etc. - it's not happening if dad is being disrespectful. The same goes for his children. If I have a 10yo stepchild being disrespectful towards me and then turns around and asks me to take him somewhere or buy him something, that's a big HECK NO. I wouldn't expect any less from my own children and the stepchildren certainly don't get a free pass to treat me disrespectfully. I'm not a doormat.
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#26 of 41 Old 08-02-2008, 02:48 PM
 
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I'm going to keep bumping this one. It's an important point/discussion in blended family life imho. Sticky.
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#27 of 41 Old 08-02-2008, 03:58 PM - Thread Starter
 
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On one hand, it seems like part of the reason why this concept seemed squicky to me is that I have never needed to do it. Some of the ideas expressed (about letting her mom be her mom and not trying to be mom myself, about dad having a primary parenting role in our house) are kind of the way we've always done things, and I agree that they cut down on conflict within our family and between our family and her mom. My husband and I have always conceived of my role as being an adult caregiver (with the responsibility and authority that entails), but not her mother. Being disrespectful or defiant toward me would not be any more acceptable than being disrespectful or defiant toward any adult caregiver, teacher, whatever, and it's never really been an issue.

OTOH, I can't imagine refusing to pick my 10 yo stepdaughter up from school, not fixing her meals, not doing her laundry, not helping her with homework. She's a child and a member of the family...so inasmuch as I have a right not to be an outsider, she has a right not to be an outsider as well. This is her home and her family as much as it's any other member of the family's. I'm the adult present in the home for much of the time that she is here (3.5 days/week, 5 days/week in summer), and you know, it's just not tenable for me to refuse to serve her meals or take her to places she needs to be, even if she has misbehaved....no more than I would be okay with another adult caregiver punishing my own children in that way. I think what makes me uncomfortable with *some* interpretations of "detaching" that I have seen is the idea that it would be acceptable to take a 6 or 10 year old and "cut them off" from the caregiving resources of the family.
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#28 of 41 Old 08-03-2008, 03:47 PM
 
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The children are not being cut off from the caregiving resources of the family. If a step parent is detaching the form of detaching will be communicated with the other parent. If rides to school or laundry will not be done by the step parent anymore this is communicated to the parent so the parent can make other arrangements. A celarly communicated 'negotiation' is what we are talking about here not cutting off a child.

Just because a step parent is venting and having a breakdown in a relationship with a step child and wanting to 'disengage completely' does not mean this will happen. In the heat of the moment the feeling of hiding away and just not doing it anymore can be there. Talking about feeling horrible and calming down, and finding a better way to work the family is what is going on here. Nobody is punishing children.

Again: parenting is the parents job. That is part of the relationship with their children. If another 'caregiver' is doing too much parenting that is taking away from the relationship with the childs' parent(s).
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#29 of 41 Old 08-03-2008, 04:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I agree that when times are tough, big feelings that aren't always pretty can arise. There are times in relationship with my own children that I think "argh, I don't want to do this anymore" - I'm sure this is pretty common. What bothers me is that in relation to stepchildren that this would be, like, named and ratified and proposed as a good plan for all sorts of difficulties.

Is it something that is mainly proposed for stepmothers who don't see their stepchildren very often, or are not normally in a position of being sole caregiver? In my own situation, we could communicate plenty, but the fact is that DH isn't here for some chunks of the time that M is. I'm the adult in the house, she's a child, her needs have to get met. I'm still stuck on the practical application of some parts of this idea, although as I said, letting go of the idea that you're going to be "mom #2" seems plenty healthy to me.
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#30 of 41 Old 08-03-2008, 08:43 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ccohenou View Post
I agree that when times are tough, big feelings that aren't always pretty can arise. There are times in relationship with my own children that I think "argh, I don't want to do this anymore" - I'm sure this is pretty common. What bothers me is that in relation to stepchildren that this would be, like, named and ratified and proposed as a good plan for all sorts of difficulties.

I am not sure what you are referring to, since I don't remember seeing any posts advocating giving up caring for a child (stop picking up, making lunches, etc.). Maybe I'm overlooking something? Most certainly, if a 10 is hungry for dinner, I would expect that a responsible adult in the picture will take care of it, be it a stepparent or a bioloogical parent. Did you see another advice here? Did someone recommend to stop feeding the child? Or leave the kid in the daycare with no one to pick up?

I am a bit confused.

Also, just because your situation turned out to be less confrontational than others, it doesn't diminish the difficulties that some may have had, it doesn't mean that those difficulties were not addressed with patience and reason, and every trick in the book.

I believe the kids in blended families often resent the situation they are put in. Two households, two sets of rules, new adults they have to listen, new loyalties to be developed without betraying bio parents, a hunger for time with non-custodial parent, a feeling of jealousy that a step parent is getting more love from your dad than you do at the age of 8.

All of that can't be solved with: "suck it up, these are our rules", nor would I like to be mistreated just because I decided to join this family. A compromise, where I give up control over certain parenting decisions, while offering love and care seems perfect. Ask my stepdaughter, she'll be voting for "detaching" any day here. She thanked me for my decision when I made it, and it restored our relationship on many levels. Why would you object so much to something that helps strengthen the bond between step-parents and children?..

New endeavor coming soon...
Raising Alice in Wonderland (DSD, 17), and in love with a Superman
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