Children, ex's and long summers...oh my. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 06-09-2015, 10:42 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Children, ex's and long summers...oh my.

Hi there, I'm brand new to this site and was so relieved/encouraged to see so many other step parents sharing and helping each other. I've felt like I was struggling alone until this point. I'm very happy to be here

My husband's ex is a difficult woman with issues that seem beyond my ability to fully grasp.
1) She self identifies as anorexic and goes as far as telling her children (10 &13 year old girls) that being skinny is more important than anything else. She told them 500 calories a day is all they need and all kinds of other very unhealthy info. We have been working very hard to educate them on the dangers of eating disorders etc, but I don't know if years of damage can erase the voice in their heads.
2) She has pushed the 13 year old into voice lessons and told her that she WILL be famous, there simply isn't any other option for this poor girl (also tells her she won't be famous unless she's skinny). The 10 year old was ignored for years because she didn't want to sing...
3) Now they are both in ballet and she has decided that they are going to be pro ballerinas...seriously... she pushes them to a completely unattainable standard, but success is the only way they receive positive attention from her that they just keep going and keep trying.
4) She told them that they are better than my children (6&8 year old girls) and explained that they need to do whatever my kids do, but do it better so they know their place.

Unhealthy competition drives me crazy, and I get very protective of my children, because they just genuinely love their step sisters and don't understand why they tend to be mean and dismissive.
We have his children for every holiday (all summer etc) and I'm already feeling anxiety about summer activities.
Honestly, I resent them because of their behaviour, and I find I get angry if DH suggests we enrol his kids in my kid's activities. I know the fault lies with their mother, and we're very careful not to badmouth her in front of any of the children, I just feel like I'm at the end of my rope and I'm dreading this long summer ahead of me!
I would really appreciate any insight or advice!
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#2 of 6 Old 06-09-2015, 11:09 AM
 
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I'm not usually one to say this, but if she is truly only giving them 500 calories a day, I would immediately report her to CPS. Like, yesterday. Where are you getting that information from?

It sounds like your husband lives far away from the kids? Any chance you guys could move closer so that they have some more healthy influences in their lives? This all sounds incredibly sad for them to grow up hearing

And I totally get that you want to protect your girls from those negative influences-that's is a really tough one. I think it's okay to keep them in separate activities during the summer-too much forced togetherness will likely not help any of them. I'd also make sure that the time the girls are hanging out is pretty closely supervised.

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#3 of 6 Old 06-09-2015, 11:09 AM
 
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That sounds just awful. I'm sorry you're in such a difficult position. Girls at that age are so impressionable anyway, and for their own mother to be giving them body issues is just plain wrong.

I can't really relate to this situation as a parent, but as my own mother crash-dieted her way through the 80s and also put beauty and thinness above all else, I feel I can sympathize to a certain degree. I feel like if I were in this scenario, I'd have three priorities:

1. protecting my own children (from negative influences, from their stepsisters' meanness, etc.)
2. framing my stepdaughters' mother as an ill person who needs help rather than a bad person
3. Exposing my stepdaughters to healthy outside influences

Those are all easier said than done, I understand. Even if they seem to resent it, it's incredibly important that your stepdaughters understand that anorexia is a disease and that their mother needs help. You may consider counseling for them (there are certainly eating-disorder-specific support groups and counselors out there). They may absorb this information better from an outsider, since they may feel compelled to defend their mom from you and their father. I also get that this approach may really rock the boat with their mom, but given the damage she's doing to them, I'd say that's a necessary risk.

As for fostering healthy outside influences, are there any local programs you can enroll them in for the summer that would expose them to healthy, independent girls their own age? I live in Colorado and wilderness adventure programs are big around here. Back in Missouri, where I grew up, I was pretty involved with horses. Sports like softball, volleyball, etc. emphasize strength and physical fitness over skinniness. It really depends on where you live, what the girls' interests are, and what you can afford. Ballet is great and all, but it's probably not helping their budding issues with eating and body image.

If your own daughters are interested in the same activities, great. If they're not, don't force it. Explain as best you can to your own kids what the situation is. I know you need to keep it simple for a 6 year old, but I wouldn't sugarcoat it either. I think them understanding from a young age that eating disorders are an illness, and that people with eating disorders have unhealthy relationships with food (and sometimes with other people), will help them better cope with this complicated situation in the long run. If your stepdaughters are parroting their mother and starting to tell your kids that they're eating too much, they're fat, etc., then your kids will be better prepared to handle that sort of talk as they grow. Lord knows preteen girls are exposed to plenty of that nonsense anyway.

I'm sure you know all of this and it sounds like you're doing a great job already trying to counteract their mothers' terrible example. Good luck mama!
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#4 of 6 Old 06-09-2015, 11:47 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you both for your response and support!

We are far away from his girls, but will be moving close to their hometown in August.
When I first met them 3 years ago I noticed that they were very underweight, and they seemed to be nervous about eating. It was always a chore to get them to the table and they had already picked up diversion tactics at that young age (pushing food around etc). I had a I am a fitness instructor and used to work in children's services years ago, so I kind of blew the lid off what was happening. Both girls are in counselling (a therapist visits them at school, which is an amazing program imo) and are monitored for weight/health. She is in a relationship now, so her new bf makes sure there is food in the house, they still hear her negative comments. The youngest told me she can't eat dessert because she's already too fat. It breaks my heart.

JadePlant, your response made me cry! Thank you, you really nailed it. My priorities are exactly as you mentioned, and it brought a lot of peace to see it clearly in writing. My head is a jumble of thoughts and I'm so worried about any of them being more hurt because of something I do or don't do.
Their dad has really been great. He talks to them about their mom and how anorexia is an illness that makes her think and say things that aren't right. He tells them how beautiful they are and we praise them for character rather than appearance. It doesn't seem to be enough to combat what she has said to them, but I guess all we can do is continue what we're doing and hope for the best.
Affirmation that protecting my own kids emotional wellbeing is not selfish (seems like that should be obvious, but I have so much guilt about it) was really what I needed to hear.

Thank you for taking the time to support a tired, frustrated mama!

I wish I found this forum ages ago!!
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#5 of 6 Old 06-09-2015, 10:13 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carmella78 View Post
Hi there, I'm brand new to this site and was so relieved/encouraged to see so many other step parents sharing and helping each other. I've felt like I was struggling alone until this point. I'm very happy to be here

My husband's ex is a difficult woman with issues that seem beyond my ability to fully grasp.
1) She self identifies as anorexic and goes as far as telling her children (10 &13 year old girls) that being skinny is more important than anything else. She told them 500 calories a day is all they need and all kinds of other very unhealthy info. We have been working very hard to educate them on the dangers of eating disorders etc, but I don't know if years of damage can erase the voice in their heads.
2) She has pushed the 13 year old into voice lessons and told her that she WILL be famous, there simply isn't any other option for this poor girl (also tells her she won't be famous unless she's skinny). The 10 year old was ignored for years because she didn't want to sing...
3) Now they are both in ballet and she has decided that they are going to be pro ballerinas...seriously... she pushes them to a completely unattainable standard, but success is the only way they receive positive attention from her that they just keep going and keep trying.
4) She told them that they are better than my children (6&8 year old girls) and explained that they need to do whatever my kids do, but do it better so they know their place.

Unhealthy competition drives me crazy, and I get very protective of my children, because they just genuinely love their step sisters and don't understand why they tend to be mean and dismissive.
We have his children for every holiday (all summer etc) and I'm already feeling anxiety about summer activities.
Honestly, I resent them because of their behaviour, and I find I get angry if DH suggests we enrol his kids in my kid's activities. I know the fault lies with their mother, and we're very careful not to badmouth her in front of any of the children, I just feel like I'm at the end of my rope and I'm dreading this long summer ahead of me!
I would really appreciate any insight or advice!
Hello, carmella78! Thanks for sharing with us about your family and yourhusband’s ex. I'm sorry you're so frustrated right now with your circumstances, and I can certainly understand your feelings of wanting to protectyour children from their step sisters. Do you think it might be helpful if youtalk with your husband openly about how stressful the summer time together could be? Would it work out better ifyou keep them occupied with different activities? Hope you figure out something soon.Hang in there, momma! Praying for your family!
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#6 of 6 Old 06-10-2015, 08:10 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carmella78 View Post
...I'm so worried about any of them being more hurt because of something I do or don't do...
Affirmation that protecting my own kids emotional wellbeing is not selfish (seems like that should be obvious, but I have so much guilt about it) was really what I needed to hear...
Sadly, I don't think what you've expressed is obvious - for plenty of us! Many women expect that their maternal instincts should kick in more-or-less equally with any child in need. If they don't, does that mean there's something broken or ugly inside of us? And we want so much to believe that good parenting can cure just about anything for our kids...because the possibility that it can't is so frightening, when our kids have serious issues.

But it is harder to accept behavior/personality issues in kids who aren't ours and whom we didn't raise and influence to be the way they are. All the effort, good examples and talk therapy in the world still may not fix the damage your DSDs' mother has done to them. And of course you are right to want to protect your children from hurt and/or unhealthy examples - even if those things stem from your husband's children.

My teenage DSS has a rather messed-up mother and - probably as a result of being isolated with her a lot, his first 8.5 years, or at least as a result of his parents' God-awful divorce - he struggles with behavior I don't want my kids to copy, and sometimes he's just a jerk to them. Slowly, during his teens, I've let go of the ideal that he and my older sons would feel like brothers and that he'd be a wonderful big brother to DH's and my younger son; that our family would ever "blend" to the point that we felt like a "regular" family; that DSS and I would ever love each other in more-or-less the same way I love "my" kids; and that DH and I would ever completely be able to fix the screwed-up ideas, instincts and behavior which I sense DSS picked up from his mom.

That sounds depressing. And the process of letting go of those ideals was depressing. Looking back, I see that I mourned them - literally. I felt like it was my responsibility to ensure all the things I listed above happened, and that I failed. But actually having let go of them is kind of freeing. I can see that I was never in charge of all those things - I never had total power to accomplish any of them. So it's not my failure. I tried really hard. But maybe they were the wrong goals, all along. Maybe it's OK that all our sons simply form their own, unique relationships with each other, which are imperfect but still better than any of them growing up in a home with no other children. Maybe it's enough that our family finds its own way to work, that doesn't have to look or feel like anyone else's; and DSS and I find some sort of relationship that also doesn't have to look or feel like the ones we have with anyone else, doesn't have to be as close as parent and child. Maybe it's enough that DH and I are here to help DSS handle the cards he drew in life, even if we can't fix everything that's unfair for him.

Maintaining the integrity of your core relationship with your bio kids and giving them a buffer zone, away from hurtful stepsisters is not selfish. It's your job. Raising your step-daughters is your husband's job. You can help him. But you shouldn't charge yourself with helping him at the expense of your own job; nor should you hold yourself significantly responsible for the results of his job.
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Last edited by VocalMinority; 06-12-2015 at 03:48 PM. Reason: I put an apostrophe in a plural word, like it was a possessive! Horrors!
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