The No-win Life of a Stepmother
Lately, my DH and I have been fighting a lot whenever his children come to visit. We are both more likely to snap at one another and fight when the kids are around. The last two days, we've had some long discussions about how to resolve this.
I've shared with him that I think he expects me to behave differently when his kids are around, that he expects me to treat his children as if they are the most special people in the world when they are around, and that I want nothing better than to cater to their every whim.
A good example, I had a day off from work on Friday. Before going to pick up his children, DH says to me, "I would really like it, if you came downstairs when I got back with the kids." Fair enough, you'd say, but on most visitation weekends, I get home after everyone is at the house. No one ever comes down to say hello to me...no one even stirs to greet me if I come upstairs and walk into the room where they're watching televison. Despite all that, I went downstairs when the kids arrived. DH was the only one who said the word to me and after about 2 minutes, both boys and then my DH walked by me and went upstairs.
Later that evening, DH and his son were in the tv room and I sent him some texts - just to tease him and try to be funny. I also ask if he wants to bring SSs to the city with me tomorrow. He comes storming out to yell at me for interrupting his time with his child. I don't even fight back with him, I just say "fine" and go downstairs to the guest room to go to sleep.
The next day, I went alone to the city for my appointment and then walked around, got lunch, did some shopping for about four hours before going home. DH wasn't even home when I returned. He apparently had things he had to do and one SS had a birthday party (neither of which he told me about). Fair enough, I'm fine doing my own thing when SSs are around. I'm still upset that DH totally snapped at me and annoyed that he expects me to go out of my way to cater to SSs and make them feel like I'm so glad they're there to stay to us, when they can't even bother to say hello.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of DH undercutting me in front of his children. Whenever I remind his children that their trash should go in the bin, that their dirty plates should go in the sink, that dirty clothes should go in the bin, etc, DH will step in and say "it's not a big deal. Why are you making a big deal out of this?"
So, after this weekend - where we had two blowouts over the fact that neither of us are happy when his kids are around, I told him that I thought we needed to have a heart-to-heart about everything. He said he didn't want to tell me what he thought and then finally told me, "I just feel like you're always competing for attention with my children."
I pointed four things out to him:
1) Expecting not to be ignored or forgotten when his kids are around, is not an unreasonable request. There have been many instances where DH has forgotten that he was supposed to meet me or pick me up (once I was stranded at the airport because he was hanging out with his kids and didn't answer any of my 6 phone calls - he claimed he didn't see his phone). Or when DH has been late to meet me or left me to do things on my own (like set up the birthday party for MIL that DH insisted he would manage completely on his own. I also cleaned up on my own because he had to bring SSs home after the party) because his kids were hungry, so he needed to stop for food or BM sent his kids in inappropriate clothing, so he need to go home first to get clothes for them. I've told him repeatedly that I feel like either a single woman or the housekeeper when his kids are around. I don't feel like his wife.
2) When I go off and do my own thing, leaving DH to give all of his attention to SSs, he gets annoyed with me that I'm not spending enough time with SSs. I feel like I can't win with him. Either I'm competing for his attention or I'm being cold with his kids.
3) That he expects me to go above and beyond without any appreciation from him or SSs. He typically wants me to drop everything and spend all kinds of "family time" with him and SSs. I get their presents for Christmas, Easter, and birthdays, I plan activities and in return, I get very limited appreciation and often judgment or disdain at what was received.
4) When I first met DH, his kids would compete to see if they could take his attention away from me. DH would give me a hug and one SS (9 years old at the time) would try to sneak between us. DH would sit down next to me on the couch and SS would come to sit on his lap (even though he never sat on DH's lap, otherwise). DH thought it was hilarious when he noticed that was what was happening and used to tease SS about it. When I first started staying over when the kids were there, they would scream and cry insisting that he needed to sleep in their bed with them. I told him that he shouldn't act as if these things don't matter, because my SSs are noticing everything to see who comes first. So, when DH undercuts me when I try to get them to put in the bare minimum effort, he is telling them that they come first and don't need to listen to me.
I told DH that he expects me to feel like a parent toward his children, but he doesn't let me parent them, so I will never feel like a parent toward them.
I also tell him that I'm annoyed that he accuses me of competing with his children for attention because I am his wife, so I shouldn't be okay being shunted to the side just because his kids are around. I shouldn't expect to be ignored just because his kids are around. If I was the mother of his children, he wouldn't expect me to fade off into the background, so his kids could take center stage. He replied and said, "see, I knew I didn't want to tell you, because it would just make you angry." I replied, "I'm not angry, I just think you're wrong."
I feel like this is a line of thinking that a SM can never neutralize. I realize it must be difficult for DH to only see his kids every other weekend, but I don't think that my expecting to be treated as anything other than his wife - who deserves some attention even when the kids are around - is my "competing" for attention from his kids. If anything, he's expecting me to forego any interaction - other than the "happy family" interaction he dictates - when his kids are around.
After weekends like this, I do wonder how long we'll make it because I know things will only get worse from here on out. I have also thought about counseling and suggested it for DH on his own to work through some of his issues of guilt over his divorce and anger and sadness that he only sees his kids EOWE, but since DH doesn't think he has a problem, I don't think it will help.