Vengeful, undermining biological relatives
I am a step parent to children ranging from 5 to upper teens. Long story, but there is religion in the background that led to the multiple kids, and also to some very poor boundaries in the immediate and wider family. The children’s biological father ended his coercive and emotionally abusive relationship to my partner by hitting her in front of several of the children. The fallout from that has of course been dramatic at times.
My partner has been a lioness in trying to protect the children since, by immediately reporting her ex-H to the police and kicking him out. Thanks to the pandemic, he was not able to see the children much for the best part of two years, during which I met their mother and have become very attached to the children. I love her very dearly – we are blessed with a very deep connection - and have tried to be supportive as far as family drama was concerned. Let me be clear that our relationship is not in doubt and our communication is frank and constructive.
Throughout, as can be expected of an abusive narcissist, the exH has been vile to their mother and has tried to use court to continue attacking her. My partner was extremely wise in her legal approach and got the best outcome she was ever likely to get re finance and contact with the kids. Bear in mind he was both violent and had a history of CSA in his past: the judge sided with him and was adamant he have full access to the children. My partner, for her efforts at safeguarding, was saddled with debt to pay the legal fees.
For the first time since court concluded, the children have had a holiday with him and his new wife. We knew it would be hard when they came back, but for me it has been worse than I could ever have imagined. They were brim full of the junk food he fed them on the car journey home and fizzing with tales of the holiday they’d had, during which the father had showered them with treats and other goodies which my partner and I can’t afford. All this incredibly galling given the father never used to even go on family holidays in the past, let alone fancy ones like this.
But the worst part was that he had taken the children to see my partner’s mother – a woman so vindictive and disturbed that she once tried to get her daughter fired from her job! This woman favoured the violent ex over her own daughter, in the aftermath of the abuse that took place. Biological father did this without asking my partner, and in full knowledge of the pain it would cause her. Indeed, he did it because of the pain it would cause her – because while they were married, he had no time or interest in his mother-in-law.
I am an inexperienced and naïve parent. I adore the children’s mother, and have tried to love and care for her children as if they are mine. But they are not mine. And when I heard all of this – the deeply vindictive and toxic behaviour of these adults, using children as pawns to punish my partner, I am sorry to say I melted down. I had to leave my partner to be the saint that she is, showing enthusiasm for the kids’ tales of their shiny holiday. I was incandescent with rage at the injustice of it all. That’s not something I can hide from the kids so I hid myself a bit. Next door, I listened as the youngest cheerily said that he had forgotten all about his mum and the house he lived in.
Later, as I was talking to my partner and the awfulness of the situation was sinking in – the realisation that this abusive, undermining behaviour would never end so long as the father is alive - I was just hit with the realisation that I am no one to those kids. I have no rights where they are concerned. I cannot protect them. And it wouldn’t take long for them to forget I exist. I found myself wondering whether I am putting too much of myself into my relationship with them.
Before you accuse me of sounding selfish, let me agree with you. I am selfish. I have only ever been a single and child-free person. I have no idea how you squash down these awful feelings and pretend everything is ok in front of children. I have no idea about this concept called unconditional love. (Especially having been brought up by a narcissistic mother myself.) I gamely involved myself in something that I could not have imagined was so toxic. I feel utterly heartbroken about what this will do to the children over time, that I cannot do anything to keep them safe, and that I am unlikely to ever be the superhero my partner needs to support her through this.
I am completely out of my depth and would be very, very grateful for some advice. How do I keep myself sane and keep my expecations realistic?