Reflections as a step-parent for 18 years
I have read many of your posts and find myself aligning and feeling compassionate toward your stories and sighing, eye rolling, experiencing frustration and sadness as I read.
I wanted to share my experiences and write some things down for you, but also for my own healing. I hope some of these observations and suggestions help you.
I have bio children and adult step-children. I met my DH post his separation (and his kids were obviously young). It was kind of a typical situation where ex wife did not want her DH, but she didn't want anyone else to have him either. I came on the scene without children and without the understanding of what it was like to be a parent. I did however want to include his children as part of my family. It was my hope that because I am not a nasty person, they would naturally like me as I was not to blame for their parents separation.
So, I was somewhat naive, too trusting and really didn't have a clue about how attachments between parents and children played out and continue to play out regardless of age and stage. The types of phrases I would hear from others were "but you knew he had kids", "oh they will grow up and get families of their own", "just ignore their behaviour, they will grow out of it", "of course your husband has to take his kids side, they are his kids and you are his wife.. they come first" etc etc etc.
So, here is what I want to say.
1. Step-parenting is an extremely challenging gig.
2. Step-children (particularly step-daughters) do not grow out of it - there is a constant unconscious attachment driver at play - to be number one, or the most special to their step-parent (no matter what age).
3. You are an intruder in their family unit.
4. They are more likely to tolerate you if you know your 'place'.
5. They will continue to let you know your place in very subtle ways - to the point where you might start questioning if it's you or your imagination or being overly sensitivite. But, they are really just subtle reminders.
6. Your partner will most likely feel conflicted about time and priority - and that will be ongoing.
This is what I wish I knew before I took on the role.
1. Being a biological parent and meeting a new partner, and the bio parent introducing them to your children is alot harder than they will realise.
2. That for much of the time you need to champion your own cause, know that you have every right to have your voice heard and every right to exist in your new family. It is typically you that needs to stand up for you.
3. That you can respond towards them from a position of your values, which does not mean you compromise your integrity, or be sidelined and bullied.
4. That regardless of their blame, you owe them nothing except being courteous, respectful and when can, kind, and leaving any of their blame or 'splitting' where it belongs - which is not a part of your life.
5. You are allowed to say "I did my best, but I am not a part of your (step childs) narrative. Your narrative does not belong in my world."
6. You are allowed to put boundaries around your relationships with the step-children. Your partner CHOSE to accept a new partner in his/her life. As part of that choice comes responsibility to acknowledge your place in their life, and not bow down to the pressures of the unconcious drivers acted out by his/her children.
7. Yes, your partner has a responsibility to parent, love and be their for his/her children, but NOT at your expense and putting you in a substandard position. You are not someone's symbol for blame. Your partner needs to own you as a couple, where you make decisions together and live in an environment where you are both kind and respectful to his/her children and the bio parent can love the children in a different way to you.
8. You are allowed to claim your relationship which is prioritised, which does sit at the top of the food chain - AND, have the kids treat you respectfully and kindly - as you would to them. It would be unhealthy for anyone couple to have the kids running the show and letting the step-parent know that they are in charge. That is not looking after yourself and your well-being.
9. Acknowledge to yourself (if appropriate) that they are not your kids. You were INVITED into your relationship with your partner, and you deserve to be treated with respect and as a priority.