Suddenly a step-parent -- help!
First, let me say how relieved I was to find this forum. I could really use support and advice. If anyone who has children is offended by what I say, please forgive me and try not to judge. I am doing my best to rise to the biggest occasion of my life -- having a step-child live with me full-time -- which has suddenly become my reality when it was never even on the table.
I started dating my BF almost five years ago, but we've known each other since we were kids. We lost contact for an extended period, and when we reconnected, I learned he'd been married, divorced and became a father. After a full year of dating to make sure our relationship was real, I met his daughter (she is now 9) and it seemed to go well. I didn't press her to think the world of me right off the bat and she took her time warming up but now I think we're in good shape. When we're home at the same time, we have fun.
He has been sharing custody with BM, 50-50. We settled in the town where we did so he could continue to be 10 minutes away from BM to make things easy for his daughter, keep her in the same school, all that good stuff. He told me he wasn't looking for another mom for his daughter, that she had one who was very involved and that's how he wanted it to be even though they don't get along great. A daughter needs her mother, etc.
Anyway over time it has become clear that BM is a mess. I suspect substance abuse of some kind but I really don't know... She will just use any excuse to not take her daughter for the night. I don't know how he ever thought that this would work out. He is slowly but surely taking custody, in reality if not on paper, because this woman is barely interested in her daughter. She only wants her around when it's fun and she has nothing better to do. If it involves actual parenting, helping with homework, etc., she's "too busy." Recently we had her for three weeks straight with not a peep of protest from "Mom." It was the child who eventually insisted on having what she now calls "a sleepover"...with her own mother, for God's sake!
I am having a hard time with this adjustment because as a step-parent, I have zero authority. When she's with us, she owns the living room TV, and it's six-hour stretches of cartoons. The house is trashed and she cannot be asked to pick up after herself or be responsible in any way. There has been no change in what's expected of her since we were introduced, which was years ago now. I believe her father feels so guilty about the divorce that he thinks leaving her totally undisciplined will make up for it. I don't know. He seems to really think that parents who draw any firm lines and enforce discipline have "checked out" on their kids emotionally.
I've generally been aghast at how permissive contemporary parents are -- again, I guess because I'm not a parent. I understand putting your child first in terms of building your working hours around their schedule and what they need, getting them to bed on time even if it's inconvenient for you or they punish you emotionally, because sleep deprivation leads to such problems in school, etc. But I'm dealing with a generation of parents who have to work late and then just let their kids run amock because they "don't want to fight with them" for the precious hour they see them every night, and who let them stay up late to "be cool" and then just accept poor performance in school (I've been hanging out with these parents, and if I hear one more person say "I don't care if my kid gets Bs and Cs as long as they're happy"...way to set your child up for lower earnings potential for a lifetime...is this really about putting your kid first, or making sure YOU get to feel like the hero all the time, even when you're totally screwing up?).
Anyway, when you build a life with a parent you have to embrace their parenting style. I actually do get that. And while we talk about different approaches to take with her in private, I have NEVER contradicted my BF in front of her or asked my SD to do anything (per a therapist, who says I can only be there as a friend and resource). And having her there only part-time, I honestly could pull this off.
But the idea that this is going to be my home environment 7 days a week is putting me into a panic. Cartoons are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, I don't know how or why any parent would want to learn to tune them out rather than get their child involved in productive activities. And I am not a maid service. A 9 year old child can be asked to collect her toys at the end of the night as part of the bedtime routine. Am I crazy? Is this child abuse? My BF is so exhausted from work, he throws his hands up at everything. And I'm not allowed to lead the charge, per the therapist, so nothing gets better.
Not that I really could lead the charge, because on top of everything else, my schedule is NO help at all to my BF, who I firmly believe WILL come to resent me at some point over it. I think I'm most afraid of that as we make this change from 50% to 100%. I am a writer and a performer and work freelance. My hours are always changing. I would basically have to give up my entire way of life to become a significant caregiver. And with the way she's being raised, I don't want to. She isn't doing great in school, she has discipline problems that lead to stress for everyone, but her father is committed to laissez-faire "let's hope the child raises herself" parenting. I have no idea how to supervise her when she has gotten so used to constant indulgence. I can't get behind it because I don't see that it's resulting in anything positive for this poor girl. And I'm home all kinds of crazy unhelpful hours, anyway...
So my emotions are all over the map. I have to be clear that I care about this young girl. I really do. I don't blame her for any of this, it is all her parents' doing. When she stares at the tube for hours and makes huge messes, hey, she's a kid being a kid. That's what we all did whenever we could get away with it. But at the end of the day, I live there too! And I feel less and less relevant to ANY decisions that are being made. Plus I don't know how to contribute meaningfully toward all these new demands without giving up the career I've worked 45 years to build.
I love my BF and want this to work. Aside from his parenting, he is otherwise a disciplined, thoughtful and smart guy (I really do think the guilt over the divorce has scrambled his brains on that front). He loves me and, ironically enough, chose me even though I wasn't exactly Mom 2.0 material because we're so compatible and otherwise everything goes so great. But it makes me so insecure. Now that her needs have changed, is the era of Sarah soon to be over? He says no...but looking at the realities of what we're facing, unless he suddenly has all this money for a nanny, we're in big trouble. I see that even if he doesn't yet.
I am trying to contribute in as many ways as I can without losing myself. But within this context, I feel like a terrible person. Everyone thinks I'm supposed to feel this huge urge to give up everything for this child that isn't even mine. I feel like I can't possibly be what his family really needs. We talk about it, but you can't really have an objective conversation with any parent. Their love for their child will always dwarf all other things and I'm not saying that's wrong...I'm just saying, I don't know what to do or how to handle this.