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What is disengaging?

Step575's picture

Hello everyone,

I have been reading about the notion of 'disengaging'. I was wondering what that would look like with a SS(13) that we have 50/50 custody over and a husband who wants the Brady Bunch kind of life? My SS is not a bad kid- but our personalities just don't click. My DH and I have a daughter together, DD(18Mo). The only time DH and I ever argue is about his son. I'm not someone who can be half involved- I'm either all in or all out. I've been 'all in' with SS but the problem with that I feel like I parent SS more than his bio parents do (I'm not trying to be his play mate and have no problem holding him accountable for his actions). DH and I are in a really bad place. He says its 'death by a thousand cuts' in terms of the things I say about SS. I shine light on things that DH has been fine keeping in the shadows- and that has been THE major issue in our relationship. I'm thinking disengaging might be the way to go... thoughts?  

Step575's picture

Sure... So for example, SS's default to anything is "no" or will come up wtih every excuse in the book not to do things....

Do you want to play X sport? No. Do you want to join X club? No. Do you want to try this artistic thing? No. Do you want to go visit X grandparent at the beach for a few days? No. The only time SS will ever push himself outside of his comfort zone or do anything whatsoever- is with either DH or BM right there with him.

So- SS had been playing soccer wtih DH pretty regularly in the back yard. I signed SS up for a 6 week soccer club (every saturday for 1 hour) where he could learn a thing or two about soccer. I got DH's permission first to make sure he was on board- he agreed it was a good idea and was the one to enforce it. SS went- but was not pleased. Now- DH would have asked SS if he wanted to sign up for the club- I didn't ask becuase I know the default will be no. That's just one way DH and I differ.

SS will sit on his phone and lurk around the house waiting for DH. I will call attention to this dynamic- DH will call me a bully for calling attention to this dynamic. He will say, this is his house too. I get it- but live your life!


Rags's picture

We had to adopt this model with SS when he was around the age your SS is.  For two main reasons.  SS would never have left the house and if we asked anything invariably we would be told what SS thought we wanted to hear rather than the truth.

So, we signed him up for activities and made him partincipate and instead of asking if his homework was done, we told him to show us his completed homework.

It worked well.  To prevent behaviors we did not like, we established clear standards of behavior and performance and enforced them.

You have landed on discussing with DH and him being the enforcer on Soccer camp.  Do the same with the household rules that support the standards you required for kids in your home. Then enforce them in an age appropriate manner for each kid.

That way, you are not the bully and you can use a rolled up copy of those standards to beat your DH about the head and shoulders with when he tries to gaslight you about his failed family progeny not performing to standard.

Step575's picture

My issue has more to do with DH than SS. SS will listen to me and do what I ask- DH doesn't like my approach. That's why I've been thinking about taking a major step back. It's challenging because I can see the gains that SS has made- yes it's been through tough but supportive love- but tough nonetheless. DH and I just see him very differently. 

tog redux's picture

Disengaging means you focus on your child and let DH deal with SS. All parenting is on him. You can help as you see fit, but aren't obligated to do so. Set boundaries as needed and refocus your energy on your own child.

Step575's picture

I definitely try like hell to focus on DD- but SS is always around constantly drawing attention to himself. We can't even take a family walk without it turning into an issue with SS. I guess no more family walks? I don't fully trust him around DD and so I also don't feel comfortable letting her go off wtih him- even when DH is there. DH doesn't see how SS can be sneaky with her (trying to get her to curse)- and I don't turst that he won't be a jerk to an 18 month old out of jealousy. That's the tricky part. I can't force DH to see what I see in SS.

tog redux's picture

You can go on a family walk if you want. That's up to you. But if SS is a pain in the butt on those walks, you can stop going. You set the boundaries you want to set. If SS asks you to do something, tell him "ask your father".

I got along well with my SS and would have gone on a walk with him and DH. But any parenting on that walk was up to DH, not me.

Harry's picture

If DH goes someplace or somewhere SS goes with him. DH cooks for SS does his cloths cleans up after him   Does all the transportation and entertainment 

Step575's picture

The issue is that DH works a lot. He wants SS with us 50/50 but during the work week it often falls on me. We have SS on Mondays. Every monday holiday I'm the one who is home with SS. DH and BM don't rotate the Monday holidays and DH has to work on thsoe days- so they all fall on me. Ive tried to bring this up with DH multiple times- but the conversation goes nowhere. I think DH is truly stunned that I'm not in love with SS and so I think he'll have an issue wtih me backing way off. My face also says it all. I can say absolutely nothing- but DH can just tell when something is getting under my skin. I honestly feel at a loss...

GrudgingSM's picture

Okay, so what you're descibing is him not accepting your feelings. You're allowed to find the kid frustrating! You're allowed to feel however you feel! You don't have to love him, and in fact, that's not really something you have control over. You have control over your actions, but that means you have to be kind and respectful. It's his job to parent HIS kid. You can't care more than he does. But really the thing that gets under my skin here is that he is upset that you don't feel differently. Sorry, dude. You're raising an annoying kid, so people will be annoyed. I don't know where men kid this brady bunch nonsense. My DH was the same way. After many firm conversations, he finally got it, but I know it's hard that I find his kids unlikable (because they ARE!). 

I hear you on all in or out. I'm much the same way. But I also have been clear about me not babysitting kids that aren't mine (other than short errands). I don't cook for them. I don't do their laundry. I have a lot of hobbies and things that take me out of teh house when they're around. It took a long time for him to get used to it, but now he seems to accept it. You don't have to like his parenting, and he doesn't have to like that you're not into his kid. Feelings are feelings. 

Dogmom1321's picture

He needs to understand that HIS child is not YOUR responsibility. I'm sure he wants his kid at his house all the time. However, if he is not available to parent, that doesn't mean he just pushes it on you. The CO is for the SK to see his bio parent. Your SK isn't coming to your house to spend time with SM. That's just not how it works. If DH is unavailable during his scheduled time, he needs to figure something else out. Child needs to either stay with BM, DH needs to coordinate a babysitter, etc. You are not free childcare to DH and BM. 

Sounds like your SS isn't a golden child either. When everything is an argument or drama, it's exhausting. Let DH know that's WHY you are disengaging. 

If DH would actually parent his child to listen to adults, follow directions, show gratitude, etc. I'm sure you would have no problem having SS tagging along! Sadly that is just not the case with the majority of SKs. It's not fair to you that he is expecting you to make up for his short-comings as a parent. Put the ball back in his court. 

JRI's picture

I wouldnt sign a SK  up for a sport or anything like that.  Thats DH's decision, if DH asked me to, then I would.  I disengaged from YSS in his teens.  Frankly, DH and YSS seemed relieved.  So was I.  Up til then, I had assumed a "mother role", like I did for SD and OSS.  I think YSS had a strong loyalty to BM plus normal teen rebelliouness, whatever.  Life was better when I stopped.

Step575's picture

While I found the soccer clinic online- I only signed him up after checking in with DH first for approval. DH supported the soccer clinic and was ultimately the one to enforce it. I just used that as an example of how DH and I are different. I would just sign him up (obviously asking DH first)- he would ask SS if he was interested in trying it only to be told 'no'. 

I think he and I just view things differently. Like two people sitting down to watch a movie. He sees a comedy- I see a horror show. Same movie- different perspectives. 



Kes's picture

Sorry I haven't read through the above replies, but disengaging (people may have already said this) can be what you want it to look like.  I disengaged 18 yrs ago without knowing it was a thing - I just did it instinctively to protect myself.  In my case it was letting DH do ALL the parenting and outings etc with the SDs when they came to our house EOW.  A few years later when they were becoming stroppy pre-teens and refusing to eat my food, I told DH he was also responsible for doing the cooking for them as well. 

Biostep7777's picture

OP I hope you don't mind me jumping in your post and asking a question (hopefully it can help you too) but for those who disengage, how does your SO feel about it? I haven't done this yet but I think I need to. My DH is sooooooo good to my kids. He's very involved, he is always there to help out, he doesn't "punish" them per se but if they are being disrespectful to me he will call them out (he can do this at this point, they are super close and have an amazing relationship!) he knows I feel like his kids are very entitled and spoiled. However he doesn't realize that  I'm truly to the point I just can't stand being around them and think I need to keep my distance but I can't help wondering how that would feel to DH when he does so much for my kids and I basically want as little as possible to do with his. I know he wants one big happy family but these kids are so awful I literally can barely stand being in the same house with them. But my DH absolutely ADORES my kids.  

JRI's picture

My DH was wonderful to my kids, I can never thank him enough.  His kids are a different story.  I disengaged from YSS in his teens and looking back, I think he was relieved.  He would never dream of saying a negative word to YSS and I brought up another version of reality.  When I disengaged, it seemed like a load off his shoulders.

Flash forward, YSS is an exemplary father and a successful salesman.  He has his flaws, which I could see back then, but he is functioning altho separated from wife and experiencing financial probs.  DH couldnt be prouder.

Biostep7777's picture

Thank you! How did you disengage? I mean I say hi to YSS and he doesn't say anything. If DH says "if someone says hello the polite thing to do is say it back" he instantly starts crying saying he didn't do anything wrong. In all actuality it's just easier for all of us if we just don't bother with it. It's really awful but either we just ignore his rudeness or if DH calls him on it he completely falls apart. We had a family friend witness this one time and was completely flabbergasted because DH was not mean or yell or belittle him, just called him out and said to say hello in return. The reaction was completely overreacting.  I mean literally screaming and yelling that he did nothing wrong and shouldn't have to say hi if he doesn't want to and to leave him alone. This is with EVERYTHING. He cries about literally everything so I feel like the less I associate with him the better. My oldest SS. Omg where to start. Everything that comes out of his mouth is negative. He pouts and stomps around if people don't pamper him. He wants everyone to tip toe around him. He's is just rude and crappy to everyone. He is joking around but keeps calling my dog fat and I am crawling out of my skin!!! We tell them to be kind, if you can't be kind don't open your mouth. They call people idiots. Like the most negative miserable people ever!!! I just want nothing to do with them. Nothing!!! I don't know if disengaging means just not disciplining or just not even talking to them or locking myself in my room when they are here or me and my kids skipping town on the weekends they are here (LOL) or what! 

Wicked stepmo.'s picture

I have learned that you cannot do more for your SKs than their parents. You cannot do more for SKs than they want for themselves. 

Let the parents take the lead no matter the consequences to their children.. put your focus and energy elsewhere.

Rags's picture

There are different levels of disengaging. From full disengaging that pretty much lets SKid run amok while you leave their breeder parent to deal with it all, to selective disengagment where you adopt the "go ask your mom/dad" any time the Skid asks for something and you pretty much just ignore the Skid and shuffle them off out of your way so they are minimized as an irritant in your life.  Lots of wine helps, regardless of your chosen level of disengagement.

I am not a fan of disengagement.  I am more of a full participation and full confrontation of inappropriate behaviors guy.  To me disengagement is abdicating a signficant part of one's life and participation in one's marriage.

So, I was all in.   I was my SS-28's dad.  I raised him as my own and his mom and I worked together to create our marriage, family, and live our lives.  He was an only child in our home.  We have always been close and nearly 10 years after he launched into adulthood and his own life we remain close.

Take care of you.

Step575's picture

Thank you. I've tried to be all in and parent SS as if he were my own- the problem is that I'm "mean" (according to DH) with my approach of being honest- age appropriate but brutally honest- so for the sake of my marriage and sanity I just feel it's best to let him deal with it.

Winterglow's picture

OK, I get it. You want to be an actual parent and help this kid grow up to be a decent human being whereas your DuH aspires to be his BFF. Does he even notice that a lot more things get done by doing them your way in comparison to his?

Just our of idle curiosity, has your SS ever called you "mean" or is it only your DuH?

Step575's picture

DH definitely notices a difference and often says he agrees with what I say- just not how I say it. I get it- in the moment I can be reactive- as I don't just let things go that are bothersome. I wouldn't say I'm mean, direct definitely, but not mean. SS has never called me mean- he listens when I tell him to do something because he knows I'm not his buddy. I think he's a little afarid to push it with me- as he knows I am very direct. Im direct with compliments, too. I'm very intentional if he does something well, I'll be the first to offer praise. I don't just praise him for the hell of it either- if he does something genuinely well, I will give him a genuine compliment. He pushes back against DH like you wouldn't believe- I think because he's gotten away with it for so long he thinks he can. He doesn't pull that with me at all.  It's funny though, when we're all home together SS won't just lurk around me- he does this only when DH is around. I don't think SS fully knows how to relate to me as I'm one of the few adults in his life who isn't interested in being his playmate. To answer your question- the only one to ever call me mean is DH.

Winterglow's picture

"the only one to ever call me mean is DH"

That says it all... I'm sorry he isn't there for you.. or for his son, for that matter.