There's been a lot of activity, a lot of commotion, a bit of travel, and a lot of my husband doing the child-caring. It's been a different summer for me, given that latter fact.
We've also seen some of the changes come about this past year that people have told us for years would come eventually. My older stepdaughter is finally bonding with my husband. She always had a bond with him that wasn't reflected naturally, given the emotional stress put on her by her mother. She is very tight with her mom, wants to please her mom, and therefore felt distressed by any display of a relationship with her dad. (See writings on PAS for more info on this kind of thing. If one parent overtly dislikes and disparages the other, it will result in extreme distress for the child which is reflected in a number of specific behaviors.) So, although we knew she loved her dad (seen in many small things), her actions showed otherwise for years. It was painful, but most of all for my husband.
I still have plenty of built up trust issues with her, plus we're quite different, but I don't matter really. I would like her to respect me and treat me OK since I do a lot for her, as one of her parents, but mostly I want her to have that relationship with her dad. And since she seems to do well with a "us vs. them" mentality (like her mom), then maybe this is the way to go. She can feel like she's aligning with her dad, even though he's pretty good at reminding her that he and I are partners (which is healthy for a kid to learn, as stepkids can try to break up marriages with their anger and misdirected hurt).
My younger stepdaughter, who has been very good over the years of not playing the "you versus them" game and taking a good healthy step back in every situation, has realized just about everything we've known for years, on her own. Well, it took lots of conversations over time, but she has come to many conclusions on her own, from her own eyes and experiences. She's also very clear on what's what, which is a very novel idea for these kids. We battled their sways in opinions and the truth for years, finding that we had to constantly remind them, with evidence, that they did in fact have fun with us plenty of times or that we did not do what their false memory was telling them or that they did in fact enjoy this or that activity. It's been hard, draining, and beyond frustrating. So, to have one child realize everything all around the same time, and hold onto it, is amazingly comforting and gives us hope. We were, and still are, holding our breath a little and expecting her to "revert" or swing back and forth some, but so far she hasn't. She's been steady since the beginning of Spring.
We're not entirely sure what to do with it all. Options of stepfamilies like ours:
- If we had some reserve money, we would have already filed in court for more custody. But we only sort of have money, which disappears quite quickly given everything else and an expensive livelihood in an expensive state.
- Maybe she'll file in court, we hope and wonder. Then someone else gets the ball rolling and we just have to respond, maybe even sans lawyer (ill-advised, but has worked for friends).
- Or, my husband can simply write more requests for more time, and maybe the kids will actually stand up to her (ha, right...they fear her SO much that they even use my husband as a way to lie to her), which would piss her off enough that the changes could happen, in her moment of rage. One kid is close to walking out given her rage and asking another adult for help, even at her young age.
- Or, we just stop caring about the arrangement, which also means "stop trying." Which is extremely hard for us. We try to accept the unjust reality and have watched for years how the kids struggle in school, flounder in life choices, and sometimes make bad decisions that we try to counsel them on, often long after the decision was made. And no, we do not accept the "it will all work out in the end" solution that so many unaware people propose. Every stepparent I talk to, or divorced dad, knows that's a lie. So, sitting by and watching, which we have been forced to do for so long, is a very hard thing to do and may be less healthy than fighting.
And this is what takes us into the new year.