Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fearing Your Stepchild

My followers often comment that what I wrote is exactly what they were thinking or experiencing. I had that experience when reading an article from The author described how her stepdaughter, who was still a child, was raised to think her stepmom was an idiot. Given that her stepmom is an idiot, she was trying to raise her half-sister- stepmom's new baby. How could an idiot stepmother properly care for her little sister, of course. This led to the stepdaughter not heading any directions, and one extremely scary situation that could have ended or impaired the baby's life.

This is actually something I've known about one of my own stepdaughters. I know that if I were to have a baby or adopt, she would consider herself more knowledgeable than I am. I've already seen minor cases of this for years in various arenas, such as her directives when caring for the pets I care for daily that she hardly sees.

When my stepdaughters were younger children, they informed me that I would be fine as a stepmom because they would teach me how to mother.


Thanks anyways.

So there's two types of actual fear of stepchildren that I've identified from years of reading other stepmoms' stories:

  1. Fear that the stepchild will harm, and even kill, our own child
  2. Fear that the stepchild will harm us
Sometime around last Christmas, I read a post in a Facebook group about a stepmom who's teenage stepchild put actual poison in her drink. Sounds like Snow White in reverse to me.

This is real, folks. It's also why stepmoms feels so misunderstood and alone, as usually nobody will believe how horrible our stepchildren can be to us or make us feel. Even their own fathers, witnessing the events, can be in complete denial. 

I don't think my stepkids will kill me, but I have sincerely feared one of my stepdaughter's violent tendencies. The first night I met her, I watched her strongly hit a family member repeatedly while playing a game. I learned quickly that her idea of play wasn't so much wrestling and rough-housing as it was "let's see how I can hurt stepmom". Play would turn into "chase stepmom" and laugh hideously about it, as I begged for her to stop. I avoided pools, or made sure to get into a pool when she wasn't nearby. As soon as she would start to come towards me, I would get out. This is because one time she was choking me underwater and just didn't understand why that was upsetting to me. "Stop" is not understood. I also know to stay away from her when she gets the same look in her eyes as those chasing sessions while wielding a bat. Yes, a bat. When she was younger, it was plastic bats. Now they're real bats. 

I'm not the only one, though. Her sister has been physically hurt by her for years, so I feel a bit of a bond to my younger stepdaughter in this way. It's just that my younger stepdaughter doesn't seem to know when to get out and walk away before it escalates, a typical little sibling problem. We brought up the physical bullying in court years ago and asked that we care for them more so that my younger stepdaughter was safer, and no one was interested.

My situation is slightly more odd than the usual stepmom hate that other stepmoms experience. My older stepdaughter is emotionally abused and was quite set-back by how badly the divorce of her parents was handled. I don't think she actually does want to "hurt" me (probably deep down, yes), but she does get a thrill out of scaring someone or upsetting them. She rough houses with her mom, who also was like this apparently, and it seems to be an odd form of bonding for them. So, it's possible she thinks that this would be appropriate with others like me, but I have no interested in that kind of "play" where I feel chased and scared. 

As I still hold some physical fear of one of my stepchildren, I'm not the expert to go to on how to fix this. Therapy is probably your best option, for everybody in the family as you need to cope, Dad needs to learn how to parent and learn what abuse is, and the children have some definite issues to workout.

I really just wanted to comment on these fears, and how they are based in reality.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Every Other Weekend Husband

My husband, standalone without all the junk that attacks him regularly, is a great, calm, nice man that wants to do his family right. He wants to take care of us, give us everything he can, and will be there for us until the end.

But he is an every-other-weekend dad. This is also referred to as "EOW" in custody/stepfamily forums online. This is the proper term that replaces the nasty and substantially overused "Disneyland Dad" term that so many people throw around loosely, not really realizing what they're saying. I've noticed that it is often used to describe a dad that the person (a woman) doesn't even know, usually adapted from a bitter mom, or used in defense by a dad who is trying desperately to prove that he loves his children and wants to be more than the D-land Dad title used against him in court. Using this term is insulting and automatically discounts a dad that rarely gets to see his children, plus shows pure ignorance of the real meaning behind it.

The every-other-weekend schedule hurts our marriage, substantially. We do a pretty decent job loving each other through all the crap his prior marriage has put on us, but the custody schedule and its severe limitations not only hurts the kids, but it hurts our home.

I have been told that I should just be happy we don't see the kids as much as we wish we could so that my husband and I can live it up and party every other weekend without the kids. Some moms are rightly jealous that we get some time off, and I get that sentiment plenty. It is true that we get to go out, go on some weekend outings, and things like that because of the custody schedule. What only stepmoms with limited custody know is that there's a huge downside to it, too.

This post isn't going to be about the obvious negative of the every-other-weekend schedule, though. But for the sake of the topic, let me put those points forward. It does suck plenty when you don't have the kids that your life revolves around, because well everything in your life does revolve around them in my case. Whether we see them or not, our schedules still reflect the kids' lives, whether it's sports or school meetings and events, or whatever. I live here because of them, so not seeing them more makes it somewhat annoying that I'm even living here. Their empty room, their stuff around your house- it sucks, even if they aren't the greatest kids in the world to me. We do still think about them, plan for them, and shop for them when they're not with us. We talk about them too much and regret how they can't go with us to many of the things we go to on their off weekend. And then there's the behavioral ramifications...The less the kids are with you, the more they'll treat you like you (and their dad) mean nothing to them. The family dynamic is completely tossed (and severely scarred) by such little amount of time together (as researchers have found). The flow, expectations and general respect are lost when custody is ridiculously low. The message to the kids is that you are not a full parent, your house doesn't matter that much, and my (the kids') time with you (dad/stepmom) isn't that important. You'd think it would be the opposite, and apparently sometimes kids pine for the parent they see less, but the kids' beliefs and behaviors actually reflect the custody share. (This is related to child development: self-preservation, necessary adjustment, and often manipulation.)

Still, this is more about the flip-side. The impact on the dad as a man of the house.

My husband is an extremely loving dad. End of story. That means the limited amount of time he has with the kids is precious and sacred. He has struggled for years with regular parenting because he wants every minute of his time with them to be happy and wonderful. Eventually, he had to let that go because they were struggling in life, hurting and thereby hurting each other and themselves, and he just had to be the parent that taught life lessons, character, and integrity. It is his role, and our home is damage control for their lives. So, on the "on" weekends with the kids, he focuses on them and I expect it to be that way.

The every-other-weekend schedule also means that if you are an active family who want the kids to experience as much in life as possible, learn more than what they get outside of your home (which is 75+% of the time), and do any family bonding, then your weekend ends up being jam-packed. There's sports, music lessons from friends who don't mind the whacky schedule, church, and whatever else your family values doing together that you have to shove into 25% the time. There are also rushed trips to see family hundreds of miles away, as they barely get to see those family members. There are even doctor appointments, haircuts, and other types of things if those matters tend to not be handled by the other house for some reason...Often shoved into a Friday afternoon or weekend clinics.

So...Our home is bipolar. As you can see. We are always active people, but it gets cranked up a level when the kids are with us. This is why stepmoms deal with a lot of stress and anxiety, but we know it's the deal. We ARE able to take a backseat when we want to, but that still means Dad is on duty. Good for you as a stepmom...but....

The means your weekends with your stepkids' father are his recovery weekend. We both work full time (or else we wouldn't afford the tiny house and the bills we have on top of custody payments), and that means that we're both craving time with each other, nearly every day. We're usually too tired to spend that time together, so the "off" weekends are when you get your husband. And all the activities we want to do to recover from the frantic time with the kids and attempt to keep the connection to each other. As I explain to many, we do a lot together on our off weekends to make up for the insanity of the custody schedule. (And sometimes to get out of the house if home issues are causing relationship strain, which remember, is where all the kids' stuff is- but without them. That in itself is a reason to get out of the house with your husband and remember who you are together in order to recharge for the next chaotic weekend or custody battle.)

But I've noticed over the years that my husband, although willing to be dragged around with me to do things, also crashes. He's exhausted. He exerts all his energy all the time instead of the normal family dynamic which would be up and down depending, and under our control. A part of the frantic-ness of a stepfamily with lesser custody is the lack of control over your own schedule. We don't get to pick the sports, we have little or no influence over decisions despite the requirement that my husband have equal decision making power, and we just plain get jerked around. We have no say in schools, and although he tries to remind their mom that he has equal decision and legal power, the person with the most custody knows their actual, literal power. So, you end up driving further away for anything and everything the kids do, and doing things you would never, ever sign your kids up for, if they were yours. And we generally have to take them, as otherwise it will end up in court as damaging the kids if we don't take them to something relatively silly or insignificant for the sake of family. There's also this perpetual "on" time when the kids are with us, where my husband just does not feel like he can take a break. He won't even go take a nap. His time is so short, he can't waste it. He wants every minute of it.

So, to recap: Nonstop action when with kids, exhausted when not.

For the wife, this translates into a husband who is unable to keep up his home unless he's got the metabolism of ... I don't know...a rabbit? For years, things remained broken. For years, projects were put off and only discussed. For years, I cleaned. Then the nagging started. I knew that my husband was exhausted, stressed, and continually worn out physically and emotionally. Still, I started to hate our home more and more as I continued to see it backslide and deteriorate. Arguments and flat out fights increased because he wasn't being the man I know he is at home. I started pushing him to do tasks when he either needed to be with the kids or needed to rest.

There just is no time left for him to be a husband and a home owner. Things just weren't getting done. I became a nagger, and resentful.

It's confusing, because on the one hand, the solution is to not see the kids (not an option for most fathers now) and get stuff done, OR see the kids more and let the family dynamic reflect a more normal, less frantic atmosphere that everyone appreciates. I do speak of this from experience. We had more custody once upon a time and we have more custody in the summers. The kids are more self-sufficient and willing to help out at home when they know they're invested. They are more respectful and more a part of the family, feeding the pets, cleaning, talking to me like a human being who cares for them, and just acting like normal kids rather than brats that take and take and return to mom tomorrow. Similarly, my husband is less stressed and anxious about every single minute. He knows they'll still be there, and therefore he can get a couple of things done in the meantime, whether for his house or himself.

Only court will change that, as the kids' mom is not capable of negotiation, a concept we've been trying to teach the kids so that they understand that in life, there are options for two parties to reach common ground without extreme anger.

I don't have a real solution for this. This is just reality, much like the rest of our stepfamily dynamic that people actually seem to think could change. (Hahahaha...) I wish we could afford a housekeeper, cleaning services, repairmen...But we can't. I love (hate, I meant) the suggestions in stepmom articles that you need to hire a house cleaning service and other such recommendations. If you have the means, more power to ya. Send some my way! This is why I enter contests for home makeovers constantly, thinking that this will be the solution to our home falling apart. I also wish we just happened to know people, or kids I guess, that would work on things in our house for cheap. But, we just don't. We do "know" some, but they don't live anywhere near us. So it is. Much like when you don't know anybody with a truck...That's us! That's life with when it revolves around your stepchildren and an every-other-weekend schedule plus weekday "dinner visits" of doom.