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Step parenting- the maze
First up I’ll declare that I was a step parent twice.
Loneliness in adulthood often drives us to seek a partner that might have children. Do we fall in love first then “hope” that our children accept our choice of a partner? Often we do. Or do we introduce our children to our dating partner early and risk scaring that girlfriend/boyfriend away with bad behaviour or just incompatibility?
That’s a dilemma that often faced. I chose to introduce them early to my girlfriend in 1998. Children 7 and 4yo…well, any female would get along with them right? They are innocent kids right? Well my GF never took to them. By the time I realised that their interactions were toxic we’d blended finances and I relied on hope, hope that she would accept them. It never flourished. In fact of the 10 years we were defacto, not one holiday included my children of which I only had for every second weekend and some school holidays.
The answer to that was, in the end, judged by me as her wanting me all to herself. My children were an annoyance. Of course I could declare they were good children with normal squabbles but overall well behaved. But in the eyes of my GF they were always naughty and always in the way.
For a parent with children divorced from the other parent seeking a soul mate it isn’t easy to find a compatible partner AND one that will also become a nurturing step parent. The word “nurturing” is the key. Had I looked for the nurturing side of my then GF I wouldn’t have found it. To hope she would accept my children as a crucial part of my life was sadly, unrealistic.
To give advice on this topic for a parent seeking a partner either with sole custody or not is hard because every situation is different. However in the early periods of meeting your date it is beneficial to sit back and listen to your date ask (many) questions about your kids. If they don’t then alarm bells could ring. At the first few meetings when your date and the children meet, watch the interaction. Watch for any willing hugs and time he/she takes to do things with them like drawing and playing. A real nurturer will do these things naturally.
If these things are not natural then take lots of time to see any more development but not be so enthusiastic in advancing with your relationship. This maze of relationships with children is also like the MI maze, in that we would be wary if we dated a person that had zero interest in our mental health. Both things are part of us to the core.
Tony I couldn't agree more I lost my partner when the children were 2and 5 respectfully. I have had to choose my partners carefully. First it's love me love my children, if not hit the road. Next If they have a issue with drinking too excess, or doing drugs good bye I just don't have the time. If the department has their eyes on them. I walk away. Much as I would like to be in a relationship, My children come before everything. My siblings can wait my job, I can always get another. Friends go on the back burner. Those are my standards no one else s I don't expect anyone else who has children to do as I do. Unless they choose to be my partner then if they have children I put theirs in with mine equally, no favorites.
Hi Tony, thanks for your post it is helpful to me as im in a similar situation.
I have two children 5 and 2 and my partner has a 5 year old also.
I've found that i just can't accept him (right or wrong) i have no bond, see him as an outsider and if im quite honest i resent her for having him.
I also expect my partner to have those feelings toward my children, but she doesn't...she loves them as her own.
We both have 50/50 shared custody but I only did it because my partner wanted me too...i was happy paying child support with very little interaction with my kids.
Im not a natural father nor do i seem to enjoy parenting. I have alot of mental health issues and struggling just to keep myself going let alone a family.
Im finding myself withdrawn to a point I just want to leave my partner not because i dont love her but because i just don't enjoy this pseudo family life we have
I know me, i will never accept her child and it shows in the way i deal with him
Do you have any advice from your experience
Thankyou Kanga for your clarity. That's very devoted father attitude.
Hi Theborderline, having lots of mental health issues will mean your life and its activities will "fill your bucket" more often. Our bucket overflows more easily having mental illness. Then on good days it drops below the lip whereas those without a mental illness it empties fully ready for the odd upset. So it doesn't take much to tip us over.
This means in your situation IMO, you will have a child there in your care 50% or so that could annoy you just with his normal every day child antics. However there is a road you can take that is an honest and forthright way to help the situation.
Seek a family counsellor with your partner. This can be crucial to your future blended family. They could offer suggestions how you can become a special person to this little boy. For example, you could spend a routine traditional 15 minutes every night playing with him and his lego set. 15 minutes isn't long. Just you and him. After some time that 15 minutes is seen by that boy as special step dad and child time, no one else around - at all. Make sure mum doesnt join in etc. Over time you get to know him more and he you. You might not end up the likable lovable step dad but you could end up the friend that, at age 16 is asking you to teach him to drive! Or the friend that at 12yo tells him about the birds and the bees? or defends him in some circumstances. IMO you can seek to become a "special pseudo dad" to fill a void there. That should be the aim so that at 21yo he says something like "we were never that close but thanks for being kind and understanding". That is gold.
At 16yo my step son (he isn't now and is 34yo) had a dad with personal issues that could not be much part in his life. I bought an old car and the boy and I restored it. That created a bond. Admittedly he only wanted to spray paint the parts but it didn't matter. I wasn't a dad and I wasn't a step dad, I was a "sort of" mate.
So before you embark on a separation try being totally straight forward with your partner and seek a third professional person to see if you can overcome some distance between you.