Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Dear Evil Stepmom
I Want the Man, But Not His Baggage!

Dear Evil Stepmom,


I am in a truly happy relationship with a man 20 years my senior. I moved in with him a year ago. I am in my late 20's with a career and very independent life. I would say I found my soul mate and everything would be perfect if only there were no "baggage" issues. He is a divorced dad of three teenagers and one college kid that live with their re-married mom with a new child. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed by all this, had my tearful breakdowns, and asked myself why I want to put up with all this.
Meanwhile our relationship turned out so strong that I am willing to work on it. And I can picture the rest of my life with him. And that's my problem- WITH HIM but not with his baggage! It's an ugly word but that pretty much expresses the way I feel.


I tried to connect with them on the visitation weekends. But there is absolutely NO chemistry. In my eyes they are a spoiled rotten bunch. They basically treat their dad as a wallet. They don't even call on his birthday. And to be honest, there is also not much of a real personal connection between them and their dad. He would never tell the kids but he does tell me...he regrets that he had them. Never wanted so many if at all. He was young and foolish and sometimes it shows in the way he interacts with them.


Recently, the kids stopped visiting. And I encouraged my mate to withdraw from them because in my opinion they are young adults now and it's their turn to contribute to a mutual human relationship. In the end it's me who will be on his side and not his kids. I can't deny the fact that I am not really sad if the ties to their dad loosen. I just don't care about them at all!


Am I evil, wrong? It may look like it, but this is the delicate balance I found for myself to deal with this relationship.  And please consider the fact that I myself grew up in a patchwork family (Mom went through several divorces) with three step-siblings and a wonderful close relationship to my stepdad. So I've been on both sides!
Thank you so much for your help in advance! I don't know where else to go to with all my confusion!


Signed,

Confused


Dear Confused,

Marriage requires enormous strength and maturity under the best of conditions. Marriage to a man with children requires a super-human helping of both. By moving into your partner’s home and living as if you are married, you’ve taken on the job of stepmother whether you wanted it or not.

Partnering with a parent is a package deal—if your mate has children, then the kids must stay in the picture. That’s the only way you’re ever going to have a happy husband, a healthy marriage, and productive, ultimately independent stepchildren. All of which will be good for you in the long term. But you’ve got to be sure you’re up for launching a new marriage and four young adults into the world while hanging onto your career and your self all at the same time.

The “late twenties” is early to become a stepparent to four young adults. You are still in the process of maturing yourself. The twenties and thirties are an important developmental period focused on gaining emotional and financial independence from one’s family of origin while developing healthy, separate relationships with others in the world.

Your stepchildren are on the front end of this process; you’re halfway through the process, but you’re not quite done yet. By choosing to partner with a man who has older children, you have signed up to be a leader with him in the family, and to help him usher his kids into adulthood, while at the same time finishing your own journey to full adulthood. That’s a lot to expect of yourself.

Still, you can’t accept only half of this job; if you’re his partner, you’re their stepmother. Here are some thoughts for you if you do decide to accept the whole package:

1) Look to your best role model. You mention having a strong relationship with your stepfather. You might mine this relationship for clues as to how you might craft a stepparenting plan for yourself. What was your stepfather’s attitude toward you when you were in your teens and early adulthood? How did he treat you when you went through developmental turbulence? What worked for you as a stepchild? How does that compare to the stepparent you are? Look for ways that your experience with your stepfather can help you shape your approach toward each of your stepchildren.

How did your stepfather speak about you to others? My guess is that he didn’t refer to you as “baggage”. If you can stop thinking of your stepchildren as “baggage” and your mate as a “wallet”, you may start to feel better about your situation. You will be able to think more clearly about the challenges you face if you can think in terms of each individual stepchild by name rather than grouping them all into an overwhelming bundle you refer to as baggage.

How did your stepfather show you positive regard? What did he do to bring out the best in you? How can you use his example to bring out your stepchildren’s better selves?

2) Look to other role models. You say that you come from a patchwork family, which tells me that you have seen some of what works and what doesn’t when forming stepfamily relationships. You might want to look to the role models you already have (both good and not-so-good) as you shape your relationships with your stepchildren.

What’s different about your situation compared to the one you grew up in?

You have life experience that says a person can be a successful stepparent, but you’re not interested in doing that. What do you base your decision on? How do you see that working out over the next 10, 20, and 30 years?

3) Be honest with yourself about your partner’s role in this situation. We know that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior under similar circumstances. You have chosen a man who tells you he was somehow bullied or cajoled into rearing four children, against his will. Yet they all exist, which would prove that he wasn’t taking responsibility for family planning conversations with his former wife, or for his own birth control after child #1 or #2, or even after #3 came along. Yet he seems willing to present himself as not responsible for the lives he helped to create and even implies that he regrets the fact that they were born.

If you hope to have children of your own, what makes you think he’ll want yours? Do you want to be with someone who doesn’t take a stand for the lives he helped to create?

If he’s the kind of man who can live without his kids, is he the kind of man who might find you not-so-interesting or not-so-loveable when you are in trouble or in need, or if you ever become dependent on him? Will he stand by you during hardship if he can’t be bothered to be a leader to his own children through their normal developmental journey?

4) Be fair about your stepchildren. You said that your stepchildren are rude, forgetful, and selfish. These are the earmarks of young adulthood. You did not mention any criminal behavior, drug abuse, violence, self-harming, or any other behaviors that would indicate you have troubled stepchildren. What you have are four young adults who are eagerly looking for resources as a part of their biological imperative to prepare for procreation.

Keep in mind that your stepchildren are each at a different place on the continuum of human development. Just because they have a lot of growing up to do and many life lessons still to learn does not make them bad. Just because they still need resources does not make them thieves, perpetrators, victimizers, or moochers. Just because their father gives them money does not make him a wallet, an ATM machine, or a meal ticket (even if he feels that way).

All kids want resources, and most kids will turn to their parents first to get what they want and need. It is your husband’s job to help his children learn how to get what they need in the world so that they will be prepared to secure their own resources for themselves after he’s gone. It sounds to me as if he doesn’t want this responsibility.

5) Be careful what you wish for. Cutoff in one family relationship always raises tension in other relationships. You are encouraging your partner to move away from his kids—to emotionally distance, or even cutoff from, his young adult children. But if he’s not in touch with them, all that tension and energy are going to seep into your marriage.

These kids have a dad who doesn’t want them and never did (don’t think they don’t know it—kids know when they’re wanted), and a mom who has a new baby. Is it any wonder that they’re panicking? Their support base is eroding. Now you’re proposing a strategic action (cutoff) that will create even more turbulence in their world. By encouraging their father to pull away from them, you’re putting yourself in the classic Evil Stepmom position with his kids, while at the same time poisoning your relationship with your mate.

A father cannot disavow responsibility for his kids. This is a time when your mate should be moving toward each of is children. A parent should pursue a relationship with their child through the 20s and 30s at least, without regard to who initiates or how often. It’s how young adults know that they are loved. Your stepchildren need their father’s coaching, the lessons of his life experience, his advice, and his steady presence.

Your mate needs your support and encouragement to become a better parent. He participated in shaping the young people his children have become; he still has time to correct some of his mistakes. If he does, he'll be a better person and a better partner to you.

6) Get to work on yourself as a person and as a partner. If I were you, I’d find a good therapist who has experience with remarriage and stepparenting, and I’d go see that person once a week for a very long time (as in, two or three years). If your mate will come sometimes, even better.

You’ll also need to keep working on your own personal growth because a stepparent needs to stay ahead of the kids if she’s going to help show the way to productive, independent adulthood. You may turn out to be one of the healthiest, steadiest, most positive influences in their lives if you work really hard.

And you’ll need to think of all the ways you might support your mate toward developing one-on-one relationships with each of his children. He needs time and space to do this, so he can practice offering them the challenge and support they each need on their journey to full adulthood. You can be an enormous help to him if he decides to step up and help his children grow instead of giving them money while withholding affection and approval.

If you want your man all to yourself, if you want him to turn away from his children and his responsibility for teaching them how to be good citizens in the world and instead focus all of his time, energy, and resources on you, then I can’t help you. Our families are intimately intertwined with who we are. Who your soul mate is includes his family, whether you like them or not.

If you want the man but not the children, I can only tell you that you’ll miss your opportunity to build a real family with him, which would be a shame.

If you decide to accept this job, stepparenting four young people into full adulthood over the next two decades is going to take up a lot of your precious life energy. But you sound like an ambitious young woman. If you’re willing to take this responsibility seriously and invest yourself as an adult member of your new family, then you’ll find a way to grow into the job over the next eight to ten years. And by the time you’re in your early 40s, you’ll be able to enjoy and rely on the family you’ve built with your soul mate. Which is a major life achievement in my book.

Write again any time.

Stay strong,

ESM


< Return to Dear Evil Stepmom