As a stepparent, we have all had somebody at some point tell us, “When you married him, you married his children.” We usually stay quiet and nod politely because we know that it is too much of a hassle to try to explain to somebody who doesn’t understand that no, I didn’t marry his children, I married him. I did, however, promise to try to be the best stepparent I can be to his kids. I, however, am promising to “marry” one of his children along with him. His daughter Star is sixteen and has special needs. She is non-verbal, she cannot hear and is delayed. She will never be independent enough to live on her own or even do daily tasks such as cook her own food. She will be with us until we die. She will always need not just a caregiver, but a parent.
In the beginning of the relationship, naturally, I did not take care of her, he did, along with family members and various babysitters. I was just getting to know her. She did not immediately take to me, she didn’t know who the heck I was. She didn’t understand why the person who had always taken care of her (her mother) was no longer here and why all of these other people suddenly were. When she wasn’t following her dad’s every move, she was angry and throwing things around the house in almost daily tantrums. She refused to sleep unless someone slept in the room with her with the lights off. She had caregivers coming to her home and though the intention was good, doing everything for her (including spoon feeding) and further impairing her. Dad didn’t know how to care for a teenage girl with special needs, her mom had always done it. Her siblings didn’t know what to do so they would just lock themselves up in their rooms and try to ignore it all.
I attended a meeting with her teacher in the beginning of that year. Her teacher was disappointed at how much progress she had lost. She wanted to be spoon fed at school (she knows how to feed herself), she was usually quite tired and lethargic as she would stay up fighting with her dad a lot of nights. The meeting really gave me a lot of insight as far as what this child was really capable of but was not really being allowed to do due to circumstances.
As time passed, she became comfortable with me and started spending a lot more time with me in public and at my house on her own. I started testing the waters with her and learned that she could do most things all on her own. She EATS, brushes her teeth, brushes her hair, washes herself in the shower, plays independently and with others and sleeps in her own bed in her own room. She had no behavior problems when we were alone together (minus dad). However, as soon as dad showed up, her problems would come right back. She would get aggressive as soon as he arrived to my house and would go right back to her old ways at his house. It was like being half way through reading a book and having to start all over again from the first chapter every time. She knew that he would allow her to act however she liked and there were no consequences. So I started giving her consequences (taking the tablet away and time outs) and slowly, she started to change.
When I began working from home, I also began taking Star on full time. She has her own room at my house and is with me full time. She spends the night at dad’s house twice a week with no problems. I actually feel lucky because with how overcompensating he can be with the kids, he listened to me when I explained that I needed the full capacity of being able to care for her. If he was undermining me with her care, I wouldn’t do it and I wouldn’t stay in a relationship with him. I need her to be as independent as she possibly can, I need her to know appropriate behavior, I don’t want to have to deal with a thirty five year old her throwing stuff around the house during a fit all because she was never taught any better. I’m also lucky that she’s receptive, I know that all children are different and that’s not the case all of the time.
I know that I am not her “real” mom, she has one who unfortunately can’t be here with her any longer. But I do love her as my child and consider myself lucky to be able to be the mom that is able to be here with her to love her and teach her (when she’s not teaching me).