Parenting my special needs stepchild ….

Special-Needs (1)

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).

sandme

Advertisements

Dating a widower and birthdays….

birthdays.jpg

I was talking to Gabe earlier today and he mentioned that his mom’s birthday is coming up soon.  “You’re going this year”, he said.  “We’ll see, I really don’t want the drama and the awkwardness to taint your mom’s day”, I replied.  I like his mom, A LOT.  She’s a really nice person and I am so grateful for her love and support.  His mom is not the problem.  The problem is the backlash that will ensue from his daughter Nicole.  When she’s unhappy she can be very difficult, silent and or combative.  Sharing a meal with her at a table is torture for everyone when she’s like this.  Nobody knows what to say.  If something is said to her, you can count on a fight.  Who wants to do this for his mom’s birthday?  Not me.  So last year, I sent my birthday wishes along with him and did not go.  I know his mom feels bad, yet I know that she’s also grateful for the lack of drama.  So then he says, “Enough is enough, if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to go.”  I have a real problem with a granddaughter not attending a grandmother’s birthday but where does it end?  I don’t know the answer to that yet.

This got me thinking about all of the birthdays and events that I have either opted out of or have been extremely sorry that I did attend.  Actually, I didn’t even realize that this was a theme until I started writing about it, so it’s definitely something that we need to think about.

There was the year that his late wife would have turned forty (She had been gone for quite some time). We had already been together for about a year and a half when his in laws planned a huge bash and then asked if they could have the party at his house.  What could he say?   If he said no, he would have looked like a heartless jerk, even if he was dating someone else.  So they had the party, it looked like a blast on social media (kidding), and I stayed home a bit disgruntled about it but I got it.

The following year, he planned a huge party for his daughter Star’s fifteenth birthday.  Her mom had always said that she would make sure that she had this party for her because she shouldn’t have to miss out on it just because she has special needs.  I agreed.  He wasn’t planning on throwing the party any longer and I told him he should respect her mom’s wishes and follow through.  So he announced it and we started planning.  All of a sudden, people he had not heard from in months started popping up, wanting to take Star to buy a dress and make the cake.  All of a sudden, his mother in law announces that If I’m attending, she will not be attending her own granddaughter’s birthday party as it was what her daughter really wanted and should be there.  Again, I got it, I understood.  BUT….I was heartbroken.  I had done the planning, I was invested in this party and more importantly, invested in Star.  I parent her, I bathe her, I make sure she behaves, I taught her to sleep in her own bed again, I love her like my own child and I couldn’t wait to see her look so beautiful in her dress.  I have made a lifetime commitment to this child.  So yet again, I didn’t go.  I was very hurt and very angry but she should have her family with her on her birthday, especially her moms’ mom.

15thbday

Star on her big day

This past year, Star’s sixteenth birthday fell on a school day.  We let her take the day off and her to Downtown Disney, just the two of us, since parties are expensive, it was a weekday and everyone was in school and at work.  We took her to Build A Bear with a gift card she had been given the previous year and to lunch at Rainforest Cafe.  She loved it.  So he posts pictures on social media and immediately received a nastygram text from his sister in law saying she felt left out and why was he intentionally leaving her out of the kids’ lives.  Wait, what?  First, she forgot that it was her birthday until she saw the picture and second, taking the girl to lunch and Build A Bear was not a big deal.  I told him to think about his response before he responded because it’s not worth it to respond with hostility.  He did that, she was embarrassed and apologized.  I feel like part of it was a defense mechanism on her part due to feeling bad about forgetting in the first place.  Later on that evening, his mother in law called to wish her a happy birthday, she had forgotten as well.

16th bday

Star’s 16th birthday at Downtown Disney

This past year, his eight year old son Aiden had a birthday party at his house.  It was a smaller party so I did attend, though weary due to his other sister in law whom I had never met was visiting from out of state.  A half hour in and I regretted it.  His other sister in law along with his brother in law did come over to say hello politely as I sat with his mom and Star at a table.  The rest of the night consisted of the men all sitting together in a group and the women, with tight lipped smiles, looking over and gossiping like middle schoolers all evening.  I could tell that his poor mom was embarrassed for me and felt obligated to keep me company as I was not invited to sit with the gossip crew.  I don’t blame them for not inviting me, they wouldn’t have had anyone to talk about had I sat with them.

Anyone else who sees a theme here?  So my dilemma is, when is enough enough and how do we deal with it?  I still don’t know the answer.  There has got to be a happy medium where I’m not treated like a man stealing hussy and they are not being alienated due to bad behavior.  It’s extremely hard to explain this to people who feel they have the right to disregard others and their feelings due to their own grief and anger.