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

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Living apart together and parenting apart together (Sort of)

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For us, the main reason for living apart and maintaining our own households is a difference in parenting styles and working on ourselves and our own households before combining them.  The alternative, of course, would be to just jump right into it and pray that everything works out for the best.

From the very beginning of our relationship, it has been clear that Gabe and I disagree on A LOT of issues regarding parenting and how a household should be run.  He is a lot more detailed than I am on some things.  He bases a lot of what he focuses on on what he believes others’ perceptions of him will be.  His focuses differ greatly from mine.  He will run around bleaching toilets and cleaning kids rooms before someone arrives (his house smells wonderful, by the way), yet he will not notice whether his kids have said hello to his guests or being unkind to the children guests.  I have known this man to change his bedspread in fear that people may notice that he always has the same one on his bed every time they visit.  I, on the other hand, will graze over my house quickly, pick it up so it’s neat (not necessarily bleached), threaten to ground the kids until their room is clean (enough) and give them a ten minute talk about how they are to greet everyone, be polite and include the children who are visiting.  He focuses more on being presentable and making sure everyone knows that dad has his stuff together, I focus more on guests feeling comfortable and having a good time.  If only it was easy enough to combine these qualities into one household.

We have two different experiences and two separate points of views.  I have been a single mom for about ten years.  I have had to force the boys to be independent when need be to a certain extent and to improvise.  Sometimes, there was no other choice and it has forced me to not count on perfection.  They need to make their own cereal, they need to get themselves dressed, they need to entertain themselves as well.  Over the years, I have not had the time luxury to do all of the little things for them that they can do themselves and I’m most definitely not their personal clown who has something to entertain them with every time they are bored.  They understand these things and they are still happy and well adjusted.  The best part is, when I do have the time to do something special or out of the ordinary for them, they appreciate it and they know that they are loved. Yet still, I have lots of room for improvement, I do try to focus more on smaller things and being a bit more detailed, it just makes life easier sometimes.  He, on the other hand is a widowed father.  His wife did all of the parenting when she was alive and he was the provider and the ‘hero’.  People don’t change overnight.   Understandably, to try to somehow compensate for the kids’ loss, he overcompensated with them by trying to become the perfect dad and caregiver.  To add to this, he is a people pleaser, he loves to make people happy and he loves being a hero to his kids.  The kids, again understandably, have become accustomed to being catered to and not being accountable for their own responsibilities and behavior.  He focused so much on the short term (cleaning the kids’ rooms for them, keeping them happy by not giving them consequences when they were rude or downright mean to him) that now, in the long term, he is slowly trying to undo these things and well, it’s hard.

Over the years, we have gone back and forth with each other about ways that we feel the other should change and also things that we would like to change about ourselves in order to become better partners and parents.  I am so grateful that we have been able to do this in separate homes rather than in a shared household where we would be making unnecessary and unfair comparisons out of frustration and anger.  We have been able to implement the changes with our own kids and households on our own, without the other parent having to be blamed or labeled the bad guy responsible for these changes in order to make life together not just bearable, but happy eventually.  It’s an ongoing process and I do believe that one day, we will get there.

 

Blended families living together apart (LAT) and maintaining separate households …..Part Two

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I had a free day today but had SO much to do and catch up with.  So instead of writing a whole lot, I did some reading and came across this article about a blended family living apart together (LAT).  This woman spoke as if she were me, literally, and we are now besties, though she doesn’t know it.   Here’s the link:

https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20161010/

ALL of it stuck out to me but this was the BIG one:  “Relationships that work can be fluid in this way.  We don’t have to all stick to societal norms.”   Amen Sista.

Dating and marrying a widower with children…my stepdaughter hates me and this is what I’m doing about it….

evilstepmother.jpgMy stepdaughter (soon to be) hates me because I am not her mom.  She hates me because I’m a constant reminder that her mom’s not there and not coming back.  She also hates change because it’s another reminder that things around her are still happening, even though her mom is gone.  Nicole is fourteen years old and her mom passed away when she was ten.  I don’t blame her.  I would hate me too.

Here is what I am doing about it:  nothing.  There is nothing that I can do about it.  I’m sure that in another life, we would have really liked each other, say, if I was a friend’s mom or something.  But I’m not, I’m her dad’s partner.  In the beginning, I tried to conversate with her, buy her cute things that girls like, I tried to win her over.  I believed naively that I could win her over, she would grow to like or even love me and all would be great in our world.  I didn’t know any better.  I was met with no response, screaming at me in public, staring at me through a window the whole time I was there and trying to throw me out of the house (oh yes, she has done that too), all while dad stood there looking like a deer in the headlights.  I refused to go back over until he was able to manage her behavior.  She doesn’t have to like me, she just can’t be disrespectful to me. So he took care of it.  She no longer does these things.  Actually, she doesn’t do anything at all.  She just stays in her room and doesn’t talk to me or anyone else really.  I feel sorry for her.

I think as women, a lot of us are people pleasers.  We automatically feel that if someone doesn’t like us, it’s personal and we can fix it by being our fantastic selves.  There’s that woman in the office who constantly rolls her eyes at you because you look a lot like the woman her husband left her for, or the rude cashier who doesn’t  like you after seeing you for a total of five seconds because your voice sounds just like her ex best friend who she now hates.  I would rather spend my time nourishing the relationships that I have with the people who have actually gotten to know me and appreciate me, life is far too short.  We have to accept that sometimes, the more you try, the more they despise you.  They have chosen not to like you.  And that’s okay.  I have spent a lot of time in the past reading blogs and comments from both widower’s wives and daughters of widowers.  The wives were so appalled that the daughters, (who are all grown up now) still hate them when they could not understand why, they eventually hated the daughters as well.  Yet, they would still give anything to reconcile with the daughters, if only the daughter would see the err of her ways and try to be grateful for all that the stepmother had tried to do for her.  From reading the daughters’ comments,  they still felt the very same way they had when they were children.  They didn’t WANT the stepmother to do anything for them, most of them commented that she had always tried too hard and they took this as the stepmother trying to replace their mother.  The daughters wanted the dad to be on his own and avoid moving on but if he couldn’t, they did not want to be bothered with the stepmother.  They already felt that the dad was betraying their mom, they were not going to (in their minds) betray her by actually liking the wife as well.

I have had some very well meaning, yet naive, friends make these comments to me:

“I have always wanted to be a stepmom!  She would LOVE me if I were her stepmom!”        Ummm….why?  It’s not very much fun.  Yeah…..no she wouldn’t.

“If I were you, I would make sure to go to her room and say hi and start a conversation every single time I went over.”                                                                                                              Yes, because I have never thought about doing that…..Too bad when you knock, she acts like she doesn’t hear the door.

“What you need to do, is go over there every single night, cook dinner, and act like you own that house.  She’ll HAVE to come around!”                                                                               That’s a great idea!  Because I don’t have my own house to take care of and I would just love to act like a squatter at my man’s house.  I’m sure she’ll just LOVE me after that! 

I do hope that things change, and that some day she ‘just comes around’, but I’m not holding my breath for it.  Sometimes, people never do come around and that’s okay.  I can accept that and I can also accept that I can’t fix something that I didn’t break.

Are ‘Red-Carpet’ kids ruining your marriage?

I sent this article to Gabe last week and I found it absolutely fantastic.  One of the best parts about it were the comments and all of the readers who were offended by it and did the classic defense phrase, “Just don’t have kids then if you can’t put them first!”  Wait, so I should treat my kid like royalty and turn him into a selfish jerk who thinks he’s the center of everyone’s world or just not procreate?  I love it.  Here’s the article:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2413638/Child-proof-marriage-Dont-let-red-carpet-kids-ruin-relationship.html

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You see, I AM that parent that the defensive reader is telling not to have kids to.  I don’t think it’s best that I put them first at all times and make them feel that they are the center of the universe and we should all just stop what we are doing while they interrupt us so that they can tell us how they absolutely need that new wrestler or whatever.  Screw what we were in the middle of, right?  Nope.  My friend who I haven’t seen in a billion years who is visiting from out of state will surely understand that she is being put on hold while telling me about her infertility struggles so that my kid can complain that he doesn’t like his food, right?  I feel like some parents really don’t understand that by putting their kid first at all times and everyone else on hold, and essentially, on their kids’ schedule, they are being rude themselves.

So, being the great partner that I am, I went ahead and read this article, point by point to him.  FYI, these are all situations that he and I have discussed before.  Herrrrrreeee we go…..

  • The couples’ free time was being all consumed with the kids and their social lives.  i.e.  skipping dinner together because we can NEVER say no to one of the kids activities or events, that would make us look like bad parents, right?
  • The couples’ relationship coming in last on the priority list due to the childrens’ demands.  i.e. Can’t go out to dinner together without the kids because the kids will throw a fit about being left behind with a sitter.
  • Not sleeping together because the kids have gotten into the habit of sleeping in the parents’ bed, so it’s just easier to sleep in another room than to put up a fight and end things badly with the little angels.

The reasons for allowing these things include:

  • It makes things easier in the short term.  (Better than having a full on fight before bedtime)
  • Guilt parenting.  Divorced, widowed, married but can’t buy your kid enough stuff.  Kids can sniff this stuff out.
  • Wanting to be liked, losing your kids’ friendship.  I don’t know why but I have pissed my kids off so many times but magically, they still like me.

Lastly, here is how the psychologist says to, “Roll up the red carpet and take back your marriage”:

1.  Put your children last. Prioritizing your partner over your children is good for your marriage and your kids. Of course, there will be exceptions – if the children are ill, or their first day at school and so on, but otherwise make sure you and your partner go out for dinner together, send the kids to bed early, do things the two of you love to do together. A happy marriage makes happy children.

2. Be a ‘good enough’ parent. Accept you’re not perfect, that every parent makes mistakes and it’s not the end of the world if you send your child to school in a hastily cobbled-together costume for the school play.

3. Recognize Your Needs. I have met many mothers and fathers who, after years of downgrading their own needs, felt ‘entitled to do something for myself for once’ – and had an affair. Always putting your children first can cause resentment to rebound in extraordinary acts of selfishness. Have a good think about what YOU want and need in your relationship and family life – and make sure you get it.

4. Talk. Make sure you talk through your problems – don’t silently hope they’ll go away. Problems fester if you don’t get them out in the open.

5. Put a lock on your bedroom door. You wouldn’t barge into a teenager’s bedroom unannounced, so don’t let your children do it to you. Give yourself some privacy as a couple – they can always shout ‘Fire!’ if they’re in trouble.

6.  Greet your partner first when he or she walks through the door – not your children. It shows how important they are to you.

7.  Don’t let your children interrupt when you are talking to each other.

8. Make unilateral decisions about your children. Parent as a team and don’t compete for popularity with your children.

9. Prioritize sex. Intimacy keeps a relationship alive. Send the children to the grandparents for the night. It’s important.

10. Make the children responsible for tasks around the house, so there’s more time for you to be partners rather than servants.

 

Maintaining separate households in blended families or Living Apart Together

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I’m engaged to marry a widower who is also a single dad this coming October.  We have been in a relationship for over three years and have seven kids between the two of us (4 for him and 3 for me).  We have maintained our own households over the course of our relationship and we don’t intend to change that when we are officially married in October.  I’ve shared this concept with friends and family, my mother thinks I’m nuts and my friends think I’m a genius.  I started researching this concept a few years back and there are a lot of success stories out there.  Here is one of my favorites:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/23/blended-family_n_5871060.html

 

I thought I would share a few of the reasons why I think this is the best approach for us, although it’s unconventional:

 

  • We have completely different parenting styles.  I don’t plan on parenting his children and he doesn’t plan on parenting mine, however, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to live in a house with a set of divided rules.
  • Neither of us currently have a house large enough for everyone.  We would need a house with at least five bedrooms.  That’s not so common around here and when we looked around, it would actually only cost a few hundred dollars less than paying for our separate houses.
  • Our kids are in two separate school districts which they have all been in all of their lives.  Moving one or the other from their schools would be devastating to them and my guess is, create even more animosity.
  • Sleeping together every night at this point is just not worth all of the uproot and hostility the move would cause, we always have the weekends.

I’m not sure how long this will work for us, but as long as it does, great.  I strongly feel that for now at least, this will help to keep all of our relationships stronger and happier,  and isn’t that the point?