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.

 

How it all began….How I unintentionally rekindled an old romance and began a relationship with a widower…

When I was 19 years old, I had a boyfriend whom I was madly in love with.  He was handsome, smart, funny and hardworking but he was also very young as well.  We were in a relationship for about two years when the day came that he butt dialed me and I very dramatically discovered that I was not the only girlfriend he had.   I was devastated.  I was also very young and dramatic.  Following that day ensued throwing out anything he owned that was in my possession and plenty of screaming matches and tears.

Moving forward, we both married other people, had children and wished each other well.  I would hear about him through a string of mutual friends and a phone call years later when his dad was seriously ill and he needed help navigating insurance programs as it was my line of business.

I divorced almost ten years ago and have been a single mom to my three boys since then.  I have dated and been in a relationship that did not work out since then but to be honest, it never even crossed my mind that I would ever run into this guy again.  Until one day….I’m scrolling through my usual Facebook feed and a mutual friend posted that his wife passed away. She was only thirty eight years old.  I was shocked and heartbroken for him and their children.  I sent him a text to see if they were okay.  Obviously they were not, I left him with the usual, “I’m here if you need anything” and left it at that.  In the weeks that followed, I thought about them a lot.  We had a phone conversation a few weeks later when things settled down a bit for him and agreed to meet for lunch before he returned from leave to work.

Fast forward a few months and he picks me up from work for lunch one day.  I had not seen him in over fifteen years.  He looked tired but surprisingly, he looked like the same guy I knew all of those years ago.  I surprised myself when I suddenly felt nervous there in the car with him.  We decided on Corner Bakery and sat down to eat and chat.  We talked about how he was feeling, how the kids were and how he was planning on juggling everything on his own.  He has always been an extremely resilient person who at least pretends not to dwell on things for too long and would rather turn the subject to the other person instead of himself in order to avoid looking weak.  He dropped me back off at work two hours later, we hugged and said goodbye.

Following that day at lunch, suddenly, this person that I almost never thought about for so many years was constantly on my mind and I didn’t want him to be.   We’re suddenly texting daily and I was anticipating hearing from him although I knew I was being crazy.  A week following lunch, he sent me a text, typical him style, “Hey, why don’t you let me take you on a real date out to dinner?”  And so it began……