Updated: Sep 24, 2021
My boyfriend and I started going to couple's counseling. After a year of living together, we've realized that the only issue we have is communication, which is probably a common hurdle for a lot of couples. One of the things our therapist picked up from me was that there was an underlying resentment on my end towards our family arrangement. It was like an epiphany went off in my head and explained a majority of my anger towards #3.
When my boyfriend and I moved in together, blending into his family and living with a significant other was a first for both of us. We had no idea of how to go about our arrangement and we were making decisions as things came up. It was definitely like walking around in the dark without a flashlight. Our therapist said that we should have explicitly talked about what our visions were about our living situation; what did we expect, what did we think it would look like before we moved in? Weirdly enough, we've already figured out our situation and are, for the most part, at peace. We just went about everything the long way around. To explain in a little more detail, the parenting agreement that we all thought would happen was that my boyfriend and I would be weekend parents, every other weekend. We did not expect #3 to change her role in our family situation when lockdown happened.
To review, around this time a year ago #3 got into a situation where she had the opportunity to make a lot of money. It required her to travel and the work, while it had a legal veneer, was risky and ultimately, not legal. In the end, it resulted in #3 being flaky. My boyfriend's reaction was, "Well if my daughter's mother isn't going to raise her, who will?" and started making moves to make sure our 5 year old was around us more often. These actions were completely understandable and totally how a parent should react. However, we didn't realize that him just making decisions without talking to me first was making me feel like I didn't have a say in the situation. A little bit of background on me: My mother was very domineering and assertive, so much that I grew up never feeling I had control over my life. I developed an eating disorder to have some feeling of control which is something I've been managing since my 20's. In my 20's, I also worked very hard towards financial independence so I never had to live according to my mother's rules ever again. As a result, I am an individual who always has to feel like I have some control over my own life, it is something that is very important to the core of my being. My boyfriend was making understandable decisions, but not asking my thoughts and/or feelings about it created a lot of resentment. I also felt that I couldn't vocalize this because who wants to be the bad lady who stops a father from taking care of his daughter? This explains my raging anger towards #3 because by being absent and choosing to work her shady job, she changed our blended family formula without asking anybody. This is my main issue with her: she does not realize that her decisions affect a multitude of people, not just her. I knew that I was angry with her, I just couldn't pin point the exact reason why. It was a bit of a relief to finally know.
What we realized we had accomplished before our therapist's advice:
My boyfriend had to learn that he has to consult all decisions with me before a final say is made. An example of what he used to do was that he would approach me and just say, "Our 5 year old is spending the night tonight." It would totally catch me off guard. Now, especially after hearing our therapist's advice, he's aware that he needs to be a little more sensitive to me.
We have an established schedule and unless there is an emergency, we stick to it. Before my boyfriend and I moved in together, #3 would change the schedule arbitrarily and he would just go along with it. He felt guilty for not being present for the first few years of our 5 year old's life and would therefore, let her mother dictate the situation. I cannot and refuse to live a life where #3 is dictating what happens with our lives and our schedules. It has taken a bit of time, but my boyfriend has started to learn to say "no" to #3 when she tries to change the schedule. Keep in mind, we have a 16 year old who is also on a schedule with us. (Her mother never changes the schedule unless she has a reason.) Changing our 5 year old's schedule affects the 16 year old too. I think the domino effect of my boyfriend taking a firm stance has been that #3 has felt the need to communicate a schedule ahead of time. This way she can get our cooperation to do what she wants.
When the kids are with us, my boyfriend and I are okay with me being "second mom". I do wish #3 would have talked to me about being second mom before she told her daughter that this was what I was. I've learned to embrace it within a capacity that I am okay with. With our therapist's guidance, it was poignant for me to realize that #3 was making me into her daughter's second mother without asking me. Definitely another one of the big reasons for my resentment towards her.
What I know now and what I wished we had discussed before moving in:
What are you okay with within a parental capacity? What kind of a step parent do you envision yourself to be?
What is your partner expecting from you as a step-parent? How involved does he/she expect you to be?
What is the overall visitation schedule and vision?
Financially what are the expectations?
As I said before, we now have the answers to our situation, but I feel like if we had had the conversation first, we would have settled in to our roles sooner.
What my boyfriend and I are doing moving forward:
The prospect of becoming primary parent is not a possibility right now. I am not ready for that and that is not the agreement we had when I entered the situation. (I have learned from therapy that it is okay for me to have that boundary without being vilified.) Also, my boyfriend cannot financially afford to be the primary parent. For now, the plan is that as long as #3 is working her shady job and continues to be absent, his will be pushing for more of a 50/50 custody situation. The hurdle that is currently holding up his plan: there seems to be a lot of red tape to push through in order to get his name on his 5 year old's birth certificate. (I don't fully know what's going on with this. This is a topic that's between #3 and my boyfriend.)
If the opportunity for a 50/50 custody agreement happens before I am ready to be more involved, my boyfriend plans on splitting his parenting time between my and his mother's houses. This means that when it's a kid weekend for us, our 5 year old and 16 year old will be with us on their allotted weekends. For any additional days, my boyfriend will stay with our youngest at his mother's house. We've learned through therapy that it isn't fair to have him force me to be more of a mom than I'm ready for. Sure, one could argue that since I decided to join this blended family, I have to just suck it up. According to our therapist, this is not true. I don't have to be more involved than I want and if I'm pushed when I'm not ready, resentment will kick in. Knowing myself, I believe that if I'm given time and am not rushed, I will naturally slide into the role and become more comfortable.
I know that this arrangement may not work for everyone, but for now it seems to be a good fit for us. I never wanted to be a step parent and my boyfriend didn't tell me about his kids until two months into our relationship. He asked for a chance and I decided to forgive and give it to him. Therefore, while I am embracing his situation, he recognizes that it is challenging. We have to find a compromise that will take care of our 5 year old, but also take care of my spirit in this crazy blended family.
File this under: What to consider before moving in together as a bonus parent.