Wednesday, 4 July 2007

How not to be a step mum

"Life is the movie you see through your own eyes. It makes little difference what's happening out there. It's how you take it that counts."-- Denis Waitley

Terms and conditions apply

Stepmothers can be perceived as evil women who are cruel and insensitive to their stepchildren but are devoted mothers who favour their own offspring. In most fairy stories they are, but what happens when the real scoundrel could be the stepchild's biological mother? What happens when you come across a stepmother, like myself, whose only desire is for her new family to be happy, someone who cares deeply for her new husband's child , but the child’s mother, the ex wife, will do everything she can to bring down their relationship? Under no circumstances does the ex wife want her daughter consorting with the enemy, the step mum, even after the step mum has married the child's father.

Blending two families together to become part of a stepfamily unit, or more importantly, becoming a stepmother. I wasn't aware of my role or appreciated what would be expected of me and I certainly didn't know how I was supposed to cope or behave. I was unaware that terms and conditions would apply, especially where any involvement with my stepdaughter would be concerned. This exclusion did not happen immediately, it took several months before the tale-tell signs would rear it's ugly head.

I thought I could handle anything life threw at me; after all, I met the man of my dreams and wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Together we could face anything, take on the world and nothing could go wrong. But I have found I was unable to put my feelings and emotions to one side and think only of my stepdaughters. I failed to be sympathetic towards her, concentrating purely on myself and how this new situation was
affecting my own children and myself. I have been unable to tolerate the favouritism
shown towards my stepdaughter, not only from my husband but his parents, my stepdaughter’s grandparents, and I was certainly having difficulty accepting my husband had a past that would constantly be in our present. All these feelings and emotions brought on by stepfamily life, have led me to harbour many undeserved and negative feelings towards my stepdaughter, but show me one stepparent who has never experienced negative feelings towards their stepchild, and I'll tell them that their pants are on fire!

I found the man of my dreams, but wasn't prepared for the trauma we would suffer as a
whole family, my own children included. This leaves me with an overwhelming feeling that I have failed as a stepmother and failed as a wife because I was unable to put my stepdaughters feelings ahead of my own and be more of a support for my husband as he has been for me. The main struggle was putting my own needs and anxieties to one side, to enable him to focus on his fragile relationship with his daughter. I expected him to meet my needs and focus on me, the adult, who should really have been able to take care of herself.
What remains is wanting to be the best mother I can be for my children. This would have included being the best stepmother I could possibly be for my husband's daughter, to share her dreams, goals and ambitions alongside my own children. But unfortunately we have been denied this. An ex wife who appeared to manipulate and control, has resulted in a creation of emotional barriers with a deep desire to protect the feelings and emotions of my own children and myself. Blinded by this reaction, I was unable to see reason and instead focused on the breakdown of my previous relationship, my past and the effect it was having on myself and my children. My immediate family unit became fortress like, allowing no one to enter or damage it, even if it that meant a six-year-old child or her seemingly manipulative mother!

I chose to be with my husband and he chose to be with me. I didn't choose my husbands ex wife and she certainly didn't choose to have me as a stepmother for her daughter. Her daughter could have been visiting her daddy alongside a woman who hated everything she represented. Instead, my stepdaughter came into a home where she was loved by her daddy and me, a stepmother who cared very deeply for her. Something I hope for my own children with any impending step mum. Instead of this, my husbands ex wife chose to sabotage the relationship I had formed with her daughter, leaving resentment and pain where there should have been love, acceptance and happiness. The negative feelings that linger have been, in my opinion, directly caused by my husbands ex wife, the relationship she has with her daughter and the torn loyalties shown by a six year old towards her mother.
It is hard not to lay blame and I accept I have had a massive part to play in the breakdown of our stepfamily unit through my own actions. Nevertheless the lessons I have learned are to give my own children all the love, support, guidance and acceptance that I possibly can and to allow and support them in having a fulfilling relationship with their father and any potential partners he may have. Not only this, but to accept that myself, the adult, am allowed to have feelings too and that being part of a stepfamily unit is not solely about the children. These are my version of events.
For the love of Hannah and all of my children.

A Daddy is for life not just at weekends

Living without a child. I am not referring to the loss of a child through death, illness or accident. I am referring to a child that no longer shares our lives through divorce or separation. A child or children that were once involved in our everyday routine that suddenly, almost overnight, becomes a few days a week, a few hours a day or simply to not see them at all. Ever.

Unfortunately, it is more commonly the fathers who are forced to sacrifice contact with their children. A mother seems to have automatic control and custody of the child or children made even easier by the current laws, the system that exists or because she feels that it is her right as the mother to make a decision that the father so often has to adhere too. He seems to have little rights, but if he wishes to contest the mother’s decisions, he is forced to proceed through court, which costs money. Money most fathers quite simply don't have. It has nothing to do with their love for their child. Even Fathers with Parental responsibility or custody of their child, remain in a no win situation. It is still too easy for the mother to withhold contact forcing the father to return to court, which again costs him money. There seems to be no law in protecting the absent parent. Daily contact is all too often used as a weapon against the absent parent. If he doesn't comply with this, he doesn't see the child. If he changes plans, he doesn't see the child. Even if the mother takes a dislike to her ex husbands new partner, as in our case, he doesn't see the child. Is it really in the best interests of the child or simply because its not convenient for the mother? What justification does a mother have to do this to a father, even more so, to do this to a child, her own child she supposedly loves? I am conscious there are many mothers who feel that some fathers are a waste of time, but in whose opinion? Hers, because she and her ex partner have disagreed on something or because she has moved on with her life and she no longer loves her ex? He is to have no involvement in her new life, so her new partner can replace the Childs father, he can become the new daddy.

I am guilty of wanting to replace my children's father with someone who, in my opinion, makes a much better father than my ex husband does. But having been witness to the possible unknowing tactic my husbands ex wife has used to manipulate their child; it has caused me to look at my children's relationship with their father in a completely different light. I must ensure to keep the channels of communication open between my daughter and her father and to maintain and ensure she has a normal healthy relationship with him. But most of all, to re-evaluate the negative feelings I harbour towards my ex husband and insure I do not impose these onto my children. Ok I hear many women now disagreeing with me and I am sure each one feels justified in the decisions that they make that will affect their children. But one thing is overlooked all too often. Some children are simply too young or reluctant to make a decision and we try to do our best for them, but the reality is, these men, our ex partners, are still their fathers, and a child should never be placed in an impossible situation where they are forced to choose one parent over the other. The potential feeling of loss and rejection will certainly be an emotion some children will struggle to come to terms with on-top of the loss of a parent. I have struggled with this emotion myself, the rejection of my father, and my parents remain married!

I am not talking about those fathers who flit in and out of their Childs life, or who really do appear to lack decent parenting skills, but even so they are still the Childs father. I am talking about the ones that when we were in our happy relationship, they really were good dads and we knew it. They shared responsibility of their child, and loved them. They showed an interest in their Childs favourite games or books. They watched their child in the school nativity and more so. Now that the relationship has turned sour, we just want the ex's out of our lives, and that means our children's lives too. On whose judgement is a bad father, the mother's because he failed as a husband? Perhaps she feels he is unworthy to be a father or is jealous of the love their child shows towards their daddy. Perhaps she hasn't accepted that the relationship is over and uses their child by way of contact and control or perhaps she is jealous of a new partner in her ex's life whom she feels threatened by. She may even feel that the father is a constant reminder of her failed relationship that it is something she would prefer to forget. All of these issues belong to the parent NOT the child, but it is our children who will eventually suffer.

It is however, left to the resident parent or the parent with care, to pick up the pieces
when the absent parent has broken yet another promise, has failed to turn up for a
visit or the multitude of spoils and treats that will not be contended with by the parent with care because, for the absent parent, its the only way they feel they can remain important in their child's life.

It is a term fondly known as absent parents, but there is no fondness being absent from a child's life. Especially if the decision made is not a chosen one. The frustration my husband feels is he is no longer part of his daughters life and has lost the equality in parenting his daughter. His ex wife has decided that she is the parent with the control on the basis their daughter spends more time with her mother than with her father. Suddenly he no longer shares responsibility of his daughter. So the ex becomes the dominating parent and she becomes the "gatekeeper." His ex wife through constant interference has caused a situation where we no longer see my husband's daughter because his ex wife has decided that she doesn't want him in her life and she certainly doesn't want him in their daughters life either. But the saddest and most irate part of it all is that she can pick up the telephone, make a call to the system, and have total financial control over my husband’s life, until his daughter reaches sixteen, leaving him with no contact with his child and struggling to provide for his existing family because his ex wife has determined our future. Yes he has a responsibility to his daughter, that was decided the day she was born and like many of us, mothers and fathers, it is a responsibility my husband accepts. But being forced out of his child's life and leaving him with the privilege of paying for it, whether he sees her or not, is this fair? His ex wife has the law on her side and she will do whatever she thinks fit in the interest of her child.

Many women block access to their child and feel totally justified in their actions. They
may subtly push the father out by appearing to support the child's visit when all they
actually do is fill their child's head with negative comments about the father. This gives the child an unspoken but clear message that their mother is senior to the father. Some comments can be meaningless in the eyes of the mother and quickly dismissed, but the child is witness to the verbal bashing she gives the father because he has allowed his child to stay up ten minutes after his bedtime or she doesn't like his shirt! Trivial shit.

Tragically it is the children who are caught in the crossfire, when all they need is to be allowed to love their mummy and love their daddy. They never asked for any of this.
My husband remembers the day he lost his daughter. Father’s day 2001

His ex wife, their daughter, himself along with his in-laws, had booked a table at a local restaurant. The day was pleasant, gifts had been exchanged and everything appeared normal. It wasn't until my husband and his ex wife returned home did she drop her bombshell. She had been having an affair with a work colleague, who himself had a wife and three daughters. She felt she could no longer communicate with my husband and had found an alternative shoulder to cry on. Why tell my husband on father’s day? Why not wait until the day after? His world had been turned upside down and his future was instantly uncertain. What about his daughter? She was twenty months old and their lives as father and daughter had only just begun. They had shared so much in such a short space of time.

He would sit with his ex wife during the night-time feeds and would help with bathing, preparing meals and housework, anything to help share responsibility of his daughter. The
bond he had forged with his child was going to be taken from him. Cradling his daughter
in his arms he sat huddled on the floor of her bedroom, sobbing and pleading with his ex wife not to take his child away. She stood over him in the doorway of the bedroom with the intention of doing exactly that.

His ex wife moved out May 2002 to a nearby house. Their daughter was just over two and a half years old and the arrangement agreed between my husband and his ex wife, would be for him to care for his daughter Saturday evening till Tuesday morning and his ex wife the remainder of the week. He felt he had an equal responsibility in raising his daughter, which was a responsibility he took with pride and determination. He knew this wasn't going to be an easy task as he has a very demanding profession working in the City and at times it was not a straightforward nine to five occupation. But with all this in mind he explained the circumstances to his Boss, made it perfectly clear that his daughter was his priority and he needed to drop her at Nursery Monday morning at 8am, collect her at 5pm and then drop her again on Tuesday 8am as before. Fortunately his Boss was a very understanding man, so this arrangement would not cause a problem. My husband would then make up any lost time working late the rest of the week or continuing to work at home the evenings he wasn't caring for his daughter.
My husband and his daughter grew very close and they would often cuddle up in bed together. Sometimes she was reluctant to sleep alone or woke from a bad dream so daddy was immediately at her side to comfort her. His ex wife told him that she was having problems getting her daughter to sleep the days his daughter was away from him, so would he please refrain from allowing her into his bed. Perhaps his daughter felt safe with
her daddy's strong arms to cuddle her at night. He had always been a visible part of her
life and it must have been very confusing for her to understand that herself, daddy and mummy were no longer living all together.

My ex husband has a small two bed roomed house, so when our daughter goes to stay with him, she sleeps in the same bed alongside her father. He obviously misses her, so needs to be close to her as much as possible. This causes me a problem when she comes home as she is used to sleeping with daddy and obviously misses him whenever she returns home. As I said, this is my problem and I certainly don't want to continually contact my ex husband and tell him what he should or shouldn't be doing when our children are in his care. I simply reassure her that everything is ok and she soon becomes settled again. My problem I deal with it. My husband involved his daughter with everything during their time together. They shopped together and cooked together, but it is very hard looking after a child so young. I am a full time mother and there are times I feel totally exhausted, and that's without having to cope with a full time job!
But now my husband’s ex wife has managed to eliminate him from his child's life, to whose gain? Her own no doubt. She prefers for her new partner to take the place of my husband in raising their daughter. For him to know that another man is taking his daughter to school, is reading her stories, hearing about her school day and what injures the most, is for my husband to miss out on the first achievements that his daughter will accomplish. He doesn't deserve it. He is a fantastic loving, caring father who has been shunned from his daughters life because his ex wife has stated, " I want you out of my life and out of my daughters life." She has given absolutely no reason whatsoever apart from unjustified criticism by calling him a little shit that turned his back on his daughter. My husband has NEVER turned his back on his child or told his daughter he doesn't want to see her. Asking his ex wife to regain contact with his daughter, he was told she would think about it and my husband is still waiting alongside not coping too well with the prospect of never seeing his child again.

For my husband, now living with absolutely no involvement in his daughter’s life and having to allow another man to care for her is the saddest thing to be witness too, and I am sure my ex husband feels exactly the same way, as our home is full of constant reminders. Her toys remain neat, tidy and unused in the toy box, her slippers and nightclothes lay folded in the drawer. The lilac tree in the garden that was planted to signify her birth and the Fuchsia she choose this year to plant in the spring, have bloomed throughout the summer and died.

My husband has written to his daughter, but we do not know if the letters are intercepted or whether they actually reach her. What he does know is the decision to temporarily stop his daughter from visiting was implemented, purely for the love of his child. He quite simply had to remove her from a situation she was too young to understand or cope with. His ex wife had called him a coward so perhaps she will have to explain in later years, why her daughter never received the letters from her father if this is the case, or explain when her daddy wanted to resume contact, was quite simply told no. He will keep trying.

Of course I understand how my husbands ex wife feels when a letter lands on her doorstep. The protective instinct kicks in and I have experienced this myself. When my daughter’s father sent her a large parcel filled with presents, for an instant I thought about withholding it from her. I felt my ex husband was inviting himself into my home and I did not like it at all. I had no control over it. He wasn't asked, so what gave him the right to send MY daughter gifts. Gifts I had not requested, gifts I had not decided as to whether they were suitable. I felt ashamed that I could make the decision whether I gave her the parcel or simply forgot it existed. After all, what she never received, she would never miss. Undoubtedly when she spoke to her daddy, he would ask if she received it and I could plead ignorance and declare that it had been lost in the post should the conversation arise. But who would benefit from this deed? Would I, because I would feel triumphant that I had one over on my ex husband and excluding him from his daughters life was something I could control? Perhaps it was because I wanted my daughter to forget her daddy or I didn't want to share my daughters love with a man that I felt didn't deserve it? If I were honest with myself it would probably be the latter. Not having to share my daughters love, wanting it all for myself. Having to cope with all of the rejection in my life, having the complete love of my daughter, and her to forget her daddy.

But the reality of it all is, I do have all of her love, as much as she can give me. There is no competition with her father and that I have learned to accept. So who would gain from withholding her gifts? The person who would least benefit would be my daughter so how could I do this to my own child who I love? What right did I have for her to not receive a parcel from her daddy because of the feelings I have or rather not have for him? I don't like him very much, but she loves him and she received her present.

Like most absent parents, the obvious hurdle is what to buy for birthdays and Christmas. I have watched my husband walk aimlessly around toyshops, trying to find some
inspiration what he should buy for his daughter. When you are not sharing a child's life
every day, you do not know what toys they like, who their favourite characters are unless you ask them, but like my husband who has no contact with his daughter whatsoever, he
will have no idea what birthday or Christmas gifts to buy, but no doubt he will be severely criticized by his ex wife for trying to show some initiative.

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