It has been 4 going on 5 very long but very eye opening years since I first met my (now) step-daughter. She was 4, in chemotherapy growing back her hair and in the midst of her parents’ separation.
At that time I knew Bob for 10 years. We were together before he ever met you…though I am quite sure I never came up. Know this; I am here now and I will be here until the end. Our relationship never started during your marriage to Bob. It would be easier to know that we were something new then. It would be easier to pretend he cheated on you. But that wouldn’t be the truth. That story can go away now. Those feelings should be long dead.
At the beginning, we rarely had the chance to see Emily, just an hour or so on a week nights then on Sundays for a few hours. It was really an easy introduction to her and us of what our life would become. Easing into the separation and eventual divorce was in her best interest. I think it started out alright.
Eventually she would spend a night here and there. At first this was insane, hours of wailing, screaming and negotiating done by Bob alone while I sat in the living room in our rented townhouse (so that we could be closer to her) feeling his frustration and sadness. Listening to her confusion and fear.
Luckily for us, after a few nights over things were getting progressively better. We enjoyed our time together and were working through legal matters to finalize custody arrangements.
Mother’s day passed and I nudged Bob to ensure he got a token for you “from” Emily. I remember saying that you mustn’t be that bad of a person for an amazing guy like him to meet, marry and impregnate within 9 short months. He never really wanted kids and when he told me he was going to have one, I was happy for him but kind of confused to be honest. He seemed so happy, for a couple of years and then I watched it all unravel.
In the fall of 2013 as we sat looking out on a beautiful view of the Sea of Cortez sipping champagne and celebrating my 35th birthday we went over the custody arrangements as proposed and decided that it would be worth it for us to try and have Emily as part of our lives for more than 20% of the time. We decided that night that we would hold off on signing the agreement and attempt to negotiate more shared time so that Emily could develop a bond with her father as well. She was missing out on so much time with 50% of her biological history. It would be a disservice to Emily to lay down and die on the shared parenting matter as it stood.
Things nearly immediately started getting rough. I can’t say whether or not the announcement of equal parenting desired was the catalyst for all the things that have happened since, but I can say that without any uncertainty we have always had Emily’s best interests at the forefront of our choices for our family.
Over time we have collected stories from Emily. Pictures she has painted in our minds of how living with you feels. We started to hear back strange things about how she wasn’t allowed to mention Bob’s name or have his picture out (so she was asked to hide it in a cupboard) or talk about him in your presence because that “made you sad”. Emily was 6 then and we realized that a household with a 40 something bitter woman and a wounded 6 year old would spell trouble for us in the future, and it did.
We worried about her ability to be a child in a loving and happy home. This first hit on our “oh no” radar when she started talking about sex at 4 years old and quoting episodes of Sex and the City, baffled, Bob wrote you about this which you blew off. This continues to be a theme where Emily’s mental health is concerned.
Looking back now I remember Bob telling me about how the father of your other two children was ousted and the ruckus it caused in your household all those years ago…I hoped so much that if indeed what I heard was true that this time would be different. Progressive people learn from their pasts, I so hoped you were an empowered person who would never dream of alienating a second father when presented with a second chance.
Well, going into year 5 of this mess has only illustrated that unfortunately, history is repeating itself.
Emily turned 8 last summer and so much has come up for her. In a matter of 1 year you met, got engaged to (before being divorced) and married your third husband. We were legitimately SO happy for you that you might have found someone to place some positive energy in and were hopeful that it might alleviate some of the negative pressure tossed our way. He was a single father who might be able to appeal to your softer side by creating a Step-parent environment not unlike ours! Unfortunately, Emily had a rather hysterical reaction to the impending nuptials and was acting out erratically, telling us that she was thinking of burning you to death among other odd thoughts.
We were devastated. Emily was devastated. We spent countless hours trying to smooth things over, let her know that nothing was really changing, everything was ok. New relationships in your home were rolling out all too fast for Emily and she had no outlet. She told us that you told her the devil was in her and that she needed to pray to get those things out of her mind. We were beside ourselves. We saw several child psychologists, you saw one that you would approve of. When we investigated and came to a standstill you held out in defense of your one option and finally, denied Emily the opportunity to see a counselor. A choice that we will all regret very soon when she reaches puberty and young adulthood.
Emily started coming to us letting us know about the plastic surgery you and her were talking about to lessen the small scar she has on her chest from the port installed which was required to issue her chemotherapy. What we think is a battle scar she should be proud of. She told us about the braces she needed for her teeth (that were mostly baby teeth) and other superficial improvements she could look forward to. Emily sings songs about getting drunk and having sex with strangers which I guess is what top 40 is now, but we have no idea why she would be allowed to listen to and memorize it. What could we do to let her know that your physical appearance does not validate who you are? How much impression could we have on a child who was rarely with us?
We’ve lived in a stable home for years. Included Emily wherever we could. She is family to my family and they look forward to spending time with her. I have no children of my own and my parents and grandparents adore her. Emily told us that you made sure she knew that none of my family was her family. That I am not her family……but at the same time your new husband’s daughter is her sister. You instructed Emily to call her Step-father “Papa”. This killed Bob to find out and I nearly didn’t let him know, but we share everything and there is no way that there will be one secret between us. Emily tells us about every time you roll your eyes at things she mentions about us. She says she doesn’t know why you do that because it’s not very nice.
We’ve tried to get a list of activities Emily is involved in with schedules (as they change) so that if it is in our power, we are able to come and see her having fun and being a kid. That’s about as far as that went until recently when you had advise us of stuff happening on “our” days. Emily says that you say we “get all the good days with her”…..does she know that we are perfectly fine with everyone in her family being in attendance of her events? Does she know that you tried to (legally) enforce an arrangement where Bob and the rest of his family cannot be at events on “your” days?
Emily recently had a visit to her oncologist who thought some of her moles looked troublesome. You took her to an appointment to have them looked at. Medical visits out of the ordinary and with any cancer-type sentiment are supposed to be relayed to Bob, if even out of common courtesy. We were surprised and appalled to have to hear this from Emily herself who can’t yet convey what went on at the doctor’s office.
Not too many months ago Emily came home (or for a visit as she has advised us that you demand she terms our time together) with relatively severe facial tics that lasted for months. We felt this was a manifestation of on-going emotional troubles and tried to talk to her about it but being unskilled in the ways of child psychology we failed to break through. I don’t know if Bob ever wrote to you about that. He has a very hard time expressing exactly what it is he is feeling, becomes overwhelmed and then freezes.
Trying to get all information possible to our daughter, we bought Emily kids books on divorce, separation and parenting issues and let her talk to us about it. She asked us a lot of questions about why Bob and you can’t be friends. After your marriage she still didn’t understand why all of us couldn’t live in one house together. We never shoo her away or squirm out of these sometimes awkward exchanges. That’s not in Emily’s best interest. Our door is always open to her with any topic. Even when she didn’t know why she wasn’t allowed to call her vagina a vagina and had to call it a “bum” or when she wanted to ask us questions about sex.
Lately, Emily has been showing more signs of co-dependence which we thought we had broken through. It’s starting to heat up so that within an hour of our last 3 hour visit she was already whining like a toddler to see her mommy. She couldn’t say why, we couldn’t break through, and we all know that eventually your plans to shut us out will be effective.
We are in emotional and physical pain over what is left of the relationship between Bob, our family and Emily. Co-parenting has never been easy with you, but we just grin and keep on keeping on. We hope that one day you will not feel threatened by us and will parent Emily WITH us for as much abundant success as she can handle. You are not a bad word in our house. We don’t roll our eyes when she talks about her life at your house. We don’t go out of our way to set you up to look like a piece of crap. Couples get married and break up, that’s the end of their relationship, why does this have to continue so that the children are punished for having a good time with one parent or the other? It doesn’t have to.
We are a small and inconvenient side effect of some of your decisions. This fact doesn’t hurt us, what does in the fact that we are slowly but surely being alienated. Try as we might to volunteer at her school, or get an extra hour or two of time from you, we are eternally on the losing end because she was once sick and you are the birth mother. Emily doesn’t bring things home from school to show us, she doesn’t call us just to say hi. She probably never mentions anything about us once she is away from the home we share. We know that and have accepted that this is the way things are being arranged.
Over the summer, Emily decided to stop eating meat after she saw pig and cow transporters at a rest stop while we were on summer vacation together. She was so proud of herself, and was really getting into learning about vegetarianism. Eventually she told us that she “had to” eat meat because it was putting her in a bad mood not eating meat. I know that you know I’m a chef, nutritionist, bikini athlete and personal trainer, that I survived cancer and that I am a vegan. The world knows protein comes from more than steak. We know that it must have burned you up something fierce to have Emily want to be a little like me. We know that’s why she’s being forced to eat meat at your house. She’s really sad about it. Torn up about animal rights and her allegiance to her mother. It’s sad to watch.
We know that what is happening with her now isn’t right and is a reaction to some kind of change. It is not in her best interests to go ignored when it is so obvious that she needs a safe way to maneuver through her emotions. We know she needs her own (unbiased) safe person to talk to. We know that she has deep, confusing and unhealthy attachments to you. Attachments that seem to scare even her, if she’s asked to try to explain her feelings.
Emily needs help. It is harming her to not let her live and speak freely about her life and her (blended) families. She is a growing girl on the brink of hitting hormone city. It is in her best interest to let her be free and unencumbered by any of our emotions, hatefulness or baggage. She is 8, she did not marry, get pregnant by or divorce Bob.
We feel that it is not in Emily’s best interest to live in a world where she is dictated what she can and cannot feel. We believe that living at your house 75% of the time is creating a fundamental rift in her psychological wellbeing. We want her to have access to help. We do not want to have to spend another $40,000.00 fighting to get this for her. We have no more money to give you. The $1600/ month you see is already coming to an end quickly. There is no work here anymore and there is no future for income much past this spring.
We need to take advantage of time right now. Drop the bullshit, stop using Emily as a weapon and get her help. She needs her mother and her father and the love of all of the family she has. We are all equal in the success of her development if you’ll let it be that way. If not, you are 100% responsible for the damage and destruction in her life ~ it takes a village to raise a child.
Please, put your feelings aside. None of this is about you. It’s all about Emily. She needs some peace in her heart. She needs to stop serving you or me or Bob and our adult feelings…she needs to be a child who’s worried about playtime not plastic surgery and boys. Please don’t rob her of her only childhood that has already been cut short by tragic illness.
Please be human in this. Please put Emily first.
To the people who suffer with me in step-parenting dilemmas.
For anyone reading this who can relate…I’d love to hear from you, talk to with you and support you in any way I can. Support is so important in this type of situation. When you take on a man with children and have none of your own, it’s a very precarious emotional business. I am lucky that the man I have chosen to spend my life with is supportive, sees my Step-daughter as “our” daughter and we have nearly zero parenting conflicts. Of course there are things that bother me regularly. The fact that whether I like it or not, the birth mother is invited into our home on a weekly basis and not usually with any positive energy. Hearing her criticism voiced through an unsuspecting 8-year-old. Watching as my husband painfully reacts to every knife that is twisted in his heart. It’s a sad business.
My expectation in this relationship wasn’t to be best friends with the BM (birth mother) but I did expect to have to communicate, see her at regular events and possibly chat about things to do with the child that we were raising together. As it stands, there is less than no relationship and we’ve never said more than hello to each other and shaken hands in front of our child for her benefit.
The hostility is there no matter how you slice it. In silence, in messages sent vis-à-vis our daughter, texts and emails. Family holidays and schedule changes always come with stress and resistance. Time (to the second) is accounted for and revoked.
We truly do not have the money we once did to fight for anything else in court. The only thing we can do is love our daughter harder and hope for better times and wiser adults that come together in the best interests of our daughter.
One way I have protected myself is by staying inaccessible to the BM. It keeps a level of stress off of me and my husband and I am grateful for that. Another thing I’ve managed to keep in mind is that my husband and I are above all of this. The petty control issues, the lying, and the meanness. We are above it and nothing can tear us apart.
Stay strong. Stay positive but do not stay silent in your struggles. There is support out there and you must find it. As it does take a village to raise a child so too we are all children in this life.
I’m leaving you with some starting points that I have found useful in my daily life. I hope you find the peace that is so much needed for a healthy (blended) family life.
Xo – S