Hi, Carolyn: I started dating a guy about a year ago. We recently got engaged and are to be wed in July. Our relationship is wonderful.
The only issue is his bratty children. Before I met them, he was telling me how wonderful they are, how well-behaved they are, and what good manners they have. It went on for months, sort of like he was trying to tell me that my two children (ages 7 and 2) are brats.
I finally met them in September and, at first, I thought their habits were cute.
They don’t clean up after themselves; they do whatever they want. His oldest, 7, will try and steal/sneak things because she has “never had one,” as she puts it. Last time his daughter was over, she punched my daughter in the arm. They’re the same age; however, my daughter is MUCH better behaved and knows not to hit people.
When I told him his daughter hit mine, he put her into timeout. Isn’t that not enough for a 7-year-old? I’ve tried to talk to his ex-wife about it, and she blocked me from Facebook and now tells me I need to mind my own business about her children.
When he has his children, I tell him I do not want to see him. Yet, I feel as if we’re putting a divider between his kids and my kids (there is no “our” kids), and if I am going to marry this guy in a few months, I want to know whether we’re going to fight every other weekend when he has his children.
Presumably these very young children want to know, too, because experiencing childhood in a home with bickering, scorekeeping, defensive, finger-pointing, in-name-only co-parents sounds like a universal vision of hell.
And that’s for your kids.
For his, those “bratty children” you just verbally spat upon, all apparently 7 or younger? Wow.
How would you feel right now if you were that young, and if your soon-to-be stepmother and caregiver used those words to describe you? Would you feel loved, safe, hopeful, good about yourself, motivated to behave?
Or would you feel like the adults in your life only cared about themselves?
OK, your 7-year-old self might not have those words. But you’d have other ways of expressing your misery and frustration. Such as, hitting, sneaking, stealing, making messes and otherwise acting out.
You and your fiance – and the ex – are going to be the adults responsible for at least (if I’m reading correctly) five children not only at their most vulnerable, but also in their prime formative years.
By your account, not one of you is acting or thinking like an adult.
To even consider blending families before you actually like each other’s kids is stunning, and you won’t even agree to be around his! Kids need love to thrive. Hello? And you represent a loveless home for them. You can’t do that to them and claim to have a conscience. Your “wonderful” relationship can wait, and morally has to wait, until you’re ready to embrace his kids fully.
Not only do you have to be not actively shunning them for that to happen, but you also need to be invested in them and your role as their caregiver, which means helping to create a functional cooperative structure for raising them. You cite your fiance’s arguable parenting fail (the timeout) just to illustrate how awful his kids are. As if he’s just a bystander!
If his kids are being raised incompetently, then your fiance is part of that problem – unless his kids are somehow inherently bad. Either way, connect each dot to the next dot: He’s the new father/they’re the new siblings you’re delivering to your kids. No one’s getting Parent of the Year here.
Between your needs and all these kids’, theirs matter more.
And no, I can’t lay off the italics, because every part of me that deep down is still 7 years old can’t stop screaming.
Becoming a parent means assuming a sacred responsibility to care for, protect and equip children by adulthood to care for themselves. When an impulse to take care of yourself conflicts with that responsibility, you must override your impulse and do your parental job.
So you postpone this wedding and home-sharing. Indefinitely.
Then you two take a really good parenting class, since adulting classes aren’t a thing yet. Ask your children’s pediatrician to recommend one.
And you really work to know and understand his kids.
And you and your fiance work with a reputable family therapist (see “ask pediatrician,” above) to learn how to blend a family with patience, compassion, forgiveness, mutual support, sensible team discipline and dukes-down overtures to the ex.
If you can’t become his kids’ champion even under the supervision of people who are trained and motivated to help you succeed, then please see the improbability – and unhappy consequences – of doing so on the fly, angry and with competing priorities and interests. No amount of “wonderful” justifies that.