Welcome to week 2 of my up-close look at Dad’s Partner (revisit Week 1 here).
I could be wrong, but I think society’s impression of the divorced dad and his new love goes something like this: Dad trades Wife for a sleek-looking newer model. Together, the two of them jet around the world, having lots of fun. While living the high life, they spend all that money that Dad isn’t paying in child support. He shows off his shiny arm candy every chance he gets and they constantly flaunt their status in (now) Ex-Wife’s face. Dad and New Love find joy in their part-time parenthood of Dad’s kids. Discipline is infrequent and trips to Disneyland are plentiful. Life is grand and everyone smiles all the time. At least, that’s what we see in the pictures…
Of course, that’s just a stereotype. Today, I’d like to present some of the less-happy feelings which plague Dad’s Partner. The following is an accurate portrayal of my own emotional inventory and I’m fairly certain these are widely applicable to most women partnered with a dad. Don’t get me wrong, I love Boyfriend with everything I have and I treasure our relationship. I adore his kids and I’m grateful for their presence in my life. If I wasn’t absolutely certain about that and firmly committed to this family, I would have run away a long time ago. But the truth is (as it is for everyone), it’s not all roses and daisies and trips to Disneyland (I’ve never been to Disneyland and I’ve no desire to go there). Dad’s partner isn’t shiny arm candy (nor is she a loathsome troll), she’s a human being. As such, there are times when she feels….
Inadequate. Especially if she doesn’t have her own children. And even if she does, there are still things she’ll never do as well as Mom and Dad. I was mercilessly attacked by The Mom (aka Boyfriend’s ex) for my childless status. As a result, I tried to learn what I didn’t know. I read books, took a parenting class and volunteered in an elementary school. When The Mom heard of this, she laughed haughtily and said something to the effect of, “Sure, but she’ll never know my children. There are some things you just can’t learn from a book.” (Ugh.)
Insecure. Often, I feel like I’m engaged in a conflict with someone in my family. There’s the unspoken/ongoing conflict with The Mom (she is part of my extended family… like it or not.). The boys endure their own loyalty conflicts of which I am a cause. There are times when my direction to the kids is overridden by another family member. Sometimes I get those looks from Boyfriend to let me know he disapproves of something I’m about to say. The kids resent me for correcting their inappropriate behavior… and on… and on… Given the position of Dad’s partner (not The Mom, not the First Wife, not the Longest Partnership, etc), these conflicts can eat away at a person’s self-confidence. This can result in those second-guess-type questions: Does he really love me? Do they value me at all? Would these people be better off if I disappeared? Is this actually what I want? Can I handle this?
Dad’s Partner has her share of conflicts and insecurities. She craves reassurance, understanding and validation on a regular basis. ***I’d like to take a moment here and express my gratitude to Boyfriend’s Mom, who has shown me nothing but love, acceptance and appreciation from Day 1. Her support has meant more than I can express.***
Fear. Dad’s Partner is taking a huge risk. She gives her all, knowing that she will suffer a 100% loss if the relationship ends. When Mom and Dad split up, they (most of the time) continue to share the kids… but, if Dad’s girlfriend/partner/wife leaves the picture, she will likely not see the kids again. Ever. Her family will simply move on without her… after everything she did for them….all for nothing! That’s a scary thought.
Intimidated. Let’s face it: Mom is scary. It doesn’t matter if she’s nice, mean or insane. We are intimidated because Mom has seniority. Mom is The Mom. Mom has established turf. She’s the one who created the kids by doing-you-know-what with Dad. She has all the insider knowledge about Dad, the kids and Dad’s family. And if Mom hates Dad’s Partner? Well, that makes it even worse, of course!
We all know how dangerous it is to upset “Mama Bear”, right? And I’ve heard people suggest that Dad’s Partner needs to be the one to make a peace offering if Mama Bear is offended. Now… let me ask: what person in his/her right mind is going to approach an angry bear? Seriously! Can you blame Dad’s Partner for being a little too intimidated to venture into the bear’s den?
Attacked/Defensive. Sometimes Dad’s Partner comes under serious fire. Maybe she didn’t wash the clothes correctly. Perhaps she was present in an unexpected place. Maybe she said something, or didn’t say something, and it caused a reaction. We can trace these emotions and their consequential actions all the way back to elementary school: “You think I’m stupid? I’m not stupid, I got an A in math! And besides… you’re ugly!”
It’s a vicious cycle. In my case, I stopped communicating directly with Boyfriend’s ex pretty early on… but that didn’t thwart her attacks… which continued to escalate my defenses… As a result, I wasted precious time barfing my defensive arguments all over Boyfriend. Poor guy. I don’t do that anymore. At least, not very often.
Powerless. I’m talking about relationships. Dad’s Partner might be a kind person. She can be loving and giving and affectionate. She can be appreciative and patient and always take the high road. And that’s nice. But the fact is that Dad’s Kids and Dad’s Ex are the ones who determine what kind of relationship they want to have with Dad’s Partner. She could be Mother Teresa reincarnated and still be regarded with a violent hatred. And… there’s nothing she can do about it. Doesn’t that suck?
(I realize this principle is true of all relationships. The complicating factor here is that most decisions regarding relationships with Dad’s Partner are swayed by underlying emotions resulting from historical events which pre-date her arrival. She is the target of mom’s feelings of rejection and the children’s sense of loss.)
Confused. Where do I fit in? How much authority do I have? What is my role? Is it appropriate for me to discuss this issue? Where should I sit at the school play? Why does this teacher seem to hate me? But that’s not my fault! What should the kids call my parents? Is Saturday’s little league game more important than my sister’s birthday party? What did I do to deserve this? Should I handle this my way or his way? …or her way? What would Mom do in this scenario? Should I punish them now or let Dad do it when he gets home? Why is he so lenient with them? Why is he acting so distant? Why is she angry? What can I do to make this better? How can I show her I’m not a threat? What could/should/can I do??
Alone. Unless she’s immersed herself in a supportive stepmom community, Dad’s Partner is lonely. Family issues affect her in a unique way and quite often she suffers in silence. Her friends don’t get it. Her family doesn’t get it. And Dad doesn’t get it. (Oh…and society generally considers her to be evil, thanks to those poisonous fairy tales)
Frustrated. This kinda goes without saying, doesn’t it?
…Obviously, many of these emotions are inter-related. And the bold points on the list probably look familiar even if you’re not in a StepMomish position (isn’t it funny how, deep inside, we’re all the same?). Please… tell me what you think….