Dad’s Partner: The Emotions

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.)

ConfusedWhere 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….

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26 comments on “Dad’s Partner: The Emotions

  1. Angela says:

    Great post! I can relate to everything you said. Seeing it all written down makes me feel as though I’m not alone and that someone understands me. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I like the part about how I’m jetting around the world having lots of fun! I have to say that while I understand everything you’ve written and have on occasion experienced it, my fiancé has been extremely supportive, understanding and communicative. His approach to our life since we met almost five years ago, merged households almost two years ago and up until today makes my experience so much easier. We have had and continue to have major issues with SS’s and SD’s mom. And both kids are teenagers, which comes with its own age appropriate issues (especially for childless by choice me). But I never, ever feel alone. And I always feel that he understands my position and appreciates me. That makes all the difference in the world.

    • You’re lucky to have such a supportive partner, it makes a big difference!

      In my case, Boyfriend isn’t unsupportive, he just doesn’t understand exactly what it’s like for me. He and I can experience the same issue and have vastly different reactions. He often doesn’t realize when I’m hurt or struggling. As a bioparent, he takes more in stride. I often take more things personally.

      • Anonymous says:

        Couples counseling with a therapist with lots of experience with divorce and blended families. She saved our relationship. I don’t know where you live, but if you want to contact me offline, I can share her name.

  3. Cheryl says:

    You hit the nail on the head. My boyfriend and I each have 1 of our own, he and I both have physical custody, so all 4 of us live together… I think all of these emotions happen to me every day! So then having 2 unrelated children living in the home all the time comes with its own basket of issues and conflicts on top of everything else you’ve mentioned.
    Life in our home can be very… Eventful!

  4. Sonia says:

    Looking at my own and others’ experiences as divorced mothers, the way the girlfriend joins the circle makes a huge difference in her reception. If the gf was involved in the breakup of the marriage, or got involved with the husband whilst the divorce was ongoing, then the negative emotions associated with those events will color the children’s and ex-wife’s perceptions of the girlfriend for a very long time, if not forever. Even if she is not a horrible person, the memories of those awful events (the breakup of a family with children and the sickening divorce process) are associated strongly with the girlfriend because that’s when she appeared. If there was any lying, or sneaking, or pretending on the husband’s part that he wasn’t seeing a gf/living with a gf/sharing his “kid time” with a gf but didn’t want his estranged wife to know about it, then I think the repercussions of that fall mostly on the gf. Children do resent being asked to keep secrets about their father’s “friend” from their mother.

    I imagine it’s somewhat different for a girlfriend who comes along well after the divorce is final and emotions have started to calm down a bit.

    • Exactly. Regardless of how much she is actually responsible for, Dad’s Partner is often the *face* of the divorce. She absorbs the negativity that Mom, Dad and the kids have to set aside in order to get through each day. Since she’s not real family, it’s more acceptable to hate her.

      While I understand the animosity or resentment if she was a reason for the divorce, it’s unfortunate that she is so often assigned 100% of the blame. Dad and Mom are also partially responsible for what happened in their relationship.

  5. phatkeke says:

    Great post! Very open and honest. Once again I applaud you for putting it all out there.

  6. traci whitney says:

    I love this post – very enlightening! I think every woman who is “dad’s partner” and even “mama bear” can relate!

  7. Just now seeing this (I’ve been on vacation and purposely tuned out the Internet for the past week) …

    These expressions of emotion and viewpoint are the reasons I was (and still am) interested in the She Said/She Said project. For me, I think the key to finding the common ground and the place of peace between the Mom and the Girlfriend is to understand these emotional motivators behind the decisions that get made and the actions that get taken. Thanks for sharing so openly.

  8. […] Week 3 of my series about Dad’s Partner.  If you missed weeks 1 and 2, you can catch up here and here.  I think this will be my final post in the series (unless I think of something else for next […]

  9. ChopperPapa says:

    From your post, it seems to me that you feel like you are on an island, alone. I must ask, how much shrapnel is Boyfriend taking, on your behalf, from the ex? From what I can tell she has been quite vindictive to the point of being down right belligerent. It has obviously pained you deeply, what role has he taken in setting the proper expectations with his ex that he will not tolerate her treating you in such a manner?

    • Excellent question!
      Boyfriend has absorbed a lot of shrapnel. His ex actually hated him much worse than she hated me… so he had that to deal with too. And many of the comments to/about me were made to him. In the beginning, he stepped up to defend me quite a bit by telling his ex that she was wrong about me, that I didn’t do what the kids said I did, that I had a quality relationship with the boys and they liked me, etc… But eventually we learned that isn’t an effective tactic. “Setting the record straight” proved only to feed the drama and invite more contentious conversation. Things settled down quite a bit when we instituted the rule, “if you can’t act in a respectful manner, I won’t grant you my attention.” Much has changed since then, of course… cutting off the drama allowed everyone to move on and it’s been quite a while since either of us has dealt with an extreme attack.

  10. atable4three says:

    Those are the emotions STBX felt while we were married, and she felt it in regard to my family. I think that contributed to her decision to make bad choices toward the end; the affairs and how she had them may have countered those feelings.

  11. LAUREN M FORRY says:

    As a child of divorce, I dealt with dad’s wife constantly asking the question “why don’t you call me mama when you call your stepdad ‘dad’?”

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear your point of view on being what is essentially a step-parent, but not forcing yourself on them. It’s a beautiful relationship you describe, even with the ups and downs. Kudos to you for trying.

  12. Morocco says:

    Gosh, a page out of my former and current life! My husband died in November 08. We had custody of tye kids because mom was in prsion. But suddenly when he died–they were taken from me. This still haunts me…my new boyfriend has kids with hostile mothers…it is EXHAUSTING…

  13. RedApple says:

    Amen. To all of it. I’ve just found your blog and am enjoying reading your posts. Of all the blogs and websites I’ve found, yours hits closest to the mark for me. I’m a year or two behind you, but otherwise it feels very similar to what you describe. I’m lucky to have the greatest BF ever – he insists we discuss all issues. He’s doing the right things, but even so, it’s been quite a process as he unravels the old relationship with the ex and implements the new one which has been an uphill battle every step of the way. Thanks for blogging!

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