Instant parenthood creates strain
Dear Mr. Dad: My fiancé and I have been engaged for a year. Four months ago, I moved in with him and became an instant stepmom. His kids are 8 and 4, and I understand that they’re a priority for him. But even though we do a lot of stuff with the kids, my fiancé and I have no date nights, and basically no quality time together at all. To make things worse, there’s some tension between the kids and me, which I think is because their mother has never gotten over the divorce and wants to punish the man I’m engaged to. Unfortunately, he blames the tension on me and says I’m not doing enough to bond with the kids. I love him and the kids, but I’m not feeling loved or appreciated and it seems like my needs aren’t important to him at all. I try to talk to him about this but he won’t budge. What should I do?
A: In all honesty, I think you should move out. Your fiancé has some serious issues to deal with, and he needs to do that on his own. But it sounds like you really love him, so I’m guessing that you want to find a way to make your relationship work.
If so, the first thing you need to do is lower your expectations. Hopefully, things will get better with time, but there’s a good chance that the way things are now between you and the kids is the way they’ll always be. You say that you love them, but do you really? Think about that before you answer.
A lot of people in your situation think they should love their new stepchildren right from the start – and expect those children to feel the same way. So they put a lot of pressure on themselves and the kids to develop those feelings. Sometimes it happens, and everyone becomes one, big, happy family. But quite often it doesn’t. So instead of hoping that you’ll love the kids – and they’ll love you – set your sights on getting to a point where you’re all civil to each other.
Next, you’ve got to get some couple time away from the kids. You must have gone on kid-free dates before you got engaged, right? How did that happen? Did he hire a sitter? Were the kids with their mother or at another relative’s house? Either way, if you’re going to put some life back into your relationship, it’s crucial that you come up with some ways to be alone with each other. (A little alone time for you – all by yourself – wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. You’re under a lot of stress and anything you can do to unwind will help.)
This last step is a tough one: You and your fiancé absolutely must get some counseling. Together. No matter how much you love him now, being in a situation where you feel unloved, unappreciated and neglected will turn that love to resentment and anger. Having a neutral party explain that to your fiancé may get the message through in a way that you haven’t been able to. If he refuses, you have a serious choice to make. Stay and be miserable for a long, long time, or go and be miserable for a short time – until you find a man who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated.