#71 Problem with boyfriend's children / Now's not the time to be getting engaged.
Q: Dear Dennie: I've been dating a divorced dad for about a year, and we've decided to get engaged and take our relationship to a more serious level. The problem? His kids, 8 and 12, are totally against my moving in and becoming a part of the family! They go out of their way to disagree with me, and they undermine me when I ask them to do something. What can I do about this? —RR Massachusetts
A: Dear RR: Before things go any further, you and your man need to discuss your roll as an authority figure for the kids. Follow that up with a family meeting where Dad makes sure his kids understand that, while he loves them, your upcoming marriage is an adult issue and not their decision to make.
What's most important, says psychiatrist David Fassler, co-author of "Help Me, I'm Sad:" Recognizing, Treating and Preventing Childhood and Adolescent Depression, is that you try to be patient and understanding during this transition. Divorce and remarriage are difficult for kids; many hold on to fantasies that their parents will get back together. "When a parent finds someone new, the fantasy is shattered, and it fuels anger and frustration," Fassler says. "Their resentment may have less to do with a personal vendetta against you, and more about losing the love and attention of their dad to a stranger."
Even under the best circumstances, step parenting isn't easy. Carefully consider what it's all about before stepping down the aisle. Understand that it does not mean you take the mother's place. Recognize that although some kids adjust and become loving over time, some never do, and you'll have to accept that. Finally, if you do decide to give this your best try and things don't go smoothly, you and your intended may need a few sessions with a family counselor. Dennie Hughes—USA Weekend—RelationTips
Hi RR: You're already at a "serious level." Now is not the time to be getting engaged, to him or in fact to anyone. It's most likely that you will ignore this advice because of your addiction to abuse. Your leadership-communication skills create divisiveness; you don't yet inspire teamwork and supportive love.
The children can see through your "loving act." They not only know who he needs to date they know when it will be time for him to start dating. They have very specific needs and he'd do well to respect their intuitions, their natural knowing. It's possible that they are unconsciously intending for him to be punished, for everything, what he's done to their lives and to their mother. They've witnessed his abuse. They intuitively know he does not deserve happiness yet and that he needs therapy. One of their obvious needs is a woman who can "get" their anger and grief. You don't know how to get their communications, you do something with them. They intuitively know that if you can't get their considerations then it's for sure you won't be able to get his when he has an upset.
Let's begin with the very first time you experienced abuse from one of the children. It could be something as simple as a disrespectful stink-eye. How you handled that communication, that incident, has been cause for all that's happened since. In truth we need to go back even further, to a conversation you should have had with "divorced dad" in which you were supposed to get clear if the kids were ready to support him in dating; it's obvious they are not. Consequently, he has no business dating.
Him: "We'll they are still a bit upset, but we can work it out."
You: "It sounds like you all need some counseling. Let me know when they support you in dating."
The leadership-communication skills it will take "divorced dad" to be the space for the children to process their grief and to enroll them in support of him dating are the exact same skills it will take to effect a successful new marriage.
Ignoring another's "no" is tantamount to date rape. It's best that you create that it is you who are intending them to thwart you.
How you handled the first incident of abuse is called stuffing. Instead of requesting a family meeting to resolve the incident through to mutual satisfaction, getting clear if they'd be willing to support the relationship, you condoned their disrespect by silence, thereby immediately incurring disrespect. Unconsciously that child wanted you to tell him/her that it didn't feel good. And, that if he/she wished, you'd not date his/her father any more. In that way the child would get to experience their power responsibly and upfront, instead of covert sabotage as both are doing now.
Unbeknownst to you, your intended has already given you a glimpse of his own addiction to abuse. Submitting you to such abuse is not a gift of love. Children who are whole and complete, with a foundation of politeness and kindness, are able to process grief without abusively dramatizing their grief. The children are communicating that they have more than grief to process. He and his ex have taught them to be abusive to others.
Most importantly, he has enabled their abuse and their thwarting of you. Where did they ever get that it would be acceptable behavior to thwart you? How did they know, with absolute certainty, that he'd condone it? It's because they are mirroring him. He has in fact set you up to support him in getting therapy. If you continue with the engagement you will have revealed that you need equally as much therapy. No woman who is whole and complete would attract such a partner.
Thank you, Gabby
For more about this topic read Gabby's Tips Knowing when it's time for a divorced parent to start dating.