Other parents suck today
A month ago, your stepdaughter was thrilled about moving to Colorado next summer. This morning, she says it will be too hard on her. Too stressful. She’s already overwhelmed by traveling so much. Your stepdaughter suggests that you and your husband move to where she lives with her other parent instead “so we can be a real family again” which is funny, because she sure hated being ‘a real family’ when everyone all lived in the same city before. Hated it for 5 solid years. When you tell her the flight is only an hour longer, and drive time to the airport is the same, that visits can be cut back to only once per month to even out the travel and she can spend a few days longer in the summer to make up the time, she ignores you. Repeats herself like she’s memorized a speech. Like she’s a robot.
And it’s the funniest coincidence– her mother wants you to move to their city too, and she also thinks that your move to Colorado will mean too much traveling for her daughter! It’s almost as if they’ve been talking about it a lot in the past month, almost as if she’s changed your stepdaughter’s mind about the whole thing. But surely not. Surely the other parent would be supportive of you leaving the city she herself said was an inappropriate place to raise your stepdaughter, especially since that inappropriateness was one of the primary reasons she quoted for moving away in the first place.
Unless, of course, in the year since that move the other parent has decided the twice-per-month-plus-summers custody arrangement isn’t so hot after all. Not if she misses her daughter too much in the long summers and your stepdaughter is missing out on too many weekend slumber parties with her friends because of visiting you. And come to think of it, the other parent has been complaining lately how it’s “not fair” that you get all the holiday weekends– forgetting, apparently, that she has 9+ months with her daughter while your family doesn’t even have three.
It’s only been a year, and the other parent already wants out of the custody schedule she requested, fought for over a year to achieve and descended to horrible lows to win, refusing to stop at anything– including the destruction of your family– to get her way. Even though it was her idea to move in the first place. Even though her daughter’s present ‘really stressful’ traveling schedule is a result of her actions. Obviously it would be better to return both households to a life of constant conflict with her daughter smack in the middle.
No, no. These things don’t count. All that matters now is that you are the bad parents if you are the ones who move now, because it will suddenly be your fault that your stepdaughter travels twice a month. It’s convenient in this case to forget she’s already been traveling twice a month for a year at her other parent’s instigation, convenient to forget that you voiced the same arguments that she is voicing now, almost verbatim, a year ago as reasons against their move and they were dismissed out of hand. But now, when used by the other parent, suddenly they count double.
And then we have the other other parent.
The other other parent is also attempting sabotage against your move to Colorado. He is taking your biological daughter aside when at his house (and calling her repeatedly when she isn’t) telling her she doesn’t have to move, she can stay with him, he’ll fix up her room– like it wasn’t her idea to move in the first place, like she’s devastated to leave him, like you’re some kind of a monster who is tearing her from him against her will, like he won’t see her the exact same amount after the move as he does right now: about once a month on a good month. Like he hasn’t had six years in which to fix up that room, to be active and involved. To meet her teachers or attend her conferences or pick her up from school. To even pretend to be a father, even if it’s a fake father like that fish that’s packaged as imitation crab.
And for the length of her life until now, you’d have sold your soul if it meant he’d start giving a shit about his kid. Only now that you’ve been around the block a few times, your starting to wonder if she’d reallly be better off spending more time with him, when being around him stresses her out so much that she has tummyaches for days leading up to her weekends with him.
Luckily he cancels a lot, so her heart’s only broken just on that once a month visit– not including the times he cancels at the last minute, because those aren’t detrimental to her mental or emotional well-being at all. Except then you’re still kind of stuck, because if she’s disappointed you say ‘Oh honey, your dad loves you, he just has a crazy work schedule’ to comfort her but you feel like it’s a lie and you wonder if he really does love her and even if he does, is it a good idea to tell her that? Because you don’t want her thinking that’s love– the constant disappointment, the emotional unavailability and being let down.
So if he’s not going to maintain a supportive presence physically, it’d be nice if he contributed financially as a form of saying ‘Yes, we agreed together to bring this child into the world and therefore I acknowledge that I am in some part accountable for her upbringing.’ Or at least maybe he could chip in for even a portion of the $400+ in medical bills she racked up due to those aforementioned stomach problems last year. Except he never did. And yet your daughter came home today and announced that Daddy and his girlfriend just bought a new house! And it’s big! And Mama, oh my god, has the awesomest pool. And we went out to sushi, and it was so good! Where? Oh, uh, nevermind. You couldn’t afford it; Daddy paid like $400.
No, no. Again, these things don’t matter. It’s not like he has plenty of money lying around. Those damned pesky child support payments are seriously crippling him financially. He’ll tell you all about it the next time he calls. And if he’s not active and involved– well, that’s your fault too. You’re obstructing the relationship, poisoning your daughter against him. Not him, not the guy who cancels 3 out of every 4 weekends. It’s nothing to do with his actions. No; you are the bad parent who is taking his daughter away and the plan to move– the one that hasn’t even happened yet, the one that’s a year away from happening– is what’s preventing them from having a decent relationship.
Ridiculous? God, yes. But you cannot make this stuff up. No one would ever believe you; it’s too absurd to be real life. They especially wouldn’t believe that these things happened on the same day.
So here is the number one rule of blended families. Are you listening? Because this is the answer that will make your life bearable:
You. Are always. Wrong.
Your house is the bad house, and the other house is the good house. Whatever you do, it makes you a bad parent. Even if it is the exact same thing the other parent did a year or two ago, such as accepting an outstanding job offer in a city that will be much better for your child and your family. Even then, you will be a bad parent and, frankly, a bad person because you clearly do not actually care about your child and you obviously never do what is best for her. In fact, your actions are irreparably damaging to her. Because– and this is key— what is actually best for her is never what you think is best. It is only whatever the other parent thinks is best.
Now. With that knowledge, and under these conditions, go forth and parent. Maintain integrity. Follow your gut. Stay positive about stepparenting. Do what you think is right for yourself, your children, the family you’re trying so hard to make together. Go ahead. Try it. Just try it. I dare you.
Oh hey there, struggling stepparent!
Listen, I put together a new website just for high-conflict blended families: Blended Family Frappé. Come on over and join the hundreds of other stepparents who are reclaiming their sanity one Sunday newsletter at a time.