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Hello everyone! Brief introduction since this is my first time posting here. My name's Cassie, I'm 24, have 3 kids (6yo dd, 5yo ds, 2yo dd), and am divorced from their father. Long story short, he has custody while I have a decent amount of visitation...I was naive when we separated, he asked for the kids, I'd been a SAHM since high school and didn't think I could support them (no job, no money, no place to stay, etc), so I allowed him to take the kids for a year or two until I got on my feet, and he agreed, then changed his mind before anything was in writing. So when we went to court, they'd been in his care too long, and I'd moved too far away (the only job I was offered after months of searching was 2 hours away), I wasn't able to get them back. Unfortunately I'm unable to afford another lawyer to take him back to court (my attorney was awful and gave horrible advice, I really feel I deserve another chance at getting the kids back after how she screwed up my case), so I'm just left waiting until the kids are old enough to spend the entire summer with me, and then I can at least have joint custody. But for now I see them every other weekend, I have Christmas and Spring breaks (and pretty much all extended weekends), and my ex and I do two weeks on, two weeks off in the summer. That's my divorce in a nutshell. Now, for my current relationship...we've been together for a little shy of 1 1/2 years now. We live together, and I guess you could say we're unofficially engaged (will probably elope by the end of the year). This is by far the healthiest and happiest relationship I've ever been in, we are truly in love, and I don't know what I ever did without him in my life. My kids first met him about 6 months into the relationship, and they spent the next 6 months trying to convince us to start dating! After a year together we decided to move in together, so that's when we told the kids about our relationship and us moving in together...and that's about the time they started begging us to get married! Needless to say, they are absolutely crazy about him!! My son looks up to him like he does every other male role model in his life, and my daughters you could swear have crushes on him! And he loves them too, he's absolutely wonderful with them, and we really do feel like a family when we're all together. This past summer I've been without a job and he supported me and the kids financially, which is above and beyond the call of duty if you ask me. But he was glad to do it, just as he was glad to watch the kids (diapers and all) when I fell ill with kidney failure and couldn't get out of bed some days. He really is their step-father already, even if not officially in title. He truly cares for them and wants them with us just as badly as I do, and if it weren't for my outrageous medical bills that he was paying, he would've hired me a new attorney to go back to court to fight for the kids. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is simply that, he's an amazing step-father and we all love him very much. With that said, I have some questions...
My ex and I had a very heated divorce, and it wasn't until about two weeks ago that we actually started talking on friendly terms (we actually talked about how things were getting better between us). He's aware that things are very serious with my boyfriend. But he hates my boyfriend, he blames him for our marriage failing (not true, my ex was abusive and controlling, that's why I left him), and my boyfriend also hates my ex (for hurting me physically during the marriage, and emotionally by taking the kids away and using them against me when we split). Now that things are improving between me and my ex, is there some hope that the two of them could start making amends, if only for the sake of the children? I don't expect them to be buddies, but they've barely even made eye contact, certainly never spoken to each other, and now they're seeing a lot more of each other, and that tension is not good for the kids. I've spoken with my boyfriend, and he's agreed to put forth the effort for the kids, but I don't know if my ex is willing or able to do the same. Is there anything I can do to help them find a common ground? I have sent my ex links to websites and e-books that discuss the importance of the bio parent/step parent relationship, but I'm doubting he even looked at them. My ex unfortunately doesn't like to listen when I talk, he brushes off anything I say, or just argues about unrelated things...but now that our communication is a little better, maybe there's something I can say to bring him around? Also, with my boyfriend and I planning to elope in the near future, is it appropriate of me not to tell my ex about our plans until afterwards (as we are doing with family and friends), or is this something I should discuss with my ex prior to going through with it? And what about when we have children of our own, which will probably be a year or so from now...when and how should my ex be told?
Continuing along the same lines, my ex recently told me that he's started dating someone and is planning to introduce her to the children soon. I'm fine with this, it'd be hypocritical of me to be upset about it. I don't know anything about her, or their relationship. But what I do know is, if this woman is going to end up as my children's step-mother, I want to be on good terms with her. Especially since she'll be around them more than me. I'm not really asking to be friends, but I don't want her hating me and badmouthing me to the kids, and I want her to feel comfortable with calling me when she has a question about the kids, and things along those lines. I don't know when my first contact with her will be, but I intend to be polite and friendly, to get things off on the right foot. Certainly don't want there to be problems between me and her like there are with my boyfriend and ex. Does anyone have any advice about how to ensure that she and I get along and maintain a healthy bio mother/step mother relationship? And how do you get over the fear that your children may become confused about who their mother is?
Finally, I have some questions about step-parenting. First and foremost, my daughters have recently started calling my boyfriend "Daddy" (it happens about half of the time). We did not encourage this, we've always been fine with them calling him by his first name, and when they first started calling him daddy we continually reminded them that they didn't have to call him that and they could call him by his first name. They said that they knew that, but they liked calling him daddy. The subject has sort of been dropped since then, he naturally responds to daddy now, and I guess I'm wondering if this is okay. The kids know who their real father is, they've told many people that my boyfriend is their step-father, and they understand the difference. But I know my ex wouldn't like the kids calling my boyfriend daddy, and I certainly wouldn't like the kids calling their future step-mother mommy. But I feel torn, because if this is how the kids want it to be and they're comfortable with it and it makes them happy, I don't want to discourage them or tell them they're wrong for doing it. Is this normal...is this okay? Also, what exactly is the role of a step-parent? It seems the answer should be obvious, but I recently read a website that had me a little confused. It talked about how step-parents should only be friends to the kids, that they shouldn't be involved in the raising of the kids, they shouldn't discipline or praise, they should just be a listening ear and not interfere whatsoever. This confused me, because I always thought that step-parents were actively involved in the kids lives. My boyfriend is definitely a friend to my children, but he's also been a parental figure. He disciplines (matter of fact, he does it better than me, they actually listen to him more!), he helps them with recreational and educational things, he shows them affection and they do the same (they say "love you" and hug and kiss, etc). Is this wrong? And what about step-grandparents? My boyfriend's parents have met the kids, his grandparents too, and everyone gets along really well. The kids always look forward to spending time with his parents, we've gone to the park, the zoo, and had a birthday party at their house...they play games together, do crafts, talk about school and whatnot...the typical grandparent/grandchild relationship. His mother has started buying them toys and clothes, she got them some back to school things. His grandparents taught my oldest daughter to play the piano a little bit. Does this sound about right for the type of relationship they should have? It never even occurred to me that my kids would have step-grandparents, so the role they should have in my kids lives is unclear to me. During the school year we visit with my kids at my parents house because it's too far for them to come to where I live...what should I do if my boyfriend's parents want to see the kids again (I know they do), should they be invited to come spend a day at my parents house (they've met my parents, everyone's on good terms) to be able to spend time with the kids? My boyfriend's sister lives on the other side of the country, so they haven't met her yet, but they talk to her on the phone every now and then...is that okay for a step-aunt? Does everything always have to have "step" in front of it?
Sorry this was so long...thanks for reading if you got through it. I've just been really confused about a lot of this stuff now that it's becoming a reality, we're going to be a blended family. I appreciate any advice.
Hi Cassie, welcome to BF, yes...you belong here...
SS to hear about the situation w/ your kids. At times we make choices that seem to be the right thing to do at the time & then later on in life realize maybe there could have been another way.
As a single parent, and one who had no job, no car, nothing, I found programs out there to help me & my son get on our feet. It was humbling in the fact that I depended on others to help us out, and thankfully they did. In your case, you made a decision to allow your abusive ex to take over, which I don't understand how that came about, if a man is abusive to you, they are usually abusive or could be essentially abusive to your kids. I am not here to judge you but I guess I don't understand how that all came about legally speaking.
When wanting your kids back, I see why, you love them, they are your kids. The only thing I could see if the courts granting you custody if your ex was being abusive to them "or" perhaps granting you 50% legal rights, as you live too far away to do 50% custody/visitation. The legal system often looks at a situation in what is best for the child(ren) & if the child(ren) has been w/ a certain parent for a long period of time, the likely hood of them relocating the child(ren) to the other parent is slim. Again, if you lived closer, gaining 50% custody/visitation rights would make more sense. That's that piece of it. I wish you luck on that regard, I have thankfully never had to experience losing custody of my kids.
As far as your boyfriend goes, personally speaking, it depends on the situation. If you feel that you are going to marry this man, than calling him daddy "might" be okay. IMHO, I think it's not okay but that is me. Your children have a father & that's not only disrespectful to the father but confusing to the children. Again, JMHO, others would or may have a different take on that. If your boyfriend was & had been an active role in the children lives since birth & you were married to him, I might get that label more.
Ex's tend to be (and this includes yourself), very scared about another person entering their lives (i.e., a boyfriend that is being called "dad" or "daddy" when they already have a dad), that is understandable & I would be furious if my son was calling his step-mother 'Mom'...he has 1 mother, I am it, there is no need to call her "mom" & I'd be fuming if that happened. Again, this is JMHO, others may disagree. Having that be a factor, your ex probably feels like this man is trying to take over his role as "dad" if he knows that the kids are calling him "dad/daddy" & I could see why that would be upsetting & make him angry. How would you feel if his girlfriend had the kids calling her mom? Would that upset you? I would bet that it would. Switch the positions & try to see it through your ex's eyes or even your kids eyes, this all very confusing to them. They've lived w/ daddy for a while, now mommy wants them back, they've already established friends, school & routine at dad's house & now might have to do that over again at your house if you were granted legal custody/rights again, then they have this man in their lives that they are calling daddy, and that's confusing in itself that "if" things didn't work out w/ you & your boyfriend, then what? they lost a daddy? that's where I disagree w/ calling him that, but again, JMHO.
As far as the role a step-parent plays varies depending on how active a step-parent is in a child's life. A step-parent has no legal rights or say in a step-child, in fact, they can't sign medical papers or release a child w/ out a form filled out by both you & your ex that would state that he would be able to do so that would be notarized. Otherwise, a step-parents job is to be a REALLY GOOD FRIEND, they can be loving, helpful, supportive & all the stuff that a normal parent does, but be careful in that they realize that ALL or MOST of the disciplining comes from the bio-parent. If the step-dad/boyfriend has an issue, they need to go to you & you are suppose to address that/those issues. Unless of course the child is left alone w/ the step-parent/boyfriend, the of course, they have to put up boundaries which any babysitter would.
I'd like to recommend a some books "ex-etiquette" & "mom's house, dad's house" and "how to win as a step-family" all are VERY helpful & easy reads. I'd recommend them all, they've helped me w/ a lot.
Speaking from personal experience & introducing myself, I am a SAHM of 3 boys, 1 is from a previous relationship, the other 2 are from my DH, then my DH has a son from his previous marriage, that makes 4 boys in all, I am both a step & bio mom. I have a decent relationship w/ my ex & his wife (who are expecting twins in the new year) & I have no relationship w/ my DH's ex or my DSS (sadly not my choice). I can speak from experience that there are no black & white answers to any of your questions or issues (except legal issues) but for the most part, everything is gray & always has exceptions to the rules. Everyone responds differently & everyone is going to have a different way of parenting. That's how things get complicated & that's why kids end up confused & transition poorly when the co-parenting is not on the same page. I've seen this first hand & it's not a pretty site.
Well... I'll leave that info as is. I am glad you came to the board. Please feel free to post about anything/everything, we're all here to help & if someone hasn't experienced it, someone is going through it. We all know what it's like on some level & sometimes knowing that you're not alone is help in itself.
Looking forward to getting to know you better Cassie,
In your case, you made a decision to allow your abusive ex to take over, which I don't understand how that came about, if a man is abusive to you, they are usually abusive or could be essentially abusive to your kids. I am not here to judge you but I guess I don't understand how that all came about legally speaking.
To make it very clear, my ex is NOT abusive towards the kids. If I had thought for one second that he'd ever lay a hand on our kids, I never would have left them in his care. Yes, he was abusive towards me, and yes, it is common that those types will also be abusive towards their children. But my ex is not. He loves the kids and is a good father. Furthermore, he's living with his parents now, and the kids are being cared for 75% of the time by his parents (who also care for my ex's sister's children). I trust that the kids are in good hands, and I wouldn't hesitate to get an emergency order to have the children removed to my care if I thought they were in any danger. Again, the only reason the children are with him is because I agreed to let him have them. (It was not ordered by a judge, it was a joint decision between my ex and I, through the influence of my idiotic lawyer.) At the time, I thought that was what was best for them, since I had no money, no job, no car, no place to live...my ex gave me $200 and then left me on the street basically. My parents didn't want me and the kids to move in, none of my friends could let me and the kids stay with them...the only place I could go to was a college friend's apartment, which was not safe for children. Had I known about women's shelters, government aide, or any of those things, I would have kept the kids with me and pursued those options. But my lawyer was absolutely no help, she told me to let my ex have the kids for the time being, to get on my feet, and then I could get the kids back. I made the mistake of trusting her. Now I'm told the kids have lived with him too long and I've moved too far away to ever get them back. And I've made amends with that, because my kids are happy and well taken care of...even though it's heartbreaking for me to be away from them...all I care about is that they're okay, and they are. If things change and something happens, then I may take him back to court over custody. But the most important thing is the kids well being, even though I think they'd be slightly better off with me staying home and taking care of them instead of their grandparents raising them while their father works all the time...either way they're still safe and happy. I hope that clears things up a bit.
I actually have read Mom's House, Dad's House...I don't recall it having much to stay about step-parents, mostly co-parenting. Maybe I missed something?
From the sounds of it in your response you have everything that you want. You are positive that the children are in good hands regardless of the history of abusive behavior w/ you, 75% of the time they aren't even cared for by your ex, it's his parents/their grandparents, which sounds like you are happy/fine w/ in the care of your kids. Your children are happy so it seems as though all is fine, right?
Mom's House, Dad's House by Ricci, very good book & is on point about a lot of issues relating to co-parenting & blended families. Maybe you got the wrong book or read it again? Sometimes reading a book for a second time enables a person to see/read more than they did the first time around. "Ex-etiquette" is fantastic & "How to Win as a Step-Family", also fantastic/easy reads.
I am sure you are heart broken. I can't imagine not having my children in my house so I can't relate to how that feels.
I remember when I decided to have my DS back in 2000, the bio-father told me "I don't want IT", "I want nothing to do with IT", "you have nothing, you need to abort IT", the list goes on & those sentences will forever be burned into my head, those days & his actions, will never be forgotten OR forgiven. I can't get into more of what happened but I can tell you that I had no job, no one to live w/, I was in a 1 bedroom attic apartment, no car, no money. I had nothing but I was determined to raise my child. After going through tough times, I contacted Welfare, I got it immediately, then food stamps, then WIC, fuel assistance & so forth. Was it hard & troubling? Very much so. Were there times that I had to have utilities shut off (phone, tv) so I could live? yup! Sadly, I have a mother who lived a town over in a million dollar home who never once offered her house or help. I was on my own. There were times that my landlord didn't supply us w/ adequate heat (against the law), I remember putting me & my son in winter outfits & winter outerwear to keep us warm. When it comes to having nothing, having no where to go & no job or car, I've BTDT, again, very humbling. The point I am trying to make in my examples is that no matter what, I was determined. Did I get a lot of offers for others to take my son? Yes. I was even approached by family asking for me to give my son up for adoption to a family who really wanted a child but couldn't have one & could give him a good home. I couldn't do it. I loved him so much (still do) & I was going to do what ever it took inside of me to make sure he was w/ me, no matter what. I know this is cliche but "where there is a will...there is a way"... no friend, ex, lawyer, relative or stranger could have made me think otherwise, it was in my heart of hearts. Was it tempting to have others take my son & get myself together? yes. Did I consider it a lot? in the beginning, yes.
The fact that a lawyer swayed you into believing that you couldn't do it on your own or that your ex had a better set up for the kids, that is advice, that's what lawyers give advice, it's not law, or set in stone, it's advice. Some give great advice, some don't, I've had both kinds of lawyers in my past & after bad advice from the first one & many tears, I went to another lawyer & got GOOD advice. Someone that cared about ME & wanted the best for ME, also my money too but you know what I mean.
On that note, I wanted to share how I can understand what happens when you take bad advice from someone thinking they know more than you, or that they have your best interest at heart, it's crazy on how they have that power, but somehow when we are in a situation that is trying, we allow others to dictate how things will play out when we are vulnerable in hard times. That's horrible.
I hope perhaps you can get what you are wanting, your kids to be back w/ you, either way, you sound to be happy that they are happy, which in the end, IS what's important.
I wish you nothing but luck moving forward in your situation. You deserve a happy life as well & sounds like your boyfriend & you are doing well together.