The Struggles of Co-Parenting, Blended Families, and Picking Up the Slack as a Step Parent

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I am no stranger to blended families. Both as a child and an adult.

When I was little my mother passed away, a few years later my Dad started dating again, and eventually married my step mother. While we had a rocky relationship at first (mostly because I was a angsty jerk from 14-22ish) I now can talk with her about anything, and I do have to say that she’s had a significant role in who I am as a person.

My Dad also helped raise her children, my brother and sister. So both my parents have experience in being step-parents, and both have excelled at it. Not only that, but they have both perspectives. Raising other people’s children, and raising their own with one of their exes and current partners. So needless to say, over the years I’ve asked advice from both of them.

That advice is needed as I’ve been a step parent twice now. Once with Ryan, and now with Jon. I do have to say it was much much easier with Ryan and his son’s mother. She played a very active role in her son’s life and had very similar parenting styles to Ryan and I. Sure, there were tiffs, and I was new to helping raise other people’s children, but all in all it was a good learning experience. Regardless of how we all felt about each other, it was very apparent that the kids come first no matter what.

It’s a little more difficult now. Jon and his ex do not get along most days, and neither of them have really co-parented despite their daughter being 9 years old now. Jon is very non-confrontational and his ex likes being in control. So once they split up, he just agreed to everything she said (including paying child support for the child she had with another man while they were together) because he was afraid that any fight they had she would refuse to let him see his daughter.

That had to come to an end when some very troubling things happened two summers ago, that spurned Jon into trying to co-parent with his ex. These were very severe issues, the kind that we should have called CPS for. However, once Jon vocalized his concerns with his daughter’s mom, inquired about therapy and requested that she do half of the driving (from PA to IL) she blew off her pick up date for a week with no contact. Once it felt like she was going the abandonment route, we text her and let her know that she could reach us anytime, but since school was starting we’d enroll their daughter in school. She showed up a week later with the police, and then refused her daughter’s visitation for Christmas and the following summer. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve got on our plate.

Just what Jon had feared.

We ended up taking her to court for visitation and other parental rights. It was absolutely ridiculous. During this whole time, she wouldn’t return Jon’s calls, or let him speak with his daughter, but had their daughter call Jon’s parents and read a legitimate script explaining why she wouldn’t come that year. I say script because when his parents asked her why, she re-read it. Word for word. To say at that point I lost whatever remaining respect I had for the woman is an understatement. Any mother who puts their children square in the middle of a dispute, and makes them explain that they’re not coming to see their family this year instead of being a grown ass woman and doing it themselves, doesn’t deserve to be called a mom.

Court thankfully went smooth, albeit slow. The end result was Jon got his visitation back, his ex has to do half of the transportation, and no more of these shenanigans. That doesn’t make it any easier though. Since then (last summer), it’s been nothing but petty passive aggressive attacks. For instance, the previous summer, when their daughter was 7, we taught her how to ride a bicycle (and a electric motorbike). This past Christmas when she came for a visit, she got a bicycle from us for this summer. We find out a couple of weeks ago, that she hasn’t ridden a bike since we taught her. Two years ago. The reasoning? The seat was rotted, and she couldn’t afford to buy a new one. (I just bought Noodle one for the same reason, $18 for a plush comfy seat on Amazon.)

The problem was is that while she couldn’t afford a $20 bicycle seat. She could afford to buy their 9 year old a new cell phone.

The secondary problem with that was Jon and his ex had discussed, and decided against a cell phone since she’s 9 and (too young to) doesn’t stay at home alone. It makes me question what the hell the point is? Why even bother having a conversation with your child’s dad and child if you toss it out the window later? We didn’t even find out she had a cell phone until she texted Jon from the airport.

It’s extremely difficult for us as anything we manage to implement (in agreement with his daughter’s mom), ranging from outdoor activity, playing with other kids, to rules on cell phones and at the dinner table is undone with a shrug from her mother. We don’t even have her medical records or a contact number for her pediatrician at her mom’s house. Can you guess why?

As a mother myself, I just want to scream when I hear about these things. I raised Noodle without a father, and their child is super lucky to have both parents in her life. However watching her being thrown in the middle by her mother and then neglected on top of it, just makes my blood boil. It’s like starting over every visit. It honestly kicks me square in the ass to find out she’s not given outside playtime, healthy food to eat, or the attention she deserves at home. Her mother even refuses to put their daughter in therapy during her portion of the year.. despite the fact that the child has suffered through a divorce, losing two of her siblings, and then not being allowed to see her Dad (via her mom). Everyone needs someone to talk to, especially when being dealt such a traumatic hand so early in life. To think about a mother denying her child mental health services makes me irate.

Yet that’s the hand we’re being dealt. All I can do as a step mom is try my best to provide a healthy home, someone to talk to, and give Jon my advice and thoughts. It just sucks on so many levels.

One of the reasons it sucks so much is what I call the “mom level”. His daughter’s mom is going to/has missed out on so many memories. She’s already missed out on teaching her daughter to ride a bike, she missed out on the motorbike. She missed/is missing out on teaching roller skating. She missed out on playing catch with her daughter. She is missing out on helping her kid pick out her first softball mitt, her first pair of blades, her first big girl bicycle (which really should’ve happened before 7/9yrs). All of those memories belong with the mother too. Not just with the father and the step mom.

It sucks to be a step parent where co-parenting is non-existent. It sucks to be the one left to do the things the other parent isn’t doing. It sucks to have to teach lessons only a mom can teach, and hasn’t. It sucks knowing the angst a child is going through, and being stuck on the sidelines while the parents try to work it out. It sucks to send the mother adorable pictures of all the memories she’s missing out on and getting no response. It sucks to see a child get excited about a hobby only to go home and have it quashed when she gets back to her mom’s.

I started this blog to give advice to other step parents, but I don’t have any. I don’t. Step parenting is winging it. We have to learn to love another person’s child, raise them as our own, yet deal with the hand their bio-parent deals. We’re just stuck on a ride, trying not to fall out. Being a step parent sucks, but it’s also super rewarding. You just some how have to stick it through the bullshit parts. Remember, you’re raising a child whether or not their yours biologically. What you do and say matters. You don’t have to be a bio-parent to be the child’s parent & advocate. Buckle down.

 

On that note, shout out to my step mom.. for being a great mom to me, even through all the bullshit. <3

 

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