I really dont want to be the step-monster here
March 14, 2022 11:15 PM   Subscribe

My partner's kids are completely rejecting me and my family. My partner doesn't agree it is a problem. It is a problem for me.

I have been in a committed relationship for a year and been engaged about three months. We do not plan to move in together or get married for two years and we currently live in different cities pretty far apart. My partner is pretty integrated into my life; spending a couple of days a week living with me and my children, hanging with my friends, knows my workmates etc. My children (from young teen to independent adults) like my partner but do not consider them a parent - which is what we had agreed at the beginning of our relationship that all of our children were too old to accept/need another parent. (In both cases the other biological parent is pretty much non-existant and has been out of their lives for ten years). As a family we participate in watching movies, projects, making dinners together, board game nights, road trips, and other bonding events together. My children prepared a giftr for my partner that involved them texting my children every day for a month on what their guess was. My partner spent hours and hours crafting christmas and birthday gifts for my children that I had suggested. I work professionally with teens and I like teens a lot. So, I feel ok with that side of our relationship.

My partner's children however are very opposed to my partner dating. They have said they prefer us to wait a few years (when both of them have graduated high school) before dating, or at most, they will tolerate us dating as long as I am not around them at all. I am not welcome in their house if the children are home. Recently I had plans to meet my partner in their city at their house but I could not because their children were home so I spent three hours just bored at a mall waiting for my partner to text that the house was empty so I could come over. We have had one meal together with all the children after a month of dating that resulted in her children making critical and judgemental comments about my "weird" children. Her children also felt my children "judged" them for living in a small house (it is about the same size as our house) despite my children up until recently living in a house half the size. My partner relates the many comments her children make about me and they are all critical and judgemental. When one of her children missed a week of online school because they were unable to share their one joint computer and there was huge conflict in their house I sent a new computer to the youngest teen and was called "bat-shit crazy" by the teen with no thanks ever given (the computer is heavily used). The Christmas gift I gave was rejected by all of them (it was an experience that involved me, then I said I would not attend as they wished, and it was still rejected). We have not spent any holidays together as partners due to their children's objections. A suggestion of going on a trip together has been rejected. They have no desire to ever visit my house/community. My partner delayed telling them about our engagment for far too long out of fear of their reaction (it was negative). In short, me and my children are completely rejected by her children. My partner is close to there own step mother (that they gained as a late teen) so doesn't understand why their children reject me beyond saying they know their children would reject anyone my partner dated.

I identitified this as a problem in the first weeks of our relationship and worked therough a bunch of relationship books with my partner (they refuse to do therapy of any sort). My partner just thinks this problem will go away or get solved by itself. My partner has also said that when their children leave for university the problem will be gone (I have tried to point out that they will not be independent adults at 18 and I expect my partner to have a relationship with their adult children children much as I do). Basically, every time I try to discuss the issue my partner throws up their hands and says they do not know what to do. My partner has related multiple conversations they have had with their children where the three of them agree this is "my" problem as they are all happy with the current arrangement of ignoring me. They all agree that not speaking to me or acknowedging my presence when I am in the physical room with them is ok behaviour; I disagree. I feel my partner is expecting their children to change when they have no desire to do so (and not changing their behaviour will most likely give them the outcome they want of us breaking up). My partner gets sad when I mention this issue and expects me to both comfort them and come up with a solution.

In case it isn't obvious, I have probably exchanged less than ten words with each child, have never been critical or disicplined them, never spoken negatively about my partner to either set of children, or tried to parent them in any way. I have seen my partner's children (as in, been in the same room as them) about six times in the past year with five of those times them completely ignoring me saying hi and the duration of each visit being about five minutes with the exception of one hour long visit at the beginning of our relationship. My partner is not willing to invite me to spend time with their children as my partner finds it very stressful to hold their children up to expectations.

I'm at a loss of what to do. What can I do next? Since gender matters to some people, I am a woman and my partner is a non-binary/woman leaning very heavily the masculine side and her children are older teen girls.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (57 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The problem is that your partner doesn't have your back whatsoever. Counseling or DTMFA, I'm sorry. This will be miserable forever.
posted by Threeve at 11:26 PM on March 14 [99 favorites]


They want to ignore you. Why can’t you just ignore them? I don’t mean in a vengeful way. I mean in a peaceful way.
posted by gt2 at 11:47 PM on March 14 [15 favorites]


In short, me and my children are completely rejected by her children.

That's sad, but it also isn't something you can fix. Whether somebody else wants anything to do with you or not is an issue for them, not for you.

If all you wanted was for them to give you the equivalent of a glazed customer-service smile and ritualistic "have a nice day", there are of course various kinds of coercion and manipulation that could achieve that. But the sad part about being rejected is that the person rejecting you doesn't want to have anything to do with you, not that they're failing to offer some semi-plausible pretence to.

Best you can do is learn to live with it, because not even breaking up with your partner is going to change it; again, this issue is not for you. If the kids are eventually going to warm to you, that's for them to work out.
posted by flabdablet at 11:55 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]


Your partner is really slack on discipline with their children. They can't force their kids to like you but they can enforce manners and repercussions for their disrespectful behaviour. I wouldn't buy the kids anything again. It doesn't matter if its agreed you're not a step parent, that they are disrespectful (they're using your computer but slagging you off) is outrageous.

I'm not sure why your partner is relaying negative comments from their kids. I would probably say "you know their behaviour is hurting me, so unless you actively do something to change it, don't tell me the negative things they say about me". You need to sit down and have a serious chat. Your partner can't get away with saying "I don't know what to do".

It sounds as if visiting is a drag, so you might want to restrict that to your partner visiting you only. I wouldn't want to be in that home.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 12:01 AM on March 15 [62 favorites]


This just sounds completely untenable. You are expressing a lot of unhappiness here, and describing a partner who keeps telling you about all the ways their kids criticize you behind your back, shows no acknowledgment there's a problem, and has no desire for anything to change. I just don't see an alternative to breaking it off, if you want to preserve your own mental health (and probably your kids' too--I'm sure they've picked up on your unhappiness and also wonder why your partner's kids dislike them so much).

Best you can do is learn to live with it, because not even breaking up with your partner is going to change it; again, this issue is not for you. If the kids are eventually going to warm to you, that's for them to work out.

I agree that breaking up with your partner won't change the way their kids feel about you, but I don't agree you should learn to live with it. I think life is too short to spend it with someone who keeps telling you how much their kids dislike you and that it's a "you" problem. It sounds utterly miserable.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:02 AM on March 15 [79 favorites]


At the very least:
- partner has to stop relaying negative comments of her children
- partner has to agree to therapy
- it's up to partner to manage their time so that you don't have to spend hours waiting for her kids to clear the house so they don't have to see you. When you have a date, the date sticks.
- no more gifts from you to the children. No more niceness from you to her children.

"I want no relationship with you" is okay (though how would that work once you marry??). But "I want you to make yourself smaller and smaller so that we can all pretend you and your needs don't exist" is not okay.

In case it's not obvious, your partner is the problem, not the kids.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:08 AM on March 15 [95 favorites]


Wow. I think being excluded by my partner’s family in such an extreme way, with little apparent effort on the part of my partner to fix it, would be a deal breaker for me. They can’t make their kids like you, but they can enforce reasonable boundaries around politeness, and it sounds like they’re totally dropping the ball. I’m trying to imagine what it will be like to live with this in two years’ time, and it’s not a pretty picture. I’m sorry.
posted by eirias at 1:21 AM on March 15 [23 favorites]


You all live in different cities and got engaged after seven months and have been dating only one year. You brought all the kids together after dating only one month. You want to travel together and spend holidays together. You are looking for a lot of family integration in a pretty short time. What’s the rush? Why push this with older teens?

You all parent differently. You can’t change your partner or make them parent differently. You can’t change these kids. You are also framing this as a rejection, which is really strong language to use about teens’ attitudes towards any adult. Many teens do not like their parents’ dates.

People are saying your partner is the problem. I think your personalization of this isn’t great, and your expectations here are askew. I do think it would be better if your partner didn’t share with you everything their kids said. Is it possible your partner is trying to draw some boundaries with you?

I have older teens and am dating. To disrupt their lives with a marriage at this point would be a lot, especially when they’re almost adults.

I’d say you should go to therapy and think a lot about why you all are trying to move so fast when clearly their kids are not happy to be making a big shift so quickly in their lives. Why are you trying to push yourself into their lives? You say you like teens, but I don’t see much here that you like about your partner or their kids.

My dad married when I was 13. I’m in my late 40s and still don’t get along great with my stepmom, which has meant a lot less time and closeness with my dad. I wish they had waited a bit longer.

Give this family some space to be the family they want to be for a while. Don’t keep pushing in when these kids are on the cusp of adulthood and have only a few precious years left at home.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:32 AM on March 15 [47 favorites]


My guess is that the extreme severity of this awful behavior is driven by homophobia.

And even if the rosy post high school scenarios envisioned by your partner come to pass — which is very unlikely — the fact that your partner has put up with the way these girls are acting means that she has a lot of internalized homophobia which is hidden right now by the blatant in your face homophobia of the girls.

But if they are ever not around to express her internalized homophobia for her, I think you can expect that internalized homophobia to come out in your relationship with her.

And bad as things are right now, I believe they will get worse when that happens.
posted by jamjam at 2:11 AM on March 15 [13 favorites]


This sounds really awful and sad for you. Don't marry this person. It's not your fault; you and your kids sound lovely. Only your partner can change this dynamic and they do not seem willing to put the work in.
posted by emd3737 at 2:30 AM on March 15 [9 favorites]


I have had relationships with a couple of people who had teenage and older children. The behaviour you describe, from your partner and their kids, is way way outside anything I've even heard of before, let alone experienced. I am shocked by your descriptions.

"…one meal together with all the children after a month of dating that resulted in her children making critical and judgemental comments about my "weird" children."

"…I sent a new computer to the youngest teen and was called "bat-shit crazy"…"

"They all agree that not speaking to me or acknowledging my presence when I am in the physical room with them is ok behaviour…"

I can be very blunt at times, but this is well past that. I can't understand how a parent would accept that as an OK way for their children to behave toward anyone, let alone their future spouse. Totally reasonable that the kids have feelings and that their parent takes them seriously and addresses their concerns, but this is much more than that. I can't perceive this as a healthy parent/child dynamic. It comes across as neurotic and lacking healthy boundaries.

If nothing else, people who grow up thinking it's ok to be so openly rude and mean spirited to others are likely to have a painful future in all sorts of ways. Your partner is shortchanging them by accepting and implicitly supporting this kind of behaviour. Behaving kindly and compassionately toward others is a valuable skill and one we often learn in our first family.

"My partner relates the many comments her children make about me and they are all critical and judgemental."

"My partner gets sad when I mention this issue and expects me to both comfort them and come up with a solution."

Why is your partner relaying all this to you in such graphic detail? How could that ever be helpful? And why are they not going in to bat, in any way it seems, for you?

You seem to have paired with someone who does not listen to your concerns and expects you to do all the emotional work, including comforting them. One of the fundamental reasons we seek relationships is to have someone in our life who is there for us. Someone who is on our team. There's nothing in what you've written that says you have that.

I know it's easy for me to say, but I would want more than this. And I think you should too.
posted by mewsic at 2:53 AM on March 15 [35 favorites]


Your partner is way more of a problem here than their children are, and they've created the problem children.

This is unlikely to bring you long-term happiness, even if the partner decides to attempt their badly needed therapy. Partner and children are old enough that they've have to actively WANT to change... and you've got a snowball's chance of that happening.
posted by stormyteal at 3:21 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


There's a lot to unpack here, but these are the basic outlines:

You haven't been dating a year, and don't live in the same city, but are making plans to marry.

Your partner's children are actively cruel to you and your children.

Not only does your partner not shut that crap down, they relay every last gory detail to you. (Seriously, if kids are being that snotty to/about a random stranger, like a drugstore cashier, a conscientious parent would head that off. These kids are behaving like bullies, and bullies have a rough go in life. Your partner condones bullying.)

Your partner refuses counseling or take any action whatsoever to rein in their own kids, or smoothly pull together the two families.

Your partner is feigning helplessness all while needling you with all the ways in which you and your babies are supposedly inferior. (I don't care how big they are, they're your babies.)

That's a manipulation, and a cruel one at that. You're not even living together, let alone married.

Manipulations have a way of escalating.

I'm frightened for you.

If your partner won't go to therapy, please, please get therapy for yourself. Find out why you think this is acceptable.
posted by champers at 4:35 AM on March 15 [37 favorites]


Since gender matters to some people, I am a woman and my partner is a non-binary/woman leaning very heavily the masculine side and her children are older teen girls.

I had a very strong feeling reading your post that this was the situation, and while nobody else has addressed it, I wonder if you buried the lede here.

Developmentally, teenagers are the main character of all of their interactions, and their parents are a direct reflection on them (which is why parents are mortifying.) It really sounds to me as if this has nothing to do with you and they may be uncomfortable with their mom being gay and really not want their mother to be seen with another woman, and that living with or married to one would be worse.

I have gay parents and grew up in a very accepting environment where that was cool, and as a teen I was still uncomfortable whenever it was obvious I had parents outside the norm. You can't control teenager behaviour feelings (and neither can they, for the most part.) Behaviour is a different story, in that you can't control it but you can allow natural consequences, but you are not their parent so...

What I am solidly confused about is why the children are making the household rules here. "This is happening at 3PM, and you are welcome to stay and be polite or you can go to a friend's house" is a reasonable approach that leaves room for the teen's feelings without letting them be the boss. I realise I am massively projecting here but I would see "can you just sit at all the mall for three hours instead" as guilt and shame vis-a-vis the kids on your partner's part.

There's a lot to unpack in "since gender matters to some people" but I think the question of how and how much it matters to your partner's kids and even maybe to your partner themselves maybe needs some addressing too.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:15 AM on March 15 [59 favorites]


I'm really sorry - this sounds so hard.

Some level of difficulty was probably to be expected here - you've moved very fast, and I think in theory it's normal for the kids to be having some trouble adjusting. But the extent of it is troubling. As others have said, though, what I'm really troubled by is your partner's response to it. Why on earth are they relaying every hurtful thing back to you? Why are they refusing to actually parent their children? Why are they expecting you to come up with a solution?

You are learning a lot here about how your partner handles conflict, parenting, relationship problems, and family - and none of it's good. They are showing you that you are going to be alone in carrying the emotional weight, and responsibility, for all family problems, forever. Is that the future you want? Is that what partnership looks like for you?

It's possible that this is salvageable if your partner were to commit to individual therapy for a while, and then once they've gotten a good foundation there, couples therapy with you. It sounds as if you would have to make that a relationship-ending ultimatum, but maybe they would do it if the alternative is to lose you. So the best case scenario for this relationship probably looks like months, realistically years, of therapy individually and together and maybe eventually as a family with the kids, during which time you absolutely should not move ahead on marriage or moving, and you should expect to have little to no emotional support from your partner.

I think what you do next is look long and hard at that potential future and decide if you want to commit to it and to commit your own kids to it. And then either break up, or sit down for that therapy ultimatum.
posted by Stacey at 5:18 AM on March 15 [13 favorites]


I think there’s a lot to unpack here.

Just focusing on what you can control - the “family experience” gift to kids who don’t want you around was a misstep. Waiting at the mall for three hours is understandable but I think I would have gone home. Travel as a family is out of the question And I think it would be good to tell your partner that her conveying the hurtful things her kids say about you to you is toxic for everyone. (It actually makes me think your partner may not have your back.)

To me, some of the things you relate about your kids and your partner read a bit OTT in the other direction - like if it works, honestly, great, but texting every day for a month about a gift and hours of crafting sounds like an awful lot to me. (Obviously this may have worked well, but sharing that for me this is equally extreme…I love my kids but would not survive hours of crafting for a gift for them.) And again, for me, getting the families together after 4 weeks of dating sounds really fast…I don’t introduce my kids to my new *friends* that quickly generally.

What I see is two people in a pretty far-apart relationship. Her kids do have to be her priority. But the way in which she’s gone about this is to basically bond with them over keeping you out. Her future plan seems to be that they’ll be gone, which is really just a plan to freeze them out next. And you’re kind of pushing her into this very close family unit of bonding activities, which in a way is freezing her way of doing things out. And if she won’t consult a therapist with you, then she’s kind of saying she isn’t going to change.

I think one thing that’s important in relationships where you intend to build a life together is that you agree on the parameters of daily life. You may want to back down your expectations for where this is going long-term, because you both are really far apart here.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:20 AM on March 15 [18 favorites]


Question from a different ange angle: you sure this is all on the kids here? You've seen them a total of five or six times, and usually about for five minutes each. They've been snotty but they're also teens (maybe they're homophobic, miss the last partner, whatever). As far as I can tell, all the actual critique--that you're crazy, that your kids are weird--is being relayed to you secondhand by your partner.

There might be some issues here that your partner has and she's using the kids as an excuse (she didn't want to go on the trip, she thinks you're moving too fast, etc.) It just seems odd that your partner is that willing to relay her kids' anger to you.
posted by kingdead at 5:41 AM on March 15 [30 favorites]


I'm filtering this heavily through my own teenager angst filter, with my small, moderately shitty family with integration issues... So I can very much see how, to the girls, you're an Intruder, the other, undesirable change, a threat. You come out of the blue, are engaged within a year of long distance, want some kind of happy Disney family right away? Flaunting the fact that you have sappy gooey relationships with your kids, their mom, and can afford to buy a computer and trips for other people's kids? Gross. Way to try too hard and try to buy love and artificial intimacy.

Did partners gender issues (I'm transgender myself, not trying to dismiss anything, but again, channeling teenager brain here.) start around the time they met you? Are you the first woman they have dated, or at least introduced to the kids? Were they even aware of partners romance preferences? Are they getting harassment from peers due to gender and sexuality issues?

You kind of sound like a lot. Adult me thinks you're a cool person and extremely well intentioned and would probably be a great stepmom. Teenage me thinks you're extra and moving super fast and trying to force a connection that isn't there. That you're ignoring the mistrust and skepticism that seems natural picturing guarded teenagers reacting to strangers planning on marrying their parent, and taking time and attention away from them. Who's staying with the teens while partner is playing houses with your family and kids? Who's helping with their homework and meals and online schooling? Is partner leaving them home alone? Regardless, you're splitting parent's priorities and attention. Yall probably aren't intensionally telling the kids that they are suddenly less important, but that's likely a message they are receiving every time parent has a sleepover with you, or travels to your town or even goes on dates with you. Yes, they are working towards independence, but they certainly aren't there yet.

Parents reluctance to parent and the conflict avoiding and communication issues are concerning as well, but nothing surprises me about the kids behavior. I certainly exhibited a lot of similar things even as a good kid raised pretty well.
posted by Jacen at 6:24 AM on March 15 [27 favorites]


This is tough. On the one hand, I think people are right that you moves very fast here, and it's not surprising that a couple of teenagers would have a reaction. There's a lot that's unclear to me, such as what happens to your partner's kids when they're away visiting you, if your partner was previously married to their other parent, how long ago that ended, etc. So in a different situation, I might suggest giving them more time, working with your partner to integrate yourself slowly into their family, and things like that.

But. This is not that different situation. And the reason is your partner. It's extremely odd that your partner is allowing their children to completely dictate the terms of who gets to be in their house. If your partner's children were acting like assholes when you were over, that might be a solvable problem. But that's not what's happening. What's happening is that your partner is refusing to have you in their home when the children are there. That's just not a tenable situation. On top of this, your partner is, very strangely, reporting every slight and cruel comment back to you. What could be gained by that? It is right and appropriate for a parent to prioritize the well-being of their children over that of a romantic partner, but this goes way beyond that. It doesn't sound like your partner is interested in your well-being at all. I'd end this relationship.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:55 AM on March 15 [15 favorites]


It's extremely odd that your partner is allowing their children to completely dictate the terms of who gets to be in their house. If your partner's children were acting like assholes when you were over, that might be a solvable problem. But that's not what's happening.

This is where I keep getting stuck. I was expecting the usual teenage snideness to new romantic interests of divorced parent, dialed up to 11, maybe with a side order of homophobia. (It's tough! And you guys are going relatively quickly!) I didn't expect the parent to be allowing the children to dictate who visits the parent in their own home or to engage in straight-up ostracism with them in the room! Something is very wrong here. I'll be honest, I would put a pause on further proceedings until I understood what was going on. Is this parent a catastrophically bad and weak parent, such that the dynamics are going to be a nightmare until the kids are out of the house, and maybe even after? Is the parent using their kids as a way to indirectly shame and dominate you? Are these kids reflecting really extreme homophobia, perhaps from their other parent? I wouldn't marry this person as matters stand now. I'm sorry, this sounds awful for you.
posted by praemunire at 8:11 AM on March 15 [24 favorites]


My partner's children however are very opposed to my partner dating. They have said they prefer us to wait a few years (when both of them have graduated high school) before dating, or at most, they will tolerate us dating as long as I am not around them at all.

They are entitled to their opinion and not to hang out with you. They don't get a veto on the relationship unless your partner chooses to give them one.

I am not welcome in their house if the children are home. Recently I had plans to meet my partner in their city at their house but I could not because their children were home so I spent three hours just bored at a mall waiting for my partner to text that the house was empty so I could come over.

Your partner could have solved this differently. "X will be coming over, you can stay and be minimally polite to an adult, or go out."

We have had one meal together with all the children after a month of dating that resulted in her children making critical and judgemental comments about my "weird" children...

Don't have them interact with your children for the time being.

My partner relates the many comments her children make about me and they are all critical and judgemental.

Tell her you would rather not know.

The Christmas gift I gave was rejected by all of them (it was an experience that involved me, then I said I would not attend as they wished, and it was still rejected). We have not spent any holidays together as partners due to their children's objections. A suggestion of going on a trip together has been rejected. They have no desire to ever visit my house/community.

Don't buy them important gifts or try to go on trips together. Don't invite them to your house/community. Rethink what holidays look like.

Basically, this sucks and sounds awful. I think it's reasonably likely that the children are hoping (consciously or otherwise) you will just go away at some point.

In the short term, I'd slow right down on the idea of making a blended family out of the two of your and your respective children because its getting you nowhere and making you feel miserable. The other thing that needs to change in the meantime, from your partner, is the expectation that you will do all the compromising so they never have to interact with you. They don't have to want to interact with you, but the children need to have compromise enforced on them about how that works if non-interaction is that important to them.

Your partner is probably right that things will be different once they have gone to university. I'm not sure they will be better exactly, but any remaining rejection will be less of a practical obstacle than it is now. But that would change your likely timeline for living together and being married, which you may not want.
posted by plonkee at 8:40 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


Other have more expertise in this field than me so just one thing that leapt out at me that I don't think has been mentioned:

My partner spent hours and hours crafting christmas and birthday gifts for my children that I had suggested


This is lovely from you/your kids' point of view, but I can imagine if her kids were already feeling sensitive about your relationship, it might have felt like salt in a wound. Did she also spend hours crafting her own kids' gifts and playing a month-long fun text game with them? Rhetorical question, just pointing out how hurtful that might have been to them to see so much time and attention being given over to kids your partner didn't even know last Christmas.

I wonder if the issue is not only the relationship between you and your partner's kids, but also the relationship between your partner and your own kids. You say that side of things is all fine from your point of view so you're discounting it from consideration. But how is it from your partner's kids point of view, for their mom to have become bezza mates super-quickly with a bunch of other kids?
posted by penguin pie at 8:54 AM on March 15 [21 favorites]


+1 to the points raised by penguin pie and Jacen -- you're engaged after dating less than a year? Your partner is spending multiple days a week, every week, living with you and your children in another city, while her own children stay at home, presumably by themselves? That's really extreme! No wonder the kids hate you! Your partner has managed to set things up so that you are the Other Woman to her kids and then telling you that things will be fine with her ex once the divorce is finalized, so to speak.

It seems like you guys need to slow things down and your partner needs to set some boundaries that respect both your needs and her kids'. It needs to be on your partner to fix this, and there might be some small interim things you can do (push back a wedding date, have fewer overnights with her) but if she won't consider family therapy and will only ever shut down when you try to discuss this, it doesn't seem like the relationship can work in a way that is healthy for her relationship with her children.
posted by phoenixy at 9:19 AM on March 15 [12 favorites]


Your partner doesn't see it as a problem. You can't just ignore it because you aren't even allowed in the house. Ideally, your partner would tell their kids I am going to have this person in my life, and you are required to be polite to them. People get to choose who they love, but I think it's more than reasonable for parents to require children to have decent manners. The kids demand that your partner choose between you and them. It's not healthy. Your partner is allowing their kids to treat you rudely, and I don't think it's sustainable.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the issue is not only the relationship between you and your partner's kids, but also the relationship between your partner and your own kids.

+1 to this. I believe your take on this situation. But what is clear to me is that your partner needs to be in family therapy with their kids. Those kids are digging in and exerting control in the only way they know how - by being total immature brats. That is their weapon, they are gonna use it. Additionally, your partner is letting them do this because...they may feel that they deserve it in some way? They are unsure themselves and feel safer with this boundary between you and them? Who knows exactly why. However, the kids need a healthy, safe way to express their feelings and your partner needs the same. They need to be able to hear their kids and be offered therapeutic ways to address this huge topic. Why wait for university? Come on. That's just not doing the work. And further lets years of resentment build up. It may be that within a therapeutic setting the family decides to wait on deep romantic commitments but that's on the process among them. Line in the sand time: they stop conveying this hurtful information and they do the work, literally, to get their house in order. I don't see any way through that except through family therapy and getting the kids to one-on-one therapy as well. I would not date a person who wasn't invested in their family health.
posted by amanda at 9:36 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I feel my partner is expecting their children to change when they have no desire to do so (and not changing their behaviour will most likely give them the outcome they want of us breaking up). My partner gets sad when I mention this issue and expects me to both comfort them and come up with a solution.

Right here is where I joined Team DTMFA. Outrageous and untenable.
posted by Dolley at 9:44 AM on March 15 [10 favorites]


Child of divorce when I was a young teen and divorced parent of 3 (now in their 20s).

I think the primary problem is your partner and the secondary problem is their kids. You two have different parenting styles and different parenting expectations. Your partner, in my opinion, should confront their children and tell them that while they don't have to love you or even like you, they need to accept that you are a part of their life and they need to be cordial, polite, and generally respectful. They need to thank you as they would thank anyone who does something for them. It is called learning to be an adult.

Until and unless your partner has this discussion/confrontation with their children, you are correct in assessing that the relationship is doomed. Even if they move out and go to school or out on their own, this will always be a problem until it is addressed directly.

I never liked the woman who married my father, but when we were together, I learned to get along. The point was, to me, that she made my father happy and that is what I wanted too. She wasn't my step mother and wasn't my partner, she was partners with my father and if they were happy, what more could I hope for? That is what your partners children need to learn. Now. THis isn't about them. This is about their mother.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:59 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if this may be a factor to consider, but I'm mentioning this just in case you think it could be relevant:

You said your partner is "a non-binary/woman leaning very heavily the masculine side". Do you know when she came out as such? If so - was it kind of recently, like within the past few years?

If so - I wonder if her kids still haven't quite accepted her yet, and are kind of secretly still hoping she "goes back to being normal". Because that might speak to something that is driving their behavior ("ugh, mom's dating another woman, I wish it was a man instead").

PLEASE NOTE that I am not an expert on this, and this is 100% speculation on my part and you should not use this to "diagnose" them. But this is an angle on your question that's been nagging at me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:03 AM on March 15


I'm repeating a lot of what was said above, but this is NOT about these kids. Your partner has deliberately put you in a situation where you will be inclined to hate their kids. Think about that. Who repeats some teenage nonsense about how other teenagers are like, totally lame? It goes beyond poor judgment and really looks like they want to demonize their own kids in order to get their woe-is-me fix or fulfill some other psychological need. It's really fucked up.

Most people (and I've been in this position) want their partner to ADORE their kids, or at least to have a GOOD impression of their kids. They maybe even fudge the truth a bit in order to make it happen. Because healthy people want their loved ones to love each other. It doesn't always happen. But that's what most people want.

Your partner doesn't seem to want that and is willing to portray their own children as little monsters in order to make that happen. Why?

Your partner seems to be getting some benefit out of this conflict and out of the way that the kids are possessive, rejecting, and insulting. Maybe as a way to get your sympathy and attention, maybe as a way to control the narrative (so e.g. they can lie to their kids about you and vice versa), maybe as a way to be passive-aggressive towards you and your kids.

They also seem to be parentifying their kids (or otherwise treating them as equal adults) ("we" all agree that it's okay, wtf) which is really awful way to treat kids.

Then they're sweet as pie to your kids, while throwing their own kids under the bus. Again, most parents will be pretty protective of their kids instead of making them out to be assholes -- often to a fault. Why isn't your partner protecting her kids from your dislike/anger? While being superparent to your kids?

That plus the kind of "woe is me" attitude towards this whole situation, where they're acting like they're the helpless kid and not the in-charge adult, is really disturbing.

I'm not exaggerating when I say I would 100% not let this person spend a ton of time around my kids. I would start to think of the situation more as it is, and not let your (reasonable) desire to have them like each other get in the way of your judgment about this person as a potential influence on your kids long-term.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:08 AM on March 15 [27 favorites]


Also, I just reread that the other bio parent is out of the picture. I just assumed that your partner was coming over every week because their kids were at the other parents' house, because the idea of spending every weekend (right?) with someone else's kids instead of your own is pretty shocking to me. When, exactly, are these kids supposed to see their parent? When do they take their kids to the movies? When do they treat their kids to a family outing? The message is "I like these other kids better" and again, it's really fucked up.

I really feel awful for those kids. No wonder they're acting out (if they even are acting out rather than being scapegoated).
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:20 AM on March 15 [25 favorites]


I also didn't think about what was going on for partner's kids while partner is at your place with you in a city far from home given your comment that the other parent is out of the kids' lives. Is this dating behavior, where their parent spends a few nights a week away from them and home in a distant city, new? Is this something that happened in a previous relationship that didn't work out? These kids have an uninvolved parent, and might they be scared to lose this parent too?

I'm also wondering about a few things here: Her children also felt my children "judged" them for living in a small house (it is about the same size as our house) despite my children up until recently living in a house half the size. ... When one of her children missed a week of online school because they were unable to share their one joint computer and there was huge conflict in their house I sent a new computer to the youngest teen...

It sounds like you and your kids might have more financial security than partner and their kids, and some of what they are expressing is anxiety about this difference. Kids are pretty good at sizing up other kids based on clothing, class, etc. And a computer is incredibly generous (I'm sorry you weren't thanked!), and I'm wondering how it feels for these kids that this gift came from you if their parent wasn't able to provide it for them (sharing a computer between two kids so far into the pandemic sounds super tough and I am guessing that their parent couldn't afford one?). Are there economic differences at play? How is partner affording the travel to your house? Do they have a scarcity mentality? Perhaps they feel like they have to fight and scrap for resources, including their parent's time.

You've painted your home and family situation as rather idyllic. The kids might be jealous if they are getting these vibes from their parent. Or perhaps you can't see that your kids did express some judgment or negativity?

This doesn't sound like a great situation, but I'm inclined to think there's more going on here. I don't know that you can convince your partner to handle this much differently. I do think it would be healthy to slow down efforts with the kids.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:52 AM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Yes, echoing what some other people said above, can you expand on what's going on at your partner's house? It sounds like one (or both) of their kids are around age 15/16 (graduating high school in "a few years") and there's no other parent in the picture. But then your partner is living a couple days a week in your city, which is pretty far away. Who, if anyone, is staying with your partner's kids while your partner is away? Are these kids just on their own? That seems pretty concerning/abnormal to me. Teenagers being left on their own for a weekend is usually a 2-3x a year thing, not weekly, at least in my country.
posted by spisspisspis at 11:25 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


I'd be skeptical of any narrative to the effect of "We'd be perfectly happy and settled in our relationship if it weren't for these meddling kids." Both you and your partner are waving red flags here. They're avoiding difficult parts of parenting and simultaneously throwing their kids under the bus. The things they are telling you about them is creating an "us vs them" mentality. That's not a good look for a family. On your end, you said you don't expect to be either of you to be a parental figure but you're encouraging a pretty tight relationship between your kids and partner at the expense of their kids. No doubt partner's kids have picked up on that. Also, you're coming across as a bit of a White Knight Saviour with your computer and joint trips and I bet it does feel very heavy and too fast for the kids.

It's weird with teenagers, right? Sometimes they are so independent, but they really do need their parents. My mom did a similar thing of spending every weekend at her boyfriend's house starting when I was a young teen. I was very polite to him, but I felt totally abandoned and like my mom was more concerned with cementing her relationship with him than taking care of her own family. Like with your partner, there was no other parent for me to stay with. It should have been a red flag for her boyfriend but he really liked having 100% of her attention.

My advice is too slow it way down.
posted by stowaway at 12:24 PM on March 15 [12 favorites]


sent a new computer to the youngest teen and was called "bat-shit crazy" by the teen with no thanks ever given (the computer is heavily used

I don’t think this has been addressed, and I’m not sure how to say it without being rude, but teenagers aren’t puppies to be won over with treats. If there was a person in your life you disliked, and you had made that dislike clear, what would you think of their motivations and intent toward you if they then gave you an expensive present? And you ended up having to make use of it because you were too poor to get one of it yourself? And the person expected thanks? Deepening distrust and dislike in that situation isn’t weird, it’s normal and healthy.

Teenagers really need their parents to be there for them and to be strong for them. Now their mom is telling on them for being bratty to someone who’s only been around a year. They only go through this developmental phase once, and it’s an important one. I think you need to step back.
posted by acantha at 1:21 PM on March 15 [13 favorites]


people who grow up thinking it's ok to be so openly rude and mean spirited to others are likely to have a painful future in all sorts of ways. Your partner is shortchanging them by accepting and implicitly supporting this kind of behaviour.

I came to say this. Your partner is falling down on the job both as a partner and as a parent. They're setting these kids up for all kinds of problems down the road, not just with you and their potential step-siblings, but also with the wider world. Letting your own kids be mistreated by this bunch, and see you being mistreated, is not good for them either.

All of this is a much bigger problem than the behaviour of a couple of nasty teenagers, but there is a lot of great insight here about what might be going on in those kids' heads. I'm curious about how recent the split with the other parent was, and whether there was a lot of drama around it. I know that when my dad passed away suddenly, my sibling and I were adamantly against the idea of my mom dating. Now, as an adult, I look back on that with embarrassment, but it came from a lot of grief and anger over the loss of him and flat-out terror at the idea that we would somehow be less important to our one remaining parent. If your partner is spending a lot of time with you and your kids while their own kids are left to their own devices, that could generate a huge amount of not just resentment but visceral fear.

The bottom line, as much of the wise advice above has pointed out, is that your partner needs to get their own house in order. I wonder if they are spending so much time with you because things are fraught at home in other ways, and projecting it all onto the relationship with you is just easier than facing it? In your shoes I'd tell them that I didn't want to hear anymore about what their kids thought, but that I expected them to enforce basic good manners whenever I was around, which would not be that often. (No more waiting around for three hours to be "allowed" to come over, FFS!) I'd also be prepared to support them in taking the time and space they needed to do family therapy and come to a solution with their kids.

The rest is up to them.
posted by rpfields at 1:29 PM on March 15 [9 favorites]


Have you heard of parentification? That's what your partner is doing to their kids and its a neglectful way of raising kids. Basically, your partner's kids have told them they are not allowed to build a relationship with you. Your partner's response is not to reset their teens' expectations and boundaries, but to use avoidance and not engage (the role of an immature child) and then emotionally vent with you about it BUT not actually guide their own children. By agreeing to "not" being in a relationship with you in their presence, they have validated their children's decision making here and expectations that it is up to them (the children) to decide how to act. Well, they decided.

I don't think there's much you can do. Some of the above posters made great lists of expectations that you could pick and choose from. But I think you should just decide if you want this part of your partner that she's carved away from her children, or not.
posted by RajahKing at 1:40 PM on March 15


I think it is completely reasonable to put an absolute hold on living together until your partner's youngest child is 18, as long as they're already in their teens. not sure if this means waiting longer than the 2 years you're already planning on, but it is reasonable, fair, and good to respect the children's need for a veto over who lives in their home for as long as they have no practical or legal way to leave.

it is not reasonable at all for your partner to refuse to teach her children basic civilized manners. they have the right to have you over as an occasional guest in their home when their children are there, and their children do not have the right to be rude to you while you're there. their parent needs to communicate to them that their permission to date is not needed or requested (and dating?? you're not even dating, you're engaged!) I don't think the children have any obligation to be happy about getting a stepmother, and they shouldn't be forced to visit you or form bonds with your own family. but they damn well do have to be gracious hosts when their parent has someone over. your partner is complicit in the deep disrespect being shown to you, and is at fault for failing to teach them any better.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:50 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Letting your own kids be mistreated by this bunch, and see you being mistreated, is not good for them either.

It seems like these kids have only all been together one time, at a dinner that happened when these two were only dating a month (which is super early to begin any sort of integration of families!), so that was about 11 months ago. And anon hasn't spent that much time with them either. A lot of what is being described as rude behavior is actually not behavior anon has witnessed. Rather, it's the partner's report of what the kids have said.

And, because I'm feeling a bit protective of these kids, can we all please remember that these two adolescents are also dealing with something none of us dealt with at that age, and that is being a teenager during a pandemic? It's been really sucky for kids these past few years.

Yes, teens can be jerks, especially to their parents, and also to parents' partners, but that's not always an indication of terrible parenting or major character flaws that last past adolescence. I think it's okay for them to want their parent's time and attention. If their parent is spending a lot of time out of the house in distant city with anon, I get why they aren't excited to have anon around. They want some time with their parent!

There are definitely issues here! I think it's about a difference in parenting styles and also expectations from anon about how all this should go. Yes, it would be better for the partner to tell the kids they need to not be rude, but that doesn't mean they need to be "gracious hosts" when anon is visiting. I think it means basic human courtesy. But it seems like partner is maybe conflict-avoidant, and anon has personalized all this as rejection. There's a lot for this couple to unpack and figure out.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:55 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


(also I realize it can't be ruled out but I think it's a huge stretch to intuit homophobia as the unspoken issue. not because Today's Teens wouldn't be like that, but because these particular teens apparently leave no slur unspoken and their parent leaves no upsetting remark unrelayed. so if that were an issue, it seems highly likely they would have said so as nastily as possible already & the OP would have been forced to hear all about it.

but yeah they have to be polite even if they hate you, and you have to respect that they have the right to reject all dealings with you beyond the obligations of courtesy, and your partner has to be an adult and a decent partner and responsible parent. and nothing can be done without the last part first.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:09 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Yeah, you rushed this relationship way too much. Dinner after a month? Maybe after six months. Engaged w/in a year? That completely ignores the needs and wants of all the children.

Buying them a computer was inappropriate. Your expectations are wildly unrealistic.

That doesn't mean the kids should be rude, but you and your partner are imposing your relationship on them. They are allowed not to like it.

As you describe your partner, I would really question being with someone who is a professional shit stirrer. This relationship will bring you pain and distress, run for the hills.
posted by rhonzo at 3:02 PM on March 15 [16 favorites]


They all agree that not speaking to me or acknowedging my presence when I am in the physical room with them is ok behaviour; I disagree.

I read all the way to here before knowing for sure I needed to say: Your partner does not respect you properly and you should not marry this person unless they agree to therapy first. This is HUGELY harmful and is not at all acceptable.
posted by tiny frying pan at 3:29 PM on March 15 [9 favorites]


You're going to have to take your partner out on a date and remind you and yourself that having fun outside of the house is possible. Enjoy a bed and breakfast, hire an informed and educated older teen or adult who can look after the teens while your partner is away.

I'm a stepdad. I would say most of what you are dealing with isn't your fault. You're trying. They'll soon be adults. If you love how you feel with your partner and they feel the same, that's all that matters.
posted by parmanparman at 5:18 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen this addressed yet, I don't think, but I have to ask: what is their reason for refusing therapy of any sort? Is it that they can't afford it alone if they sought their own therapist, or pay their way if you did couples counseling together? That they had a bad experience with therapy previously? They think they're above it/therapy's for other people? I think it might be important to look at what their reasons are, especially since it might relate directly to the fact that they seem to have problems enforcing basic social behaviors from their kids and understanding that telling their partner about shitty things their kids have said is deeply uncool.

I'm not the pep squad for therapy most of metafilter is, because my own experience was unproductive and I've never totally figured out what people are supposed to get out of it, but I do recognize that it has often held a lot of value for people and can help with things, especially relationship expectations. But I myself cannot afford it, and so if I had a problem Ask and people told me to get therapy, I'd be pretty put out. Perhaps that's similar to something happening here? Or maybe they just think they're above it all or therapy's for losers, I don't know. It might be worth finding out--a lot of their behaviors seem to be confusing enough that there are wildly varying responses here, as well as a lot more questions.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 9:06 PM on March 15


There's a lot at work here--I say that as a step-parent--so I'd encourage you to narrow your focus on the part of this question that's in your control as you think about how to deal with this. The core of this dynamic is between you and your partner. You're the two adults in the equation, so (whether your partner agrees with the statement or not) the decisions the two of you make determine what comes next. Leave the kids out of it, leave the extended families out of it, your first focus is (it seems) getting a better understanding of why your partner is reacting the way they are reacting to this situation, to your requests about the situation, and to your understanding of this situation.

You mention that both of the other bio parents haven't been around for a decade, and I imagine that the devil's in the details with regard to those ten years. Your kids and your partner's kids have reacted differently to what sounds like similar situations, and it may be helpful to have the ear of a family therapist for insight into why that may be. If there's an event or personality that left a big impression ten or more years ago, when these kids were much younger, that may explain more of the current climate than anything you're bringing to the table. That discussion might also give you the space to sandbox conversation with your partner that approaches the issue differently than you've approached it in the past.

I do think, though, that you and your partner may be confronting a legitimate disagreement--what role do your kids' wishes play in your adult decisionmaking?--and it may be worth refocusing on that as a discussion about your differing approaches (an adult-to-adult relationship question) rather than a question about why kids are behaving a certain way (an adult-to-children relationship question). I imagine that your task includes communicating to your partner where you think this disagreement falls on the seriousness spectrum. Like, is this a 3/10 bump in the road or is this a 9/0 all-hands-on-deck problem that may end the relationship? That's worth thinking about, and communicating about. Even if your partner resists engaging with you on this issue further, placing it on that seriousness scale for yourself is what's going to help you decide if yuou stay or if you go, and if you stay how you're comfortable staying.

Hang in there. This stuff is hard. My relationship with my stepkids has survived my marriage to their biological parent. I didn't have difficulty getting close to the kids, but the former spouse who is their other biological parent, and the rest of that extended family, was a nightmare during the entire duration of my time with them. With one exception, any contact I had with those people literally ended the second my marriage ended and they felt they no long had any requirement to communicate with me. That was a difficult realization to make, since some of them warmed up to me over the years, but that was on my shoulders to deal with. And, in time, I've dealt with it (with a lot of help from friends, a therapist, and time). I hope you have access to all of the same resources while you're figuring this out.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 7:36 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I missed the aside that both of the other bio parents have been out of the picture for a while. So your partner is leaving their own children for multiple days every week to go live with you and your family in a different city? That's deeply fucked up, and I'm not surprised at all that those kids are having a bad reaction to your presence in their parent's life.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:53 AM on March 16 [11 favorites]


I need to say this because nobody else seems to be saying it: If you marry and/or move in with someone whose (minor) children hate you, that's downright abusive towards those children.

Children are people. Adults should not force permanent housemates on them against their wishes for anything short of dire necessity (e.g. taking care of sick people, earning a livelihood, etc. - not "I am in love"). It would be abusive to force an unwanted permanent housemate on an adult in their own home, and therefore it's abusive to force such a person on a child as well. You either go to family counseling to resolve the issues and get the kids on board, or you need to wait until her children have moved out before you get married or move in.


I also want to underline one outstandingly significant issue that has been raised a couple of times.

> Your partner is spending multiple days a week, every week, living with you and your children in another city, while her own children stay at home, presumably by themselves? That's really extreme!

> the idea of spending every weekend (right?) with someone else's kids instead of your own is pretty shocking to me. When, exactly, are these kids supposed to see their parent? When do they take their kids to the movies? When do they treat their kids to a family outing? The message is "I like these other kids better" and again, it's really fucked up.

> So your partner is leaving their own children for multiple days every week to go live with you and your family in a different city? That's deeply fucked up
posted by MiraK at 11:50 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I am a sapphic person and this is what I would call a U-Haul engagement. I think you two really should consider slowing down for the sake of you and your families, because this is causing an enormous amount of turmoil. I don't know what either of y'alls dating histories are, but it is not uncommon for sapphics to basically upend eachother's lives and then drag everyone else along in the process bc of how homophobia works in our society and how much pressure it puts on us actualizing desire. Please, pause.
posted by yueliang at 12:37 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


I wanted to comment quickly about the kids too. (Not meaning to pile on; I hope it doesn't feel like that's what's happening.)

I have a friend I've known well for decades who firmly believes she was "abandoned" by her mother and left alone to raise her brother, when they were both children. It is a very central part of her life story, and has shaped her in significant ways.

Over the years I've gotten more clarity from her on what this means, and what it actually means is that her divorced mother spent about half her time at her boyfriend's house, in the same town but a different neighbourhood, while my friend was in her final two years of high school. So my friend was 16-18, and her brother was about 13-15.

My friend had a very strong reaction to that, even though it was "only" a few days a week, and "only" two years out of her life. She has strong, important memories of having to buy groceries, having to get her brother fed, thinking about bills and field trip costs and household repairs and stuff, and worrying about whether to interrupt her mom with phone calls when things went wrong or she was scared about something. It shaped her a lot.

So yeah it is definitely worth considering the experience of your partner's children while your partner is with you. It may not seem like a big deal to you as adults, but it may be huge for your partner's kids.
posted by Susan PG at 12:57 PM on March 16 [26 favorites]


After the death of one of my parents, my other parent started dating very quickly, got engaged to someone they'd known less than a year, and was married with their new spouse living in our family home within a couple of years. I was an adult, but my youngest sibling was still living at home. We specifically asked my parent not to force us to make this person a part of our lives, and to hold off on moving in together until after my youngest sibling had moved out of the home. They refused, and my parent forced us to engage with this person. My parent's partner was pushy, giving lavish gifts and sending cards with messages about how much they cared about us. And my parent and their partner refused to hear us when we said we didn't want this and that we were unhappy. One of my siblings developed a serious anxiety disorder during that time, and it persists to this day. Another sibling moved a continent away to get as far away from our parent and their spouse as possible, and my parent does not have their contact information. 25 years later, my siblings and are all estranged from my parent and their spouse. They are very happy together; and I am, in the abstract, happy for them. But we do not interact, and that causes my parent pain, which I am sorry for, but am not able to solve for them.

I agree with everyone above who says that your partner's children don't have to like you; I'll go a step further and say that unless you and your partner change course abruptly very soon, they likely never will, and things will continue to get worse than they are now. Because your partner is actively neglecting their children, both in terms of physically being present in their lives, and in terms of tending to their emotional needs. And you are a complete stranger to them, who was foisted on them under circumstances they didn't want, and who has continued to be forced on them (both by your partner, and through your own actions towards them) without their consent. They do not want a relationship with you. They do not want to be members of your family. They wish you didn't exist and that you'd go away and never be seen or heard from again. If they're anything like I was when I was their age, they probably spend a decent amount of time together gossiping about how much they hate you. My siblings and I still sometimes entertain each other and our friends with stories of the ridiculous crap our step-parent has pulled over the years--crap we might have tolerated and wouldn't find quite so darkly hilarious if it weren't for the fact that our parent and step-parent were constantly trying to force a relationship on us that we actively said we didn't want. The story about you forcing everyone together for dinner after only a month of dating would almost certainly make our "remember the time when step-parent did something tone-deaf and hurtful" anecdote file.

I think you and your partner should spend less time together and more time with your respective children right now. I have the same red flags as everyone else about your partner leaving their children to spend half their time with you in a far away city. Even if there's another adult looking after them at home, that almost certainly reads to them as abandonment. And you're letting your children get attached to the idea of a one big happy family that almost certainly is never going to happen. You're not going to have big family holidays with all the children and grandchildren from both families together; if you play this badly, it'll be just you and your partner on holidays, alone, with all of your children refusing to come visit you. Because your children are going to continue to suffer here too, and eventually, they'll get fed up and draw a boundary.

Frankly, I think you and your partner should split up. Because irrespective of what his children are doing, your partner doesn't care about your needs or your happiness. They actively tell you things they know will make you feel hurt and unhappy, like a malicious gossip. They refuse to engage when their own children are being mean to you (and I'm not advocating that partner punish the kids--I think that would make things worse--but the fact that your partner told you they won't do anything because they don't think this thing that has causing you so much angst is a problem? That's your partner telling you they don't care about your feelings and needs. They do not want the same relationship you want. And they refuse to meet with a third-party who could help you mediate these otherwise irreconcilable differences. Your partner doesn't respect you or your children, or else they wouldn't allow this situation to persist.

But if you do decide to try to stay together, you need to accept that you will have zero contact with your partner's children, ever (because that might be the case, and it's definitely the case now) and then figure out what life and relationship you can build once you accept that that's an unchanging fact outside of your control.
posted by decathecting at 12:31 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thanks for the input – lots for me to think about. To answer a few questions – the children are 17/18 years old. They have jobs, are good at school, and are interesting people. They spend every weekend with their father, which they complain about but have not told him they want to stop (he is, in my opinion, a terrible person with no parenting skills who is uninterested in his children as individuals and was very abusive to my partner physically, financially, and mentally). My partner and I have very different families – their children do not want to do family activities such as board games or make dinner together; the two children have verbal arguments/give each other the silent treatment at least every other day. My partner is frequently forbidden to leave their room, or told not to use the living room, or be loud. We are on the same class/economic level but my partner lives their life much more frugally than I do; I am naturally generous so it appears I have more money. The father also does do not do any family activities with the children. He does not even buy the children holiday or birthday gifts, which may have affected their idea of gifts, and shows no interest in their lives. I agree my partner needs to step up into a more active parenting role, but I do not feel it is my place to criticise their parenting. The family dinner a month after dating was at the request of my partner’s children, none of the children have interacted or seen each other since; my children are completely unaware of the comments that were made about them or me. We have no plans to marry or move in together until both children are settled as independent adults – I’m surprised at the number of people that think marriage/moving in after three years of dating as older adults is “fast”; it certainly isn’t in the queer community where we live and everyone jokes about how slow we are.

Although I would love to have a relationship with the children, if I can’t have that I would like to receive at least basic respect such as acknowledging my presence. My partner had a negative experiences with therapy and due to many therapists not “getting” non-binary lived experience they are not willing to basically be a test subject for yet another therapist. I think the family therapy also fucked up the children’s idea of who is in charge of the family. The abusive behaviour by their father they witnessed as young children may have also distorted their idea of healthy family dynamics. The children are queer, my partner has always been non-binary, there is no homophobia, internalised or otherwise from anyone except the father. My partner’s previous girlfriend had been very abusive after a honeymooon period (was working WITH the father against my partner during their relationship to gain financially, cheated multiple times, and convinced the children to file false complaints to the local child welfare office) and it just now occurred to me that the children might be concerned that I will also turn out to be abusive and are being protective of their parent. I will definately be exploring this with my own therapist.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:27 PM on March 19 [4 favorites]


Thanks for coming back and sharing all this additional information. Yes, I think this is a lot of the answer you are seeking:

My partner’s previous girlfriend had been very abusive after a honeymooon period (was working WITH the father against my partner during their relationship to gain financially, cheated multiple times, and convinced the children to file false complaints to the local child welfare office) and it just now occurred to me that the children might be concerned that I will also turn out to be abusive and are being protective of their parent.

Which is to say, what you are feeling as rejection is, for these kids, self-protection, not just protection of their parent, but protection of themselves and their family.

It seems like their parent has had two partners that these kids know, their abusive father and an abusive girlfriend. Given this context, it makes a lot of sense that they are having such incredibly strong reactions to this new relationship (and this explains their stance that they wouldn't be interested in engaging with anyone this parent dated!). By refusing to engage with you, they are drawing a boundary that doesn't allow them to be manipulated by you--not because of you, but because that's what's happened before. I am wondering if they perceive your very generous gift giving as a kind of grooming of them. If they are scared of being manipulated by an adult who seems to love them and their parent, then gift giving might seem like another way you are trying to lure them in.

Also, I am super confused that you originally told us this:
(In both cases the other biological parent is pretty much non-existant and has been out of their lives for ten years).
I thought "both cases" meant your kids' other parent and your partner's kids' other parent. But then you also said this:
They spend every weekend with their father

It sounds like that guy isn't a great father, but spending every weekend with someone is still quite a presence.

In the bigger picture, since you are obviously quite thoughtful and reflective about all this, I think there's a few really important things to explore here:
1. This family has been through a lot of emotional upheaval and trauma. Your partner was the victim of abuse by their father and by a girlfriend. Of course there's a lot here that these kids and your partner are dealing with.

2. Of course your families are different. I don't think it serves you to keep comparing your families, because, whether you intend it or not, you are definitely holding up your family as being better. (I had family dinners with my kids all the time, but now that they are 17 and 19, it is rare, and not what you would have expected given how incredibly boringly standard our family dinners used to be. I feel some parent-guilt about this, but I've heard it's not uncommon with older teens, and I try to focus on finding other ways of spending time with my kids.)

3. Given all that you've shared, I think it's definitely worth exploring your framing of all this as a rejection of you and your kids. It sounds like they've been through a lot, and you are personalizing their behavior as a rejection of you, a person they hardly know, rather than fear of further abuse of their parent or manipulation of them. So even aside from what's going on in this family and with these kids, you are telling yourself a story

4. I am concerned about this (although I note that all this is coming from your partner's perspective, and not anything you've witnessed, right?):
My partner is frequently forbidden to leave their room, or told not to use the living room, or be loud.
I don't know much about the dynamics of abuse, but is it possible that, though I'm sure they don't mean to, your partners' kids are pushing them around like their father and the ex-girlfriend did?

5. Finally, given your partner's history of being in abusive relationships, I would strongly encourage you to pull back on anything that is about you trying to change or push your partner or their kids. You are super focused on what you need to feel accepted. What if you shifted your thinking to this: "What do I need to do to make these kids feel safe with me?" Maybe what you need to do is ... stop asking them to do anything differently to or with you. I know they're on the cusp of adulthood, but these are kids who grew up in an abusive household and who still spend every weekend with the parent who abused their other parent. Perhaps they are seeing or experiencing more abuse.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:47 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


(Just realized I didn't finish point number 3. I think I was going to say, "So even aside from what's going on in this family and with these kids, you are telling yourself a story that they've rejected you. It's probably worth exploring in therapy where this story comes from.")
posted by bluedaisy at 2:55 PM on March 19


I don't know much about the dynamics of abuse, but is it possible that, though I'm sure they don't mean to, your partners' kids are pushing them around like their father and the ex-girlfriend did?

it is actually abusive to children to respond to their developmentally normal albeit obnoxious teen bossiness as if it comes from a position of power or even equality, and to respond to it with cowering submission. especially because if they are being treated as terrifying dictators at 17, I very much suspect that this treatment of them did not suddenly start at 17.

and I know very well that parents are human beings, and the aftereffects of serious trauma (such as responding to your own children as if they are your abusive exes) cannot be turned off like a switch, and also that it is not a victim's fault for having such reflexes.

the fact remains that if this actually is the dynamic between parent & children, what is happening is not 'teens pushing parent around just like abusers did, without meaning to' but 'parent treating aggravating teens like adult abusers and responding with highly inappropriate obedience rather than appropriate ignoring/assertion of authority'. also, I am sure, without meaning to. but damage is being done to them, not (or not only) by them.

to the questioner: even though it probably seems like there has been more than enough criticism of you & your partner, there is one more thing potentially going on that is very serious. when I was a teen I said all kinds of mean things about friends of my mother whom I hated. it was unkind to her to make her hear these things, which was not nice of me. nevertheless, I was speaking freely in the privacy of my own home, in the knowledge that the people I was talking about were not there to overhear and have their feelings hurt. for my mother to have repeated my comments verbatim to the people I was talking about would have been a betrayal of the most gruesome kind, and one I never contemplated. so, these awful things the kids say about you -- do they tell your partner to carry messages to you? do they know that this communication is even happening? bc if yes, then it's just more irresponsible parenting. but if no, it's even worse.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:55 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


To follow on, given the abuse history, is the partner hoping, by sharing these awful things, that you will come in and rescue them? Who knows? You have certainly tried, by setting up a world in which they are welcome and can participate as a parent and partner in a healthy way. But, that isn't the only thing which needs resolution here. And your partner is pulling you into their dysfunctional orbit. It's a real tricky situation.
posted by amanda at 7:37 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


so, these awful things the kids say about you -- do they tell your partner to carry messages to you? do they know that this communication is even happening? bc if yes, then it's just more irresponsible parenting. but if no, it's even worse.

QFT

OP, there is a lot on this thread that is very difficult to hear and digest, I'm sure. I hope you'll see what's being offered here as reason to seek therapy as a couple and individually, and use the therapy to discuss and resolve the issues raised; not as a reason to doubt yourself or your relationship, not as a reason to harshly judge yourself or your partner. Any of us who made our lives and intimate choices open to detailed critique would have a lot of similar things pointed out to us. This messiness is human. We need to clean it up for sure, but we also need to go easy on ourselves about having created or invited the mess.
posted by MiraK at 6:01 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


The new information you've provided gives context to some things, but my fundamental advice is still the same: you need to assume that nothing will change, that your partner's children will never want to see or speak to you and will never stop disliking you, and then decide if that's a relationship you want to be in. You say that you want "basic respect such as acknowledging my presence." You may never get that, in part because you don't control these two people--one of whom is actually an adult--and in part because your partner has stated that they do not care to do anything to solve this problem with you. So assume that never changes. Assume your partner's adult children say mean things about you behind your back forever, and never see or speak to you. Will you be able to be happy with your partner?

A lot of this has to do with what your partner will agree to do with and for you, and for their kids. So far, your partner is sending out the message that they are willing to do exactly nothing to change the status quo. And I maintain that they are making things worse by spending so much time away from home, especially if their kids are with their (abusive!) father during that time. A father they've complained about visiting. A father whom, with their history of abuse, they may not feel comfortable saying outright that they don't want to visit anymore unless someone (your partner) tells them that's an okay thing to want and that they will support the kids in ending those visits if the kids want that. But your partner isn't there. Your partner is with you.

And even when your partner is with you, your partner isn't providing you with the kind of support that romantic life partners, fiances, spouses, should be able to count on from each other. Your partner is cruel to you by repeating mean things other people say about you behind your back. Your partner outright dismisses your feelings, claiming that because they don't feel badly about the way the kids act, there's no problem, even when you express that it's a problem for you. Your partner is, of course, dealing with a long history of abuse themselves, and that can't be easy. But the fact that your partner isn't able to comfort you or provide you with help finding solutions to shared problems is an issue in your relationship, even if it's not their fault that the issue exists.

I also echo that you're very clearly communicating that you think your family is better than theirs: more generous, closer, more loving, better communicators, better at playing board games together. If your partner tells you the mean things their kids say, I'd bet money they also tell the kids about the insulting way you talk about their family. That's certainly going to contribute to this distance.

Finally, these kids are victims of severe, long-term abuse by adults they were supposed to be able to trust when they were too young to protect themselves. And it doesn't sound like they've gotten a lot of real, meaningful emotional support for that, from either your partner or professionals. Try to be as compassionate as you can about that, both because you'll need to be if they ever do decide they're ready to see you, and because I think it might help you stop seeing them as mean people who are being unjustifiably mean to you, and instead think of them as abused children trying to work through a lot of shit they never should have had to deal with in the first place. That might make it easier for you not to dislike them as much as you seem to when you talk about them here.
posted by decathecting at 1:20 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


I'm confused about so, so, much from the update. The kids have jobs, parent is frugal enough to only provide one computer for school, even when it causes problems? Are they frugal or hiding their true financial status from you?

And the other parent/father being out of the picture for ten years absolutely =\= a major presence in the girl's lives, given that they live with him almost half the time and he's horribly abusive and or neglectful.


forbidden to leave their room, or told not to use the living room, or be loud

Does not bode well for your hopes of

i would like to receive at least basic respect such as acknowledging my presence.

And, with the best of intentions, I have huge doubts that therapy is what taught the children unhealthy dynamics, vs spending their entire lives, young and teenage years, watching their father treat partner horribly. I... Understand to a degree how debilitating long term abuse can be, but you're hoping teenagers who think bossing around a parent like that suddenly acts human. That's such a red flag from everyone involved that I can't express it in words, even thinking about it for days.

Partner's children have been explicit about wanting nothing to do with you. According to partner, they have been hateful in expressing it, and that hate is part of a long pattern here.

In your original post, you talk as if partners children are tweens, not basically both 18. They have picked their stance, set their terms. Partner barely has their permission to exist in their home, so why do you think you should be afforded more privilege? This dynamic just blows my mind. I know I'm being too hard here, but, dang. The solution partner and children express is that you have nothing to do with partners children. I think that's what you're going to have to accept. Maybe it will change down the road, but I wouldn't expect it to. If I were you, I'd be fully prepared to be set aside any time partners children want private time. Holidays, casual visits, special days they feel like pulling partner from your happy life. They have that power and the abusive father influence.
posted by Jacen at 2:34 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


« Older Good at home routine to build strength and fitness...   |   Who do I see about hemorrhoids? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments