Life As A Part-Time Stepmother

Mood: Just Is

Life as a non-parenting stepmother is a lot harder than I imagined.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with J and Miss M. I am enjoying the role of occasional step-mum – being with Miss M is making me very clucky. And I do love her to bits. But fact remains that I am still only an occasional step-mum. And as a non-parent, I don’t really have any parenting rights.

I have a lot of opinions about Miss M and how the divorce is impacting on Miss M. Fortunately for Miss M, J and JX have been mature about the demise of their marriage, and both have Miss M’s best interests at heart. They do take their parental obligations very seriously and they try to present a united co-parenting front – I just wish they were stricter about the rules behind that united co-parenting front.

For the past month, Miss M has been staying overnight with J on Saturdays every weekend. This came off the back of Miss M asking JX if she could see Daddy more often. J of course agreed immediately, and as a result, I have been invited to spend time with them both every weekend (if nothing else but to give J a bit of a breather).

Miss M has mostly been well behaved. She has had the occasional tantrum while I’ve been there, but if J reasoned with her, she usually settled down after a short time. Drop-offs were slightly better too – she would cry for a little while, but not kicking and screaming as much, which was good for everyone. It was always exhausting for everyone involved if Miss M kicks and screams, from Miss M to J and JX, to me, with a flow on effect to JX’s parents and grandmother when she finally gets Miss M inside the house.

So, for a month, things looked like they were getting better. Until the weekend before last.

We had planned to go out to the city for lunch and other activities on the Sunday. By the time J and Miss M arrived at my door, J was already looking exhausted. Miss M had been playing up on the Saturday, and J was hoping she would be a good girl for the rest of the weekend. J and I were introducing Miss M to the culinary delight that is Yum Cha, and we had asked Miss M to try everything that was put in front of her. Miss M didn’t have to like everything nor eat every bite, but at least be good and try everything.

We met up with Sarah, Ralph, Emily, Penny, Anna and Ian at Marigold. Sunday Yum Chas with this group was always fun, and today was no exception. Considering Miss M had met Emily only, she was surprisingly terrific with everyone else at the table – friendly and smiley, and well behaved throughout most of lunch. Miss M ate a lot of food – she loved her noodles and discovered the joys of scallop dumplings (my favs too). Impressively, Miss M showed everyone near-perfect behaviour for nearly 90 minutes!

The afternoon was spent wandering around Darling Harbour (where Miss M played for a while) and Paddy’s Markets. Before long, it was time to head home, and J and I were both grateful for a near perfect day with Miss M. I was being dropped home because, until further notice, I have been asked to not accompany J at the drop-offs because JX’s dad thinks my presence is "inappropriate". (Hear this, old man – piss off, and mind your own business.)

As we got to my front door, Miss M started her whimpering. She wanted extra cuddles and kisses and wouldn’t let me go. After some time, I asked her to be good for Daddy for the rest of the day, to which she seemed to understand and agree.

I heard from J the following day that the drop-off was the worst one yet.

After they left me, J and Miss M went to Ikea and had some dinner, as instructed by JX who needed more time to do whatever it was that she needed to do. For the next couple of hours, J and Miss M had a lovely time, and the whole way back to her house, Miss M seemed to understand and agree to being a good girl at handover with minimal fuss.

But all that changed when they pulled up at the front door.

Miss M grabbed hold of the rollbar in J’s car and started kicking and screaming as soon as J turned off the car engine. After a small struggle, J wrestled Miss M out of the car and the carry-on got worse. Miss M was kicking and pinching and clawing and punching and crying, all the while screaming hurtful things like "I hate Mummy" and "I don’t want to live with Mummy". For the next 15 minutes, J and JX tried to calm Miss M down before JX took her inside the house, but to no avail. In the end, J had to drive away and left JX to deal with the screaming child.

Ten minutes down the road, J received a phone call from JX, saying Miss M was refusing to calm down and JX needed back up. So J spent the next 20 minutes trying to calm down the little one over the phone. Nothing. Miss M kept screaming and crying throughout the conversation. In the end, a time-out was called and eventually, Miss M calmed down.

When J told me this, I kind of jumped straight to solution mode. Although reluctant to tell him the straight blunt ugly truth – that I suspect Miss M deliberately threw tantrums to get her way, that Miss M should have been sent to a time-out straight away on that particular afternoon, that J and JX sometimes lacked a united approach when it came to disciplining their child, etc, I tentatively told him what I thought.

I felt that J and JX need to set a strict routine re: frequency of Miss M’s visits, and pick up times and drop-off times, as well as the routine on the afternoons leading up to the drop-off. Miss M needs a routine so she can predict every weekend what will happen, so that there will be less tears and fuss at the end of the day and everyone is happy. Chopping and changing the frequency of Miss M’s visits was not good for her. Giving in to Miss M’s demands to call Daddy at 6am to hurry him out bed and into his car so her visit could start sooner was quite possibly an unwise move. And random drop-off times are bad – very bad.

In my own way, as gently as I could, I told J that they all should commit to a pattern for Miss M’s visits. Decide on the pattern and stick to it. For example, sleepovers every fortnight, day visits on alternate weekends, pick up at 8am sharp, drop-off at 5pm sharp. In the hours leading up to drop-off, set a routine – eat lunch at noon, play for a while, and then take Miss M home. If JX wanted Miss M to be fed before drop-off, then fine – dinner at 5pm, drop-off at 6pm. No deviations. Make it happen every week, not this random system where J feeds Miss M once in a while before dropping her home. And no, JX, there will be no more of this "I need a bit of extra time so can you drop her off later" business – forgive me for being bitchy, but when she doesn’t work and has had all frigging week to get things done, asking for more time past 5pm on a Sunday afternoon is beyond ridiculous.

J and I have tried to work through this the best way we know how – by talking. But I often feel I have no right to interfere, and I don’t particularly want to come across as a Know-It-All – because what could be thrown back in my face is "You’re not a parent, and she’s not your child, so butt out."

Last weekend was a little bit better, but only a little bit. After the awful way things ended the previous weekend, it was decided that J would take Miss M every Sunday for the next 4 weeks. I was against this as I didn’t feel a month was long enough for the pattern to grow on Miss M – as was evidenced by the previous set of 4 weeks. But can I say that? Anyway, so J had Miss M for the day, and they went to the Crows Nest Fair, and then to Ikea, and then home. There were a couple of tantrums during the day, but they worked throug
h the tantrums and Miss M did not become the all-fighting all-screaming nightmare at drop-off time.

And a bit of gentle digging yielded a bit more information for J. Turns out JX spends more time doing stuff she needs to get done at home than originally indicated, and doesn’t play with Miss M as much as originally indicated. According to J, JX is always banging on about how much housework she does during the week, and because she is so busy completing the housework, Miss M is left to her own devices a lot of the time. Apparently, JX is busy all day every day doing housework. Again, forgive me for what I’m about to say, but how much housework is generated by 4 adults and 1 child living in a 3-bedroom house?

So of course, when Miss M is with J, all attention is focussed on Miss M. They play, they do things together. Everything is all about Miss M. And I’m guilty by association. When I’m with Miss M, my entire attention is focussed on Miss M. Which does explain, to a degree, why she wants to stay with J.

In light of this recent piece of information, J and Miss M have reverted to the pattern that J originally wanted – fortnightly sleepovers, and day visits on alternate weekends. Day visits will now take place on Saturdays, so J can take Miss M to Kindy Gym (which Miss M seems to enjoy and wants to continue). And JX is making a conscious effort to play with Miss M more – so far, so good.

And in the meantime, I will try my very best to not lose it when I hear they’ve deviated from the pattern again. No, I might not be a parent, and she might not be my child, but damn it, J is my partner, and I have a right. Because what happens in his life affects me too.

Fingers crossed things will settle down soon. Not only does J’s little girl need a pattern and a strict routine, his big girl needs that too!

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