Dear Dr. Jann: I was looking forward to some help after I remarried. Much to my dismay, my new husband does very little around the house and when his kids visit, I’m the primary caregiver. He takes off with his buddies and I’m home watching the kids. This is WAY too much work and I’m getting more and more resentful by the minute. What do I do?
Dr. Jann says: Your problem is a very common one and it’s not just in the world of bonus-families, conventional two-parent families have the same issue. It just seems more magnified when the children you are parenting are not your biological offspring.
Our parenting roles are socially engrained into our psyche. This means when you remarry you may automatically fall into the typical parenting role — Bonus-mom does the “mom” things. Bonusdad does the “dad” things. Moms like everything done just so, and because of that, at times it feels like it’s easier for us to do everything when we are trying to coordinate our kids with his kids. Problem is, it’s just too much work and by the time we become overwhelmed, we have already spoiled everyone. Then, when you try to cut back, the family wonders, “What’s wrong with her? Why is she being such a ^%$#% ?” Then you spend the next hundred years trying to explain that you’re not a ^%$#%. You’re just tired.
Unfortunately, this is probably not a new problem—I bet your husband showed signs of this type of behavior even before you remarried. In the beginning, lots of new wives have told me they thought the “I’m gonna go hang with my buddies” behavior was kind of cute. They thought, “Look how happy he is. It’s all because of me and how great a wife I am. I understand him so much better than his ex…” That kind of comparison thinking is very dangerous.
Get ready for a “Been There, Done That” story from Dr. Jann. I, too, found myself the primary caregiver when my husband’s kids were with us. Reason being, I was the primary caregiver to the kids when my husband’s kids weren’t with us, so I’m sure my husband felt “Why should things change just because there are more kids around?” I felt like I had to go to work, keep the house, be the best mom and bonusmom ever, and be the wife my husband was expecting. Soon I also became overwhelmed and after months of frustration because he wasn’t lifting a finger to help with the kids I took a rather unorthodox approach–I apologized for robbing him of parenting his children and then asked him what was the first parenting responsibility he would like to resume. Being a real card, he said he would like to take his son dirt bike riding. I said, fine, but when he returned, let’s cook dinner together to demonstrate how well family members cooperate.
After we finished doing the dinner dishes (notice the “we”) I asked him what was the next parenting responsibility he would like to resume. He decided he would like to pick our daughter up from soccer practice the next day. And, slowly, because I let it, things got better.
So, sometimes we have to accept the responsibility for situations we create—and when we do, the solutions become our responsibility. too. Therefore, make sure you haven’t created this problem—and if you have, put the wheels in motion to correct it.