My Fiance’s Kid is a Terror to Him, Do I Have to Take It,Too?
Genny writes: “My fiance, Matthew, lets his 11-year old push him around too much. He doesn’t listen to anything my Matthew says and never helps out at home–he won’t even make his bed. Matthew’s ex-wife is a horror who tells “Davey” what a lousy husband my fiancé was all the time; I also know that after Davey spends time with us, he tells his mother everything that went on between my fiancé and me, and they badmouth us both. Davey hasn’t tried to push me around (yet) but he is sullen and most tries to ignore me as if I don’t exist. I told Matthew that Davey’s behavior isn’t acceptable from a child his age toward any adult, but Matthew just shrugs and says” he’ll outgrow it.” I really believe that Matthew is letting Davey get away with too much, and he should put his foot down. It isn’t that much of an issue right now because I’m not living with Matthew, but after our wedding, just a couple of months from now, Davey will be living with “us” every other weekend and sometimes for vacations, for at least four more years until he graduates from high school. If my fiance lets his kid push him around, does that mean I have to take it too? I love Matthew, but I can’t tolerate Davey’s behavior. Can you two give me some advice?”
Tony’s Take: Although right now you can only suggest to Matthew what he do with Davey, after the wedding you must make it very clear to your fiance that it is your house as well as his, and that you can set house rules that he must enforce as well as you.
Davey’s mother has poisoned Davey against his father. Davey needs certain types of attention from his father but he won’t tell him what that attention needs to be, nor will he discuss it with his father. He has been convinced by his mother that Matthew should know what he is doing wrong, and his mother has convinced Davey that his father is taking his child away from activities which Davey enjoys.
It is fairly clear that Davey will not talk to you, since his mother has convinced him you are the devil incarnate (and of course you’re the reason why she and Matthew are not still together). Note that Davey will accuse you of things which are blatantly untrue. He will accuse you of doing things you didn’t’ do, and of saying things you didn’t say. But you have only two viable options in response. You can be a very nice person to Davey but be strict when he does something wrong , and tell him what he has done wrong, and be clear about what it was, or you can put a sound recording app on your phone and record any conversations you have with Davey when Matthew isn’t around. This will at least protect you if Davey’s mother tries to accuse you of anything regarding her child, to break joint custody to get more child support, which might be her ultimate plan.
As far as Matthew is concerned, you need to have a better relationship with his son. The quality of your relationship with Matthew is directly related to the quality of Matthew’s relationship to his son which will become very stressed when you get married.Matthew needs to talk to Davey and find out why Davey is sullen and withdrawn. Matthew feels guilty about Davey which means he will not provoke Davey into yelling at him or telling Matthew the truth, but he really needs to know what is in that child’s mind, in order to help him. That said, once he gets Davey to talk to him, your fiance cannot act surprised, shocked, or horrified by anything Davey has to say, nor can he be defensive or use it against his ex wife in retaliation. You need to make sure that Matthew knows this in advance, and that you will keep any confidences. His wife knows things about Davey which she is not sharing with Matthew, but I think she needs to know about them.
Alison’s Take: Oh Genny! You signed up to be a stepmother and that’s never an easy role. But if you are going to go through with your marriage to Matthew, you have to know you are getting a package deal. His ex wife and his child are part of the relationship and you cannot delete them from the equation.It is clear that Davey has been used as a weapon by a bitter ex-wife against her husband and his bride-to-be. This situation probably is what is making Davey act out so much, so I guess you really have to have some empathy for this poor kid. But that said, Davey’s dad isn’t doing that child any favors by letting him get away with bad behavior.
As Tony suggested, your fiance may feel guilty about the divorce, and therefore he is not willing to push his son when it comes to discipline. He understands that his child is having a rough time, and he (mistakenly) believes that by letting Davey “do what he feels” Davey might “like” him better. But children need guidelines and rules. Perhaps Matthew has forgotten that he is not Davey’s pal, he is Davey’s parent. It is his responsibility to offer some discipline, especially when Davey is under his roof.
You might not be able to get Matthew to put the brakes on Davey’s behavior while you are just a visitor, and you really can’t do anything to discipline Davey right now. But once you are married, both you and Matthew can and must make up a set of “house rules” that Davey must follow. If Davey doesn’t follow the rules, it will be Matthew who must enforce them. I also suggest that now and in the future, you give Davey time to bond with his Dad alone. Encourage them to do father/son activities while you go out on your own or with your own friends. They need time to talk things through and Davey might not feel comfortable doing that when you are around.
Speak to your fiance and tell him how you are feeling. It is time to clear the air and talk things out. Everyone need to communicate to get things on track and if things don’t improve, maybe some family counseling is in order. Even though you two aren’t married yet, it might not be a bad idea to have an impartial third party moderate some of the discussion. Parenting isn’t easy, and you’re all in for a challenge.