Do your partner’s parenting skills leave much to be desired? Does he avoid conflict and just let things go? Or maybe he spoils the kids with gifts, attention and time?
After divorce, guilty dads tend to overcompensate with gifts, leniency on bad behaviors, failure to create structure, little or no boundaries, and over-giving to meet the kids’ every desire and need. Understandably, they don’t want to spend the condensed time they now have with their kids creating tension and discipline. But if biomom is also failing to create structure and being more lenient with bad behaviors, then the kids are not being actively parented. Alternatively, the dad may over-parent and self-sacrifice to make up for biomom’s lack of parenting.
Divorced dads often parent this way to avoid more problems, and ease the feeling of guilt for what they ‘caused’ for the child - the pain of divorce.
And biomom may even be playing this dynamic to her advantage, using the father’s guilt to manipulate and control him. She may further put the children in the victim role to play on the dad’s emotions and get things her way.
As a stepmom, you’re likely worried about what will become of the children if they are raised this way - as spoiled entitled brats. Fears may be kicking in and your intuition is telling you something’s not right.
You may be questioning your parental instincts, especially if you don’t have biological kids of your own - are you being self-righteous or exaggerating? Are your feelings valid?
Let me tell you that if it’s coming from a place of love for your partner and deep concern for your step-kids well-being, your intuition is likely spot-on.
You know your partner means well, they want to make up for the pain the kids may have suffered through the divorce and not inflict more pain. But this well-intentioned approach is likely just easing your partner’s own guilt - and that is NOT good for the kids in the long-run.
The guilty parenting dynamic is not what’s best for the children. When children are treated as victims, they develop a victim mentality. Encouraging a victim mentality impedes raising mentally strong kids who are resilient and able to face life’s challenges as adults.
Sometimes (more often than not as a parent), doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. You know, the thing that may be labelled as uncool, strict or mean.
But I’m preaching to the choir.
Stepmoms know and see this, but are helpless to change it alone.
If you say something and suggest he change, you are ostracized and labelled as the evil stepmom. If you step back and let it be, you are an accomplice to the lack of healthy parenting, and not leading life the way you want to. I’ve heard so many stepmoms refer to this Catch-22 situation as “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. We step in and our well-intentioned help backfires. We become the villain who imposes rules, curfews and limits. Our partner thinks we are against the children, and him.
You may not want to add more problems, nagging, and negativity to your partner’s plate - but you recognize that you too need to stand up for your own beliefs and set your own boundaries, in order to live life in an empowered and self-actualized way.
So how can you support your partner to see the situation for what it is and start doing better for the kids’ sake (and let’s face it - yours too)?
I’m not gonna lie, it’s NOT easy and will take time and test your patience on many occasions.
Here are some keys that I learned along my journey through guilty parenting:
To sum it all up, the best way to support your partner through guilty parenting is to inform yourself about what healthy parenting is and isn’t, accept your partner for who he is (an imperfect human trying his best), and focus on your own personal development work so that you can create healthy boundaries and a vision for the life you want.
When you are self-aware and informed, you can have intelligent conversations about parenting and life goals.
This is a process, and won’t happen overnight.
Be gentle with yourself. After all, you’re just an imperfect human trying her best. And your best is good enough!