Creating boundaries is important for self care…indeed, often times, your survival. Figuring out what you can control and what you can’t, and then basing our decisions and actions on that is a critical component of creating boundaries. Let’s be honest, we’d like to be able to control a lot more of the stuff that happens and the people in our stepfamily home!! And here’s a tip for creating boundaries: not taking it personally. It is a healthy way to protect yourself in a lot of situations you may find yourself in as a step parent. And it helps you figure out where and how you want to expend your energy, as well as preserve your dignity and your heart. It means understanding what issues are yours to take on and deal with but more importantly, allowing your spouse the space and having faith in him to deal with his issues.
We as women tend to take a lot of stuff on, especially when it comes to taking care of the house and the kids. We believe it is our job. But we also feel we have value and importance when we are also taking care of our man. We are nurturers by nature and a lot of us are pleasers by nature too. We want our husbands to be happy. Heck, we often bend over backwards to make that happen. We take the team approach in marriage. And, we are pretty particular about protecting our spouses too, just like they protect us. Not taking it personal can be hard to do. He hurts, we hurt and we want to fix it!
Recently, I’ve heard about some distressing stories lately in regard to The Man in the Middle Syndrome and more particular Daddy Guilt. Daddy Guilt is common after a divorce where children are involved. These guilt trips can be particularly irksome when we believe our man is getting manipulated and treated poorly by his own kids. Sometimes you feel that behind the scenes the ex is the puppet master in this grande scheme of emotional blackmail. And it appears that it is the insecurities, jealousy and agenda of the birthmom who transplants doubt in the minds of their children.
The threats, the manipulative words and the accusations- especially if you have your own children together: “you love them more than you love me” “if you REALLY love me you will do/ buy..” really tiwst the heart. Several women shared that they had plans to take the children from their current marriage on a trip. When the older children from the first marriage found out that they weren’t coming then the first class trip to Guiltville was booked. Another dad was feeling guilty because he didn’t want family photos taken without the older children, but they were conveniently and consistently unavailable for the family photos. Another father was disparaged until he caved in and payed for expensive and optional dance recitals and trips to international competitions. The nasty insults and insinuations cut them to the core- they already doubt themselves and doubt if they are being fair to everyone. That fear of not being fair is typical for the middle man because they often feel they can’t win. It can be extremely painful for our men. It runs on the Parental Alienation Syndrome continuum. All a dad wants is for his kids to be happy, for them to know he’s there for them , that he loves them and that he has their back. Sometimes they panic when the right button has been left exposed and then pushed…and they do a 180 degree turn on how they said they would handle a situation- to what it actually turns out to be.
How do we deal when we see our man disrespected and being drug along Guilt Trip Road?
First of all, we CAN NOT take it personally because we want to jump in to protect them. Because of the guilt, they want to please and pacify. They don’t want to hurt their kids’ feelings. They go to great lengths not to hurt their kids because they are in overcompensation mode: they think that the divorce was painful enough and maybe they can “fix this” by not hurting them anymore. Side step it, take a time out, walk away, get some fresh air and a different perspective. This lesson is not yours. What we believe is an issue that he needs to deal with may not be a real problem for him at all.
So be supportive but let him be in the driver’s seat. Let him come to you to share his frustration and hurts, but don’t try to fix this because you can’t and shouldn’t! By trying to fix it for him, you undermine your faith in him that he can do this and you disempower him. If he can’t deal, let him know he can ask you for help. You can, of course, tell him how this makes you feel and how it impacts you, but be careful. Perhaps the deepest part of the angst is best shared with friends and other stepmom sisters. It’s his journey with his kids. And if you push too far it might backfire. He may not want or need your advocacy for him. Again don’t take it personal if he does not want your help. And your stepkids might not like it either (and then the spillover might be the ex).
Find out if he has other supports outside of you that he can talk to about this. Then, encourage him to reach out to them. It may be so frustrating for you that you can’t handle it so encourage him to talk to some one else who can give him another perspective.
Then let him know that there are long term effects of Daddy Guilt. If he doesn’t set limitations for his children he’s not doing them any favours in the grown up world. He has to teach them integrity and honesty and accountability…not about how to have a hissy fit and get your way. The two year old temper tantrums have to end. Also, rules, limitations and consequences for choices and actions are part of the development of healthy self- discipline and self regulation. Limitations and consequences teach children that they are safe, loved and respected. That teaches them responsibility and gives them self esteem and confidence to handle disappointments. And those are the things they need for successful adulting.