The Pivotal Parent, or the Mum or Dad who is your partner.

It can seem like a terrible choice……..

You find love in a partner and sometime he or she says they have children. You might have children too. I’ve heard it said that you can be delighted. You’re pleased they have children, it will be a ‘ready- made’ family, even if you’re not delighted you can still be quite confident everything will work out OK. You may have met them and like them, they may like you. All seems good. Or you may be ambivalent about his or her children. Perhaps you would rather they weren’t around but provided they don’t overly interfere, it will be OK.

Normally things are absolutely fine to begin with. However when the children first notice that you are a couple things can change dramatically. Why? Because they suddenly see you have influence over their parent. A friend can influence but it’s likely the parent will remain of independent thought. The moment a couple start thinking together there is more compromise. Suddenly a parent can be swayed into thinking, or going along with their partner’s views and changing theirs.

I have heard new potential step-parents say, “it changed in a flash”, one time his children were perfectly fine and chatty and the next time I saw them they cut me dead, acted as though I didn’t exist, his daughter even left the house and said good-bye to her Dad but not to me, and we were in the same room! – I couldn’t believe it”. What drives this? Fear. Fear that you, the child will lose the relationship they had with their parent the way it was. And another thing…. They’re right. A new partner can start suggesting improvements right away. These improvements are often to do with the child’s behaviour, or attitude. Parents can fall into habits of being with their children where they do too much for them, allow them to get away with things they shouldn’t, indulge them because they feel bad about the split from their other parent. Or maybe they have got stuck in a bit of a time warp since the break-up and the child isn’t acting age appropriately.

Even worse, the parent can mis-guidedly want you to take over some of the parenting jobs so everyone can feel more like a normal family again. So your partner might suggest you do stuff like cook some meals, collect the children in the car from places, (one Dad suggested his new partner drove to the child’s University town to collect her instead of him at the end of term, and collect up all her ‘stuff’.) The parent might want you to accept and “love his or her children, as if they were your own”. If the children are young you may be left in sole charge of them occasionally, or even be stuck not knowing how to deal with bad behaviour – should you punish?

If the daughter or son loses time alone with Dad or Mum, they will feel deprived of the relationship they had before. Quite often I hear it said that children think they were abandoned by their parent, as they took sides with their new partner, they lost their voice and any understanding, and any opportunity to put forward their point of view. If they have another parent to talk to, they may even be encouraged in this view.

Suddenly it can feel that there are two polar opposites, the children on one side and the partner on the other. The Pivotal parent stuck on a fulcrum, and not being able to please his or her partner or his or her children. There will be some times when compromise is impossible, like around particular dates, or not being able to be in two places at once, or only being able to spend money once. The choices are hard and the compromises are not to be had. Whilst as a fellow parent you can often do things ‘for the sake of the children’ that doesn’t work when trying to please a partner who feels the children are ruining everything.

Often the choices come down to pleasing the people that will complain the least. The pivotal parent can seem weak, and spineless…… then that can be the beginning of the end for his relationship.

33% of all marriages end in divorce, 60 -70% of second or subsequent marriages end in divorce for this reason.

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