My kids are not technically my kids. They are Laure’s kids, from her previous marriage. When I entered their lives, they were three and seven years old. I’d like to say that we formed a really great bond, I tried to, but a step parent is almost always at a serious disadvantage in that regard.
I had several step dads growing up. I never had a bad relationship with them but never really had a father and son type relationship either. This is partly because growing up with a schizophrenic mother teaches you to stay on your toes, all the time, and to never trust anyone’s mood. This is something I still struggle with today. It also doesn’t help that I am a diagnosed schizoid, which is nothing like schizophrenia, just for the record. The first few paragraphs here sum it up quite nicely. In general, I have a difficult time forming emotional attachments, which explains a lot about me. I think it’s also contributed to my difficulty in bonding with the oldest.
But back to the boys.
The youngest and I are good, I think we have a great relationship. This is in part because he has no memory of his biological father, so I wasn’t forced to compete in that race. The oldest, on the other hand, that has been an uphill battle from day one, and it hasn’t gone well.
I won’t go into all the details, but Laure’s ex-husband was not a nice guy. He went away to prison for a particularly heinous, and violent crime. There were also physical and emotional abuses at home, toward Laure and the boys, as well as a complete disinterest, and outright neglect, toward the youngest boy. One would think that this would be enough to color the boys’ view of their father, but kids don’t really work that way. Memories are funny things, and more often than not, a child’s desire to remember their father in a particular way can over ride anything anyone tells them, and even their own memories.
The oldest has always had a very idealized and unrealistic view of his father. He blames the incident that ultimately sent his father to prison, on any number of other factors, and has always insisted that his dad is this great guy. This has been particularly difficult on Laure, who was forced to deal with the realities of an abusive husband, and a small town police department that all but ignored her pleas for help and sided with the father time and time again.
It was a nightmare for her. The oldest though, remembers things much, much differently.
The oldest has always seen his mother as the enemy, because that’s how his dad taught him to see her. He would make it into a game where it was he and the oldest on one team, and Laure and the youngest on the opposing team. That view has stuck with the oldest his entire life, and it has been the source of many problems at home.
There isn’t much you can do about that. I accepted pretty early on that I would never be able to live up to the standard that he saw in his dad, so I just tried to be a good dad to him and at least have a good relationship with him. Things seemed to go alright until we hit the teenage years, and then everything pretty well crumbled between me and the oldest.
I introduced them both to a lot of my hobbies, including pen and paper RPGs, which the youngest has really latched on to. Naturally I introduced them to all of my family traditions, and all the special places and things in my life. Most of the time, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing but in retrospect, I think all parents feel that way. For the youngest, many of the things that were special and important to me as a kid, are now important to him. We’ve bonded over a lot of the things that were and still are a big part of my life, and it makes me feel pretty great to have passed those things on to him.
He’s now in high school, and while we’ve hit all the usual teenage speed bumps, things are good. We have a pretty solid relationship. Sadly, things with the oldest have gone in an entirely different direction. He’s finishing up his first year of college, in a town several hours east of here. We don’t talk much, even when he comes home to visit, we tend to avoid each other in the name of maintaining familial harmony.
I take a little bit of comfort in that it isn’t just me. Laure has had a difficult time maintaining a relationship with him as well. She has a lot more patience than I do but I suppose being his mother makes all the difference in that regard. We both agree that he’s a troubled kid. He seems lost, like he’s struggling really hard to figure out his place in the world. He exhibits a lot of his father’s behaviors and views, which has solidified my belief that a child’s first few years are the most important. His father was paroled two years ago, and the oldest had never shown much interest in getting to know him. Laure even offered numerous times, against both our better judgement, to take him to visit his father in prison, but he never took her up on those offers.
We both suspect that he was worried that reality would not line up with his view of his dad, and he was afraid that meeting him would shatter that view. About a year ago, he did make contact with his dad, and has even been over to visit him a few times. Laure and I both agree that this has done even more damage to our relationship with him. Again, I won’t go into specifics, but his dad is very good at getting people to like him. He is very charismatic and knows how to manipulate people to get what he wants. The oldest is most definitely under that spell now.
We’ve been to family counseling, and no matter how bad things got financially, even during the out of work, foreclosure years, we always found ways to do things as a family. We always worked at that. While it did greatly reinforce the bond with the youngest, the oldest has always been a little bit on the outside of things, just on the edge of the circle. I think he always felt like getting close to me was a betrayal to his father. So the few times that he and I did start to get close, he always eventually made a U turn and I quickly became the enemy again. The same things went for his relationship with his mom.
He’s legally an adult now, out there trying to figure out the world with the rest of us. He’s not doing well at it, unfortunately. The only help that he’ll accept from me is in the form of money. Anything else, it seems, is strictly rejected and avoided simply because it came from me. There is nothing I can do about that. Laure insists that he’ll eventually come around, and learn to appreciate me when he’s older. I don’t know, I really doubt that.
Meanwhile, I’m glad that the youngest and I have a good relationship. He’s going through the usual, raging hormone, teenage shit that we all do, so things are up and down around the house but overall, we’re good. He plays RPGs with his friends at least once a week, usually more. He and I have a private Minecraft server that we spend a lot of time on together. We go to the comic book shop and out for lunch every Sunday, and we have a pretty good laugh together at least once a day. I think things are going to be fine between he and I.
Being the step dad is tough, for so many reasons. I like to think that I’ve met the challenge well, time will tell though I guess.