DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: I have not had an easy life. Then, in 2017, I met my boyfriend, who was going through a divorce from his wife of 20 years, who was cheating on him. Nineteen months later my daughter and I moved in with him and his four children, ages 8-16, and I started running two completely different and demanding households. I continued to do everything I had been doing for my terminally ill dad, my brother with mental illness, my 80-year-old grandmother, and my drug-using uncle and his girlfriend. Now I was also caring for my boyfriend’s kids, along with my daughter. All of this work, and I was getting a check for a whopping $400 a month. But I felt okay about this because it covers just about exactly my nearly five-year-old daughter’s and my share of expenses.
On top of all this, I have been dealing with my boyfriend’s ex-wife, who has made my life even more stressful by making it clear she thinks I am a free-loader, and she has her kids thinking that way too.
This woman knows nothing bad about me other than that I’m not working 9-5, and that I come from a family riddled with troubles and despair, who I can’t turn my back on. She sees me as “the other woman,” even though I was not with my boyfriend until the divorce was nearly final.
After an encounter with her that ended with her telling me in public, in front of my brother and her youngest son, what a piece of garbage I am, I got home, and their boys screamed at me. I still can’t believe it. They said I had better watch my every move because she’ll be around, and that what I’ve got coming to me is on me.
Well, my dad died in December. And then the pandemic. I want to be happy. I love my boyfriend and his kids so much, even after all they’ve said to me. I know that’s not them. It’s HER.
My daughter loves them so much and they love her in return. I just wish their mother didn’t make it so hard. Nothing seems to work, and I don’t want to push them farther away. I want everyone to know they are loved. I sort of want to be loved too, or at the very least, not to feel hated, especially not for being something that I am not, lazy and a freeloader.
If this is how much work it takes to be a freeloader, I’m thinking I made a bad career move. What should I do? --- TRYING MY BEST
DEAR TRYING MY BEST: It’s because you care so deeply that what’s been happening is particularly hard on you. It’s always a sad thing when divorced parents use their kids as weapons, and that seems to be the case here.
You didn’t mention your boyfriend’s place in this acrimonious situation. If he isn’t supportive of you both with his kids and his ex, I’m not sure this is a battle you can win. Once perceptions are formed, it isn’t always possible to reverse them. In this case, your best tactic may be the one you’ve already been practicing — love the kids and offer them the same care and kindness you show your own daughter, and avoid speaking ill of their mother, no matter how tempting it is. Casually share some of your past challenges with at least the older children. Perhaps in time, they’ll mature enough to understand there are always more than two sides to every story, and that you are a loving person trying your best to do what you can for those about whom you care, which is one of the most important and often underrated jobs around.