Ex Etiquette: Getting Help from Your Partner

Q: Much to my dismay, my new husband does very little around the house, and when his kids visit, I'm the primary caregiver. He takes off with his buddies, and I'm left at home watching his children. This is way too much work, and I'm getting more resentful by the minute. What do I do?

A: Your problem is a very common one, and it's not unique to the world of stepfamilies. Conventional two-parent families have the same issue. It just seems more magnified when the children you are parenting are not your biological offspring.

Our parenting roles are socially ingrained into our psyche. This means, more often than not, bonusparents (I prefer the prefix "bonus" to "step") just automatically fall into the typical parenting role when faced with becoming a child's caregiver. A bonusmom does the things a mom would do. A bonusdad does the things a dad would do.

At times, it may be easier for us to do everything '- especially when it includes trying to coordinate his kids with our kids. The problem is it eventually becomes too much work, and by the time we find ourselves overwhelmed, we've already spoiled everyone. Then when we try to cut back, the family wonders, What's wrong with her? Why is she being so mean? And that's when we spend the next hundred years trying to explain that we're not being mean: We're just tired.

I've been there. I, too, found myself the primary caregiver when my husband's kids were with us. Like so many, I was the primary caregiver when my husband's kids weren't with us, so why should things change just because there were a few more kids around? But adopting that attitude made it easy to fall into the same rut many new stepmothers fall into '- the role of the overachieving bonusmom. Soon, like so many, I became overwhelmed trying to do it all.

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