Anonymous in Montclair, California writes ... Hey Hans, I live with my partner and her 3 kids. On a good day, the relationship with the oldest is strained. But since the quarantine, I’m hitting my limits. These aren’t my kids and my partner's parenting style is very permissive. How do I cope when I can’t interject?
Thanks for writing in. The pandemic has definitely taxed all sorts of relationships. But you wrote, "these aren't my kids?" While that statement may be technically accurate, be aware that children can feel the emotional distance you emanate even if you never utter those words out loud. Hopefully, you meant that you're struggling with your authority over their rearing, and not that you'd treat or love them so differently, if they were your biological children. Let's focus on the former.
If your partner is not laying down the law with the kids, follow her lead. Your partner doesn't interject, so why should you? You're hitting your limits; that's a sign that you are flying solo in the control you are trying to exert. Now, if there are serious developing concerns with the oldest child's behavior, be clear with your partner about what you fear so that you can build a unified front on what to do. She may disagree with you, but you will never know unless you address it specifically.
This is less about them being your children, less about your partner's permissive style, and more about you learning the way these kids need to be loved. Your number #1 priority, outside of self-care, and a healthy relationship with your partner, is a loving and supportive relationship with her children. Any alternative invites long term relationship carnage that'll be difficult to heal.
If this relationship with your partner is going to last, accept the children for who they are today, not who you wish they were. It will take effort, patience, and growth on your part. It should change you if you let it.
One day these children may indeed be considered "your kids," but that day will come only when the relationship makes it safe for them to accept you. Until then, continue to recognize your limits - great job btw! and avoid burning yourself out by trying to force a style too out of step with their status quo.
It's not that your parenting style isn't valuable; it's just their emotional well-being and psychological safety matters more.
I hope that helps a little. Take the best of care. ~Hans
Hans is an ICF-certified executive coach at Inner Confidential, specializing in mental fitness and Gottman methodologies for healthy relationships, and a NASM CPT specializing in weight loss and behavior change at the SoFit Network.