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#572: My parents married a lady, but that doesn’t make her my mom, does it?

A grumpy cat "there are two things I don't like: Change and the way things are."Hey Captain:

This has been a problem for a while but strangely it only occurred to me to write you about it after your recent post on polyamorous parents inviting their girlfriend to their kid’s wedding.  I had a lot of feels over that post because I’ve been having a similar concern. Namely, I hate my parents’ new wife. But I feel like the ship on which to mention it has long since sailed.

For the majority of my life I was happy living with the idea that my parents were monogamous and happy about it.  But then a couple years ago they approached me with the idea that now that I was grown up they were going to start dating around. I was confused and upset (Are you getting a divorce? But wait, aren’t we Catholic?  Why now? Am I supposed to do something about it?) but they were able to explain things for me.  I can’t say I’m the most thrilled panda on the planet because on some level I think I just don’t “get” it. I’ve never had the desire to date more than one person -anything else seems stressful and difficult- but I support anything that makes them happy. So I took a few weeks to think about things and decided that their lives were their own and it was not my place to judge.

When they got a new girlfriend I even tried really hard to be nice to her – we did the whole family dinners thing. The girlfriend – “Carol” – was nice enough and I feel like I might have genuinely liked her had we met under different circumstances.  We had a lot of “weather talk” conversations and were genuinely polite/pleasant to each other, but that was it. She and I never did anything alone, and her being Mommy and Daddy’s Close Friend seemed to work out for all of us.

But then they got married. Not legally of course, but there was a service and she moved into my parents house. Marriage changed everything. It seems like I can’t see my real parents alone any time, and whenever I want to see them Carol is always around. What’s worse, it seems like they expect my relationship with Carol to upgrade like theirs did. Carol wants that too – recently she’s been pushing for more “girl time” and keeps trying to talk about more personal things as though we’re good pals. The more she pushes the more I realize I actually loathe her. For a while I denied it and tried extra hard to be friends because that’s what noble, progressive, open-minded people would be. (at least, in my mind) But I never wanted to be friends, I was mostly being nice because she was important to my parents. But because I started out being more friendly than I felt I feel like I’m now locked into this permanent state of being cool with Carol. My parents are upset that I’m still keeping her at arm’s length (since we’re all one big happy family now!) and I know that if it came to her or me they’d choose me. Still though, I don’t want to force them to choose but I don’t want to be all buddy-buddy with her either. They feel like I’m rejecting her and their lifestyle, and I guess in a way I am? I’m just not ready for their lifestyle to become mine.  How can I tell my parents that I’ll never love Carol as much as them, and that while I value their relationship with her the less of a relationship *I* have with her the better? And is that even a cool thing to want?

Signed,

Not Down for Family Christmas Carols

A very angry cat

The way to get Angry Cat to like you is to put food out and then leave Angry Cat alone.

Dear Not Down:

Readers, if you are “Carol” in this story, as in, you are the step-parent of an adult child, I have some anecdata for you. Almost every adult stepchild I have ever encountered, even the ones who like their parents’ spouse just fine most of the time, even the ones who love their step-parent, had the same complaint, especially when the relationship was new:

“When I go to see my mom/dad, my stepmom/dad is always, always, always around whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”

The kid feels like they can never hang out with just their dad or just their mom, and if they ask, they are opening a big can of worms and hurting stepparent’s feelings and causing a fight. And often the parent doesn’t want to rock that boat either, they want to demonstrate to the stepparent that everything really IS working, that they ARE a real family. In some cases the parent has sort of abdicated the whole “expressing or talking about emotions” or “planning outings” thing and the stepparent is trying way too hard to compensate and cheerlead and cruise direct everyone through the visit and gaaaaaah it’s just so awkward.

If you are the stepparent, you should be:

• Included in family holiday celebrations & invitations.
• Invited to everything that takes place in the house where you live.
• Treated with kindness and consideration.
• Allowed to set some boundaries and expectations for what happens in your shared home.

But if your stepkid is like “Dad, let’s go pick up some milk” or “Dad, can I take you to lunch tomorrow?” or “Mom, let’s go see that new movie, okay” and the invitation does not expressly, enthusiastically include you, by name (uttered in front of you in the same room does not count)?

Do.

Not.

Go.

To.

That.

Thing.

Stepparents are amazing, unsung heroes of the parenting world and it’s gotta be just so nervewracking to never know if you are doing it right. There are so many ways to get it wrong that aren’t your fault and have nothing to do with you and everything to do with other people’s baggage that you don’t control. Love! I send you love!

But I swear, sometimes your stepkid and your spouse just need to fucking muddle through their issues or eat pancakes or grunt through a shitty episode of network television without you. Not because you did anything wrong, but because the parent-child relationship is its own thing and the stepchild-stepparent relationship is its own thing. No one should make you feel uncomfortable or kick you out of your own home, but sometimes you gotta know when to schedule brunch with your friends or a 3-hour massage and pedicure and that time is maybe when your adult stepkids visit. If the relationship is already tense, abdicating for a bit won’t make it worse, and if the relationship is overall good your stepkids will silently, secretly thank you for a little bit of solo time with their parent. Consider this a public service announcement.

A cat hiding under an orange sofa

U R HERE

Little kids are a lot like cats, in that if they want nothing to do with you you can’t really make them interact (they will punish you for dragging them out from under the sofa, and sometimes your punishment will involve pee) and, if they want to pay attention to you, it’s very hard to stop them.

Adults have learned to modulate their responses, but that doesn’t mean that our emotions don’t sometimes hide out under the futon of You Are Not My Mom And You Can’t Make Me Like You.

I don’t think telling your parents that you hate Carol is the answer. In addition to being unkind and spiteful, the ship HAS sailed and calling it back to port won’t help anything.

But you are the cat right now. So your reactions (“I hate Carol!”) are outsized while you are feeling very territorial and cornered. Try not to make any big decisions until your claws retract. This can all get better with some boundary setting and some time, so don’t do or say anything irrevocable like “But I hate her!” until you’ve tried some baby steps. Your parents and Carol’s “crimes”, when you look at them, are trying too hard to facilitate a relationship with someone they love and being a bit oblivious at your polite evasions when you don’t want Girl Time or to be a confidante. These are not mean people who are trying to hurt you, they are just a bit unrealistic about their great love for each other and their great love for you combining into its own love story. Take a step back and try to find that part of you that tried very hard to be welcoming. That was a good instinct on your part, now let’s try to make it a sustainable one.

Because I don’t think your parents should be pressuring you to lurrrrrrrrrve Carol either. You’re an adult, you are a separate person from them, and as long as you are being nice, polite, etc. to Carol you don’t have to hang out with her one-on-one or be besties. Relationship structures can be transitive (the spouse of my parent is my step-parent) but feelings aren’t (everyone I love doesn’t necessarily love each other). They can’t be forced, and the more you try the more you invoke the cat with its fat tail and its claws out. “Nice kitty, good kitty!” the visitor says as s/he pets the hostile, seething cat and feeds it treats. “I peed in your suitcase,” says the cat. “And while you sleep, I will barf these treats into your shoe.”

Do you live close to your parents, or is it the case where you are coming in every so often for a visit from far away? Because that might determine whether this is a big talk or a series of small boundary-setting/invitation things. What you and your family need to find is a new normal, where Carol is part of the family and you can go back to thinking “hey, she’s pretty neat!”, but without all the pressure on you to feel deeply.

One possible script is for Carol herself, the next time she invites you to have one-on-one time.

An angry cat with a bunny costume

“Let’s have some Girl Time” they said. “It will be fun” they said.

“Carol, I don’t want to go shopping with you, or have ‘girl time’, and I know my many refusals have hurt your feelings, so let’s talk.

If there were a manual on how to do this stepmom thing, you would be doing everything pretty right. For example, you are very kind to make such an effort to plan things for us to do together, and I do know that you sincerely want us to be close. 

I’m glad you and my parents make each other so happy, and you haven’t done anything wrong. But when I travel all this way, it’s really important that I get some alone time with my parents in addition to the time we all spend as a family. I want some Just Mom Time or Just Dad Time way more than I want Girl Time. That’s certainly not all on you to work out. Someday, maybe we’ll have Girl Time, but I’d like to be the one to suggest it, please. In the meantime, please stop feeling like you have to work so hard at this.”

I also suggest that you look for two or three things you have in common with Carol, like, a favorite show or author or musician that you both like. This gives you a safe, enjoyable topic of conversation when things get tense and gives you a way to connect and build positive experiences to chase some of the bad ones out.

The script above can be adapted for your parents.”Mom, Dad, I know that Carol is working very hard to connect with me and make sure that I know I am welcome. It is very sweet of her. The thing is, I don’t want Carol Time. I want Family Time, when we’re all together (including Carol!), and then I want some time with Just You, Mom and Just You, Dad. Then maybe if there is time left over there will be room for Carol Time. But right now, when I’m so hungry to spend time with you guys, the push for Carol Time just rankles and feels forced.”

If you live close and you see your parents frequently, maybe the big talks are still a ways off. I think your parents will balk at “Mom, Dad, why don’t you and me and NOT CAROL go hang out?” or checking “Will Carol be there?/Is Carol coming?” when they invite you to do something (She will be there and they will see through this question). But they might be up for solo time with you, as in “Dad, you and me, let’s grab a beer!” or “Mom, you and me, I got us 2 tickets to your favorite singer.” If you could get into a pattern of regular solo outings with your parents it will make the Parents + Carol times more chill because the communication and connection with your parents will be stronger.

Even on a rarer, longer visit, can you carve out a tradition of one outing with each of your parents? I know, B.C. (Before Carol) you didn’t have to Friend-Date your parents, but this might be a positive, proactive way to get time with them that isn’t at Carol’s expense or about your tensions around her. You might have to be very blunt about this on occasion. “Mom, when I invite just you to a concert, I mean just you – not that you should immediately secure tickets for Dad and Carol.Geek Social Fallacies are pretty ingrained.

Of course, if you live close and see your parents frequently, that means the invitations from Carol are more frequent. You could keep saying “No thank you!” without giving a reason and hope that she takes the hint, or you could put everyone out of their misery. “Carol, thanks for the invitation. I keep saying no, even though you are very kind to ask, because I don’t want Girl-Time. I want family time (that definitely includes you!), some time with just my dad, some time with just my mom. Maybe someday Girl-Time will happen, but if that’s the case I’d like to be the one to invite you. Until then, please don’t work so hard at this! Let’s all just relax and enjoy the time when we do see each other.”

A cat hiding in a tiny box.

Feelings can’t find me in here, right?

Keep whatever you say focused on the invitation and as close as possible to the present – don’t wander into general FEELINGSTALK. You want to avoid spillover where anyone says “You’re just not supporting our relationship!” and you say “Actually, since you mention it…” CLAWS IN. If Carol gets it, and does back off, reward her with kindness. No sulking, no banging the tea mugs around in the sink, no teenage eye-rolling.

It sounds like you and your parents have flirted with these conversation before, and their questions have been along the lines of:
• “But why can’t you love Carol as we love her?”
• “Why can’t you tryyyyyyyyyyyyy?”
• “Why do you have to be so judgmental of our lifestyle?”

I don’t think there is an answer that will make everyone happy.  A possible response is “I’m happy that you are happy, but that doesn’t mean that Carol is my Mum now, and when I feel pressured to view her that way it has the opposite effect.

You clearly have some ick about the poly aspects of this situation. You don’t have to get it or like it for your parents (and many other people on the earth) to deserve to love who and how they choose, and it’s good to know that you realize those issues and prejudices are yours to process.

I also think you have the same complicated ick that most people have when their parents remarry, even when that is a really happy occasion, which is “You are probably ok but this is bringing up a lot of weird feelings. Let’s not force anything and see if we can all ride it out, ok?

Whatever your feelings are, it sounds like you’ve tried hard to treat Carol like a member of the family and do right by your parents and this new love of theirs, which is what counts at the end of the day. Your actions have been exactly what they should be; they just fall short of wanting to be as close to Carol as she wants or they want. That can’t be forced, though. Lots of people have perfectly nice fine relatives who are nonetheless not close, and that’s okay. So your script in the face of these questions is “I’m willing to give this all the time in the world, but I’m not willing to fake it or force it, and I’d like everyone to stop pressuring me to feel a certain way.”

Things can get better with time, but not if guilt and pressure are the main tools for improving things. No to Girl Time. Yes to some one-on-one time with your parents. Yes to family time with everyone. A structure like that, where everyone backs off a bit, can help the fat tail shrink to normal.

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97 comments
  1. Brassica said:

    This is an awesome illustrated extended metaphor. Kitties having uncomfortable feelings! Thank you.
    (The advice is great, too, but I can specifically identify with the unhappy kitties who need _time_ to choose to come out from under the sofa…)

  2. Brandelle said:

    I’m prolly not the most objective person because I very much identify as poly. For me it’s as ingrained as my gender or sexuality, so when I read this…

    “I can’t say I’m the most thrilled panda on the planet because on some level I think I just don’t “get” it. I’ve never had the desire to date more than one person -anything else seems stressful and difficult”

    I turn it around as what if a parent came out homosexual, would the same types of things be said? Would it be as complicated?

    I’m not saying her feelings are invalid, I’m just saying maybe a different perspective would help to not feel as though it’s something you have to ‘get’.

    Often any time poly is a ‘factor’ I like to remove it and address the issue like you would a mononormative one. Captain you did I great job of that, I really appreciate it.

    Family relationship dynamics in flux can be stressful. I hope the best for the LW and that balance can be restored with much love, patience, and compassion from everyone involved. :)

    • purple0 said:

      It’s important to remember when making this comparison that even very accepting, progressive children of gay parents who come out later in their lives often do go through a lot of pain over it and can’t always jump right to being their parent’s staunch allies. There usually are alotof questions. And of course the new-stepparent dynamic exists and is spiky and painful regardless of gender, and, we see here, possibly regardless of number.

      • Brandelle said:

        I’m not saying there still isn’t turmoil. But many people in this day and age wouldn’t feel the need to ‘get’ homosexuality, they do have the sympathy of, that’s just *how* someone is. With polyamory or non-monogamy typically there is not the same perspective. That’s the correlation I was trying to draw. :)

        • Mary said:

          Many people wouldn’t, but an awful lot of parents or children of gay people do. My mum was a nice liberal Labour-voting lady, but the words, “but I’ve never been attracted to a woman!” still crossed her lips when I came out. The “you wouldn’t say X about [other marginalised group] comparison never really works out well because it nearly always underestimates how many people would in fact say exactly that thing, even if you wouldn’t.

        • Esti said:

          I think definitely some of the not “getting it” is just about people not being as familiar and comfortable with the idea of poly relationships as most people now are with gay relationships. Maybe the apt comparison is between someone raised very conservative and Christian who has a parent or child come out as gay; I think in that situation, saying “I love you and if this is what you want then I support you in it, but I’m going to need some time to fully understand it” is seen as a pretty understandable response.

          But I think some of it is that poly relationships just *are* harder to understand if you don’t have a lot of exposure to them. Being gay changes who relationships are with, but there are a lot of monogamous gay couples out there who have relationships very similar to monogamous straight couples. Poly relationships, on the other hand, mean that there’s going to be a very different dynamic — you’re going to have three people as equal partners, or you’re going to have a primary relationship but one person has a secondary partner, etc. I think for a lot of people that’s a bigger adjustment (both practically and in understanding things).

          • Myrin said:

            I could be completely off-base here, but I feel that what LW meant when she says she doesn’t “get it” was simply that she herself is monogamous and thus doesn’t “get” how people who are poly feel. I’m using my own experience as an asexual here, because while I theoretically and on an intellectual level understand that other people experience sexual attraction, I don’t exactly, well, get what it’s really like, what it feels like to be sexually attracted to someone or how it happens. Of course I don’t know LW’s feelings at all and could be totally wrong, but I don’t think we necessarily have to conclude from her words that she’s uncomfortable with or biased towards poly people.

    • boutet said:

      I’m wondering if it’s a bit different because it’s emotional rather than physical? It’s not “I’m not attracted to that person so why are you?” it’s, “wow that sounds difficult and I’ not sure if I could handle the emotional challenge of that lifestyle.” She says that the poly life sounds “stressful and difficult” to her. So she wants to be happy for her parents but the whole situation says “STRESS!” to her. She has to re-examine her understanding of relationships, of monogamy/faithfulness, of the religious aspects of relationships she was raised to believe (Catholic, she says).
      So I think it’s not “I’m not into ladies so I don’t get it,” but “that sounds like an emotional mess and I’m having trouble imagining it being a good thing.”

      • Thats the impression I got too.
        Because (for myself), I cant imagine the messy stress of running multiple relationships being a good thing either. But I know other people manage it.

    • dov ber said:

      I’m poly myself also, but seriously, I would have some real rough feelings if, tomorrow, my parents opened up their relationship and ended up bringing another person into it in a long-term way. I’ve got no issues with truples in the abstract, but the idea of my parents getting involved with a new person as a couple is no easier to handle than either one of them getting involved with a new person individually – which is to say, not very easy at all.

    • This comment rubs me a little bit the wrong way in context. As someone who is orientationally poly, I think it’s totally valid to want people to examine their responses to non-monogamy. However, it seems to me like the LW is doing a fine damn job of recognizing that their feelings about poly are THEIR feelings about poly and not their parents’ (or any other poly people’s) problem. What’s more, the LW does seem to be trying to work on those feelings! There is a huge difference, to me, between “Please consider why you are uncomfortable about this thing” and “You shouldn’t be uncomfortable about this thing, so stop” and Brandelle’s comment reads a little like the latter to me.

  3. This post, and the recent one on a similar topic, both have me wondering about good strategies for raising kids when parents are poly.

    It seems in both cases, the parents thought polyamory would be too hard for a child to process, so polyamory was hidden until the child was deemed old enough to ‘cope’. I wonder if that isn’t a fallacy. Kids cope with the world that’s given to them, that’s how they determine normal. I wonder if, in both cases, things would have been so much easier if the parents had allowed their kids to experience an environment where having another adult around was normative.

    As in: a close family friend who is sometimes “in loco parentis”. The sort of people I was raised to call ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ even though we weren’t related by blood or marriage (which is, in fact, quite normal). The difference would be the tacit understanding that this particular aunt or uncle shares the bed, or has a lot of one-on-one time with the parents.

    The hiding of polyamory, like the hiding of many variations on relationships/sexuality/gender, seems only to complicate things.

    Anyhoo, Captain I really like your responses. I do think the parents are trying to over-compensate for a sense of ?shame? about their polyamory.

    LW, best of luck.

    • MKPhx said:

      Some people hide their polyamory from their young children because they don’t want the kids just blurting it out at school or something, and then tell the kids when they’re old enough to have a filter between brain and mouth. In the year of our lord two thousand and fourteen, poly families can still attract uncomfortable attention from CPS or even lose their kids solely based on their relationship model.

      • espritdecorps said:

        Yes for young children discretion about the details of your romantic life is best.

        But both the children in the posts sploogenoodle are referencing are adults. And while they don’t want to hear about their parents went flogger shopping, it is reasonable for them to expect a more mature exchange of information.

        Something along the lines of
        “Your father and I are dating other people as a couple. ”
        Some time later
        “Your mom and I are seeing a really nice woman and we like her a lot”
        After that
        “We’d like you to meet Carol”
        Then
        “We’ve been serious with Carol for a while, and we’ve all stated talking about living together, maybe even getting married.”
        Then
        “We’re getting married to Carol!”

        Both children had their parents be casual and vague about the relationship until their parents sprung “Here’s your new step-family! If you aren’t totally ecstatic about them, you don’t love us/are prejudiced/are a bad daughter.

        Even in a monogamous heteronormative relationship, someone you’ve become acquainted with over a year or two is not at the same emotional level as the people who raised you.
        It’s not fair to expect that. You can demand respect for yourself and your new partner, but you can’t make someone loving you conditional on them loving someone else.

        • MKPhx said:

          The comment I was replying to seems to be referring to young children as well. I was poly myself, for 15 years. I’m all educated up, thanks.

          • Yes, you’re right – I was thinking about young children. I’m not particularly educated about polyamory, and hadn’t considered the issues of wider social discrimination. Thanks.

    • emily_of_athens said:

      Actually, in this letter, they didn’t hide it from the LW – they had clearly been thinking about it before they told her, but they seem to have told her at about the beginning of the time that they started dating people.

      As others have commented on, many parents hide their polyamory from their kids because it is necessary to do so for their own safety – CPS investigations, an ex who would use it to take custody from them, or simply living in a conservative community where they would be shunned or treated poorly if they were out.

      I’m poly and currently pregnant, and I will be out to my kid from the moment they are born – but that’s because I live in a city where poly is very common and accepted, and I’m already out to everyone, and I already have two partners who are both part of my family. It’s true that I think it is ideal to be out to your kid if you can, but I’m not going to judge anyone for doing otherwise.

    • Ann O.M. said:

      There aren’t massive statistically relevant studies on raising kids in poly families yet, but Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has been doing a lot of work around polyamory and she collected a bunch of info on it. She found kids don’t really care much if grownup A comes around because they sleep with Mum or because they play golf with Dad, they care about how A relates to them, whether they’re fun, whether they took them out for ice cream, et c.

      I don’t know that anybody in Sheff’s studies is keeping their poly status from their kids longer than the brain/mouth filter age mentioned above, but, while she acknowledges sample bias, Sheff finds the kids from her 15 year study of poly families are articulate, healthy and doing better than the average kid. Some of this may reasonably be atrributed to ‘it takes a village’.

      Of course, that’s all different from grownup kids finding out! But yes, it seems to be emerging that it’s best practice to tell your kid while they’re a kid and your normal is their normal. Of course, this is all about polyamory, where the other partners are going to be friends, even family members, rather than just hook-ups or play partners, which might be harder or weirder to explain to kids.

      • A said:

        Not a poly situation, but I can very much vouch for the whole ‘kids not caring’ thing. When I was about 5 my Dad took a lodger, V, with whom he eventually developed a romantic relationship. Recently (this is about 25 years later), he was trying to reference a point in time and used ‘when V and I became official’ to mark it. I said I had no idea when that was, which shocked him, because apparently what/when/how to tell me and my sister had been a Thing for him/them for *months* before. I honestly have no recollection of this conversation *at all*. I loved V, V was colourful and warm, V played with me and picked me up from school and made brownies sometimes, and even at 7 the fact that V was now going to be moving from their room into my Dad’s room to sleep didn’t register with me as important at all.

    • MamaCheshire said:

      Meh. Speaking *as* a parent, and one who at a few points after becoming a parent made a really good try at the open relationship thing, there is stuff that goes wrong.

      Aside from kids-blurting-inconvenient-truths and the spectre of CPS (which can be a worry) there is also that it seems to raise the stakes a lot. Two experiences my family had really brought that, er, home:

      1) For a while, Spouse had a long-distance sweetie. She and I were interested in and very attached to each other as well (as in, she was the very first person other than Spouse that I told when I found out I was pregnant with SecondKid, and I 100% did consider her family, at the very least) but I have a pretty firm boundary about not considering myself to be “dating” people when we haven’t spent a significant amount of in-person-time together. Still, there were theoretical long-term plans of her spending a LOT of time with us once she was closer to the same location and maybe all of us moving in together eventually. And then after several months of this (sometime after the birth of SecondKid) she disappeared off the face of the Internet and stopped calling, stopped writing, and Spouse and I don’t know if she’s alive or not. And it was completely fucking heart-shattering and made even worse because we couldn’t TELL most people about why everything hurt right then. And, y’know, she was the “other woman” and she and I weren’t officially A Thing so that made it even harder to explain. And after that went down five years ago neither Spouse nor I have really had the heart to try again, especially because at this point the kids would notice.

      2) This wasn’t “polyamory” as such, but it was a shared-household thing, and we haven’t been too keen to combine lives and livelihoods with anyone (except Spouse’s sweetie, if that had managed to transition into a reasonably local relationship and we were comfortable with household-combining) since: Back before we moved because of my job, we had a friend I’ll call Liz in the city we used to live in. Liz was really awesome with baby FirstKid (FirstKid’s first three person-words were Mama, Dada, and Lizzy) and one of those friends who always seems eager to help. And then things with her boyfriend went bad and she needed a new place to live, and we came up with a deal that she’d be a live-in part-time nanny in exchange for room, board, and a small monthly wage. So she moved in with us, and for a few months it was awesome. Then it was awkward, because Liz had poor interpersonal boundaries and a crush on me. Then it got worse, because she got in a fight with Spouse while he was driving a car and she later accused him of threatening a physically impossible homicidal act – pushing her out of a highway-speed moving car while still driving it, SERIOUSLY? (And I ended up posting to my Livejournal about it and finding out Spouse was not the first person Liz accused of this.) She pretty much had a psychotic break soon after that. We had to drive her to the local psych hospital and have her taken inpatient, and then very nearly had to do a formal eviction proceeding to remove her from our house afterwards because she was being all kinds of unsafe. (Dealing with her threatening suicide in the social services office was fun, too.) And FirstKid, who was two when this went down, was crying and crying because there was “no more Lizzie” and didn’t understand why Lizzie didn’t love her anymore and etc.

      This is the kind of thing that can make a parent decide “hey, maybe I’ll not do this right now but I could reconsider when Kids Are Out Of The House.”

    • Beth said:

      MKPhx makes a really good point, and a flip side of that is that I do know a fair number of poly families with kids who just tell their kids age appropriate things about their other partners. All of these kids are happy enough with the situation and are well adjusted. One guy I know actually had to explain monogamy to his kid because in his world, that was the less common relationship configuration.

    • eightysixed said:

      When I was a young child (in the 80s), my aunt lived with a female partner. In that time it did mean that when she divorced her husband she was badgered into giving up custody of her children. However, how I experienced my “Aunt Mary” (which included periods of time when my little and brother stayed at their house) had very little to do with understanding the difference between homosexual and heterosexual relationships. At the time I was around 6/7 if anything the notion that there was a way as an adult where you could “not live with boys because they were gross” just seemed awesome (a thought that ultimately had nothing to do with my sexuality). The point at which I learned about homosexual vs heterosexual sex had absolutely nothing to do with how I experienced my aunts, their relationship with one another or their relationship with me.

      I think that where the homosexual/poly lines can be drawn is the notion that these relationships are entirely about sex. Therefore it’s concluded that there’s no way to introduce kids to the concept as it’s all about sex and thus never appropriate. One can hope that similarly to homosexuality, there will be a progress where the lines of “this is my life and involves more than strictly the sex I have” will move and expand.

  4. Vicki said:

    One thing I would add to the Captain’s answer (which, like her comments, would be equally valid if the questions were about a monogamous parent who had remarried after a divorce) is that if Carol was the LW’s stepmother, “girl time” and looking for mutual confidences still wouldn’t be the right way to go here. She’s the parents’ new partner, not the LW’s stepsister. I think it would be easier for LW to accept that if Carole didn’t try to act as though they were automagically going to be good friends for reasons that have nothing to do with loving the same people.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thank you for the word “automagically.” It is most cromulent here.

    • minuteye said:

      That idea that you should get along with somebody just because you love the same person/people is very odd to me. My sister and I have a lot in common; my sister and her partner have a lot in common. But the things we each have in common with her are not the same things, so there aren’t a lot of shared interests there. Those darned Geek social fallacies…

      • I bet the One Big Happy Poly Family Fallacies are compounding the Geek Social Fallacies in this case. There’s a lot of “love is limitless, we can all love each other! together!” rhetoric in poly circles/literature and, well, that doesn’t always work in poly, either, and it certainly doesn’t always work with extended family.

        • Jenna said:

          Heck yes. I can see that complicating things. I know there’s a lot of people asking, “I don’t like my metamour, so, do I really have to hang out with them?”
          The answer is usually no, but, if your paths cross, stay courteous and try not to make things rougher than they are. Keep communication open, and polite, but, it’s ok to have other plans.

    • Yes. It sounds as though the LW isn’t really getting a chance to figure out how she feels about Carol as a person because there’s so much pressure on her to form a close relationship as a validation of how OK it is that her parents are poly.

      I think a question it could be really useful for the LW to consider here is “If I’d met Carol in a completely unrelated circumstance, how would I feel about her?” Would you still hate Carol if that were the case, or would she be a potential good friend, or would she just be someone you don’t have any personal objection to but don’t feel you have enough in common with to spend time hanging out with? I think that’s a key question to get straight in your own head, so that you can then figure out what you ultimately want to be aiming for here through all the tangled complications of ‘but if you don’t like her we’re going to take it as a personal criticism of our lifestyle!’

  5. staranise said:

    I think it makes total sense that right now to the LW, Carol feels like a competitor way more than a stepmom. In that situation I totally understand how the LW would even feel a bit lost and displaced, maybe even replaced as The One Mom and Dad Love to Pieces. Which is a sucky feeling to deal with, especially if LW doesn’t get much space to express that feeling to someone who cares, and is facing a drastic reduction in the amount of solo time with parents.

    And hey, if LW’s looking for someone to get angry at about this state of affairs, it’s way safer to hate Carol than to risk creating an even greater rift with the parents.

    Because, I just… parents, good parents in a healthy family, are pretty special people because they’re touchstones and resources and sources of love. Very few people in your life, if any, will have known you so well for so long, or made so many sacrifices to help you grow. It is very hard for someone who’s just walked into your life to suddenly achieve emotional status equal to that. Especially from the LW’s perspective, Carol hasn’t actually done much for the LW; “making my parents happy” is balanced away by “making my parents less available”. So, IDK, it really would be magic for the LW to love Carol with a really deep intensity.

    It’s possible that with some of those upsetting factors removed, the LW’s hatred will ebb slightly and it’s almost certain that until then very little love will form. But it seems to me like a lot of that isn’t to do with your perspectives on poly, LW, as much as getting your relationships with your parents back on track.

  6. stayce said:

    And when your parents or friends or other loved ones get a new partner, sometimes they can be really annoying in wanting to do everything together. It might be helpful to think that everyone will probably relax with time, as your parents settle into a more lived-in arrangement and you demonstrate that you will still accept them even if you’re not thrilled about the paths they have taken.

    The Captain’s scripts are great! I personally tend to try a slightly more softball approach at first that allows people to save face, with the blunt “knock it off” conversations implemented as needed. Would it be helpful to frame it to your parents as not so much a question of disapproval as just needing to let things evolve naturally, at whatever pace that takes? You know, ‘I’d like to get to know Carol naturally as we do things together as a family, but it just feels forced and uncomfortable to go on these girl dates. And I miss being able to spend time with just my parents doing the special things we used to do together.” Also: maybe it’s time to remind your parents that while they’ve had a long time (20-odd years?) to think all this over and get comfortable, you’ve only had a couple years. You’re not on the same timeline, and in any case you don’t have to be a perfect cheerleader for their choices in order to love them and accept them.

  7. Zooey said:

    I think the Captain’s advice is spot on. These issues do totally come up with monogamous couples too. I’m lucky in that I really like my dad’s girlfriend and am happy to socialise with them as a couple, but I would find it pretty difficult to take if she started asking for special ‘girl time’ with me. I don’t love her or see her as a stepmother, and I doubt that would change if she married my dad (though I can imagine we might develop a closer relationship over time). Happily we both accept that we are individually important to and loved by my dad and we don’t have to mean the same to each other. I think that same ‘cordial but not close’ relationship is appropriate with a new poly partner even though I can understand how your parents might wish that you were closer with Carol.

    I do occasionally ask for a ‘daddy date’ when I feel like I need to spend some time with my dad alone. This cuts both ways, to be honest – often when my dad sees me, it’s with my partner, and I think he appreciates the chance for some genuine family time. Ditto with my mum, but I find mother-daughter time arises more naturally (for example, we’ll go for a spa day) whereas I have to consciously seek out time alone with my dad.

    Also, you are totally entitled to your feelings about your parents’ relationship changing! I still feel a lot of sadness over my parents’ divorce even though I can see that it was absolutely the right choice for them and they are happy. In the first couple of years after they split up, I felt a lot of (self-imposed) pressure to be ‘mature’ about it and to accept their choices as adults, which in my head involved not being able to express any bad feelings about it. I was in my early 20s at the time and I think that reaction was partly wrapped up in my desire to identify myself as an adult. With the passage of time I’m more able to accept that understanding and accepting my parents choices doesn’t mean that I can’t or don’t feel sad or wish things had played out differently.

    • Anonaconda said:

      That’s a really good point about the need for no-partners time going both ways. Maybe the LW could bring that up as a way to create clarity for her parents.

  8. Ali M said:

    I am hardcore poly, and I get this general confusion. My mom is a swinger, and I had to deal with her TMI stories about her sex life, and also her swinging friends just coming around on the few times I was visiting her, finding out they were just stopping by for this or that conveniently while I was there. Her friends were pleasant, I managed not to think about them having sex, but her confused statements about “you’ll lose your man if you dont have sex in the same room” vs her “oh no we are just friends who have sex and there couldn’t be more ever even though its been happening for 10 years and we are all retiring to the same small town and building homes next to each other … well that just hurt my head and made me not want to be around, it was all the same to me.

    Its good to advocate for yourself and say “Hey, I want to come see YOU (you and dad, you and mom, mom and carol, whatever) and spend time together alone”. If my requests are agreed to and not respected, I stop coming over, because somebody forcing stuff on me is not OK. We just need to learn to grow up and speak to our parents as adults and not children.

  9. Anisoptera said:

    LW I can understand how having Carol push an unwanted relationship on you would be upsetting and squicky. I have a mother who has rather fixed and rigid beliefs about faaaamillly and what that means and what it gives her permission to do (ignore all boundaries and be instantly close) and she has a bad habit of deciding people close to me are defacto family and thus appropriate targets for really familiar behaviour. It was sort of understandable with long term cohabiting boyfriends, but once she even extended it to a housemate I had who wasn’t even my friend – he was the guy who paid me money for my room and left crumbs in my kitchen. He was so squicked out by her behaviour on her first visit that he decided to go visit his own family the next time she came to stay for a few days.

    Someone trying to force a relationship on you is always really freaky. Like, whether or not you like Carol isn’t necessarily a referendum on whether or not you can accept your parents’ non standard relationship style. It’s a referendum on how you feel about Carol. In some ways when people do this sort of false closeness stuff they’re telling you they have a box (daughter) all planned out for you to fit in and that they’re not actually seeing or thinking about the real relationship you currently have (a distant one) or might develop by just getting to know each other. And maybe they don’t care about how *you* feel about climbing into that box. Which is creepy!

    To be charitable, Carol is probably super keen to make this all work and be a part of this new family she has joined, so this might not be a permanent personality trait so much as temporary overkill, and if so she’ll calm down with time.

    But LW, it’s OK to set boundaries around how much you want to see her and how close you are. In fact if you do have someone for whom this is the standard modus operandi setting boundaries early and often is the only way to go.

    It does sound like you’ve reached “bitch eating crackers” stage though, where everything she does makes you angry no matter what it is. Probably a nice long break in having contact would help, if you can arrange it. Be too busy to see them for a while to give yourself time to cool down about it.

    • Karyn said:

      When I read that LW ‘loathes’ Carol, I totally went to ‘bitch eating crackers’. LW didn’t mention anything horrendous that Carol’s done–mostly it seems like trying too hard and not recognizing the Back Off signals. Which isn’t great, but neither is it torturing puppies-level of bad.

      Hopefully once boundaries are set and maintained, LW will be able to relax over time, and maybe her feelings toward Carol will reset to neutral.

  10. KM said:

    The cat pictures and captions (catptions?) are really wonderful.

    • I love the change one SO VERY MUCH.

  11. LW, I completely agree with the Captain about using those scripts. It wasn’t a step-parent/step-child situation, but I was in Carol’s position before where the other person was much friendlier than they really felt like. As in, they were the one to initiate contact, confided in me and said they’d be delighted to get to know me better. I genuinely found them cool, the sort of person I’d have liked to be friends with if we’d met in other circumstances. So I responded to their overtures with more enthusiasm than they were comfortable with (obviously, since the friendliness was forced in the first place; it seems to have come from a place of “I want to be a big person about this whole thing.”)

    I was quite bewildered when they suddenly stopped being chatty and friendly, and when I asked if everything was OK or if there was something that needed adjusting, I was met with either “no, everything’s fine, we should do this more often” or silence. So I went on as before until the day I got “LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE” thrown at my face. I did. But I felt really betrayed and hurt, because I didn’t initiate things, I’d done my due diligence, and it was cruel to treat me like that. I understand that they felt like they’d been goaded beyond endurance, because they were the cat in the scenario-the initially super friendly cat! And I definitely made mistakes as well, since I was much poorer at curbing my enthusiasm and handling my feelings appropriately than I am now. But it would have spared everyone involved a lot of wasted time and unnecessary pain, and we might have been able to maintain at least civil relations, if clear boundaries had been drawn earlier.

    LW, I’m not saying you misled Carol or your parents about this-these are complicated feelings and dynamics and it takes a while to sort them out. But they may genuinely have no idea what’s being done wrong, or how to fix things even if they can feel the tension, so it’s doing everyone a kindness if that information is out in the open.

  12. Bunny said:

    LW, I feel like maybe your feelings of being trapped and obligated to like you parents’ wife is being complicated by your guilt surrounding your issues with the nature of their relationship. It might help to try to separate and parse out the stuff that bothers you because you don’t get the relationship, from the stuff that bothers you because you don’t like feeling obligated to have a closer relationship with a step-parent than the one you want.

    If your parents had separated, and then one of them had met Carol independently, you would probably still dislike her. You would probably still not want to have a close “new/second mum” relationship with her.

    My fiancé’s mum remarried when he was a kid, and he still never developed any interest in having a close relationship with that man or treating him as a second father. His father didn’t remarry until he was an adult, but he also still does not like her and – although he is always polite and courteous to her and supportive of her relationship with his dad – does not want to have his own relationship with her. In contrast, my mum remarried when I was a teenager and I embraced the man as my own father, calling him dad, because I really liked him and because that felt right for our relationship. Everyone has their own preferences for how they manage their own relationships with the people their parents date and marry, and it’s okay for you to not want to be close with Carol.

    But of course, right now that issue is complicated by the poly aspect of things. It sounds like you’re worried about your resistance to a relationship with Carol being seen as resistance to the life your parents are choosing. I think the scripts the Captain has given you are perfect, because they very neatly state “I love and support you, I am happy that you are happy, but I do not want the same familial relationship with Carol that I have with you, and that is not a judgement on you or Carol, it is just my preference.”

  13. 30ish said:

    As a “child of divorce”, I strongly feel that developing a close relationship with parents’ new partners should be considered entirely optional. My parents each got new partners when I was a teen, and a the time I pretty openly rejected the idea of treating them like stepparents (I guess as a teen you’re excused for being a bit blunter about this stuff), and the partners have always been respectful of my boundaries. I like them, I respect them, but I think I’ve never spent any 1-on-1 time with them (or discussed personal issues with them), while I’ve always had that with each of my parents.
    I think LW’s parents so far haven’t shown enough respect for the possibility that LW might not want to be very close to Carol. It’s possible they haven’t done so because they’re so excited about the new marriage and very much in a “getting everyone together” mood. I wonder if it would help if LW openly said to her parents that while she respects the relationship between her parents and Carol, and will get along with Carol (maybe even likes her), she simply has no intentions of developing a closer relationship with her. Maybe this is a situation where going through the parents instead of talking to Carol directly could be fine. It’s actually very possible that Carol feels encouraged by the parents to develop a friendship with LW (the parents sound very involved in pushing that), and maybe she even believes that somehow this was cleared with LW beforehand. In that case it would not be so bad if the parents corrected that impression on behalf of LW.

    • Linden said:

      “As a ‘child of divorce’, I strongly feel that developing a close relationship with parents’ new partners should be considered entirely optional.”

      Amen to that. My mother and father both remarried to people I didn’t like, and who I would never have chosen to spend time with voluntarily. Fortunately my father divorced again, and when he remarried, chose someone who got to know me over time and who I am pleased now to call family. Things never did work out with my stepfather, however.

    • J. Preposterice said:

      Right? My mother pointed out to me, when I was wondering about my husband’s then-new stepfather and how to relationship, that literally ALL the stepfather owed to my husband was to treat my MIL well, and ALL my husband owed to his stepfather was basic respectful treatment. (His mom & stepdad married shortly after he & I married.)

      As it turns out, everyone is fonder of each other than those minimum levels, but sometimes when things were confusing or rocky, it helped to remember that Minimum Standards Were Being Met.

    • Flowery Hedgehog said:

      “As a “child of divorce”, I strongly feel that developing a close relationship with parents’ new partners should be considered entirely optional.”

      SO MUCH THIS. I had a parent who divorced from my then-stepparent and then re-remarried when I was in middle school. Big enough adjustment, but then on top of it my parent “asked” me (the kind of asking where it really doesn’t feel like saying “Actually, I’d rather not” is an option) to call my new stepparent by Parental Nickname. Now that I’m an adult and becoming increasingly comfortable setting boundaries with parents, I’ve stopped going along with this. I figure, who my parents are is a fact, and who my stepparent is is a fact, but terms like Mom and Dad are about feelings–and saying the words when it didn’t feel like the truth was making things pretty crummy for me.

      It was pretty rocky at first, due to a combination of me being inadept at boundary setting and my parent continuing to be pushy about the whole thing. We had at least one conversation that went something like

      Parent: Whyyyyyyyyyyy do you hate Stepparent so much?
      Me: I don’t hate them, I’m just not very close to them.
      Parent: But why do you haaaaaaaaaaate them?
      Me: I really don’t hate them. See, I have polite and cordial interactions with them and everything! Definitely not with the hating!
      Parent: But why do you hate them can’t you see it hurts me that you hate my spouse?
      Me: Parent, I really don’t hate Stepparent and also I don’t want to discuss with you why I’m not as close to them as you’d like me to be.
      Parent: But WHY do you hate them?
      Me: OKAY IF YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW HERE IS AN ITEMIZED LIST OF WHY I HATE YOUR EVIL DARTHY SPOUSE WITH THE FIRE OF TEN THOUSAND BURNING HATEFUL SUNS. IT IS MOSTLY BECAUSE YOUR SPOUSE KEEPS EVIL BEES FOR PETS AND I AM TIRED OF BEING STUNG BY THEM.*
      Parent: *breaks down in tears* It’s not faaaair to me that you two put me in the middle of your relationship! You are hurting me! Can’t we just be a normal family!?!?!?

      I’ve since learned not to take that bait, but it wasn’t pretty in the beginning.

      *My parent claims that Stepparent has given up Evil Beekeeping, and I haven’t seen any Evil Bees around the house recently, but it’s a little late for that to do me any good and Stepparent has shat on any opportunity to reconcile. (Evil Bees aren’t so bad! You should be grateful for Evil Bees! Don’t you like honey?) Assuming the Evil Bees truly never come back, I’m happy for Parent’s sake, but I’ll never be able to speak to Stepparent without hearing echoes of *buzz buzz*.

      • Linden said:

        OMG, Flowery Hedgehog! Did we have the same mother? I also got the “not fair that I’m in the middle” speech, along with “you need to be more forgiving because stepfather never had any children of his own and doesn’t understand how to relate to them,” and “stepfather’s father was mean to him, that’s why he’s mean to you and can’t you understand,” and “stepfather has adult attention-deficit disorder, that’s why he needs to stir people up all the time with his meanness.” To which I could only say, “I didn’t bring Evil Beekeeper home to stay, you did.”

        • Flowery Hedgehog said:

          We should start a club!

        • staranise said:

          I’d like to start a club of people with crappy fathers and adult ADHD who AREN’T raging jackasses. WE EXIST NO REALLY, so people can stop saying “these life circumstances explain why shitty behaviour is inevitable!”

          • Flowery Hedgehog said:

            Oh yes. And like, Stepparent was abused…which is a really good reason why Parent should support them in getting therapy and/or whatever they need in order to process that. Not an excuse for Stepparent taking out their issues on me. >:|

          • Linden said:

            I used to say that stepfather’s problem wasn’t that he had ADD, it was his being an ASS.

  14. monologue said:

    Another thing to perhaps add to the part addressed to stepparents of adult children. Maybe don’t expect to be treated as step parents at all. Some of the activities you end up doing may look a whole lot like parenting, but the adult kids that just got dropped into your life may have a way easier time of it if you never expect them to think about it that way.

    The person that I guess is technically my step parent (though they aren’t married), I just call her by her name and refer to her as “my dad’s gf”. It’s been 10 years now, and we have a great relationship and I think of her the same way I would as a SIL or something, so not saying she isn’t or shouldn’t be included in the family. But the idea of thinking of her as a step parent is still messed up to me. I have a mom for that.

    Basically as the captain already said, I think giving the adult kids space to get used to you is key. (While still having your own needs looked after ofc)

  15. Nicole said:

    I think this script — ““I’m willing to give this all the time in the world, but I’m not willing to fake it or force it, and I’d like everyone to stop pressuring me to feel a certain way.”” — is generally excellent advice for dealing with anyone in your not-so-immediate, but not-so-extended family: stepparents/kids/siblings, in-laws, etc. Again, not completely relevant, but my sister’s new fiance is definitely in the camp of “trying too hard,” which makes things difficult — he’s a really sweet guy, but the “LET’S ALL BE FRIENDS AND HANG OUT AND LIKE ME” is making it hard to want to do those things.

    These columns and responses always seem to be a good reminder to be adults and use our words and simply, calmly, and respectfully ask for what we want/need in our various relationships. LW, I hope you’re able to carve out something that works for/ with your parents and a path toward a relationship with Carol. Remember that Carol (no kids?) might not have the best understanding of how to navigate this with you, either. It’s definitely more complicated than a straight stepparent-kid relationship, not the least of which is that you’re both adults. The Captain’s points about remembering these are all people who love/care for you and want to include you is a good one; for the most part, this is a fixable, workable problem so long as your parents and Carol can hear you out and come to find a new rhythm in your relationship(s). Good luck!

  16. ona555 said:

    Along with the Captain’s message for step parents, I’d like to issue a PSA for parents of origin:

    No matter what age your child/ren are, their relationship with your new love will not and cannot follow the same trajectory as your relationship with your new love. Just because you are rapt, does not mean they are rapt. Just because you cannot think of anyone else you’d rather stare lovingly at for hours does not mean that your child/ren do, will, or can feel the same way about the new person who’s been introduced into their lives. Your kid/s did not choose this person, you did, they did not fall in love with this person, you did, and they get to feel about them whatever way they feel, completely separate from and not dictated by your feelings about that person. It’s not up to you. Some really huge dynamics in your child/ren’s life are changing, often with no input from them at all, and people get to feel about that however they feel even if those people are your child/ren.

    Things you can insist upon include politeness and basic decency. Things you cannot and ought not insist upon include your kid/s loving this new person as much as you do and for all the same reasons, your kids calling this new person mom/dad, your kids wanting as much time with new person as you do, your kids’ feelings about new person having the same growth pattern as your feelings. In fact, trying to insist upon these things can have the opposite effect to what you’re going for– it can drive a (sometimes permanent) wedge of resentment rather than achieving a sense of blissful camaraderie.

    You’ve got to let your kid/s develop their own relationship with step parent on their own time. You’ve got to let them work it out in a way which makes sense to them. Forced harmony is fake harmony. That might be easier on you, but it’s not easier on the child/ren.

    I pretty much cannot have an adult relationship with the person who’s been my stepparent for 41 years because my mom *still* tries to dictate the conditions under which I am allowed to have feelings about him, she still tries to control the narrative, she still tries to be the decision maker for what stepparent can and cannot be called. It’s maddening. Forty-one years, fifteen of those living in the same house, and I still don’t know if I like or even know this man well enough to have a relationship with him that is my own, that is separate from him being my mom’s husband. I can be decent. I can be polite. I can be interested in his wellbeing. What I can’t do is even get my mom to agree on what I want to call him (his name, not “dad,” I have a dad already). I know the script very well, and the script says I am supposed to know this person well enough by now to have developed a similar sort of intimacy with him that my mom and my sister already share, that I am supposed to want to call him dad because (my mom says) he wants me to call him dad. But nothing between us has changed since I was 2, and nothing will change until my mom takes her spoon out of the batter. If anything, like with batter, too much stirring has made things flat and sour.

    • VG said:

      I totally agree with this, and add that it can take a *lot* longer than people realize, or are willing to accept, for that relationship to develop. My mother and stepdad got married when I was 16, and it was probably 10 years before I finished traversing the path from outright hatred of him to mild resentment to neutrality, and another five years from neutrality to warmth. I finally knew I’d gotten there when I was talking to an old friend about Mom and Stepdad, and she said “Wow, I have never ever heard you call him your stepdad before. He’s been ‘my mom’s husband’ for as long as I’ve known you.” I was in my early 30s at that point, so he’d been part of my life, not to mention the father of my younger sister, for more than 15 years before I really felt like we were part of the same family. And yet parents are out there right now going “Why don’t you love Carol? It’s been *six months* for goodness’ sake!”

      • ona555 said:

        A whole hell of a lot longer than many loved ones are willing to accept, yes, OMG.

        In my case, the situation is not helped by my mom being all “your dad picked this out for you” when she sends me a b-day card or something. My feelings on that are, if my stepdad wants me to know he picked me out a card, he has my number and is a big boy who can tell me his own self. This has always been my stance re: stepdad, that if he ever wanted to get to know me I am standing right here and he can talk to me without an intercessor. I seriously cannot recall an occasion he engaged me in conversation about something other than the weather of his own accord that wasn’t mocking or yelling. Oh wait, once in high school he talked to me about music. Yet I am supposed to feel as similarly close to him as my mom is even though my mom sees something and gets something from her relationship with him that I don’t. And if I don’t call him dad– if I refer to him as my stepdad or by name– then I am disrespecting him. (but it is not disrespecting me to force upon me the performance of an emotional intimacy that doesn’t exist)

        • Flowery Hedgehog said:

          This is eerily similar to the way my parent has tried to force emotional intimacy between me and my stepparent. My stepparent did make some attempts to relate to me when they were first married, but later those efforts petered out and we had very few positive interactions. And I’m supposed to treat this person the same as if they had been there, and caring for me, for my entire life? I’m not that good an actor.

          • ona555 said:

            Reading your and Linden’s comments above and nodding so hard. My stepdad also has my mom to make excuses for him and hand wave away all the reasons I might have for not wanting to be the one who is entirely responsible for developing and maintaining a relationship with the man she married. He doesn’t measure up or acts a tool in some fashion, it’s because childhood, it’s because mother, it’s because sister, it’s because not biological children I don’t try hard enough I am too bitter I hold grudges whatever. Mom! You cannot expect the person who is 23 years the younger to carry the primary burden of being the more mature and resilient one in an adult-child relationship! From the time they are a toddler, no less! But that’s the way it works in their world: girls/women and younger people always accountable for both their actions and every one else’s, boys/men and elder people, never accountable for a damned thing. (like, my nasty uncle? totally the fault of his mother and all three of his wives. not remotely responsible for his own actions, nor could he possibly have been badly influenced by his father. Also, his two daughters should totally learn to be more like their brother by ignoring the fact that their father is fucking nasty. never mind his son does not actually do that.) Good maude do not get me started on gendered relationship maintenance expectations.

      • 30ish said:

        I had the exact same experience with my mother’s husband. More than 15 years to go from “mild resentment” to “consider him a family member”.

    • Flowery Hedgehog said:

      This sounds SO MUCH like the dynamic between me, my parent, and my stepparent. Your PSA is spot-on in every way.

  17. seenonflickr said:

    Come for the great advice, stay for the awesome cat metaphor with hilarious pictures!

  18. purple0 said:

    Captain, I appreciate that it’s rude to kick someone out of their house, or make a stepparent feel marginalized. But it occurs to me that in most stepparent situations, there has been a divorce or a death, and at that point the adult child had an opportunity to mourn the fact that she would never have that very specific dynamic of both her parents together at home. Losing that core experience of homeness can be brutal, and while I’m certainly glad for the LW that her parents are well and together – it’s a lot to process that she might never get another time like that Because Carol. I would honestly be furious at any factor that led to that loss. I’m wondering if asking the parents if they would be willing to do a just-origin-family dinner night once a visit/every so often might be the lesser evil here, not because Carol is bad and you don’t like her but because losing the chance to have that dynamic is super, super hard.

    • Palliser said:

      purple0–I agree with you. I can easily see how it would be hard to have your family right in front of you, but in a way not have them at all because the unit morphed. My sister has a very long term partner (15+ years) and if I didn’t still get to spend time with my mom and sis without him, I would be super POed. Years ago, I remember being cranky that we could not have family occasions without her dude. Now I feel fine about that, but there is still something very precious about having the original family unit together and she shouldn’t always have to choose time with just one parent.

    • Mary said:

      Yeah, the Captain’s scripts really emphasised solo-time-with-Mom and solo-time-with-Dad but I think it’s also worth saying that just-me-mom-and-dad-time is also really important! If you only get to see all three together or everyone one-on-one, that’s also really sad and stressful and I would be really sad about that.

      • Jenna said:

        Aaand, this is where I think it would be easier if it weren’t a closed poly triad(it sounds like a poly fi triad to me) or if Carol had some friend or family to go spend a chunk of time with without the parents. Because part of inviting only one parent is not leaving Carol conspicuously alone and at loose ends.
        If she had a date, or a visit with a friend, or a business trip, then both parents could do whatever with their kid and not worry that she was lonely and left out.

        • …She’s also an adult and can probably handle both of her partners taking off to spend time with their adult child.

          • JenniferP said:

            And if she can’t, ding ding ding there is the problem.

          • Mary said:

            But definitely not the *LW’s* problem!

          • Jenna said:

            Yes, absolutely.
            But, it may not be Carol stressing over it either. It may be, but, it may be the parents not wanting to leave her alone.
            In any case, I’m not there, and don’t actually know what the situation is.

  19. alexmegami said:

    I am kind of grateful that my stepmother never tried this… Of course, she and I didn’t really ever click, even when I was younger, and she’s always been happy to let my dad hang out with me solo.

    I like the idea of approaching Carol and saying ‘listen, we’re trying to push this too far too fast, and it’s having the opposite effect. How about we chill on solo time for the next x visits/x months, and then we can find something [interesting but low-key/low-interaction, like a movie or play] to do together.”

    You might not ever feel ready to bare your soul to her. My stepmom’s been around since I was six, and no way. My stepdad since I was three, and even then if I want parental advice I usually go to my mom or dad (but if I’m being honest, unless it’s work stuff, they come far after friends or my siblings).

    So yeah. I’d her to dial back the forced depth, but still leave some space to do stuff together, but leave space to do some short (1-2 hours), friendly-but-not-soul-searching stuff in a few months when you feel less put-upon. A movie, a visit to the farmer’s market.

  20. Mris said:

    So from the perspective of an only child with parents who are monogamously married to each other in exactly the same way that they always have been, I will add this: I think it is reasonable for me to get time alone with each of my parents. Today I am going out to lunch with my mom, and we are going to an awesome museum exhibit. The lunch place has portions such that my dad would have to order two lunches, and he would be very polite about the exhibit we are going to see, but it is not his thing. Nor is this gendered; my dad and I go out for food that my mom hates and talk about stuff that bores her silly. And my grandma lives in town, and sometimes we do stuff in different combinations.

    The reason nobody is stressed about this is that none of it is *new* and none of it is *fraught*. Nobody fears that we are rejecting Grandma or Dad (or any of the other mammals who live in my house) if we come up with an outing that involves time together without them. LW, you have the basic right to want that. I really think that your parents should support you in doing that with them. It doesn’t have to be about them being poly or not being poly. If I never got to do stuff like today with my mom without Grandma, it would drive me bazoo. Maybe if you present it to them that way, it will help them not be defensive about the poly stuff and see it as a time allocation negotiation.

  21. Esti said:

    LW, I think the Captain’s advice is really helpful because it neatly separates the Carol part of this from the poly part of this via the stepparent comparison. The problem you’re describing, about Girl Time and the like, is an issue independent of how many people are in the relationship. I think using that in discussions with your parents may really help to show them that this isn’t about you rejecting their lifestyle, this is about how you interact with someone new being added to the family dynamic.

    But I also want to say that I understand and can sympathize with you being thrown for a bit of a loop by your parents’ decision to become poly. Although you (rightly) understand they deserve to have the type of relationship they want, it’s okay for you to need some time to adjust to that. I was an adult when my parents split up, and although I can’t say I thought they had a particularly good marriage, THAT threw me for a loop. Neither of them has really dated since then, but I imagine I would have a lot of feelings about it if they did. And if one of them remarried, even moreso. And all of those things still fit within the model of relationship that (a) I best understand and (b) my parents always acted like they wanted. Becoming poly has an added layer of changed dynamics and questioning of the past and learning a whole new community/lingo/etc.

    That definitely doesn’t mean your parents shouldn’t be poly or that you should question that decision with them (I think initial questions are fine, but you’re way past that stage). But I don’t think you’re a bad person if you have some added discomfort here that you wouldn’t have with a monogamous stepparent. And I think that if you do feel that way, acknowledging it and dealing with it (maybe via a therapist, or online poly communities, or books about the issue) may help, and may lessen the extent to which Carol gets your hackles up. If you’re not 100% comfortable with things, just telling yourself that you’re supposed to be and trying to ignore is probably not going to work, and may well make it harder for you to get along with Carol even on a stepparent basis.

    • Linden said:

      “If you’re not 100% comfortable with things, just telling yourself that you’re supposed to be and trying to ignore is probably not going to work, and may well make it harder for you to get along with Carol even on a stepparent basis.”

      Absolutely. And what’s not going to help with working through the situation is a big extra helping of, “I’m uncomfortable with sudden!poly, so that makes me a bigot and I shouldn’t be having these feelings.”

  22. Andraya said:

    Both of my parents remarried when I was an adult, and I must say, I never viewed either of the new people as “step-parents.” They were “my dad’s wife” and “my mom’s husband” and that’s all. As an adult, I have no need nor desire for new parental figures. Neither of them helped raise me or parent me as a child, so I consider the “step-parent” role just a non-starter.

    My dad’s wife, however, wanted to take on a parental role. She tried to list herself as my step-mother on facebook, my response to which was pretty much “oh HELL no.” I willingness to accept her as my dad’s wife really did not extend into a willingness to accept her as a parent. I don’t feel bad about that, either.

    Honestly, I think it’s ok to be distant-but-accepting. Close friendship absolutely cannot be forced. Also, if the LW and Carol are ever going to have a personable relationship, I suspect it will require them approaching each other as equals, rather than anyone involved presuming some sort of parent-child relationship.

    So I guess, at least in this case, I really don’t think that relationships are transitive. “My parent’s spouse” does not always equal “my step-parent” and it doesn’t need to.

    • Ella Ella Ay Ay Ay said:

      I was just about to leave pretty much this exact same comment. It’s a relatively minor detail, but the use of the term “step-parent” really tripped me up while reading this! My parents didn’t get divorced until I was an adult, living in another state, and so their new spouses are “my mom’s husband” and “my dad’s wife,” NOT stepdad or stepmom in any way, even though I like both of them and enjoy spending time with them, to the point that I actually don’t feel any need for alone time with either of my parents and am always happy to have their spouses present.

      My dad’s wife, like yours and like Carol, tried to initiate a more stepmom-style role, and my siblings and I all reacted with a big resounding, “Nope.” Even though we like her…in fact, we actually kind of get along better with her than we do with our dad! It’s just that no version of parenting enters into our relationship with her, not even step-parenting.

      So yeah, I dunno, that terminology might trip up the LW as well, although the advice seems spot on (from the POV of someone who hasn’t really dealt with a similar situation).

    • Ann said:

      I have a similar feelings about my grandfather’s wife. She’s my grandfather’s wife, or she goes by her first name. They married when I was 16 and my grandfather hadn’t been a huge part of my life prior to that. She’s also wife number 5, and, as you can imagine, much of the family was skeptical about getting to know her well, since wives 2-4 hadn’t been around for more than 3 years each. She’s a lovely woman and is still around 10 years later. She has gotten to know my dad and his siblings better since my grandfather has been ailing, but they have mostly have had cordial relationships. She never forced anything and, actually made a fantastic joke out of the fact that my dad didn’t know how to introduce her to someone else. She made it clear that “father’s wife” was a perfectly acceptable title to her, though “father’s fifth wife” had some nice alliteration.

      Now I also have a step-grand-dad. All us grand kids call him papa. He and my grandmother married shortly before I was born (I’m the oldest grandkid), and he has always been a loving, caring presence in my life. My grandmother has always made it clear that she’s happy to spend time with her kids/grandkids without him, which is nice, but us grandkids have never really felt that need. He’s our grandfather. It clearly pains my dad to see me have such a close relationship with his mother’s husband and basically no relationship with his father, but bio grandfather made his own bed with that one.

      Blended families are complicated. My dad sees his parents’ spouses as his parents’ spouses, but I see one of those people as my loving grandpa. My mom once cried when she explained to me how much papa meant to her–her own father died before I was born, and with my dad’s aloof father, she worried that my brother and I would never have a grandfather figure (and she loved both of her grandfather’s dearly). Papa has been the grandfather she always wanted for children. And my dad and his siblings have learned to accept that their children have fundamentally different relationships with their parents and parents’ spouses than they do.

      Relationships are not transitive. My papa is important to my dad because he is important to my grandmother. My papa is important to my mom (who married into this mess!) because he’s important to my brother and I. My grandfather’s wife? She’s appreciated as my grandfather’s caretaker. None of us will ever love her, but she’s perfectly nice, and being a nice person, she’s a-okay with not being loved by the family she married into so long as she is treated with kindness and respect.

      • Epiphyta said:

        Relationships are not transitive.

        Yeah, this. My parents divorced and remarried when I was an adult, and — especially in the case of my mother’s third husband, who’s the same age as my youngest sibling — they are quite definitely “Parent’s spouse”, not “Stepparent C.

        But! Like Ann, I had an adored step-grandfather: he was my Pap-pap, he gave me science fiction books, taught me to swim and gave me the only comment on my looks that was ever of any use to me (“You’re never going to be pretty, sweetie. But you’ll be kind and strong and honest, and I think you’ll find that wears a bit better, down the years”), and I miss him every day.

      • nellodee1010 said:

        This totally reminds me of my dad’s mom/stepmom. His mom was not the most loving grandma, she was pretty strict when I was a kid and I was mostly just scared of her. Now she’s god-knows-where, I haven’t seen or heard from her in 15 years. His dad’s wife, who married him when my dad was a teenager, was always very nice and I saw her on the holidays. I might have liked her half because she was married to my favorite grandpa (of 3; him, my mom’s dad and her stepdad). Anyway, when my grandpa died my dad told me that we wouldn’t be seeing step-gma anymore bc they never really got along, so I lost two grandparents that day. I guess I could try to find out her contact info somehow but I wouldn’t know where to start and anyway idk if she wants to talk to me.

        Actually I also lost an aunt and an uncle bc my dad won’t see his step siblings either. But I was never that close to them, although I did like them.

        It’s a little different bc my dad’s not talking to his mom either but I get that, she’s pulled a lot of shit. I don’t particularly miss her.

        I sometimes wonder what my dad would say if he knew I had every intention of doing the same w his wife and her family when he dies. Not to be mean, I just don’t consider them family or have anything in common with them besides my dad.

        Hey, it’s kind of a wonder anyone in my family stays in contact long enough to reproduce, huh?

  23. Phira said:

    Yeah, the issue here isn’t that your parents are poly. I mean, maybe that does bother you and it’s going to take getting used to over a long number of years. But like Captain points out, and as people have been getting at a lot in the comments–this is a stepparent issue.

    My parents split 10 years ago and my dad remarried 8 years ago while he and I were estranged. When we reconciled, he’d been married for about a year, and within a week of our tentative reconciliation, he began pushing for me to meet his wife. Every carefully thought out, “Dad, I’m not ready, no thank you,” reply I came up with was countered by the same kind of emotional demands and threats that had contributed to the estrangement in the first place: “She is my wife and your stepmother, and she is family now, so you must treat her like family or else.”

    I had never met this woman and the only opinion I had about her was, “I am skeptical of her judgment because she thought it was a good idea to marry my dad.” I neither liked nor disliked her based on the complete lack of information I had about her. My resistance to meeting her wasn’t because I was trying to punish my dad, or because I hated his wife, but because I was trying to rebuild a relationship with my dad. There would be plenty of time to get to know his wife, but in the meantime, look at our broken relationship, we need to fix it, and if a third person needs to be involved it should probably be a therapist?

    In your case, your relationship with your parents doesn’t need the same level of “fixing” as my relationship with my dad did. It’s mostly a maintenance thing–you just need a quick readjustment (aka new boundaries with Carol and your parents) and maintenance (regular time spent with just one or both parents, without Carol). You don’t need ZERO CAROL EVER. You just need adjustments and maintenance. And then the car that is your relationship with your parents can drive along through Carol Country without extensive damage.

  24. sara said:

    I think part of what is hard here is that there is something very special about spending time with your family of origin, and anything that comes along to disrupt that can be difficult. Even now that I am engaged, I still like to make sure I spend time with just my parents, and I make sure my fiance gets to do the same when we are visiting his family as a couple. Hey — sometimes he needs to hang out with his sister and I don’t need to be included! That is okay! We will be coming up on our first holiday season as an engaged couple, and have talked about spending it together (which of course means picking just one family to spend Christmas with, because of the distance involved). Even though I am SO HAPPY to be building a new life and a new family with my fiance, it is still really hard to think about Christmas morning with my family either not happening (because we are with his family) or feeling really different (because he is at my family’s house). In the end, I think it will be amazing and wonderful, but it will still be DIFFERENT and that change is tough and I think it’s okay to be sad about it.

    Especially since you didn’t CHOOSE this change to your family, I think it is okay to ask for what you need to make it work for you. I don’t think it is evil or bad to say — “Hey, I totally respect your relationship with Carol, but I also need some time with just my parents. She is your wife, but she’s not my mom, and that is okay.” Maybe next time instead of you visiting your parents, your parents could make the trip and come visit you, sans Carol. (Hey, even with monogamous couples, they don’t make EVERY SINGLE trip together, and this might feel less loaded than feeling like you’re kicking Carol out of her house to spend time with your folks.) If big family holidays are just too painful right now, you are an adult and you do get to choose where you spend your time — maybe this is the year to spend Christmas at your partner’s parents’ house, or to organize a big ski trip with friends, or to spend the holidays with the family of your bestie? All those things are okay…your parents may not love them, but I think it is okay to decide that you need a break from this and you need time to make your own holiday traditions that feel better to you (just as they are making decisions that feel right to them). And, a break may help your crazy-making negative feelings about Carol fade…i get the feeling that right now this is just a TOO MUCH TOO SOON/oversaturation situation, rather than an “I could never deal with this no matter what” situation. So, take a step back, be gentle with yourself, and see if it’s possible to reset things a bit.

    • Mary said:

      >>>I think part of what is hard here is that there is something very special about spending time with your family of origin, and anything that comes along to disrupt that can be difficult. Even now that I am engaged, I still like to make sure I spend time with just my parents, and I make sure my fiance gets to do the same when we are visiting his family as a couple.

      OMG, thank you, that’s just given me a bit of a lightbulb moment! I find it pretty hard to be around my brothers and my partner at the same time, because they’re kind of at opposite ends of my personality spectrum and I always feel a little awkward being the my-partner version of me around my brothers and vice versa. Mostly I end up feeling guilty towards my partner, because I see my brothers every month or two whereas I see my partner most days, so I tend to opt for the my-brothers version of me and then feel like my partner is seeing me as really obnxious. But that’s actually normal and OK! And it’s OK to want to spend time with just my brothers and be the obnoxious-family-version of me!

  25. emily_of_athens said:

    Captain, thanks for treating this the same as any other stepparent issue, because it is. One thing that my partners and I often tell people about poly is that “poly problems are relationship problems”. They’re not fundamentally different.

    The advice of one-on-one time is great, and I’d like to point out that if LW’s parents are like most poly triads, they’re doing the same thing within their relationship – they probably make sure to make time for dad-and-mom dates, dad-and-Carol dates, mom-and-Carol dates, and all-three-people dates. It should be easy for them to understand that LW wants to make sure to get time with each set of people in the same way – LW-and-dad, LW-and-mom, LW-and-mom-and-dad. I think the LW should probably also try LW-and-mom-and-Carol and LW-and-dad-and-Carol time too. It’s only LW-and-Carol time that needs to get taken off the list of expectations.

    I think it might also be helpful for the LW to spend some time reading about poly (I recommend the More Than Two website), or maybe try to meet some poly people who aren’t her parents, so she can get more comfortable with the idea of poly and separate it from the complications of her relationship with parents. It sounds to me like she’s okay with the idea in theory, but her feelings about it are so tangled up in her feelings about her parents that she can’t quite get comfortable with it. Getting comfortable with the idea of poly and getting comfortable with Carol may need to get disentangled and worked on separately.

  26. MrsMorley said:

    I feel for everyone in this scenario.

    I wonder how close in age Carol is to the LW. I also wonder, if Carol is closer in age to the LW than to her spouses/LW’s parents, whether LW feels some displacement as a child. I say this because I’ve felt a sense of daughterly displacement from some of my mother’s younger female friends.

    All that to the side, the Captain’s right in treating this as a step-parent, or at least parent’s/parents’ new spouse, issue rather than a poly issue.

    It sounds as though Carol, the parents, and the LW are all well meaning and loving people. LW, you are not required to have much sympathy and affection for Carol. If you allow yourself to recognize Carol and your parents together thought out their non-working attempts to tie you and Carol to each other you might be able to separate your current dislike for her from your ability to enact the Captain’s very sensible scripts and create a more viable relationship. (Which could be quite distant)

    Because if you’re thinking “I know they’d pick me over her” you might also be thinking “or maybe they wouldn’t, oh god they’ve abandoned me!.” But they haven’t! They love you very much, they respect you too, They respect your judgement and compassion. They’re trusting you more than many parents trust their children. They’re genuinely treating you as an adult.

    Me, I think that’s potentially a good place to start from when you (plural) try to build something functional.

    • ordinarygoddess said:

      Yeah, that’s definitely a consideration. I am fourteen years younger than Partner, twelve years older than Oldest Stepchild, who was a young adult when we met, and seventeen years older than Youngest Stepchild, who was a young teen at the time. I definitely have better relationships with the younger kids than I do with the older ones! If Carol, like me, is in that intergenerational gap, her efforts to be friendly/big-sisterly/Cool-Aunt-like might actually be a misguided and backfiring effort to lessen the awkwardness.

      There’s nothing in your letter that makes me think Carol is anything but a perfectly lovely person who is just trying too hard, but that can be as absolutely grating as someone who is casually offensive. The Captain touches lightly on it, but I’d expand on the suggestion to practice Three Safe Topics as an annoyance management tool. If you can, try to go further and find three genuine common interests with Carol (or, hey, one common interest and two safe smalltalk topics! Whatever gets you there!) and cultivate a practice of pleasant and positive interactions. Combine this with the necessary boundary-setting to get you some quality parental time and some freedom from the friendship-hard-sell. The idea is something that’s been covered here in a lot of different contexts – to back enough off of interacting with Nice Enough in Small Doses Person that when you do, you don’t dread it, and may even, at times, come to actively look forward to it. Shopping because Social Norms Dictate We Must Be Friends Now surely sucks, but eventually, shopping for your mom’s birthday present together might not.

    • VG said:

      I wondered about Carol’s age too. It seems like she’s trying to relate to the LW in ways that are more like “peer/stepsister” than “stepparent/parents’ partner,” and not only could this make the LW feel displaced, it could almost trigger a sort of subconscious incest squick to know your parents are mutually sleeping with someone who could theoretically be your sibling.

  27. Snowe said:

    LW, I think you need to give yourself permission to grieve the loss of the family dynamic you’ve known all your life. It’s ok to feel sad about this, and you’re not a bad person because you aren’t thrilled about this addition to your family. I hope your parents will be open to giving you the LW+parents-only time you need.

    You don’t mention siblings. If you are an only child, maybe this is harder for you because you don’t have anyone else in the family who shares your feelings? Also, in a divorce/remarriage situation, you can at least go vent about your stepparent to the other parent–since that’s not an option, maybe a few sessions with a counselor would help you process your feelings.

  28. gallantqueer said:

    I’ve been considering these questions, especially in light of being a poly/trans/kinky person who wants to have kids someday. Most of my thoughts have been “Please, great flying spaghetti monster, help me have this be on the list of things I don’t eff up while parenting.”

    I’m also realizing that the whole parents wanting approval from their adult children kinda makes my spidey senses tingle with “inappropriate.” Like, I think children have the same responsibility as everyone else to be polite and not express nasty judgements to people’s faces. I think expecting your children to approve of your lifestyle is relying on them for too much emotional support.* Also you can’t make people approve of you! Anyone else have thoughts on this?

    *I”m not sure where parent to child approval fits into this scheme.

    • staranise said:

      I’ve been holding back due to Massive Feels about this, frankly. I think parent-child relationships are fairly unique because they’re designed to be fairly unidirectional for a long long time, where the parent tries to meet the kid’s needs but mostly looks elsewhere for getting their own needs met. And I think one of the things parents really screw up on is that you still have to hold up your end of the bargain even when the kid doesn’t like you a lot right then–whether they’re three and having a tantrum over not getting candy, or 13 and needing to assert some independence, or 23 and feeling out of joint because you just got married to someone new. You can’t just step back and only engage when your child is willing to say you’re the bestest.

      • Cyberwulf said:

        The other thing about parent-child relationships is that the parent always views the child as a child, no matter how old s/he is. I can’t help wondering if the parents here and in the letter about inviting Myrtle to the wedding are maybe doing the “We are your parents, this is what we’re doing, take that sulky look off your face” thing, even a little bit. And missing the fact that their child is not a teenager, and this is just slightly different from “no you can’t go to the sleepover, we’re visiting Grandma for her birthday this weekend”.

  29. MamaCheshire said:

    Hey, something occurs to me about this and the previous poly parents letter. It’s not just “parents having open relationship” – it’s a very specific KIND of poly configuration, namely the “established couple plus sexy exciting new ladyfriend for us!” sort. And at least from how the letters read it seemed as though both of the LWs were female and both of the “parents’ new partner that they want to bring into the family” were possibly somewhat younger than the parents, or at least sort of…acts like it?

    And there’s a lot that just isn’t comfortable about that particular poly relationship model even for a lot of people who *are* poly. (Not saying it never works or is always bad, but that there are certain bad tendencies at work a lot of the time.) There’s a reason for all the snarks about unicorn-chasing and hot-bi-babes. It’s a stereotypical dynamic that has a lot of really sexist overtones at the same time it’s being presented as “ooooh we’re so EVOLVED and ENLIGHTENED (and having really awesome hot sex, too!)” and I could see that being especially uncomfortable for the adult daughter of a couple who’s decided to “evolve” in this way.

  30. boutet said:

    Following the thoughts in previous comments wondering if Carol is closer in age to LW… how extremely creepy it would be for me if my parent developed a sexual relationship with someone in my age group. I’m generally not opposed to larger age differences (as long as the power differences in the relationship are manageable) but honestly? It would creep me right the hell out in my parent in a way that it wouldn’t in anyone else.
    It doesn’t seem like this is a thing for LW, it’s just something that occurred to me while reading other comments.

    • JenniferP said:

      Boyfriend’s dad’s girlfriend is 3 years older than boyfriend/7 years older than his younger sister, and yeah, it’s fucking weird. Age differences can be no big deal, but for an adult child “And she’s a couple years older than me!” is probably never gonna be a ^5 kind of moment.

      • Epiphyta said:

        The Brom’s father and my mother both chose second partners who were of the same age group as their adult children, and — there have been worlds of Not Good.

        (The Brom’s father was the same age as my grandparents; his older half-siblings are my parents’ age, and when one of them died recently we went with “Zie died after a long illness” and left out “– in hir mid 70s”, because we may not owe people explanations, but preemptively heading off the curiosity blurting is a good thing when your beloved is grieving.)

  31. Er….I read the comments thread here, and now I’m really confused about a thing. It seems like people are really insistent on their parents’ spouses not calling themselves “stepmother” and “stepfather”. I don’t understand where exactly the line is (is it an ESL thing?) because it seemed to me that the terms address [official relationship] not [legal relationship]. I refer to my wife’s child as “my stepdaughter” sometimes and “the kid” more often – should I not be doing that? I don’t feel particularly concerned when she calls me her mother’s wife – though she’s taken to calling me her stepmom recently – and we’ve never really had a talk about it, I just let her say what she felt was best. But should I be avoiding calling her a stepdaughter? Am I fucking up?

    I’m sorry if this is a derail and please ignore it/delete it if it is.

    • boutet said:

      There is nothing wrong with stepmother or stepchild or whatever it is that she calls you/you call her as long as you and her are happy with it. The thing where people sometimes don’t like “step” in familial names is that they think it labels that person as not “real” family. Which is horseshit. Stepfamilies are families. Foster families are families. Blood-related families are families. Combinations of these things are families! I hate like poison the idea in society that step/foster/nonblood relations are fake or second class.
      Basically if she doesn’t mind being called stepdaughter then it’s fine. If she does mind then hopefully she would say something to you. If you don’t mind what she calls you then that’s fine. If what you call each other changes some day that fine, and if it never changes that’s fine too!
      You’re not doing anything wrong.

      • Epiphyta said:

        “The thing where people sometimes don’t like “step” in familial names is that they think it labels that person as not “real” family. Which is horseshit. Stepfamilies are families. Foster families are families. Blood-related families are families. Combinations of these things are families! I hate like poison the idea in society that step/foster/nonblood relations are fake or second class.”

        DING DING DING!

        The Brom’s mother has always made sure that everyone knows the Acorn is his stepson, though both of them hate the term and have used “Parental unit (shortened to ” ‘rent”)”/”spawn” for years.

        If it works for the two of you, that is great! Keep on doing what you’re doing.

  32. solecism said:

    My mom remarried when I was an adult and living out of state. They started dating and moved in together when I was out of the country. Frankly, I was weirded out. Both my parents dated a little bit after the divorce, and us kids met 1 or 2 of these people over the years. But this was the first cohabitation, and after years of mom being single. Did not compute. But whatever.

    In the early days, I made an effort to connect to him, his adult daughter, and his extended family. But while he was a caring, generous guy, he was also a mean drunk. And his family had the passive-aggressive dynamic mastered. So I was friendly but distant, and stopped attending any of his family functions.

    Their marriage was toxic, and it only spiraled worse over time. So I stopped visiting regularly. Then I stopped visiting, really, except maybe once a year. I sent my mom a feelingsbomb letter a coupel years ago because I could see that this marriage was such mutually assured destruction. But still they stayed together and stuck it out until he died last month rather unexpectedly.

    Here’s the thing, I called him my stepfather because I am linguistically lazy. But I always thought of him as my mom’s husband. And yet, he did more fatherly things for me than my own dad, and I respected and acknowledge that, so saying stepfather didn’t feel too untrue.

    But my mom never understood that my brother and I weren’t particularly interested in having a relationship with him, or especially his relatives. She was always encouraging me to call her husband to chat, not just her. She was always making sure to invite his daughter and her family when my brother would arrange a small family gathering. And when she wrote up his obituary, she made sure to include my brother and his kids and myself among surviving family. So maybe she did family better than me. I dunno. Or maybe because she’d pretty much walked away from her abusive family, his was the only one she had. She never quite understood that we wanted to spend some time with her, not her and husband, or her and husband’s family. She never understood that when we distanced ourselves, it was from the toxic war zone when they were together, not a personal rejection of her, even when I tried to explicitly discuss it with her.

    So yeah, step parents, new partners for parents, it can all be complicated. And parents sometimes don’t get why adult children don’t quite warm to the new relationship the way they expect.

  33. OP LW here said:

    Hey all. First of all, thank you so much for your helpful support! Just clearing up a few things, yes, I’m rather squicked about poly. I’ve been so terrified that my personal ick was what was coloring the situation, and I think the Captain and various commenters are right when they suggest that overcompensating as a result is not helping and only leading to a rage loop. (Side note: “Bitch eating crackers” made me laugh aloud and yes, you’re totally right. Her simply walking into a room is enough to remind me how much I dislike her constant presence everywhere etc etc.)

    As for Carol’s age, she’s about as old as my parents I think (I’ve honestly never asked). They’re around 55 and I think she’s around 50 give or take. But my parents and I were always very close (I am an only child, well done for guessing that) and I think Carol is seeing that and thinking that we have to be close for her to “fit in.” She was the single mother of a mentally challenged son, but he died many years before we met her. She’s never told me about it herself, but my parents have mentioned it as another reason why I’m being mean and intolerant of her. I’m very sorry that happened to her, but it’ll be a cold day in hell when I step in as replacement child.

    I really like the scripts, particularly the one about rushing things. I’ll also try the friend-date thing and see if it helps.

    • boutet said:

      I’m going to put a great big “ick” on your parents if they’re expecting you to replace Carol’s child! Kids don’t work that way! Relationships don’t work that way! People don’t work that way! And another big “ick” on using the memory of a woman’s dead child to try to control your behavior.

  34. ehugs said:

    I didn’t really meet my adult half-brother until I was 15 or so He’s nice and we get along well. But, I love this post because I frequently need to hide out under the Futon of You Can’t Make Me Like You. I do feel close to him, but he tries very hard to be my bro and there’s a part of me that feels like the ship of being close in the way that brothers that grew up with each other are close has sailed. I never really had a name (not a name that clever, at least) to the feeling until now.

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