Have you ever felt like your partner treats you like a babysitter to their kids?
It’s actually a fairly common complaint from stepmoms and stepdads.
Maybe you haven’t ever felt this way — which is great.
But. But. But.
If you have felt like you are sometimes treated like a babysitter.
Well, you aren’t alone.
It does NOT mean that you are a mean or unkind person.
It does not mean you are not a good stepparent.
It does not mean that your relationship is in trouble.
How and why does this happen?
If you’ve felt this as a person dating or married to a person who has kids then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
If you haven’t experienced it yourself I hope to be able to explain it for you.
Raising kids is a huge amount of work. The phrase it takes a village is not inaccurate.
When parents get divorced and they are living separately as two single parents in different houses there is often a sudden and pronounced shortage of labor to watch the kids.
This is a bigger problem when there is more than one kid that we are talking about. When the kids outnumber the adults the workload is much bigger.
You go from having one house with 2 adults to divide the labor of childcare to having two homes each with one adult to take care of the same number of children. It’s a labor shortage.
In a very oversimplified nutshell explanation asking the new person in the relationship to watch your kids happens mostly because the kids need supervision and the new person is available.
Also, we are often trusted by the parent. That’s a pretty big deal.
And … we don’t charge extra money. That’s an even bigger deal.
Nonetheless .. it doesn’t often feel good to be the new person in this situation. Even if you happen to love kids … even these kids.
Here’s a story from my actual life.
It’s a Saturday morning.
I’m in my boyfriend’s apartment playing the board game called Chinese checkers with his son. It’s with the multiple colored marbles in the shape of a star.
I don’t live in this apartment. Our relationship is serious but we don’t live together, yet. I came over the night before we all did something including have dinner and I stayed the night.
Playing this board game with a 4-year old is not a lot fun for me. In fact it’s kind of painful. It’s boring because the kid doesn’t really know the rules – but he wants to play. So he cheats. Little kids often cheat at board games. I don’t stop him from cheating because I really don’t care if he cheats. I’m not even sure if I know the correct rules for this game…I’m just filling up time.
We are only playing this game because there aren’t many games here for the kids. The house with all the good toys is mom’s house and this is dad’s apartment. It looks and feels like a single man’s apartment. The quintessential bachelor pad. Dark leather couches. Huge TV. A well stocked bar. Not many kid toys.
My boyfriend isn’t there. He’s at a music lesson with his older child. In the past he had taken both kids to the lesson but this morning he mentioned how it’s easier for them if the younger child doesn’t go.
I don’t remember if he directly asked. I don’t remember if perhaps I offered. There is a phase of joining a relationship with kids where a person may want to demonstrate how great they are with the kids. I definitely went through this. Maybe it was a little of both…I dunno.
And so I stayed with his son.
His son was happy to not be at the music lesson. He honestly didn’t really care to much if he was with me. He’s a nice kid – very easy to be with and I liked him then. But both of us are in this spot because we like to be with his dad.
After about 2 hours my boyfriend and his daughter come back and they are in great moods. His son jumps right into the mix. There is even a physical separation in the apartment dad with two kids climbing on him – me alone across the room. They immediately talk about plans and what they will do next. Plans for swimming and lunch and all the fun stuff that comes with a weekend with dad.
I go home alone to my apartment with a kind of weird feeling in my belly.
I realize that I feel like I’ve been pretty much taken advantage of. I’m not sure if it was intentional but I don’t like the way it feels.
**** This happened over 20 years ago. Just to remind everybody reading this is all in the past. ***
My boyfriend has every other weekend custody.
I definitely did this more than once but not very many times. It wasn’t fun for me. It wasn’t fun for his son. It left me feeling yucky.
At some point later by a few weeks later my boyfriend has the kids and he asks if I want to come over for dinner and stay over.
I say no – I’m going to pass.
He’s surprised. He says that the kids want to see me.
And I say, “No they don’t. They want to spend time with you.”
I share with him that I think he treated me like a babysitter. He doesn’t see it this way. I’ve hurt him when I explain this. Is this our first fight … not really because I was at this point a confrontation avoiding specialist.
Anyway .. in this instance I did not go over to babysit and I was able to clearly say that I was not available for that.
I stopped being available for that but the pattern did go on to repeat itself approximately a billion times during our relationship.
Who’s in charge of your time?
I think as a reader you can possibly see it from my standpoint.
I wasn’t included in the planning of events. I have no issue with that. I was the girlfriend.
Still my time was affected – it felt like others were in control of my time. Like I was a grown up but the more grown up grown ups got to tell me what to do.
I stepped into a pre-set routine of Saturday morning music lessons. Again no issue here – the parents are who are in charge.
This routine was set by the biological parents and when they were together one would go to the lesson and the other would stay home. It was a routine that worked.
But I’m not a parent, this isn’t my routine, it’s not even my house. I’m just the girlfriend.
I can see now how it was easier for my boyfriend if I stepped in. I can also see how it was easier for his kids. I can look back and understand the motivation to ask me to help.
The problem is/was that it made me feel not like the beloved girlfriend but like an unpaid babysitter. I felt “less-than.”
As a life coach – I realize that for me to allow myself to feel this way is my reaction to this. There are probably bunches and bunches of people who feel treasured and loved by being asked to watch their partners children.
There is truth there. It is a position of trust to have somebody leave their kids with you.
But is that enough for you in your relationship? Well that you have to decide for yourself.
Does it get better with time?
If you know my story then you know that I went on to marry that boyfriend. His children (my stepkids) who were then young kiddos …. are now fully grown adults.
So does it get better? Well, eventually they no longer need babysitting. So … yes.
To be honest for me this problem reappeared and got worse when we actually moved in together.
Remember that I had solved the issue by modifying my behavior and not being available. When we moved in together Then it was my house and I no longer had a place to go to escape. So I had to work through that.
Then very surprisingly it actually got much worse when I had my own kids.
This was a huge surprise to me. I mention it here because I see this happen in a lot of blended families after the arrival of the first “ours baby.”
It really got so much worse. This is perhaps because then I was home taking care of the littles. I was there. I was always there.
I felt like there was an assumption that I would be available to care for whoever needed it.
It can feel hard to speak up without starting a fight.
You might feel like if you speak up you are sending a message that you don’t like the step kids. That feels very yucky.
There can sometimes be a big pressure to “love stepkids like your own.”
You might feel like if you speak up you are complaining about all the great stuff you have in your life. This feels like …This is what I wanted how can I complain about this.
And if you keep your mouth shut you might feel ignored, trampled, left out, unacknowledged, generally under appreciated.
It does not feel good.
If you let feelings build up — you might eventually have a little blow up
Eventually for me it built up until I blew my stack with my husband.
I don’t recommend this as a way to deal with this if you are in this situation but also if this is what has happened I completely understand it.
I eventually hit my limit.
When I finally exploded my loving partner in life was completely surprised.
From his point of view it was probably like Mount St. Helens had erupted with complaints directed his way. It’s fair because I had been keeping a lot bottled up.
That is what pushed me to figure out how to not feel like a babysitter in my own house.
What I thought needed to change was the other adult
I thought that my partner needed to change what he did.
I wanted him to suddenly just see what was happening and be able to understand what I was experiencing. I wanted him to walk in and say “omg wow you are doing all this work for the family …that’s amazing you are the best!”
Does that sound familiar?
I bet it does.
Or sometimes I would be gone for the morning and I would think … now he’ll see how much work I do.
He never did.
All the work was just left for me until I got home.
Because here’s the thing … he didn’t see it. He literally wasn’t aware. This may sound crazy if you’re in this situation. How can they not see it?!?!
This is a super common disconnect between partners. One person thinks something is obvious (like feed the kids lunch at 12) and the other person is literally completely unaware that it needs to be done.
I picked a ridiculous example because I do truly believe that all people should be aware that children eat meals but I experienced this myself with my partner. I’d be gone and I’d come home and the kids would say Daddy didn’t give us lunch and he would say something like ‘I gave them goldfish” and I would have that look mom’s get when they are thinking …are you SERIOUS?!?
I’ve helped many families who also experience this phenomenon that nobody seems to eat unless the primary meal preparing adult makes a meal. <<— that was a little bit of a rant … yes.
Lastly … sometimes I would have the day dream where somebody else would tell my husband what an amazing person I was for me. Some benevolent person would show up and clue him in and then he would see all the work I was doing and all the pressure I was under and I would feel valued and appreciated.
That never happened. I know that’s how it happens in the movies. Not in real life … sorry.
If you are waiting for that to happen – I hate to burst your bubble but it’s almost definitely not going to happen.
There are solutions.
There are solutions that don’t rely on your partner reading your mind.
They don’t hinge on people changing how they see the world overnight.
As a life coach who works with adults in blended families I help you figure out how to be fulfilled and content in your situation. It’s a little different for everybody. I am always happy to share what my experience was and I’m ready to learn how we are different.
When I worked on this for myself what surprised me was that I could improve the situation myself. I worked on identifying what made me feel like a powerless person in this situation. Why wasn’t I speaking up? What did I want? What did I need? What did the people around me need and was it actually my job to do those things? How could I talk to my partner about these things without yelling.
My situation improved. I no longer feel like a babysitter. Well except for when I’m babysitting my granddaughter … but that really is babysitting.
And now I help others with this. I can help you with this. You don’t need to feel like a babysitter. Click here to learn more about working with me.