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Stepchildren help needed

Old 01-03-2011, 06:28 PM
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Stepchildren help needed

My wife is an alcoholic. I'm ready to leave her but I'm troubled by one important issue.

Her ex husband is also an abusive alcoholic. My own understanding of my wife's alcoholism was clouded because I spent years helping to protect her and my two stepdaughter from him. The court system largely protects them now, but it came at great cost, both money and time.

Now that I know my wife's own alcohol problems, I'm ready to leave her. Her problem has systematically cost me almost everything - work, friends, and family.

My only pause is my stepdaughters. In the absence of their birth father, I have become the only father they know. However, legally I have little to no standing to have any custody rights.

I have to leave, but I want to protect them as best I can both physically and emotionally. I don't want them to think I've abandoned them.

I've been such an enabler for my wife that the girls align with her. I've worked hard not to expose them to ugliness. I can't do it any more.

I also worry that my leaving will lead to their father trying to disrupt their lives through court battles. He's very litigious and very wealthy.

Is there any way to let two young girls know that I love like they are my own even though it will seem to them that I have abandoned them?
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Old 01-03-2011, 06:32 PM
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Can you tell us their ages or at least their age ranges?
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Old 01-03-2011, 06:36 PM
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I would talk to an attorney who handles family law. Find out exactly what your options are.
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:00 PM
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They are 14 and 11. I've been their acting father for 7 years.

As far as the attorney issue goes, the issue is this - if I ever officially go on record that my wife is an alcoholic, her ex husband will be able to use that against her. Although her alcoholism is not good for them, he is a physically abusive man who could really do more damage.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:46 PM
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Hello Rancher,

About the abuse....we have a wealth of information on this topic here:http://www.soberrecovery.com/forums/...out-abuse.html You will find tons of info there.

I agree with finding an attorney who specializes in these matters.
Since the court is already involved, might they be able to continue to keep an eye on things regardless of who gets custody?

If your community offers 211 telephone service- calling them could lead you to people who can help.

In case you haven't gone yet, I also recommend you try some Al-Anon meetings for you and Alateen for the girls.

I'm glad you found us. Welcome to SR.
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:17 AM
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Thanks to all who have commented. However, I'm not getting any response to the question I have. I will try to be more clear.

Since there are many here who are children of alcoholics, I need to know what to say to my two stepdaughters upon my leaving. They are children of an alcoholic mother even though they don't comprehend this yet. They still love their mother dearly. When I leave she will be furious which will affect how the girls see me.

I can't stay any longer being her enabler, but I'm afraid my girls will think that I've abandoned them.

This is no longer a question of staying or fighting for rights in court. I only want to know if there is something I can say so that they will know I did not want to leave them. (In fact, they are the only reason I have stayed as long as I have.)

Is there any daughter of an alcoholic that lost an important parental figure over their mother's/father's drinking that can tell me the best way to handle this?

Thank you
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:48 AM
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Well, I haven't had exactly the same situation, but my mom had my Dad leave when I was 12; she then married a guy who was sober and steady--a great stepfather. She divorced him actually when I was in my early 20s because he fell off the wagon. So, our situations are not quite the same, but as a two-time Dad-loser, I can tell you what they might feel when you leave:

1) If you do have a great relationship with them, they will feel your loss. Anything you can do to minimize that, like providing them with visits, phone calls, etc., to minimize the abandonment feelings would be very helpful. If you can get them family counseling, that might help.

2) You must be very honest and clear, and at the same time staying away from blaming their mother. You're walking a fine line, because if you minimize the truth about the drinking, they will wonder why you're leaving, but if you tell them the truth, they may be frightened and confused--especially if they don't realize that she's alcoholic.

And now that I'm actually writing this out, maybe in addition to a lawyer, you might want to get the advice from a family therapist about how best to handle this. It's easier, I think, to explain to a child what my mother explained to me: "Daddy's sick, so we're not going to be married anymore. His drinking is causing problems in the family so he won't be living with us." That made sense. I think if she had said, "Daddy's sick, so we're not going to be married anymore. His drinking is causing problems in the family, so I'm leaving, and I'm not taking you with me" -- that's a little traumatic for young girls to hear. You will do them a great service if you do whatever you can to detach from their mother, but provide them with whatever continuity of your relationship with them that you think is possible and appropriate. I'm going to be honest--it's hard on children to lose stable parent-figures at the ages they're at now. Any age is hard, but I have a my own theories about children who lose a parent around the age of puberty. Take that with a grain of salt because I'm not a psychologist, but it's based on my own observation and experience.

Believe me, I'm not judging YOU. I respect you for doing what you need to do for yourself--I'm simply trying to do as you requested and I"m putting myself in your stepdaughters' shoes. I hope you see this as constructive.
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:53 AM
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Rancher, you sound like a very caring and understanding father. You have been the only father one step-daughter has known for half of her life, and for the other one, you have been the only father she has known for seven of her eleven years. Children really do know more than what, we parents, want them to know. I'm just wondering to myself, if your step-daughters don't already know that "something" is just NOT right with their mother. If you were the father you sound like you were, they already know how much you love and care about them.

You wrote "I've been such an enabler for my wife that the girls align with her. I've worked hard not to expose them to ugliness. I can't do it any more." How do you REALLY know this? Maybe this is the way your step-daughters are enabling their mother? :help

I agree with the other posters, you need to talk to an attorney who deals with custody suits. You won't know what your options are until you find out. Remember when you talk to an attorney, you are covered by the attorney-client priviledges. Often attorneys will provide the initial consultation free of charge. In some states a divorce can be granted through a mediation instead of through the court system. Mediation is a more private means of getting a divorce.

Everyone reaches their own "bottom" for seeking out recovery for their alcoholism. Maybe by you leaving your wife and filing for divorce will be her "bottom". Then you could have joint custody.

Just my personal opinion. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Love and Peace,

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Old 01-04-2011, 07:18 AM
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I tried to add my response to your second post by editing my original post, but couldn't do it!

I believe Honestly is the best policy! It's not the words that will count......Actions speak louder than words! Just BE there for them!

Phoenix
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:37 AM
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I was a stepmother to a young boy who I helped raise for 6 years. His father, my XAH, was the abusive alcoholic. I did what i could to protect my stepson from his father's drinking, but in the end, I had to leave to protect myself and my infant child. It tore me to pieces and I often posted about this here on SR.

I do not have a happy ending for you. Even though I was a mother figure to my stepson for all those years, I had no legal rights to him. To punish me for leaving, my XAH forbade me from contact his son. In an interesting twist of fate, once I left the household, my stepson chose to leave his father and to return to his mother's. That's when he contacted me, asking me questions and begging for contact. I wrote a long letter, sent him photos and thought that we could begin corresponding, but unfortunately, my XAH intervened again and convinced his son that I am poison.

At this point, there isn't anything I can do, legally or otherwise. I made myself clear to my stepson via email. I never villified his father to him, and I plainly told him how horrid I felt for leaving him behind. I gave him every bit of contact information I have, and invited him to contact me if and when he wanted to.

Right now, he's still young (13) and no doubt still under his father's thumb. I hope that one day, he'll be able to contact me and resume our relationship. I also hope that my daughter will get the chance to know her half-brother.
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Old 01-04-2011, 07:41 AM
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I'd focus on the following seven talking points:
  • Unfortunately, life is not fair sometimes, and we don't have control over that
  • Just like we need to keep our bodies healthy, we need to keep our minds and hearts healthy, to be a total person
  • You see some things in their mother that are not healthy, and are making you sick, and you need to separate from her to keep your health
  • You do not want to control their mother, but think she is making choices that are unhealthy for YOU to live with, so you need to separate
  • The girls are like your own daughters in your heart and mind, but unfortunately the law does not recognize this, so there are things you would like to do for them about this situation that you legally cannot (this is where the life is unfair part applies)
  • You plan to live separately, but this does not mean you love them less or are leaving THEM, and you will be available to them if they want, and their legal family allows, up until legal age, when they are free to come to you by their own permission
  • They probably won't understand some of this now, but most likely will in a few years

When the detail questions come, have a generic statement ready like: "Your mother drinks alcohol in a way that is unhealthy, and worrying about this makes me unhealthy. Since I do not control her, I must do what is healthy for me, because the last thing you girls need is two unhealthy people as role models."

I'd stay clear away from any statements about wanting to take them away from their mother, or their father, or any statements about their parenting qualities. As soon as you open this subject of leaving, you essentially become a concerned citizen for their welfare, not family, (from a legal standpoint of your "rights" or lack thereof toward your stepdaughters) and must construct your statements likewise so as to not entangle yourself into any legal corners.

Just MHO

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Old 01-04-2011, 07:48 AM
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((Rancher))

how heartbreaking for you & the girls - at their ages - I would be very surprised if they don't already know more than what you think, but it's their MOM - they are affected by the family disease of alcoholism - they are playing a role in this too - they are going along with the "game" to try to keep peace & harmony in the home too. At no matter the cost. My girls did the same in dealing with their step-dad for many many years.

If or when you do leave - i agree with healthy compassionate honesty - lots of reassurance that THEY are still loved by you and that you would like to still be a part of their lives (if that is how you feel)

You can still reach out to them thru cell phone, cards, school activities, etc. - that will be very important to them - (my step-daughters & I still are on good terms & stay in contact a bunch)

Just from my experience, it is important to let them know that it has nothing to do with them - that they are still precious to you and you will always care for them. They will probably need that reassurance.

I know I said that already but truly all children need that - as an adult child of an alcoholic father and a co-dependent mother - I knew they loved me - but that low self-esteem & self-acceptance was never there for me - they did the best they could but I could have used a little more positive reinforcement as a child.

Best wishes for you as you take this journey - for you, your wife & these precious daughters!

PINK HUGS,
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:15 AM
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The thought that sticks out for me is just to let them know that they can call you 24/7/365 if they are ever in any danger, scared, afraid, or just need a friend they can trust that has their very best interests at heart. Let them know you will go to any lengths to help ensure their safety and that they can call you anytime, day or night...they can even text a simple code word to let you know they are in danger. Make sure they know how to take care of themselves in an emergency, how and when to call the police if necessary, give them phone numbers of neighbors and other relatives, and perhaps the number for Alateen or other crisis hotline. Ask neighbors and teachers to keep an eye out and to alert you if they think there is a problem. Check in with them regularly.

Just my $0.02. It's a dreadful situation and I"m sorry you are in it. I hope we can help to support you.
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Old 01-04-2011, 10:49 AM
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This was exactly my situation...

What do you do when you are, in reality, their father, but legally nothing? I raised my "step" daughter from 3 to 15, poorly because of my codependancy and my wife's alcoholism.

I did the whole "here I come to save the day" thing, and pretty much deconstructed myself in the process. I, too, was faced with the decision to leave but not wanting to abandon my then 11 year old daughter.

I did leave. It killed me. My wife allowed visitation and I did that a lot. Her ex-husband, not rich and not evil thank God, was however absent and not a factor at all. As for the girls, much damage is already done. You and your wife have been doing it for as long as she has been drinking and you have been enabling and controlling.

Leaving was the best thing I ever did. For myself, for my wife, and for my daughter. It turns out all they need from me is my company. They don't need me doing things for them (it just makes things worse), they don't need my advice, and they don't need my rules for how everything is to be done (apparantly there is more than one way to do many things and sometimes those ways work just fine, even when they aren't my way).

When I made my wife live her life on her own by truly leaving her alone, miraculous things happened. The same thing is starting to happen with our daughter. All I provided during the two years we were apart was her car and her phone. No gas, no rent, no child support, no spending money. Nothing. When daughter needed things I took her and bought or paid for them myself (did not keep receipts so it couldn't be returned for cash). Alcoholics will do anything to get money to drink, including selling their children's stuff.

Many alcoholics never find recovery. My wife did, is currently sober, and we are together. But I live knowing that each day of sobriety could be the last. Al-Anon is what makes life possible for me today. I encourage you to go.

Take care,

Cyranoak

P.s. My daughter was very angry at me for leaving. I told her why, told her I loved her, and told her that if we didn't see each other it would only be because her mother didn't allow it (manipulative but effective), and I did not worry if she would understand. I was confident that in the future she would understand. The future is here at 15, and that confidence turned out to be well-founded. She gets it. Now she's pissed that she didn't get to leave too.

Originally Posted by Rancher View Post
My wife is an alcoholic. I'm ready to leave her but I'm troubled by one important issue.

Her ex husband is also an abusive alcoholic. My own understanding of my wife's alcoholism was clouded because I spent years helping to protect her and my two stepdaughter from him. The court system largely protects them now, but it came at great cost, both money and time.

Now that I know my wife's own alcohol problems, I'm ready to leave her. Her problem has systematically cost me almost everything - work, friends, and family.

My only pause is my stepdaughters. In the absence of their birth father, I have become the only father they know. However, legally I have little to no standing to have any custody rights.

I have to leave, but I want to protect them as best I can both physically and emotionally. I don't want them to think I've abandoned them.

I've been such an enabler for my wife that the girls align with her. I've worked hard not to expose them to ugliness. I can't do it any more.

I also worry that my leaving will lead to their father trying to disrupt their lives through court battles. He's very litigious and very wealthy.

Is there any way to let two young girls know that I love like they are my own even though it will seem to them that I have abandoned them?
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Old 01-04-2011, 11:04 AM
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Rancher,

I am so sorry to hear about your situation, it isn't a good one. I do empathize with you in many ways, my stepdaugther's were 5 and 7 when I met my wife 20 years ago. Their father was/is a violent alcoholic, the main reason why my wife left him. I also empathize in the fact that I've been around alcoholism my whole life, Dad, little sister, brother-in-law, etc. When dealing with this disease, a lot of cloudiness surounds the answers we are looking for, it is never easy.

Here is my opinion of your situation. I understand you are leaving, that decision is made. That you can control. Your wife (or ex) and her drinking, you can't control. How it will work with your stepdaughters, you may have to talk to a lawyer. Legally, you may not have any ground to stand on, seeing in the fact their biological father is alive.

A bit of advice based on my experience with my wife's ex. Whenever we went to get kids or had to deal with him, as much as I wanted to kick his butt a few times (grabbing at my wife, pushing kids), I had to maintain. When the kids would call us on his weekends and say he is drunk, the first question would be is he driving or are you somewhere other than his place. If they were afraid he would hurt them, we would get them. If it was his drinking that scared them, we would get them. He eventually realized that his drinking was pushing his kids away. If anything, he stayed sober when he had them.

The last piece of advice. Kids grow up fast. They also know more than you realize. I always tried being steady with my girls, though they aren't mine biologically, they are still my girls, as is my granddaughter (no biological kids of my own). When my oldest daughter asked me to walk her down the aisle and not her own Dad, I knew I did right for them. The youngest has asked me to do the same. Also, the girls do not drink, I think they saw what it did to their own Dad and made their own decisions/conclusions.

I know your kids are younger and I wish there was an easy answer. Just be a rock for the kids and be as involved with them as much as you are willing to and as much as you are able to. I hope this helps and my thoughts are with you.
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Old 01-04-2011, 12:03 PM
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Thanks very much to all that have responded. It gives me a little peace to know that others have struggled with similar issues.

I wish I could just say to my girls - Call me anytime. I will always be there, but I know that my wife will be tempted to use them to get to me.

I am going to try to see a professional for some final advice.

Thanks again to everyone. I'm very happy to have found this forum.
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